(Before you ask: I’m not switching jobs, just going closer to the office that has the tacos.)
“It just started quietly and grew”
You know how sometimes when you start to fall for someone, everyone around you knows it before you do? Your conversation constantly drifts toward them; you can barely contain your excitement at the mention of their name. I’ve lost count of how many times that’s happened to me with people, but this time, to my complete surprise, it happened with a city.
The signs were all there: my phone started autocorrecting “talk” to “y’all”. I found myself searching for excuses to take trips there and always came back feeling energized. And at some point, the amount of time I spent singing the praises of Wisconsin cheese curds and ice cream was overtaken by my apparently not so subtle cravings for barbecue and breakfast tacos.
2018 is the year I fell in love with Austin.
“I don’t feel all turned-on and starry-eyed”
I’ve been in Ann Arbor for about a year and a half, and I have zero regrets about having made the move. Coming to a city where I had never been before my interview and didn’t know anyone was a gamble, but it was absolutely worth it for my personal growth. I survived the move despite difficult circumstances and a crazy tight timeline (protip: don’t take a SANS course that runs till the day before moving). I had previously only lived away from Madison during college in Illinois and my study abroad in Mexico; coming to Ann Arbor proved to me that even when I love my hometown of Madison, I’m capable of living in other places and enjoying them too.
Ann Arbor broadened my horizons. Living here, I discovered my love of Korean food and session mead, rediscovered my love of craft beers and a high-quality cup of tea, and took up cardio drumming and pole dancing. I have a coffee shop and tea shop where I walk in and they know my name. Above all, I got to have a job that it feels like I’ve been in for far longer than a year and a half just by the sheer amount that I’ve learned and gotten to accomplish. I’ve met so many amazing friends and discovered new passions through the job that brought me to Ann Arbor.
But I’ve also struggled to find my stride here, in a very “it’s not you, it’s me” way. Living here has always felt strangely temporary, like I’ve just been away at college again. There are things that I’ve missed more than I thought I would, like walking out of my apartment into a vibrant neighborhood, going to concerts, and riding my bike (I haven’t even bought a bike in A2 because the bike infrastructure leaves much to be desired). Being on the edge of multiple lake effect weather regions means way more cloud cover than I expected, which takes a toll on my mood in the fall and winter. Outside of my coworkers, I’ve had trouble figuring out how to insert myself into what feels like a very insular community. Weekends can get pretty lonely. Plus, some of the friends I made in Ann Arbor have since moved away - including a few who’ve landed in Austin.
Ann Arbor has a lot going for it and I wouldn’t rule out coming back someday. But this year, as I worked on trying to establish routines and figure out where I fit in here, my attention started to shift.
“I just feel a sweet contentment deep inside”
In March, I spent a week working from our southernmost office - my second Austin trip of the year, and my fourth time in Austin overall. The first couple days of the trip coincided with the culmination of the tragic serial bombings. While I was upset by what was happening, I also didn’t want to leave. I felt a connection to the community that was refusing to let hate win.
In spite of the turbulent situation, you still couldn’t wipe the smile off my face at the end of the week… a friend later referred to it as my “happy Austin glow”. Getting up early every day to take a leisurely walk across Lady Bird Lake into the office with Jo’s Coffee in hand and the sun on my face just felt natural. (I even saved the punch card from Jo’s just in case I came back.) I didn’t have a name for those feelings at the time; I just chalked them up to my love of travel and excitement over spending time with my Austin coworkers.
As my team had its first Austin hire in April, and then as three people in my life, including another teammate, prepared to move to Austin in June and September, I found myself having more conversations about Austin. Apparently I have a terrible poker face because I’m told that I would light up whenever I talked about it. It wasn’t until I went back down to speak at LASCON in October that it dawned on me: being in Austin didn’t feel like being away from home. Did I mention that you literally couldn’t drink the water that week? That should’ve made any sane person want to nope right out of Texas, but I stood in the rain, snapped a photo of the disgusting chocolate river, and knew that this too would pass.
In the two weeks between LASCON and my next Austin trip to onboard a new teammate, I had tea with a very wise work friend and got the question I’d been wanting to hear but had been afraid to pose to myself: “You talk about Austin a lot - have you ever considered moving there?” Boom. Clocked.
Throughout my week in Austin in November, I started reaching out to various coworkers asking about the city, both those who’d been there for a while and recent transplants. I also consulted with my relatives who’d been in Austin since Lady Bird Lake was Town Lake. I think that I was searching for permission… having only ever moved for school and work, I didn’t know how to navigate moving for myself. As I was enumerating all of my reasons for being intrigued by Austin to a close friend, she put into words exactly what I’d been feeling: “You’ve already made up your mind.”
When I returned to Ann Arbor, I told my manager and director that I was considering moving to Austin. Neither one of them was the slightest bit surprised.
“Warm and wilder”
So what am I excited about? ALL THE THINGS! The abundance of live music, biking, walks along the river, a thriving tech community… actual taco trucks on every corner. The list goes on. Even before I left Madison, I found myself wanting the pace of a bigger city - and Madison is more than twice the size of Ann Arbor. There are elements of Madison that I’ve missed that Austin has, like lots of green space even in urban areas, and that infamous “weird” vibe; at the same time there are things that Austin has to offer that I lacked even while living in Madison, like more diversity and any kind of cohesive infosec scene. Austin seems to strike a good balance for me of being big enough to satisfy my needs without me feeling like I’ll be swallowed up. There’s something remarkable about a big city where you can still see the stars at night (and yes they are indeed big and bright… clap clap clap clap). I nearly teared up in November when I saw the Leonid meteor shower from downtown.
I’m looking forward to more sunlight and milder winters. For someone who has to work significantly harder during cold cloudy winters to maintain the same baseline mood and energy level, having the shortest days of the year be the ones where I can be the most active outdoors might do me some good. This may sound trivial, but I also can’t wait to be back near water. I noticed that I missed it during college too, when suddenly I went from an isthmus to the Illinois cornfields. In the nine years that I spent in Madison after college, I never lived more than two blocks from a lake (in other news, my older cat is now really good at killing spiders)… bodies of water were always woven into my routine and my identity in many ways.
I recognize that there’s no perfect city. Austin has some of the worst traffic in the country, summers hotter than the ninth circle of Hell, and significantly creepier bugs than the Midwest. It has all of the growing pains you’d expect from a city undergoing a population explosion. I’m open to the possibility that living in Austin will feel very different from visiting, as well as the possibility that I’ll grow apart from it one day. Yet I find myself drawn there right now… just as with any job or any relationship, compatibility is largely a matter of finding the imperfections that you can accept. To quote Rent, “I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine.”
That brings me to the biggest reason of all for moving to Austin, and the hardest to quantify: I feel a sense of belonging. That’s worth listening to.
“Getting better everyday”
I won’t have an exact timeline until I have a place to live, but I’m aiming toward sometime in the spring - after SxSW and before the weather gets to “punched in the face by an angry flamethrower” levels of heat. I’m hoping that giving myself a few months - instead of the few weeks that I had last time - will ease at least some of the inevitable moving stress. While I’ll miss my Ann Arbor team, my Austin coworkers have already been incredibly welcoming. I feel very lucky that I’ll able to move to a city that I’ve been gravitating toward for a long time without having to look for a new job in order to get there. I’m grateful for my time in Ann Arbor and now I can’t wait to embark on my new adventure.
Hold onto your ten-gallon hats, ATX - I’m coming home.
(Song lyrics: Mama Cass, “It’s Getting Better”)