Durham Smoke Stack and Old Bull Sign

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In 2014 I graduated from a small school in upstate New York with a B.S. in biology, in addition to a focus in statistical programming. 

After graduation, a friend of mine was attending UNC-Chapel Hill to get his PhD, and after dozens of Snapchats of the weather, food and festivities in the area, I started to develop an interest in checking out what exactly the Triangle had to offer someone like me. A few weeks later, I was in Durham working at Automated Insights

In addition to finding a line of work I really loved, I found a few surprising things about the southern startup scene.

1. It’s a small town... 

While Raleigh and Durham have more than 700,000 residents (and many more if you count the rest of the region), the startup scene is still growing, and it's also very interconnected. Everyone who’s been here for a while knows everyone else. Don’t neglect leisure time with your coworkers, you never know who they might introduce you to over a drink at Tyler's Taproom. Even if you don’t meet other local entrepreneurs and grow your network there, Tyler's has garlic fries (which I highly recommend). 

2. But with big ideas. 

Whether it’s biotech, media, software or marketing, these bite sized startups have a healthy appetite for innovation. Bronto, Automated Insights, Two Toasters, OrgSpan and others have been acquired by larger companies or capital firms. The Raleigh-Durham area has been profiled by Business InsiderCNBCFox Business, earning the nickname “the Silicon Valley of the South”. 

3. People wear running shoes with dress pants. 

Let’s get this out of the way. I just don’t get it. I don’t. It’s just a thing. I thought jeans and khakis were supposed to be paired with leather shoes. Seriously, go to a startup in the area and look around. It’s weird. Maybe someone can enlighten me in the comments. 

4. It’s ridiculously cheap to live here. 

I couldn’t believe it when I started looking at apartments in the Durham area. Never, ever would I be able to afford the living space I’m in now if I were in a mid-size metro area in NYC. Depending on the location, you can snag a decent one-bedroom apartment for anywhere between 400-900 bucks. Find a roommate and you could find a roach free apartment with a pool for around $300. That is one of the best things about the area—you can be young and relatively broke, but you can do it comfortably. 

5. No car? No problem. 

Coming to a new city without a mode of transportation was a little nerve-wracking for someone who owned a car his entire life, but Durham is full of alternative means of transportation. Between GoTriangle, Uber, motor scooters and bicycles, getting around town without a car is surprisingly easy and cheap. 

6. Just know that it’s hot. 

This is a simple, but important point. This is the south, and it is hot. Buy shorts, buy skirts, buy dresses, buy whatever clothing that keeps you the coolest. Buy them in quantities. Don’t be like me, who had two pairs of shorts to get me through the summer. 

7. Culture, culture, culture. 

Robbie Allen, the CWO (Chief Winning Officer) of Automated Insights, likes to measure the health of the office by the amount of laughter you hear each day. Developing a unique, stimulating and fun work environment in the office is a main focus of startups in the area. Whether it’s ping pong and baseball games at AI, weekly happy hours and complimentary green pants at Windsor Circle, or free fitness classes and long lunches at Bandwidth, entrepreneurs in the area are constantly looking for ways to develop their office into the best place to work in the Triangle. 

8. Practice your ping pong… 

So you don’t embarrass yourself on your first day like I did (not that practice has helped me much). Ping pong is big at a lot of the startups here, and is a pretty awesome way to keep your eyes off of a screen for a few minutes a day. Back at Automated Insights, custom paddles weren’t out of the norm, and breaking a sweat at the table is nothing to be ashamed of. 

9. Opportunity is Everywhere. 

There are over 200 startups in Durham alone. Whether you’re into bio, finance, marketing or programming, there is an opportunity for you to work at a startup in the Triangle. Even if you land an unpaid internship in the area, Durham was named the “Tastiest Town in the South”, so there will no shortage of restaurants, bars and coffee shops where you can earn a few spare dollars. 

10. It’s swag city. 

I knew I’d get some awesome experience working in tech in Durham, but I didn't expect the bounty of cool stuff given away at the office or conferences. From free T-shirts to backpacks to water bottles to stranger things like temporary tattoos or Munnyworld figurines, swag is everywhere. There are literal (not really) mountains of laptop stickers for you to peruse. 
Here’s a little pro-tip for you guys that use Slack or Hipchat. You can set up alerts within the messaging services that notify you if specific words are said. I set my Slack up so I got beeped every time the words “swag” or “free” were used, and I suggest you do the same. The early bird gets the T-shirt that’s actually in their size. 

11. Don’t expect strong southern accents. 

Don’t judge me, but I half expected to walk into the office and have everyone say hello in the sweet, southern silky drawl of Luke Bryan. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Keep in mind this author was born in upstate New York, and my furthest southern travel was comprised of trips to Indiana to see relatives. However, if you drive about an hour and a half in any direction, you’ll find that accent you were so hoping to see in the Triangle. 

12. It’s easy to get started here. 

I’m no programming guru, but I ended up at a tech startup. Why? Because these businesses are looking for bright, young and motivated people who are willing to learn and grow with the company. I was a bio student who got into statistical programming to help with lab work, and this allowed me to work in data science at Automated Insights. You don’t need 10 years experience to find work at a small business here. Check out sites like StartUpHireBig Top or American Underground (and ExitEvent's monthly jobs post) to see the opportunities waiting for you. 

13. Finally, Tums are your friend. 

Two of my favorite things about North Carolina are the beers and the BBQ (shoutout to The Q Shack and Foothills’ Hoppyum), and they’re a fan of the locals as well. Between the sampling the local IPAs and eating about a pound and a half of Chile Rubbed Brisket in a sitting, your stomach is in for a test of strength. Bellyaches are common, but with some perseverance and antacids you’ll be napping off that food coma by your pool with a content smile in no time.