Living and Working in Washington DC

Alan Deback, '77 | Barbara Mitchell-Wood, '87 | Mark Paris, '76 | Doreen Sechak Peters, '84 | Kelly Simpson Stiehl

Alan Deback, '77

I have lived in the Washington, DC area since 1994. A native of the Rochester area who had spent most of my life there, I went through a major adjustment when I moved to this place that is so different than Rochester. Over time I have learned to love it here, and I'm pleased to share my observations about "living and working" here.

My undergraduate majors at Geneseo were History and Psychology. I also possess at M.S. in Human Resource Development from RIT. When I first moved to the DC area, I worked as a manager for a local government agency in Northern Virginia. After a few years I moved to the corporate sector, and worked in corporate training and development for a major defense contractor, and later for a small Internet consulting firm. I have been self employed since the beginning of 2001, working as a corporate training consultant.

Overview of the DC Area:

The Washington area is roughly composed of the District of Columbia (DC), suburban Maryland, and suburban Virginia. As the area has grown, there are those who claim that the metro area even expands to parts of West Virginia and southern Pennsylvania.

After many years of decline, the District has experienced something of a renaissance in the last five years. Many young professionals have moved into areas that would have formerly been considered "dangerous," and that trend appears to be continuing. There is very active night life in areas such as Georgetown, Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle. Cultural events are centered around two major theatres in downtown Washington, and the Kennedy Center.

Northern Virginia, where I live, is a study in contrasts. Arlington County, which is the closest in area to the District, has a high concentration of young professionals. Several Arlington neighborhoods have emerged as entertainment and dining centers. Fairfax County is much more suburban, with mile after mile of housing developments. Life is much more family oriented, and the school system is nationally renowned for its excellence. Fairfax has the distinction of being the county with the second highest per capita income in the United States.

Suburban Maryland is made up of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. Montgomery is similar to Fairfax in many ways, with a strong family orientation and high per capita income. Of particular interest to newcomers is the Bethesda area, which is known throughout the area for its restaurants and nightlife. Silver Spring has been a depressed "sleeper" for many years, but is enjoying a revitalization right now. Prince George's County is less wealthy than its neighbor, and some parts of the county are known for having serious crime problems. The cost of living is substantially lower, however, and it is one of the few places in the DC area where the cost of living is anywhere near reasonable.

Employers and Working in the Area:

Quite obviously, the federal government is the dominant employer in the area. There has been some downsizing in recent years, however, and the private sector has become much more important. Large numbers of federal employees will be eligible for retirement in the next few years, and opportunities with federal agencies should be plentiful. Salaries are often slightly less than the private sector, but federal employees enjoy excellent benefits.

The two next largest sources of employment are tourism and associations. The tourism connection is obvious — DC is a huge tourist center. Less well know is the fact that a big percentage of professional association are headquartered in the DC area to be close to the center of government. The city of Alexandria, Virginia mounted a program to actively attract association headquarters a few years ago, and over 200 are now headquartered in just that one small city. Associations can be difficult to break into without previous experience, but once you're in it is easy to move between associations.

The private sector has grown tremendously in recent years. Defense and other government contractors are big employers, and tend to be fairly "recession proof." The Dulles Airport corridor in Northern Virginia was a big center of telecom and information technology firms in the late 90's. Unfortunately, those firms were hard hit by the recession, and huge blocks of office space are now sitting empty in the Dulles area. The Interstate 270 corridor in suburban Maryland is well known as a center for the pharmaceutical industry. Several pharmaceutical start ups have begun in that area, and many continue to prosper.

Salaries in the DC area tend to be somewhat higher than in the Rochester area, but not enough higher to account for the difference in the cost of living. Most recent graduates who come to the area end up sharing apartments or houses with other recent graduates. Many consider that a small price to pay for the benefits of living in the area. Unemployment in the area is usually quite low, and even during the recent recession remained below 4%.


The Washington area is widely known for its traffic problems. Large parts of the famous Beltway (made up of the portions of Interstates 95 and 495 that surround the city) are clogged with traffic for several hours each day. Morning rush hour begins as early as 5:30 a.m., and can extend well past 9:00. Afternoon rush is well underway by 4:00 p.m., and can extend later than 7:30 or 8:00 on a bad day. In the old days the commutes were usually from the suburbs into the city, but now there are many commutes between suburbs. The roads just aren't there to deal with the volume.

Washington's Metro subway system is well known around the world. Although it is beginning to show its age, the system is still for the most part reliable, clean, and safe. Rider ship has been at record levels in the past couple of years, and during rush hour you can be packed into a subway car with no chance of a seat. Most people who have the option of commuting by Metro will take that choice rather than driving, however.


Coming from cold and snowy Western New York, I consider the Washington area to be where the South begins. Summers are generally extremely hot and humid. Temperatures frequently hover near 100 degrees for days at a time. With central air conditioning just about everywhere, everyone retreats into their offices and homes.

The beautiful spring and fall seasons make up for the torrid summers. Fall particularly is generally warm, dry and mild. Nice weather generally lasts until Thanksgiving, and it is rare to have any kind of substantial snow until after the Christmas season. Spring can be wet, but the temperatures warm up far earlier in the season than they do in Upstate New York.

Winters are very mild. When there is snow, however, the entire area panics and everything shuts down. I always laugh when the radio stations report that roads are "impassable" because a couple of inches of snow have fallen. Any snow that falls generally melts within a few days.


Overall, after almost ten years in the DC area I love it here. Yes, I hate the traffic, but I've learned to listen to the traffic reports on the radio carefully and to always have an alternate route to get to my destination. The pace of life is fast, but there are always fascinating people to meet and know. The area is very transient, with people constantly moving in and out, but that just increases the opportunities to meet new people. It goes without saying that if you love politics, this is the place to be. You never know who you will see in a restaurant, at a mall, or even the local 7-11!

Barbara Mitchell-Wood, '87

Name: Barbara Mitchell-Wood

Major/Year of Graduation: Management Science, 1987

Current Employer: Compucom Systems Inc.

Job Title/Years in position: Account Executive, 2.5 with Compucom

Job Description: Sales of computer hardware and software, services for turnkey solutions to Fortune 500 companies.

What are the most rewarding aspects of living in Washington DC?

Diversity of cultures- entertainment and food. Less ‘drastic' season changes. Companies focused on supporting government initiatives.

What are the most challenging aspects of living in Washington DC?

Traffic, Traffic, and Traffic! And the high cost of housing.

What is the current job climate for candidates in your career field?

Highly competitive job market with the exception of federal sales experience (highly sought after).

What suggestions do you have for a Geneseo graduate wishing to live and work in DC?

Clearly review the job expectations and the areas to live in or not live in carefully. Fast paced life and long hours are expected.

Mark Paris, '76

Name: Mark Paris

Major/Year of Graduation: Psychology, 1976

Current Employer: Public Health Service, Department of Health and Human Services

Job Title/Years in position: Senior Policy Analyst, 9 years

Job Description: Develop mental health policy for the military's health insurance program.

What are the most rewarding aspects of living in Washington DC?

Living in the political center of the world, great arts and cultural activities, restaurants, moderate climate, great schools, and living for families.

What are the most challenging aspects of living in Washington DC?

Traffic is bad, unless you carpool, then it's great!

What is the current job climate for candidates in your career field?

The federal government has many opportunities in all majors. Pay has gotten better and benefits are excellent.

What suggestions do you have for a Geneseo graduate wishing to live and work in DC?

Be prepared for the cost of living. Contact Geneseo alumni here in the DC area if you've thinking about coming. We love to help!

Doreen Sechak Peters, '84

Name: Doreen Sechak Peters

Major/Year of Graduation: Environmental Science, 1984

Current Employer: URS Corporation

Job Title /Years in position: Sr. Environmental Scientist

Job Description: Project management, marketing new work in environmental compliance issue identification/ resolution, technical work in hazardous solid waste management, pollution prevention, affirmative procurement, ODS management, environmental management systems.

What are the most rewarding aspects of living in Washington DC?

Numerous job opportunities, competitive salaries and benefits, good weather, many cultural and outdoor activities to take advantage of.

What are the most challenging aspects of living in Washington DC?

The high cost of living and the traffic.

What is the current job climate for candidates in your career field?

Flat/stagnant economy results in less growth, positions are still available for entry top level candidates- but fewer than in past years- and experiences candidates in specific technical areas (e.g., water issues, EMS).

What suggestions do you have for a Geneseo graduate wishing to live and work in DC?

Use whatever connections you have to seek out the unadvertised positions — networking works, put your resume out on (use appropriate keywords), pursue internship positions to get some experience, find a compatible roommate to share expenses with, live near a metro or train station

Kelly Simpson Stiehl

Name: Kelly Simpson Stiehl

Major/Year of Graduation: Mathematics/ Computer Science

Current Employer: Electronic Data Systems (EDS)

Job Title/Years in position: Professional Services Manager, 6 years

Job Description: Responsible for leadership of a technical team that delivers Enterprise Application integration (EAI) solutions to our clients. Provide career planning, compensation administration, financial forecast /budgeting, hiring and firing of team members.

What are the most rewarding aspects of living in Washington DC?

The diversity of cultures and activities- you can find anything here!!

What are the most challenging aspects of living in Washington DC?

Traffic! Politics- Cost of living- if you're just starting out, don't plan to get an apartment by yourself. Roommates are common and can be a great companion to getting around and learning about the area.

What is the current job climate for candidates in your career field?

The IT industry is very soft right now and we've had a particularly challenging year. This month, the outlook looks promising- so I'm hoping for an upward trend soon!

What suggestions do you have for a Geneseo graduate wishing to live and work in DC?

Use the tools at your disposal- the Alumni Career Partners program and the DC Alumni email distribution lists are good places to start. I've received a few emails this year and was able to respond, submit candidates for employment at EDS. Use your Network!!