ANDREW COOK, Software Engineer @ Bloomberg

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ANDREW COOK

Hometown: Lubbock, TX
Years lived in the city: <1
Age: 23
Occupation: Software Engineer
Company: Bloomberg LP

Andrew is a friend of one of my roommate/best friend’s from college. Originally, I wanted to interview people about how they felt about New York (which is why you’ll find the first half of the interview to be centered on NYC) and while my theme for the site has since changed, Andrew remains a constant supporter and great friend to have in the city and I loved learning more about his life here. He was the very first person I interviewed and I’m happy to share our conversation today. You’ll learn more about the difference between the tech industries in Cali vs. NY and why NYC has so much to offer.

Andrew grew up in Lubbock, Texas (a  town in West Texas) and attended The University of Texas at Austin. Although we were in one of the same honors program in college (Plan II), we never actually met while in Austin. Andrew was also in Turing Scholars (the Computer Science honors program) which my roommate was in and she connected the two of us after we had both moved to the city.

While in school Andrew interned at Cisco, Bloomberg, and Google, studied for a semester in Austria (lederhosen; not kangaroos), and took five semesters of social dance. 

Andrew now works at Bloomberg as a software engineer and lives in the Upper East Side with his roommate who also happens to have the same job as him. In his free time he likes to frequent speakeasies (which I didn’t know about until he mentioned them - go to Please Don't Tell),  visit museums, and talk with different kinds of people (like aspiring writers!)

We sat down at Cafe Mogador in East Village for a conversation over the best Moroccan food (get the bastilla and mulled wine!). 

How do you feel about New York?
I love New York City! I'm a huge fan of the energy of the city. I'm originally from Lubbock, a medium - sized city in west Texas which is about as different from NYC as you can get. I really enjoy what I get from the contrast. To me, the city has an amazing energy and rhythm which suits my rather high-energy personality.

For the first time in my life I don't have to drive, which I view as rather freeing. Consequently, I feel like even in the course of normal life, I experience more of this city than any other I have lived in. It's amazing how many things there are to do and how easy it is to find out about them.

My favorite thing about the city, though, is the diversity of people. I just feel like I've already met so many different kinds of people, which, in my experience, is more difficult in other cities.

When was the first time you visited the city?
January of 2013. I was 18. I was visiting a high-school friend who went to NYU. I had absolutely no idea I'd ever live here.

What made you want to move here?
The first time I lived here was for an internship, in the summer of 2015. I knew very little about the city or how I would feel living here, but I was very curious to experience such a different kind of city. I didn't have a particular desire to come, but I was also excited to experience it for a limited period of time.

When I moved here earlier this year (2017), I very much did want to move here. I loved the city during my internship, and found that I really enjoyed the lifestyle. I was interested in putting myself in a radically different environment from those that I had known my entire life. My extended family has been in Texas for generations, and I have lived in the state my entire life. Texas is wonderful, but it's also a cultural bubble to a large extent. I was interested in living in a very different environment, and New York seemed like a great place to do that. New York is also a great place for my career as a software engineer. I feel like I have every reason to be here. 

Do you see yourself staying here or moving out eventually?
I have lived here for almost 8 months, though counting my internship it's been more like 11 months. I definitely see myself moving eventually -- I could not imagine raising a family here. I also really like Texas, and believe that I'll likely move back there at some point.

What is the hardest part about living here?
The hardest part about living here for me is the obstacles to having a dog :-(

Ugh, so true. I don’t know how people raise dogs here unless they work really close to their homes. I stayed at an Airbnb in East Village where the dog lived in an apartment on the fifth floor (walk-up). How it went outside to use the bathroom I have no idea...

What's one thing here that you can't get anywhere else?
One of the most remarkable things about New York City to me is that fact that it seems like the place to be to catch an appearance of just about any creator you may be interested in. Though Austin (my home for four years) may be the live music capital of the world, it doesn't hold a candle to New York as a destination for a tour. An unbelievable number of my favorite bands have already or are planning to come through the city this year. When I interned here, even the beloved (though sadly little known) Austin homegrown band Motherfalcon came by.

Beyond music, some of my favorite podcasts either are based or host periodic live shows in New York City. A lot of significant cities have amazing access to cultural experiences, but I feel like New York offers another level of access.

What's one thing you miss or wish the city had?
One thing that I very much was not expecting was wishing New York had a wider variety of opportunities to dance. In college, I enjoyed taking a lot of social dancing courses, but have struggled to put my hard-earned skills to use, largely due to the almost century-old cabaret law, which requires restaurants and bars to have a special license in order to allow dancing. It's the best explanation I can find for why it is so hard to find cool places to dance (though there are still some of those out there).

(Note: Shota, one of my other interviewees, mentioned that you can’t find a store that sells both beer and wine - they usually sell one or the other, but not both, and it’s because NY laws state that you can only sell beer  under a certain percentage of alcohol at anywhere with the grocery license. Higher proof alcohol and wine has to be sold at separate stores. Also, there can only be one alcohol store per owner, which is why Trader Joes, Costco, and Whole Foods only have one alcohol/wine store each in all of NYC.)

So on the contrary, what's one thing the city has blessed you with?
I feel like this city is teaching me a stronger sense of community. I have been struck by how the widespread use of public transit and the sheer population density basically means all of the places I tend to go to near my apartment live in the area also. Similarly, I have found that living in a building with other people makes you more likely to develop an interest in your neighbors' lives. These are mindsets I believe would be harder to grow in the relative isolation of a world dominated by cars and houses.

What's one thing that people get wrong about NYC?
I think that when people think of New York City writ large, they often imagine the crowds of people one might find in Times Square or the Financial District. While New York is undoubtedly a pedestrian- heavy city, I don't believe it is nearly to the extent that many seem to believe. There are noisier and quieter parts of the city, such as East Village (where I lived for my internship) and the Upper East Side (where I live now), respectively.

One assumption I had is that people generally live faster paced lives than those in other parts of the country. This definitely seems true to me. It seems like people who live in New York City are particularly eager to spend time enjoying the city and taking advantage of what it has to offer. Obviously this isn't true for every body, and there are definitely quiet and chill corners, but this general energy of the city is a big part of why I love living here so much.

The people ended up being a lot nicer than I expected. I think New Yorkers are actually particularly willing to help out one another, even if that help isn't papered with the niceties I grew to expect in Texas. To me it seems like New Yorkers are much better about viewing strangers as real people.

Yeah, one time I was on the subway and there was no space to hold onto a pole, so a lady held out her arm and let me hold onto that for support and balance. I thought that was so kind. Similarly, where do you find inspiration within the city?
I think I'm most inspired by insane acts of kindness and love between people. As a concrete example, to me it seems like people are much more willing to stop and talk to someone who is homeless and struggling than people are in many other cities. I acknowledge that this could be because I'm out and about much more in New York than I generally have been in other cities, but it is still striking to me, when so often it seems like these populations are left utterly ignored.

In that vein... I guess I am most often inspired when I am out in public, with other people.

Your favorite thing/activity you do during the day?
During a weekday, without a doubt my favorite time is the mornings. I wake up much before my roommate, so from the time that I wake up to the time that I reach my desk, I am basically in my own little world. During this period in the morning, I typically ignore any messages on my phone and just listen to a podcast, while I enjoy the pleasure of walking through the city and eating my breakfast on the 29th floor of my building (we have a view of Central Park). I view it as very personal time, and it gives me a great feeling of peace.

What’s a typical weekday and a typical weekend day like for you?
My typical weekday starts with that: wake up and get ready at my apartment, get to the office with about a 20 minute commute, half of it walking, half of it on the subway. I eat breakfast at the office, then get started on work, usually at about 9:00. Work is usually pretty busy, so I am on and focused all day, with maybe a short break to grab lunch with some friends. I'd say I usually leave around 5:30 or 6:00. About half the time on weekdays I then grab or cook dinner with some friends, and get home to either relax, or do boring life stuff at home or maybe the gym or grocery store or something.

On the weekends, I frequently have volunteering events in the morning, so I may grab a coffee and pastry from the adorable little coffee shop across the street from my apartment before heading off. If I finish by noon or one at the latest, I of course indulge in some brunch with friends, or my girlfriend if she is in town. Afternoons vary wildly and define the rest of my day. This is when I either go back home for a day filled largely with chores, or stay out and meetup with friends to spend a significant portion of the rest of the day with them. Meals are always ad hoc. The evenings frequently involve drinks with friends, or maybe a date night if the rest of the day has been uneventful and my girlfriend is in town.

Why did you choose to pursue software engineering in New York over other tech hubs such as Seattle and Silicon Valley? (Note: Andrew had interned at Google in the Bay Area and Cisco in Atlanta, previously.) Was it because of the tech bro culture in SV?
The biggest reason is that I strongly prefer the diversity of the environment in NYC over SF. And your characterization really gets right to it - the fact that "bro" culture is a accurate term touches on the lack of diversity (even at Bloomberg, sadly), in the tech world. (Note: before moving to NYC, I had considered going to the SF office of my firm, but felt the heavy presence of tech firms everywhere I went. It was a little too one-dimensional for me).

SF and Seattle are dominated by these companies, which makes for an active and exciting environment of being on the cutting edge, but at the cost of being highly insular and homogeneous (note: multiple interviewees have now mentioned this fact). I guess this is the primary contrast which makes me prefer NYC, which is a tech hub, yes, but also a fashion, finance, artistic, and journalistic hub. Not to mention, of course, the fact that, despite costs of living being comparable, NYC has so much more to offer. SF and Seattle are amazing cities, but you just can't compete with NYC. Talk about the museums, broadway, the all-around access and cultural dominance continues to have... In my mind, there's no competition.

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What attracted you to Bloomberg specifically and how would you say the tech culture here differs from other places (for example, SF or Austin) in terms of work culture, hours, and team environment?
As for Bloomberg specifically versus the west coast tech companies, I mostly appreciate the aura of professionalism that I feel Bloomberg has over the other tech companies. You won't ever find a Foosball table at Bloomberg, much less an arcade or bowling alley, which you can and I did find at Google.

Silicon Valley very much romanticizes tech. The reason the work environments evolved to what they are is the idea that the work they do, really isn't “work” at all, it's a bunch of passionate people doing “what they love and making the world a better place” in the process. Because of this idea that programming isn't work, it's what you love (right?) so you want to it all the time (right?) and your life becomes built around what is the primary value in your life (which is why it's no problem to come into Saturday for 10 hours as well). Fun offices with bars, laundry services, food, even beds to nap in all reinforce this culture, which I obviously find very problematic. There's no denying that all this stuff is cool, but I really think it's important to consider why your work is suddenly this cool place you'd practically never want to leave.

And to be clear, I do love programming, and have never doubted that this is the right job for me, but I already give ~45hrs a week to this thing I love. I want to be able to invest some of that remaining time into the many other things I love. Bloomberg's culture is extremely conducive to that kind of lifestyle. They don't pretend that work isn't actually work or that it’s always fun and wonderful - they recognize it for what it is. They offer really good benefits and pay well, and maintain a culture of having a good work/life balance, because they want to minimize the churn that you see at a lot of other tech companies. To put it one last way... I would rather be paid more than have a pool in my office, and would rather have the time to spend that money as I please, outside of the office. The tech world is a really cool place, but I am very wary of its overwhelming culture.

Knowing that you worked as an intern at Google in SF, what made you decide on Bloomberg in NY?
Speaking honestly, I didn't have Google as a choice for full-time employment. The problem was that I just have deep issues with studying for interviews... Like, I can't get over the fact that I consider that content to be truly worthless and therefore I think it's stupid to spend so much time mastering these particular kinds of questions. Of course, it's not stupid; it gets you jobs at places like Google But I find it very hard to be motivated to work with content that I really think is worthless on its own accord. So anyway, I didn't study and encountered the hardest interview problem I have ever seen in my second round, did poorly, and reckon that that question is why. My choices for full-time were between Microsoft, Facebook, and Bloomberg. The other two jobs were in Seattle.

Looking back, now that you've worked here for a year, what are your thoughts on your decision?
I think I made a great decision! I think I am way happier in NYC than I would be in either Seattle or SF, though of course there is no way to say for sure.

And as for Bloomberg, I have no complaints, really. I find the work interesting and my coworkers engaging and challenging. I don't expect to be here forever, but I'm glad I am here for now. I think the one shortcoming of Bloomberg is that I don't find the end product personally gratifying. Being a company serving the finance industry means that we have very interesting engineering problems, but, I mean, I guess there are more meaningful products than a software suite which helps investment bankers make even more money.

An example of a product which I would find personally gratifying is Spotify, though who knows if I'd find the problems as engaging or the people as cool. Since I view this part of my career as one to focus mostly on growth and learning, Bloomberg scratches exactly the right itch.

Related links: Why Tim Ferriss Left Silicon Valley for Austin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZ3gRdkX0nY

Why This Startup Doesn’t Want to Move to Silicon Valley (The Muse, which specifically chose New York for its HQ) 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uBYoDkI-SY