Is NYC as cool as I think it would be?
April 27, 2010 4:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to decide between grad school and moving to NYC to be a software developer. Please de-romanticize that latter option for me.

Pretty much since high school, I've been planning on continuing to graduate school. I wasn't always sure that academia was the right path for me, but I was pretty confident that grad school, at least, would be the way to go. But now that decision-time is looming, it's starting to look less attractive, and I'm considering an alternative.

There are lots of little issues with the grad school option, but the one pertinent to this AMF question is that I'm not sure I want to spend years 22--26 of my life as an always-working graduate student in a small suburban town. Over the last couple of years I've just started to come into my own as a social person, and I feel like that would be a step backward.

The alternative is software development as a career. I'm a good software developer, and write a lot of little programs and web applications for fun---so I have a nice portfolio to show off, and my skills are current. I worked at a software company every summer during high school. So I'm pretty sure that I could get a nice job. People from my school, most of which don't have my kind of portfolio, are regularly recruited for Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc.

More importantly, this would give me the chance to move to New York City, which has been pretty much my dream place-to-live ever since I visited it for a few weeks last summer. It seems like a great place to spend my early twenties. And a nine-to-five job leaves a lot more guaranteed free time than the graduate-student lifestyle; once you're out of the office, you're free, with no paper to publish before you're scooped or looming Ph.D. thesis.

My main concern is that I'm over-romanticizing this latter option. That is, I'm not sure that "being twenty and single in New York" is necessarily as awesome as I assume it will be. So, I turn to the internet, and more specifically you guys :). What should I know about such a lifestyle? Has anyone moved to NYC with similar motives, and if so, what was your experience?

(I'd like to at least somewhat avoid making this a grad school vs. not-grad school question. I have lots of factors I'm considering there---this is just me gathering data about a specific factor among those.)
posted by Jacen Solo to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
No de-romanticizing from me. I moved to NYC for the same reasons in 2004, and it's been fabulous! I still look around sometimes and realize, hey, I live in NYC! I can't speak to your job prospects, though; I'm sure some other software developers will chime in on that.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:09 PM on April 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and in the way of brainstorming, think about what exactly draws you to NYC, so you can figure out if you'll be able to make it a part of your everyday life. Living here is very different from being a tourist here, particularly if you're dealing with budget concerns (although I was making NOTHING when I first graduated college, and I was still having a ball).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:11 PM on April 27, 2010


Grad school must have in itself a purpose. What do you want the degree for?

Let me give you an example: if you had studied B.A. and just after finishing the degree, you enrolled in an MBA, then that would be kinda of useless. Why?
because these masters programs will give you more bang for the buck if you already have some decent work experience, and by that I don't mean working during the summers.

I think the same applies for a masters program in Computer Science. BTW, you did not mention what is it that you studied as an undergrad. But still, if you really want to squeeze out the juice of a masters program, I suggest you work on full time for a couple of years, so that you may do better at the master course.
posted by theKik at 4:13 PM on April 27, 2010


If you're thinking of going into academia, I think it would be valuable to take some time off and go have a job in the world outside academia. Many grad students who are planning to become professors end up deciding that they don't like academia, but then they feel trapped because they don't know how to get a non-academic job. And real-world experience is valuable in nearly every subject; makes you a more confident presenter, better able to relate to your eventual students who will not be grad-school-bound but instead are heading into the real world.

Life after college is hard; it's harder to form social circles, the standards of "success" aren't as clear-cut, and you're starting at the bottom even if you've graduated from a good school. It will be hard wherever you go. But the good news is, that hardness is temporary and you learn a large suite of valuable new skills to cope with it. That is an important experience to have, even if it's hard while it's happening. So: even if living in New York for a few years would be hard and lonely at times, it could still be extremely valuable, and wouldn't impede you going back to grad school later.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:15 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


So personally - I'd leave off taking a "real" job as long as possible. Your early 20's are the best years of your life.

Don't go to NYC and take a job as a software engineer - go wait tables or tend bar and maybe do some dev as a part time gig. Do something that lets you stay out until 4am on a Thursday.

Take a year and then reassess grad school.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:20 PM on April 27, 2010


I actually am doing mathematical physics as an undergrad, so this would be rather much of a change. I'm in a joint BS/MS program as well, so I'll already have a masters. But again, grad school versus industry in general is a bigger topic...
posted by Jacen Solo at 4:25 PM on April 27, 2010


If you want to move to NYC, that's great. But what do you want to do as a computer programmer whose academic background is in mathematical physics?

I would say that obvious job targets for you would be either Wall St., one of the small venture capital firms here, or else one of the startup companies funded by the venture capitalists.

The general point is (and here comes the de-romanticizing you're looking for): NYC is very expensive. Don't come here without an idea of what, precisely, you want to do for a job.
posted by dfriedman at 4:29 PM on April 27, 2010


Q: Is NYC as cool as I think it would be?
A: Yes.

Are you talking about a PhD? Have you already been accepted to a program? If not, it'll be a year before you can start anyway.

I took a year off (I'm finishing my year of working, and will be starting a PhD in the fall), and I cannot wait to get back to academia. If I hadn't taken a year off, I'd probably be too burnt out to approach starting a PhD program in any meaningful way. I say move to New York and work for a year.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:30 PM on April 27, 2010


The other thing to keep in mind is that the money in private industry is vastly greater than in academia. If that is a motivating factor, consider it.
posted by dfriedman at 4:35 PM on April 27, 2010


not sure I want to spend years 22--26 of my life as an always-working graduate student in a small suburban town.

there are grad schools in NYC -- columbia's CS department is very good (especially if you are interested in graphics, NLP or music/audio DSP) and of course NYU is great too. There are also good grad schools in many non-small-suburban towns. i had a great time in grad schools (two different ones, both in major US cities) and met a ton of very social, smart, interesting people from all over the world.
posted by neustile at 4:38 PM on April 27, 2010


Another thing to think about is how much social support you need. Academia provides more of a built-in social network; starting from scratch in a new city (and it sounds like you would be moving from the west coast, so even a bigger transition) can be very lonely. This is another reason to have a pretty clear-cut idea of what job you're taking when you move, if you are someone who needs a social network.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:40 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you're thinking of going into academia, I think it would be valuable to take some time off and go have a job in the world outside academia.


This.

Also, grad school isn't going anywhere. Your 20s go faster than you think.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:41 PM on April 27, 2010


I moved to NYC in my twenties to go to grad school, and I'm very glad I did. So much of American culture is set in New York City, and it's satisfying to recognize various neighborhoods when watching movies, reading novels, etc. New York's history is fascinating, and it's much easier to understand if you actually live there. Public transportation can get you anywhere, any time of day. People are very friendly. There are all kinds of interesting jobs to be had.

I hated some things about New York: the litter, the cockroaches, living in La Guardia's flight path, the high rent, the crowded grocery stores, the illegal apartments and lousy library in my neighborhood, the grime. I moved away after I had a kid and wanted a more suburban life, but it was good while it lasted.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:44 PM on April 27, 2010


Grad school will also be a lot easier to manage once you get a chunk of change in the bank.
posted by amethysts at 4:45 PM on April 27, 2010


It is as awesome as you assume it will be. It sounds like you'll regret it if you don't give it a shot, so I say go for it. This is a fantastic place to be when you're in your 20s (and 30s). Even having a nine-to-five as a software developer will allow for the occasional four a.m. weekday night, at least until you hit your late 20s and start feeling the effects a little harder.

I've met a ton of amazing people and have generally had a blast the seven years I've been here. New York is what you make of it, but it really gives you every opportunity to make it whatever you want it to be. If you're looking to come into your own socially, I can't think of a better place to do it. It'll be an adventure well worth having. And grad school will always be an option -- heck, you might end up going to school in NYC.

One other note -- it sounds like you're confident you can find a job quickly, but the job market is still pretty rough here, so be prepared for the possibility that things might not work out job-wise immediately. On the flip side, you're much more likely to be hired if you're already living in the city, so don't get discouraged if you apply to things remotely and don't get responses.
posted by bethist at 4:47 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did your New York plan when I was 25.

The public/private balance is inverted, compared to anywhere else in the country. You are rarely, truly by yourself. You'll probably have a roommate or two. When you step outside, there are people on the sidewalk, then on the subway, then at work. Go to the park on a nice day and there may very well be people sitting on the grass 5 feet from you. This can be exhilarating, but at times it can be claustrophobic.

New York is an expensive place to live. You'll have to make trade-offs of whether your apartment will be too small, too run-down, too noisy, too far from civilization, or too expensive.

But you don't move to New York to be stay at home, or to be by yourself. I can't de-romanticize it for you. It probably is as cool as you think it will be.
posted by the jam at 4:51 PM on April 27, 2010


It seems like a great place to spend my early twenties.

That's what I thought too, and now I'm 31 and I'm still here.

Also, if you ultimately decide that you really do want to go to grad school, there are a ton of programs right here in the city to apply to.
posted by hermitosis at 5:03 PM on April 27, 2010


If your main concern is over-romanticizing being young and single in New York, you don't have to worry. It's better than you expect. You've always wanted to be young and in New York, and now you can. Why would you bother with debt and homework when you could be making money and living it up?

New York magazine had a cover story on the emerging software scene in New York right now. Sounds like the right time for you to pursue it.
posted by oreofuchi at 5:04 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, grad school isn't going anywhere. Your 20s go faster than you think.

This.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:20 PM on April 27, 2010


I wrote a long thing about what NYC is to you and what it should be to you and then deleted everything because I only needed to say:

Grad school can wait. You might look back and think "I really wish I had moved to NYC before grad school", but by then it'll be too late. If you do move to NYC, however, if you decide that it's not working for you, you can always go back to grad school. But really really? The test of whether or not you should move to NYC is whether or not you actually end up moving to NYC. If you're here by choice, then it was probably the right thing.

If you're the kind of person whose idea of a good night out is getting dressed up and going to the meatpacking district or going to a bar in midtown/LES or if you really value your own private space, or if you feel uncomfortable in large crowds and small spaces, or if you're the kind of person who can't focus in a cafe, or if the wail of a siren in the distance will keep you awake at night, then I don't think you should move to NYC.

But if you're the kind of person who is likes to seek out new things, is often interested, open to new things, open to self-change, full of awe, wants to listen to things, make things (whether projects, apps, startups, whatever) then please, do come here. We need more of your kind. And yes, I'm in my twenties, and it's pretty great.
posted by suedehead at 5:27 PM on April 27, 2010


I left grad school (in CS) to move to NYC and work and I have never, ever regretted it. Ever. If you are a decent developer you can get a job that will pay you well enough to live here without pinching every penny, which helps make the NYC experience much more fun and less stressful.
I would say, if anything, you are probably over-romanticizing grad school. You made this decision in high school that grad school was for you (and you're not alone, a lot of us have done the same thing), but the truth is, grad school is not necessary, it does not prove that you are a success in any way shape or form, and often it just leads to wasted time and a mostly-worthless degree. It's a nice way to avoid growing up for a few years, but hell, you can do that much more amusingly here in NYC.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:28 PM on April 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I grew up in NYC, and was homesick as hell for it when I lived in another state for a few years. I'm back now, and thrilled to be home. Living in NYC is even cooler than you think it will be.
posted by Eshkol at 5:58 PM on April 27, 2010


I agree with amethysts.

If you have any student loans, or any debt, go into the private sector for a year or so. Get some experience under your belt and really work on paying those loans off.

It's good to see what's out there, and the best place to do it would be any big, tech city.
posted by TheBones at 6:22 PM on April 27, 2010


*Grad school will also be a lot easier to manage once you get a chunk of change in the bank.*

Definitely true, but it's also going to be a lot harder to actually go back to school once you have the inertia of a job and life in NYC behind you.

If it were me (actually, wait, 6 years ago it *was* me...), I'd take the job. But if you're super 100% sure you want to go to grad school, I'd vote for doing it now. I deferred for a year to take a job, but when the year was up, I just couldn't bring myself to quit and move.
posted by meta_eli at 7:07 PM on April 27, 2010


And a nine-to-five job leaves a lot more guaranteed free time than the graduate-student lifestyle; once you're out of the office, you're free, with no paper to publish before you're scooped or looming Ph.D. thesis.

This comparison is true, but that nine-to-five is probably not literally true. You might spend ten hours at the office and commute an hour each way on the subway. You might have less flexible work hours than you would in grad school. If you already have a graduate program lined up where you like the professors and fellow students, you might not find a company that can match that socially.

I'm not in NYC, but I absolutely love the software company that currently employs me, and I could not fathom going to grad school without getting a big dose of real life first.
posted by tantivy at 7:19 PM on April 27, 2010


Grad school is awesome, and I love it. However, the folks in my cohort who came straight from undergrad (thought I guess a BS/MS is a little different) seem to sort of regret it. I would vote move to NYC, be a software developer or a waiter or a clerk or whatever. Just live for a little while. Grad school's not going anywhere (though you should probably make an effort to keep it in the back of your mind and make sure you stay at least a little current about the kind of work you'd want to do there).
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:07 PM on April 27, 2010


If you have a decent job, and it sounds like you will, NYC is fuckin' cool. There are issues but it is really an awesome place to be single(ish) or even not single and in your 20s. and 30s and beyond.

Knowing software you'll be working more like 9:30-10 to 6:30 though.

I'll try to get my husband to chime in! He basically did the same and his job is not as good as the job you'll probably get.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:34 PM on April 27, 2010


If it were me (actually, wait, 6 years ago it *was* me...), I'd take the job. But if you're super 100% sure you want to go to grad school, I'd vote for doing it now. I deferred for a year to take a job, but when the year was up, I just couldn't bring myself to quit and move.

Just in case this possibility is worrying you, I would say more than half of the people I knew when I moved to New York in my early 20s eventually went back to grad school. It's definitely doable. I would be shocked if any of them regretted the New York phase. There are definitely some that ended up not going (one of my best friends was already in a program and deferred to stay here 'for a year or so' after his summer internship ended, and he never went back), but even them...I can't say I know that any of them regret it.
posted by jeb at 10:53 PM on April 27, 2010


I moved to NYC in my late twenties as part of a quarter life crisis... mainly for the purpose of launching a career, and not at all because I loved it. In fact, my plan was to suffer through 2-3 years in NYC to get a foothold in the non-profit development world, and then move elsewhere. That was nine years ago (my anniversary in on Friday).

New York is hard place, but a magical place, and opportunities abound if you are open to them.

That said, I'm about ready to leave. They older you get, the harder it becomes (unless you are making massive amounts of money), because you start to lose the resiliency of youth. Certain things have started to bother me to no end, and I am ready for an easier pace of life.

So yeah... now is probably a great time for you to try out NYC. You'll get more out of 5 years in NYC than 10 years anywhere else.
posted by kimdog at 7:41 AM on April 28, 2010


This comparison is true, but that nine-to-five is probably not literally true. You might spend ten hours at the office and commute an hour each way on the subway. You might have less flexible work hours than you would in grad school.

I lived there for four years and worked as a software developer, and this was my experience. NYC offers a lot, but in exchange you will have to work a lot and not have so much time to experience the fun things that it offers. You may need to live in an outer borough. Still, better to try it while you're young and make up your own mind.

I moved there in my late 20s, with no close friends there, and I found it to be fairly lonely. I worked for a large company, and I made some friends at the office, but not to the extent that I had a regular social circle. I felt compelled to work more than I wanted to, and that also made it hard for me to socialize.

Investment bankers and hedge funders are at the top of the pyramid in NYC. They drive up the rents, and they work long hours, and my sense was that this influenced the whole work environment there, both pressuring people to work more in order to pay the rent and just because that's how it's done by the alpha males. A coworker who had worked for some of the big banks said that the typical cycle for investment bankers is to work 80-100 hour weeks for a year and a half, burn out, and take some time off before finding another job. As a software developer, you probably won't have to do that, but I found that people had an implicit work ethic that was a little extreme for my taste.

But again, I do think you should try it. Just maybe have an alternative plan if you decide it's not for you after a couple years.
posted by A dead Quaker at 10:18 AM on April 28, 2010


My boyfriend is a software developer in NYC. He got his current position through a temp agency (Manpower, I think) and has been at his current job for about 9 months now.

The pay is good and a temp job would give you some time to figure out whether this is something you may want to do long-term.
posted by amicamentis at 6:35 AM on April 29, 2010


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