It's a recession, so few things are booming and no city is exactly thriving. But within the tech industry, some cities clearly have more job opportunities than others. Although tech employment overall has suffered along with the rest of the economy, there's been variance: High-tech manufacturing jobs have been shed more rapidly, while IT service jobs—in engineering and in software services, for instance—have fared better. And one future bright spot: Over the next three years, the federal government is projected to make 11,500 new hires in information technology jobs, according to a report by the Partnership for Public Service.
To find some of the best places for tech jobs, U.S. News started out with our database of 2,000 cities—with data provided by Onboard Informatics—and looked at metro areas large enough to provide a range of opportunities in the field, then sorted for factors such as high rates of graduate degrees. From there, we looked at the geography of job openings within the industry on a broad job search engine and on a tech-specific job site. We then compared that data with local supply-demand ratios in several tech occupations from Wanted Analytics. Finally, we factored in salary data, for the industry and within specific occupations, from Glassdoor.com and considered the area's cost of living. Here's a look at 10 cities that seem to have better opportunities for tech workers right now:
Employers in the southern Atlantic states may outpace the national average in IT hiring over the next three months, according to a recent survey by Robert Half Technology. Thanks to corporate growth and expansion, nearly 10 percent of chief information officers in the region plan to beef up their payrolls in the fourth quarter, Robert Half reports. Atlanta is what Glassdoor cofounder Robert Hohman calls a "sleeper tech city." Its tech industry may not be as well known as those of Silicon Valley or New York, but industry salaries are surprisingly competitive. The city also ranked high in volume of tech job openings in early September and had an above-average ratio of tech openings to employees for many IT occupations, including computer programmer, software engineer, and systems analyst.
Boston has become a hotbed of high-tech innovation in fields such as biotech and software, says Robert Buderi, founder and chief executive of Xconomy. Universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University are a powerful draw for employers—and highly fertile ground for start-ups. Last year, when Microsoft opened its first East Coast research lab in nearby Cambridge, the company touted its ability to reach the "large community of scientists in New England, notably the faculty and students at the many premier academic institutions in the vicinity." The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that programmers and software applications engineers in nearby Lowell, Mass., rank among the highest paid in all U.S. metro areas. Silicon Valley may once have been a necessary career stop, but today, tech workers can spend their entire careers in New England, Buderi says.
Compared with the rest of the country, Houston—like Texas overall—is doing pretty well. D'Ann Petersen, a business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, says Houston is full of service firms, many of them IT, that serve the energy industry, which has tended to insulate regional economies in this recession despite price volatility.
Houston's high-tech industry emerged at the end of World War II, when companies moved in to build geophysical instrumentation and automation systems, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve. In the last recession, when the dot-com burst dragged the economy down, Texas "felt the impact longer than many areas, partly because of its large number of high-tech jobs," the Fed reports. Today, Houston ranks high for total tech job postings and has above-average ratios for tech job postings to employment in multiple occupations.
A bit of an outlier on a list of extra large cities, Huntsville nonetheless boasts the nation's second-largest tech and research park, Cummings Research Park, which houses 225 companies and 23,000 employees. Aerospace is the city's focus, as the area is home to the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and the Army's Redstone Arsenal. That means firms like Northrup Grumman continue to build and expand in the region. More than 300 companies in the area are focused on designing and producing electronics and computer-related technology, according to the Chamber of Commerce of Huntsville/Madison County.
It's a big city, so, sure, it has a lot of tech jobs. But according to data from Wanted Analytics, New York actually ranks well above the national average in terms of its ratio of job postings to employment in multiple tech occupations. There may be more to come if the city can find a way to benefit from the expanding healthcare industry. A new report from the Center for an Urban Future finds that New York's roster of healthcare providers, plus its flank of health technology companies, could make the city an ideal spot to capture health-IT dollars.
One caveat about New York: Although its average pay ranks fairly high on the Glassdoor list, its cost of living is much greater than that of cities with higher average pay, such as Seattle and San Diego.
According to one recent count, Phoenix has 4,200 high-tech companies and upwards of 81,000 high-tech jobs. Microsoft, Oracle, and Intel are among the major tech corporations with a presence in the area, but Phoenix boasts plenty of smaller—but still familiar—employers, such as domain registrar GoDaddy. The city ranks high in overall tech job openings and in the ratios of job openings to employment for several IT jobs. Credit goes, in part, to Arizona State University, which nurtures advances at its College of Technology and Innovation and Advanced Technology Innovation Center.
A good deal south of Silicon Valley, San Diego is home to the nostalgic Gaslamp Quarter, a picturesque coastline, and a thriving tech industry. Between the University of California-San Diego, San Diego State University, and the University of San Diego, research plays a big role in the community, and researchers draw funding—which helps nurture further innovations, according to Connect, a regional nonprofit. Connect's chief operating officer, Camille Sobrian, says new data collected by the organization show significant increases in the number of start-ups and the amount of venture capital funding in the second quarter.
City officials boast that the metro area has one of the highest concentrations of high-tech companies in the nation. San Diego also ranks fourth for tech salary pay, according to Glassdoor data—above the more expensive cities of Washington, New York, and Boston.
Northern California is an obvious focus for tech industry job seekers. Between San Jose and San Francisco, it would be impossible to find a more tech-savvy population. But San Francisco has a bit of an edge over San Jose in this recession, with an unemployment rate in July of 9.3 percent, below the national average. San Jose, on the other hand, is struggling with an 11.8 percent unemployment rate. Glassdoor's Hohman suspects that the large tech companies with manufacturing operations based in San Jose may have cut payrolls with a bigger hatchet than smaller start-ups and software firms in San Francisco.
Although best known for its software companies, the city's tech sector has enormous potential to become more diverse, says Xconomy's Buderi. According to the Washington Technology Industry Association, Seattle is home to more than 700 tech industry organizations and companies. Buderi suspects the city may have been among the most active for start-ups this year.
Seattle had among the highest demand ratios for computer software applications engineers relative to supply. This city's tech employees rank third highest in average pay, higher than considerably more expensive cities such as New York and Washington, according to data from Glassdoor.
It turns out the nation's capital needs geeks. From network engineer to systems administrator, Washington has among the highest number of openings in the nation. Washington ranks in the top five for volume of job openings on Dice.com. The Washington metro area's economy has outperformed much of the nation, thanks to the stabilizing force of government—particularly a new, popular, and active government.