Technical.ly Philly

Dev

Feb. 24, 2011 10:00 am

Choosing Philly over Vienna: JavaScript experts Thomas Fuchs and Amy Hoy

Frustrated by Vienna's lack of a supportive tech community, they decided they could be more creative and productive in Philadelphia. The couple is still in transition -- spending a few months in Philly, then a few months in Vienna. They plan to be in Philadelphia full-time by the end of the year.

Amy Hoy and Thomas Fuchs at the Tiergarten in Berlin

Another in the Entrance Exam series, as part of the Why I Love Philly campaign from Young Involved Philadelphia and Indy Hall. Tell the world why you love where you live by tweeting #whyilovephilly.

People who specialize in JavaScript or front-end web development know Thomas Fuchs and Amy Hoy.

Thomas, born and raised in Vienna, created the script.aculo.us JavaScript library and was one of the core members of the Ruby on Rails development team. Amy Hoy, from Baltimore, is a web designer and Ruby on Rails expert,
known for her humorous and understandable way of explaining difficult concepts.

Together, they create slick web products (including time management software Freckle), run the always sold out JavaScript master class, and consult on various projects. This is also the pair behind the always viral Twistori display of emotional tweets on Twitter.

Recently, this internationally known and well-traveled couple decided to move from Vienna, Austria to Philadelphia.

Frustrated by Vienna’s lack of a supportive tech community, they decided they could be more creative and productive in Philadelphia. The couple is still in transition — spending a few months in Philly, then a few months in Vienna. They plan to be in Philadelphia full-time by the end of the year.

Comparing Philadelphia favorably to other cities in terms of green spaces, friendly people, and general optimism may seem unique, but the pair might suggest that people’s perceptions of Philadelphia are changing for the better.

What brought you to Philadelphia from Austria?

Amy: I knew people here. I knew Alex [Hillman of co-working space Independents Hall]. I met him four years ago at South by Southwest. I came to the opening party at 32 Strawberry Street.

Having gotten to know the people in Philly, despite the fact that I’ve spent time in New York, Portland and San Francisco, Philly seems the most like home to me. It’s relaxed; it’s friendly, no matter what people say.

There’s really fun stuff going on here, it’s nowhere near as expensive as New York, it’s not as chaotic as New York, people here are more down to earth, there’s green spaces, there’s cute little buildings you can actually afford to live in. It’s just perfect for me except for the weather and the lack of public transit.

Portland is maybe too laid back. Coming from Vienna, I’m very wary of too laid back. Philly’s bigger than Portland — it’s a real metropolis, which means that you can find stores for anything and people doing anything. But at the same time it’s not crowded like New York — not everyone is power-walking everywhere or hustling all the time in an empty, unimportant way.

Was there a specific moment when you realized you wanted to move here?

Amy: I’d been having a real hard time making connections in Austria. I thought it was me, so I’d try harder and invite people to coffee, form a user group, put on a conference, but nothing helped. It all just hit the wall and slid off. It made me miserable, because I’m a very social person. As an American, that’s not what I’m used to.

“If you love Philly, Philly will love you back. If you hate Philly, Philly will give you that exactly back.” -Amy Hoy

I was like, I don’t want to be here, where do I want to be?

Thomas: You don’t want to be in a place where everyone who’s doing interesting stuff move away. It’s a self-fulfilling feedback loop. People move away move to London or to the United States. A lot of people move to London – as an EU citizen, you can move there without any problems. A lot of people also move to San Francisco or New York, I don’t think a lot of people move to Philly. But it’s their loss.

Amy: For me, it was between Philly and Portland. Because I really do love Portland. Among other things, Portland has great weather and great public transit. But I felt Portland was almost too small, too laid back for me – I’m a city girl.

Thomas: One reason people move to San Francisco and New York is for venture capital. We are really opposed to venture capital, because we are a bootstrapped company and want to do things ourselves with our own money. We don’t want other people telling us what to do.

Amy: If you look at the numbers of cool things that come out of a city [that helps make a decision]. In New York, there’s a lot of cool things going on, but it’s so tough to keep it going because it’s so expensive and there’s so much going on. Portland, there’s lots of cool projects too but it’s 500,000 people and crunchy. Here you have Nerd Merit Badges and BeerCamp and PhillyCHI and Restaurant Week and First Friday, that you don’t have in Maryland and don’t have in Austria. The vibe here and the number of people here is just the best.

Now that you’ve spent some time here and moved here, where are some places you would show someone who was visiting?

Amy: We’re geographically ignorant still. We’ve spent most of our time in Old City, and we’ve gone to South Philly a bit to go to the Italian Market, and we’ve gone to Northern Liberties with friends. Center City for shopping. We did karaoke at McGillian’s on Sunday, and that was awesome.

How do you describe Philadelphia to your friends back home in Vienna?

Thomas: There’s one programmer that works for us, and we like him and want to work with him. We’re trying to make his mouth water, letting him know there’s tech stuff here. He likes Mac programming, he would like CocoaHeads. He would thrive here. In Austria, there are not many people like him. Those that are good go away, or wither and die.

In Philly, there is a feeling that you can do anything. There are people that did everything. In Vienna, it’s so culturally restricted that people don’t even try. If you do a business here, you can find people who will be excited with you, and you can grow a business that is successful. It’s been done, people see it.

Amy: It’s important to note that people do in Austria do it to themselves. There are social structures that make building a business very easy, but people just don’t do it. They press themselves in their own heads.

Here, people will support you if you want to do something. Not everyone — there will be people who rag on you — but there will be other people who are excited and tell you to go for it.

In Vienna, there would be no blog about why people love Vienna. And if you tried to start it, there would be people who would ask, “Why? This is a terrible place. People don’t even know how to stay on the right side of the U-Bahn.”

I’ve heard some friends say, “Philly is the city that hates you back.” If you love Philly, Philly will love you back. If you hate Philly, Philly will give you that exactly back. I personally have had only good experiences — to the point where the people who delivered our furniture are friendly and you can talk to them. That’s not even true in Maryland.

Of course there’s bad stuff — there’s poverty and there are people who just don’t give a shit, but that’s not the rule.

We went to the Ignite a few weeks ago, and it was so awesome. The last sheriff, the urban farms, even the riverfront folks from the government. I’m sure not all government officials are like that, but the fact that some people are like that… Some people here are bound and determined to do their own thing, and it’s not everybody, but it’s enough that
you can really tell.

As someone who came from outside the country, is it difficult to establish permanent residence?

We can afford to hire a lawyer, so it’s not that complicated. You basically have to prove you can afford to live here, and then it goes forward. Since we’ve been married over two years, and Amy is a citizen, it hasn’t been a problem.

In a tweet (sentence), how would you describe Philadelphia?

Amy: At Ignite Philly, I tweeted “If Portland and New York had a love child, it would be Philadelphia.”

It was the most retweeted tweet of the night, apparently; Geoff [DiMasi, the lead organizer] read it on stage, and it’s really true.

-30-

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