I originally began writing posts for every city I planned to visit but halfway through I felt like I got out of the exercise what I wanted. These are the condensed and cleaned up versions of the original posts by city. Some of the posts are quick summaries of why I wanted to visit there while others get more into what I know and want to find out about the software development scenes there.
The cities included in this post are Charlottesville, Charlotte, New Orleans, Memphis, Austin, Lubbock, Los Alamos, Moab, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
I lived in Charlottesville, VA from 2007-09. Charlottesville's distance between DC and Charlotte makes it a good spot to spend a couple of days before heading South. Charlottesville is one of those small towns that really grows on you. Most UVA grads have a high opinion of Cville as a great location to be both during and after school.
Starting in Charlottesville will give me a couple of days to start my trip on the right foot. I can talk to some new people, take a lot of pictures, and make sure I'm really ready to hit the road.
Charlotte, North Carolina is the first destination on my trip outside of Washington, DC. Charlotte is approximately 400 miles from DC (about 7 hours) and several people I know have moved to Charlotte to escape the government-centric DC area for careers focused on commercial business. Charlotte is also the largest city in North Carolina, and the second largest banking center in the US. This is a summary of my pre-research reasons for why I'm traveling to Charlotte.
I read a lot of Hacker News which biases my opinions towards small start ups and against large firms. Charlotte may provide a grounding in what many US cities consider technology to be useful for. Tech can be a support function for an industries that were around long before the term "computer" was used to describe a machine.
I am unaware in my limited knowledge of any start up companies coming out of North Carolina. Is there a culture there that support risk-taking? If you try to start a venture or join a small company that fails, is there a stigma attached to that failure?
It appears that the financial industry heavily impacts the tech culture in Charlotte. Financial institutions are notoriously large, bureaucratic organizations with many policies, procedures, and controls in place designed (but not always successful) for protecting customers' investments. How does that impact the tech scene in Charlotte, NC?
New Orleans has a strong, unique city culture. I previously traveled to New Orleans in 2010 although I was there for only a few short days. I have a couple of reasons for returning and making New Orleans the fifth destination on my trip.
First, one of the Excella Consulting founding partners, Burton White, is from New Orleans. He told me about some of the most recent efforts by the state to create tax breaks for innovative companies to start and come to the area. I'm interested to see if that type of local government involved has positively impacted the area.
Second, I only had a few days to explore the French Quarter during the day and at night. My experience in the city is really limited. I want to expand my view of the city into other parts such as St. Charles Ave. The combination of gaining further insight into the technology of the city plus the interesting destinations in the area are an appealing mix.
Several of my DC friends previously lived in Memphis and recommended that I visit the city while I am travelling through Tennessee. There's great BBQ, high recommendations for Beale Street, and a different Midwestern culture that an East Coast kid like me should find interesting. Memphis is only three and a half hours from my previous stop in Nashville. Plus it takes me further Southwest towards my next destination, New Orleans.
So a combination of convenience and interest combine to make Memphis stop #4.
Nashville appears to have the most momentum in the state for establishing a start up scene. But there are some interesting pieces to technology start ups in Memphis as well. Start Up Memphis has interesting, up to date articles on companies in the area. Launchpad Memphis is a coworking space for start ups and hosts some of the Memphis Python (MemPy) meet ups.
However, it's been difficult finding out exactly what start ups are in Memphis, particularly ones using Python. More digging is necessary in this area.
Austin was the first city I put on the map during my road trip planning. I knew there was no way I was going to skip it or just spend a couple of days there. Nothing less than a full week will suffice. In fact, much of my early planning and building of this website was done while visiting Austin for a week in June 2012.
I've been to Austin three times previously. Every time has been amazing and in different ways. There's something about the friendly culture, somewhat liberal attitude mixed with hipster weirdness and technology start ups that I find tremendously appealing. Plus Austin has some of the best bars anywhere with 4th & 6th Streets. Weather is perfect since I prefer hot summer days to cold dark winter nights.
I considered moving to Austin a few years ago but I nixed the idea since it is so far from my East Coast roots. I decided instead to visit as often as possible, but ultimately that just may not be enough for me once I finish up my fourth trip there. Regardless, it's a great city and there was no question it would be part of my trip.
Austin has a great tech scene. It's the home of the South by Southwest conference in March every year. Austin is often ranked highly on lists of best places to launch a tech start up along with San Francisco, Seattle, Boulder, New York, and Boston. The growth of Dell Computers in the late 80s and 90s helped the city to establish its silicon credentials.
Current growing technology companies with an office in Austin include Facebook, Google, NVidia, Indeed.com, Rackspace, and Zynga. University of Texas is located in the heart of Austin and is at the forefront of many areas in computer science and related disciplines. Smaller start ups include The Daily Dot, Evernote, RightScale.
There's a lot of technology work in Austin. It's the first destination that people who comment on my trip say "oh, that makes sense if you want to learn more about technology across the country."
Lubbock is home to the Red Raiders of Texas Tech University and is about seven hours Northwest of Austin, Texas. Lubbock will be the seventh city I visit during Coding Across America. This stop begins the leg of my trip that will take me to some remote place in the Southwest United States, including Los Alamos, Moab, and Flagstaff.
It will be difficult to find technology-related ventures in Lubbock outside of Texas Tech University. An Indeed.com search for Django and Ruby on Rails turned up... nothing. Ditto for tech meetups. But in lieu of other software developers to talk to, I'm looking forward to spending some time here in an area of the United States I would otherwise be unlikely to visit. It's also a great excuse to get plenty of time for heads-down coding.
Not much here with regards to startup culture from what I can find. I'll have to do further digging to see if Texas Tech University sponsors any type of incubator or entrepreurship classes.
Los Alamos, New Mexico is another one of those destinations that leaves people wondering "what does that have to do with tech"? It is definitely not a town that people associate with startups like Palo Alto, Seattle, Boulder, or Austin. Still there is a lot of advanced research going on here although it's not well publicized outside of academic circles. Some of the work is classified as well. Despite my Top Secret security clearance, I'm unfortunately not going to get to see the cool classified work going on in Los Alamos National Laboratory.
It's likely most of my time here will be spent outdoors or in small town getting some solid coding time in.
Sky Crane burns behind Los Alamos, New Mexico's airport.
I added Moab to my list of destinations after a couple of enthusiastic recommendations from people I randomly met. Moab looks amazing from photos but apparently none of them do it justice. "You have to see it in person" I'm told. So with that Moab will be destination number nine.
I expect that this will be the third stop in the leg of my trip that takes me out of the tech scene and lets me focus primarily on developing my own software.
San Diego was a late addition to my slate of destinations. I added San Diego for a couple of reasons. First, I ran into an old friend in DC who was back in town visiting from San Diego. She loves living in San Diego, asked me "why not visit?" and I didn't have a good answer for why I wasn't going. So that got me started thinking about it. Second, my brother hung out in San Diego for a few days when he drove across the country and he said it was amazing.
Plus no trip up the West Coast would seem complete unless I went the almost full length from San Diego to Seattle. San Diego is destination number eleven during Coding Across America.
This is where my Coding Across America trip puts the focus back on technology, meet ups, and start ups. San Diego has a pretty good tech scene. There's quite a bit of venture funding here and more start ups than I have time to talk with. This should be an exciting location to visit.
I have never been to Los Angeles before. The stories I hear about LA's massive traffic jams and major suburban sprawl remind me of Northern Virginia - only worse. A trip up the West Coast just wouldn't seem complete though without a stop in LA. And it'll a comparison point for what I see in San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle's start up scenes.
Los Angeles is stop number twelve out of the thirty cities I am visiting.
I found the Los Angeles Startups twitter account really useful for learning about companies in the city. There are many small companies here which is expected for a city with almost 13 million people in the metro area.
What I'll find interesting is whether being close to San Francisco helps or hurts entrepreneurship. On one hand, I'm sure some people move back and forth between California cities which helps spread ideas about technology and innovation. On the other hand, if you're serious about starting a company, maybe people just up and move to San Francisco / Palo Alto. Perhaps a third variable, such as the major prescence of the movie industry, impacts the startup landscape in a more dramatic way than proximity to other California cities. This situation needs more research before I take off on the road.
Why not San Francisco? Technically this stop is a combination of the areas in and around San Francisco, Palo Alto, and San Jose. There are so many interesting start ups, venture capital firms, and technology meetups it's difficult to know where to start.
I've never been to San Francisco (or CA before this trip). These will be ten very busy days talking to companies, other software developers, and going to tech meetups, as well as exploring the area.