Day 50: “You lived in Pittsburgh for three years? Why?”

A common way for me to look at startup events.

I get this question a lot. People ask me where I was after I left southern California and before I arrived in Seattle — three whole years of my life. It’s not exactly a fair question, especially for the hundreds of thousands who call the city home with great pride (as they should!).

As I prepare to spend a few days supporting The Hardware Cup at its second semifinal at Techshop Pittsburgh, I’d like to answer this question by answering three sub-questions:

Why did I go there?

“I went to see about a girl.”

Specifically, I married my wife and figured that married couples should actually live together. (I’m still trying to figure out my stance on that.) She was the only constant in a life full of variables. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t even have anything close to an interview for a job by the time I arrived.

All I had was her love and support. Somehow, that was more than enough.

Why did I stay?

I discovered an awesome community of geniuses who knew how to create something magical without having to pay Silicon Valley prices. I could start my own company with a longer runway and potentially find top-level talent to share in my vision.

Pittsburgh is known as the ‘Gateway to the Midwest,’ but I saw it as a city full of all the right ingredients to make a dent in the universe. If I ever were to start a company again with a baseline amount of investment, I’d go there.

Why did I leave?

The decision to leave wasn’t easy. For a time, I actively sought ways to stay and continue much of the education and technology community-building that I had started. Ultimately, an offer came to me that I couldn’t refuse.

Seattle’s a bit more … familiar to me. It is just a three-hour bus ride from where I grew up and where my parents live now. Travel to most of my family in California also became easier and cheaper. The Asian food is awesome. These are things I … need right now.

This is not easy for me to say, but there are things that I fought for in Pittsburgh that are … self-evident in Seattle. Inclusivity, equality, empathy — these are already granted. I’m interested in putting my ideas to work instead of constantly debating whether I or other underrepresented folks should even be at the table.

Perhaps I’m too hard on Pittsburgh and easy on Seattle here, which leads me to the next question:

Would I ever return, and what would that take?

— Lee