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Ask HN: Where to go for max profit? High coder salary, low cost of living
39 points by api on Aug 25, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 72 comments
What the title says. I'm curious about what cities/regions in the U.S. or Canada have high programmer salaries but also have relatively low cost of living, especially very affordable rent and real estate.

For maximum effect, you'll want to telecommute. Work in the Bay Area, live in Malawi. I bet you can find a reliable Internet connection in Nkata Bay and a room for $3/night. Coupled with a middle of the road $100/hr contract rate, you should be able to save a few pennies.

It's the future. There's no reason to live in a city unless you want to. Since your goal is max bang for the buck, the obvious choice is to live in the sticks and work over the Internet. Well chosen. It's nice out here!

The OP clearly stated that he was interested in only the US and Canada, both for working and living.

And also, a lot of high-paying jobs don't want employees to telecommute 100% of the time.

That's their loss.

Schumpter will have a word.

Austin and Houston are considerably more cost-effective places than the Bay Area, though both are becoming more unaffordable quite quickly, especially Austin since it's the hip place to move to. Its current affordability won't last much longer than a decade, possibly shorter.

In general, though, you want to carve out a niche for yourself in a place which is not a hot spot for technology. This makes you much more valuable locally; you don't have much competition because others in your industry don't like your city in general and aren't moving there; and it thereby allows you to attain compensation which is very high relative to the COL.

Another strategy, which I would love to capitalize on myself in the next few years, is to work remotely. Find a nice suburban area to live in which has a lot of amenities without the high home prices. What holds me back is the fear of settling down in such an area, then getting laid off from my remote job 10 years down the line and having to rebuild my whole life to re-enter the game.


Can you give some examples? Groceries are the cheapest in the nation thanks to the local HEB, gas is cheap given the proximity to the refineries, no state income tax, and you'd be challenged to find a city in the Bay Area that offers multiple bars with no cover and $1 beers like you can in Austin. Talk of the exploding real estate market are exaggerated.

Really? I've lived in Austin on and off for 5 or 6 years now, and i35 is hell now. There's far more people now. Also, we currently have a horrible drought, that's a reason why I'm considering leaving if people keep moving in.

One general thing to keep in mind is that if you have a simple lifestyle it is better to maximize profit in an absolute sense over profit in a percentage sense since after doing so for awhile, you could move to a place with a lower cost of living / salary and your larger accumulated savings will go further.

I had very good luck living in Central Florida (Orlando) and working for a company based in Silicon Valley (Yahoo). I had a SV salary with Central Florida expenses. A telecommuting opportunity OR a satellite office opportunity gives the greatest ability to arbitrage cost of living vs salary.

I knew that Marissa didn't totally pull the plug on telecommuting - some small percentage got to keep doing it. Nice job with that gig.

1. Im no longer at Yahoo. This was 2007-2008. 2. This was not a telecommuting gig, this was a small satellite office due to acquisition (musicmatch/moxie technlogies).

As far as telecommuting, when I was at Yahoo, David Filo maintained a small cadre of elite kernel hackers who lived all around the world and worked from wherever they pleased. The reported directly to David. I would be very surprised if Marissa mucked around with that setup.

The fact that he "had" such a job doesn't mean he's still there.

True. I left in 2008

I had a cheap place in the outer DC area for a while. 750 a month near a military base with >125k salary as a contractor.

I know some people very well off in Denver, CO as well.

Using public data(data.gov, enigma.io) you can find the areas that have the most positive trend in population weighted with average/median income and percent software jobs and/or locations of companies recently funded on crunchbase.

Might be best to start with a data set of cost of living and just apply functions to the ranking of the index depending on what matters more to you. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/prices/consumer_...

Good Luck!

I'm going to second Denver as well. Lots of places to live, good job market and plenty to do outside.

Austin, TX if you're a Rails programmer. $100-$120k salaries, homes about $100/ sq ft.

Not to mention the dating scene is much better for guys in their 20s in Austin than it is in SF.

Where would you put Austin in terms of racism compare to SF/LA ?

Let me preface this by saying this doesn't reflect on the technology scene or any technology companies therein, only the town itself. But you've got to live in the town so its important.

By comparison to SF and LA its high. If you're not white you'll feel it and every now and then if you like the bar/ club scene when you try to get in the bouncer will say "Your pants are too low" which in my opinion is code for "your skin color is too dark"

Having lived in the south most of my life I've figured out its mostly from Austin's sad and hardly talked about lack of diversity and the xenophobia that generates.

For what it feels like to be a minority in Austin here's really good read



Looks like you have not experienced racism in your life.

Home prices in Austin are climbing though. It won't be too long until homes in that price range come with a minimum 45 minute commute.

Another big factor is that Texas also has no state income tax. Total cumulative property taxes around the Austin area are generally around 2-4 percent of assessed value[1].

[1] http://www.jbgoodwin.com/taxrate.htm

Yup. $100/sqft is what you pay in the weaker school districts and for older homes. In the newer homes with better schools, it's closer to $120-130/sqft.

Houses sell really quick too. If the current trend continues for another few years in Austin, it will be at Boulder, CO levels for housing (which isn't that far off from Bay Area housing prices).

A lot of people are moving from the Bay Area to Austin, paying crazy prices for real estate, displacing locals.

Prices in Austin for housing have always been high.

Umm, no, they have never been high, when compares to other tech spots in the US. $100/ sq ft is not expensive.

Well, everything seems cheap when you compare it to the Valley or SF.

Now compare Austin to Houston or San Antonio. (Besides, $100/SF is low unless you are talking about the East side.)

Pflugerville is $65, Round Rock and Cedar Park are around $100.

High WRT rural areas, and Houston, Dallas, etc. But not such a huge premium as now.

Maybe if you work down town but a lot of tech companies are in north Austin where housing is very cheap.

Or live in RR, Buda, Leander etc. and telecommute parttime.

You can get quite a large house in Buda for $150K

Home prices are rising rapidly, but rent--even in central areas--is still quite reasonable for tenants.

Wolfram Alpha is pretty good for things like this, though the data is a bit stale: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=computer+software+appli...

Houston is looking pretty good.

I've tried for New York, San Francisco (both terrible), Austin, Dallas (pretty close), Boston, St. Louis, Denver (also pretty close) and Seattle among others and Houston beats them all.

As a native Texan, I will tell you that most Texans would like to live in Austin. Houston is and always will be an oil town. It is full of oil men, deal makers and their lenders. If you are a young person that is starting out in life and you have the skills to get a job and build a career in the place of you choosing, do not choose Houston. Spend a little more and get the most out of life, You only get one!

Houston is a nice place in the loop, especially midtown, which is very similar to Austin. It's not cheap in the loop, though. As you say, there's too much oil money for that to be the case. When people point out that Houston is cheap (and I'm guilty of this sometimes too), they are referring to the suburbs, like Sugar Land. Inner loop neighborhoods definitely aren't cheap.

Yeah, I am an Austinite. I wouldn't move for the world.

But I have a friend that has been in Houston since he went to Rice and he swears by it. His girlfriend even lives here in Austin and we can't seem to convince him to move back.

I love Austin, but I think Houston is big enough that you can find your people.

> His girlfriend even lives here in Austin and we can't seem to convince him to move back.

This may be indicative of something else entirely.

I've lived and worked in both Augusta, GA and San Antonio, TX since leaving California in 2009. Both cities have huge military and intelligence populations, it shouldn't be hard to find a job if your records is clean.

In GA I was making $78k, about twice the average household income but could have probably landed $95k pretty easily with a smaller company and better negotiation. Mortgage on 1750 sq ft townhouse is running me only $830/mo.

Moved to San Antonio on 2010 when position just landed in my lap (it required this location initially but is now 100% telework). Started at $95k, with annual raised in around $108k now, which I think is around 2.5 times the average household income for this area. Mortgage on a 2700 sq ft suburban home runs about $1300/mo. Girlfriends housekeeping business in which she's the sole employee does well, roughly another $60k/yr.

My advice: stay south of I20, east of Phoenix. Government contractors were easy money but its starting to slim down and I'm not seeing a lot of new hires within the "old guard." Instead, Silicon Valley veterans like Amazon/Google are landing this money and filling positions in mini-hotspots like Austin, Atlanta and Charlotte.

It's hard to pull off, but the best option would be to work remotely for a bay area company.

Quality of life might be lower though. Unless everybody communicates over IRC, video chat, etc, you'll feel alienated. Even if they use the right tools, you'll miss out on any conversations your coworkers have in-person, such as at lunch.

if you are exceptionally talented at something valuable, and have a decent understanding of what a business owner values, i believe you can double the glassdoors average in any city.

A lot of people don't believe in "10x-ers", but perhaps they just haven't met one. I am not one but I know several. They make a lot of money. It's not something that they like to talk about.

coders for trading companies in Chicago are paid extremely well, and Chicago is awesome.

Chicago has a great diversity of housing stock, too, a lot of which is quite commutable. Find an enterprise job in the Loop, then find a reasonably-priced rental in Old Town or Edgewater; you're only about a half hour away on the Red or Purple lines.

I only have experience with Eastern Canada (aka Southern Ontario, Montreal, and the Maritimes), but the only way that I've seen where you'd get a high salary and low cost of living is if you can get Torontoesque salary with a company based in rural areas (which in IT I've found is anything outside of the GTA, K-W, Ottawa, and Montreal...possibly Halifax). They're incredibly rare (I've found two in the 13 years that I've been in the industry), and if the company does go under you're pretty much forced to move to a place where there's high salaries (because there's high competition for talent, natch), and high cost of living (because everyone's moving there...again, obvious I know), as telecommuting opportunities in Canada are practically non-existent. Usually if a place has a low cost of living/low housing costs/etc...., it's because the unemployment rate is ~15% or so, and the IT work is something around 35-40k a year.

tl;dr If you're looking in Canada, you're looking a LONG time.

Montreal has at least cheaper rent went compared to Toronto. Also, the startup scene is arguably more interesting than Toronto if that's something you're interested in. Plus Montreal is a pretty fun place to live. (I lived in Montreal for a year and a half working for a startup.)

How do people here value the opportunity costs of living in a major tech center?

With the lower cost of living of not living in a tech center, you also give up other non-monetary things.

I would think that a lot of innovation comes from being surrounded by like minded people and the access to tech talks and networking events.

Go somewhere expensive, live in cheap shared conditions. You'll make far more. I'm always amazed at the prices people pay in the East Bay when you can get very cheap living renting a spare room in a house. Once you have a family and need your own house, then maybe switch.

I imagine someone asking this question is already in the category of people wanting his/her own home.

Consider Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan http://www.bestplaces.net/cost-of-living/san-jose-ca/ann-arb...

I live in San Antonio but work for a company in Boulder. Works pretty well for me.

How is the quality of life in San Antonio? Austin gets a lot of great mentions here, but I don't hear about San Antonio all that much.

Different vibe in San Antonio. It is know as a military town closer to the boarder butt obviously is more than that. For a young single person though, Austin is definitely superior.

Someone should build an app for this problem, if it doesn't already exist.

This is kinda helpful, but it's only for tech-y cities and only for certain skills, and only for startup-y jobs: https://angel.co/salaries

Cleveland isn't terrible. You could buy plenty of houses for $70-$90k which is about the yearly salary for a great developer here. It seems like the tech scene is coming up, but the salaries are lagging. Right out of school it's hard to expect more than $40-$50k. Otherwise, the food scene is great and cost of living is pretty low from my experiences.

Nashville and Chattanooga. Jobs range from $50k-$125k and rent is from $700-$1500/mo. Chattanooga is cheaper of the 2, but fewer jobs. Chattanooga also has gigabit internet and is practically in the middle of Nashville and Chattanooga. Great outdoor access for paddling, biking hiking and climbing. Not sure why I haven't moved there yet!

Disclaimer: The following isn't accusatory in any way. "Genuinely curious", as some are apt to say.

Can you explain why Chattanooga is more expensive? [This](http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=cost+of+living+chattano...) says otherwise. I'm considering both (and a number of other cities), so I'd really like to know.

Louisville has a very low cost of living and negligible commutes. Companies around here are always looking for programmers, but I can't quote a salary range, unfortunately. Lots of good companies, including Zappos and Amazon, in the area.

Seattle. Live out in the suburbs for like $500-600/mo for a room, and take an express bus into town for work for cheap. There is no state income tax/weed is legal(sorta)/gay marriage is legal/most guns are legal.

Find your own (remote) freelance consulting jobs, live wherever you want. In our industry, there's no reason why work and residence need to be coupled together.

There isn't, but it is quite strongly (looking for remote opportunities since 2009)

I think algo trading in New York is very profitable.

It's probably mediocre compared to the cost of living in NYC, though. There are far too many bankers and big firm attorneys there making $250k+, driving up housing prices.

Seattle has a great combination of hot job market and affordable housing imo. Don't know if it's the best though.

The Atlanta Metro area is a great place to be. cost of living is low and there are many big companies located here.

Speaking as an Atlanta resident of seven years, I'm not sure about that. Atlanta is ultra-hyper-suburban and sprawling in ways arguably unmatched by even Dallas-Ft. Worth and Los Angeles, although LA's traffic is worse. It is right up there with Phoenix. Maybe if you want to live in a car (which, incidentally, is quite cheap).

Midtown/downtown, where I live, are exceptions, but not so great ones--Atlanta is still a fully car-oriented city. What's more, the centre is definitely not where the corporate tech jobs are.


You shouldn't focus only on "high coder salary" but also on quality of life.

Here are some that come to mind, in no particular order: Austin, Portland, Boulder, Baltimore, Chicago, Durham.

There's a tradeoff between the two. If you want quality of life you'll be infinitely better off in Madison WI or a suburb of Milwaukee WI than in Chicago, both much less than 2 hrs away from Chicago for the occasional business meeting or weekend getaway. Perhaps Minneapolis.

On the other hand if you're trying to pile up money to do "something" once the pile reaches a certain size (take time off and go to Nepal, or perhaps do a startup) you're probably better off with a much lower quality of life in Chicago with correspondingly higher pay. Look out for taxes and AMT, a guy making $50K/yr more than I do in Chc is only making $2K/month more after taxes, but his cost of living an equivalent lifestyle would be far in excess of $2K/mo more (probably more like $5K to $10K more, from what I've seen), on the other hand if he's willing to live worse than a student, he could bank all that extra money...

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