FAQ

Why are software engineer salaries in Silicon Valley relatively low compared to its cost of living, despite companies claiming they can't fill jobs?
Actually, I was surprised to find this out myself.  Nobody really knows the exact reason, but we can speculate.Here's a fairly analytical way to think about it:We know that most jobs in Silicon Valley are tech related.  Within a tech company, we have:  - engineers, marketing, etc. (E)  - managers (M)  - directors (D)  - vp (V)  - execs (cto, ceo, etc.) (C)Then there is a small number of people who are not involved in tech.  For example, the cashiers at Safeway, etc.  These are usually high school or college students.  There are some who are not, but that group is small compared to the rest of Silicon Valley.  Let's call this group G (general).We can assign a pay distribution to each of these groups [math]f_u[/math] with [math]u \in \{E,M,D,V,C,G\}[/math].  So I've made the following assumptions:    - all the pay distributions are Gaussian    - the means and std are as follows:                           mean                 std               E           120                   80               M          150                   20               D           200                  20               V            275                  30               C            375                   30               G             80                   100      (these numbers are made up using some numbers I found on Glassdoor, but I would appreciate if Glassdoor or Payscale can donate some data to my cause :p)     - there are 5 engineers per manager, 3 managers per director, 2 directors per vp, company size:exec ratio is 25 (i.e. company of 100 has 4 execs).     - for every 10 engineers, there is 1 person who doesn't work in tech.When all these assumptions are plotted, what I get is:The dashed black vertical line is the mean of the total (145.8k).  The blue vertical line is the mean of engineering pays (120k).We see that when everything is put together, given these reasonable assumptions, we get that engineers, on average, make below the population mean.  If we assume that living expenses track population mean, then this supports your observation.There are so many places where I can screw up, but this should give a rough indication of why things may be the way they are.  So why is Silicon Valley different from the rest of the country?  There are many factors that can influence this.  For example, the group G is substantially larger in proportion everywhere else.  If I increased the relative proportion of G so that there are 10 non-tech people per engineer, then the mean of the total becomes 120k.What about supply and demand?In fact, the situation is not as simple.  Liquidity in the job market is not very high, so that movement in fair salary value doesn't always track supply and demand.  For example, suppose demand goes up by a substantial amount (say 5%).  This doesn't necessarily translate to an substantial increase in mean pay.  Why?  Engineers who are already working don't automatically demand a pay raise.  Engineers don't always follow the dollar.  For example:What should I choose if I have an offer from Google as a computer science academy engineer and one from Amazon as a software engineer?We see that engineers sometimes would give up some amount in salary for other factors.And then there is the perception of "deserving".  Managers don't like to pay their engineers more than their own salary.  If there is a budget of 240k, instead of quickly hiring a very good engineer for 200k, most managers would opt to wait to hire 2 mediocre engineers at 120k each.  We know what makes more sense, but the world doesn't always operate in an ideal fashion.  Additionally, what will the previously hired engineers think about their 120k salary when the new guy gets 200k?This is somewhat unfortunate, but in Silicon Valley, engineers are at the bottom of the food chain.  I am sorry if you're one.  If you're not, think twice before you choose engineering as a profession :pIf you want to play with the numbers, here is the really simple Matlab code to generate the plot:x = linspace(0,450,1000), eng = normpdf(x, 120, 5), mgr = normpdf(x, 150, 20) / 5, dir = normpdf(x, 200, 20) / (5*3), vp = normpdf(x, 275, 30) / (5*5*2), exec = normpdf(x, 375, 30) / (5*5), others = normpdf(x, 80, 100)*10, plot(x,eng,x,mgr,x,dir,x,vp,x,exec,x,others,x,eng+mgr+dir+exec+vp+others), legend('E','M','D','V','C','G','Total'), total = eng+mgr+dir+exec+vp+others, total = total / sum(total), num2str(sum(x .* total)),
Why do people move to states like North Carolina from great states like California and New York?
Having lived in North Carolina for most of my life, and travelled to many other states, I think I'll be able to help you understand. I apologize in advance if I take on a defensive tone—don't take it personally.**When you group California and New York together, I assume you have because of the big cities located in them (their biggest similarity). When I mention the states, I'm referring mostly to New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.Housing: California and New York are great and all, but unless you're earning around six figures or more, it's not ideal to raise a family and afford good housing, comfortably (in the city). Here's what I pulled up on Zillow for each area in the price range of one million:I don't know about you, but these houses just don't seem too great in comparison to this:This house in Cary, NC is in a safe neighborhood and about three times larger than both of the houses in California and New York.This mansion-sized Barbie playhouse is pretty great too, right?Parking and traffic. I dominantly commute in Raleigh, NC (the capital of North Carolina). Ten minutes of traffic is enough to cause quite a stir in the area. However, when I visit larger cities, walking is sometimes faster than driving! Right now I'm in ShangHai China on a transport bus and stuck in traffic! The situation on the bus is not much better:I even (insensitively) took a picture of the situation getting on the bus:When it comes to parking in New York, or anywhere with a larger population (smaller land), it can be a big problem. There's either never a parking space or parking lots with sky high parking rates (sometimes even $50-60 for an hour or two). This was especially tricky and maddening for me as a tourist. Here’s a picture of the traffic in China. I can’t even imagine driving in China as it seems nerve-wracking with all the "cutting people off" and "stop-drive-stop-drive" motion.The above picture was taken in the middle of the road! It's impossible to even tell which way the cars are going!Crime rate: the crime in smaller towns is not as large scale as in big cities. Apex, North Carolina was named one of the top ten small towns to settle down in, in the country. One of the main reasons was the low crime rate, making it a good place to raise a family.Pollution and noise: Whenever I travel, I bring an air pollution monitor. I just stuck the device out the bus window (got some weird looks), and the pollution in ShangHai, China (in the city) is about 112 compared to 9-30 in Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina. Noise pollution is also a serious issue. A couple nights ago when I was in Chicago, the hotel I stayed in was right on a busy intersection. The night was filled with honking and sirens which was a quite irritating for someone who was used to nothing more than crickets chirping.Stereotypes: After meeting people from other states, the most common stereotypes of North Carolinians are them being uneducated, racist, rednecks that support Donald Trump. While there are people like this, only a small percent of the population is like this, and usually they live in more remote areas. I can honestly say, in all the years I've lived in NC, I've never met anyone that is all of these things.Job opportunities and education: Going along with stereotypes, farming and slavery are not common in NC… Research Triangle Park has many great job opportunities in bioscience, medicine, and technology. Companies such as SAS and Cisco provide many thousands of jobs in the are. It's also crucial that's I mention the three major universities near the “Triangle”: Duke, UNC, and NC State. They are all great schools and something to consider.Expenses: Resources in larger cities are indubitably more expensive. Water prices in California are especially high because of the drought. California: New mandatory water conservation rules for lawns, hotels, restaurantsOne example would be for gas. Take a look for yourself! Alabama, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and South Carolina have a gas price average hovering around $2.22. California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii average $3.10! [November 2017]: US Average Gas Prices by State - GasBuddy.comWeather: North Carolina and California have similar weather, although, NC does get much colder during the winter. California would “win” weather-wise. However, New York gets much colder than NC. Unless, you like snowstorms every winter, NC (and CA) is the way to go.Biltmore Estate: America's largest home is in North Carolina.I hope this helps! I'll add edits later as I'm about to get off the bus :)
Do you think bullet train in India is actually necessary from economic perspective when flight tickets will be way cheaper?
I have written several times that the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train is: (1) financially unviable at any reasonable fare, (2) last century’s technology, and (3) too narrow in scope to have any impact on the Indian economy.People argue that India will get a zero-interest loan from Japan. True, but, it has to be repaid. From what? The train will not make a profit.We do need to speed up trains and make them more comfortable. The trains used by the average Indian. And, the roads. They are the future.And maybe Hyperloop. That’s surely the future.I am not against the bullet train per se. I don’t want any public funds to be spent on this. if private firms can do it with their own money and resources - fine, do it.India needs new technologies. We are not investing enough in AI. We are lagging behind in internet speeds. We could be world leaders in pharma. Let’s focus there. And, let the business people in Mumbai-Ahmedabad fly, or video-conference, or whatever they want to do.
I'm 22 years old and I want to become a millionaire by 35. How do I do this?
I became a millionaire when I was 40, but it’s not so difficult to get there by 35.Leverage is key. Leverage is basically the difference between values of the same thing, in two different positions. (Location, time, etc.)Think about a waterfall where there is a height difference. So, water naturally flows from one level to another:Same applies to business. Money flows naturally to where it has more leverage.As a 22 year old, you have all the time in the world. But you can’t simply exchange your time, your biggest asset at a low price point. That’s a poor person’s mindset. You can leverage the difference between value of time in a western country and a developing one. There are millions of people who are ready to happily work on a project in Phillipines, India or Morocco for a fraction of what it would cost in US.Go to Upwork | Hire Freelancers. Make things happen.Go to Find work/ U.S. OnlyFind job posts about a topic that you have an idea about. Social Media Marketing has lots of tasks that a 22 year old can easily manage. Things like editing images, posting them on Instagram or Facebook, etc. But you won’t be doing them by yourself. Merge multiple tasks from different businesses and post another job to have them done by an agency (or an individual) from a developing country. By bundling them as one project, you will have more power in negotiating a better deal. Then all you need to do is make sure they deliver, and communicate with your US based customers.I was able to make between $300-$500 with this method when I first discovered Upwork.This is just one idea out of thousands you can find, utilizing the differences between different parts of the world. Be resourceful and create your own resources, to use them to get to the next level.Make sure to read the story of the guy who made his way to get a house, trading things with more valuable stuff, starting with a paperclip:One red paperclip - Wikipedia
What are the best secret/hidden spots in New York City to check out?
I'm not a New Yorker, but I visit this city enough to not be called a "tourist". I'm not sure if this place has been mentioned before, but there's a huge segment of the Berlin Wall in a small park on 53rd St between 5th and Madison Ave.The Cloisters is a museum on the West Side located way up near 190th St. It features a large part of John Rockefeller's medieval art collection and features around 1,900 different exhibits. It is not a "secret" per se, but definitely worth a visit, if only to see the scenery of the Hudson and surrounding area (George Washington Bridge etc). I felt like I was somewhere in Europe while I was there yesterday. It is not on the typical tourist's map, which makes it better since its away from all the hustle. Prosperity Dumpling, ChinatownWith 1,200 reviews on Yelp, this place is definitely not a secret, but I doubt non-New Yorkers would know of this place. It is a hole-in-the-wall located in the heart of Chinatown, and serves delicious pork and chives dumplings at an extremely inexpensive price of $1.00 for 5 of them. My personal favorite is the Chicken Sesame Pancake, which costs around $2.50 per pancake. They also sell dumplings in bulk, which I imagine is at a cheaper per-unit rate than the retail price of 12.5¢ per dumpling. Its a great place to go to when you don't feel like spending 10 bucks on a lunch in NYC. DUMBO in Brooklyn (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, right near the Brooklyn Bridge) features one of the most beautiful views of Manhattan, and is a great place to walk around and explore for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan The "real" Halal Guys cart (53rd and 6th) only comes after 8pm. The others are just knock-offs.Even though tickets are sold out months in advance, you can become a part of the Saturday Night Live studio audience if you're willing to go to 30 Rockefeller at 7am for standby tickets. If you reach there in time, you will most probably be able to become a part of the studio audience.The Jersey City Waterfront features some of the most spectacular views of the Manhattan skylineBelvedere Castle in Central Park (mid-park at 79th st) has an observation deck which offers beautiful views of Central Park and Manhattan. Speaking of Central Park, Strawberry Fields is John Lennon's memorial spread over 2.5 acres I haven't done this yet, but "Shakespeare In The Park" in the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is quite an experience. It is a free presentation of some of Shakespeare's most famous plays. It runs in the months of June and July every year. Best part is that tickets are free and are distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis.Shakespeare in the Park's performance of Romeo and Juliet Ice cream, milkshake and milk flavored like the milk that remains after you eat Kelloggs cereal, only at Momofuku Milk Bar in East Village (and other locations!)milkbarstore.comSeven Hills Cafe at 849 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn serves the best hookah in New York City. Priced at only $10 per hookah (with the $5 Yelp check-in coupon), it features every imaginable flavor, great service (albeit a little slow) and lip-smackingly amazing Turkish and Lebanese food. That's all I can think of for now. I'll add more "secrets" as and when they come to mind.
Does San Francisco have a city income tax like New York City?
Yes and no. It’s paid by the employer. It’s a way of getting around the old Payroll tax found illegal.I had employees in SF for years. I always had to be careful to gross less than $100k. If I made $100,000.01 I was liable for about $5k in payroll tax.
Why are taxes so high in New York?
The short answer is because NYC residents pay many different taxes which add up to one whopper of a tax bill. We pay income tax at the local, state and federal level (many Americans only pay state and federal income tax, some only federal), plus fairly high sales tax, a special commuter tax, huge taxes on energy and communications (look at your Con Ed and Verizon bills), sky high real estate taxes (paid directly or indirectly) and a host of other taxes that hit you whenever money changes hands in NYC (like real estate transfer taxes). I'm sure I forgot many others as well. If you want to know why we have so many taxes in general in NYC, that is much more complicated. IMO, it's because we have a witches brew here combining a public that demands high levels of services from the government (not a bad thing IMO) and is willing to pay significant taxes for them, a city government which is hamstrung by various insane state laws requiring state permission for almost anything, plus a nearly moribund state government that is incapable of making any decisions or spending money wisely, plus several decades of promises made for political purposes that have resulted in increased liabilities for all levels of government. In NY, unlike in most of the rest of the country, it is easier to raise taxes than to lower them, or even freeze them as Cuomo is claiming he wants to do. I will believe it when I see it.
If I also need a car, what is the minimum salary to live comfortably in New York City?
As some have said, it depends on your definition of "comfortable". The reason most answers have assumed living in Manhattan or Brooklyn is that many parts of the Bronx or Queens are not very "comfortable" to live in, and Staten Island isn't as accessible and doesn't feel like you're really a part of the city life.So let's say you want to be somewhere you can reach a job in midtown or downtown Manhattan by train in an hour. You also want to be in a safe neighborhood with decent apartments with some diversity, decent low-cost dining options, some nightlife. For these purposes, I'll assume a neighborhood like Inwood in Manhattan, or Ridgewood/Glendale in Queens.You're looking at rent of about $1,500 for a 1-br apartment. You'll have an unlimited Metrocard for $112/mo. You can probably take care of your phone bill, internet, and utilities for around $200/mo. Your groceries might be about $300/mo. And we'll say you can find health insurance for $200/mo and you're socking 5% away for savings (if you're living comfortably in NYC, savings is likely not a priority). Taxes in the city can be rough, you're probably not paying under 25%, and more likely 30%.In this scenario, earning $60,000-65,000 should leave you about $1,000 each month to play with. That should be enough to dine out multiple nights a week, hit a bar on the weekend, and see an occasional show or sports event.Disclosure: I live in a 2-br in Washington Heights with my wife and son.