As Software Engineers, we're lucky to have ample employment opportunities in different cities across the US. When choosing a city, we recommend evaluating salary, cost of living, work culture, dominant industries and employers, quality of life, and how likely the area is to grow.
This article will walk you through how to choose the best city to live and work in today. We selected a handful of US cities that are representative of different regions. Hopefully, this will give you a starting point as you explore other cities, too.
Salary Range by City
The salary you can expect as a software engineer will vary based on the city you work in or where the company is located. Here's a breakdown of the median salaries for junior and senior software engineers in different US cities, according to Level.fyi:
- San Francisco: $183,000 for entry-level and $300,000 for senior engineers
- Seattle: $170,000 for entry-level and $275,000 for senior engineers
- New York: $150,000 for entry-level and $220,000 for senior engineers
- Madison: $129,000 for entry-level and $181,000 for senior engineers
- San Diego: $126,000 for entry-level and $215,000 for senior engineers
- Los Angeles: $124,000 for entry-level and $200,000 for senior engineers
- Boston: $121,000 for entry-level and $193,000 for senior engineers
- Cambridge: $121,000 for entry-level and $193,000 for senior engineers
- Austin: $110,000 for entry-level and $200,000 for senior engineers
- Chicago: $110,000 for entry-level and $160,000 for senior engineers
- Boulder: $98,000 for entry-level and $185,000 for senior engineers
- Atlanta: $93,000 for entry-level and $160,000 for senior engineers
- Raleigh: $90,000 for entry-level and 165,000 for senior engineers
- Miami: $90,000 for entry-level and $160,000 for senior engineers
- Ann Arbor: $90,000 for entry-level and $136,000 for senior engineers
- Pittsburgh: $87,000 for entry-level and $160,000 for senior engineers
It’s possible to increase your chances of earning more by doing a few things during and before your job search. Yet, the final salary you receive from a company will depend on your negotiation strategy. Here's what we recommend to increase your earning potential:
Work in Cities With High Demand for Software Engineers
Tech companies will often pay their employees based on where they’re working from. The cost of living, labor laws, tax rates, and market rates for salaries all determine how much you can get paid in a specific location. Pick locations that are favorable in terms of salary, cost-of-living, and quality of life.
Pick Cities With a Strong Tech Community
Among the fastest ways to grow as a software engineer is to participate in the local tech community. Tech communities help you identify opportunities that are coming up in your industry, which could help you improve your earning potential.
A strong community will expose you to your peers and learning opportunities. While major tech hubs are more likely to have top tech employers, smaller tech hubs tend to be more connected, which increases the pace of innovation, collaboration, and overall sense of community.
Note that not all tech communities are local. Engaging in global communities around your tech stack can help you learn and be connected.
Cost of Living by City
Some tech hubs are more expensive to live in than others. This means that there are areas where you might be left with less cash after expenses in comparison to others. The goal is to look for a place where you’d enjoy living that offers the right balance between the cost of living and salary.
One primary downside of living in more affordable areas is that they may not have as strong of a tech community. And isolating yourself from the tech community can limit your growth.
The cost of living is calculated using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) score. This helps to summarize the average cost of food, rent, healthcare, and transportation per location.
Here's a table of the different CPIs for some of the most popular tech hubs in the US as of Dec 2022:
City / CPI
- San Diego / 348
- San Francisco / 331
- Seattle / 330
- Miami / 322
- Boston / 320
- New York / 316
- Los Angeles / 313
- Boulder / 310
- Pittsburgh / 308
- Atlanta / 295
- Austin / 279
- Chicago / 275
- Madison / 275
- Ann Arbor / 272
Let's see what percentage of income residents spend on different expenses in a few of these tech hubs:
- San Francisco: The average San Francisco resident spends 41.9% of their income on housing, 12.1% on transport, and 11.9% on food.
- New York: The average New York resident spends 39.1% of their income on housing, 12.4% on transport, and 12.9% on food.
- Boston: The average Boston resident spends 34.2% of their income on housing, 15.6% on transport, and 12.3% on food.
- Los Angeles: The average Los Angeles resident spends 30.7 to 41.9% of their income on housing, 16.3% on transport, and 12.7% on food.
- Chicago: The average Chicago resident spends 37.3% of their income on housing, 13.8% on transport, and 13.0% on food.
- Atlanta: The average Atlanta resident spends 35.9% of their income on housing, 15.4% on transport, and 13.9% on food.
- Miami: The average Miami resident spends 39.9% of their income on housing, 16.8% on transport, and 12.1% on food.
Work Culture by City
Finding a city with a great work culture is important. It helps you be better positioned to find work-life balance.
We assessed different work-life balance rankings to identify the best cities to work in based on work culture. We sourced all our data from the US Census 2021.
- Boulder, Colorado: On average, Boulder residents work 33.3 hours weekly and spend 19.1 minutes commuting. Only 58.8% of Boulder residents spend more than 30% of their income on rent.
- Cambridge, Massachusetts: On average, Cambridge residents work 38.9 hours weekly and spend 25.2 minutes commuting. Only 40.9% of Cambridge renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
- Seattle, Washington: On average, Seattle residents work 38.7 hours weekly and spend 26.3 minutes commuting. Only 44.8% of Seattle renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
- Madison, Wisconsin: On average, Madison residents work 36.6 hours weekly and spend 18.7 minutes commuting. Only 47.5% of Madison renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
Dominant Industries per City
While all the cities in our list are tech hubs, different cities tend to specialize in specific industries. The dominant industry in a city matters for a variety of reasons. For starters, you can pick an industry that interests you more than others or that pays better than others.
Here's a breakdown of the industries that dominate different US tech hubs:
Finance: New York
New York is considered the financial capital of the world. It's the home of the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street, which means it's packed with financial, insurance, and trading institutions. If you're interested in finance, you can work for companies like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America.
Boston's Kendall Square makes it a haven for biotech innovation. It's home to multiple biotech companies, research institutions, and on-demand lab spaces. The high concentration of companies and researchers in the biotech space in Boston makes sharing ideas and driving innovation easy. The area is also supported by universities, like MIT and Havard. There are opportunities to work for businesses like Amgen, Pfizer, Biofourmis., Invicro, and Sage Therapeutics.
General tech: San Francisco
San Francisco's Silicon Valley has been the birthplace of multiple startups, with some rising to unicorn status. The availability of a strong and aggressive tech community makes it easy for founders to collaborate and innovate. San Francisco also has a lot of venture capitalists and angel investors who help bring business ideas to life.
You can find big tech brands like Alphabet, Apple, and Meta here, along with many startups.
Big Tech: Seattle
Seattle first made its mark in the tech world when Microsoft relocated there from New Mexico. The arrival of big tech companies like Amazon into the region has also encouraged its growth. Today, Bellevue, a part of the Seattle metro area, hosts some top tech employers, including Microsoft and Amazon.
Quality of Life
Picking a location with a great quality of life outside of work can have a big impact on happiness. Whether you like to spend time outdoors, watch your favorite team play, listen to music, or go to restaurants, you can find a place that has the right benefits for you.
Your surroundings will impact what you can do outside of work, and who you can enjoy these activities with. If you work with colleagues that engage in different hobbies, you’ll be likely to take up related hobbies, too. If most colleagues in the city you work spend long hours at work, you’re likely to follow the same trend.
It's easy to find places that allow you to live your best life, especially if you work remotely. Here are a few best areas to work as a software developer based on quality of life:
Austin’s warm weather was what landed it on our list. There, you can take on hobbies, like outdoor activities such as hiking and biking. The city has access to multiple lakes and the Colorado river, so you can engage in many water-based activities. Austin is also known for its delicacies, offering a range of cuisines to try.
San Diego, California
If you want to live where people vacation, San Diego is a great option. People visit the city due to its great weather, beaches, museums, and parks. For engineers with kids, theme parks like LegoLand and Seaworld will be great attractions. So, San Diego may be a good place for you if you're looking to prioritize your work-life balance.
Boulder's nightlife and restaurant scene will give you a place to hang out with friends and family after work. If you're looking for family-friendly activities, the city has numerous parks like North Boulder Park that you can spend time in. The city also has a strong and reliable public transportation infrastructure to make moving around stress-free — another important factor for boosting your quality of life.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Ann Arbor is a great place to live and raise your family. It has multiple parks and environments like the Nichols Arboretum where you can spend time with friends and family. The city is also quite walkable, thanks to areas like State and Main Street. You’ll also get to enjoy its thriving food and restaurant scene. These features and more make Ann Arbor a place likely to offer you a balanced work-life.
Fastest Growing Cities
A city's growth will always be a double-edged sword. Growth can come with some negative effects, like increasing rental prices. On the flip side, growth encourages the development of better health, educational, and cultural resources. Homeowners also get to watch their homes rise in value.
As for software engineers, moving to growing areas will give you the first-mover advantage. You can take advantage of tech opportunities as they appear long before the location becomes saturated.
Some of the fastest-growing US tech hubs include:
While Pittsburgh has a long history as a hub for mining steel and iron, it has been pivoting towards tech. It initially moved towards becoming a tech hub when Google opened an office in the city back in 2006.
Today, the city has offices for some of the biggest tech companies like Amazon, Uber, Facebook, Microsoft, Zoom, and DuoLingo. It has also established itself as a hub for clean technology startups, with businesses like RoadRunner and CleanRobotics having offices here.
Between 2021 and 2022, the Pittsburgh tech community grew by 7.5%.
Atlanta is growing fast as a tech hub thanks to its proximity to the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech, which helps provide ready tech talent to tech companies. This is one reason why companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Visa have set up offices in the city.
Most importantly, Atlanta has positioned itself as a launchpad for startups, thanks to startup incubators like Atlanta Tech Park, Atlanta Tech Village, and Propel. The city has seen a 15% growth in tech jobs in the last half-decade.
Since Amazon moved its headquarters to Seattle, the city has grown significantly. It's also the headquarters of Microsoft and hosts satellite offices for Meta and Alphabet. Seattle is partly growing at this rate due to the influx of people moving from Silicon Valley as housing is more affordable.
Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
Both Raleigh and Durham are part of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, an area that’s surrounded by three Tier-1 research universities (Duke, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina). The Triangle hosts multiple tech companies like IBM, Google, and Microsoft. It’s also home to a growing number of startups, with a number of startups choosing to establish their operations in Durham’s Tobacco Campus.
Besides the existence of an already strong tech scene, The Triangle continues to grow fast due to Apple’s plan to establish a campus in the area.
Different cities will be attractive to different software engineers. While some engineers want a city with multiple outdoor spaces, others may prefer living in dense and busy tech centers. Before making a decision, consider what you value most when choosing a city to live in, like the primary industry, the cost of living, and networking opportunities.
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