The best cities for landing top pay for your tech skills

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Target your talent: The best cities for landing top pay for your tech skills

IT pros looking for a new gig, take heed: Those $140,000-per-year jobs in San Francisco are worth just $86,000 when adjusted for the cost of living. So if you’re looking to cash in on the tech gold rush, you’d be significantly better off taking a $100,000 offer in Denver.

InfoWorld has teamed with PayScale, which tracks compensation, and job board Dice to help you find where your IT salary will go the furthest. We’ve drilled down and examined data for six hot job categories: software developer, systems engineer, software architect, security architect, network architect, and IT program manager. We’ll show you the cities that make the most economic sense to live in if you’ve got the skills to land a job in one of those specialties.

Tech meccas: Top pay — but at what cost?
You can’t, no matter what say, have it all. These five metro areas offer many perks: great weather in San Diego, great cultural advantages in New York and Boston, and the creative ferment and buzz of Silicon Valley and San Francisco. But all that comes at the price of an extremely high cost of living that shrinks that six-figure paycheck to a relatively modest level.

Note: Salary figures throughout represent median pay. job listings were current as of late June. Cost of living index data is provided by the The Council for Community and Economic Research and consists of six major categories: groceries, housing, utilities, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services.

Five metro areas where your salary will go the furthest
If finding a job that pays the best is your priority, there are gems scattered about the country that offer plentiful jobs and an affordable cost of living. Raleigh, N.C., the heart of the famed Research Triangle, tops our list of metro areas combining abundant jobs with the highest adjusted salaries for IT workers. Salt Lake City and Austin are just a nose behind, so who needs the expense of Silicon Valley or Route 128?

Software developers: The IT employees most in demand
It’s not a surprise that the greater Seattle area, home to tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon, is fertile ground for a software developer looking for a new job. In late June, the Dice job board listed more than 500 openings for software developers in Seattle, Redmond, Bellevue, and surrounding cities, including nearly 100 at Amazon alone, while Microsoft’s website offers hundreds. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that Detroit — a city not on the radar screen of many techies — and nearby communities have more than 200 jobs for developers and an adjusted pay scale that’s only about 10 percent behind the leader. Other bang-for-the-buck oases off the tech-beaten track are Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Atlanta.

Senior systems engineers — Huntsville, anyone?
If St. Louis brings to mind the Gateway Arch and Budweiser Clydesdales but not tech, better think again. You’ll find 83 listings for senior systems engineers along the Mississippi. Some are fairly specialized. CSC, for instance, is targeting engineers with security clearance and skills in Informatica, Cognos, Business Objects, and more. If you’re willing to pursue a less senior title, Huntsville, Ala., a city with strong ties to the aerospace industry, currently has 72 listings for “system engineers,” including many at Northrop Grumman. And again, solid job prospects and cheaper living costs make Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and Detroit worth considering. Note: systems engineer is a somewhat vague title, so you’ll need to drill down as you look for a good fit.

Calling (certified) software architects
“Software architect” can mean a lot of things, so it’s hard to gauge actual demand. But looked at broadly, employers in the Atlanta area, for example, not only pay a higher than average salary, but have the most job openings listed (325) in this category. It’s worth noting that a significant portion of the jobs are actually listings placed by staffing agencies filling jobs for their clients. CyberCoders, for example, is looking for a “senior voice collaboration architect” with the following specific skills: CCIE, CCDE, CCNP Voice, CCDP, MCSE, CISSP, TDM/PBX Certifications, Crestron, VOIP. Sure, that’s a long list, but the base salary is “six figures” and the company offers relocation assistance if you don’t already live nearby.

Security architects: Data breaches creating high demand
Given the rash of data breaches of late, it’s not surprising that security-related jobs are fairly plentiful — and employers are seeking a more business-minded skill set. A listing for a job at Capella University in Minneapolis, for example, defines the security architect role as “responsible for continuously protecting our critical information assets and brand name, assuring compliance with corporate and regulatory policies/standards & industry best practices, while simplifying, enhancing and enabling business initiatives.” In this case, you’d need the following certifications: CISSP, CISA, CISM, or GIAC. Synergy Computer Solutions, a consultancy in Auburn Hills, Mich., seeks a security architect with at least five years of experience with Web access management tools. The job pays $54 to $59 an hour.

Top cities for network architects
How does $3,000 a week sound? That’s what California Systems is offering for a Network Architect in Glendale, Calif. The company’s need is urgent. There’s a long list of required skills and certifications, including HP ASE for Network Architect, SCE/SCM, ITILv3. Fifty miles down the freeway in Irvine, Greenfield Partners seeks a wireless network architect. The job requires that you “communicate effectively at the IT and business facing executive leadership level,” a common requirement as IT functions move out of the IT department ghetto. The Los Angeles area, which doesn’t appear often in these lists, has 154 listings and a competitive salary range, even when adjusted for living costs. Chicago shows high demand, translating to high pay that goes far.

Hotspots for program managers
Baltimore: A great city to eat crabs, catch a baseball game or visit the grave of Edgar Allen Poe. And if you’re looking for a job as an IT program manager, you’ll find 308 within a 40-mile radius of Charm City. A fair number of these jobs are with companies that have contracts with the federal government and some require a security clearance. There’s more money (in adjusted dollars) to be made in the Houston area, but only about one-third as many jobs for program managers, while that other Texas city, Dallas, offers just under 200. And don’t forget about Raleigh and Phoenix.

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