Moving – Canada to Cali in tech!

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HN interview: Curious Minds’ James Hurley on moving to California to work in the technology industry

Wondering what it’s like to pack your life up and head to California to work in tech? This HackerNest “cool people in tech” Q&A thing is for you.

We recently interviewed all-round-good-guy James Hurley (http://github.com/jgh-), an experienced Canadian (Toronto represent) software/mobile developer who moved there a couple of years ago. James has also graciously agreed to answer any questions readers might have right here in this thread (thank you, James!), so post away. This is (a very incomplete version of) his story. Enjoy!

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(image courtesy of us stealing it from James’s Facebook profile)

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HackerNest: Which company are you with; what do they do?

James Hurley: I work for Curious Minds in West Hollywood, California. Curious Minds is the incubator sister company to the Startup Minds accelerator. We develop products that we hope will become successful enough for acquisition or becoming independent companies.
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HN: What kind of stuff are you working on now? What interests you about it?

JH: I’m the lead developer on an SDK for (currently iOS-only) developers to add high-quality video conferencing, screen sharing, and gesture sharing to their apps with ease and with little required knowledge of the technologies involved. We’ll be going into private beta next month, so it’s getting pretty exciting! The things that excite me most about being a programmer are working on interesting technical challenges and learning new skills and this project has both of those in spades.
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HN: How did they manage to find/recruit you from so far away?

JH: I was already in California when I was hired by this company. The first company I worked for was actually a startup down in San Diego. I found them through Craigslist because we were trying to move to California.

HN: What inspired you to make the jump (to California)? 

JH: My wife said “We’re moving to California”. After a trip to San Diego I was convinced we should move here. So I began researching the process we needed to follow to make the move.

HN: How’s the weather?

I can’t complain. The first year we moved here was very warm so we were on the beach New Year’s Day (yeah, we had a studio apartment on the beach in San Diego… Sure beat another winter in North York). This year has been cool, but I don’t have to shovel snow so it’s good!
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HN: Was it a tough process getting a work visa?

JH: Many Canadians can get a TN visa which is a temporary non-immigrant visa that costs about $50 at the border. They can give them to you for up to 3 years at a time (for an indefinite number of renewals) as long as you are qualified for the job and the job qualifies for the visa. The toughest part of the visa is the anticipation, I think, since you have to actually be crossing the border when you apply for it. So you’ve made plans and your car is packed (or your plane ticket is paid for) and you’re sitting there and you get approved or denied within about 20 minutes.

You have to get a new one if you change jobs, which is kind of horrible if you’re somewhere in the middle of the United States. Luckily Southern California is not too far from Mexico so I’ve just crossed the Mexican border and then re-entered the United States and applied for a new TN visa then.
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HN: Has adjusting to life in the US been a challenge?

JH: The first year or so was kind of tough mainly because when you’re assigned a new Social Security Number it’s like you were just dropped out of the sky. We had no credit or anything like that, which means that everybody wants more money from you up front. We had no rental history which made getting an apartment a little tougher. We had a BMO US Dollars credit card that came in handy, despite the horrible challenges of trying to pay it off (we had to send cheques to Canada because we couldn’t just transfer the funds or use Canadian dollars from our Canadian accounts) and apparently they don’t flag fraudulent purchases (Someone managed to skim our card and buy several thousand dollars worth of pizza in Montreal). Luckily we had a good Wells Fargo rep working with us who got us hooked up with a Secure Card pretty quickly to build U.S. credit. I’m sure an American moving to Toronto would face similar challenges, though, so this isn’t a challenge of adjusting to U.S. life really.

Life here isn’t so different. The radio is a little worse and the news people really do seem to live in the bizarro universe that Jon Stewart is always poking fun at. The biggest change for me was experiencing the amazing beer culture they have here in California. On my last trip home I was pleased to see that Ontario is starting to pick it up a little bit.

HN: Have you any interesting stories about famous people you’ve met there who may or may not have stared you down for no particular reason?

JH: Well there was that time that Dave Matthews looked like he wanted to fight me when I was walking home from Trader Joe’s…. Maybe he’s got a problem with Trader Joe’s. That’s his loss though, Trader Joe’s is amazing.

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HN: How does the tech community you’re currently in compare with Toronto’s? How would you like to see Toronto change?

JH: I’m not terribly involved in the community to be honest, so I can’t really give a very good comparison. I’ve been purposely avoiding moving to Silicon Valley because I feel like people in the tech community there live in their own bubble a little bit. Over the past few years I’ve lamented the uncreative, technically facile ideas coming out of Silicon Valley. Although thanks to efforts like Kickstarter I think it seems to be getting a little better.

I think Los Angeles is a little bit like Toronto in that it is trying to define itself as a place to be for startups (“Silicon Beach” is in Santa Monica, about 10 kilometers from here on the Sunset Strip) but it’s definitely overshadowed by the SF Bay area. There are a lot of cool companies down here. Lots of media stuff, which is what I’m really in to. Hulu is one big one down in Silicon Beach. The studios up in Burbank are always looking for technical people. There are a bunch of social gaming companies down in Long Beach and all over the city in general. There are actually a lot of startups just everywhere in the city.

HN: Do you have any advice for Canadian techies thinking of hopping south of the border?

JH: I say just do it. It’s exciting and frightening but if you stick to your guns you’ll be just fine and you’ll learn a lot about the world if you’ve only ever lived in one place. I also recommend driving your car to get here instead of flying because it’s more fun that way.
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HN: Good advice. James, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insights with us; we really appreciate it. Best of luck rocking a suntan and with everything else. Please stay in touch!