Sometimes a potent mix of wanderlust and the allure of an unanswered “what if” question causes change to happen. I recently moved from San Francisco to New York, and I recently transitioned from my full-time role at Mozilla to a part-time consulting role.
Of course, soon after I left, the Giants are making a World Series run, making me long to be near Willie Mays plaza. I love San Francisco, with its micro-climates, improbable topography, and draconian parking inspectors. I spent one third of my adult life here. I worked with inspiring people to advance the reach and capability of a massively hyper-connected world; I played enthusiastically (if not adeptly) in the magnificent outdoors; I got up to all the usual urban shenanigans in my twenties, even getting my heart broken and wizened; and — at the great risk of courting the obvious metaphor — I emerged from the fog of a prolonged adolescence into what I hope will pass for maturity. I’ll miss the City by the Bay. There’s no place like it in all the world.
Within reason, I relish change, and seek it out whenever I feel I’m getting lulled into complacency. I’ve wanted to explore non-technical projects for a long time now, and the best way to do that was to leave the epicenter of technology for a while. My childhood brought with it much travel; I was raised in India, Hong Kong, Ethiopia, Russia, China, and France, with some time in Canada. I often dodge direct questions about where I grew up, preferring the quick version of the story, but I am sticking to the facts when I tell people that San Francisco is the longest I’ve ever lived in any one place. So why, then, New York?
I’ll spare you my romantic observations about cities. E.B. White (of Strunk and White and Charlotte’s Web fame) said it much better than I ever can back in 1948 (but you should read him in 2010, since his words have aged so well). A small snippet:
“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last — the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.”
For the next conceivable while, then, I’ll be a settler. I’ll bring to New York my “what if” questions, and see what happens when I pursue the answers with passion.
The transition does mean I’ll miss the people I worked with over the years, particularly at Mozilla, a project I grew up with almost right out of college. Few things compare to the thrill of contributing to something that you really believe in. Mozilla paved the way for what is now the triumph of open-source on the web over a closed-source monopoly. Not working on it full-time means that I’ll no longer be associated with some things, like being the Chair of the WebGL WG or being front and center for developer relations. But it also means I can take on some manageable tasks and make sure they get chaperoned through to completion.
I’m in what seems to be a a bigger pond now — a chaotic, crowded one with four seasons and a subway and even more draconian parking inspectors. The Fall is lovely here, and I am optimistic.