This post is about the pros and cons of living in different US cities for a single mid twenties programmer (myself.) These pros and cons are personal and they most likely won’t translate to your experience, but it is an explanation / worksheet I am using to determine my next move.
Quick overview of my values: I am a tech guy who values career growth over stability. I value good/consistent weather over crazy variations. I am very laid back. My favorite things to do are rock climb, hike, and surf.
How I think about everything.
WARNING: Keep in mind this article is full of generalizations. This is simply how I perceive various locales and does not always reflect hard facts.
I have never lived in the southeast. There are plenty of green trees and the people are generally very warm, friendly and polite. The tech industry is extremely sluggish in the southeast. The coastal access is very spotty and there are no very large/interesting coastal towns. I can’t see why any young tech person seeking excitement would want to live here
Apparently lots of techie millenials are moving to Dallas and Austin. I get it. Mild weather, good tech scenes, decent cost of living and tax situations. But there are no mountains and no (good) surfing. West texas is nasty. Austin is cool, though. The whole “texas pride” thing weirds me out.
But I couldn’t live somewhere without mountains.
Also, car culture.
I already have enough trouble keeping my drinking under control, I don’t want to move to Wisconsin. Brutal winters. No great tech scenes. Good cost of living. Not many mountains. Car culture. Why would I live here?
I grew up in Florida. The cost of living is extremely low and there are beaches + “good weather.” I’m writing this from Florida, and it’s 75 degrees and rainy in mid-june. However, Florida does get quite hot. Beyond that, there are no mountains, the waves are bad for surfing, and there’s a huge car culture here. It’s very hard to find a walkable downtown or passable public transportation here. The universities are generally not competitive with the rest of the US. The winter is beautiful, but the hotter seasons can be quite miserable for an avid hiker such as myself.
Wouldn’t live here… except to be close to my old friends/family. Surfing is the only way to avoid going insane in this shithole.
The temperature varies a lot in the northeast. Very cold and snowy winters, beautiful springs and autumns, and some pretty nasty summers. Lots of sunlight. Very expensive. Very old world-feeling, which is not for me. Although there are some serious tech scenes and educational powerhouses, there seems to be a lack of the kind of massive natural landmarks that dot the west coast. Tame mountain ranges. Not a very big surfing or extreme sports culture. Huge sports culture, bleh. Less tech focused. I’m not cultured enough to enjoy living in NYC.
Props to NYC’s public transportation system and epic lack of car culture!
Wouldn’t live here for a long time… too exhausting.
I lived in Tucson for a while. It’s actually gorgeous. The desert southwest does have a special place in my heart. As someone who grew up in the green tree lined streets of the Southeast, it was hard to convert me. But the sunsets in the desert are fantastic.
The high elevation places (Flagstaff, Santa Fe, Park City) are rad. I would maybe move to Flagstaff if I were 30-40 and had a family. The tech scenes in the desert southwest are pretty below average in my opinion. There are mountains, no surfing, a pretty serious car culture and it’s very hot. Utah has cool outdoors but there is an aura of weirdness around it. Even so, the inversions are disgusting in SLC.
I always wanted to live in Socal growing up. However, I never was able to actually enjoy LA. It’s so sunny! And crowded. and sprawling. It’s cool that it’s an entertainment hub and there is epic surfing all around Socal. The mountains and surrounding areas, being desert, are a little boring for me. It’s not as beautiful as Arizona desert for some reason.
Never been to San Diego, heard it is pretty cool, but once again the tech scene there is pretty second class.
Economy is meh. Startup scene is meh. Rains just as much as Seattle. Less mountain-y. It does seem to produce cool bands (the Decemberists come to mind), and seems to share a lot in common with Washington. The main reason I’d want to not move there is due to the lack of tech jobs and less mountains. Apparently the people are a little friendlier than Seattle. I’ve heard it compared to a cross between Denver and Boulder. Apparently a pretty solid bike culture and people who don’t take themselves too seriously. Cheaper than Seattle, but once again lower salaries.
I lived in Boulder for a while. Denver/Boulder/Fort Collins are really cool towns near some fun mountains. Great for outdoors enthusiasts. No surfing. Winters are great but not snowy enough – everything starts to look pretty brown and ugly when not covered up with snow. Snow melts too fast. The Denver air inversion is gross. Denver has a great cost of living ratio and a great tech scene – so I give it a place of honor in my comparison, coming in #3, right behind Seattle and SF. One thing that irks me: living on the plains. 1/2 the time it feels like Kansas (like, whenever you’re looking east.)
Nederland, Vail, and other mountain towns are great – just not somewhere to move to unless you’re a semi retired family from southern california that really enjoys snowsports.
Decent bike/sustainability culture here!
Great economy. Startup scene on the upswing. Real estate on the upswing. Not much surfing. Apparently the dark winter months can cause depression pretty easily. However, some people might enjoy the lack of sunlight, so it’s not necessarily negative. Extremely green. Snowsports and mountains nearby. Lower cost of living than SF which makes it a “better deal” overall, financially.
San Francisco/South Bay
Epic tech economy. Startup scene is the best around. Career growth is at its peak here. Real estate is un-buyable, which means you have to go big or go home. Weather is amazing all year. Green. Near all sorts of mountains and lush forests. Lots of outdoors variety. There is a car culture here. Benefits of being an extremely large city. Snowsports are kind of far away. You can surf here, and it’s good, but it’s a bit of a hike to get out there.
South Bay is a suburb and SF is a city. They are completely different. I am personally more interested in the South Bay life because I don’t like the types of startups that are in downtown SF and I like having a bit more space. The car culture down here is just something I have to learn to deal with.
Overall Winner: SF/South Bay
It’s no secret that SF is the winner here. At my point of life, I’m not optimizing for money/cost of living. If I were, I would avoid SF with a ten foot pole. In fact, this is the main reason I have avoided it so far. But if you’re seeking a place where you can be surrounded by like minded individuals in a world class setting, with lots of access to outdoor activities, SF is the place to make your grind.