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Moving to New York: a Guide for Software Engineers (dblock.org)
100 points by dblock on June 29, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments



The idea that New York cost of living is much higher is just false. You can sacrifice a bit of space and maybe the location and pay the same amount as you’re paying now.

This seems objectively false. By definition, if it costs more to buy the same size apartment, then the cost of living (vis a vis housing) is higher. Yes, you can downsize and accept having to live with roommates to get by, but that doesn't mean the cost of living isn't higher.

According to a cost of living comparison between Austin, TX (where I live) and NYC, you would need to make 140k in NYC to match 90k in Austin:

http://www.bestplaces.net/col/?salary=90000&city1=548050...


The real mitigating factor is the car. When you cut out car payment/car depreciation, insurance, gas, maitenance and take that money and put it towards your housing, it evens out.

I own my car outright, but I expect maybe $100 a month in maitenance, $100 a month in insurance, $200 in gas, and probably $100-$200 a month in depreciation. My current rent for a 3BR house with a yard is $1400. I don't need a 3BR, but I literally can not rent anything smaller that isn't a shitty apartment, so basically I can't spend less than that.

So what can I get for $1900 in NYC? From what I've seen, I'd like it better than what I have right now. Will I get exactly the same square footage? Of course not. I will have someone living above me and below me where now I have a single family home. But it's an apples to oranges comparison, it would take millions of dollars to buy the amount of land I'm currently renting and build a single family home - becuase its a city. It's just inherently different.

I want enough room to have a bedroom, a bathroom, an office with my computer and a pull-out couch for friends, a kitchen to cook in and a family room/dining room to have a couch, a TV and a table to eat at. I can pull that off on my current salary whether its in NYC or elsewhere. So a cost of living calculator doesn't take into effect the fact that although the dimensions of the room are smaller, the NYC apartment is functionally the same as my current one that is far, far, bigger.


The real mitigating factor is the car. When you cut out car payment/car depreciation, insurance, gas, maitenance and take that money and put it towards your housing, it evens out.

No. I moved from a 1800sf 3br house, 2 cars lifestyle in Austin, TX to 650sf 1br apartment and no cars in NYC. And the cost of living difference was still huge. I'd say even more significant than 90-vs-140 ratio proposed above.

It's hard to pinpoint a single reason for this though. Honestly, if you're an engineer in Austin TX and you're moving to NYC you should stop even attempting to calculate the "comparable" salary. You can't have an equivalent of a 1800sf house in NYC on any engineering salary. Frankly, it's kind of pointless anyway since the difference in lifestyles are so vast that the meaning of "comparable" becomes fuzzy.

And no, it's not easy to have a kitchen in NYC for $1900 (in many neighbourhoods you may like), and most likely your A/C situation will drive you nuts: I never owned a window-mounted unit until I moved and my first summer I was cursing every night. Just for the record: the COO of a hedge fund lived on the top floor of my building and he had the same shitty, noisy window-mounted units but he didn't even notice the noise.

Finally, to throw some numbers out there, just for fun: after 10 years in Austin it _felt_ like 200K/year in NYC was what I needed to feel comfortable there. YMMV.


Saying you lived below a COO makes it seem like you lived in Manhattan. It is quite easy to live comfortably in the outer boroughs (one hour commute to Manhattan) on far less - I would be comfortable with even $40,000 a year.


I moved from the Bay area to Manhattan last year. I feel poorer now than when I was a grad student.

Those taxi fares add up. I've heard many people say NYC has a great public transit system ... that hasn't been my personal experience. Specifically, getting cross-town (and please don't suggest the bus ... getting a root canal is better than enduring those).

Other costs I didn't think about carefully before moving: - Laundry ... in-suite washers and dryers are considered a luxury in Manhattan. - City taxes ... ouch! - Groceries: Not having a car in the city means that you are far more price inelastic.

There is a great quip I've heard: Manhattan is designed for one purpose. To part you with your money :-p

I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised at the vibrant startup/tech scene in NYC. There are a lot of true craftsmen in the city ... you just have to be prepared for a serious reduction in quality of life in SOME aspects in return for betterment of others.


Taxi fare? Where do you live? I've lived in NYC for about 8 months, and I've taken the taxi by myself about three times, and that was purely out of wanting to get home faster.

Getting cross town definitely sucks, but unless you live and work on far opposite sides of town, it's totally doable.

I think your post highlights a key point about NYC: you have to live in the right place. I pay a bit more to live where I do (East Village), but the transit options are awesome, there are numerous grocery stores and markets within walking distance, and many cheap or at least reasonable restaurants nearby.


Another data point: I've lived in Austin for 13 years witbout a car. I am 31. I live in what I consider the best part of Central Austin and ride the bus to downtown for concerts/drinks or to the University area, walk to nearby bars and coffee shops. 1100 sq ft with front and back yard, garage for 900. Split with roommate is 450. No state income tax. I understand that New York has a million options and many city amenities, but I dont understand how one could say the costs even out.


It won't even out from everywhere - I would say that living for $450 a month in a decent place in an urban part of a major American city is abnormally inexpensive.

The article's author came from Seattle - and I can say without a doubt that this city is expensive. Not NYC expensive, but if you took a nice place in Bellevue or Kirkland, and included the cost you're paying for your car - it would come up to NYC rent.

I'm in the middle of a relocation to SF right now, and equivalent rents in SF are maybe ~30% higher than here in Seattle... When you're in the ballpark as SF, you're an expensive city.


Having seen several folks here mention Austin specifically, why isn't the Austin startup scene as hot as the NYC one - particularly given the cheaper costs in general? I have family so I would have issues with trading hours for equity (though I hope someday to down scope my budget enough to do so), but it seems that with SXSW and other things going on that Austin ought to be a possibly YC SouthWest sort of place. Is it perhaps TOO laid back?


   Depends, I rent a 2 bedroom in seattle for 1525 downtown, and take the bus on microsoft's dime to work almost everyday. In new york I lived in what was more or less a walk in closet for 600 and purchased a monthly subway pass for about 85$ a month. 

  Theres so much to do in new york though that the accomodations didn't really impact my quality of life.

  Additionally, Food was cheaper in astoria than it is in seattle, or than it was in california. Street vendors are tasy and inexpensive. Resturants outside of manhatten are reasonable. A couple of resturants inside of manhatten are reasonable. 

   Clothing was pretty cheap especially for the quality level if one is willing to hunt around a bit for good aftermarket stores. 

  7$ beers in the city were a little annoying but prices plummet as you head towards queens or brooklynn.

  Life may be cheaper in some locals but the quantity of ammenities and quality of life makes up for a possibly modest increase in expense.

 . . . and before everyone starts down voting me let me just say "boo, microsoft bad. Wahh, terrible, evil giant"


Your post seems to support a conclusion opposite that of which you draw: cost of living is higher in NYC, but if you're willing to live in a much smaller space, you can pay the same amount. Which is basically the definition of "higher cost of living."


Thanks to increasing focus on public transportation and ZipCar, cars aren't just optional in New York anymore. I've lived in New York, Seattle, and San Francisco with no car.

In both Seattle and SF my cost of living was significantly less than it was in New York and my standard of living was much higher.


The car makes an enormous difference, but the cost of living in New York is not limited only to rent. Even basic food items, toiletries, and other household items all cost a significant markup from median cost of living.


I didn't find that was true at all. Toothpaste, toilet paper, mattresses, TV sets, etc have standardized pricing across the country. If anything, the more remote you go, the more stuff costs. Except in South Dakota. For some reason everything is really cheap in South Dakota.


Not significantly so. Our grocery bill didn't go up very much - although I've noticed that fruit and vegetables tend to spoil much faster here.


Except for food, couldn't you get most of the other things via Amazon?


You might be able to, but you'll pay 10% more in NY over many other places (but not Seattle) due to Amazon being forced to charge sales tax in KS, KY, NY, ND and WA.


This answer also isn't responsive. If you you want "enough room to have a" &c &c, you could sell your single-family home in Des Moines, buy a condo, and pocket the difference.


I think "salary calculators" do not reflect reality when you're comparing places which are qualitatively very different.

For instance, living in NYC or the other big dense cities involves making trade-offs that don't even make sense in a place like Austin (and vice-versa). Yes, in NYC, your living quarters will be much smaller, and no, you won't need a car to be comfortable.

The cost of living for other stuff outside of housing and transportation is going to be highly variable depending on your lifestyle. Again, it is all about trade-offs, whether or not the trade-offs are desirable depends on the individual.


Not to mention, apparently a lot of them base the cost-of-living on the cost of buying property, vs. renting. I have no interest in owning a house in the next five years, and wish I could exclude that stuff from comparisons.


The problem with these studies is that they measure averages. Yes, you can drop a grand for dinner at Daniel in NYC, which makes the average price skyrocket - try to spend a thousand dollars in any restaurant in Austin. The Daniel's in NYC are not an exception, so it seems that the price of food is much higher. But most people live in more normal brackets and my lunch still costs 10 bucks.


I'm curious if you have any evidence to back up your assertion that high end restaurants are calculated in the averages?

In any event, this generates a more detailed breakdown:

http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/savings/moving-cost-of-l...

A few interesting examples (I chose to compare to Brooklyn, since Manhattan was over the top ridiculous):

  -             Austin         Brooklyn
  Home Price    $232,059.83    $944,473.13	
  Rent          $926.30        $2,249.13
  Doctor Visit  $84.28         $105.09
  Pizza         $10.08         $11.33	
  Beer          $8.43          $9.81
  Ground Beef   $2.54          $3.39
Etc...

Weirdly, optometrists are way cheaper there (94$ vs 56$). Hmm... I'm going to have to co-ordinate my checkups with my vacations...


I've moved around a fair bit to a number of different cities, and IMHO these "cost of living comparison" reports are mostly bullshit.

One might be able to make some good comparisons about rent, since that's so heavily market-driven... but groceries? I find that the price of groceries varies so widely across any city, or hell, any neighborhood that one cannot possibly make a reasonable claim to "a bottle of beer costs $X", nor "a delivered pizza costs $Y".

Take where I'm right now for example - your link has the broad area "Seattle-Bellevue-Everett" - which covers every single neighborhood in Seattle, from the cheapest in the Central District all the way to the most expensive in Belltown. And then it moves north to heavily blue-collar areas like Everett and software-engineer-land like Bellevue.

How can any reasonable pricing index be established like that?


You got me. My evidence is anecdotal. But still...

I own a 2 bedroom in Brooklyn (1200sqft) with view of the Ocean that's that is less expensive that the number on the top right by 150K$. I definitely think my place is "above average", so these numbers must be skewed by my neighbors that paid 2.7MM$ for an apartment the same size because it had a gold-plated ceiling (Russian Neighborhood).


I look at my tax deductions each month in the UK and sometimes feel like weeping, then I see figures such as 'Doctor Visit ~$95' and take for granted not having to pay for healthcare.

Just out of curiosity, was that $8/9 for a pint/litre of beer or a 4 pack. When I was in NYC last year I don't recall it being anywhere near that expensive.


I'm guessing that's a 6-pack.


There was also a recent study that showed grocery bills in NYC were actually less expensive than most other metro areas. I've noticed the same thing after moving from Brooklyn to the middle of nowhere. I paid less at Fairway than I do here, and Fairway had a much better selection.


Citation needed. Google seems to say that's the opposite of true.

The anecdotal warning goes double here, because the NYC lifestyle deemphasizes groceries.


I've bought groceries exactly once in the 7 months I've lived in NYC. It's just too damned convenient to go on SeamlessWeb.


http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/05/26/columbia-study-finds-...

Anecdotally, I recently took a road trip across the southwest and Fairway was cheaper than similar stores in Tucson, Flagstaff, Moab and Boulder. In Minneapolis things got cheap again but in Northern MN/ND they are about the same (as NYC).


That's not surprising in the southwest, due to transportation costs.


I wouldn't put too much stock in those CoL calculators. I checked them all when I moved to NYC and they turned out to be wrong (for me). Compared to living in Chicago, I pay about 2X more in rent, but everything else is roughly 10% more. I am, however, extremely frugal.


You will always a job in any city, state or country. Even if you suck, there will always be someone to hire you because the market of software engineers is hot and the numbers play in your favor

As someone who has tried to figure out how to live in the area I grew up (northwestern Minnesota) instead of New York or the Bay area, this isn't quite accurate. In many (most?) flyover states software jobs pay 1/5-1/3 what you would make in NYC. The only technology needed is .NET or sometimes Java - the last 5 years of "scaling Ruby" or whatever you were doing, are more like a five year gap in your resume. The number of available positions are orders of magnitude less than NYC or the Bay. Often, you can get paid more and have an easier time getting work if you're an IT dude, rather than a software developer. The other option is being a remote worker for someplace cool but you usually need to have a career somewhere else for a few years to make connections. Of course, the American outback might be a good place to hole up and work on your own software startup for a while, but as soon as you need to hire you'll have to move again.

If you want to be able to throw a dart at a map and pick up high paying work wherever you want, the answer is still being an MD. The worst MD in North Dakota can make what the best software engineer in Manhattan makes. In a weird inversion of most employment reality, doctors can often make far more in a rural setting than they can in a mid-sided metro, due to "hardship post" style compensation. The career that is a close second for job mobility is "physicians assistant" - they make 80 grand no matter where they live.


Your "scaling Ruby" experience is in great demand in Minnesota, as one would notice from the volume of postings on the Ruby Users of Minnesota (http://ruby.mn) mailing list. At least in the Twin Cities, there are a lot of developer jobs now. Most of them suck, but most jobs suck everywhere. There are fewer startups, that is very true.


Cool, I'll check it out. However, I live five hours north of the Twin Cities, and am not really looking for a job unless its something really cool.


" The other option is being a remote worker for someplace cool but you usually need to have a career somewhere else for a few years to make connections."

I thought this was true, but a recent job search proved this to be quite wrong (at least for me). There are plenty of telecommuting jobs out there now that do not require previous experience with the company or telecommuting in general. Additionally there are more and more purely distributed companies out there that don't even have an office (a possible solution to you start-up problem). You may not get paid SF/NYC salaries but you can get close enough (especially compared to the average pay for your area).


I have to agree with this. I recently moved from Green Bay, WI, to Seattle. Back in Green Bay, the only programming jobs are .NET or Java positions unless you find a place using far older languages like COBOL and friends. If you're unlucky, you'll be doing php for $10/hr or less. There are some system administration jobs but it's all support on a shoestring. The midwest is largely manufacturing and insurance, industries that don't value programmers very much.


Kansas City here - we've got Garmin (C, C++, Java, Python), Cerner, H&R Block, and Sprint headquartered here. We've also got a Samsung R&D office (Android) and an IBM office... The choices aren't exactly limitless, but there are jobs.


Agree in general. Lived in Omaha but just moved to SF about 9 months ago where I've been doing Rails development.

There's a few very companies trying to do cool development but for the most part you're best served if you're an expert in Java or .Net.


"The idea that New York cost of living is much higher is just false. You can sacrifice a bit of space and maybe the location and pay the same amount as you’re paying now."

Or I could do that HERE and pay less, too. So it's -true-.


Agreed. I just left NYC for Seattle. There were many reasons behind that - cost of living being one of them.

However, its all relative...

If I were single and wanted to eat noodles and share an apartment I could easily make NYC work - but things are still a bit more expensive, even buying beer on tap ($5 for Bud-like-quality, $6 for Guinness in many places). Don't forget you need to keep up with all those ironic t-shirts and that lomo camera ain't cheap :)

However, now that I have kids and would want very simple things like a garden, a good school, in a relatively safe neighborhood then you have to be prepared to pay a huge amount in rent to be in that school district and to get that ground-sloor apartment in a nice brownstone (in Park Slope, Brooklyn that would be close to $4K a month in rent for a 2bdr - thats based on some parents I know and what they pay).


What's that place in Seattle that you're comparing with a ground floor apartment in a brownstone in Park Slope (the hot place to live for families)?


There might be better examples - but right now Ballard. 3bdr, 2br, loft, more sq feet, garage, in great school district, garden, separate deck, washer, dryer = <$2K. Probably pay $4K to 5K in NYC (Park Slope). 35 min commute to work (or I can cycle)


I live in Park Slope, and those numbers are a bit high. You can get a beautiful 3BR brownstone (exposed brick, high ceilings, hardwood floors, etc) in Park Slope for well under $3500.


Hm... I failed to find any liveable 2br apartments for $2,700 in Park Slope in the fall of 08, despite banks going bust left&right. And from what I hear it only got more expensive since then. Ironically, UWS turned out to be cheaper so that's where I lived.

Haha, this was a typical NYC experience: comparing rents and not believing the deals other people are getting :)


May be true. I was just using people I know, didn't search current setup. My bad. However $3500 per month is still $1500 more than I could afford per month with 1 or more kids in preschool ($12K+ per year for 3 days, not including summer months).


Yes, it is true. It is also true that the opportunities to be had in New York, don't exist anywhere else ... which explains the higher demand/price. Everything is always at equilibrium, everywhere. If you're paying more, there's a reason.


I'm only talking about this one piece, just like he was. If you expand it to other pieces, it's a different conversation.


> Drinking happens in New York every day, except Saturday. On Saturday people try to hide as those people that only go out on week-ends take over. Life resumes on Sunday night.

So true


Finally someone noticed the important paragraph of my post! +1


I'm in Alphabet City and my favorite drinking nights are Tuesday and Wednesday by far. Bars aren't crowded, you can always find interesting people to talk to, and it's generally just a lot more fun. The only issue being that if the bar is too underpopulated, it may close early.


Simple little tip: You can save a ton of money for you and the rental owner if you go directly to the property management company and leave out the rental broker. I found several great apartments this way, I called the property management company told them what I wanted and they gave me a hand full of keys and addresses and I showed my self the apartments. The brokers make money from you and they charge the property managers a fee so you can actually get a place with lower rent this way.


Where can you find the numbers of property management companies?


http://www.nybits.com/ lists no fee apartments Also, there is often a sign outside the building with the number of the management co. on it.


This is my current apartment:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/squidiculous/sets/7215762598544...

It does not look that nice right now. Those photos were taken by the previous tenant, who was an artist and put some time into the place. Still, I love this apartment. I pay $1,600 a month for it. I'm in Brooklyn (16 Waverly Ave, right by the old Naval Yards, about 12 blocks outside of Dumbo).

I agree with the person who said the main cost savings in New York is that you do not need a car. I get everywhere with my bicycle. When it is raining, I take the MTA. The unlimited MTA is about $100 a month, which is slightly more than $3 a day for unlimited travel by subway and bus. Not a bad deal.


I'd love to read the article "Moving to San Francisco: a Guide for Software Engineers" ... moving there in august.



I was thinking the same! Moving to SF in a couple weeks


An interesting read. I'm born and raised in the UK, 23 years old and would love to move to NYC in the next few years. The problem for people outside of the UK is always going to be the immigration process - I'm having trouble figuring out the chicken and egg problem (job first, or move first?) and how exactly I should go about moving.

That aside, I found this article interesting, especially with regards to rent. I loved every second I've spent in NYC, hopefully I'll be there to work eventually.


FYI : I'm a UK national that's been running a UK-majority owned LLC in NYC for the last ~12 years (check out the E-2 visa). If you'd like to discuss doing something productive software-wise in NYC, let me know.


I'm a UK national working in NYC- it happened by complete change (a recruiter after I posted my CV on Monster), so it does happen, but no, it's not easy.

There are rumblings about changes to visas that will make it easier for startup entrepreneurs to come to the US, which is quite exciting. Right now I can only work for my employer, so I can't start up any little side projects.


Hey look, an interesting article.

As a software engineer you’re very privileged. You will always a job in any city, state or country. Even if you suck, there will always be someone to hire you because the market of software engineers is hot and the numbers play in your favor.

Oh, it's satire.

EDIT: Okay, wow, apparently it's not satire. In that case, i have no idea how the author got this idea but i don't think he could be more far off.


If you have a different experience, you should write about it! About a 100% of engineers around me have succeeded in finding jobs very quickly and had choices, which is not the experience of 95% of people in this world.


This has actually been roughly my experience. Exaggerated, no doubt, but it's pretty easy to find jobs.


Shameless plug, but should you decide to follow the article and move to New York, my startup can help you figure out where to live and hang out: http://nabewise.com/nyc . We also cover many other places that engineers might want to live.


This site looks pretty cool. I'd like to see some more cities listed.


We're working on it! Our current plan is to get new cities up every week or two. We perform a lot of curation and research on top of raw data sources to get the cities in. Any places you'd like to see in particular?


Pittsburgh!


One of the best places to live in New York is actually New Jersey. Large areas of Jersey City and Hoboken and their surroundings are just as easy to commute via the PATH subway or a bus or even a ferry. Rent goes very roughly 20% cheaper than Manhattan for similar digs, everything from tiny studios to ultramodern luxury towers. Hoboken has plenty of nightlife in its own right too. Car rentals for weekend trips are as much as 50% cheaper in NJ. Bonus: you don't pay NYC income tax, and NJ sales tax is a bit less than NY.

I've lived in NJ and commuted to NY for essentially my entire professional life, and quite happy with that setup.


I'll get to put this to the test in another month or so as I move from DC to NYC.

It helps that DC is almost as expensive, everything I've seen so far apartment-wise looks like I'll be paying the same amount of money for a 2 bedroom that I'm currently paying for a 1 bedroom (albeit smaller overall square footage).

I'll also have an extra 200 a month from not having a car (insurance and parking), and most other costs seem to be about the same.

If I were moving from somewhere cheaper, maybe I'd feel differently.


Great article! If anyone is in the NYC area and interested in working on http://min.us/pages/about , feel free to send me an email! john@min.us


Some are making it even cheaper to live in NYC with a Startup Co-Living space

http://www.indiegogo.com/scls


Awesome article, if anyone knows of an equivalent article about moving to London, please provide a link


A little off-topic, but how hard is it to move/work in NYC if you're Canadian?


If you have a bachelors degree in a useful field it's very easy with a NAFTA (TN) Visa.


This is correct, but US immigration are quite picky about the kinds of job titles that they will allow you to gat a TN visa for. The general rule is the job title needs to say "computer analyst" and "management consultant", and avoid the words 'developer', 'programmer' and 'manager'.

Also smaller border crossings tend to be better than large airports. YVR and YYZ are quite strict about documentation requirements and are a bit power-trippy from my and friends' experiences. Land crossings are better.


I've actually found the opposite. The people working at the smaller crossings seemed bored out of their minds, so they went crazy when we arrived.


YYZ is horrible. I've had to stop going back to Canada unless I really need to :(




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