Sunday, July 31, 2011

Making Seattle my home

I moved to Seattle about 4 months ago, after having lived in Boston for a little more than seven years. Now that I've settled in a bit I thought now would be a good time to write up some of my thoughts on the city and lifestyle here.

The view from Kerry Park in Queen Anne, which was about a 10-minute walk from my house in Queen Anne - before I moved to Wallingford recently.
Upon leaving Boston, I could have moved pretty much anywhere. Most of the cities with a strong tech industry had good job opportunities for my wife, as well, and of course Google has offices in most major cities in the US. So we had plenty of options. We both went to Berkeley for grad school and absolutely love the Bay Area, but we decided not to move back there for a bunch of reasons. The main one being that I would have been working in Mountain View and my wife would have been in SF, and that would have meant a hell of a commute for either of us. It was also not clear that we would have been able to afford a decent house in the Bay Area in any neighborhoods that we would want to live. Our preference would have been to live in the East Bay, bit that would have made the commute problem even worse. With a two-year old son, I'm not willing to go through  an hour commute twice a day -- it's simply not worth it to me.

Seattle has a lot of what we were looking for. We live right in the middle of the city (in Wallingford) and for me it's a 10-minute bike commute (to the Google office in Fremont) along the shore of Lake Union, with views of downtown, the Space Needle, and Mount Rainier. It is a fantastic neighborhood with shops, bars, restaurants, playgrounds, and one of the best elementary schools in Seattle (John Stanford) just a few blocks away.

I realized at one point that I probably know more people in Seattle than any other city -- including Boston -- with the University of Washington, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google all here I had this large pre-fab social network already in place. The tech industry is huge here and there seems to be a very active startup community.

The geography here is absolutely stunning. Anywhere you go in Seattle you are surrounded by water, trees, snow-capped mountains. From our house we have a beautiful view to downtown Seattle and Lake Union, with seaplanes taking off and landing overhead. It is also a dense enough city that we can walk or bike to pretty much everything we would need; of course, a big part of this is because we live in Seattle proper, rather than the Eastlake communities of Kirkland, Bellevue, or Redmond, which tend to be more spread out.

This is totally the view from my house in Wallingford. Yes, I would like for that damn tree to not be in the way, but what can you do?

It is no surprise that Seattle is a far more relaxed and progressive place than Boston. A lot of this is, of course, the West Coast vs. East Coast distinction, and in a lot of ways Seattle exemplifies the West Coast aesthetic, much as Boston does the East. Way way more fixie bikes, tattoos, farmers markets, lesbians, hippies, and hippie lesbians with tattoos riding fixie bikes through farmers markets here in Seattle than anywhere in New England. In a lot of ways it's like San Francisco Lite -- a bit less edgy, more approachable, more gentrified, but still very forward-thinking. I feel very much like I belong here, whereas in Boston I always felt like a bit of an outsider.

So far I'm digging the restaurant and cocktail scene in Seattle, which is more adventurous and less stuffy than what you find in Boston (although Boston has some damn good food). I miss really good Chinese food (which is harder to find than you would expect), and surprisingly Seattle doesn't have a ton of great Mexican food options, although I happen to live about a block from the best taco truck in town. Thai and sushi are excellent here, and there seems to be a lot more casual, foodie-type places all over town which do crazy shit like Korean comfort food and ice cream sandwiches

What am I not so crazy about? Well, I'm on the fence about the weather. The summer has (mostly) been beautiful - 75 degrees, sunny, no humidity at all. Mixed in have been some cooler rainy days that feel out of place for the season. The first couple of months we were here, in April and May, it was rainy and overcast pretty much every day. I take it this is typical for Seattle. The long term question is whether I will be more or less content with this pattern than Boston, which has a much wider temperature range, a couple of months of unbearably cold and snowy weather each year, and sweltering humid summers. It remains to be seen.

Second, everyone in Seattle appears to be white. This is not true of course, but at least in the neighborhoods where I spend most of my time, there is a lot less racial and cultural diversity than Boston. My understanding is that this is due to largely historical reasons where minorities were shut out of many neighborhoods, but the effects persist today. I will ponder this more deeply the next time I'm sitting at a sidewalk café with my dog while sipping an organic soy latte and checking Google+ on my MacBook Pro. It's the thing to do here, you know.


  1. And no state income tax. :-)

  2. I hope you develop a deep affection for the climate, because if you do Seattle is a utopia. In my mind, I used to substitute the green for the lack of bright sun, and the snow (particularly Mt Baker) for the lack of beach.

  3. Matt, you seem to be a foodie, so I'll ask: what are your favorite places in Boston, any cuisine? For Sichuan, I like Sichuan garden in brookline, but haven't found particularly good Mexican or Indian here. Any hole in the wall recommendations?

  4. Hey, Matt, El Camino in Fremont is our favorite Mexican food in Seattle. Also, you might try hanging out in Capitol Hill, where we live, which has great bars and restaurants and more diversity.

  5. Anon re: food in Boston -- Boston has an awesome food scene, though it took me years to find some of the best places.

    Sichuan - my favorite is Chili Garden in Medford, though Sichuan Garden is great too. Zoe's in Somerville was my local and also excellent.

    Mexican - Taqueria el Amigo in Waltham, very much a hole in the wall joint, but worth the drive out there. Angela's Cafe in Eastie is amazing too.

    Indian - I love Pongal in Billerica, amazing South and North Indian buffet, very authentic.

    Some others: Rod Dee does excellent Thai. Floating Rock in Revere was incredible Cambodian. Fasika in Somerville is the best Ethiopian place in town. Shiraz in Watertown is my favorite little Persian place.

  6. Hi Matt,

    Seattle is a wonderful place I think. I love mountains and being so close to them would overweight any number of rainy days for me.

    Do you have any idea if you can change your mind after some time working and move to a different city where there is an office?

  7. Hi Matt,
    You did not mention the scenic loop near Seattle. Its a wonderful drive. I also notice no mention of Mayuri a good South IN resto near bellevue. Try it :-)


  8. Thanks for all the Boston food recos, Matt!

  9. Steven - I can always relocate to another city where Google has a major engineering office. It is generally easy to do a relocation if you are going to a larger office which has a lot of projects, so places like Mountain View, New York, Seattle/Kirkland, Zurich are pretty straightforward. If I wanted to relocate to a smaller office I would need to spend some time figuring out what I would be able to do there, but it can definitely be done.


Startup Life: Three Months In

I've posted a story to Medium on what it's been like to work at a startup, after years at Google. Check it out here.