I like to look at technical job markets in the US in terms of consumer / producer roles. Speaking strictly in the mile-high hypothetical sense, there are a few producer cities nationally and several large consumer cities.
Given these gross generalizations, California remains the premier location for companies that create technology – with Silicon Valley as the ‘capitol’ of the tech microeconomy. The historical significance of Xerox PARC, Stanford, Berkely, HP, Apple, and the Sand Hill road VC complex cannot be underestimated. If you are looking at companies producing consumer or enterprise software, SV is the core.
That said, some say the SF bay is a true microeconomy and is still experiencing some strange effects from the tech boom/bust cycle of the past few years – including an unprecidented runup in housing costs that has endured despite a calming here in SoCal. Also, the recent trend toward consolodation in the software industry is arguably turning SV into Oracle-ville.
LA / OC on the other hand tend to be more technology consumers, with fewer bona-fide software and hardware shops. Still, compared to many other cities, the LA / OC area has a robust and varied tech job market, and without the constant influx of world-class talent of the SF bay, this area may be a bit more amicable toward job seekers. LA is surprisingly affordable given the SoCal housing boom, but it’s not a lifestyle that everyone would like. OC is intensely expensive in coastal areas and offers a bit more of a suburban lifestyle.
Surprisingly, the town I live in, San Diego, has a strong technical job market. Note that the majority of jobs here are true engineering jobs – due to the proximity of UCSD and the strong military presence. So while a shrinkwrap apps developer may not find much in SD, the embedded, wireless, or ASIC / VHDL guys seem to do really well at places like Titan, Raytheon, SAIC, and other defense subcontractors. Be forewarned – expect a high cost of living on the OC / SF bay level – and a pay scale that is not on par with the cost of living. Security clearance is a huge asset here.
Seattle, Portland and the Pacific NW also have producer / consumer job markets, but I have a feeling that without Microsoft and Amazon there would not be much of a tech center here. Although I consider the Pacific NW to be among the most beautiful areas in the US, it’s also somewhat “rural” for a boy raised on Long Island, NY.
Colorado also has a history as a center for engineering. If I remember correctly, Colorado was a center for swiss machining for many years. Boulder / Denver / Fort Collins offer a lot for an engineer and have a low cost of living compared to California, but Boulder has experienced a huge runup in home pricing recently.
In the Northeastern US you have Boston standing out as a producer economy. The legacy of MIT and DEC still live on. Boston’s high cost of living and brutal winters will scare off some, but Boston is arguably the center for R&D on the east coast.
New York and DC tend to be true technology consumers – NY moreso than DC. If you are in the enterprise apps space (doesn’t sound like you are), it’s hard to imagine a better locale. DC has experienced trmendous growth as a technology producer in the past 5 years, in my opinion due to the war, increased use of technology for homeland security, and the proximity to the Navy’s infrastructure in coastal Virginia. Again, security clearance will give you an edge in DC, while in NYC, an MBA might be more effective.