The software development industry is a hot and growing field of employment. With industries being revolutionized by technology and products, software developers possess the skills that are highly desired across the field. Software development entails tackling difficult technical problems and building products that bring delight to the end user. Software developers create and maintain computer applications, analyze user needs, develop software solutions, and work either individually or as part of a team on either backend infrastructure or front-end user interfaces.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are close to one million software developer (application) jobs in the U.S., and the field is growing at a 21% rate—much faster than the average industry. But where are the best opportunities for software developers? Our study results may surprise you.
Our study at AdvisorSmith ranked 309 U.S. cities to determine the most attractive cities for software developers to pursue their careers in. We list the top 50 cities for software developers below, and we also break down the top small, midsize, and large cities for this profession.
Our analysis found that many of the best cities for software developers are large cities. Of the top 50 cities, 66% of them were large, 26% were midsize, and only 8% were small cities. A majority of cities were located in the midwest and southeast, likely due to the cost of living. Large cities won out in our study, with 33 out of the top 50 cities having metro area populations greater than 500,000.
Top Cities for Software Developers by City Size
Forty-six of the top 50 best cities for software developers were midsize or large cities, but the large city metropolis may not be ideal for everyone. In order to highlight this distinction in lifestyle preference, our study segments cities into different sizes based on population, listing the top 10 small (population under 150,000), midsize (population of 150,000-500,000), and large (greater than 500,000 population) cities for software developers.
Best Cities for Software Developers
1. Columbus, OH
Known for being the state capital and having a diverse economy, Columbus, OH is home to several Fortune 500 companies, including Alliance Data, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, American Electric Power, L Brands, and Cardinal Health. In addition to being home to Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in the nation, Columbus has been rapidly growing in venture funding.
There are several advantages with a city like Columbus, where there is not only a large talent pool to draw from but also a robust economic profile to source expertise from. Columbus was also one of the few cities to see the total number of startups raising its first round of VC financing grow over the last seven years. There are more startups being launched here than in years prior. Startups such as Root Insurance, Beam Dental, and SafeChain have continued growing in the Columbus ecosystem. The city also ranked 3rd on Kauffman’s 2017 Growth Entrepreneurship Index, which measures entrepreneurial business growth from both revenue and job perspectives. Other notable employers include Cardinal Solutions Group, Battelle, IBM, Amazon, DHL Supply Chain, JP Morgan Chase, and Honda.
Columbus hosts 83% more jobs for software developers on a per-capita basis compared with the U.S. average. Software developers in Columbus also earn on average $110,050 per year, 2% higher than the national average. The higher salary coupled with a low cost of living that is 10% lower than the average makes the city an attractive area for this profession.
2. Columbus, GA
Columbus, GA is located just 100 miles southwest of Atlanta and 30 miles west of Auburn, AL. The metro is the 3rd largest in the state of Georgia and home to museums and tourism sites. Moreover, the city is known for Fort Benning, which is not only a major U.S. Army Fort, but also the Home of the Infantry. Various tech companies service Fort Benning, such as SAIC, Yorktown Systems Group, and Janus Research Group.
Notably, Columbus is home to a number of large tech payments and security companies, including TSYS (Total System Services, Inc.), which provides payment processing for merchants and banks and employs nearly 13,000 employees worldwide. Aflac and Path-Tec are two other large companies in Columbus hiring for a variety of tech roles, such as applications developer, software development engineer, and tech architect.
Software developers in Columbus, GA earn an average annual salary of $103,110, and the cost of living is 21.5% lower than the rest of the nation. While the overall population of Columbus is only approximately 200,000, the city’s proximity to neighboring job markets offers advantages in access to a variety of software developer roles across industries.
3. Dayton, OH
Dayton is the second Ohio city to top our study, claiming another spot in our top five. The city sits right between Columbus and Cincinnati, two large metros in Ohio. Dayton’s history is rich in research and development fueling a diverse economy driven by aerospace, defense, and healthcare. What was once a city known for its manufacturing industry has now diversified into service economies like insurance, government, healthcare, and legal.
Known as the birthplace of aviation where powered aviation began, Dayton has two major U.S. aviation research centers: The National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). These two research centers provide cutting-edge software development opportunities for local Daytonians. Dayton also offers tech opportunities in healthcare from companies like Premier Health and Kettering Health Network, as well as in IT consulting from firms such as Sogeti, AMG Engineering, Ross Group, and Corbus.
Dayton has almost 50% more jobs for software developers per capita compared to the U.S. average. A typical software developer in Dayton earns an annual salary of $98,340; however, the city also boasts of a cost of living that’s nearly 25% lower than the national average.
4. Huntsville, AL
Located just 100 miles north of Birmingham, Huntsville sits at the northern edge of Alabama. The city’s main economy centers around aerospace and military technology. Three large influences drive most of the technology-driven economy: Redstone Arsenal, a U.S. Army Post with a background in chemical weapons manufacturing; Cummings Research Park; and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Digging deeper into Cummings Research Park reveals why Huntsville hits so high in our rankings. Cummings is the second largest research park in the nation and fourth in the world. It is home to nearly 300 companies, with a mixture of Fortune 500 companies in high-tech, advanced manufacturing, software development, IT, cyber security, aerospace, and defense. Additionally, the University of Alabama in Huntsville has a technology and research area with access to companies such as Radiance Technologies, ERC, COLSA, Avocent, Navistar, and ADTRAN.
Huntsville’s cost of living is 8% lower than the national average and boasts a low unemployment rate at 3.7%. Software developers in Huntsville earn an average salary of $104,190. The city also hosts 124% more software developer jobs per capita than the national average.
5. Charlotte, NC
As the most populous city in the state of North Carolina, Charlotte was the country’s fastest growing metro from 2004 to 2014. The city is located west of Research Triangle Park and has seven Fortune 500 companies in its area. Traditionally, the city has been considered a second financial capital on the east coast next to New York City. Because of this, financial services companies like Ally, Credit Karma, The Hartford, Bank of America, Vanguard, and Wells Fargo recruit heavily for software developer talent in the area.
Charlotte also includes a diversity of businesses, like Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, Duke Energy, Nucor, Honeywell, Continental Tire of Americas, Carlisle Companies, and Lowe’s. Some of the top tech companies in Charlotte include Amazon, Passport, and IBM.
Charlotte has a low unemployment rate of 3.7%, with recent positive job growth of 2.7%. Software developers in Charlotte earn an average salary of $107,450, and the city hosts 44% more jobs for software developers on a per-capita basis compared with the U.S. average.
Top 50 Cities for Software Developers
Below, we list the top cities for software developers. We include data on the total number of jobs, the number of jobs per capita, average annual salaries, and the cost of living.
|Rank||City||City Size||Average Annual Salary||Total Jobs||Location Quotient||Cost of Living|
|10||Palm Bay, FL||Large||$102,970||2,130||1.59||97|
|11||St. Louis, MO||Large||$99,730||8,010||0.94||91|
|13||Colorado Springs, CO||Large||$107,590||3,530||2.01||105|
|18||Cedar Rapids, IA||Midsize||$95,310||1,380||1.56||93|
|21||Idaho Falls, ID||Small||$93,060||390||0.95||89|
|22||Des Moines, IA||Large||$91,950||3,090||1.34||90|
|31||Salt Lake City, UT||Large||$101,680||6,060||1.36||107|
|34||Kansas City, MO||Large||$87,330||9,900||1.5||94|
|42||Atlantic City, NJ||Midsize||$96,980||680||0.86||104|
|48||Ann Arbor, MI||Midsize||$97,840||1,600||1.18||108|
AdvisorSmith’s study examined three key variables in determining the best cities for software developers to pursue their careers in.
1. Average annual salaries for software developers
In the most general sense, there are two types of software developers: applications and systems. For the purposes of this study, we focus on applications software development, which is designing computer applications as opposed to building operating systems that keep computers running properly.
We considered the average annual salary earned by software developers in each city in our study. The higher the average salary, the more highly we ranked a given metro area. The average salary for software developers in our study was $108,080.
2. Density of jobs for software developers in each city
Our study leveraged a location quotient, which represents the number of jobs available to software developers, relative to the national average. Cities with a higher location quotient have a higher concentration of jobs for software developers, which means more career opportunities and more demand for developers in those cities. Cities with higher location quotients ranked more highly in our study.
In 2018, there were 903,160 software developers (applications) employed in the U.S. The BLS predicts that employment for software developers will grow at a 21% pace over the 10-year period of 2018-2028, which is higher than the national job growth outlook of 5%.
3. Cost of living index for each city
We adjusted the salaries earned by software developers in each city by a cost of living multiplier. The cost of living, including necessities such as rent, transportation, and groceries, varies by city, so it is important to normalize the salaries so that the cities can be compared fairly. Cities with more affordable lifestyles were ranked more highly in our study.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook
 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics
 Sperling’s Best Places Cost of Living Index