Can You Afford a Silicon Valley Job?

By: Nancy Ordman

Does the high cost of living in tech hubs like the San Francisco Bay Area make these locations less desirable? What factors — other than the glamour of working where Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and the Google founders made their fortunes — make locations like Silicon Valley and Seattle attractive to job seekers? Research from job sites’s Hiring Lab and reveal some nuances worth considering.

The Big Picture

Hiring Lab’s data miners gathered annual salary information for tech jobs posted on Indeed between August 2016 and July 2017. The highest average salary across all tech specialties was $126,937, in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California, metropolitan area, closely followed by San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward at $125,233. The lowest average of the 25 metro areas considered was in Provo-Orem, Utah, at $94,799.

When Hiring Lab adjusted raw salaries for cost of living, the two areas where salaries stretch farthest were Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, North and South Carolina, and Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, Georgia, at $108,178 and $104,454, respectively. Surprisingly, the San Francisco area landed in fourth place, at $102,734. The fourth through sixth place cities are separated by less than $1,000.

Source: Creative Commons

What’s Your Bag?

Hiring Lab sliced and diced salary-by-location data several ways. One slice looks at differential pay for different tech jobs. For software architects, the top adjusted salary is $187,622, in the Sacramento metro area. Software engineers do best in Huntsville, Alabama, at $122,358.

Huntsville, Alabama? Yes. In 2017, ZipRecruiter named Huntsville as the fastest-growing tech market, fueled by the longtime presence of the Marshall Space Flight Center, the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, a campus of the University of Alabama, and investment from the Tennessee Valley Authority and state and local governments. Other rising tech markets that appear in the Hiring Lab specialties list include the Baltimore metro area, where Development Operations Engineers claim a salary of $130,255, and Detroit, Michigan, where product managers claim a salary of $129,400.

Moving On Up

Two other factors to consider: where are tech salaries rising the fastest? And which specialties are in increasing demand? For salary increases, Austin, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. top the list from Surprisingly, Boston, Denver and San Diego experienced slight declines in average salaries. Different regions have different levels of demand for specific tech skills. Some markets are heavily populated by one, or a few, industries, like Charlotte and financial services. Other markets are heavier in tech startups. For candidates with hot skills, relocating where those skills are scarce can lead to multiple job offers and faster salary increases.

The Bottom Line


Job decisions incorporate so many factors, some objective, like compensation, and others that relate to quality of life, or the potential for job advancement, or the desire to expand a skill set. Moving to the Bay Area for the perfect job might not inflict as big a financial hit as conventional wisdom might dictate, but other parts of the U.S. that are growing large tech communities — and the jobs that go along with them — are worth a look too.