Spence Green

التكرار يعلم الحمار

I work at Lilt. In addition to computers and languages, my interests include travel, running, and scuba diving. more...

Why I’m Moving to Palo Alto

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Good writing elucidates truths that seem self-evident. Paul Graham’s most recent essay resonated deeply with me not because of its originality, but because he articulated an idea–however lost in his mellifluous prose–that unconsciously motivated my recent resignation. I live in Baltimore, but Baltimore does not inspire me. It does not ask me to be something different. It does not make me feel inadequate. Rather, it makes me bored and tired, and I am weary from these feelings.

For two years, I lived in the UAE. This is the country that has spawned Dubai, that sprawling pearl on the arid Gulf coast. Living in the UAE was like standing atop a power plant: you cannot ignore the sound of the whirring dynamo under your feet. The leaders of that tiny federation have an unfettered desire to make their country the exclusive haven of the well-heeled. These sheikhs are rich and they are happy to divulge that information to the world. The resulting schemes, however indecorous they appear by ‘Old World’ standards, nonetheless challenge the imagination. One folk tale has it that Sheikh Zayed, envious of the sheet-shaped hotel on his northern border, commissioned some European engineers to study various methods for moving the edifice. Specifically, he wanted them to excavate its foundation and float it down the coast to Abu Dhabi. A year and $10 million were needed to conclude that this plan would not sail.

In Abu Dhabi, I was never at ease. It seemed to say: you can run faster. In those two years, I ran myself to exhaustion. I learned to dive. I climbed mountains. I became fluent in a language. I mastered new skills at work. I traveled. Those years have left an indelible imprint on my life.

In October, I moved back to Baltimore. In the ensuing eight months, I can scarcely identify one meaningful change in my life. I am not a better engineer, my Arabic has fallen into disrepair, and I sleep too much. It took little meditation to speculate that this course could not hold. When the next big decision presented itself this spring, I thus thought hard about where I wanted to live. An unusual job offer could have kept me in Baltimore, but I feared stagnation. Chicago was a possibility, but I felt crushed by its girth (and its winter). California, Joan Didion’s ‘Golden Land’, made its case one hour after I departed from the airport.

Famished after four hours on a poorly-stocked plane, I parked my car in front of the first restaurant that I saw on University Ave in Palo Alto. Several patrons milled near the drink dispenser, waiting on others to vacate the five tables arranged at angles in the main dining area. One party vacated the table nearest the door and, undeterred by the pile of fetid dishes left on the table, I sat down at it. A prematurely white-haired man lingered in the aisle, and I invited him to sit with me. Presently, we ascertained that we were both in software and had entrepreneurial ambitions. The notable exception was that he was running a software company, and I was still dreaming about such a project. You should talk to so-and-so, he said, and he recovered his BlackBerry from his jacket pocket and made a call. He’s a Stanford professor, my new friend said. The professor said: come to Stanford. My new friend, a Wharton graduate, said: this is where it’s happening. Come to Stanford. Everyone I met said the same thing: join us.

How many places in the world exude that level of energy?

California Golden Poppies

Written by Spence

June 1st, 2008 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Career

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