Can Developers Live Comfortably in DC?

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We compared salary data from a variety of software engineering and development roles in the DC metro area to the cost of living here. The results show that tech salaries mostly line up well with the cost of living, but you’ll want to take a close look at specific neighborhoods and positions if you plan to move here for a software job. 

The DC area attracts software engineers for many reasons outside of work. They have access to trails along the Potomac River. They can go hiking and camping in the Appalachian Mountains. They can attend musicals at the Kennedy Center and enjoy DC’s nightlife. They have many museums and monuments that they can visit for free not to mention the seasonal events like the Cherry Blossom Parade, 4th of July fireworks, and Christmas festivities. There is always something to do, but there is one question that makes people stop and think before moving to the DC area.

Can I live comfortably in DC?

DC is an expensive city. If you’re moving here or applying to work at a DC tech company or startup, this question is probably on your mind. Can a software engineer enjoy their job and be able to do other activities without having to wonder if rent will get paid?

 Let’s look at the data.

According to Yahoo! Finance, you will need to make approximately $143,200/year if you are paying a mortgage and $122,900/year if you are renting. This takes into account healthcare, groceries, and utilities.

These numbers may seem high at first, but our data shows that software engineer salaries have kept up with the cost of living here – especially if you find the right position and DC area neighborhood. Before we show you the salary numbers (unless you want to cheat and look first), we want to show you how much it costs to live in Northern Virginia and Maryland.

Let’s start with Virginia. If you decide to live in Arlington, Alexandria, or Fairfax County, you will see the cost of living is very similar to DC. Fairfax County is one of the most expensive counties in the United States, but don’t let that deter you from looking in Northern Virginia. If you go just a bit farther, the cost of living is lower. Here are three Northern Virginia counties and the median household annual income needed to live comfortably.

  • Prince William County $107,000/year
  • Fauquier County $95,000/year
  • Loudoun County $112,000/year

Now, let’s look at Maryland. The numbers still look better than DC.

  • Montgomery County $108,000/year
  • Columbia County $103,700/year

Of course, if you’re considering living outside the city, you may be concerned about the commute. DC is known for its heavy traffic. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we’re big advocates for remote work options. However, the DC metro area has robust transportation that includes the metro bus, metro train, Virginia Railway Express (VRE), and the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train. If you need to commute, many companies include a transit allowance in your compensation and offer partially remote work options, so that you can balance commuting with working from home.

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Now, let’s look at the average salary for software engineers in the DC area.

According to Glassdoor, software engineers make an average of $89,149 per year. However, that’s the national average. The low end of the salary is $63,000 while the high end is typically around $117,000. That doesn’t seem too bad, but according to our own data from 2016-2019, that seems a little low. Software engineers in the DC area earn more. 

Our data breaks down by role so that you can have a more accurate picture of average salaries for software engineers in the DC, MD, VA area. Here are a few roles to give you an example:

  • Support Engineer $78,333
  • QA/Quality Engineer $86,500
  • Systems Engineer $95,000
  • Web Developer $105,000
  • Cloud Engineer/AWS $107,500
  • Software Engineer $113,642
  • Database Engineer $115,000
  • DevOps Engineer $126,974
  • Software Engineer $128,750
  • Principal Software Engineer $141,852

As you can see, our data shows us that software engineers in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area typically make roughly $23k more than the national average. This is good news for software engineers here, especially if you live in a two-income household. Living in DC itself is achievable, but if you decide to live outside of the DC Beltway in Northern Virginia or Maryland, your salary will go much farther, therefore, allowing you to live comfortably and build up your financial security.






Author: Lee Brinkley

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