Go west, young techies, for IT jobs

CompTIA's annual report highlighting the best places to find tech jobs in the US shows California still leads, but other states are upping their games

If you want a tech job in the United States, your chances are better living in California.

According to industry analyst group CompTIA in its Cyberstates 2017 report, California still leads the country when it comes to total tech sector employment. But cities in other states also make a good showing. New York City (and New York state in general); Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; Boston; Washington, DC; Atlanta; and Chicago are all major hot spots for tech jobs by one measure or another.

What’s more, the overall trend for the U.S. tech job market in 2016 was positive, no matter where you lived.

State of the union

The raw numbers for tech workers in the United States remain upbeat. Approximately 4.4 percent of the overall U.S. workforce—6.89 million people—are employed in some manner of tech job. That's more than are employed in finance/insurance (5.8 million) or construction (6.6 million).

The tech trend has been up across the board since 2010, according to CompTIA, with 2016 seeing a year-over-year gain of 2.7 percent for the overall tech job market. The smallest sector is in software development, where only 357,000 people are employed. But that sector also experienced the fastest annual growth (7.6 percent).

The CompTIA report confirmed another point about the overall robust IT market: People in computer and engineering occupations suffer unemployment at half the average rate for U.S. workers. Average wages are also almost double what they are for other U.S. workers, a rate that’s been pretty consistent over the last few years.

One issue with CompTIA’s job stats on the tech sector has surfaced time and again, namely that tallies of tech workers can be tough to pin down because of the use of imprecise categories. In its report, CompTIA cited the “blurring of lines across industries” results in a “degree of undercounting in tech sector as a percentage of U.S. employment.” In other words, it’s sometimes not clear what counts as a tech job, as the categories devised by Bureau of Labor Statistics remain behind the times.

Lone star standout

Where you live in the United States is a major determinant for how much access you’ll have to the IT job market. For years, California has been the biggest tech sector employer—and not by a little. There are 1.186 million tech jobs in that state, with 48,000 added last year. California also boasts three of the biggest urban centers for tech in the nation: San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Fans of San Francisco may be dismayed to learn that San Jose leads the pack of urban tech centers in California. It ranked No. 1 in tech sector employment concentration vs. overall employment (29.6 percent), No. 1 in average annual tech wages, and only New York City beat it out as a top employer for tech workers generally. San Francisco is No. 3 in concentration (11.5 percent) and No. 2 in annual wages ($168,000 per year vs. San Jose’s $217,000).

New York City also ranked highly in CompTIA’s report, thanks to the prevalence of finance and the city positioning itself as a tech incubator. Texas made a strong showing as well. It ranks No. 2 in total tech sector employment (592,960), although that’s roughly half of California’s figure (1,186,470). The state is No. 4 in overall growth—neck and neck with New York and North Carolina at 11,060 jobs added last year, although again, California led with 48,580 jobs added in 2016. Aside from its perennial indie-scene rep, Austin has become a major tech employment center, with 12.1 percent of its workers employed in that sector.  Texas has 36,250 “tech business establishments,” putting it ahead of New York (24,330) but still behind California (51,140).

When discussing the modern economy, the contrast isn’t so much between cities and rural areas, or between manufacturing and desk jobs. It’s now between IT-oriented work and previous-generation jobs. A good tech incubator can pop up anywhere there’s a good broadband connection. That said, it remains to be seen if that rejuvenation can come to places once dominated by manufacturing and mining, like Detroit or West Virginia, and not only urban centers already primed to be tech hubs.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.