another man's ramblings on code and tech

San Francisco: a review by a Toronto developer

This summer I finally had the opportunity to visit my original programming mentor in San Francisco over the Canada Day weekend. It would be an exciting trip for me: my first time in California, my first time on the West Coast, my first time seeing the Pacific, and of course, my first time in San Francisco, the Mecca of software. The total transit time from locking my door in Toronto to knocking on his in Cali was about 12 hours. I had booked earlier flights around 6 and 7 AM, which ended up being blessings in disguise, as it let me fast through the expensive and unhealthy airplane food with some sleep.

Arriving in SF, the first thing that surprised me was the cool weather. I was flying out of the 35C heat of July back home into 15 - 20C weather of the Bay Area. I would later learn that because SF is basically a peninsula jutting into the Pacific it receives much more dramatic shifts in weather. It was much wetter, cooler, and windier than the surrounding areas because of this, and therefore lived in its own kind of environmental ecosystem. For reference, relatively close cities like Sacramento and Los Angeles had 40C days in comparison to the 15C days I was experiencing. Parts of the city had very drastic weather differences than others due to these ocean effects too. The locals there describe these different pockets of weather as "microclimates". Looking from my friend's 10th storey condo, it was quite a strange sight to take in; to the west, along the coast, total fog and cloud cover, to the east an active rainstorm that you could see the edge of, and sandwiched down the middle of them clear, blue skies.

In terms of software and technology, SF was insane. Walking down the streets you commonly ran into huge headquarters and offices swagged and branded out in every way. I walked by the LinkedIn, Lift, Uber, Docker, Google, and about 10 different type of food delivery service offices just on normal strolls about the city. There were startups everywhere, and they were all competing with each other to give crazier and crazier deals to attract users. Each food service usually gave a $10 credit just for signing up, so one day I ended up signing up for 3 services and skipped paying for a single meal. The advertising and billboards made knowing references to software and technology too, even for relatively normal brands like banks and bookstores. One ad I saw in a bus terminal said "Say Hello World to our new travel accounts". Even the way people got around the city was high tech. It was very common to see electric scooters, electric skateboards, segways, and these weird things that look like a plank with a car wheel in the dead centre of it.

Otherwise, the city was a beautiful place. I walked around from one end to the other, in broad strokes sightseeing the Mission, the Golden Gate bridge, the bike paths and trails along the north coast and the east side, where my friend lived. Homelessness was a huge issue, though. Compared to Toronto it seemed like night and day. It wasn't uncommon to walk by more than one person passed out, face-down in the street, just on the way to grab a coffee. I think these problems might be related to how expensive the place is. From my travels in New York and Florida, I always found food in America to be cheaper. However in SF I was often paying the same price I would in Canada, but in American dollars, meaning not only was it more expensive than back home, but more expensive by a lot. It was definitely worth it for a long weekend adventure, though. It just seems one can see the immediate effect of these prices on the locals who have been either forced out of the city or into poverty. Juxtapositions like this would definitely be the theme of the trip. Beautiful city, but crazy weather. Great food, but expensive everywhere. In any case, it was a fun adventure that I highly recommend to any developer with some free money and time.

Date: Nov 22 2018