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Programmer Salaries By Region? Is It All About The Money?

hat tip to Recruiting Animal for the idea.  

I recruit across the county, hopping from city to city like a rock band on tour, and one of the things I notice is the difference in what's important to each part of the country. 

There's no scientific evidence to this, other than a data set of thousands of phone calls over the last ten years, but I wanted to try to explain the default setting for different regions when it comes to hiring in the internet space (digital marketing, mobile apps, start-ups). 

So ask yourself if this is  accurate in your part of the country, and if it applies just to technology, or to business as a whole:

Bay Area:

Low salaries and equity make sense because you get 5 or 6 bites at the apple.  The goal is to try out several companies, hoping to win the equity lottery so you can fund your true passion.  Contrary to popular belief, salaries are not high for most of the name brand companies.  Executives do make out, but that's often because they're moved from other areas of the country, and the cost of living is so high, they're actually underpaid in comparison.  Until they move to the Midwest, where they live like kings.  


No one believes that any company is going to explode anymore, which means hiring is about salary. Austin also has the unique property of not discriminating about working in a startup.  You can bounce seamlessly from startup to large corporation and back again.  In most areas, once you leave the large company, you don't get to go back.  In Austin, that's not the case.


We fly under the radar because although we're about business, we don't get the attention.  Startups here are more like small businesses, looking to build up to 10-50 million and sell to larger companies.  This is possible because so many large companies buy small companies here.  It's not an equity event, so the goal is to get actual percentages of the company and be on the exec team. Labor is more of a commodity, which means salaries are competitive, but not high.  Cost of living is low, and that makes a difference. 

Washington D.C and suburbs:

A strange bird,  DC is about who you're meeting, and access to big fat government grants.  Salaries are on the high side, but you get locked pretty quickly into government work or private sector reliant on government work.  DC is about the rolodex and access to power. The goal is to know the right people so you can get in on the best contracts.  

Let's face it.  NYC is about coolness, which means depressed salaries and little equity, but a resume you can brag on to your friends. I can't tell you the number of resumes I get from NYC people with very low salary demands who brag about who they worked with.  While there is a booming tech company ecosystem, the people at the top make out like bandits, but the ones in the middle struggle until they move somewhere cheaper. 


It's been a while, but my impression of Chicago is that everyone asks for high salaries, but settles for far less.  It seems to be a performance based city, but watch out! Promises of success far outweigh what it takes to be successful.  It's been six years since I've recruited there, so I'm open to changing.  

Boston and Seattle and Denver and Atlanta:

I have no clue.  Someone fill me in?

Midwest and 2nd Tier Southern cities:

There are two flavors to the rest of the country.  While salaries are lower, the cost of living is so much lower that many of the people who live or who settle outside the biggest cities tend to actually do better.  They own homes, have children, a couple of cars.   Flavor one is the really talented person who wants more.  These folks are catnip to the big city companies, who get lower salaries and great talent draining brains from the Midwest (St Louis, Minneapolis, etc).  Flavor two is the people who convince themselves they can run successful startups with local talent, so they build a cult of personality that just can't hang onto talent, because they lack the ecosystem to make equity plays worthwhile for the jobseekers.  If your startup flames out in St Louis, what do you do next (remember companies have a bias against coming back).  If your startup flames out in San Jose, you'll have a new one by Tuesday.