Denver = Engineering Career Stagnation?

(cross-posted from Into Thin Air)

Denver vs. San Francisco


If I leave San Francisco and work for a company in a place like Denver, I’d be working with a bunch of “B Players.” I mean, the best people are in Silicon Valley, right?

Silicon Valley is filled with talented engineers. I left my career as a Sr. Director in San Diego to start a company in San Francisco in part because I believed I needed to be there in order to realize my full potential as a technologist. Surrounding myself with the best minds would bolster my skills in the trade.

Four years later, the best software developer I know lives in San Diego (and never finished a four-year degree).

But it’s undeniable that Silicon Valley has the highest concentration of software engineers from top-tier schools in the world. They’re drawn to the thousands of great technology companies looking to hire them there. Subjectively, 50% of conversations I overheard in a given coffee shop there were about tech, and that percentage is close to zero here in Denver.

There are thousands of interesting technology companies in Silicon Valley. And there are thousands of opportunities to mingle with fellow techies through the abundance of ‘meetups’ there. The world looks to Silicon Valley for technological innovation.

But the import of the place is generally obfuscated in day-to-day life — developers spend 99% of their time with the same small group of people who show up, just like they do, to work every day. Exposure to Silicon Valley, then, is limited to what developers extract from their place of work. And that exposure is no different in Silicon Valley than it is with any good tech company in any city.

“Good tech company” is the operative phrase. The Denver area has hundreds of them. Off the top of my head there’s Stack Overflow, Inspirato, Sendgrid, FullContact, Gusto (where I work), TapInfluence, Uber, Galvanize, Google (hiring 1,500 in Boulder), Oracle, IBM (Watson is amazing), Havenly, ReadyTalk, NetSuite, Techstars, HomeAdvisor, Craftsy, Rachio, Sphero, LogRhythm, OnDeck, and OpenTable. Working for any one of them will feel no different than working for a company in Silicon Valley.


If I worked in Denver, the salary cut I’d take would make it harder for me to come back to San Francisco. People would look at my comp and think I’m just an “ok” engineer, no?

Denver is cheaper than Silicon Valley. On average, developers earn 15% less per year. If you’re making $140K/year in California, you’re making $121K/year in Colorado. Does this delta really affect a developer’s perceived value?

It might, if “salary” is a heuristic used by developers to understand where they stand relative to their peers, and where said peers are geographically distributed.

But companies don’t care.

Recruiters understand that market rates vary. And the “How much are you currently making?” question is one that’s asked during an interview, where context around market conditions is already understood and can be further expounded upon. Denver’s lower salaries do not hurt a developer’s chance to being hired into a good position in Silicon Valley.

Denver = Career Stagnation?

Do cities like Denver equate to career stagnation for software developers? This developer thinks not. I’ve been impressed with people we’ve been talking to about Gusto’s open positions in Denver, with many of them concurrently receiving offers from us and companies in Silicon Valley. There are great engineers here. There are great companies here. There are great careers here.