Tech job; bay area vs Chicago?
June 11, 2015 3:38 PM   Subscribe

What feels different between applying for tech jobs in San Francisco/Bay Area versus applying for tech jobs in Chicago?

Have you been job hunting in both places? I have the opportunity to live in the bay area with a friend, rent free for months, to job hunt if I want. I'm currently based in Chicago. I'm wondering whether to take them up on it.

I spent my PhD writing scripts, and I've had three scattered years of industry software development experience (java, ruby, etc.). Recruiters keep sending me senior software developer job postings, but I'd classify myself as slightly above entry level, in terms of productivity and independence. I seem to interview on a whiteboard decently, once I've got the interview, but a spotty resume makes it hard to get that first HR call. It's been happening, though. (I've got a big gap on my resume, currently unemployed.)

I think I'd most prefer to be on a data science team tackling ill-defined problems. The most fun I've had was on an interview that was 70% case interviewing and 30% light coding, with a sprinkling of statistics and high-level machine learning concepts. However, while that interview seemed to go flow very smoothly, they gave me the "looking for someone with more experience" line. In any case, the more ambiguity, domain-knowledge, and problem-framing the better, and I'm comfortable giving presentations and interacting with clients. I'm extremely anti-travel (e.g. I wouldn't do consulting unless I was starving).

I did the NYC job hunt for my last full-time job; compared to that, it seems like Chicago has fewer job openings but the companies are less picky.

What does the tech scene feel like in the bay area, compared to Chicago? What would you do if you were me?
posted by zeek321 to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Depends on the company in Chicago. Bigger companies here definitely have lower hiring bars compared to SF, but smaller companies can be very picky about experience and culture fit. On the whole it is far less competitive in Chicago, unless you interview at a trading firm.
posted by deathpanels at 9:09 PM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know it wasn't asked and I don't want to turn this into a cost of living debate, but since you ask about the "feel":

You might consider the $$ issue if you haven't already. If you get a job in Silicon Valley, the greater pay and ample career opportunities (and weather) will be hugely offset by the housing cost. Quality of life, defined conventionally, will be shockingly poor there, especially if you must live between SF and San Jose for commute or other reasons.
posted by ccl6yl at 10:21 PM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

The job market for the type of position you describe is also miniscule in Chicago. A friend of mine recently left to move to the Bay Area specifically for a data science role. There are a lot of quality of life reasons to prefer Chicago (as mentioned above), but if you want to fast track your career and work at a top 10 tech company, it's probably not going to happen there.
posted by deathpanels at 4:28 AM on June 12, 2015

I'm not in this industry, so I'm sure others can give you better information, but my impression from friends who are developers is that there's a huge surplus of jobs here (Bay Area) and companies are struggling to find employees. In other words, a great place to find a tech job. Whether you want to deal with the insanity of the rental market is another question, but my guess is that it would be much easier to get work in SF. If you have a chance to stay for free while you look, I would take it. Worst case, you get experience spending time in the Bay Area and know whether you really want to stay (or come back); best case, you probably find a job and just have to scramble a bit to find a place to live.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:28 AM on June 12, 2015

(Thanks so much. Still hardcore watching this thread.)
posted by zeek321 at 8:34 AM on June 12, 2015

Just to add some balance to what three_red_balloons said, there is definitely a huge dearth of technical talent in the Chicago area – and probably every large metro area, to be honest. If you have experience and know-how and can pass a technical interview, you're probably going to do well anywhere.

Before making a decision about where to interview, I would consider where you want to be in five-ten years. Sure, you could always move again if you don't like where you end up, but moving is expensive and stressful. Is it more important that you make big strides in your career? Do you want to start a family? Answer these questions honestly and use those answers to inform your decision making process. There's a much smaller pool of job opportunities in the Chicago area, so that's a limitation. It will probably be harder to move up to a senior/leadership position in Chicago, since there are fewer companies to begin with, and people with those positions tend to stay put. On the other hand, if owning a home is a priority for you, being located in the Bay Area is going to make that much more difficult, if not impossible. A few of my colleagues in Chicago relocated here from California specifically because they wanted to own a home, either for investment or lifestyle reasons. So it's a trade-off.
posted by deathpanels at 8:57 AM on June 12, 2015

From my experience, PhD to some recruiters implies team leadership skills. I'm not sure that it would be as much of a stretch as it might seem.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:06 AM on June 15, 2015

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