Thinking of moving back to NYC, what are my chances of employment in the tech industry?
November 3, 2011 11:04 AM   Subscribe

I've been living in Europe for over 5 years, recently in Berlin for two. I'm considering moving back to NYC where I grew up and have family, and I want to know what the high-tech scene is like there, and how easy/difficult my life would be, professionally.

Firstly, sorry if this question is too general.

I know the economy is in tatters, but the high-tech/internet startup scene is kicking here in Berlin, and judging from web chatter it seems to at least exist in NYC as well.

I've been working on a small web/mobile app of my own here in Berlin for a while, and now I'm considering moving back to NYC. I'm not sure the app will bear fruit before I run out of money, so I would think about seeking employment in NYC in the meantime. I'd like to work on a freelance/contract basis, but would also take a normal job if I have to.

So, specifically: is there much freelance and project-based work to go around in NYC for an engineer that can do web/mobile/desktop apps? What's the level of pay like? Is the cost of living in NYC survivable when working in this fashion? Will it be possible to get health insurance? Are there regular jobs, and are they easier to come by than contract work?

Also, I know that when things get tough, only the uber-qualified have any chance. I'm 28 and decently qualified, but I'm not a superstar. Can do: html, css, javascript, jquery, .net, java, python, django, android, windows phone 7, basic design, probablyforgettingsomething, like learning, have degrees

So, I guess what I'm saying is, do you guys think a move to NYC would turn me into a starving artist and make me miserable, or is it a decent place to be for an enthusiastic coder?
posted by tempythethird to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How's your Objective C?

I know a few people who do this with relative levels of success (a good friend of mine sells enough iPad apps that he only has to work when he feels like it), but the things they all have in common are 1) Connections: most of them have worked interactive advertising before, so they're on the short list whenever someone needs a quickie flash game / mobile app and 2) they all develop for iOS, which seems to be a lot easier to make money off of than the alternatives. In the case of one friend, he's had some success with the android version of his app, but he's constantly waiting for AdMob to pay him.
posted by Oktober at 11:35 AM on November 3, 2011

Best answer: Freelance work can be done at any time of day and in any internet-connected locale as long as you can stay awake for remote meetings with clients. Ditto a job search. Why don't you try to pick up a couple of freelance gigs and/or do some NYC job hunting while you're still in Berlin? Since geography and time differences are less important than they once were, particularly in tech industries, I think you would be better off working on a semi-reliable income stream now so you don't have as much to worry about when you do move. That's one less item to stress about when you move.

If you don't know where your money will come from, I would advise against impoverishing yourself with an international move to one of the most expensive cities in the world. Particularly since in America, no money = no decent healthcare. You may be healthy now, but what if you move back to America and tear your ACL during a game of pick-up football (either variety)?

Get the contracts / job now, then move.
posted by Tehhund at 11:56 AM on November 3, 2011

I'm a web guy, with no degree and limited skills. I'm surviving here. If you have connections and can live cheaply you will at least be able to make rent.
posted by modernserf at 12:06 PM on November 3, 2011

Best answer: There's definitely a tech scene in New York (I worked for a couple of tech startups based in NYC) but it tends to be most thriving in particular areas - mostly media and advertising, luxury/fashion ecommerce, and financial technology. There are exceptions of course, but that's the one-sentence summary.

The thing is, it's not really a "scene" in the sense of everybody knows everybody and hangs out at the same places/events. It's more fragmented, and there's less of the hacker culture in which to participate. So you'll have to hustle a bit more to get connected in. There's definitely work, but it will probably take longer than you'd like to find it.

New York is expensive, but not that expensive. So long as you understand that you will be constantly surrounded by very desirable temptations that you cannot afford (and this is true for basically everyone except hedge fund's a fact of life in New York), and can ignore this background noise, you can have a very nice quality of life making 50k a year as a single person. You can easily make more than this as a full-time developer of average competence.

So far as health insurance goes, check out I have secondhand reports that the coverage is good and worthwhile, though it will take some effort to become eligible. Also, be sure you understand your tax situation as regards freelance and contract work, and price accordingly. As a freelancer, you will have to pay both employer and employee social security and medicare contributions, as well as city, state and local taxes. As a rule of thumb, you'll keep half of your take-home on freelance work.

Long story short: your life will probably be great, if you can survive six months of little/no income to get there.
posted by psycheslamp at 12:25 PM on November 3, 2011

Response by poster: Oktober, I admit to a disability. I have a visceral dislike of Objective-C. I like Apple's products, but that language, oh boy. If its between waiting tables and learning to love Objective-C, well maybe thats what it will take. And yeah I've heard nothing but horror stories about adMob.

Tehhund, thats a lovely suggestion, but is it possible? I have no contacts in NYC. The way people find freelance work here in Berlin is via a giant mutual-back-scratching society of freelancers that circulates among the co-working spots and several cafes and hackerspaces and such. They all kick work over to each other, and they're a friendly bunch, but its impossible to get into this circle without being physically present. I assumed its the same in NYC, is that wrong? If so, without contacts is there any place that I could look for freelancing gigs? I assume craigslist and the like are all hopeless tragedies-of-the-commons.

psycheslamp, thanks, you're both reassuring and terrifying me. After living in Europe, those supposedly good policies on the unions website are a nightmare, 3x more expensive and with much shittier terms than your average Berlin policy. As for temptations, thankfully not a problem, I tend to live the same semi-spartan shared-housing existence no matter what my income is and that's all I seem to want. Sounds like that'll come in handy in NYC.

I did some research and I found that there are a number of hackspaces and coworking places in Brooklyn, 3rd ward really stood out, but I guess I can't really judge the vitality of a scene from across an ocean.
posted by tempythethird at 7:09 AM on November 4, 2011

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