antirez 4058 days ago. 264308 views.
Yesterday night I returned back home after a short trip in San Francisco. Before memory fades out and while my feelings are crisp enough, I'm writing a short report of the trip. The point of view is that of a south European programmer exposed for a few days to what is probably the most active information technology ecosystem and economy of the world.

Reaching San Francisco

If you want to reach San Francisco from Sicily, there are no direct flights helping you. My flight was a Lufthansa flight from Catania to Munich, and finally from Munich to San Francisco. This is a total of 15 hours flight, plus the stop in Munich waiting for the second flight.

Unfortunately the first flight had a delay big enough that I lost my connection. My trip was already pretty short, just four days, and this issue costed me one day reducing the total available time in SF to just 3 days... It's like to go to the other side of the world just to take a coffee.

However it's very rewarding to see Germans having an issue with precision, so I blamed a lot of people with the most heavy of the Sicilian accent... Just kidding :-) The reality is that the operators at the Catania airport, not payed by Lufthansa, said that among all the big operators Lufthansa is one of the best in terms of avoiding delays. Moreover in Munich I was "protected" in a nice enough hotel with good food and great beer.

I was not the only unlucky guy, there were other three north Americans headed to San Francisco that became my journey friends in no time, very cool people that allowed me to practice English some hours before reaching SF, recounted fun stories, and got drunk with me in the Munich -> SF flight.

Basically it's a long trip, and reaching the final destination is already an experience in itself. A direct flight would be much better: only one flight, and the process is "atomic", either you remain at the starting point or you get to the final destination, no chances to remain half-way unless the aircraft falls on the floor ;-)

The city

I'm a "City guy". In Sicily I live near Catania, that counting all the conurbation is like 1 million of inhabitants, not a lot but not a small town. San Francisco from this point of view is like my ideal city: people outside, gardens, large streets, bike lanes, many places where you can have a meal, and shops.

The Hotel, the Intercontinental in Howard street, was also great in every possible way, from the food to the staff that was always very professional and willing to help. The only bad thing about the Hotel was the gym, full of treadmills, without a pull-up bar, no barbells. A strange conception of fitness... I had to survive many days without doing a single deadlift.

During my permanence in SF I used a cab only two times for time constraints, I enjoyed a lot to walk around the city.

The people

During my time in SF I had the pleasure to visit Pivotal (my company), Adroll, Apcera, Twitter, and to attend the Redis drink up. I encountered an endless stream of smart *and* kind people, basically without exceptions. I assume that the SF guys not following The First Law Of Computing (that is "don't be an asshole") that I have the pleasure to meet on Twitter from time to time are a minority in the city.

Basically is a fantastic environment where the focus is only on getting things done in a friendly way, without rigid and useless things like the need to reach the office at 8am, but also without the employee habit of disappearing at 5pm during a deployment just because it's time to go home.

This is my philosophy as well, and it resonates very well with the way I also work at home.

Another very positive aspect is that, in the companies I visited, I never saw many meetings happening. Most of the programmers were at their desks working in a quiet enough environment. Basically it's not a coincidence that they get things done, there is the right setup, and my impression is that in average people work something like 40 hours per week like in Europe. I often read that in the US it's more like 50 or 60 hours, probably not in SF, or maybe I'm just wrong.


I must admit that unfortunately there are not many women writing code in the average. I was lucky enough to meet a couple of outstanding women writing code, but all in all the percentage is not higher than the one in Italy. This is somewhat frustrating: from my point of view SF represents in many ways the "future" of the tech industry, they way it will probably be in many places in a few years. It is disappointing that I don't see much improvements in that regard, at the same time I've no recipes to suggest to improve things. I don't think the solution is to give some specific gender based advantage, but something should be done for example in the context of the educational system.


In three days I heard multiple times the same story of families moving to SF and returning back to their homes in other places of US, Europe, India, or whatever, after a few months. I've no idea why this happens: from the outside it looks like a wonderful civilized city.

At the same time however there is something odd with the fact you earn 100k per year or more, and as a single you end without money to save at the end of the year. Probably that has something to do with the incompatibility between SF and families?

Also streets were full of people but it was hard to encounter children or pregnant women, this is another thing that sounds very strange from an outsider.


Food was very good in my company, in the companies I visited (often for lunch), and when I met people in public places. I was not happy only with Greek yogurt that apparently is not the same stuff as I use to purchase here (I use the Fage brand), and in general yogurt was more like a dessert-looking thing.

Also cereals were full of sugar, and people used to drink in one day the amount of coke that in Sicily you drink in one year.

Fruit, especially apples and red fruits, were excellent, and the fruit & nuts bars completely awesome in some cases (I don't recall the brands I liked most).

The coffee is very different than the Italian one, but when it's made in the right way, it is good for me, just not as coffee as I intent it, but as another thing. However the side effect is that apparently it is a lot more caffeine rich in relation to the amount you drink in those big cups, and this caused me some issue.

My English

Even if a few people reported that I improved compared to when we met the previous time, the reality is that my English was the only real pain point, again. UK people are especially hard for me to understand, and I guess the opposite is also true. Fixing the language if you don't practice it is either impossible or requires a lot of time, probably I'll star to travel more. For example instead of always refusing the invitations I think I'll go to conferences much more.


It's not the first time I visit SF, I already visited the city one time a few years ago, but this is the first time I move around and meet people freely, since in my last trip I stayed mainly in Palo Alto.

I think that even if the climate is a bit odd, I would stay in SF itself if I would move in the bay area, even if probably it is going to be very expansive.

It really is a wonderful city and I hope to return visiting it soon instead of waiting three years again.

I want to say thank you to everybody I met during my trip: you are very gentle and friendly, I enjoyed it.
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