9 top UK cities for tech workers

These are some of the best cities in the UK for tech workers, based on the number of jobs available, featured companies and startups, and salary data from Totaljobs.

Many factors make a city an attractive place in which to work and live: good colleges and universities, reliable public transport systems, quality accommodations and cultural amenities — not to mention large companies that pay large salaries.

The UK has long been home to a thriving tech sector, with tech's gross value add to the UK economy growing an average of 7% per year since 2016. The tech startup and scale-up ecosystem is currently valued at $585 billion — 120% more than in 2017, and more than double the next in line, Germany.

Businesses are bullish on tech. A study from the Learning and Work institute in March found that 60% of those surveyed  expect their reliance on advanced digital skills will increase over the next five years, according to The Guardian, although less than half of UK employers thought new entrants to the workforce had the advanced digital skillsets needed.

For those already in the industry, or thinking of starting a tech career, we’ve compiled a list of the top cities in the UK for tech workers, based on the number of tech jobs available, featured companies and startups, and salary data from Totaljobs.

Cambridge

With billions of pounds worth of government funding dedicated to the so-called Golden Triangle, which includes Cambridge, Oxford and London, Cambridge has successfully built a reputation as being the home of a burgeoning life science tech scene.

Cambridge has long been popular amongst startups, and the number of tech companies moving into the area is still on the rise. Many of these are headed by ex-students, though many more set up in Cambridge having traveled from across the world, hoping to take advantage of the city’s world-famous university and its network of angel investors.

According to Tech Nation’s 2021 report, Cambridge-based companies received $5.3 billion worth of investment in 2020, placing it eighth in the world and second only to London for UK investment.

Despite its reputation as a startup hub, a number of established companies have also set up camp. Apple has an AI outpost, while Microsoft set up a major research lab. And Amazon used the city to test out Prime Air.

Tech sub sectors: Artificial intelligence, deep learning, life science and gaming

Companies: Raspberry Pi, Darktrace, FiveAI, Arm and Frontier Developments

Average tech/digital salary: £57,500

Reading and The Thames Valley

A university town in the south of England, Reading is home to more than just the eponymous festival. Tech Nation’s 2018 report found that Reading’s tech company density is approximately seven times higher than the national average, while a survey of tech companies conducted by The Data City in 2019 found Reading was the third best tech hub for businesses in the UK after London and Manchester.

A number of high-profile companies have opened major offices in recent years Reading, which has access to central London, Heathrow Airport — and a wealth of students all vying for jobs. Reading isn’t in the same league as Cambridge when it comes to the start-up scene; it tends to be favoured by long-standing, established companies. But it can offer workers lower living costs than London.

Tech sub sectors: Research & development, software

Companies: Microsoft, Oracle, Huawei, Cisco Systems and Symantec

Average tech/digital salary: £42,500

London

According to Tech Nation’s 2020 Jobs and Skills report, in 2019 19% of all advertised jobs in London (around 658,275 listings) were for digital or technology roles.

London is not just the most popular city in Britain for tech talent, but for the whole of Europe, boasting more than 40,000 tech companies in the inner city alone — and more software developers than either San Francisco or New York. In 2018, London was the most popular city in Europe for technology workers migrating from overseas, according to London & Partners.

The city also has excellent support for tech entrepreneurs based on volume of incubators, co-working spaces and meetups, and access to angel investor networks.

Across the UK, private tech companies raised £380m through first-time funding rounds in 2020, £196m of which went into London. Of the 276 tech startups that raised equity finance for the first-time last year, 141 were London-based companies. And 41 of these companies raised over £1m. The Capital’s technology hub (East London Tech City) has even been dubbed Silicon Roundabout.

Tech sub sectors: Fintech, eCommerce

Companies: Transferwise, Shazam, Amazon, Google

Average tech/digital salary: £62,500

Manchester

Manchester has overcome a serious post-industrial downturns to emerge as a tech hub. The city has a number of innovative  accelerators, including AccelerateME, a student run accelerator programme from Manchester Entrepreneurs, the student society of The University of Manchester.

Over the past decade, initiatives such as Tech North, Manchester Digital, Manchester Tech Trust, and the Manchester Growth Company have helped to improve the resources and opportunities available to the tech and digital sectors across the city. As a result, Manchester attracted $70.6 billion in tech investments in 2020.

It’s also home to MediaCityUK, which encompasses BBC, ITV, Ericsson, and Kellog’s, and in 2020 Manchester was labeled the fastest-growing tech city in Europe. It was also the top choice outside of London for job-hunting technology workers.

Tech sub sectors: eCommerce, healthtech, biotech

Companies: The Hut Group, AO.com, AutoTrader

Average tech/digital salary: £47,500

Edinburgh

Scotland’s capital is not only one of the country’s most prominent financial centres, for the past five years it’s also been the base of the largest tech incubator in the UK — Codebase, home to more than 90 companies that have collectively raised more than half a billion dollars in investment.

The tech community in Edinburgh has been expanding rapidly with developers and engineers now accounting for 7% of the city’s workforce. The city also boasts a number of top educational institutes, including the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier University and more than 160 research institutions.

A 2020 report from Active Capital that ranked 288 major cities globally (based on a range of variables, including the strength of research outputs, economic prosperity and quality of life) named Edinburgh as one of the most innovative cities in the world. According to the report, Edinburgh places fourth overall in the UK, behind London, Cambridge and Oxford.

Tech sub sectors: Fintech, gaming

Companies: Skyscanner, FanDuel

Average tech/digital salary: £57,500

Bristol

With a tradition of engineering excellence and innovation, it’s unsurprising that Bristol is often a top destination for tech professionals. The Bristol Robotics Lab (BRL) is the largest in Europe and hosts initiatives such as the four-year ARE (Autonomous Robot Evolution) project.

The city of Bristol employs 8,000 people in the techn industry and is home to some 430 tech firms, including big-name firms  such as Nokia, BT, Vodafone, Oracle, and Amazon. In 2020, companies in Bristol attracted $414 billion in tech investment.

Just this month, a brand new £2.4million Innovation Hub opened at the Bristol and Bath Science Park, bringing investment and high-tech jobs to the area. The 5,000-suqare-foot hub is currently seeking tenants whose activities are in the fields of science, technology, research and development.

Tech sub sectors: Robotics

Companies: Just Eat, Sony

Average tech/digital salary: £47,500

Birmingham

Birmingham reputation extends beyond its manufacturing excellence; it’s also earned a reputation for having a strong tech community. More than 38,000 people work in tech in Birmingham, with 6,000-plus tech companies calling it home. Silicon Canal and Birmingham Tech week are just two of the initiatives that help support this burgeoning ecosystem through industry events, meetups, and promotions.

In April, US investment bank Goldman Sachs has said it plans to establish a new office in Birmingham later this year focused on technology and engineering. In a statement, Goldmans said the city boasts "a strong and deep new talent pool, excellent academic institutions, a growing technology sector and longstanding leadership in STEM industries".

Tech sub sectors: Fintech

Companies: Deutsche Bank, Oxygen Finance

Average tech/digital salary: £47,500

Leeds

In 2019, Leeds' digital sector reportedly contributed £6.6 billion to the City Region economy and employed 102,000 people, seeing the fastest scale up growth in the North. More than 11,300 IT jobs were posted in the Leeds work area between September 2019 and August 2020, with the Yorkshire-based city attracting $44.6 billion of investment during that same period.

For two weeks each year, Leeds plays host to more digital events than San Francisco, with technologists flocking to the city for a series of events and workshops as part of the Leeds Digital Festival. In 2018, the festival hosted 170 events across 68 locations across the city. This year's event begins Sept. 20.

Moreover, the cost of living in Leeds is low. Housing is cheaper than in many other parts of the UK, and with wages in the city’s tech sector not far from what workers in London earn, the result is more disposable income for tech employees.

Tech sub sectors: Healthtech and medtech

Companies: NHS Digital, Pharmacy2U

Average tech/digital salary: £52,500

Belfast

The Northern Irish capital of Belfast has established itself as a world leader for technology and has become a thriving tech hub over the last decade. In 2017, digital tech businesses generated more than £875 million in revenue and there are now more than 1,200 tech firms in the city.

Due to its younger population of digital natives, as well as its proximity to top universities such as University of Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast, the city is winning plaudits for its efforts. According to fDi Intelligence, a specialist division from the Financial Times, Belfast was ranked ninth in the inaugural top 10 “Tech Cities of the Future” for 2020/2021, ranking above rivals such as Frankfurt and Zurich.

Tech sub sectors: Cybersecurity, data analytics, telecoms and mobile

Companies: Proofpoint, Rapid7, Analytics Engines

Average tech/digital salary: £57,500

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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