December 9, 2021 | Industry Trends & Research

Best cities for hiring remote software engineers in the US: 2021 update

Pittsburgh keeps its top spot as the best city for hiring remote software engineers, Portland leapfrogs Texas into the top-5

Patrick Wu
Data Analyst, Strategy & Insights

Last year we took our first look at the rapidly expanding remote software engineer hiring landscape. As more organizations shifted to remote or hybrid working models we had started to see significantly improving candidate performance outside of the more-established tech hubs. Like 2020, Seattle boasted the highest concentration of top engineering talent, followed closely by the Bay Area, and New York City. But cities like Pittsburgh and Atlanta had comparable pass rates to the big three while boasting other benefits, such as a lower cost of living or more diverse populations. Today, as even more top tech companies commit to hiring remote software engineers, we’re taking a look at how this landscape has continued to evolve.

The quality of remote software engineers in the market is higher than ever

In updating our 2020 top-10 cities for developer hiring list, the first trend that stood out to us is the fact that we’re seeing historically strong performance rates on the coding portions of technical interviews since the beginning of the pandemic.

chart of software engineering performance in technical interviews over time
Average Karat pass-through rates normalized to account for organizations with varying hiring bars and sourcing strength

We see two primary drivers of the improving engineering talent pool:

  1. Top talent is entering the marketplace at faster rates than before. In the early days of the pandemic, abrupt layoffs resulted in long-tenured, high-quality engineers entering the market in search of jobs all at once. This resulted in the percentage of candidates who achieve top marks in the coding portion of their interviews jumping from around 35-40% pre-pandemic to 45-50% in Q2 2020.
  2. In Q1 2021, coding success rates spiked once again, reaching new all-time highs as top tech companies committed to fully remote work and top engineers eyed greener pastures in the form of more flexible working environments.

Based on the current hiring trajectories we’ve observed, we expect that there will be another Q1 spike in 2022 as more companies seek to add headcount and bolster their engineering teams, while more candidates will begin seeking new positions early in the year.

The concentration of engineering talent is shifting

Among major cities in the US, we also found that this trend of improving pass rates was consistent across major cities. Of 10 cities on our list, 9 saw improvement in their score compared to last year. Southern California looks to be a major winner, with both Los Angeles and San Diego seeing average pass rates jump significantly over the past year.

Interestingly, despite some high-profile tech organizations eyeing Texas as a new hub, the state’s average pass-through rates saw little change in 2021. This resulted in Houston and Austin sliding further down the list while Dallas fell outside the top 10 after coming in at #9 last year.  Newcomers to the list are Portland, OR, rocketing up to #4 as Karat pass rates nearly doubled, and Washington, DC, appearing here at #2.

Chart showing the top 10 cities for hiring remote software engineers based on Karat pass-through rates
Industry SWE data for US cities with 300K+ population and 50+ Karat interviews completed

Pittsburgh takes the top spot in our 2021 remote developer hiring list for the second year running

  1. Pittsburgh, PA (last year: #1). Pittsburgh maintained its top spot on this list, with 40% of candidates passing their Karat interviews – a figure comparable to New York City and trailing only the Bay Area and Seattle among major metro areas. Home to the top CS program in the nation in Carnegie Mellon, as well as another top 50 program in the University of Pittsburgh, the city also hosts growing engineering hubs for Google, Apple, IBM, and more. Below average cost of living (cost of living index of 95) makes Pittsburgh an alluring place for east coast tech workers to live and for companies to seek out top talent.
  2. Washington, DC (last year: not ranked). Amazon’s rapidly growing presence in the region has helped establish DC as a veritable tech hub in its own right, with a 40% pass rate just behind our top spot.
  3. Los Angeles, CA (last year: #3). Just barely in second place comes Los Angeles, also with a 40% candidate pass rate. While it has a higher cost of living (130) on this list, it is still below the Bay Area (143) while having a higher proportion of minorities underrepresented in tech. Many top tech companies from the Bay Area have established a presence in LA in recent years, including Google, Snap, Postmates, and Hulu. Top engineers in streaming, gaming, and entertainment tech continue to move to LA, which saw a +4 pt increase in pass rate in 2021.
  4. Portland, OR (last year: not ranked) was the biggest mover on this list, jumping up +19 pts to a 40% pass rate. In addition to a much lower cost of living (103) than other major west coast cities, the “Silicon Forest” has seen a recent resurgence in tech IPOs from Expensify, Vacasa, and ZoomInfo (in nearby Vancouver, WA).
  5. Atlanta, GA (last year: #4). Atlanta’s 36% pass rate shows they are a tech hub for engineering talent in the southeast. Atlanta has seen major investment in its tech scene recently from companies including Airbnb, Google, and Meta. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech is ranked the #8 CS school in the nation via US News. Below average cost of living (97) and the highest population of minorities underrepresented in tech on this list make Atlanta a promising location for hiring remote engineers.
  6. Houston, TX (last year: #2). Houston was our only major metro area whose performance declined over the past year, dropping 1 pt to a 35% pass rate. The diverse city is home to Rice University, ranked the #20 CS school via US News.
  7. Austin, TX (last year: #6). While a lot has been made about some high-profile tech leaders moving to Texas, we saw less of an increase in Austin’s performance compared to the traditional tech hubs. Nevertheless, a 33% pass rate keeps Austin in our top 10.
  8. Boston, MA (last year: #8). A 31% pass rate keeps Boston in the 8th spot on this list. Massachusetts is home to three top 20 CS programs, including MIT, Harvard, and the University of Massachusetts – Amherst.
  9. San Diego, CA (last year: #7). San Diego’s 29% pass rate is another proof point that engineering quality in SoCal is on the rise. A growing presence from tech giants like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Walmart Labs, as well as a thriving startup community, makes San Diego an intriguing California alternative to Silicon Valley for engineers.
  10. Chicago, IL (last year: #10). The Windy City held onto the final spot on our list with a 29% pass rate. Chicago had nine tech startups achieve unicorn status in 2021, while also boasting the highest proportion of women-founded startups in the world, according to TECHicago. Cost of living is well below coastal tech hubs (107) while the underrepresented minority population is on par with New York.

Methodology

Karat technical interviews assess specific technical competencies. Our Interview Engineers make observations about candidates’ project discussions, coding performance, computer science knowledge, system design, cloud architectures, and other relevant skills based on the hour-long interview.

While different companies can set the hiring bar at a level that makes sense to them, we have a default set of scoring tiers. Out of these, the top two (“Invite To Next Round,” and “Fast Track”) indicate that the candidates have successfully passed their interview and will most likely be moving forward in the hiring process.

Unsurprisingly, the three established tech hubs — Bay Area, New York, and Seattle — have the highest percentages of candidates that pass the Karat interview. Decades of tech-talent concentration around these hubs have created strong developer pipelines.