This is Exit Interview, an occasional interview series with someone who has left Philadelphia, perhaps for another country or region or even just out of city limits and often taking talent, business and jobs with them. If you or someone you know left Philly for whatever reason, we want to hear from you. Contact us.
Pictures of a dozen former members of Philadelphia’s technology community who had moved in the past year, many of them Exit Interview alumni, were shown on the large projector screen, set to ‘It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday’ from Boyz II Men. The bit was funny and well received.
In the audience was Justin Giza, then editor of DrinkPhilly.com, which was founded in 2009 by Adam Schmidt and Technically Philly profiled in June. At next year’s Geek Awards, Giza could be on that ‘In Memoriam’ screen.
Just a week after the Geek Awards, Giza announced his plans to move with his girlfriend to the 67th ward, like others before him (Giza has been replaced by Zagat writer Danya Henninger). It’s not without love for Philadelphia. He’s still staying involved with the site — handling some audio work for videos — but, following some car trouble, the pair made it to their new digs in Jersey City, with an eye to the skyline just east.
Giza, 26, is originally from West Haven, Conn. and moved to Center City in 2007 after Drew University, chasing a big city life, “and got pretty cozy there,” focusing on his interest in sound work.
“I did day shifts at coffee shops — 3rd Wave all the way — and spent the evenings doing sound design or working as a board operator for various theatre companies,” Giza said. “My education was… for theatre with a music minor. Naturally, becoming the editor for a website about drinking was the next logical step.”
His time in Philly was adored on almost all fronts, yet something drew him away. Below, Giza, a nerd rapper by love, talks to Technically Philly about music drawing him away and the burgers calling him back.
What are the primary reasons you left Philadelphia?
I love Philly so much, but I like to travel and explore. My original plan was just a year in Philly, but that turned into four!
Beyond the editing and drinking gig, I’m a musician and my girlfriend is an actress. Markets for both of those fields are strong in Philadelphia, but we wanted to try a different environment for a while.
Was there anything that could have been done to keep you in Philly?
I think a lot of factors fought to keep us there – the food, the bar scene, our amazing jobs and our awesome friends. We came very close to staying at least another year. Ultimately, if someone hooked me up with a citywide discount on burgers, I’d probably move back and eat until I was sick. I miss Philly’s burgers.
Do you think you would return to Philadelphia under appropriate circumstances?
Is Philadelphia going in the right or wrong direction?
If we’re talking in terms of technology and new companies and such, very much the right direction.
Philly companies really seem to have the right idea when it comes to networking and building relationships. It’s great to see dozens of small companies find ways to band together and use their numbers to achieve what they want.
The Drink Philly office was right next to Cipher Prime, and I was always shocked at how much networking overlap we had. Considering we were two completely different companies with differing goals and products, it was nice to still find ways to team up and get stuff done.
Anything specific you would do if you were suddenly put in charge of the city?
Find a way to make Old City less bro-y on the weekends. I honestly don’t think anyone who actually lives in the city appreciates it, and walking there can be moderately terrifying after hours.
When someone you meet from outside the region asks about Philadelphia and its tech community, what do you tell them?
Generally speaking, I try to stress that Philadelphia has a great sense of camaraderie. The Philly Geek Awards proved this. The companies and start-ups in Philadelphia may not always be the largest, but they know how to team up, high five everyone in the room and make some waves.
What is the perception you most often find of Philadelphia?
Most often, it’s the stereotypical one. I think every city earns a stereotype of some sort — ours just happens to involve delicious meat and cheese on a roll. I am proud to report that I’m receiving more and more comments about Philadelphia’s beer crowd. That’s a good feeling.
What’s the latest you’re up to?
Right now, I’m focusing hard on my music. In my other life, I’m a nerdcore hip-hop artist who goes by Zilla Persona. In a nutshell, I try to make awesome music with NES sounds and various beepy noises. I rap about video games and Star Wars instead of about how much money I have. I’m in the middle of a rolling EP release called Unfair Advantage. It’s a sci-fi space opera presented in a hip-hop format. Yes, it’s every bit as odd as it sounds, and my mother is very proud of me.
Besides working on that, I’m just doing freelance audio and such.