A Tech Nomad's Toronto Experience

Loan Laux

I’m Loan a full-stack web developer from Paris, France. I work full time on freelance projects while traveling the world. My experience is mostly with Javascript and PHP. I’m pretty active on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter where I document my journey. I’m also creating a monthly audio podcast that will feature interviews of software engineers with inspiring and unique stories. The first episode is linked to at the bottom of this post.

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Stay focused.

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Although I only was in Toronto for two weeks, I can say it was a powerful experience. I felt a strong attraction to this city and I see quite a few reasons that make it a great place for tech workers, founders and digital nomads alike.

Not having gone to the US before I didn’t get a chance to compare Canada to its neighbor while I was there. I have since moved on from Toronto to NYC and can now see the differences. Perhaps this is more New York related than anything else, but one big difference is how New York feels like a jungle in comparison to Toronto. I personally love the jungle, even prefer the jungle. But I understand that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Toronto feels way more relaxed than New York, has a crazily good transportation system, and a downtown that feels a lot “wider” and open in the way it’s built than Manhattan.

Also, Canadians seem to know what they’re talking about in terms of architecture. From the CN Tower to Union Station to the Allen Lambert Galleria, there’s a lot to be proud of. Toronto is a gorgeous city that kept on surprising me (in very good ways) during my stay. It definitely plays an important role when deciding which city to live in.

Most importantly—and contrary to what many could think—I didn’t feel like I was suffocating in a world of asphalt and traffic fumes. Nature is actually everywhere in Toronto. The lake obviously plays a big part, the islands are awesome for escaping the city for a picnic day, there are plenty of parks (including the humongous Don River Valley Park), and the Niagara Falls are an hour and a half drive away. That’s awesome for families, but also if you’re one of those who absolutely need their weekly shot of fresh oxygen.

While I didn’t have much time to explore meetups—and August being a pretty calm month in that area anyway—the most I could experience from the Toronto tech life was its extensive and ultra wide coffee shop selection. The Work Hard Anywhere app would literally keep on crashing one in three times because there were too many places to display on the map.

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Let’s get the day started 🙌🏻

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The first place I went to work right after arriving was Quantum Coffee. They’re sharing a building with Brainstation, which is a big coding bootcamp implemented in multiple cities. That’s probably the reason why this location attracts a lot of devs, founders and others from the local startup scene. Or maybe it’s because their space looks absolutely gorgeous and has a view on the CN Tower.

Anyways, you got it, I didn’t get to experience too much of the Toronto tech scene. But I could clearly feel that I was in a booming city with lots of potential. One quick look on Meetup’s tech category upon arrival was enough to paint a good portrait of it. There are so many tech-related groups that it would require a second, dedicated article.

Anybody can find events and people doing this specific thing that drives them day and night. Into DevOps and wanna find more bearded guys who like working in dark basements? Here, half a dozen groups just for you. Wanna meet Big Data and AI developers? There are more of those groups than you can ever visit in a lifetime. Interested in meeting investors and VCs so you can buy them a drink in a helpless attempt at getting funding for your startup? Better get funding to buy the drinks first, my friend—‘cause you’ll have pivoted five or six time before you could meet every one of them in the city.

Talking about funding, Toronto looks like a very supportive environment for building and growing a startup. MaRS, Celtic House, VenGrowth—only three of the 570 VCs in the city—have raised more than 540 million US dollars combined. And they’re not slowing down anytime soon.

I’m not afraid to say that it feels a lot like the United States—but with social security

Birthplace to companies like Wattpad, FreshBooks and 500px, Toronto wins a lot of points on the Startup-O-Meter. I wouldn’t risk comparing it to Paris, France, because it’s so different. However, I’m not afraid to say that it feels a lot like the United States—but with social security and a cheaper currency.

That brings us to the last topic I wanted to cover. Toronto is known to be the best performer in the whole Canadian economy, contributing to as much as 20% of the country’s GDP. This obviously gives Toronto a leader position, as it is also one of the biggest economic hubs in the world. And there are a lot of reasons to explain this success.

First off, it’s ridiculously close to major US cities like Detroit, New York City and Chicago. Toronto Pearson Airport has a US Custom Preclearance facility, which makes boarding and deboarding US-bound flights so much faster—as you’ll land in the domestic area and will be free to walk away without any procedure. Combine that to a 1h 45min flight time to NYC, and you realize that you can spend a whole day having meetings in the Big Apple without it being such a big deal.

For those days when you don’t feel like commuting to New York or anywhere else in the US: remember that Toronto is on Eastern Time. So yes, you’re living outside of the US, but it’s not like being in Bali where you’d have to sacrifice your sleep to attend this important Zoom meeting with your San Francisco team. Living in the EDT time zone has actually been quite the sweet-spot for me. It means Silicon Valley is 3 hours behind you (and who wants to live in the past anyway?), while Europe is only 6 hours ahead. If you’re a meeting person with partners on both sides, it means you can work with Europe in the morning and with California in the afternoon.

Lastly, the Canadian Dollar is so cheap—0.80 USD as I’m writing this post—that it makes having headquarters in Toronto a blatant evidence. Combined with the low costs of living (at least compared to the Bay Area and New York City), it means you can hire a way larger team for the exact same budget you’d have in Silicon Valley.

At the end of the day, moving to Toronto is not even about the excellent quality of life. It’s about awesome opportunities that only happen once in a lifetime. Now enjoy my first podcast episode and don’t forget to subscribe.

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