Today is a good day to be an Amazonian. It’s late July, and earlier this morning the company announced that it had beat earnings projections for the second quarter of 2015 by nearly a billion while turning a rare, $92 million profit. Its stock price is soaring, up 17 percent after the announcement. And in a couple hours CEO Jeff Bezos will invite his employees to an exclusive concert at CenturyLink Field, headlined by Macklemore, to celebrate Amazon’s 20th anniversary. This is all background noise to Brian Schlenker, though. Right now he’s more interested in picking up the keys to his new apartment, because after living in Seattle for a year he finally gets to sleep in a real bedroom. “It has a door!” he says, with more than a hint of ironic enthusiasm.
Last April, Seattle was just another city on the West Coast as far as Schlenker was concerned. He was 22, less than a year removed from earning a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan, and shopping for a house in his hometown of Troy. Not only that, he enjoyed seeing his girlfriend every day after dating her long distance for a year. So when a recruiter from Amazon contacted him through LinkedIn, he didn’t give much thought to the prospect of moving 2,300 miles across the country. In fact, he was so sure he wouldn’t get the job as a software developer for the company’s advertising team, he put down earnest money on a 1,400-square-foot fixer-upper after interviewing. And then he got an offer from Amazon. Which he accepted. He’s still not entirely sure what he was thinking. “So I had this house, and it just throws a huge wrench in everything,” he says, sitting outside, surrounded on three sides by Amazon buildings in South Lake Union. “Instead of fixing it up at my own leisure to live in it, I was fixing it up at a rapid pace to get renters in there.”
His housing woes only continued after he arrived in Seattle. Because although a friend from college who already lived here had found an apartment they could share (allowing Schlenker to pocket the money Amazon would have paid him to fly out and conduct his own search), he got stuck sleeping in a doorless office while his buddy snagged the bedroom. And Schlenker’s portion of the monthly rent was $1,100, just $300 less than he was charging renters for his house in Michigan.
Schlenker was experiencing firsthand arguably the most tangible effect his industry’s hiring boom has had on this city in just the last few years. With Facebook and Google expanding their local presences, Expedia gearing up to move its offices from Bellevue to the waterfront in 2018, and Amazon constantly hiring (as of late July, its jobs site listed more than 4,600 openings in Seattle alone), the biggest question facing the tech sector wasn’t where the work would come from but where to put all of the people doing the work.
Paradoxically, it’s the throngs of people Schlenker sees on the streets of South Lake Union every day—many of them transplants like him—that he’s had the hardest time adjusting to. Life moved a little slower in Troy, where all he saw on the streets were cars. “It’s just insane how many people are here,” he says. That’s a minor quibble, though. With a start time of 10:30am, he spends his mornings running—which has the dual benefit of allowing him to explore the area around his Capitol Hill apartment and burn off the dinners out he grabs with friends from work most nights. “I consider myself pretty frugal,” Schlenker says. “But I’m spending money right and left right now—way more than I used to.”
That may have to change because his rent will almost double when he moves into his new apartment. Of course, his girlfriend will help shoulder some of that burden when she moves out here this fall. Help—and a connection to home—is on its way.
How we got that shot...