A question that inevitably comes up while traveling is the topic of where you’re from. While I lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I was met with many blank looks, the asker not entirely certain of where it is on a map. I then also explain the Twin Cities, which is the Minneapolis and St. Paul metropolitan area, in much the same way that Budapest is both Buda and Pest. I currently live in Seattle, and my Minnesotan credentials are often met with “It’s cold, huh?". I grimace and tell them that the air physically hurts your face, and the skin on your knuckles crack if left exposed. I am sometimes asked whether it ever gets above freezing. One memorable question was from a man from Boston who asked if there are any buildings there. He looked at me expectantly for the answer.
Many of the states outside of the Midwest spend as much time thinking about my hometown as they do about how humans are the only animals with chins. That lack of knowledge is usually accompanied by surprise that corporations such as Target, General Mills, and 3M were founded in the tundra. Jeff Dean received his undergraduate degree from my alma mater (the University of Minnesota). Prince lived 15 minutes from me. The first computer labeled a supercomputer was created in Minnesota. What is regarded as the best hospital in the world, the Mayo Clinic, is located in Minnesota. Minneapolis ranks consistently as one of the most bikeable cities in the country.
Minnesotans also have a deeply Norwegian and Scandinavian culture from the immigrants who first settled there. A humble, hard-working person is generally the highest praise you can receive. The passive aggression and silent smoldering gazes from strangers who experienced some unknown slight from you will sear so deeply that screaming in your face feels better. There are long pauses between sentences to allow others to interject. An even longer long pause is followed with a “yeeeeppp” and a slapping of one’s knees as you get up to signal that everyone should stand by the front door for another half hour in an act known as a Minnesotan Goodbye. The winters are universally known in the tech community as the time when you are able to get your side projects done. The summers are humid, hot, and fleeting, yet caked in an energy that can only be felt when a resource is limited.
It’s difficult to blame others for not knowing much about Minneapolis, given that we’re awful at talking about ourselves. A Californian transplant once bemoaned that when attempting to connect VCs in SF with a Minnesotan startup, the founder simply pitched without the elevator part. However, it’s fascinating the ease in which someone rationalizes that they don’t know anything about a place because it is irrelevant. According to one person from St. Louis on twitter, software engineering just isn’t as emphasized as a good major to go into in college in the Midwest. The commenters were all morbidly curious about the alien and backwards way flyover country thought. I can assure you that software engineering is known in the Midwest to be a profitable and successful field to go into. I just wasn’t bathed in the culture from an early age in my middle class suburb of Minneapolis. Children in Los Angeles grow up acutely aware of what it means to be successful in film and music, and children in the Bay Area go to school with children of software engineers and VCs. In Minnesota, the emphasis is on working hard at whatever you do, and living a good life. Sometimes this means having too many Leinenkugels on a pontoon while puttering around one of the 10k lakes, but to each their own. There are pockets of excellence in Minneapolis, rather than one skill to rule them all.
The tech community in the Twin Cities is smaller than in larger Metropolitan areas, and it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger on the bus who doesn’t work for Amazon. It skews generally 30’s or older with families that live in the suburbs. The solitary Norwegian lumberjack vibe mingles here with the tendency of tech workers to be largely introverted. Transplants quickly find out the meaning behind “they’ll give you directions, but they won’t invite you to the cabin”. If you move here, it’s difficult to make friends beyond weather conversations. When you do, though, they have your back. We’re extremely protective of our own, and your successes will be theirs.
I haven’t characterized the experiences I’ve had as that of the Midwest as a whole. This is on purpose, because I have no idea what it’s like to be a software engineer in Des Moines or Chicago, and it’s likely a dramatic departure from what I’ve known. I have started hearing about the brave Californians who have started making the move there, so soon my opinion may be far out of date. My purpose here was merely to provide a data point as a person who has left, but still has love for my hometown. This also serves as a link to provide when I’m next asked whether there are any buildings in Minnesota.