If you are in Boston, Austin, Raleigh-Durham, Silicon Valley, or Seattle, as a programmer you have a lot of choices of where to work. In New York, the choices are investment banks, some hospitals, advertising agencies -- but not technology companies. There are very, very few technology companies in New York.
But New York is still the largest city in America, and there are an awful lot of programmers who are stuck in New York because their wife is going to medical school, or their family is there, or they just love the city, or they want to do improv theater and this is the best place to do it -- millions of reason why a programmer might find themselves in New York. Every programmer wants to work at a product company because it is so much better than working as a slave in an investment bank. And there were none in New York.
We would go to parties, and we'd find geeks, and they'd say, "Do you know of any software product companies in New York where I can work?" And we would say, "Ge, no. I can't really think of any." This is what programmers would talk to each other abut: how can I get out of the investment bank in New York? So part of our model was, "Let's create a fun place for us to work, since we are stuck in New York City. Create a software company specifically in New York City."
-- Joel Spolsky, Founders at Work
I worked as a programmer in NJ in the early 90's, for a spinoff of AT&T. They were doing heavy software development on Unix. There were high paying jobs with big cash bonuses in NYC, but they were in trading firms and investment banks and stuff like that. It's really different being a product company, where the technology IP is front and center, vs. being part of the back office or operations staff of a firm that makes its way doing stuff other than product development.
When I came out to the sfbay to visit a friend I was blown away by all the logos we passed driving down the road. Company after company that I'd heard of, all lined up. I thought, this is great, even if one of these places goes out of business, I can get a job across the street. So I moved.
Founders at Work, as others have mentioned, is really a great read. Highly recommended if you're interested in reading war stories from the early days of a wide range of startups.