Relocating to Pittsburgh/Ann Arbor, lifestyle, tech jobs?
November 11, 2016 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Hard to give a shit at the moment, but here we are! New grad boyfriend was just offered job + relocation package to either Pittsburgh or Ann Arbor, and we are trying to make an informed choice about the opportunity.

We live in Chicago. Boyfriend just graduated with a Masters degree and has been on the job hunt for a few months now. He was just offered a job in an area adjacent to his interests, complete with OK compensation (not great, 35k-40k, but bonuses/overtime) and benefits, and a relocation package. In light of the recent election, it also gives him an opportunity to work on a cause he cares about and feel out a professional career he might embark on. It's not a "professional" job, but it would be a solid opportunity for him at this point in his career, and he needs an income/benefits, of course. Since finding a job w/o hard skills is difficult at the moment, his salary being low-ish is OK, as long as he gets benefits and I can find a job that is good enough to balance things out.

I am also graduating soon, with a CS degree. I am interviewing at the "big box" companies, but I'm still in the midst of interviewing with no hard offers or guarantees. Barring a great offer on the West Coast (in which case we'd just be long distance for awhile and agree that that is fine), I'd be more than willing to move with him and look for a tech job in either Ann Arbor or Pittsburgh, if that is not a horrifyingly bad idea. I want a job I like, but I'm not obsessed with making a huge salary. A comfortable standard of living is OK, especially if I have some money left over to send back to my family. We've lived on a collective 75,000k in the past in Chicago, and much less during grad school. We'd like to do better than that standard of living at this point, but realize the job market is not excellent for humanities grads.

We are getting into our late 20s and thinking about having a family in the next 5 years or so. We realize that we know very little about Pittsburgh or Ann Arbor (except a bit about AA being a college town experience), and we tend to like living in large cities, but it's not tearing us apart to consider living somewhere cheaper and calmer. However, because the ACA is about to blow up and so forth, we are concerned about things like social infrastructure, state politics, etc. We really don't know anyone who lives in Michigan or Pennsylvania (though now we know, I guess, that they're swing states... ) so it's hard to get a good gauge on what it's actually like to live there, outside of city-data forums, which tend to not really represent us as dorky young people/millennials.

Any advice would be helpful, about the tech job market, the vibe of both cities, political things that might want to keep us from moving there if they will threaten our health/livelihood/ability to have a family in the coming years. (I realize the whole country is going to be a mess but you know, trying to understand if there are additional risks we might not face in IL/Chicago.)

Thanks, everyone.
posted by stoneandstar to Work & Money (17 answers total)
Hello!! I grew up in Pittsburgh, lived in DC & NYC, then moved back in 2010. I love this city. (I have no data whatsoever on Ann Arbor so I can't provide any comparisons).

There is a ton of tech happening here - a huge Google office, the CMU programs and spin-off businesses, 4Moms, Uber (with the self-driving cars), and a bunch others.

I have found it easy to have a good standard of living here - the Pittsburgh metro area is very large, so there is an abundance of housing. I know Pennsylvania went red (ugh don't even) but both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia voted democrat as far as I know.

There are a bunch of young people, especially due to the high number of colleges nearby (a bonkers number, like 15 or something like that). The transit system is getting better.

If you like outdoorsy things, we're very close to a lot of rural farm areas as well as state parks and hiking. Skiing is about 45 minutes away, and there's lots of lakes.

Can you be more specific about what you would like to see or do in the cities?
posted by amicamentis at 1:45 PM on November 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you have the time & money, it'd be dead simple to take Amtrak over from Chicago to Ann Arbor for a weekend and see what you think about the place. (Pittsburgh is a bit harder in this regard.)

Most of my mother's family lives in Ann Arbor. It's basically the Austin of Michigan. It's very politically progressive relative to the rest of the state (Washtenaw County went 70% for Clinton in the general, and 55% for Sanders in the primary). The downtown is full of trendy shops & restaurants that lean in the hipster direction. And yes, there are lots of university students (though about 1/3 of the student body is post-graduate, so it's not all rowdy undergraduates.) The state government is entirely Republican-led (governor, Senate, and House); but that same Republican government was one of the few to participate in the ACA Medicare expansion, so they're not as reactionary as in a place like, say, Kansas.

I do not have a good conception of how pricey it is to live there. My general impression is that the answer is "somewhat", particularly if you want to live close to the center of town.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:47 PM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also! Living in Pittsburgh really opens up travel opportunities to the East Coast - the Megabus, Greyhound, and Amtrak all leave from downtown. To get to DC, it's like 4 and a half hours driving. Baltimore is only 4 hours away. Philly, around 5 and a half. New York City, around 7 and half. It's really awesome to be able to do weekend trips out that way.
posted by amicamentis at 1:48 PM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh, and Google recently expanded their operations in Ann Arbor. I believe there's some other tech companies around as well, though I'm not 100% sure.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:50 PM on November 11, 2016

Last post! If you want to see a bunch of the city all at once, I run a photo blog called (self link alert!) Pittsburgh is Beautiful that highlights neat spots in the city besides the postcardy views from Mount Washington (which are beautiful indeed, but we are so much more!).
posted by amicamentis at 1:54 PM on November 11, 2016

I lived in Ann Arbor years ago and went back for brief visit recently. If you are a big city person, you might be really chafed by how small Ann Arbor is. On the other hand, you might really like spending time in Detroit, and if you like a reasonably dense walkable downtown area, Ann Arbor does have that, adjacent to the main campus of the University of Michigan, small though it is.

I haven't been to Pittsburgh, but yeah, probably much better opportunities in the tech sector there than in A2 -- I've known a couple of software engineers who lived there.
posted by clavicle at 1:56 PM on November 11, 2016

Sure! Most of the things we like about living in a city are 1) foooood, 2) culture (not just music/opera/theater, but street culture, people around), 3) being able to see films we want without going through some arcane process/long waiting period/traveling a million miles, 4) walkability/transit, more because I'm a shitty driver than any inherent opposition to cars. (I realize this will be hard compared to Chicago. I could suck it up.)

But we've lived in cities for a long time, and we go out less and less, so unless a smaller city is somehow very horrible we're OK with considering making our own fun for awhile. I'm liking the proximity of Pittsburgh to other East Coast cities, but want to give AA a chance as well. (It's closer to our families, which is one plus.)
posted by stoneandstar at 1:57 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pittsburgh resident of 5 years here. I was skeptical when I first considered Pittsburgh, thinking it dingy and soot covered. Then I got here and it is nothing of the sort! Its a vibrant city with lots of the amenities of large cities without the crushing crowds. Good museums, really good theatre, great...nay...spectacular food. I've been very pleased and rarely want for something to do. Pittsburgh is really affordable housing wise with a diversity of neighborhoods such that one or more should fit your liking. As far as red/blue, the city itself is pretty blue, but rapidly reddens in the suburbs, even the inner suburbs. Seemed to be far more Trump signs than Clinton signs south of the city.
posted by chocolate_butch at 2:15 PM on November 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Lived in AA for a long time and went to school at U of M grad. I loved Ann Arbor -- it does have that city vibe, but a small city, which works well for me. There are great restaurants, delis (Zingerman's, oh how I miss thee), bookstores, and yes, also good movie theatres that show interesting stuff. There are some good theatre companies as well. It's also relatively close to Detroit, as well as close to Toledo, OH, if you want more of a bigger city experience.

I don't know about rents there anymore since I haven't lived there in a while, but when I was last living there in 2008, I was paying $525 for an enormous basement apartment with garden level windows in a house. That is probably of no help to you now, just thought I'd throw it in -- my friends who still live in MI feel like the rental prices are not excessive.

Good luck!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 2:16 PM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I love AA, and I lived there for almost ten years, but you will very much be a small progressive bubble. I personallly would not move there now, and I'm relieved that my little cousin is going out of state for school. I've only visited Pittsburg, but it seems like a larger bubble and the surrounding geography is much prettier. I say choose Pittsburgh.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:17 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pittsburgh has a massive tech scene due to the presence of CMU. I work for Google, and as other people have mentioned we have a fairly sizeable engineering office out there. Feel free to memail me if you have any specific questions about Google Pittsburgh - I don't work out there myself but I know lots of people who do.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:23 PM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

(While Ann Arbor also has a Google office my understanding is that the Pittsburgh office is much larger, though that may be an entirely inaccurate perception due to the fact that my particular organization has a presence in Pittsburgh but not AA)
posted by Itaxpica at 2:26 PM on November 11, 2016

So Pittsburgher, but for about ten years my BFF lived in A2 & was a small business owner there (who has since returned here). I have room in my heart for both. The biggest difference you're going to find is physical scale, A2 is a college town that I'd end up comparing to just one of our neighborhoods (the greater Oakland area). I'd consider A2 to be the blue dot in the great red mitten, and you'll find that as well in our city proper, but the outlying suburbs still have some old school conservativism. Our liberalism has its roots in blue collar unionism that has in recent decades shifted to the academic liberalism that A2 has. The other big contrast is going to be cost of living: we could have bought three of our house (3 bedroom, Mt Washington) for what our friends paid in A2 (walking distance to campus).
posted by librarianamy at 3:25 PM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Two other unrelated things:
1) hills. We have them. I felt like the horizon went on forever in Michigan. Think of that for snow driving.
2) sports? If you care? I felt like A2 shut down on home football days, but I think Detroit is your go to for pro sports. Flip side of that is if you _don't_ care about sports, ugh, we do.
posted by librarianamy at 3:30 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sure! Most of the things we like about living in a city are 1) foooood, 2) culture (not just music/opera/theater, but street culture, people around), 3) being able to see films we want without going through some arcane process/long waiting period/traveling a million miles, 4) walkability/transit

I lived in Ann Arbor for several years. In all four of these areas, Ann Arbor overperforms for a city of its size, but doesn't come close to the feel of a real big city. It isn't in the orbit of a thriving city, either; Detroit's interesting, but if you want more bustle, you have to go to Chicago, which is annoyingly far. I suspect you'd like Pittsburgh better, but as Ann Arbor is what I know, I'll say a few things about Ann Arbor.

The university brings a lot of world-class cultural events -- it's not unheard of for orchestras, ballets, etc. to make U. S. tours that stop in Los Angeles, New York, and Ann Arbor. But when I got to "street culture", the vision that rose automatically to my mind was of endless beer pong tables on front lawns.

The Michigan Theater has you covered on quality movies. You got me to look it up right now, just to make sure they still had the lights on! It's a gorgeous venue, may it shine forever.

Ann Arbor is walkable if you live near downtown and the university (and don't mind the weather). What makes it walkable isn't good urbanism per se, it's just straight-up smallness: half the points of interest fit within a square mile or so. If you need to go to the outlying neighborhoods, there are buses, but (at least when I lived there) many routes would operate until, like, 7pm.

Lest I damn Ann Arbor with faint praise, let me say that there's lots I miss about the place. There's a lot of green space around town -- the Arb, the banks of the Huron River, parts of North Campus, big wooded parks in residential neighborhoods. I'm thoroughly a city person now, but I could almost make the trade that Ann Arbor offers: life is convenient enough there, and there's a decent amount to do, but you also get fireflies and fall leaves and the peaceable barrenness of winter. You could do worse.
posted by aws17576 at 7:14 PM on November 11, 2016

I recently moved to Ann Arbor for work (I'm a mathematician). My spouse (an electrical engineer) didn't do much job-hunting, because something strange and perfect landed in his lap, but our sense is that the market is quite good. The Ann Arbor Google office is smaller and more sales-oriented, but they're working on self-driving cars not too far away, and there are tons of startups supported by university talent.

We previously lived in a small city in Wisconsin (smaller than Madison). The cost of living here feels very high in comparison; that's partly because it's easy to walk downtown and spend money on books and delicious artisanal sandwiches, but also because there's a markup on any good or service in the city limits. My sense is that all of us highly educated liberal techie people are driving inflation. On the other hand, in comparison to the coasts housing is affordable, and if you're willing to get in a car and leave the city limits, things get cheaper fast. I don't think it would be at all hard to get by with one CS salary in the mix.

One upside of the money/ liberalism combination is that local government services are outstanding. You can check out an electric guitar amp, a knitting swift, or handmade art for your wall from our local library. I don't have direct experience with the schools, but I suspect they have similar perks.
posted by yarntheory at 8:07 PM on November 11, 2016

Ann Arbor and Detroit in general are starved for tech workers. I love Ann Arbor but traffic can be a little problematic.
posted by getawaysticks at 2:32 PM on November 12, 2016

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