On office locations

I’ve been working out in the suburbs ever since I moved to Austin in 1996. There just aren’t many high-tech companies who have had the guts to disregard their CEO’s wishes and move downtown, where many of the younger workers would prefer to work (at least that was the case at my last job).

First office was in far north Austin at IBM, from 1996 through 1998, and during that time I bought and moved into a condo in Clarksville.

Second company was S3 where I had four different offices in three and a half years (five if you count the twelve months or so I worked at home in the condo between offices #3 and #4).

Then, I worked at two far western offices at the last company.

I currently work at 183/Braker, which, for the suburbs, is about as good as it gets – I can and did take the express bus to work to assist on my bike commute from time to time. But it still couldn’t beat walking a block to the #5 and busing 10 minutes downtown. I could only bike to work once a week at best because of the time it took, but if my office were downtown, I could easily do it 5 days a week.

So when the economy picked up, I started asking recruiters who contacted me where the companies were located (thinking I wouldn’t bother talking to somebody in the ‘burbs but might at least listen for a downtown position). I usually got the answer quickly; but one guy really didn’t want to say, and then claimed that this spot was “central”. Give me a break. When I explained that “central” meant “could hop a bus or ride my bike every day rather than once a week”, he said they’d pay for a bus pass (closest stop is miles away) and provide free parking(!) FREE PARKING IN THE SUBURBS! YEE-HAW! WHAT AN UNUSUAL PERK!

As it turns out, I’m now leaving the current job because a combination of a benefits change that hit us really hard and a property-tax mortgage-company screwup made it impossible to afford to stay, which stinks, since I really like the work and the people. The new job will mean a commute out to my desk in my garage (which I had to air-condition in order to work all that overtime which ate up at least 6 hours a day every weekend day from Memorial Day to mid-August). It was mildly humorous when I asked my normal question, and they responded “you’d have to work at home”, and I got to reassure them that it was a plus for me, not a minus. And as it turns out, the new people seem cool, and the work seems like it will be interesting too. But this is the first time I’ve ever quit a job I liked, which is a weird feeling.

Anyways, this all came up again today because a couple of threads today regarding Microsoft have mentioned the difficulty in getting people to move to Redmond. One of the threads thinks that people just don’t want to move to the northwest, which I don’t believe, but the second one gets it right – you can’t expect your twentysomething ideal hires to want to work in the suburbs as much as the fiftysomething CEOs.

This is applicable to me since I’ve been through the early stages of the interview process with Microsoft at least three times now, but haven’t yet found a group which wouldn’t require physical office presence in Redmond. And even if we could manage the blended family issues and move to the Seattle area (where my stepson was born and my wife and his father lived for ten years), you’d have to double my salary to get me to live in Redmond or any other such car-requiring soul-destroying suburban wasteland (and living in Seattle and commuting to Redmond would be like what I just got out of in Austin, except five times worse).

Unfortunately, as Joel on Software pointed out and I mentioned with regard to AMD, the wishes of the employees mean absolutely nothing; almost all corporate moves are to make the office closer to the CEO’s home.

(The rank-and-file workers at the last job, who were disproportionately the bright twentysomethings over whom all tech companies seem to want to fight, disproportionately live in the central city, like I do, but as far as I know only two have found jobs downtown – although another one has started a company on South Congress – on the other hand, the workers at the job I’m leaving are mostly family guys who moved here from RTP, where there is no ‘center city’ to be had, so there’s no demand there).

So my new commute is twenty steps out to the garage. Now I have two things to try to figure out:

  1. How to work exercise into the daily routine without a bike commute (although I wasn’t doing it much lately anyways, I had planned to ramp back up since school’s now out for the summer). Maybe walking on my hands to the garage will do it…
  2. How to write about Shoal Creek Boulevard when I won’t need to use it for my commute. Actually, that seems like a benefit rather than a drawback…

Not much room for optimism

Thought I’d copy this here for posterity – this is a comment I made to an excellent entry by Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly blog, in reference to somebody who thought that since we adjusted to the 1970s oil shock (he’s right on that one) that we could just as easily adjust to the oncoming (soon or later, depending on your alarmism) peak oil shock.

Adding this comment to my blog has made me recall that I still owe an analysis of “fire stations per capita” back to the Texas Fight guy. I’m sorry, I’ve been busy at work and at home, and will try to get this done soon.

My comment:

John,
The answer to why this shock will be much worse than the one in the 1970s is two words:
suburban sprawl

One thing Kunstler gets right is his analysis of the complete lack of options in a modern suburban development (really exurb) to the single-occupant vehicle and truck delivery to strip malls. There’s no way to carpool. There’s no way to use transit. There’s no way to ride your bike or walk. There’s no way for the store to switch to freight rail deliveries (not even the way it used to be, which was truck for only the last very small N% of the trip, if even that).

The ONLY things modern suburbanites can do are:

  1. Trade in their SUV for a compact car – works well if you’re one of the early adopters, but what if everybody else is trying to trade down at the same time?
  2. Move back to the cities – see above.

We would have had to change our development laws twenty years ago in order to have a prayer of solving this problem, but instead we’ve been operating on a regime that not only requires urbanites to subsidize wasteful suburbanites, it actually PROHIBITS BY LAW (through zoning codes) the development of additional urban neighborhoods.

For reference, my last two homes have been in two center-city neighborhoods where 80-90% of the dwellings would be impossible to build today due to suburban-influenced zoning code which applies even in these older neighborhoods. Of course, to even get to that point, you’d have to overcome their fanatical opposition to infill, but every bit counts.

Sometimes I get it right

Right after reading the stories about more buyers being upside-down on car loans (and pointing out to my wife that we have a 72-month loan on the new family car), this story comes out,
and all of the sudden I look like Einstien again.

Was planning a Shoal Creek entry for today (after riding to work on Friday), but discovered Friday morning that my road (commuter) bike was missing, presumed stolen. Spent Sunday outfitting my old mountain bike; rode it to the bus stop this morning, hopefully riding home this afternoon. Spent all day Saturday reconfiguring the garage so I won’t be tempted to leave a bike out overnight (unlocked) again. I may shift gears and write a rebuttal to my John Birch Society commenter today over lunch instead.

Hiccup

The cow orker friend who has graciously given me a chunk of webhosting for a few months since io.com barfed on the backup for the blog had his own hiccup recently when his hosting company didn’t do their chores for a while. Should be back up now; and thanks again to Baba for the free mobile home while I still procrastinate on getting a permanent home.

Anyways, that’s why you couldn’t get here for your weekly dose of crackpot. The enb.

Plans for the blog

Well, now that the election is over, and I waited a week to cool the electrons, here’s where this blog is going to go:

  1. More emphasis on other transportation-talk (I had a bit of this sprinkled through the early articles here – see these categories for some examples). I took up the pro-transit but anti-commuter-rail flag because nobody else would, not because it’s my only interest). I have a couple of long articles ready to write once I get some time – one about TXDOT’s pedestrian-hostile highway construction, and one about the Jollyville Road severing.
  2. I’ll be evaluating any proposals made to “fix” the commuter rail line. Some mumblings in the press right now indicate that they think they’re going to get a proposal or two before the voters for the 2006 election. I sincerely doubt this will happen – there was far too much political capital spent on the “let’s build this one and then see how it does” position, and the kind of studies they need to do in order to get to the ballot-box are not likely to be quick.
  3. I’ll be commenting on the election results if and when the Chronicle does a precinct analysis (like they did for the 2000 light rail election).

Evaluating my campaign and my predictions: I thought the rail plan would pass, but I did not think the margin would be this great. I’m surprised at the margin in unincorporated Williamson County (according to today’s Statesman, it was fairly large). As mentioned before, I don’t know how it did in the central city compared to light rail.

I had hoped that I would get enough traction with the press that it would be difficult to forget (in 2010) that there was at least one guy who knew what he was talking about who predicted that the starter line was fatally flawed (to shorten the rail transit interregnum that will occur when the line fails). I don’t think I met my goals here – got some early coverage, including a good spot on KXAN where I was able to articulate the main failure, but most of the other press coverage misrepresented my position to “it doesn’t go far enough” which is too easy to counter with “well, we’ll just build streetcar or go to Seaholm” which only solves one of the ten or so problems with this line.

The success of the starter line is now in the hands of people in Cedar Park and far northwest Austin. If they enjoy riding shuttle buses every day from the station at MLK (crossing I-35 on MLK to get to UT and the Capitol) or from the Convention Center to 6th and Congress, then the plan will survive long enough to build extensions and expansions. Note, however, that none of those extensions or expansions provide rail service for the residents of the center city – they are other commuter rail lines headed from shuttle-bus stations out to other suburban areas.

I’m prepared to make a limited number of ridership bets for more steak dinners (hi Patrick!). You know where to find me. Otherwise, I may have the sidewalk article up in a week or so.

Two down

Adam Rice, another of Austin’s best bloggers and a fellow center-city cyclist, has kindly linked to this blog with an endorsement.

So I’ve won two votes so far – only about 20,000 to go! Well, also, since my cousin, wife, and father-in-law said they liked my presentation at the LBJ school last week, I probably have their votes too. My mom would probably also have liked my presentation, so there you go.
Adam also came up with a great title – All Systems Whoa. If I wasn’t running my quixotic campaign on a budget of exactly zero, I’d go buy the domain name allsystemswhoa.org to match the monorail guys at allsystemsno.org (not an endorsement by me – remember I support light rail, which runs in the street and would also be hated by these guys).

Readers encouraged to comment

Is anybody actually reading this thing? I’ve been spending a lot of time writing here, nd it would be nice to know that it’s not been a wasted effort. Certainly today’s Statesman fluff-piece was disappointing, since I’ve fallen back off the radar with Ben Wear.

Comments and suggestions encouraged, if for nothing else than to establish that this hasn’t been a waste of time.