Devs, You Don’t Need to Slum it in The Valley!

Libbie Snyder

 

Software developers living the American dream in Silicon Valley may have found the best life hack of them all: earning $150K+, living 2+ or more to a bedroom, and trading a social life to work around the clock like a 20th century mineworker. All so that they can leave the city in their 30s able to live a comfortable life elsewhere—somewhere less desirable, perhaps, but more affordable.

Admittedly, it’s a great hack. I mean, the foresight and work ethic this requires is impressive. But in truth, this so-called developer’s dream has its flaws.

 

The flaw in the hack

Although serious ambition can fuel exciting breakthroughs, the minority of engineers that are going to the extreme and slumming it in Silicon Valley are missing out on a social life, a love life, and a work/life balance.

And while sky-high salaries certainly sweeten the deal, most software engineers don’t enter the field just to make a quick buck—they’re there to solve real-world problems with cutting edge technology.

It’s no surprise that developers are drawn to Silicon Valley as a creative tech hub. They get to be part of a diverse, creative environment, surrounded by talented people that amplifies innovative thinking.

Which explains the growth of other creative tech hubs around the US. Because this intersection between technology and creativity turns out to be incredibly valuable. Even more so than the dream of a comfortable life, void of those elements that help you grow as a software engineer.

The creative economy

The importance of the city you choose to work in is explained by economist Richard Florida, who includes software engineers as part of what he defines as the creative class, the growing sector of people that bring economic growth as they work as members of the creative economy.

 

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Florida explains in the Washington Monthly, “Cities and regions that attract lots of creative talent are also those with greater diversity and higher levels of quality of place. That’s because location choices of the creative class are based to a large degree on their lifestyle interests, and these go well beyond the standard ‘quality-of-life’ amenities that most experts think are important.”

After speaking to recent Carnegie Mellon graduates, here’s how Florida explains why the creative class are drawn to smaller, open-minded cities like Austin and Seattle:

“I asked the young man with the spiked hair why he was going to a smaller city in the middle of Texas, a place with a small airport and no professional sports teams, without a major symphony, ballet, opera, or art museum comparable to Pittsburgh’s. The company is excellent, he told me. There are also terrific people and the work is challenging. But the clincher, he said, is that, “It’s in Austin!” There are lots of young people, he went on to explain, and a tremendous amount to do: a thriving music scene, ethnic and cultural diversity, fabulous outdoor recreation, and great nightlife. Though he had several good job offers from Pittsburgh high-tech firms and knew the city well, he said he felt the city lacked the lifestyle options, cultural diversity, and tolerant attitude that would make it attractive to him.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also spoken about the important role of cultural diversity in promoting creativity among software engineers, commenting that Silicon Valley companies tend to recruit from Canada’s most multicultural universities:

“We know that one of the great drivers of innovation and creativity, particularly when it comes to problem-solving (which I know engineers love), is diversity. Having a group of smart, capable people focus on the same problem from a range of different perspectives, backgrounds and lived experiences is much more likely to come up with great answers than a homogeneous group would.”

This intersection between technology and creativity is also driving how cities define (or redefine) their image and their economic development into the 21st century, just as the Eiffel Tower is the defining cultural icon of Paris.

By taking part in the creative economy, software engineers have a role in how this plays out across the U.S. and the world, since they influence the technological advancements associated with the city where they work.

Just take a look at the cities where the Forbes 400 wealthiest tech fortunes reside. Silicon Valley dominates, with 29 of the 400, but many live in less expected places ranging from Atlanta to Omaha. The biggest shocker: not a single Forbes 400 tech fortune of 2018 lives in New York.

No matter which city you end up working in as a developer, your choices about where you dedicate your creative efforts really matter—both in terms of your company’s culture and mission, and in terms of the synergy between you and your city.  

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