Why Boston is a great place to have a tech career

Boston, Silicon Valley

I’m often asked why I chose to live in Boston. In my daily conversations with people living outside of New England, especially outside of the US, I often hear: “Oh I didn’t know Boston was a great place to live.”

Let me set the record straight: Boston is awesome. Literally AWEsome. Bostonians are too humble for their own good. Forget NYC, San Francisco or even London.

In my first blog post “moving to Boston became a no-brainer,” I explained how I chose to move here, and the analysis that I used to guide my decision.

In this post, I’ll dig deeper into how I chose Boston and what I have discovered since. Why does this matter? Choosing the right city has a huge impact on our careers. Each city emphases specific industries and has a culture that may or may not fit with your personality, skills and interests. 

Boston’s startup scene is a big family

When I contacted friends that I had in Boston, I was amazed how tightly knit the community is. Boston has less inflow of people than NYC and San Francisco – which some people see as a disadvantage. But there are unique advantages to this that make the character of the Boston startup scene pretty special. Very rapidly, you can get to know many people, have great conversations, and these people will most likely also know each other – maybe even know each other well. It becomes easy to exponentially grow your network and develop a reputation within that network, different from larger ecosystems where one is seemingly constantly re-establishing ones credibility with new audiences.

I was amazed that after meeting a few contacts here, I was introduced to more than 10 investors and tech leaders, and within under a month, I received a competitive offer to join a top Boston startup with a great team in an exciting role.

Lots of great startups in Boston, i.e. it is big enough

I was also amazed how many great startups there are in Boston. You just need to follow Dan Primack to realize that there’s roughly one VC deal a day that happens here. Check out Accomplice, Next View, General Catalyst, Bessemer, just to name a few of our local investors to see that lots of startups get funded.

According to the startup ecosystem ranking report here, Boston was ranked #4. This is not linear. I feel like Boston is at least 10X the size and quality of other non top-5 cities I have investigated, i.e. London, Toronto, Montreal, and Singapore.

Not industry specific

People in Boston switch industry often. There’s probably at least 1 startup in most industries you’re interested in. In healthcare and cybersecurity, Boston has plenty of leading startups. The valley, on the other hand, has 10s of startups in every single industry. The flip side of this is that people in the valley almost expect someone to build an industry expertise and stay in that industry “forever.” When looking at talent, companies in the valley have a large pool of people in that industry.

Boston is a great place if you like to cut your teeth on different industries. One way of looking at this is that’s less efficient for companies to recruit generalists who then have to learn the ropes of a particular sector. But the way I like to think about it is: having people from different industries can spur disruptive innovation further vs fostering group-think cultures. For example, I had a blast becoming an expert in mobile app advertising technology at Jana.

You know what, Boston is a comfortable place

I have to say it. Boston is comfortable. For where I am in my life, raising a family, that is just what I want Schools and hospitals are world-class in Boston. Boston is a great city to walk in. Just think of all of the parks, european-style architecture and the quasi absence of traffic in the city, and Bingo you got it. I almost forgot to say that disposable income is higher, owing to the fact that taxes and living costs are lower in Boston (but tech salaries are still almost on par with Silicon Valley).

Startups may go global, but the networks behind them are mostly local

Global networks are super useful in order to have a breadth of resources at your disposal when needed. For example, when you need a recommendation for a great lunch spot in London, some tips on IP regimes in Asia, or a few friendly contacts for your sales team in China. On a separate note, I do believe that living abroad makes you smarter but that’s for another blog post.

When pursuing startup opportunities, however, building relationships with investors and potential partners takes years, and is usually going to be local in order to be effective. Early-stage investors will often require you to be in the same city as they’re in. People you meet, will usually introduce you to other people in the same city.So my rule of thumb was that I would choose a place where I could stay at least 10 to 20 years, so that I can leverage networks from one opportunity to the next.

*How* I chose Boston over San Francisco

In my previous blog post, I described that my wife an I used an analytical methodology to choosing a city. We ranked cities according to 5 variables that were important to us. Though this method can succumb to bias and weighing errors, it really forced us to discuss the issues that were important to us and quantify them.

I sealed the deal after I tested our assumptions on the field. As I mentioned above, I was amazed by the quality and the quantity of entrepreneurs that I met in my first 2 weeks and even landed a great opportunity in the first month. My main goal was to join a startup with great people so that I can grow my network in Boston. I certainly met my goal.

As a safeguard, I also got an offer from a top startup in San Francisco. However, I didn’t have to exercise that option. Boston was too good to be true.

Don’t get me wrong: The valley has lots of breadth, energy and a risk-taking culture, that no-one, to my knowledge, has yet replicated, except potentially some ecosystems in China. My take is that if you’re in your early 20s and want to have a blast, move to the valley, learn and see what happens. The valley tends to only value experience and education from the valley, so keep that in mind.

If you want to know more, reach out to me or follow this blog post. I’m happy to learn about your experiences.

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