The real situation is actually not that simple, I believe there are three scenarios where it makes sense, but in many cases living in the Bay yields disappointing results. The cost of living, housing situation, homeless catastrophe make places like San Francisco a lot less appealing to a lot of people. So in what situations does it make sense to move to SF?
Startup founder raising millionsThere are many places to be a startup founder, but if you are looking to raise capital the largest pool of VC money is in the Bay Area. There is an established network, events and conferences which give founders an opportunity to pitch more people than in any other place in the world.
If you are working on a startup and funding it through your time or personal savings you might be better off spending the first several years in another market. There are places where you can have access to good engineers to help you with your initial R&D, or you yourself might be able to let your savings last longer. When the time comes to get a large funding round you might consider being the the Bay Area, but maybe just in the form of having the executive headquarters.
Principal or leadership position at a wealthy companyYou are recruited by a unicorn or one of the FANGs (Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Google) for a principal or leadership position where you are going to be guaranteed to make several hundred thousand dollars through cash and stock grants.
It is possible to get the same deal without moving here, so you can avoid taxes and housing costs. Still it might make sense to be working in the headquarters where all the key decisions are being made, it gives you an opportunity to make a connection to the people making strategic company plans and work on the critical projects.
There are few other markets where companies have the VC money or revenue to match these kinds of offers. Given the right offer, even with a large chunk of that money going to rent and taxes, you will still come out ahead.
Young engineer without dependents or savings plans.When you don’t mind sharing an apartment, when you don’t care about saving money for your retirement, San Francisco is a great place with a lot of energy, nice weather, vibrant culture and great nature.
San Francisco is one of the few places in the world where you can make $100,000 and still having nothing left over. California Tax rate is one of the highest ones in the nation. Housing prices are $2,000 per bedroom in a shared space. It’s hard to find a decent lunch downtown for less than $10. If you go out to a bar after work be ready to pay $12-15 per drink.
There is a one in a thousand chance that you will be able to “win a lottery” and get something out of the stock options you get, but just be aware that it will most likely take at least a decade and there will be a lot of people who get in line ahead of you (think late stage investors with preferred stock).
It’s a great and fun experience and you will be around interesting and passionate people, but the second you want to buy a house, or start a family you might need to move somewhere else.
ConclusionFor engineers who are considering moving the San Francisco - don’t let me talk you out of it, but you should think through what your priorities are. Big companies know this and have been looking for second places for their headquarters. A lot of companies are accepting opening satellite offices or offering people to work remotely.
I still believe that the top talent is being lured to San Francisco, but unless you are getting paid like that you might not get what you are looking for.