I Moved to Detroit! (Startup Stories 18.04)

John Holmes, JOOL Health, 2018 Hacker Fellow

John Holmes, JOOL Health, 2018 Hacker Fellow

When I first starting toying with the idea of moving to Detroit, most people asked “Why would you do that?” or “Are you crazy?” Some people assumed I was getting a new job since I worked and lived in Ann Arbor. Most reasonable people don’t add 50 minutes to their daily commute if they don’t have to. With that being said there’s a lot more that went into my decision that spending a little bit of extra time in the car. I didn’t do it because it would make my life easier, I did it because I was hoping that it would make me better and that’s exactly what it has done. If you don’t know me, my name is John Holmes, I’m a 2018 Hacker Fellow and I’m here to tell you about why I moved from Ann Arbor to Detroit.

After graduating from the University of Michigan I started working at JOOL Health, an Ann Arbor-based startup working towards improving the well-being and performance of individuals through the science of purpose. I love every minute working here. From my co-workers, to my individual work, I can’t think of a better place to start my career as a software engineer. With all that said, I was starting to feel like I needed new surroundings. I’d lived in Ann Arbor for almost 6 years and had begun to feel as if my personal growth was stagnating.

JOOL   ’s web and mobile interface

JOOL’s web and mobile interface

Right before I graduated my uncle gave me an important piece of advice. He told me not to stay in any place that doesn’t allow you to grow. When he first told me that, it went in one ear and out the other. It wasn’t until the next year that I was really able to take what he said to heart. I came to realize that what practicing that philosophy meant for me was leaving Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor had become my comfort zone. In Ann Arbor I knew where to eat, where to run, where to go out, where to do everything.There’s not an easier way to jump start personal growth than to drop yourself in a new place. I’ve found new environments help me grow through new life experiences and the opportunity to tackle new challenges.

When I began to really consider moving to Detroit I did what any sensible 23 year old would do, called mom and asked what she thought. When I talked to her about the move at first, she wasn’t thrilled. When I told her I wanted to move downtown her resistance let up a bit. After a while she told me it was only natural because it was in my blood. As a native Detroiter and a Wayne State graduate, my mother always made sure that my little brother and I got to see the reasons to celebrate the city. She’d take us to the Michigan Science Center and the Detroit Institute of Arts. She’d let us eat lunch on Belle Isle and take us to Campus Martius. I was fond of those memories but they seemed so distant since we stopped going once my brother and I were old enough to be busy with school out in the suburbs.

John’s front yard in Downtown Detroit

John’s front yard in Downtown Detroit

Yes, now I spend two hours a day in the car. Yes, traffic drives me insane and I have lost faith in anyone who gives out driver’s licenses. After that, I haven’t found many negatives to the decision. I’ve even been able to turn my time in the car into a positive. One of my co-workers has always said he likes to turn his car into a classroom and I’ve been able to do exactly that. With the availability of content being at an all time high, I’m able to listen to podcasts about current events, politics, sports, music, science and more. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate being cutoff on the highway, I still hate sitting in stop and go traffic, but it isn’t quite as bad when you remember that you’re working on yourself at the same time.

John running Cross Country for UMich

John running Cross Country for UMich

Working in Ann Arbor and living in Detroit has also helped me better manage my time. I’m a runner and for large portions of the year when I both leave for work and come back home it is dark outside. That means if I want to run in daylight I either need to run during work or get going before 5pm. One of the benefits to working at a startup with that allows a fairly flexible work schedule means that if I get to work early then I can leave early. Before I moved to Detroit I would usually stay up until midnight or 1AM and then roll out of bed at 8:30 and get to work right around 9AM. The limited daylight I have means that if I want to run after work and before it gets dark, I need to either get in a run in the morning or get started before the 9-5 work day is over. Now I’m getting up around 6:30 and either off to work or on a run by 7:15AM.

My day starting earlier has also helped me realize that I’m much more productive in the morning. The office tends to be a quieter in the morning and my day is much more rarely interrupted by meetings then. It has also helped me value the time I spend at home after work more. When I know that I’ll need to be in bed by 10 or 11PM to not be a zombie the next day I’m much more mindful with what I’m doing. I’m spending less time on social media and more time on side projects, reading, cooking, working out, you name it, I’ve found plenty to do.

The day before I was about to move in I was fortunate enough to get a text from one of my friends asking if I wanted to go the Migos/Drake concert and since I’m not insane and have two working ears, I absolutely was interested. So I moved in the next day and life got off to a flying start, and it hasn’t slowed down at all!

Migos/Drake concert at Little Caesars Arena

Migos/Drake concert at Little Caesars Arena

From nights with Hacker Fellows in the Eastern Market to music in midtown to sporting events, I’ve never lived in a city that I’ve that has had more to offer than Detroit. One of my favorite events that I’ve been to in the city was AfroTech Detroit.  As a minority in the tech industry it isn’t often that I’m surrounded by like-minded individuals who look like me. I’ve never felt more connected with a room full of strangers in my entire life than I was that day.

AfroTech was inspirational because I got to hear the success stories of black entrepreneurs and engineers. In an industry that can sometimes make you feel like you don’t belong, the event was a much needed reminder that I belong just as much as anyone else here. Detroit has helped remind me that I’m not just doing my work in tech for myself but that I’m also doing it so that one day young black children will grow up seeing people who look like them working in the industry.

For the first time in years winter has hit and not once have I entertained the “maybe I should move to the west coast where it doesn’t get this cold,” thought. I can only attribute that to finally being in a place that I feel like I not only belong but a place that is finally bringing out the best version of myself. It has been almost four months since I made the move, I’m happier, healthier, more motivated, and more excited about life. So for anyone in the Metro-Detroit area who’s been thinking about making the move, know that at first it might not be the easy thing, but you won’t regret a moment you spend in the city, and if you embrace your time here, you’ll be better off for it.

I owe a huge thank you to Hacker Fellows for helping me find my new life back in the city. Before the Hacker Fellows bootcamp over summer of 2018, I rarely visited the city as an “adult” aside from an occasional trip to a sporting event. Getting to be in Detroit over the summer helped me see a side of the city that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. I got to experience the food, the art, and the people that helped remind me just how great the city of Detroit really is.


John Holmes.jpg

John Holmes is a 2018 Hacker Fellow who studied Movement Science at University of Michigan. He is currently working with JOOL Health in Ann Arbor.