Readers left more than 500 comments on yesterday's post suggesting that, after accounting for local price differences, the best-paid tech jobs aren't in Silicon Valley or other areas well known for computer jobs, but rather in smaller cities around the country. Quality of life is overall more important than salary, though, and it isn't an easy thing to measure. Several readers pointed to reasons why the most expensive places to live get to be so expensive, and why (for those who can afford to live there in the first place) locations like Silicon Valley are often worth their premiums. Read on for some of the most interesting comments from the discussion in today's Backslash summary.The discussion of just what sort of lifestyle is worth living is at the core of any discussion of "best" places to live:
Reader nick_davison has some thoughts on the cost of living:
- Job A: $50,000/year, $10,000 annual rent.
- Job B: $100,000/year, $40,000 annual rent.
Relative to the cost of rent, Job A is phenomenal: You're making five times the cost of rent. Job B sucks: you're only earning 2.5 times rent. By this measure, job A is far and away the better option - by a factor of 2.
The thing is, once you've paid the varying rent, where do you spend the rest of your money? The decent spec new PC will be $2,000 in Rancho Santa Fe, Manhattan or BFI. The new $25,000 car will be $25,000 wherever you buy it. The big TV is the same price wherever. And, most important of all, the internet porn subscriptions run the same wherever you are too.
At that point, would you rather the job that's 5 times "cost of living" but only leaves you with $40,000 or the one that gives a sucky 2.5x but leaves you with $60,000 extra.
Next, on the simple level, let's look at that cost of living. Assuming you get on, buy and pay a mortgage off, in 20 years time the place with the poor salary relative to cost of living will leave you with a $500,000-$1,000,000 home vs. the $200,000-$250,000 place in the "better" area. Now, aged 40, you can up and move to the cheap place, selling your home, buying one of the nicest places in the cheap area and having a nice large nest egg lfet over to let you get to retire early. My in-laws have just done exactly that and apparently a lot of people in Texas are getting seriously pissed at all the Californians coming in, buying huge homes after selling up smaller places in CA and pushing up the Texan cost of living for people who're still paid no more.
And, finally, there's a reason rent and property are so expensive in some areas. Go to California and look out of the window. Rumor has it that other parts of the world have a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Land is expensive in California because you never shovel snow, you rarely deal with crazy humidity, you rarely have the insane heat of Arizona, you rarely get mosquitoes the size of Volkswagens and you can sit on the beach on New Year's Day. In short, supply and demand means that when there's a crazy price, there's generally a great reason for it.
So, yes, some areas have high costs of living and lower salaries in relation to that cost. But I.T. is famous for the fact that we out earn most other professions and, once you get past earning about three times cost of average rent, everything else is gravy. Sure, you reach that point faster elsewhere — but once you do reach it (and you do in I.T.), you keep going even further when the numbers are bigger.
I've watched a lot of friends leave California because they're in other fields and it's just too expensive to live here if you don't earn well. But once you get to the kind of salaries I.T. tends to pay, the cost of rent becomes a relatively minimal part of the total cost of living a great life.
Job mobility (voluntary or involuntary) plays a big role, too: razvedchik writes
Similarly, reader osho_gg highlights the difference between a high salary in local terms and possibilities for advancement in the future:
The biggest factor for me is to consider the possibility that if your job goes south (project ends, company folds, you don't like your boss), then you are stuck in the middle of nowhere. If you are relocating, you need to understand that at some point you will need to move again.
If you are used to an environment where you can lose your job today and have a new one by the end of the week, then you will be shocked when you spend 6 months unemployed.
One could go for one of these highest paying jobs in obscure locations where few companies are there. However, what is the growth potential in such locations? How many companies are there to work for in such locations that can pay high salaries for specialized skills? How many companies can pay more than 100k in places like Idaho Falls, ID? And, what happens if that company goes bust/one is laid off in such areas?
I dislike the high cost of living, traffic, unaffordability of houses etc. in places such as Silicon Valley. But there are lot more companies where one can work for with decent salary. One's chances of finding another job with close to maximum salary in one's field are lot higher there without having to move.
These are not just idle concerns. I have been asking many such questions to myself recently as I am not in high-tech area such as Silicon Valley. There are no easy answers to such questions. These become even more difficult once one has family, house etc. and has established roots in one place.
Several readers contributed endorsements for (and critiques of) locations around the United States and Canada:"Go to Alberta," says reader Easy2RememberNick:
If you want to know where high paying jobs are go to Alberta, Canada it's insane!
McDonald's workers are getting $15/hour, signing bonuses and $100 extra pay if you show up for all your shifts that week.
Housing is a bit of a problem, there's a booming business finding old homes, ripping them off their foundation and dragging them to Calgary.
Calgary is sprawling outward at an incredible rate, it's bigger in area than NY city.
It's all from oil, tar sands that is, Canada exports oil since we make more than we use. The U.S. gets about 10% of its oil from Canada and that will probably increase due to the U.S. public's of growing concern about "foreign oil."
People are going there by the thousands every day, it's crazy!
Reader NoHandleBars wasn't happy with a move from expensive California to Texas:
That comment drew some spirited disagreement from reader DaFallus:
I once oversaw moving a firms's HQ and IT functions from Silicon Valley to San Antonio, TX because of the "math" some white collar genius put together like this Forbes nonsense. Sure, the "average" wage was one-half of what it was in Palo Alto, but because of the "quality" of local talent, we ended up hiring THREE TIMES as many staff to do the same amount of work. (For the math-challenged, that meant productivity sucked by 50%.) This wasn't just a drain on company resources, but on the few people who DID know their chops and had to hoist it in for the dullards. Those that made the move and saw the disaster had to in turn move completely out of the area to restore sanity to their careers. And the "icing on the cake" is that San Antonio is the only place I've stood hip deep in mud and had sand blow in my face. No thanky-thanky.
That's odd. Southwest Research Institute is based in San Antonio and although they primarily do a lot of government funded research they have a lot of talented people working for them. There are also a large number of smaller technical companies based in San Antonio. I have a number of friends who still live there working in various tech jobs.
San Antonio is a great place to live if you don't mind the slow pace of the city. It is one of the few cities I've lived in where you can do pretty well for yourself making around $30k. There is also a lot of cultural diversity, and I'm not just talking about the Hispanic influence.
I myself would have been happy to stay there after graduating but I just couldn't handle the slow pace that everyone lives at there. Also, the city itself is pretty poor and the roads are in horrible condition, there is a large gap between the rich all bundled away in Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, etc and the rest of the population. The crime there is also relatively high compared to what I've experienced while living in Houston and parts of Southern California. I've had my car broken into at least twice, witnessed a robbery at a gas station, and saw my friend get pistol whipped in the face and pulled out of the window of his car by would-be thieves. So, if you're thinking about moving there, buy a gun and stay in well-lit areas.
And reader kabocox says
This just tell's me that your firm doesn't know how to hire people. There are plenty of talented people in Texas. Heck, there are plenty of talented homegrown people in the Litte Rock, AR area. If your company can't find them, don't blame the area. I personally believe this applies to all of the US. There are plenty of trainable college grads in most major US cities. If you think the talent/gurus are much better in a tech hot spot, then you are willing to pay a premium for equal talent, not better talent. I'd think that most businesses that move to area's where the cost of living is lower end up hiring more people not to do the same amount of work. They hire more people because its cheaper and can get more done if the organization is properly run.
Tink2000 wrote in with comments on a few of the places picked out in the article, specifically Idaho Falls and the state of Alabama:
As someone who lived in Idaho Falls, Idaho, I strongly advise against it unless you think man-made falls are cool and love a few of the Temple at night, and like the idea of living in a city that has nothing around it for miles except scenery, where the tallest building is nine stories tall and it's a hotel.
I lived there for a year and pretty much loathed every moment of it. Of course, I came there from Atlanta, Georgia, so ... it was a bit of culture shock for me.
If you're going to live in Montgomery, you might as well consider Huntsville as well. Although it might be slightly harder to get a job there as everyone has some sort of technical background for the most part, it's a fairly agreeable city and not at all representative of the rest of Alabama.
Burdell wrote to agree with that analysis of Huntsville verus Montgomery:
As someone who lives in Huntsville (born and raised here) and also does some business in Montgomery, I'd have to agree. I'm not aware of a whole lot of tech jobs available in Montgomery; there's always demand in Huntsville (especially as another 7-12 thousand Army and contractor jobs come to Huntsville in the next few years). I don't know how the cost of living compares (Huntsville is a good bit lower than the Atlanta area though). The "metro" areas around Montgomery and Huntsville are about the same size IIRC, but Huntsville has a lot more "outside" influence (German rocket scientists in the 1950s and people from all over the world since).
Huntsville can be an odd place sometimes; mixing rocket scientists and rednecks has interesting results.
(See also everphilski's description of Huntsville as an interesting, affordable place to live.)Reader Hoi Polloi isn't quite so happy with Huntsville:
I had to travel to Huntsville a few times for NASA work. It got barren pretty quickly when you drove anywhere and it was brutally hot. People who lived there said it was too hot in the summer to do much of anything and the lack of any pedestrian features (like sidewalks) encouraged a lot of the waistlines I saw. One local even said he felt safer visiting Boston than being in downtown Huntsville after dark. Most of the jobs and companies down there are dependent on government which means that they are at the mercy of politics. The focus on the military also means there is little variety in the types of jobs available.
Not everyone's stab at rating places seemed entirely sincere: reader nick_davison decided to stick up for Iowa rather than the hellish coastal regions:
It's the coolest place ever. I'm in California and it's awful here. We have to walk up hill both ways and the hills are steeper here (the land's scrunched up by our daily earthquakes). And hot? Like you wouldn't believe. Don't believe that stuff about coastal areas being cooler — it's hell here. No one should ever move here because, high salaries or not, life's too expensive. Iowa's the place. Des Moines is just super awesome. Off you go!
Further afield, at least for American readers, several comments described the pros and cons of living in poorer parts of the world:
"Good morning, Vietnam!" writes wisebabo:
Reader owlman17 reports from Manila:
Well, that's the time here as I post this. Anyway, it's very interesting living in Ho Chi Min (rated the #12th best major city in the world to live in and the best in Asia)*. I've got to say that, in a country that has a per capita GDP less than a tenth that of the United States a dollar goes a long way.
The key is how to make it. If you can make it by working for a major foreign corporation here (read: oil company) and get a Western salary, you will live like a king. Unfortunately local opportunities to make that kind of money are otherwise almost nil. Even if you can speak Vietnamese you will find that even a very high salary here (doing a job like coding) in not much relative to the U.S. Also you may find yourself thought of being overqualified; I do very high end media and some people here told me they were afraid to contact me after seeing my CV because they thought I'd charge a fortune.
While you can make a good living here teaching English I doubt that would appeal to the skilled professionals that make up Slashdot's readers. No, the best job is one in which you can work "at the end of a wire," that is live here but work for some U.S. company via the internet. The internet infrastructure is just sufficient to do that (which is one reason why I can't live in Cambodia). Internet telephony here is good (at least from my location). If your job is portable so you don't have to physically see your clients more than once or twice a year then this might "work" for you!
the way, the cost of living here is not going to be one-tenth that of the U.S. unless you live like a native. Instead if you insist on all the perks of the U.S. it's probably about half the U.S. cost of living (more if you want a car!). On the other hand, wealth is relative; compared to the natives you WILL be very rich and will be treated as such. That has its own perks. ;)
This recent study (which, to my traveled eyes cannot possibly be true) was based on a bunch of factors including how much (or little) the average person "impacted the environment." Since Vietnamese people are still very poor they don't impact the environment very much which led to a inflated score. Still Ho Chi Minh City has its charms; zero violent crime (it's a police state), pace of life (you can actually meet people and develop friendships), scale of the city (more like one giant neighborhood than a forest of skyscrapers). But act soon, things are changing fast and in 5 years it'll be unrecognizable.
Not everything's rosy on distant shores, though; phantomfive briefly describes life in El Salvador, and adds adds a few caveats about life in Central America, including a fairly tough psychological challenge:
In other third world countries where these tech jobs are being outsourced to, $USD400-$600/month is very high. I live in Manila, and the minimum wage is roughly less than $USD 6.00 daily. Those who work in outsourced tech-support call centers make $300 monthly and they're very happy about it. I had a short web-design stint making about $450 monthly and I was really really happy about it, to say the least. Single people here could live like kings on that.
[...] I would like to mention, COCKROACHES FLY!!!! I just tell you that to lessen the shock that we all feel when we see one of those monstrosities flying straight at us. They don't fly well, but the shock of seeing that the first time is something that can give you nightmares. And don't drink the water. Get bottled water from a reliable company. You might even want to test your bottled water. I am serious with this one, get bottled water. For a while I was purifying my water with chlorine, then I found out that the town water had LEAD in it, and I was drinking lead. I found out that no one in that town drank the water. So boiling water and stuff isn't good enough. Get the bottled water. Also, the two most important things that will keep you from getting mugged: learn to pay attention to your surroundings, what is going on, etc; and secondly, learn to look in someone's eyes and understand what he is feeling/thinking.
Many thanks to the readers (especially those quoted above) whose comments informed this discussion.