Things You Should Know About No. 1 Tech Town Austin, Texas
When I saw the CompTIA blog post last week about top tech cities, I couldn't help but chuckle. Sitting at the number one position is Austin, Texas — my home town (or area) since Aug. 18, 1976. That's the day I drove into town in a 1966 straight-six Chevy van pulling a U-Haul trailer holding all our earthly possessions.
I had come to pursue a doctorate degree in anthropology, with a focus on folklore. We stayed with friends in Travis Heights for a couple of weeks after we arrived, after which we moved into our first rental house on 37� Street, steps away from the intersection of 38th Street and Guadalupe Street.
Three years later, several things were clear. First, I'd finished my coursework and most of my exams for the anthro degree. Second, I wanted to stay in Austin, having fallen in love with the place. Third, there were no jobs for anthropologists in Austin, nor anywhere close by. So, I switched fields to computer science and got cracking on the undergraduate background requirement to get into the department.
By the end of the spring semester in 1981, I'd taken enough classes to get a bachelor's degree in computer science, and started taking graduate classes. I'd also started working part-time for a company owned and run by UT computer science faculty members, including J.C. Browne, Jay Misra, and Mani Chandy. I never did finish my master's in computer science, but elected to go to work full-time in computing — something I continue to this day.
Over the years it's been my pleasure and privilege to work for some stellar companies including Burroughs (1982), Schlumberger (1984-1986), Excelan/Novell (1988-1994), IBM/Tivoli (1997-98) and NetQoS (now part of CA: 2006).
Coming to El Dorado � er, Austin
There are no streets of gold here, but Austin has come a long way (and sprawled to an impressive degree) in the past 43-plus years since I got here. I'm tickled by Austin's place in this year's rankings, but I have a few words of information and advice for those who might be inclined to consider moving here. Here's a list of points to ponder:
Traffic: It's sad that the city has not grown its infrastructure to match its outright growth over the years. It's trying of late to play catch-up, but all major arteries are clogged, verging on impassable, during both morning and evening commute times. The late Texas humorist and political observer Molly Ivins is quoted as saying, "The key to happiness in Austin is to never, ever drive on I-35" (emphasis mine, based on personal experience).
Alas, I wish I could heed her words. And don't look for much by way of public transport, either: what we've got is pretty limited, and not terribly effective, either.
Housing: While working for Novell, I had three opportunities to move, two to the Bay Area of central California, and once to Provo, Utah. I turned all of them down because the cost of living in Austin at those times (1991-1994) was so cheap, it would have meant a major lifestyle reduction to make either move. That's not the case any more. Housing still doesn't cost as much as California, the NYC metro area, or south Florida, but it ain't cheap anymore.
The biggest problem, however, is housing supply, as in there's not a lot to choose from. Expect to pay $1,800 to $2,000 a month, minimum, for a decent two-bedroom apartment or two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath rental house, and expect to commute at least 45 minutes each way to get to the office.
Competition: Sure, there are lots of jobs here. Both the University of Texas and its smaller collegiate cousins (around a half-dozen within a 30-mile radius, most of them highly reputed) pump thousands of graduates into the local economy of a metro area with a population of 1.1 million.
You will have to polish up your r�sum�, bring your A game, and be sure to offer rare, desirable, and unusual skills, in order to rise to the top of the local candidate pool once you get here. It's definitely doable, but it will take some elbow grease and effort to achieve.
Distractions: Working 100 hours weeks at start-ups is all well and good, but Austin's restaurant scene is another top 10 phenom, and its live music scene is second to none. Be prepared to grit your teeth, limit your nights out on the town, and choose your diversions both sparsely and carefully. Otherwise you could come here with big ambitions and wind up falling far short of your goals — but have a simply marvelous time doing so.
Texas is like a whole �nother country: This was a tag line from the Texas Tourism Commission a few years back, but it holds an interesting and sometimes alarming kernel of truth. The big metro areas in Texas — including Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and (to a lesser degree) Houston — are all pretty hip, liberal, and somewhere between moderate and left-leaning in their politics and philosophies.
The rest of Texas is solidly Red, proudly pro-Trump and conservative, and very much laissez faire. You don't have to move too far out of Austin to get a whole different outlook on life as well as lower property costs and taxes. Be prepared for a heavy dose of culture shock, though — otherwise, it'll getcha.
It's Good to be the King
All in all, I am tickled and bemused to be living in a high tech mecca by somebody else's metric. It is what it is, and it's great fun to be in the area. But if you want to pull up stakes to join the teeming hordes of high-tech nerds and nerdettes already here, come on down and take a look around before you start packing the U-Haul. But if you do decide to come, drop me a line: I'm always happy to meet a fellow traveler.