I was recently interviewed by Lana Clements of Emigrate magazine about my experience moving to the states. Her questions centered around ‘The American Dream”, which I had never really thought about in relation to myself. It was quite thought provoking.
Lana: When did you move to America and on what visa?
John: I’ve moved twice. Firstly in 1997 on a H1, then in 2005 on a H4 (spouse of H1). Having moved through several startups and not having hung about long enough to collect green cards we had to move back to the UK in 2003 for a couple of years of self imposed exile. After a one year break you can apply for another H1. We now have green cards and life is considerably easier.
Who did you emigrate with (ages)?
First time with my wife, second time with wife and son (3).
Why did you choose to emigrate to America?
Being in the software industry it was an easy choice for me. I found my career in the UK to be bounded by ‘tenure-ocracy’ and the poor environment for entrepreneurs. Reading Douglas Coupland’s book ‘Microsurfs’ encouraged me to seek out an opportunity to travel to Seattle to work with Microsoft for a few weeks. America seemed familiar, rather than foreign, probably because I’d grown up on a diet of American television shows and Hollywood movies. But, the company wasn’t for me, so I followed a friend David to Netscape in Silicon Valley.
What does the ‘American Dream’ mean to you, if anything, was it a factor in your decision to move?
I did dream of moving to America. I mean I read about it and thought about it a lot. But it wasn’t motherhood and apple pie or tasteless beer and baseball, it was more the Silicon Valley dream of cheap capital funding crazy plans to make the world a better place. I found the ‘merit-ocracy’ that I was looking for.
Do you consider America to be a land of opportunity, if yes in what way?
Yes. The culture varies a lot within the states, so I can only really comment on California, and then only on the peculiarities of the San Francisco Bay Area.
I’ve found that people are open and welcoming here, mostly because a huge proportion of the population have recently moved here from somewhere else. California is only 150 years old, so even the Californians talk about where their families are from.
It’s easier to be an entrepreneur here, than it is in the UK. It’s a worthy thing to be, and it’s not an offense to fail, provided you didn’t materially prove yourself incompetent, as it’s all part of the learning process. Better to fail quickly then be mediocre and waste valuable human capital.
There are environmental factors too. More resources available for starting up, and a generally more positive outlook to life. No whining down the pub, people just get on and build something cool. Possibly it’s the better weather, or maybe it’s because it’s just less crowded here. Drive between two cities in the US and you’ll be amazed by the huge empty spaces.
Do you think the American Dream is alive and well?
It’s fundamental to the society and economy here. Everyone buys into the idea that they will be better off in the future. From a cursory glance you can see a class divide here on mostly racial lines, the Latinos do all the manual work, but happy do so, as their kids are citizens, going to college to get their degrees, so that they can become professionals.
On the flip side their economy is consumption driven which is driving up an enormous national debt that’s putting huge pressure on their currency. But, the wages are high and the cost of living is still low.
Are entrepreneurs the modern day American pioneers – believing that they can grasp the opportunities offered by America to become whatever you want to become, start all over again and/ make it happen/ just as they dreamed?
Yes. I think entrepreneurs the world over are trying to make the world a better place. If you have the urge to create and express yourself by being an entrepreneur then location is no excuse for not getting on with it. Being in America just might be a bit easier in some aspects.
Have you found any contradictions between the American Dream and the reality of life in America
On first arriving it felt very familiar, but you’re faked into it by the common language and the cultural cues. But then I realised that it is a foreign country after all. It’s the future of society and the past all at the same time. Bits of the infrastructure here are laughably backward (the immigration service for example), and they’re mostly convinced that everything is the best here and not that interested in finding out what’s going on elsewhere. After the always-on international news culture in the UK it can be a shock to find that there is no quality news source in the US… to the point where people just don’t bother, because how could anything abroad possibly effect them.
Why did you choose to relocate in California and not another state?
Having done almost ten years here I think I’d like to try the east coast. New York appeals, and the timezone is more amenable for my US/UK company.
Do you think that California represents one of the most attractive modern examples of the American Dream for British people?
Yes, but then I know Americans who are emigrating from California to other places. Some because of politics, some because of economics.
Vancouver is very popular for the quality of life aspects, although the taxes are high.
China is the place to be. Huge amounts of inward investment and high growth rates. It’s the new frontier where big European and American companies are fighting it out to own that huge emerging market.