It's been less than a week since I loaded the wagon with just the dog and a few life essentials. I took what might be my last ever left turn off Moores Mill onto I-75, then followed the path northwest until I ran out of highway. Over the long miles over the nation's highways I've had plenty of time to think. Some about the classic game The Oregon Trail and risk of dysentery, but mostly about the nearly two decades of my life in Atlanta and how it became time to leave.
Staying in Atlanta for almost two decades was never the plan. I grew up near Chicago, in a little town that Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Ray Kroc once called home. The streets made sense and an urban canyon featuring some of the world’s greatest skyscrapers, set amongst a lake and a river, were a short train ride away.
Atlanta was quaint in comparison, just a stretch of modest sized buildings strung along a highway. The roads were a confusing mess, a mess compounded by how they all seemed to be named the same. The humidity was even more stifling than Chicago's and even a little bit of winter precipitation caused chaos. Clearly, I was seeing the city for what it was not instead of what it was.
My goal was to get my degree from Emory then head back to Chicago, or off to San Francisco or Boston for whatever came next. However, I finished undergrad halfway through a Masters degree. It only made sense to continue. A decision of inertia that proved fateful.
That decision proved fateful. A new girl named Sonali joined the program and we shared a few classes. We didn't get along at first; she thought I was too arrogant and outspoken. After a while we became friends. Then we started dating. A year and a half later, with our thesis's finally complete, we took a drive to north-Georgia on a cold December day. We came upon some fresh snow, a rarity even up there, and had Sonali's first ever snowball fight.
A few minutes later I proposed. She accepted and we've been together ever since.
We walked for our degrees and got married in the same week the following spring. Our completion of school came with a choice. We could stay in Atlanta with my parents or move to San Francisco to be nearer to her family. My parents needed help with the software for their small business and it seemed like a great way to jump-start our nascent careers. We could always move once we had some working code in production.
Yet somehow I had gotten the startup bug. So when it was time to leave the parent's nest, that's what I wanted to do. I interviewed with a company called Vocalocity. I found out later that I was the company's 4th choice for the role. But 2 turned them down and 1 quit in the first week, meaning that I got a chance to jump head first into the deep-end of Atlanta's startup scene.
What first sucked me into the "Atlanta" the concept was the startup community. The first part of my career was a string of trying to find the right place. Exciting and stressful, it was made so much easier by the number of familiar faces in each of the different circumstances. I eventually found a place where I could stay for sometime and really grow as an engineer and teammate.
Mergers are hard and when this one stopped working out, an old connection reached out and I became the CTO of his company.
I've had some really amazing experiences: going to SXSW, pitching at Startup Riot, coming up with new ideas in the basement, slinging code, and having an actual exit; to name a few. But what really sticks out are the people I was with, so many of whom are still my friends today. Being part of this community ranks high up there on the list of greatest things that have ever happened to me.
The personal milestones kept coming, too. Shortly after getting a job came a new car which added a whole new element to fun to our trips into the mountains. A few years later we bought a house in a neighborhood who's primary claim to fame seemed to be proximity to a really good Mexican restaurant.
Another few years past and we adopted a dog to keep us company. Arguably this was our first true adult decision, separate from any childhood expectations in the direction of our lives. Having a dog is commonplace but it had been generations since anyone in our family had had one. I grew up a little scared of them, to be honest. For two people that didn't really know what we were doing, I think we did pretty well.
In the fall of 2012 we welcomed our daughter, and the second Atlanta native of our entire family, into this world. Parenting advice is different variations of "expect the unexpected." We never expected the side-effect of enjoying our community more, especially when the kids find an excuse to all play together.
Nineteen years later Atlanta is undeniably home (when speaking, there are no "T"'s in the name of our home city). The city has grown up around us. The Mexican restaurant is still there, but now it's one out of numerous great choices. Midtown's revival, downtown's re-emergence, and the belt line have fundamentally changed what it's like to live and work in the city.
The startup scene is significantly better. New communities backed by serial entrepreneurs, like Switchyards, Atlanta Tech Village, and Tech Square Labs, have joined the stalwart ATDC in making Atlanta a good place to build a tech startup. I think Atlanta is one of the best places to build a profitable B2B company. The amount of resources now compared to just 10 years ago is amazing. There are plenty of great companies in Atlanta that could provide me with awesome opportunities.
Furthermore, Atlanta turns out to be a pretty great base for travel. The Appalachian mountains are a short drive away as are Chattanooga, Asheville, Savannah, and Charleston. The beaches of Florida aren't that far either. Thanks to Delta most of the country and a good chunk of the world is a direct flight away. One sight that grows on me more every time I see it is the city poking up out of the trees on the descent into Hartsfield.
Another way to phrase "being in a groove" is "stuck in a rut." Most parts of our lives were great, but 2017 wasn't difficulty free. The company I founded with my friend was stagnating and the political climate, especially in the southeast, is troubling for anyone that thinks the opportunities are in the future and not the past. With forty peeking around the corner the question of what comes next became harder to avoid.
If 2017 taught me anything, it's that progress isn't guaranteed. Getting to the next level, whatever that is, will take work. There are experiences we want before our time is up. I've never skied, it would be fun to try. Ditto for sailing. My entire experience has been with smaller companies and teams, with usage in the 100's. What would it be like to work with thousands of people on something used by 100's of millions?
The funny thing is that there was a period of time where anything more than "good enough" wasn't worth the effort. Being part of a vibrant and growing city is infectious. The irony is that it means the next chapters will happen somewhere else.
Atlanta will forever be part of who we are. Every adult milestone; degree, marriage, first job, first house, first dog, kid; happened here. We are grateful for all the people we have met and the friends we have made, which more than anything makes this decision so hard.
As does the knowledge that going home will start to mean something very different and "ah-lanha" will once again be "at-LAN-ta." Every time we return as tourists it will feel more foreign and the new takes over the familiar. The city that shaped us to always do better will not stop doing so itself.