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So We Meet Again, San Francisco

So We Meet Again, San Francisco

Man with long brown hair in yellow dress looking at row of San Francisco Victorian houses

I’m still pinching myself.

Yesterday I woke up at 5 AM and explored the area as the sun rose, revealing along with it hundreds of ornate, candy-colored Victorian houses that lined the hilly streets. I resisted the urge to scream like a little girl on Christmas morning (although I really did feel like one, seeing as it was early, still cold out, and I had onesie pajamas on). The whole place looked like it was transported straight out of a storybook, and that’s when it hit me: I live here. This is my life now.

What a journey it’s been. The idea of working in the Bay Area someday had been a constant, burning thought in the back of my mind since I declared my Computer Science major as a wide-eyed second year in college. I didn’t know how to code back then, but I did know, almost instinctively, that this was the place where people like me — bold, shamelessly ambitious, and driven to the point that it was obnoxious to everyone around them — went and made shit happen.

At first, I’d wanted to wait; to apply to places that were less competitive and then get there maybe five years after graduating college. One specific conversation changed my mind. It was a muggy, hot summer morning in Philadelphia and I was sitting at the kitchen table in my mom’s apartment, talking with her about what I wanted to do after college.

“What kind of job do you want to get?” she’d asked.

“Definitely a software engineering position. Something in iOS, probably.” I shrugged and turned back to my breakfast. I’d had this talk many times lately, and while it did bother me that thinking about my career no longer felt exciting, I wasn’t particularly keen on addressing it.

“Is that what you really want?”

Something about the way she said it, so concerned, gave me pause. I really did want to be an iOS engineer — I had been working my ass off in my internship and was already looking at programming bootcamps and hackathons I could go to outside of class — but there was a second piece to this job-hunting puzzle, wasn’t there? Something I hadn’t told anyone.

“Not really,” I admitted.

She looked at me expectantly.

“I want to go to California,” I blurted out. “To the San Francisco Bay Area. I want to work at a startup and do something fucking ridiculous.”

As I spoke, I realized that I’d been scared to voice what I wanted out loud, not because I was worried that I’d be laughed at or didn’t think I could do it, but because if I admitted it to others and to myself how much I wanted to be in the Bay Area, I would be forced to try. And in the face of being forced to try, I would have to confront every single one of my insecurities about what I was doing — about my technical ability, about my gender dysphoria and how I felt being labeled as a “woman” in tech, about moving across the country by myself and starting a life that my parents couldn’t help me with.

“I think … that if I didn’t go to San Francisco, I would never forgive myself,” I said slowly.

It was true. I knew it in the bottom of my gut. If I didn’t go for it, right now, and rise to the level of a Bay Area engineer, I would later look back in my forties and fifties and wonder why I had been such a frightened little baby. I’d kick myself for not going for it, and then I’d probably have a midlife crisis. I was already pushing myself to my limits every day working; what was all that hard work for, if not to make my life reflect that of my wildest dreams? What was all the sacrifice for, if I was too scared to even admit my ultimate goal?

I looked my mom in the eye. “I’m going to do it.” I shook my head. “I’m going to fucking do it. I want this.” My voice shook as I spoke and I was surprised at how emotional I was getting about the whole thing, considering that I’d been slowly feeling more and more apathetic about my career.

“Good.” She was smiling now. “Go for it.”

“You’re not going to say that I’m being frivolous, or that I shouldn’t aim so high?” I challenged.

“No. I can tell that you really want this. You know, you have to really think about what you want in your life and then just go for it. I believe in you. Do it.”

Here I am, less than a year later, in the Bay fucking Area, and like I said, I’m still pinching myself. It’s chilly enough to warrant a thick cardigan over a dress, but not cold to the point that I have to give up dresses entirely. There are parts of the city that are super techy and parts that are historical and idyllic-looking — a juxtaposition that I absolutely love, much like the fact that I live in a Victorian house with two other tech people and there are multiple phone and computer chargers in each old-timey room.

Something has been pulling me here since I first admitted that I wanted to work in the Bay Area. Even though I’ve complained about the “cold” and the cost of living multiple times already, I can’t deny that I feel some otherwordly connection to this place, like I’m meant to be here and was meant to be here all along.

San Francisco feels like home in a way that no other place has before. After I interned there this previous January, whenever someone mentioned the Presidio or Embarcadero Station or, God forbid, even the BART, I felt this weird twinge of homesickness that seemed out of place, given that I’d only really lived there for a month.

I hope I never become jaded. I hope that each and every one of these candy-colored houses continues to take my breath away. I hope that I’ll always appreciate the fact that I can get authentic Asian food and legal recreational marijuana delivered straight to my doorstep after touching some buttons on a glass screen. I especially hope that I never lose my love for talking business, shooting dreamy photos, or venturing down deep-ass technical rabbit holes.

And so we meet again, San Francisco. I can’t wait to see what you’ll teach me and who I’ll become. ♚

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© 2019 by Marty Noel Chenyao. All rights reserved.

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