There appears to be a culture shift against the 24/7 heads-down pressure of life in Silicon Valley. Younger geeks want somewhere to hang out and listen to live music on a Friday night, an independent film community, food trucks, reduced screen time, and somewhere cheap(ish) to live. Which often means looking beyond the Bay Area.
PCMag recently spent a week in Denver before flying to Austin, which is sometimes referred to as Silicon Hills, or the "bustling digital epicenter of the South," according to co-working startup WeWork, which has three—soon to be four—locations in the city.
Of course, SXSW has been drawing geeks to Austin since 1986; we were in town for Unity Technologies' first-ever Unite Austin developer conference, and decided to see what makes the city tick for tech types.
"We chose Austin for Unite this year, because it's a booming, creative city and home to some incredible, innovative tech companies, many of which are developing on Unity," Unity CMO Clive Downie told PCMag.
In the expo hall, we met Jim Cherry, an independent developer who runs his own company, ServiceMedia, while also freelancing for various local tech companies, including virtual gamer outfit, Chicken Waffle.
"I was born in Houston, but got here as soon as I could," he laughed. "Austin's tech scene is vibrant, innovative, and dynamic. Downtown is becoming a much more of a dynamic area, but it's expensive, so most tech is still based up north, in the Arboretum area, [near IBM Research and the University of Texas research campus]. I live south of the river, in South Congress, so I'm hopeful more tech will move down here soon."
Autumn Rose Taylor is co-organizer for VR Austin, a VR evangelist, and KnOWLedge Purveyor and Media Master at Owlchemy Labs, recently acquired by Google. She stayed in Austin after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in part because of the diverse tech scene.
"The people are multidisciplinary, collaborative, and experimental," Taylor said. "You have the cross-pollination of so many different industries—Film, Music, Tech, Gaming—that makes everything Austin-made a unique flavor of innovative and creative that you can't get anywhere else."
Jean Anne Booth, CEO of UnaliWear, also stayed in Austin for the great startup culture, as well as, like everyone else, the good life. "I started UnaliWear in Austin because the founding team worked with me in one of my previous Austin startups. But I've been here for so many years and founded three startups in the city because it's such a wonderful place to live, with supportive people, and an active lifestyle that I love."
In a post on Medium, entrepreneur and digital innovator Zoran Nasteski offered advice to fellow ATX arrivals: Get the Meetup app right now, as Austin is full of tech events, like Video Game Makers Unite. Capital Factory is also great for co-working and hosting events, as is Galvanize.
Funny enough, one thing you couldn't say about Austin's tech scene, as a whole, is that they're particularly keen on (press) exposure. After seeing all the local tech companies' logos (Kingsisle Entertainment, Armature Studio, Otherside Entertainment and more) flash up on the Unite Austin keynote screen, we blasted out emails to get quotes, yet very few responded.
In the end we got two: a (very late night?) email which said: "Buy me tacos" (one hopes those were three words to sum up the Austin tech scene). Thankfully, a more considered response came from game developer Amir H. Fassihi of Dead Mage, who said Austin, for him, is: "Creative - Vibrant - Alive" and told us there's a "Smaller and more focused community with a great mix of art and technology here."
Of course, not everyone is thrilled about the tech influx. One local, Tim Willingham, begs people not to move here for many reasons (heat, overcrowding, traffic) laid out in this helpful infographic.
Most importantly, is Austin (still) weird, as its tagline claims? Well, it's certainly "out there" on the scale of strangeness and wonder. If you're in town, grab a taco from one of the multitudes of fine food trucks; participate in a prison break courtesy of The Escape Game; hire Vannagram's mint green vintage VW van traveling photo booth (who needs Instagram?); and gently rock in a porch-style contraption inside the Texas Capitol Visitors Center while Matthew McConaughey laconically personifies the famous Dome, recounting its history.
How about howling at the moon with other dippers in the Barton Springs Pool? Get yourself some decent threads at Bykowski Tailor & Garb, haberdasher to the bearded musicians of this town (if daisy the pet pig is in residence, she likes some attention); and go madly medieval with Iggy Pop in Sherwood Forest at Sound on Sound Festival.
Weirdness aside, this is still the live music capital of the world, so pick up the weekly highlights at the suitably gothic (and reputedly haunted) Driskill Hotel, built in 1886, in the (yes, paper-based) Driskell Journal.
As we were leaving Texas airspace, Austin Startup Week was just getting underway, and they were so keen to attract a new crowd to the city, they were offering to reimburse flights to those wanting work, or to build a company within the city limits. It's clear Silicon Hills is becoming a thing. Let's hope it doesn't disrupt the city's style too much.