Big City Transplant in a Small Techtown

Are you relocating for a job? Lauren shares how to make the most of your fish-out-of-water experience.

In October of last year, I applied to the Sparkbox apprentice program. I had been following their work for quite some time and was ready to immerse myself in learning. At the end of the apprenticeship application, there is a small disclaimer:

At this time, Sparkbox internships and apprenticeships are all on-site. You will need to make yourself available in the Dayton area for the duration of your time with us.

The thought of relocating was frightening for many reasons, even though I was excited for what lay ahead. I’d be moving to a city where I knew no one. I didn’t have any distant family members, industry friends or even co-workers that I knew in the Dayton area for that matter. And I’d be moving from a much larger city–Chicago. That didn’t discourage me, but it left me wondering how I could connect with people in a city I knew nothing about.

Chicago is home to some notable tech companies, conferences, co-working spaces, and incubators. I made assumptions that there would be little to no interest in the web and tech outside of the company that I worked for in Dayton. I was wrong. Since living in Dayton, I’ve found a number of ways to adjust to small city living, and that not all small cities are created equal.

How to Adjust

Find Groups that Interest You

Meetup is your best friend. Find groups that interest you, and attend those meetups regularly. You don’t have to join every tech group that exists—join groups that cover the topics that you’re interested in.

To my surprise, there is an active community of builders and makers here in Dayton. The tech community here is close knit. In a little over two months time, I know most people in the community on a first-name basis. They’re hospitable and genuinely excited about building lasting relationships.

Organize with Your Co-workers

Collaborate with teammates who share a common interest, and see how you can give back to the community through meetups or workshops. There are people who care about the same things you do, even though those communities may not exist yet in your area. Help bring your passion to your new city and organize things.

In February, we teamed up with Girl Scouts of Western Ohio and taught their girls how to build a website from start to finish. It was a valuable and rewarding experience for everyone. We gained experience teaching a new audience comprised of teens and pre-teens, and we learned a lot. The girls left with a new appreciation for the web and a website of their own that they can access from anywhere in the world. This was a way for us as a company to give back to the community and contribute to the next generation of web leaders.

Get Out and Talk to People

I know this isn’t easy for everyone. For me, getting out and talking to people doesn’t come naturally. I find it easiest to start conversations with people who are working at coffee shops. I politely ask what it is that they’re working on or what are some cool things to do in the area. These are harmless questions, and usually people are happy to tell you about things to do in their city.

Make the Most of It

Connecting with your community, sharing your knowledge, and exploring the area are all great ways to meet people in a new city. If you’re considering a job in a new city (big or small) keep these things in mind. I’ve learned that relocating isn’t such a scary thing, especially when you’re surrounded by great people. I am using what I’ve learned to make the most out of my time in my new home.