In Defense of the Midwest

Sunday, March 8, 2015

As an undergraduate, I always imagined that I would someday move to the SF Bay Area to live in the heart of the software industry. With this in mind, in my final semester at Kent State, I joined a Silicon Valley startup as their third engineer1. The staff at that time was split: one founder and one engineer were in Mountain View, CA; one founder and one engineer were in Ohio; and one engineer was remote. Nearly every month in the first year, I flew out to the Silicon Valley office to work with the engineers out there.

Since then, we have grown to have a technical staff of about 20 people. We are split pretty evenly between the Silicon Valley office and the Ohio office. I spend most of my time in the Ohio office, but I do commute to the Silicon Valley one occasionally.

Nearly every time I go out to California, my coworkers ask me the usual question: "so, when are you moving to California?" It seems like for people in the Valley, moving to California is such an obvious choice that it isn't even a question of if I'll move, but when. However, I truly love the Midwest and that I want to stay here for as long as I can. It's not for everyone, but it is for me and maybe it is for you.

It is affordable

In San Francisco, the median one-bedroom apartment costs $3,120 / month. In Kent, Ohio, a really nice one-bedroom apartment will cost you at most $1000 / month. Salaries are much higher in the Valley than in Ohio, but even a low salary in Ohio can get you a very nice apartment.

There is lots to do

Another argument that's used is that "Ohio is in the middle of nowhere" implying that there is nothing to do here and life is boring, surrounded by cornfields. On the contrary, there is actually a ton to do in Ohio. Here's a tiny sampling of what I like:

  • Cleveland gets all the Broadway shows once they go off Broadway, but at about half the cost
  • We have great music here, including the world-renowned Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, and tons of bands come through
  • We have some great sports teams (hi, OSU) and a ton of great sports fans (hi, Browns fans)
  • We have great food at very affordable prices

Actually, I haven't found anything I could do out in the Valley that I could not also do back in Ohio, except maybe get killer sushi.

Midwesterners are Great People

More than anything else, I love the people in the Midwest. Here's why:

  • Our people are incredibly polite and caring. Out here, people greet you on the sidewalk even if they don't know you. Neighbors will come help push your car out of the snowbank it got stuck in. Cars will let let you merge when they don't have to.
  • Our people are, well, scrappy: even though the Browns continue to lose, year after year, you will find no fans more loyal than the Browns fans2. This attitude is carried through most things we do: even if you fail over and over, you just keep trying and hoping.

On balance, I haven't found nicer people than in the Midwest.

The Weather

Not many people would claim that Ohio's weather is great, but count me among them. Our winters are fairly harsh and cold, but they make you truly appreciate spring when it comes. All the non-winter seasons are really nice: spring is pleasant and life is blossoming around you; summer is warm and laid-back; and fall is brisk and beautiful, with the leaves all changing colors.

Great Universities

Despite popular opinion, the great universities aren't limited to the two coasts: we have UW-Madison, UIUC, Northwestern, and OSU, to name just a few. (Carnegie Mellon is also nearby, even though it isn't technically in the Midwest.)

The Pace of Life

On both coasts, the pace of life is really, really high: you just go, go, go and work constantly. If you go to a restaurant or coffee shop, people around you are probably all talking something work related, because people don't slow down very much.

In the Midwest, though, people take a much more relaxed pace. If you go to a coffee shop, you'll find people talking about real life things, not work. Maybe they're talking about a book they read in their free time!

This is one of the things I love most about the Midwest - people actually turn off work mode sometimes and go relax. I firmly believe that, even in spite of this, people are not less productive here than in the Valley, because even though we may put in fewer hours, those hours are more energetic and we are more recharged.

The Midwest is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people. Don't write it off just because it isn't the heart of Silicon Valley - there is still a lot of good stuff and good work being done in this part of the country. Come visit, stay for a while.

1 My company is in stealth mode and has requested that we not talk about the company publicly at this time. When that changes, I might have more to say about the company. Note: I can talk to individuals one-on-one if anyone is curious.

2 We have fans on every continent including Antarctica.

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