Remote work: Why big cities might be losing their appeal for developers

If coders can work from anywhere, why not make it near a beach or pool?
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer
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Could America's tech hubs be undergoing a 'great decentralization'? According to an analysis of data traffic patterns from the 100 million users of developer Q&A site Stack Overflow, it is happening. 

With remote and hybrid work now a more realistic option for people than ever before, it would appear that tech workers are dispersing from traditional US tech hubs like San Francisco, Seattle, Austin and New York. 

At the outset of the pandemic, some tech staff — many of whom could already work remotely — considered moving permanently to areas with lower living costs after trialing it and finding it worked. This trend also gave rise to debates in tech about location-based pay at companies such as Facebook and Google and new policies by the likes of Airbnb, which has done away with location-based pay

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To find out if tech workers were dispersing from major tech hubs like San Francisco and New York, Stack Overflow measured page view traffic from different metro areas between March 2018 to April 2022. 

To define two clear periods, Stack Overflow looked at traffic in the pre-COVID years between March 2018 to April 2020, and the COVID years between March 2020 to April 2022.   

Page views on the site from users in Seattle, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have fallen 13%, 12%, 7%, and 5% respectively. Portland, Oregon, a relatively minor tech hub, was the only place where page views increased and it was up by 11%.  

David Gibson, a data analyst at Stack Overflow, notes that a decline in page view growth from the major tech hubs might reflect lower growth rates because the user base there is already so large. Still, the trend is notable when compared with growth from smaller metro areas. 

Stack Overflow's further analysis of site traffic from smaller US cities (dubbed Tier 2 and Tier 3) appeared to line up with a recent report by the Brookings Institute looking at pre-COVID and COVID-period tech sector employment growth in major cities. It used US employment data between 2015-2019 and 2019-2020. 

The Brookings Institute found that, with the exception of New York, tech sector employment growth had slowed significantly in places like San Jose, Los Angeles and Boston.     

Over the same period, tech sector growth rates rose in half the 83 other large metro areas in the US. Major winners were popular vacation or 'Sun Belt' areas, including: Virginia Beach, Virginia; Ogden, Utah; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Tucson, Arizona; and El Paso, Texas. Other cities with warmer climates where growth accelerated included: Charlotte, N.C.; San Antonio, Texas; Nashville, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala.; New Orleans, Louisiana; Greensboro, N.C.; Jackson, Miss.; and Stockton, Calif. 

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Stack Overflow says all 10 of the metropolitan areas with the highest page view growth were either Tier 2 or Tier 3 cities.

A notable traffic trend was that page views from the Columbus metro area of Ohio rose 14% over the four-year period. As Stack Overflow notes, this coincides with Intel's plan, announced in January, to open a giant chip-manufacturing plant in Ohio.

Stack Overflow's page view data also backs up Brookings Institute's findings about moves to popular vacation spots. 

"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?" writes Gibson.  

Metro areas with increased traffic included: Palm Springs, CA (14%); Honolulu (4%); and Panama City, FL (7%). Traffic also grew in southern cities, including: Fayetteville, AR (15%); Myrtle Beach, SC (5%); and Montgomery, AL (4%). 

"If you can work from anywhere, why not make it near a beach or pool, right?" writes Gibson. 

Source: Stack Overflow
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