Movin’ On Up 4

So I’m moving to San Francisco on Sunday.

I’ve mentioned this on Facebook and Twitter, but I thought I’d elaborate a little bit here, since those venues are better for quick takes and updates on the travails of moving and selling all my shit rather than longer explanations. And this is a fairly long explanation.

I moved out to L.A. for one reason: To work in the entertainment industry. I never really had much desire to live in L.A., I have still never learned how to surf, and I wasn’t excited by the prospect of being around the stars.

Originally, I wanted to be a sound engineer. I had the incredibly stupid timing to move out here shortly after all the sound houses hired their fall interns, so I went looking for other stuff that sounded fun.

I came across an internship at this brand new talk show, only on the air six weeks at the time. I came in to talk to the guy doing the hiring, and due to my eagerness to work five days a week for free, I was hired.

I wound up staying there for two years (and am still friends with many, many people I worked with there), and it brought me into the world of Television production, which I enjoyed way more than I ever thought I would. I was always more of a fiddler in college, I never really was in the “Let’s put on a show!” crowd.

But TV handed me all sorts of crazy challenges, ones I really enjoyed. And those challenges grew progressively harder…for a while. I hit a brick wall with my career around the time that SAG was threatening to go on strike in mid-2009, and I was unemployed for 11 months.

During that period, I took a long, hard look at what I was doing with my life. I have always told people if you don’t really, really love making movies or TV, this business is not worth the bullshit it puts you through. And I came to realize, maybe I didn’t really love it so much anymore.

I started tinkering more deeply with computers, something I’d always done as a hobby, and discovered that I still dropped into a K-Hole whenever I coded, and the deeper I got, the more fun it became. I finally broke down and got an iPhone, and I became really intrigued by the possibilities of what it could do.

I did some research into what it would take to become a coder, and realized that the shortest distance between two points would be working in Mobile – the demand was incredibly high, and while there was a fairly steep learning curve, especially with the iPhone, there was a surprisingly large amount you could do before you got into the super-complicated aspects of everything.

I thought, man, maybe I should go back to school and learn how to do that instead.

This was reinforced when my unemployment streak was snapped by two consecutive pilots – one with a ridiculously tiny budget and one with a ridiculously huge budget. The low-budget one was actually kind of a fun challenge, as everyone was really teaming together to work on a project they believed in (which of course did not get picked up).

The high-budget pilot was…a train wreck. The stories from this one are legendary, but suffice to say that I had the exact thought “I would rather be learning calculus than doing this” more than once on that pilot. That’s when I knew I was definitely done. I even turned down a job that would have been six solid months of work because I realized I just needed to get on with my life.

Going back to school (and actually learning calculus) has come with its own challenges, but it’s been really fun. I competed with kids who were half my age and kept up a hell of a lot better than I could have when I was actually their age, because this time I actually gave a shit.

Things seemed to be at least starting to go in the right direction. I got a totally awesome roommate in the bargain when I moved to be closer to the UCLA campus. I got to see what LA was like when you’re not regularly working from 9am to 11pm. I got to have at least a little bit of a life.

But as much as changing careers has been really helpful, I’ve had a nagging feeling that I didn’t change enough. Still being in LA, still having most of my friends working in the entertainment industry…I’ve still felt stuck.

And the things that previously annoyed me about L.A. itself have become like fingernails on a chalkboard now that I’m not distracted by either a) working 14 hour days or b) being so broke I never left the house.

I’ve particularly been irritated by the city’s epic sprawl, which contributes to another major irritation: It takes a level of planning roughly on par with the Normandy invasion to get more than four people to do anything together.

Visiting Chicago back in April, I remembered what it’s like to be in a city with functional public transportation. Even though most of my friends in Chicago are married and many have kids, it was still trivial to be able to go see all of them without a car.

In fact, for a while, I strongly considered moving back to Chicago. A few things stopped me – the size of the tech industry is similar to LA’s: Good, not great. I could have that professional environment with out the expense and general pain in the ass of moving cross-country with my insane cat.

I think another thing that stopped me is a feeling that if I were to move back to Chicago at this point in my career, it would mean giving up. While I recognize it would not be quite that and that I would eventually love to be back there,  I want to come back as a success, not a fledgeling. And if you want to become a success in the tech industry, you need to spend some time in San Francisco.

The fact of the matter is, San Francisco is a great (if obscenely expensive) city. The tech community there is second to none, and I know I could be learning so much more there just by interacting with members of that community.

Every single person I have met there has been incredibly welcoming, and when I tell people I’m thinking about moving up there, the response is unanimously, “Do it.” Well, occasionally it’s “If you can afford it, do it.” But the message is the same.

So I’m mashing the TURN UPSIDE DOWN button on my life one more time. I’ve gotten rid of most of my furniture, I’ll be moving into a great neighborhood in San Francisco where I’m renting a room from a nice queer couple, and learning what does and does not go in the compost bin.

And hopefully, I’m going to end up doing something for a living that I really enjoy. I’ll probably be working independently for a while (hey, did you hear my first app got approved for the iOS App Store and is available both there and on Android Market?), and then hopefully moving on to a bigger team where I’ll be able to learn and do more than I’m able to do as a one-man-band.

But it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me. And I’m feelin’ good.

4 thoughts on “Movin’ On Up

  1. Reply Kara Aug 13,2011 8:55 am

    You’re gonna do awesome up there. SF is great – even though I’m East Bay all the way :)

  2. Reply Lazs Aug 13,2011 11:34 am

    Rock on. It takes a lot of balls to go back to school and completely change career paths like that. And while I don’t know how in the world people afford to live there (working in the tech field can’t hurt), San Francisco is awesome.

    I think you should celebrate the move. I hear Vegas is open for business next weekend. ;)

  3. Reply Ellen Aug 13,2011 12:50 pm

    Thanks, guys! And Laz, I know you’re continuing your grand campaign to get me to come to Viva Laz Vegas VIII, but I think I’ll have to hold out for Viva Laz Vegas IX: Laz Takes Fake Manhattan.

  4. Reply km Aug 14,2011 4:44 am

    There’s no “like” button on this blog.

    I’m excited to come visit you in SF. As this past summer’s trip was postponed, I’m already looking forward to rescheduling it!

    Good luck–the TURN UPSIDE DOWN button can be awesome ;)

Leave a Reply