The Great Decentralization? Geographic shifts and where tech talent is moving next
The pandemic reshaped modern life in many ways. Over two years later, we still see ongoing shifts to urban centers. With remote and hybrid work here to stay, thriving careers in the tech industry do not depend on living in traditional technology capitals such as San Francisco, Seattle, or New York.
In fact, recent research from Axios shows that tech workers are migrating to other regions in the U.S., such as Miami, which saw an influx of 30% of workers from the software and IT sector in 2021. There are also signals that people in tech are relocating, such as a rise in VC activity outside the Bay Area and the percentage of investment dollars in the Bay Area dropping below 30% for the first time in 10 years in 2021.
While developers have a history of being long-time remote workers (at least part of the time), they still lived and worked in major tech hubs. Did the pandemic change that? All this got us thinking: What geographic shifts might we observe based on traffic on Stack Overflow throughout the pandemic? Which regions and metropolitan areas are technologists moving to, and which ones are losing their prominence? Is Silicon Valley losing ground to the Silicon Heartland? To find out, we took a look at the more than 100 million people who visit Stack Overflow every month.
We examined pageview traffic on Stack Overflow from March 2018 to April 2022. By separating the data into a pre-COVID period (March 2018 to April 2020) and a COVID period (March 2020 to April 2022), we could measure the growth between the two periods. We defined growth, traffic, and activity as the total pageview growth between the two periods, and we use these terms interchangeably here. Let’s break down what trends we saw and what the shifts we’re seeing may indicate about the future of the tech talent landscape.
Are the major metropolises on their way out?
While some regions show increased signs of tech worker activity, some of the established tech hubs on the West Coast of the U.S. experienced significant declines with technologists decamping for other locales. Several of the top US metro areas had the highest attrition in pageviews over the set period, including Seattle, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles with declines of 13%, 12%, 7%, and 5% in page views respectively. It’s worth noting, however, that because of their relative size, a drop in traffic for these cities may only equate with slowed growth and not a massive decline in tech talent.
The hot new tech hubs are developing (Tier 2 and 3) cities
Whether it’s for more space, more reasonable real estate prices, or to be closer to family, many people moved to smaller cities throughout the pandemic. According to a recent study by the Brookings Institute on geographic shifts of tech talent throughout the pandemic, almost half of the 83 cities measured saw tech job growth accelerate in 2020, including mid-tier cities such as Philadelphia, PA; Madison, WI; and Stockton, CA. We saw similar traffic patterns on Stack Overflow. In fact, all ten of the metropolitan areas with the highest pageview growth were either Tier 2 or Tier 3 cities.
On the West Coast, pageview growth increased for mid-sized hubs like Portland, OR (11%) and Sacramento, CA (4%). In the Columbus, OH metro area, where Intel recently announced its plans to open two major semiconductor facilities, tech traffic surged 14% over this four-year period (2018-2022).
Another trend we observed in our data was a spike in activity in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities located in sunnier locales. Could developers also be decamping to warmer climates? Increased traffic in Palm Springs, CA (14%), Honolulu (4%), and Panama City FL (7%) suggest so. We also saw traffic grow in southern cities. Specifically, pageviews in Fayetteville, AR grew 15%, while traffic in Myrtle Beach, SC (5%) and Montgomery, AL (4%) also rose. If you can work from anywhere, why not make it near a beach or pool, right?
The bottom line
Are the major coastal metropolitan areas a thing of the past? Probably not. However, perhaps we’re witnessing a gradual evening out in the tech industry when it comes to geographic diversity that will potentially create more equity in the talent pool. The increasing prevalence of remote and globally distributed work models makes it more convenient for workers to find optimal living and working arrangements in smaller but similarly thriving and upcoming urban centers.
Are these geographic trends permanent? It’s far too soon to tell, but with the expected explosion of the tech labor force by 2030, perhaps the Great Decentralization is just beginning.Tags: #StackOverflowKnows, data, insights, remote work, survey
Great analysis David.
I’m curious to know do you have any data and analysis on global shifts as well?
For example, what the developer growth and decline between countries. Which country saw the biggest rise in developers. In the last 2 years. Which saw the biggest loss? Maybe even see if breaking it down by programming language has anything interesting. The beauty of Stack Overflow is that it’s used by people all over the world so I’m sure you would be able to come up with some very unique and interesting insights.
Any reason why Washington D.C. data has Hagerstown in parenthesis? That’s about 1.5 hours away.
You’re a global site with a global user base.
If you’re going to only look at one country for an article like this, that’s fine, but you should mention it somewhere, in the headline or at least when you introduce the methodology. You mentioned it for the Axios research, so why not for your own?
Like, “The Great Decentralization? Geographic shifts and where **USA** tech talent is moving next”.
And, “We examined **USA** pageview traffic on Stack Overflow from March 2018 to April 2022…”
Rather than have every reader thinking “That’s odd, why are the top 10 declining metro areas all in the USA? And top 10 growing areas too? Hang on a second…”
Suggest the right question “which companies will use global tech talent effectively?”
Wrong question “is tech talent migrating (yes, duh).” “Should we work from office? (Exctly why? Feels like a bed check at summer camp)”
Does this mean you’re storing the location data of each and every user for at least four years?
Yeah sure, but a) is it possible to resolve the location of an IP address which visited SO four years ago and b) according to the GDPR, storing an IP address for that long is illegal – I doubt that SO breaks European laws and goes public with these information in a blog post 🤣
Miami seems like a strange place to move to considering it’s going to be under water well before most other coastal cities.
Maybe a better question we ought to consider asking is this: IF we (all humans in all nations) could instantly produce/net ZERO carbon emissions, HOW would this change the world, the current climate trend and by HOW MUCH? Any significant risk of creating other global catastrophes if we are successful in the process? What would such a catastrophe look like?
jsdwarf asked a good question on hacker news: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=31694882
“Isn’t the SO pageview data skewed by the fact that most remote workers are on their company’s VPN, hiding their true location?”
I have to wonder if the data is confounded somewhat by remote workers who are still accessing Stack Overflow via their employers’ VPNs, thereby making it appear that the traffic is still originating onsite.
Thanks a lot for this absolutely not U.S.centric article.
I’d be curious what the breakdown looks like by years employed as a developer. It seems to me that a lot of young developers (myself included) are still piling into SF, NY, and LA.
I, and I’m sure many others, would love to find work out in Honolulu. But, I might guess that the longterm costs of pulling out of one of the traditional tech hubs are still perceived as prohibitively steep early in one’s career.
It would be nice if this was made available in a way one could select one’s own country (outside US)
I work from home in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. My employer’s VPN makes every web site think I am in Chicago. Avery significant percentage of our thousands of employees work from home or the offices of company clients, and they all look like they are in Chicago due to the VPN (connection to which is forced for any machine not directly connected to the company network). We can’t be the only ones. So the Great Decentralization may be even bigger than what is shown in your data.
Conversely, I use NordVPN on my personal machine and it appears to be in a different place every time I connect, even though it never moves from my house.
I came here to say this; in the past, most vpn solutions used a split tunnel setup so your non-corporate network traffic wasn’t routed through the vpn (meaning your stackoverflow traffic would show your actual home IP), but over the last two years (as more and more of us wfh all days of the week) complete end-point security has become the norm and “normal” vpn has become a relic and no longer the norm.
Now all traffic from my work laptop goes over a vpn, and it doesn’t even show an origination point of my employer’s main corporate data center; end-point security products like Palo Alto’s GlobalProtect uses a different data center in your continent every time you reconnect, so here in the US all of my traffic shows up as coming from one out of ~twenty cities in the US, and the city only changes when I shutdown/reboot.
I have no idea how they would filter out those results, as vendors like Palo Alto don’t really advertise their gateways (and they are constantly adding new ones and changing old ones).
So parochial. Yet another piece which assumes nothing exists beyond the borders of the US.
Some of the places on the decrease list of the second graphic are small enough that one developer moving out of town could tank the pageviews for that place!
Seattle trending down doesn’t match what I see anecdotally. Tons of tech people moved from Bay Area to Seattle region. House prices here are up like 30% from pre-COVID.
I think California and Los Angeles is still very strong maybe because most investors are in this region. You will always have the edge if you will have a startup in Los Angeles or California even New York.