Every time I report on a study tracking engineering salaries across the United States, Silicon Valley inevitably comes out at the top. And, just as inevitably, commenters will point out that Silicon Valley’s high cost of living means that those salaries, in terms of local purchasing power, are nowhere near the top.
That, however, is not true, at least according to a new study by job search site Indeed.com. Adjusted for the cost of living, tech salaries in the Bay Area (split into the San Francisco-Oakland region and the San Jose-Santa Clara region), while not at the absolute top of the scale, are in the top six out of 25 metro areas considered.
At the very top were two southern cities—Charlotte and Atlanta, followed by Austin. The San Francisco area came in fourth, followed by Seattle and San Jose. Dallas, Raleigh, Detroit, and Phoenix rounded out the top 10. Chicago came in at number 12, Boston at 13, Los Angeles at 19, Washington D.C. at 20, San Diego at 22, New York at 23, and the Miami area at 25. The complete list is here.
As for the numbers, the average salary, as calculated by Indeed, was $101,147 in Charlotte—that adjusted to $108,178 when considering the region’s low cost of living. San Francisco tech jobs paid an average of $125,233—adjusted down to $102,734; San Jose jobs paid an average of $126,937, adjusted to $102,286. And in Raleigh, N.C., a typical salary of $96,516 adjusted up to $100,748.
Of course, purchasing power is not the only consideration. “In the Bay Area, Austin, and Seattle, you’ll get a richer selection of tech jobs to choose from, with salaries that will stretch nicely,” the report says.
Drilling down into specific job categories, Indeed’s study found a few anomalies. Software architects, the report indicated, will find their salary dollars go furthest in Sacramento. Back-end developers looking for the most bang for the buck should head to Seattle, data scientists to Dallas, and software engineers to Huntsville, Ala. Android developers, full-stack developers, and application developers should stay in the Bay Area to maximize their purchasing power, while Java folks should head to St. Louis, Indeed’s data indicated.
Generally, Indeed found, the high salaries offered to engineers in tech hotbeds more than make up for the higher costs of living in those areas. “That higher tech-job paycheck in Metro A will probably still be higher than a paycheck for a tech job in Metro B, even after adjusting for Metro A’s higher living costs,” the report stated. “In this way, tech jobs are different from jobs in the general labor market, where living costs more than offset local differences in salaries.”
The Indeed study looked at salary data from jobs in 158 tech-related occupations in metro areas with populations of at least 250,000, posted on the site between August 2016 and July 2017, along with local cost of living data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that reflect local differences in the price of housing, services, and other physical goods.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.