Could Portland be the best city in the country for developers right now?

Okay, so I’m biased. I’m a native Portlander and I love living here. I’m Portland’s staunchest defender and was so way before Portland was considered cool. I cried when the Blazers lost to the Pistons in the 1989-90 NBA Finals (I was 7 at the time). I went to Reed College. I’m a Cascadian nationalist. I’m only semi-fond of Seattle, and I like the Bay Area a lot but it could never be home. Portland is my home.

Nonetheless, Portland is clearly not the only city in the country that offers a lot to developers. Austin, New York, and of course San Francisco (along with many others) have vigorous, thriving startup, enterprise, and developer cultures, each with a unique set of wonderful qualities (and drawbacks). New York is, well, New York. Austin has beautiful weather and the best live music scene in the world. The Bay offers unprecedented resources for anyone in the tech world. But still: you should give Portland more-than-serious consideration.

So lest you think that my case for Portland as the best city in America for developers should be taken with more than a miniscule grain of salt — I’m going to back up my claim with cold, hard evidence. So, without further ado, here’s a list of reasons why you’re missing out big time if you’re a developer who is living outside the City of Roses.

Not your usual startup scene

Lots of developers are drawn to startups. I’m certainly one of them. I love the culture, I love being able to wear sandals and jorts to work, and I love being part of something untested and not-yet-established. If you’re like me, then you will love it here.

I love the Portland startup scene because it’s small enough to be homey and tightly knit, but not so small that it ever feels claustrophobic. It’s also remarkably amicable. As it stands, there’s little direct competition between companies, and there’s a general feeling here in town that the rising tide is truly lifting all boats. Everyone seems to genuinely delight in the success of everyone else, and that means that cooperation and the unencumbered exchange of ideas is the norm.

Even more important for developers, perhaps, is the diversity of things being done by startups. Just take a look at this short list: Cloudability, Jive Software, Geoloqi, Simple, Urban Airship, PuppetLabs, ELC Technologies, CrowdCompass, JanRain, AppFog (note: this is clearly not meant to be an exhaustive list). These companies are all doing vastly different things and involved in vastly different forms of development. A few examples: JanRain has built a blazingly-fast back end written in Haskell and Scala; PuppetLabs has turned Ruby into a powerful set of virtualization tools used by organizations like NASA; Geoloqi has constructed a one-of-a-kind geography-based API for use by third-party app developers; Urban Airship has built a Python/Java hybrid infrastructure that is capable of sending millions of push notifications a second; and we here at AppFog are working to leverage Cloud Foundry into the world’s first poly-infrastructure, polyglot PaaS.

For developers, this means that there is no dominant “flavor” of startup in Portland. Instead, there are lots of very ambitious projects involving a wide variety of languages and programming paradigms. And most importantly: there are jobs here. Competition for developers amongst startups here in Portland is already somewhere on the scale between “strong” and “urgent.” With some of these companies now employing over 100 people and many others set to expand, the gap between supply and demand is only going to grow. I highly recommend keeping tabs on the Silicon Florist jobs page and other info sources. Bottom line: if you’re qualified and either out of work or looking for something new, Portland needs to be on your radar right now.

Portland: great for startup developers, maybe even better for enterprise developers

Don’t be fooled by crude stereotypes of Portland or by glowing write-ups about its startup potential. This is also a great city for larger enterprises, and there are tons of heavy hitters around here. Intel employs 16,000 people in nearby Hillsboro. Nike is headquartered in Beaverton and employs hundreds of developers. There are old-guard tech companies like Tektronix headquartered in Beaverton and elsewhere in the Willamette Valley, as well as regional headquarters for tech giants like IBM, HP, Genentech, Xerox, and Yahoo.

These companies produce a steady stream of new demand for developers, especially for those with .NET, Java, C, and C++ backgrounds. Portland’s reputation is for being a stronghold for developers in Ruby, JavaScript, Python, and other “high-level” scripting languages, and this might indeed be the case downtown. But on the other side of the West Hills, the programming landscape is much different. Portland is not just an emerging startup hub: if you’re a developer but have little interest in startups, Portland and the surrounding area is a much more broad-based tech powerhouse. Even if you don’t like Portland or you don’t have much of an interest in OSS or are put off by Portland programmer culture, you might be as in demand here as you are anywhere else.

But the even better news is that the future is now looking brighter than ever for developers in Portland. San Francisco-based Salesforce recently announced that they’ll be opening a major outpost in the Portland area. According to this article, this will amount to “the biggest infusion of tech jobs in a generation.” The company plans to hire 500 new employees here in the coming year, a significant proportion of which will be developers. There could be hundreds more developer jobs with Salesforce in the coming years.

The importance of a company like Salesforce opening up shop in such a decisive fashion in Portland cannot be underestimated. These kinds of big investment decisions can have positive spillover effects that impact the entire economic ecosystem. After Salesforce signs on and establishes itself, Facebook, Google, Apple, and other massive companies might be inspired by Salesforce’s example. That could mean that Portland’s gravitational pull in the development world will come to rival that of much larger cities. In a word: keep an eye out on developments here.

Meetups for everyone

Lots of cities have wonderful meetup cultures for programmers. Portland’s is far from the “biggest” in absolute terms, but it punches in way above its weight for a city its size. The meetup and user group culture here is amazingly abundant and energetic. In fact, the problem that I continuously face is that it’s often so abundant as to be exasperating. Looking at the Calagator schedule periodically fills me with what Blaise Pascal called “the anxiety of the infinite.”

The upside of all of this is that you’re never alone as a developer, no matter who you are. The Bay Area, Austin, and other places might have more total groups and a higher overall membership, but Portland is really tough to beat on a per-capita basis.

Let’s start with the “big” languages. For PHP folks, there’s PDXPHP, and for JavaScript, Node, and CoffeeScript devotees, there’s the PDX JavaScript Admirers. Both have their monthly meetup here at AppFog HQ, and both are incredibly active and fruitful. The conversations usually can’t be contained within the confines of a 2-hour discussion, and so there is almost always a follow-up at Bailey’s Taproom later in the evening (more on Bailey’s in a minute). Rounding out the current “big” languages, there’s the Java Users Group for Java folks, PDX Python for the Pythonista in all of us, and the Portland Ruby Brigade has monthly meetups for beginners and non-beginners alike (if you’re a beginner, you should really check out Ruby Newbie Brewby).

But if you’re a fan of languages that are less prominent in the current technological landscape, then you are quite well served in Portland. You like Scala? There’s PDXScala for that. You like Clojure? Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to the Clojerks. For Cocoa programming, there’s the Cocoaheads. AndroidPDX will cater to all of your Android-love-related needs. Can’t get enough SQL in your daily routine? Let Oregon SQL lend a hand. Still got an old Commodore lying around? Head over to Beaverton and hang out with the Commodore Users Group. For you sticklers for concurrency, PDXErlang is right up your alley. Then there’s the Portland Functional Programming Study Group, the Drupal Users Group, Joomla! PDX, PADNUG for .NET folks, PDX DevOps, PDXPUG for Postgres users, etc.

If you’re a polyglot and just want to hang out with other people and talk and hack and drink, there’s plenty of room for that, too. The Lucky Labrador Brew Pub makes a mean stout and hosts a weekly hackathon. Different regions of the city have their own hyper-local hack nights, such as North Portland and NoPo Coders Night. There’s a monthly hack night just for Python folks.

A city of Portland’s modest size simply has no business having this much going on. Even better: there are a variety of programming groups targeted to women. Women Who Hack has a monthly meetup. Code ‘N Splode does, too. AppFog hosted just the second RailsGirls event in the United States a few weeks back, and that event has spawned a monthly meetup of its own. When brogrammers ask us Portlanders if we “wanna bro down and crush some code,” our response is a not-very-polite NO.

This is just for starters. I’m not kidding. Go check Calagator for yourself. If you haven’t spent time here and seen it for yourself, you’re missing out on something truly remarkable.

Event-driven awesomeness: OSCON, Open Source Brigade, Portland Digital Experience, XOXO

It’s fairly obvious to bring up OSCON (Open Source Convention), brought to you by the good folks at O’Reilly Publishing, but it still deserves mentioning. This past OSCON was my first, and I had an absolute blast. I met tons of new, unbelievably smart people, reconnected with old friends, had some great conversations in booths, conference rooms, lobbies, and bars, and walked away feeling invigorated and excited for next summer.

Also great about OSCON: in addition to the main event, there’s a wide variety of satellite events sponsored by both Portland and non-Portland companies. PuppetLabs hosts a swanky, well-attended, hangover-inducing party every single year. OpenStack had a party this year, as did Citrix and many others. We here at AppFog threw a party DJed by AppFog’s inimitable Andrei Matei (who declined my suggestion that he call himself “DJ Significant Whitespace”), and overall OSCON felt a lot more like Woodstock than it did like a programming convention. If you’re in any way involved with OSS, OSCON is simply a must-do. It makes me proud as a Portlander to have it here.

Portland’s own Open Source Bridge is a much smaller event, but it packs quite a punch of its own in the OSS space. This year saw on everything from Clojure web development to Linux containers to systems theory and far beyond. Any open source hacker would have been right at home and would have learned a ton. OSB has been described by some as a “mini OSCON,” but I think that that hardly does it justice. It’s small in size only and huge on ideas.

A new addition to the tech landscape in Portland came just a few weeks ago in the form of Portland Digital Experience. This event, which coincided with the broader MusicFest NW event and drew some to draw comparisons with Austin’s SXSW, featured a broad range of parties, meetups, and speakers from companies as varied as Portland-based Walmart Labs, Nike, Shazam, Spotify, and MediaLogic. I wasn’t able to attend myself, but I heard rave reviews from trusted sources, and I’m excited to see what the event turns into in the coming years.

But in spite of these wonderful happenings, the event that has gotten the most plaudits from friends, journalists, and others is XOXO. XOXO isn’t as much a programming-centric event as much as a general celebration of the whole spectrum of human creativity, but everyone tells me that the programming-related presentations this year were incredible, including talks from Makerbot founder Bre Pettis, Jamie Wilkinson from VHX, and Josh Reich from Simple.

If you’re at all into these kinds of events, then you simply can’t miss summer in Portland. I can’t believe it’s already over. The good news is that this gives you almost a whole year to get yourself over here.

Bailey’s Taproom: the tech bar to end all Portland tech bars

So, Bailey’s is a wonderful bar on its own terms. It’s nicely situated downtown (close to lots of prominent startups and larger companies), the beer selection is fantastic and constantly changing, the decor is understated, and there’s just something incredibly right about it.

But what makes it even better is that it acts as the de facto hub of the Portland tech scene. Whenever I go there, it feels like a scene from Cheers. I always know anywhere from two to ten people in there at any time. As you walk through the bar, you see people reading books about CoffeeScript or how to hack the Arduino. You’ll see people with laptops hacking .NET and Haskell. The first lines of code for Urban Airship were typed in the big corner table where I often sit with big groups. Whenever meetups are going well and people decide that they want the conversation to continue, it’s the place that people gravitate toward almost by instinct.

Bailey’s is an essential element of being a techie in PDX and it’s hard to imagine life here without it. Even better, they’re currently working on developing an open API that will enable third-party developers to make iPhone, Android, and other apps to provide information about what beers are available, how much they will cost, how much is left in the various kegs, and likely other information later on. This will be in addition to the monitor they already have in place displaying who has recently checked in on FourSquare or via other means and the other monitor that uses the Tri-Met API to provide information about when buses, MAX lines, and the Streetcar will be arriving nearby.

You have to love having a bar around that’s by hackers, for hackers. Score one more for PDX.

Other miscellaneous reasons

I’ll choose this as an arbitrary stopping point because I could go on forever. I simply can’t imagine a better city for programmers of all sorts, from script kiddies to functional programming enthusiasts to people into gadgets and building the internet of things to would-be entrepreneurs.

If you’re not convinced by all of the above reasons, then get over here. Shoot me an e-mail and I’ll take you out to Bailey’s and we’ll talk. You will not regret it.

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  • Fellene Gaylord

    Yes, all that and CHIFOO, too! Don’t forget the longest running tech meetup in the Rose City, the Computer Human Interaction Forum of Oregon and are all about crafting the kick-ass user experience. We’ve got Amber Case speaking at our October 2 meeting, so come discover us.

    • Luc Perkins

      I actually did not know about CHIFOO. Shame on me! Looks awesome. I might just have to make an appearance :)

  • Jeff Martens

    Don’t forget Portland Startup Weekend! We are the poster child for Startup Weekend around the globe!

    • Luc Perkins

      Ooooooh, good call. If I ever write another PDX-based post, I will absolutely mention Startup Weekend. Fantastic event.

  • Rick Turoczy

    Love this post. LOVE. IT. And I’ll be pointing everyone to it as much as I can. Thank you so much for capturing all of this. You did a far better job than I could done.

    One other aspect of the startup scene I wanted to highlight: Portland’s accelerator programs. Portland boasts one of the most successful Startup Weekends in the world; we’ve recently launched a chapter of FounderDating; and we’ve got Portland Seed Fund, Upstart Labs, and PIE (full disclosure: I cofounded PIE) working to fund, accelerate, and augment promising startups. So if you’re looking to startup something and keep your burn rate low, Portland is a great place to be.

    • Luc Perkins

      Good call on all of the above! Wonderful set of organizations that have proven themselves again and again by making good choices with their money (not just referring to AppFog on that, of course!). I can’t wait to see what it’s like in five years. Hell, even ONE year.

  • Oscar Bieber Godson

    “The great thing about Portland is that it’s rainy 9 months out of the year. I’m more productive here than I am anywhere else.” As a native, I couldn’t agree more.”

    I lived there for almost 20 years. I strongly disagree. I’m far more productive here where it’s sunny. Being stuck inside working all the time makes you less productive. Not only does bad weather increase depression ( — yep, always number 1 for unhappiest/most depressed cities), but not getting out has the same effect as never taking a vacation. You get burnt out.

    Here, in SF, I can go outside when I start to feel unproductive and clear my mind.

    • Oscar Bieber Godson

      Also, I don’t think Jive is considered a startup, is it?

      • Luc Perkins

        Fair enough about Jive. I remember when they were a startup and didn’t realize that they had grown to their current size. Duly noted!

        • Ed

          Just wanted to add that being a startup isn’t really about your size. It’s a company in search of a business model that can grow. I don’t think ELC would consider themselves a startup either: Founded in ’91, I imagine that they have found a repeatable business model.

  • Dad

    Also PAGDIG – Portland Area Game Developers Interest Group.

    • Luc Perkins

      Good call! Man, just an embarrassment of riches in this town…

  • Mark Chmarny

    Dude, you’ve killed on that post. Massive! All the stuff I ever thought made Portland special, and about 100 more. Now, if the Barista line gets 300% longer next week, I am blaming you ;)

    • Luc Perkins

      Well, fortunately there are a variety of locations, so that will help to shore up some of the demand :)

      Glad you dug it. Now get out there and start hitting the meetup scene if you haven’t already!

  • Jeremy Anderson

    Great article Luc! Thanks for taking the time to put it together! I will use this anytime I talking with candidates who don’t live in our fare city. #RCTID

    • Luc Perkins

      Use away! Always happy to provide materials for evangelizing :)

  • rainyadnad

    Also: Don’t forget about the incredibly high property/income taxes, it’s awesome!

    • Troy Howard

      … but no sales tax! And imagine how much fuel tax you save when you ride your bike instead of drive. Oh, and lower healthcare costs because you know, you’re staying fit and healthy riding your bike and eating quality food, and the air is clean. I think you end up with a better deal here when you consider all the costs you’re not paying due to the PDX lifestyle.

  • Eric Sterling

    Awesome article! Next time you come to Bailey’s be sure to check out the new Digital Tap Displays! @jerryseivert did all electronics and software. (It’s based on a couple of Raspberry Pi’s running node.js for those interested)

    • Luc Perkins

      Oh man, that is hott. Jerry is the man. Bailey’s is the place. Awesome.

      • Jerry Sievert

        We are here waiting for you, Luc, regular table.

  • Chris Hough

    My wife and I recently moved to Portland, this is actually our 8th week, and we love it here. I have lived in Boulder, Chicago, and Manhattan and when we were researching this scene it was a close call between PDX and the Valley. I agree it is far easier to work with your head down when it’s raining outside and the energy here is outstanding. Just like the valley being a geek here is accepted and the events a very welcoming to new comers. I look forward to meeting other pdx geeks, and loved this post.

    • Luc Perkins

      The good news: it is unbelievably easy to meet geeks! The meetups are incredibly non-intimidating and supportive, and as you can see, there are dozens every week. And you’re always welcome to drop by AppFog HQ. Drop me a line at if you ever want to grab drinks.

  • Aimee Fahey

    Awesome post! I’m a native Portlander too (the few, the proud, the natives, woo hoo!) and love recruiting for my startup clients (Cloudability, Monsoon, GigaPan) who are creating unique environments where engineers and other awesome tech folk can really spread their wings and not just contribute to cool companies, but grow their own skills and be part of a really cool community.

    We also hosted the Anita Borg Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference last year – talk about amazing women changing the face of technology!

    • Luc Perkins

      Nice! I hadn’t heard of that conference, but it sounds great. And mad ups on being a native Portlander. We are a rare breed nowadays! #RCTID

  • Eric Holscher

    I proposed something along these lines in my blog post after XOXO. — Glad to see such a well linked/researched post on the subject!

    • Luc Perkins

      Love that title and love that post! XOXO has to happen again. If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.

  • Environmental Blog

    Liked the Article. Personally, I am not a programmer but have always wished I could get into it some day because I am drawn to that some how. I’m more of an editor of code but not one who can start something from scratch. Anywho, LOVE living in Portland and Thanks for the resource list – I will definitely use it for future researching =)

    • Luc Perkins

      Trust me: there are tons of resources for people just getting started, and the community is very welcoming. You simply don’t get the sneering, neckbeardy programmer attitude around here. Well, maybe a little bit :)

    • Luc Perkins

      Trust me: there are tons of resources for people just getting started, and the community is very welcoming. You simply don’t get the sneering, neckbeardy programmer attitude around here. Well, maybe a little bit :)

  • Carlos Avila

    We just came back from a seven day exploratory trip of Portland. I must say that we were very impressed with how good public transportation is, and how friendly people are on the streets. I didn’t expect to have such a good, pleasant and relaxing time just walking around Portland’s neighborhoods. Coming from a big city, with little to no public system and a chaotic environment in general, you guys have it good.

    What neighborhoods would you consider good for people walking the line between technology and art?

    • Luc Perkins

      Good question, Carlos! I hope others chime in here, but I would definitely recommend the Pearl district first and foremost. It’s close to downtown, close to a lot of the main tech spaces in town, and also has lots and lots of art galleries. Feel free and e-mail me at if you want to talk more!

      • Carlos Avila

        We had a good look at Pearl. We had lunch at Paragon (so good) and zigzagged our way to Tanner Springs Park. Thank you for answering my question I might take you on your offer as we make decisions :)

    • Malachi Smith

      SE Portland for sure. I’m not a huge fan of the Pearl (lacking in soul and honesty). Try the area out in the SE 30s between Belmont and Clinton.

      • Carlos Avila

        I’m glad you mentioned that section between Belmont and Clinton since it’s where we spent most of our time while in SE Portland. It felt like a good place for families or people looking for a quiet place. I can see why someone would go for the the more active and trendy stuff in Pearl though.


  • Nancy King

    Lovely summary of everything I tell all my startup friends elsewhere. Do not put Portland in the corner.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Luc! I’m a Capitol Hill-raised Seattle girl but had an amazing time at PDX and wrote about it here:
    Don’t hate me for being 206…I love the 503. xo

    • Luc Perkins

      Great write-up! Hope to catch you next year at PDX :)

      I’m also technically 360, so no worries there.

      • Anonymous

        That’s a relief. Glad we can be friends!

  • Salyris Studios

    Yes, we are the Silicon Forest here in Portland, Oregon. The running joke here is that you can throw a rock and hit a IT Developer. :)

    • Tomm

      “an IT Developer”.

  • Kasey

    I’m just gonna have to disagree with one of the points.

    I’m a marketing executive, back after spending 4 years in Malaysia developing and running various businesses and working in the field of kinesiology. Since I’ve arrived in Portland, I’ve applied for well over 120 jobs, I’ve been to Central City Concern, Oregon Worksource, Goodwill Job Connections 4 or 5 times, and TPI over a hundred times. I’ve sat and talked with a half dozen employment specialist, started Linkedin and Facebook accounts, attended YPOP functions, and to this day I still have not found a job.

    So when you say something like “And most importantly: there are jobs here.” – I’m sorry, but you are clearly *not* talking about Oregon.

    Now if you meant jobs “only for programmers, and for programmers only” – then ok, maybe there’s a point. I’m not a programmer so I wouldn’t know.

    • Luc Perkins

      I certainly agree that the employment picture here is fairly bleak outside of tech. But note that this article is SOLELY devoted to the world of software development and doesn’t make any claims about the broader employment picture.

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  • Jordan Houle

    Luc, Please help me out. I am from Portland and moved to Los Angeles. I am just looking to be in contact with more developers. I need someone to be a part of a simple but fun and brilliant project. I know you’ve probably been asked this many times but hopefully this time it will spark an interest in you to help. Thank you in advance. Jordan Houle –

  • Victor

    I’m originally from NYC and lived in Seattle two years, visited Portland once, and loved it. My background is in Math and not CS, I have my first engineering job in NYC, I would have stayed in the PNW if I had gotten a reasonable offer there after attending a web development bootcamp.

    My experience is that the market in the PNW was good, but not open to people with non-CS backgrounds. I’m getting great experience in NYC; would my chances be good in Portland in two years time?

  • Alireza Mohammadrezabeig

    I really wish to meet with some passionate and professional programmers. I am the founder of .If we don’t find programmers here in Portland , we gotta move to the valley in order to be able to expand our team.

  • Alireza Mohammadrezabeig

    I really wish to meet with new programmers here at portland. I founded and if we don’t find the programmers that we want I have no other choice but to move to the valley.

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