Doug Orleans (dougo) wrote,
Doug Orleans


Twenty years ago this month (August), I moved to Boston. I had been working in Silicon Valley for a few years after college, then started graduate school at Northeastern University. I put all my stuff in boxes in my mom's garage, packed a few boxes of clothes and CDs into my Honda Civic, and drove across the country. Along the way, I visited my uncle Dick in Colorado, my cousin Cathy in Iowa (she had already started grad school herself, chiropractic), and friends in Chicago, Ann Arbor, and Toronto. I remember coming off the Mass Turnpike in Back Bay and driving down Columbus Ave looking for my friends' apartment, where I crashed on their couch for a few days until I found an apartment of my own: a tiny ground-floor studio a block from campus (rent was around $600/month). I remember opening my checking account at BayBank on Huntington, which became BankBoston, then Fleet Bank, and is now Bank of America. And I remember going to Lechmere (the store) to buy an air conditioner, even though I only needed it for another month or so—I definitely needed it!

Ten years ago this month, I defended my thesis and got my PhD in Computer Science. I was living in Somerville, a few blocks from where I live today. I had already started working full-time in January, commuting to Burlington every day and writing up my dissertation on nights and weekends. The thesis defense was in a conference room in the newly built glass tower building on Huntington across from the Museum of Fine Arts; it holds the CS department and is also a residence hall. The building's name is "West Village H", which as I understood it was meant to be temporary until a donor bought the naming rights, but it's still named that today! The defense went smoothly and was a little anticlimactic, since I had already incorporated all the feedback from my committee into the dissertation and gotten their final approval. The last step was to print off a copy at Kinko's on acid-free paper and deposit it at the school library. I don't think I bothered printing out a copy for myself—it's on Sourceforge, and I figured that was good enough.

When I moved from New Jersey to California in 1984, I never expected to come back to the East Coast, though I remember liking Boston when I visited it a few times growing up: it felt academic and technological, without being big and dirty like NYC. And when I got my degree I don't think I expected to stay in Boston for another ten years. But, it wasn't like I had a concrete plan to leave; I just figured I'd go wherever the jobs were. In 1995, my career goal was to work at a research center, like Xerox PARC or IBM TJ Watson, and those sorts of places required PhDs, which was my main reason to go to grad school (I was never interested in academia). But by 2005, doing research at a research center didn't seem to be as much of a thing anymore: innovation, particularly in programming languages and frameworks, seemed to happen more in open-source communities populated by hobbyists and people working at startups who had the freedom to stay at the cutting edge. I think I had also become a bit disillusioned with the idea of doing CS research, and wanted more to work on making things that people used. This is partly what led me to become a web developer, and I'm still pretty happy in that niche. And there are more than enough opportunities for that in Boston for the forseeable future.

On the other hand, remote working is on the rise, so in theory I could live wherever I wanted. I sometimes fantasize about moving somewhere out in the boonies where I could afford a nice big house. I've also always thought I would like to live in the Pacific Northwest. I suppose now would be the best time to think seriously about moving, with lots of free time and no job holding me down.

But, really, I'm comfortable here in Boston. Inertia is strong! In another five years I'll have been here half my life. Maybe I'll even start to think of myself as being from Boston...
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