Cali-or-bust is a meme that’s basically saying that if you don’t hit cali for your internship, you’ve lost the game.
It’s something I had never heard until I came to Waterloo, and then once co-op hunting season started I never stopped hearing it.
What’s the appeal of cali (or just working in the US in general)?
Well, you get paid more.
Look at the stats that UWaterloo releases about co-op salaries. The average for an engineering first work term in Canada was $17.14 CAD, whereas the average for it in the US was $26.98 USD. It’s a pretty large gap in wages.
Large companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon are based in the Valley or Seattle, so you’re more likely to be working for a huge conglomerate in the States. You also have the startup nest in the Valley, for everyone hoping to make it big in a small company.
You’ll get more money, and you might get a big brand name to put on your resume, but that’s not all that comes with it.
It also comes with a higher cost of living, higher taxation in some states, a higher drinking age limit, and higher stress.
Some of my friends are living four to a two person apartment in San Francisco, because to afford anything more would be out of the question on their intern salaries.
Getting set up here can also be a pain when you think about having to find your own housing while you’re still at school, then getting a social security number, phone plan, bank account, and transportation while you’re here. Then, you have to figure out how to do your American and Canadian taxes (file online, it’s worth it). It’s a headache, and it’s annoying. What do I do with my American phone plan once I go back to Canada where I have another phone plan? What do I do if I get into a car accident while I’m here? Why is Airbnb only allowing me to pay with my Canadian credit card, and then charging me an extra conversion fee even though I have an American credit card?
Not to mention the strain and loneliness that comes with moving to a new country, not knowing anyone, and not knowing anything.
Last summer, at 18, I moved 4000 km away from home to Redmond, Washington to work for one of the largest tech conglomerates in the world. I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t drive, but they thought I could work well enough.
I had little to no real coding experience. Only a few introductory coding classes and hackathons to my name, but somehow I landed an internship here. It was ridiculously scary because I felt under-qualified and constantly struggle with imposter syndrome. It was a lot of pressure for my first job in tech, and I was so overwhelmed.
I also didn’t really know anyone coming into this. I didn’t really know my roommate (who turned out to be awesome, hi Ellie), I didn’t know my co-workers (also turned out to be awesome, hi explorer peeps), and all my family and friends were chilling out back home together.
With the time-zone difference, it was hard to find a good time to call home, and even then it felt off and stunted. It was hard to watch all my friends make weekend plans together, and then to awkwardly spend my weekend with people whose names I barely remembered.
Did I learn a lot? Did I grow a lot? Did I enjoy my time here? Was it worth it?
The answer to all of those questions is yes. I was ridiculously lonely and scared the first half of my internship, but with time I got into the swing of things and had a blast.
Would I do it again?
Yeah, I did.
But, that’s not to say that taking a job closer to home doesn’t have its merits either.
You’d have your support system close by while you transition to a completely new work experience, you wouldn’t have to worry about getting yourself established in a new country, and you would feel more familiar and comfortable in your surroundings.
If you don’t hit cali in your first, second, or nth work term, don’t feel like you busted. It isn’t really a bust when you consider how much mental and emotional stress you’re avoiding. There is something to learn where ever you work, and you can grow just as exponentially working for a small company as you can working for something like Microsoft.
Make the most of where ever you go, and enjoy what you can.
If you get a huge opportunity, then I’m not going to tell you not to take it. In the long run, it will definitely pay off.
But, in complete honesty, I feel like if I had taken my first internship in Toronto, I would have started enjoying the experience earlier. I think my mental state would have been a lot more stable, and I think that I would have struggled less emotionally because I would have had my support system in place. Getting started and throwing yourself into the working world of tech isn’t easy, so don’t feel bad about taking the time to get yourself familiar with it.
To all the incoming engineers at Waterloo, all my friends in school already hunting for internships, and everyone else — cali or bust isn’t really a thing. You really can’t bust if you can see the value different experiences bring to the table.
Try not to stress out, and try not to worry too hard about hitting that far-off meme idea of cali or bust. It’s undeniably hard to reach the US, Waterloo even provides this disclaimer:
Be realistic with what you think will be best for you, and don’t put too much stock into cali or bust. It’s cool, but it’s not always the best option.
Good luck with exams, and good vibes always — Ally.