Vancouver's ambition

Posted in Canadian life, Random thoughts at 10:15 pm by ducky

Paul Graham wrote an interesting essay called Cities and Ambition, in which he put forth the idea that different places had different messages about what was important. He said that in the following places, the following goal was most valued by the community that lived there:

  • New York: being rich
  • Silicon Valley: being powerful (which I would rephrase as “changing the world for the better via technology”)
  • Boston (Cambridge): being smart
  • LA: being famous
  • DC: being connected
  • Berkeley/SF: living better (which I would rephrase as “becoming a better person”)
  • Paris: appreciating art better
  • London: being high-class (aristocratic)

There’s no way you can prove or disprove something as fuzzy and general as this, but it feels correct to me. I remember how right it felt to move back to Silicon Valley from LA. In LA, I was on the sidelines, what I cared about was just not at all what LA was interested in. In Silicon Valley, everything aligned with what I cared about.

I naturally thought about my current home, Vancouver. What does Vancouver say? My immediate thought was that Vancouver tells you that you should have work/life balance.

My friend Michelle Chua has a slightly different take. She thinks that Vancouver tells you that you should have fun.

Michelle pointed out that there were ten game companies within a two-block radius of my house. She thinks that the game and film industry do well here because they are all about having fun, and fun is legitimate here. Interesting.


  1. Evan said,

    October 19, 2008 at 9:48 am

    You might want to talk to some of the employees of those game companies and ask them:
    1) how much fun they’re having right now;
    2) how many hours they’re working right now;
    3) how many extra hours they’ve worked in the last year.

    Few, if any, game companies are about work/life balance, no matter what they claim.

  2. ducky said,

    October 19, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Yes, I know game companies are famous for working their employees really hard. Let me try again.

    The goal of the *game company* is to enable people to have fun. That is seen as a legitimate, worthwhile, and cool goal in Vancouver. I think it is seen as a less noble goal in Silicon Valley. If someone has the choice between working for a game company in Silicon Valley and working for a company that makes infrastructure or web apps or search engines, I think they would usually pick something besides the game company.

  3. Evan said,

    October 19, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Unsaid is “if game companies are so bad, why do you keep working for them?”

    It’s OK, it’s a valid question.

    Many don’t. One-third of developers see themselves out of the industry in five years and half in ten. After many years in the industry, I tried a half-time job in the production end (Producer) instead of the programming end (Software Engineer). Details are unimportant, but I ended up convinced that I’ll never choose to work in the game business again.

    As for game companies being seen as more valid here, I don’t know that that’s so. Your neighborhood is in the current hip tech gulch. SoMa in SF was like that for a while. Parts of Silicon Valley were like that for a while, until it got too expensive to stay. Small game companies like Vancouver because it’s a nice place to live and it can be affordable enough to survive. The social safety net here is a big plus in that direction.

    Clusters form under the right conditions. The Film industry being here is a big plus, because VFS and AI are significant players in the education space, and they both overlap from Film to Video Games. The presence of a large player which sheds people at a high rate has certainly helped, and our sharing a time zone with the Bay Area and Hollywood probably has some effect as well.

    Game developers are often in it for the “cool”, and Vancouver is definitely “cool” :-).

  4. Sassan said,

    October 23, 2008 at 7:56 am

    Chicago thinks, let’s be the best can be amidst all of the craziness out there.

    Atlanta doesn’t think about anything until someone else shows up. AND THEN Atlanta thinks I just need to be better than that person. Sad. I know.

  5. monkey said,

    October 28, 2008 at 7:59 am

    I thought Vancouver’s ambition was to publish as many papers as fast as possible and still make it to the college dinner by 7:30…

    maybe I should get out in the town some more…..

    I reckon Vancouver’s goal might be: being first to take up the latest health kick, and doing it in the right brand of sexy, butt-enhancing pants.

  6. Best Webfoot Forward » Are we moving back to the US? said,

    November 5, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    […] particular, I still have ambitions to change the world, while I think Vancouver puts more value on having fun.  I’m trying to get the “fun” attitude, but it’s swimming upstream for […]

  7. Tamfang said,

    December 3, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Curious choice of link, there at the top.

Leave a Comment

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.