I represent the fifth generation of my family to live in Maryland and have spent about 35 years of my life here in the state. For the past 15 of those years, I’ve lived in the DC suburbs of Silver Spring in Montgomery County, solidly in the greater Washington DC area (comprising not only DC put parts of both Maryland and Virginia), and just over 2 miles from DC Metro’s red line.
I’m asked periodically by UX-ers who want to move to the area what it’s like to live and work in the DC area. Here are some high-level answers to frequently asked questions.
What’s the UX job market like?
It’s good. There are plenty of UX jobs out there. It feels like many of those jobs are in Northern Virginia and DC proper. However, I do regularly see UX jobs available in the Maryland suburbs too, particularly Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. Further outside of the DC area, particularly for those that do live in Maryland, there is also some UX work to be found in Howard County and Baltimore City/County.
How does the UX job market in DC compare with other cities?
The top-tier UX metropolitan areas – where there is the densest collection of UX jobs and UX professionals – are perhaps Seattle, San Francisco and New York. The DC area is perhaps in the second tier – not nearly as hot a job market as those three areas, but still decent for job seekers.
What kinds of industries support hiring UX professionals?
Federal government work looms large in the DC area – while there are certainly UX jobs within Federal agencies, however, there is also a booming consulting world out here.
Many large consulting firms have a solid DC-area presence and do a lot of UX hiring – much of which is ultimately for Federal government work, but this is certainly not always the case. In addition to the large consulting firms, there are also many smaller agencies – again doing a lot of Federal work but not always.
There are also many non-profits, often in DC proper, and commercial work as well, which seems to tip a bit towards Northern Virginia. There is a startup scene (although not really doing regular UX hiring) and there is some financial presence that does UX hiring, though nothing like the variety of jobs available in New York.
While several Silicon Valley companies do have a DC office, the UX work invariably sits in one of the top-tier regions. That said, with Amazon HQ2 now in Northern Virginia, right on the border with DC, it will be interesting to see if any UX jobs move out to the area in the future.
Where is the best place to live if you want to do UX work in the DC area?
There is no one right answer.
Washington DC – There is something to be said for living in a city like DC. There are plenty of nice places to live in DC – and it can be fun to be near so many restaurants and culture – but you’re either going to have less space than living a bit further out or you’ll be paying a hefty amount for that larger space. DC is a city that sleeps. Whenever I’m walking around downtown in the evening, I’m impressed to so often find myself walking through many areas with quiet, peace and calm.
Montgomery County – I’ve enjoyed living in Montgomery County for the past 15 years. Housing is typically less costly than DC, although I still feel the impact of living near the Metro. If I were to go further out, I’d most certainly get more house and more land for my money. My neighborhood in Silver Spring is quiet and peaceful pretty much all the time. As a consultant, I’ve done work for clients all over. Getting into downtown DC takes me between 20 and 45 minutes on the metro typically. Getting to work in Northern Virginia takes 30 to 45 minutes but if I leave to return home between 3 PM and 6:30 PM the ride home will often become double that amount. This year I had work in Columbia, MD (in Howard County) which was consistently 30 minutes, and I even had some work up in Baltimore that pretty consistently took me about 45 minutes to get to.
Northern Virginia – There are certainly a number of very nice places to live in Northern Virginia albeit at pretty high prices, particularly when getting closer to DC. The highest density of UX jobs does seem to tip towards Northern Virginia so that’s certainly a good reason to live there too – particularly if in Arlington County, Fairfax County or Alexandria. Depending on where you’re starting, if work is in downtown DC, it can be a little clunky to get there and it’s just as hard to get home from Maryland during rush hour. Maryland jobs outside of those in the greater DC area would be largely out of scope.
What’s the UX Community like?
There is a strong UX communal presence with many Meetup opportunities each month. The highest number of events seem to occur in DC itself, but the event locations spider out to Northern Virginia, usually pretty close to DC and also less so to Montgomery County. Most years, there is a UX conference, originally called User Focus, and more recently renamed simply DCUX. Commercial events and conferences can often be found in the area too. This year, the UXPA International conference will be nearby in Baltimore.
Any other general questions about UX in DC that I’m missing? Let me know and I can add info!