Philly's tech scene should learn from Silicon Valley's mistakes - Technical.ly Philly

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Apr. 30, 2015 7:34 am

Philly’s tech scene should learn from Silicon Valley’s mistakes

Drupal developers Meghan and Tim Plunkett left Philadelphia for the West Coast only to return two years later. In a thoughtful Entrance Exam, they explain why they came back.

Tim and Meghan Plunkett.

(Courtesy photo)

Meghan and Tim Plunkett did the West Coast tech thing for a spell.

The couple, Drupal developers who met at Drexel, left Philadelphia and their jobs at web dev firm Zivtech to work for the IT department at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where they helped revamp the school’s public site. But they couldn’t stay away for too long.

They wanted to be closer to their family and friends in Philly and also had a terrible time trying to find a place to live in San Francisco (“The entire Bay Area housing crisis is even worse than portrayed in national media, it is completely unsustainable,” they wrote). So, after two years, they moved back. Tim, 27, and Meghan, 26, now live in Fishtown. He’s a back-end developer, she’s a front-end developer.

Below, find their Entrance Exam, where they talk about their experience at the recent Philly Startup Crawl, what they missed about Philly’s tech scene and how they think the scene can improve.

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When and why did you decide to move to Philly?

After getting married last October on the East Coast, we started to discuss moving back to Philly. We both grew up on East coast, both of our immediate families are within a one hour drive of the city. The majority of our friends live on the Eastern seaboard, and for the past two years it was really hard on us flying back and forth, especially in order to plan a wedding!

Living in the Bay Area was a fun experiment and truly worthwhile, but neither of us were able to put down roots there, and we both missed the East Coast. We were unable in the two years while we were in California to find a place in San Francisco proper that was nice, priced within our means, and would let us have our pitbull. It was really difficult as city people to live in the suburbs (while we were there, we lived in Redwood City, and then Mountain View, Calif., about a mile from Google’s HQ), and we were surprised to find that it is a very painful commute to live in Berkeley, where we wanted to live, and work in Palo Alto.

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We decided we were ready to buy a place, and it made the most sense to commit to a city that was within our budget to buy and that we loved. The entire Bay Area housing crisis is even worse than portrayed in national media, it is completely unsustainable.

What do you do?

After 14 months in CA, Tim left Stanford to work remotely for Acquia, a company cofounded by the creator of Drupal and based in Boston. Tim contributes to Drupal core development full time. Meghan continues to work remotely for Stanford GSB, as their only remote employee and is the front-end developer maintaining their public site.

One of the things we took for granted before moving is that people here have lives outside of tech.

What was the Philly tech scene like before you left? In your opinion, how has it changed?

It’s only been a little over two years since we left Philly, but the tech scene here has definitely blossomed. Just looking at Meetup.com, you can find more groups than ever, and they have much higher attendance across the board.

The startup scene has also changed, but not necessarily for the best. Having just come from Silicon Valley, it seems the startups here are picking up the worst habits of West Coast startups. Maybe they are using the satirical HBO show (Silicon Valley) as a template, but right now, startups in CA are having to deal with the very real backlash against “brogrammer” and alcohol-driven culture that has become the norm.

Just having attended the “Philly Startup Crawl” during Philly Tech Week, we visited and hung out at startups that seemed more like well-funded fraternities than places of business. Thankfully, we can report that not every company has gone down that path, but it is a discouraging trend.

The amount of coworking spaces seemed to have surged in Philly. Before it was Indy Hall and a couple others. Now you have much more variety and they keep opening and will continue to succeed, which is exciting!

Talk to us about the difference between where you last lived and Philly. What do you miss from over there that you would like to see over here? What’s better about being in Philly?

We moved back to Philly because it is a vibrant city that is also affordable. Our requirements included living in a dog-friendly and bikeable city, which Philadelphia has proved itself to be over and over again. One of the things we took for granted before moving is that people here have lives outside of tech, leading to broader worldview, more interesting conversations, as opposed to the singular focus of those in Silicon Valley. We also missed Wawa, hoagies, East Coast beer, cheesesteaks, Pennsylvania-dutch influenced food, our list goes on…

The main things we will miss about living in the Bay Area are things like the weather and the fresh fruit. While we find fault with the way some startups strive to “disrupt” industries, transportation, habits, ways of communicating, there is also this vibrant energy that thrives there, that it is possible to instill change, make a difference or improve lives. What we love about Philly is the history, the culture, the people and the food, but in some cases it does seem like some institutions are not working, and could be updated, changed, or re-interpreted for the better.

We believe the Philly tech scene could benefit from studying and therefore potentially avoid mistakes made in SF and NYC startup circuits. Honestly, Philly will never catch up to SF’s salary ranges, but we think that it potentially could leap-frog other non-SF markets (like Seattle or Austin) with the right goals and intentions. The infrastructure needs to keep pace with technology for the city to remain attractive, but the amount of new residential development seems like it will be able to support new populations moving in, unlike the Bay Area. The way to attract and retain top talent, without billions of dollars and 70 degree sunny weather is to do things differently, not mimic the VC-driven SF culture.

Anything else?

Ways Philly companies could improve:

  • Maternity and paternity leave rivaling European countries
  • Focusing on hiring people of color, women, trans
  • Continue to host coding programs and foster non-professional programs for increasing diversity (Girl Develop It, Black Girls Code)
  • Be transparent about salary (like this company in Seattle offering a $70k base salary)
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