Notes from two white-hot weeks of startup life in San Francisco

San Francisco isn’t a city. Well, that too, but most of all it’s a mindset. If you haven’t been there, you’ll be like, Whatever, not that bs again… but if you’ve been, you’ll already be crying,Yes! There’s nothing like it!  What follows is a humble attempt to cover my two amazing, exhausting, incredible non-stop weeks following the Startup Life intern batch around the city. Here goes…

In the words of Robin Sloan: “You know those heist movies where half the fun is watching the team come together — the mastermind, the master of disguise, the demolitions expert?” Well, that’s what hanging out at startups feel like. It’s that scene from the movies. You get to see all the amazing individuals who happen to know each other or meet each other seemingly out of nowhere… and all of a sudden they’re working together to make something incredible happen.

No really, what’s it like? Well, all of the six Startup Life interns get to work on stuff that they’re interested in — all totally different from each other. Jori works in a small team closely with Convore’s founder Leah and gets to concentrate on learning JavaScript while putting together new design and making sure the users feel like home. Working in a Y Combinator company in the startup-infested SoMa area he gets to visit offices like Github’s… and when he doesn’t feel like working in his own office, he can just go work at another startup’s office around the corner, where someone has invited him the day before.

Nelli, on the other hand, mostly works from her awesome scenic Pacific Heights house with a ping pong and pool table in the living room. Sounds lonely? It’s not. She spends most of the day talking with co-workers and clients over Skype. Occasionally she travels south to the Eucalyptus headquarters in Santa Barbara, where she can learn more about the product, surf, and go for bike rides with her co-workers during lunch. Puneeth, the other Eucalyptus intern, mainly works from co-working spaces, Stanford’s STVP hacker space and hacker cafes like the famous Red Rock Cafe in Mountain View.

Mikito is excited about specializing in and learning to use a new technology at Zendesk, where he and Mikko take breaks together on the office’s rooftop terrace with views over SoMa and Potrero hill. Sanja is the batch’s only intern who works outside the city in Silicon Valley. She lives on Stanford’s campus, rides a bike to the Palo Alto Caltrain station, takes the train to Redwood City, and continues on to Seven to work on data analysis. So there’s a lot of work.

But San Francisco demands more than that. Every week there are tens of events — YouTube’s API meetup! Posterous hackathon! MongoDB + JS meetup! Y Combinator founders, interns & friends dinner! — to choose from and attend. Now this… this is where the magic happens. Meetups are where you go to talk with people interested in the same technologies, working on similar problems, and of course, people who might have the answer to a particular problem you might have. Who better to ask a question related to YouTube’s API than the guy who works at YouTube and is responsible for the API? Around San Francisco and Silicon Valley you get to meet these people all the time. It’s unlike anywhere else.

Just work, you say? Not so. There’s also free design lectures at Stanford every Wednesday. Weekend trips Santa Cruz. Sunday brunches in Sausalito, hikes in Muir Woods, and party invitations to incredible summer houses by the laguna in Bolinas, where you can eat blackberries straight from the bush. Lattes from Sightglass Coffee and Caffe La Stazione (whose cash registers are Square-equipped iPads, by the way).

Did I mention that San Francisco has the best burritos in the world? I love burritos. Love them. I’m guessing you do, too. Needless to say, you can start your day with a breakfast burrito, have burritos for lunch at Mexico au Parc in legendary South Park (where — no big deal —Wired magazine’s and Twitter’s first offices were situated), and after drinking too many beers at a friend’s startup’s party, carry on to have some late-night burritos on Mission Street. Rinse and repeat.

But there’s so much more. Drinks at a hidden speakeasy, where you need to know a password for the doorman to let you enter. Bike rides to lunch by the docks near Bay Bridge. Afternoon beers in the Punavuori-like Mission District with your founder, who buys you tamales (google it) from “the famous tamale lady” making her rounds. Sunbathing in Mission Dolores Park with German designer friends. Dinner with Ditto’s developers and ice cream made with liquid nitrogen for dessert. Surfing. Visits to Apple’s swag store in Cupertino. And so much more.

Everything sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Oh, but guess what? Once you actually get there, it’s more amazing than you could have even imagined. So. With that said… I can’t wait to go back.

Vuokko Aro spent some two weeks with Startup Life interns writing about their internships. Here she shares some of her own experiences in California. 

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