For many job seekers, location is an afterthought. Even if they do consider it, it’s more of a “does this city seem nice?” question. What many people don’t realize is that location can make an enormous difference to your career and your future earning potential.
Go To the Company Headquarters
When I joined Google as a software engineer, I fought to be in the then-brand-new Seattle office. I loved Seattle and had close ties there. In retrospect, this probably wasn’t a great career move.
The office was smaller, which means that my choice of teams, managers, and coworkers was much more limited. My network of Googlers is much smaller, since I worked around fewer people. (I have stronger connections with Microsofties and Amazonians than Googlers.) And, when I wanted to look at moving from a software engineering role to a product manager role, there were no openings in Seattle. D’oh!
Simply put, you’ll have more options at the headquarters.
Go to Your Field Headquarters
There’s no doubting that Silicon Valley is the center of the U.S. tech community. That’s where virtually all the major companies have their headquarters, and where many of the hottest startups are located. Other areas have strong tech communities too (especially Seattle, New York, Research Triangle Park, Austin, and Boston), but the San Francisco Bay Area is the center.
When you take a tech job outside of a tech community, you may have found a great job where you’ll be very happy. But what about when you want to leave in three or five years? Will you be able to find another great job in your city? Will you want to uproot your family and disrupt your friendships to take a job in another area?
Even in Seattle, which is arguably the No. 2 or No. 3 tech city in the country, the options are much more limited. I’ve seen a lot of my friends and colleagues from Seattle moving down to the Bay Area. They just don’t have the career opportunities in Washington State that they do around San Francisco.
Cost of Living Differences are Painfully Real
As much as I’m a believer in going to the tech hubs, there is one big disadvantage: They’re not cheap.
The Bay Area and New York City are ridiculously expensive. Seattle is much more affordable, but still far from “cheap.” That $100k entry-level salary in San Francisco may not actually measure up to a $65k salary in Atlanta.
Taxes, rent / home prices and other costs make a very real difference to your income. Check out this cost of living calculator for a rough comparison.
This isn’t saying that you must decline a job offer in “sub-optimal” cities. Not at all! However, these aspects of location should be weighed against your other preferences: being near your family, your ties to a city, how much you like the city and, of course, all the other aspects of a job offer itself.