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The $150k Solution (garann.com)
137 points by jcsalterego on Dec 11, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 102 comments

"There’s a popular theory that people are most productive when they all sit together in big echoey rooms at communal tables with no dividers between workspaces. I think that’s horseshit. The only people who are “productive” in those settings, in my experience, are the type of management people who feel compelled to come over and interrupt you in person rather than send you a fucking email you can look at once you’re done tracking down a bug six levels of callbacks deep. "

yes, a thousand times

I realize that we have large variance in both what people work on and how people work on things, but with my personality and most of the work I've done over the past several years, I need a quiet place with no disturbances to get my head wrapped deeply around what I'm working on.

It's amazing how management will spin any little thing to gain control over the workplace.

While I'm ranting, if any managers/other people designing spaces are listening, use soft/indirect lighting. Overhead fluorescent lights that I can't turn off are the devil.

Inversely, I think it's up to each one of us to communicate how we should be interrupted when we're busy. If we don't say "headphones means send me an email" then our co-workers don't know that we're in heads-down-mode and they'll keep walking over.

That's all fine and good, but the types of management that Garann is talking about in this article aren't your "co-workers". They'll interrupt you whenever they feel like it because you belong to them.

Is this actually a useful observation to make? How many people have sociopaths for bosses? Why haven't you left?

Its more common then you think, and not everyone can afford to leave their job for something as relatively insignificant as this - i.e. its annoying but its tolerable and the bills gotta get paid

In my experience, face time is very important in an organization and it's not just about productivity. It's very hard to effectively motivate people and align the company's vision if half of your employees aren't even there.

It's very hard to effectively motivate people

I hear this a lot and am starting to wonder if they teach that in business school?

You don't motivate people by "aligning them with the company vision". That only leads to these embarrassing company events where the 3 stakeholders gush over their "mission statement" for 45 minutes straight while 3/4 of the attendants really only wait for the free pizza to arrive...

You motivate people by treating them like adults, paying them well, and by minimizing the amount of bullshit in their workflow.

Fundamentally I don't think you can motivate people. We may actually be saying similar things, but I think you can only really demotivate them by treating them in a psychotic, demeaning or inhumane ways. Motivation on the other hand is is an emergent, instrinsic human quality that can only be killed, not created. "Not killing it" as you say is largely a question of people actually contributing to work that they find worthwhile and having their contributions respected by the company. But there are some folks who would never be motivated, as they simply do not have that quality within themselves.

I think it's possible to motivate people by providing positive feedback. Suppose you work on a web app, and have 1k signups on the day you go live, and 2k on the next day. Wouldn't that increase motivitation? I surely enjoy watching the visitor stats of a new website, and feel more motivated when they are rising quickly.

Yes, you can't motivatve everybody for everything, but I do think it's possible to achieve something with positive feedback.

There are classes for that in business school, such as orgazinational behaviour and leadership, but like most of academic learning, you learn to pass a test, not on how well its applied in the real world

And how do you make sure these super-productive adults with their optimized workflows are, you know, actually working on the right thing?

It's easy to naysay "all that traditional biz school bullshit" until it's your job to make 10 top-notch programmers who are each convinced they are great architects to all write code that somebody else is going to pay for.

until it's your job to make 10 top-notch programmers who are each convinced they are great architects to all write code that somebody else is going to pay for.

That makes no sense. That isn't your job, it's your CTO's job.

And if you're the CTO?

Good programmers love what they do with passion.

If you're the CTO and manage to ruin this so bad for them that "motivating the team" becomes an ongoing concern then you should be fired.

a lot of people here would probably tell you that if you need face time to motivate people and you are the kind of person who unironically says "align the company's vision", you're probably screwed anyway.

I don't know if I personally would go that far, but I can say that after five years of working in an office, exciting ideas communicated succinctly transcend the medium. if you tell your people good things, you can use IRC, twitter, quill and parchment, or smoke signals. it won't matter. they'll be motivated.

Point taken. Just wanted to bring up the idea that there are other considerations besides just productivity that might affect a company's policies.

It is a manner of balance. There are people that work better with lots of face time, need to discuss problems, etc. There are other people that can do amazing things when they go off the reservation for a while (could be a day or two, could be a week). Problem is, any team is going to be a mixture of these and, generally, most management will insist on having the final say.

In my experience, a good team (with a supportive manager) will find the best equilibrium for getting things done. The team (in concert with the manager and product needs) will understand when people need to work together and when those that need quiet time can go off and do what they need. At the same time, a good isolationist (or a mediocre one, properly managed) will know when it is important to come together and integrate/deliver.

A company (and management) that insists on rigid facetime and all hands on deck, all the time, don't know how to manage projects. I learned late in my career that one really does need to look for signs if a manager is going to be hyper-controlling and if that is a situation you want to be in. Sometimes it is hard, we get worked up in the focus of wanting to succeed and deliver at the expense of our own time and work/life balance.

it's definitely true. but I'm pretty convinced that the most legitimate considerations are ones born out of physical necessity.

are you doing archaeological excavation? studying wildlife in a forest? need to do everything in magical shielded rooms with no internet connection "for security purposes"? okay, I probably need to be there for that.

oh, you're writing software? for the web? yeah, I can do that anywhere, thanks...

If you are not at the office what differentiates you from someone in china/russia/india/europe? Why should you be paid 150k/yr for something when people who are also not present would do the same thing for 30k/yr? There are people who speak english in other places than Canada/USA/UK...

> what differentiates you from someone in...

the quality of my work, both in terms of the product (code, papers) and the experience of working with me (communication, cultural fit, etc)?

just because you have remote people or even just because your entire workforce is remote, doesn't mean that cultural fit isn't important! culture is about way more than how your food smells while you're microwaving it ...

Culture in the USA is not that different from the UK/Ireland/other 1st world English speaking countries. So you have a $109k/year position in SF and a $61k/year position in Dublin. Microsoft figured this out years ago.

http://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/san-francisco-software-eng... http://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/dublin-software-engineer-s...

>when people who are also not present would do the same thing for 30k/yr?

Because the people who are as good as I am also cost 150k/yr. Salary depends on market value, not what it costs you to live. Just because a rockstar in India can live on 30k/yr doesn't mean he will when he can get more.

That to be blunt is bollocks a co located team where you can both sit together at the same screen and say right mr customer exactly what do you mean by X is far better than some remote developer 500 miles away in a different time zone.

If the kind of people who get paid $150K to write software are having trouble getting motivated, maybe you made a mistake in hiring them, or at least paying them $150K.

If I paid you $250k to lay on a couch very quietly, staring into space and not sleeping, for 8 hours a day, how long would you stay motivated?

(Note: This is reducto ad absurdum, not a comment on how interesting writing bad software may or may not be.)

Yep indiviual offices work so much better Mc Connel says IBM found a 15% increase in productivity.

I'm surprised it's only 15%. But really, nearly all big companies don't care about this at all. If they need something fast they'll buy it. Everything internal is just about cost, consistency, and predictability.

Well I think he said that was the average and it worked for all levels of developer.

I normally wouldn't respond to a post like this but when it comes to career advice, many of you who have not been in the workforce long should hear the counterpoint.

The Austin businesspeople are right: folks who want to make a lifestyle choice of going to Austin from California should get paid less to do it. On average, they'll earn more than most people in Austin, but less than their counterparts in Silicon Valley.

I see no problem with this. It's fair. You usually only get to choose where you want to live or where you want to work. The other one is a compromise. That's life. Compromises. Why would a businessperson not take advantage of this when someone wants to live in Austin? Maybe the OP doesn't want to live there but a lot of people do.

Working remotely is a compromise further: you will get paid less, you'll get promoted less, and you will be one of the first laid off.

The OP can rant all she wants about "[companies lacking] the tools to communicate remotely, [probably] can’t communicate at all", but the all of us who have done this can tell you that remote workers are almost never as productive. They only work for "guy who takes the app and ports it to Android because we don't care to do it here" type of projects. 1-3 person projects. Large projects are hard enough to manage with the people in the office, and going remote is a nightmare. I've even seen 10 year experts on the specific codebase try to work remotely and it be completely unproductive when they're remote.

There will be exceptions. The one guy who's amazing as a remote worker. Sales people are always an exception. And of course, all of this turns on its head when the company is not desirable. A crap company will pay you a lot to work remotely, then go out of business 6 months later. Generally though, what I've spelled out here is the way it is.

Here's a proposal, given that she's in Austin already, the OP should demand $150K from those companies or her current employer based on this blog post. Tell us what happens over the next 3 months, 6 months, 2 years.

I disagree. The original article is specifically about attracting good talent to Austin. Someone presently in the valley, who is worth attracting, generally has no reason to leave. You need to come up with good reasons for them to leave which outweigh the massive black hole of attraction for tech talent which is the valley. Offering a significant salary cut is not going to help your cause -- you cannot be losing on hygiene factors when you are selling from a weak position.

Trying to sell the candidate on the cost of living being lower is actually bogus anyway. At high salary levels you cannot look at cost of living as a percentage difference, you need to look at absolutes. A thirty percent pay cut on a 150k salary works out to about 2500-3000 per month after taxes. This is a lot more than the absolute value cost of living difference.

Making it even worse, you are asking candidates to move from an environment where they have a couple hundred interesting alternate employment options, all at that 30% higher salary, if the current job does not work out. They are moving to a, at best, tertiary market -- meaning there is a very good chance that they will have to move again for their next job.

"Someone presently in the valley, who is worth attracting, generally has no reason to leave" - I get your point but many people once they have families feel pressure to get out of SV probably due to long hours, cost, etc. Not everyone leaves but I've seen many good engineers leave to the more affordable tech hubs (Austin, Portland, Seattle, etc.) I have to admit that once I started visiting these places I can now understand why many people move.

why would you move your family to an area with less opportunity for them? Is their partner going to be able to find a "propper" job will their kids get a good education and have a wide choice of "propper" carrears (or will they join the army as thats the best choice on offer)

Its probably worth saying that there is a big difference between moving from SV/SF to Seattle, Portland, or Austin, and moving to a small town of 1000 people in the middle of nowhere.

Opportunity for career growth isn't the only factor in where a family moves - there are a number of other concerns like safety, values, closeness to family, and fresh air and water.

While it may be correct that "folks who want to make a lifestyle choice of going to Austin from California should get paid less to do it," that is not what this article is about. Instead, the author is talking about Austin companies trying to bring developers there that otherwise would be somewhere else (i.e. people who do not want to live in Austin). In that case, its a simple matter of value to the potential employee as to how much extra they need to be paid in order to relocate to somewhere that they had no intentions of living.

edit: repeating myself

Agreed. If you're a developer looking to live in Austin, you may very well expect a lower salary; but, if someone is trying to recruit me to Austin, I'd actually expect a higher salary than in California, as I would much prefer San Francisco to Austin. (Quality of life considerations might come into it as well, as mentioned in the article; $150k will get you much farther in Austin than in San Francisco. But I only spend so much of my money locally; don't expect me to take a paycut to come out to live somewhere I have no particular interest in living.)

> The Austin businesspeople are right: folks who want to make a lifestyle choice of going to Austin from California should get paid less to do it.

"Should"? Huh?

Did you read the article? Austin companies are having a hard time finding talent. How they can improve their situation is simple economics. That's it. There is no "fair", whatever that means.

> but the all of us who have done this can tell you that remote workers are almost never as productive


> How they can improve their situation is simple economics. That's it.

Actually, 80% of the interesting comments in this thread are about how this statement is absolutely false. In the words of another commenter, quality of life is not fungible. Just about any decent developer can go work for Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia and get paid 2x what they make stateside. Go be a civilian contractor in the Green Zone in Baghdad, and get maybe 3x. Why doesn't everyone flock to these amazing opportunities, if it's all just simple economics?

Half of what those execs are doing is promotion. It's always shocking to me the number of people who think Austin is like every other redneck part of Texas. Dispelling those myths and getting the word out about the quality of life here is why they pay their dues to the Chamber of Commerce in the first place.

(Many people in the Northeast, for instance, can't even fathom what 300 warm, sunny days a year means. You really can't put a dollar figure on that.)

Minor nitpick.

"Just about any decent developer can go work for Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia and get paid 2x what they make stateside. Go be a civilian contractor in the Green Zone in Baghdad, and get maybe 3x. "

As a thought experiment, what if this dev were to get paid a 100x or a 1000x what he could get stateside? Then would you spend a couple of years in Saudi Arabia?

It is about "simple economics", it is just that the price isn't perceived to be high enough, for most good devs stateside, to justify the move to Saudi Arabia. Increase the salary sufficiently to overcome the "climate premium" (and the alcohol premium and the lifestyle premium and the pretty women premium and .... and ...) and you'll see a flow the US to Saudi Arabia (or from California to Denver or whatever).

In other words all the factors that make the Valley a better place than Austin for good devs to migrate to, have a dollar cost. Match or exceed that and devs will go wherever. 2x isn't sufficient to overcome Saudi's perceived yuckiness. 10x or 20 x might work. Pay twice California salaries and Austin companies will have no problems hiring. Good developers are hard to come by in Austin at the price these dumb CEOs are willing to pay. Quelle Surprise!

Fwiw, I've visited Austin and worked in California. If I had to choose today, given two equally interesting jobs and roughly comparable pay (adjusted to cost of living even), I'd pick Austin any day. But that is just me.

"Equally interesting jobs" would be the tough part I think. Id Software is (or was) located in Austin and I doubt they have problems attracting good devs. If your company produces yet another boring businessy CRUD app or social network or Groupon clone or whatever, it might be more difficult.

I think your PS nails it and is true of many people. I want to stay in Austin, but there are not equally interesting jobs here.

> Saudi Arabia ... Baghdad

Of course it's not all about money. I'll take it from your defensive tone that you live in Austin. I do too. I also moved here from San Francisco.

Austin is a great city, but the main thing that kept me happy is that I was able to keep working my job from San Francisco remotely (until I decided to leave). When I start looking again I highly doubt I will find work that is very interesting or pays very well. Plus, like Garann said, most jobs will come with long, boring commutes unless I want to move out to the suburbs (I don't).

I'd argue that many, many software developers in the bay area already know Austin is not "every other redneck part of Texas". All of my friends and coworkers from SF had either been to Austin and liked it or actively wanted to visit sometime. Most SF software devs are not natives, they're from places like Texas and many I've met would like to get out of the bay area, but what Austin is offering is not making it worthwhile.

I want to keep living here. The money and type of work are the only real things in question... and I think this is true of more people than you think. If the only response Austin wants to give is "well, you don't want to live here enough!" then I wish the city the best of luck retaining and finding talent. I'll keep working remote, or have to move back to the bay area, probably. This sucks because I like the town in all other ways.

Here's the opening of the article she referenced: "Austin's supply crunch for software developers was bad enough by September to prompt 25 Central Texas tech executives to fly to California in search of new talent."

Here's your argument: Maybe the OP doesn't want to live there but a lot of people do.

Apparently, 25 Central Texas tech executives think you are wrong.

So since we (well, everyone it appears but you) are talking about finding people who have not chosen to live in Texas, perhaps those companies might need to persuade people to move.

You'd have to pay me EXTRA to work in Austin, frankly.

No, 25 Central Texas tech executives just want to ignore the prevailing market forces on tech salaries.

You might not like Austin very much, but many, many bright tech folks here love it. Conversely, I know quite a few people that left the bay area because they couldn't stand the tech scene there. Different strokes for different folks, but the bottom line is that just as the Austin execs are wrong to ignore the upward trend on salaries, you are wrong to discount the dollar valuation of improvements in quality of life.

You want us to "buy your product", and you sincerely believe that if we make the switch, we'll be happier. You've gotten all the early adopters, and all the malcontents. How are you going to attract everyone else who is still living in SF?

This is basic fucking customer development 101. Apparently, your Tech Execs think the answer is:

1) Buy everyone a beer and a taco.

2) Offer less salary because our product is Awesome!

Note: cost of switching for us: Move 1500 miles. Miss friends. Make new friends. Break rent contracts. Find rent contracts. And if we, in fact, do not like your product, we have to switch back again. I don't like AT&T much, but you're asking me to break my contract with them, and sign a contract with you to pay more for the same service because it'll be better quality. And if I don't like it, I'll incur the same costs going back to AT&T.

If this is how you "bright tech folks" in Austin do customer development, well...

Whoa there. I don't not want to live in Austin. I wouldn't choose Austin if I were making the choice now, and that's for exactly the reason you provide: the work I want to do isn't here. As someone who's already here, I don't demand what I could get in the Bay Area, because I can't move there. Although I'm using my own experience in the post, this isn't about me - it's about the people Austin companies want to hire, who often need a reason to move here over SF, NYC, or any other place.

Fair enough, let me add to my counterpoint another piece of personal experience [I see another commenter ripped me for telling an anecdote -- what posted to HN is ever NOT anecdotal or opinion].

Have you ever worked at a company where they've brought in the "hotshot" from <name successful tech company here>? I have. I worked for a tech company in a non-hot-tech location that, once we got big enough, brought in hotshots from California. They almost all were:

1) Overpaid -- in our opinion because we were paid far less since we had lived and worked there for a long time.

2) Know-it-all A-holes.

3) Out within 6 months anyway because they realized it wasn't interesting compared to their last hot-shot job.

The people who came to our company because they actually wanted to live there ("move back", as it often was) and were making a sacrifice to do it... now those people were into it and stayed for years. I think this is what the Austin companies are looking for. They're out in the Bay trying to find the ex-UT, ex-Texas, maybe even just ex-Midwest people would like to contemplate moving back. I think that sounds reasonable before throwing lots of money at people who might not otherwise consider the move.

just because you had bad luck with "hotshots from California" doesn't mean that everyone of them is as you describe. As for trying to find ex-UT, ex-Texas, people, well, why don't they just ask for them?

>Working remotely is a compromise further: you will get paid less, you'll get promoted less, and you will be one of the first laid off.

Employers take heed: If you can't afford to pay $150K, if you can figure out how to communicate remotely, you quite often get a deep discount on wages (or a dramatic increase in employee satisfaction) if you find someone that wants remote work that can't find said remote work.

At my last full-time job, some of the best people there worked remote and came in once a month or so. It was fairly clear that these people worked remotely because they were so valuable, and working from home was the perk they demanded as compensation.

As far as I can tell, all people are aware that working from home is a big benefit to the employee; but from what I've seen? people who work from home because they are good enough that they get the working conditions they demand don't get laid off.

I mean, from what I've seen, the employer looks at it as compensation, too; so you might be right that if two people with the same skill and the same pay worked at the same company, one working from home and the other in the office, the one working from home might get let go of first. But if the work from home person is more skilled or is getting paid less (which is usually the case) then they are not more likely to get laid off.

(As a side note, personally I think that getting laid off in the first round is almost always the best outcome for an employee. In the first round, if it is a large company, there are usually severance packages. This package gets smaller in subsequent rounds. Also, if you don't get laid off? well, they reduced the number of workers, but not the amount of work that needs to be done. It's no fun.)

sorry.. counterexample here.. I work remotely...(very remotely).. get paid a shit ton, and get to live where I want, and work on what I want. No one needs to compromise

I am having a guilty pleasure Schadenfreude moment.

I was looking for a new company 2-4 years ago because the company I was working for turned from being an engineering-centric company to being a paper-centric company. The companies I contacted and interviewed with professed to be interested in hiring me, but were unwilling to do so due to the uncertain economic climate.

Two years ago, one of the companies I targeted got over their fear of the unknown and hired me. Now all the companies that were unwilling to take a chance are lamenting the fact that they cannot hire engineers.

I have but one word for those companies: karma (is a bitch).

There have been a metric ton of these articles, and there are going to be a metric ton more. And that's great, because it means that engineers are becoming increasingly aware of the market for their own service, which means that they're better prepared to get compensated properly.

In the end, any negotiation boils down into a pure tug-of-war, where both sides pull as hard as they possibly can, and the ribbon ends where it ends based off of the relative leverages of the two parties. To this point, engineers have been handicapped not just by not knowing their leverage, but not knowing they were even playing the game in the first place. That seems to be changing.

I wish it were so but just look in this thread. It seems to actually be dominated by workers talking like CEO's (i.e. "engineers should be getting less because of the following 10 intangible nonsensical reasons...").

From the original article, hilarious cluelesness:

Austin's supply crunch for software developers was bad enough by September to prompt 25 Central Texas tech executives to fly to California in search of new talent.

They offered free beer and pulled pork tacos at the Mighty, a warehouse bar in San Francisco, to attract a couple of dozen job candidates. The next night, they headed to Sunnyvale , in the heart of Silicon Valley, for a Tex-Mex happy hour that drew another 45 potential recruits.


> If your company makes something entirely uninteresting, that’s fine. We need useful software to fill niches, or our whole industry suffers. If you make a boring thing, there are two things you can do to still attract good talent. First, if you don’t need a senior dev, don’t hire one. Hire a junior person, give them the chance to architect small changes to the system, help them grow as an engineer. If you do need a senior person, hire them, but carve out 10% or 20% time for them to do open source stuff or personal projects or whatever.

This is a really smart idea.

Visit a job board of a SF based company and you'll find plenty of open positions. There is a supply and demand issue in cities around the world - not just Austin.

There are some great companies here who have no problem attracting talent. The companies that are struggling the most (and making the most noise, unfortunately) are the ones that simply don't get it. They throw money at numerous organizations in town asking them to "fix" this "problem" they have.

As a result, we've ended up with lots of articles like the one Garann refers to in the Statesman lately. I'm not denying that there is a problem here. I'm just stating that it really isn't specific to Austin.

Austin is always on the top 10 best economies list, always on the top 10 tech hiring list, and Round Rock is one of the fastest growing cities in the US. This author is definitely in the minority in her feelings about the city.

If you know where to look and have the skills, the jobs in the $150k range can be found. If you're thinking of moving here, high end homes in the best schools are only $130/sq ft.

It's not about a dislike of Austin. This is a reply to the article about CEOs trying to lure bay area devs to the city with everything but a proper salary and actually interesting work.

For what it's worth, I grew up around Austin and have absolutely no desire to move back.

If there were developer jobs paying that much, there'd be a line of people at the front door every day wanting to get hired.

Quality people are easy to find, a quality company is not.

It's funny how people insist that companies should offer a gazillion dollars to persuade developers to relocate to their shitty town, when it makes much more sense for companies to avoid hiring people who think it's a shitty town in the first place. There's no point in importing people who hate living in Austin and will jump at the first opportunity to go back "home" to the Bay Area. If you think you're owed a premium for living anywhere but San Francisco, then economically speaking, that's where you ought to be.

Not to mention nobody in Austin wants to work with you if you're just going to badmouth the town and brag about how much you're paid to put up with it. Sorry to break it to you, darling, but getting stuck somewhere you hate because you're underwater on your house and have "wedding debt" is no reason for anybody to pay you more. If you're miserable here, that's your business. Austin companies are, quite sensibly, looking for people who will enjoy living and working in Austin.

> when it makes much more sense for companies to avoid hiring people who think it's a shitty town in the first place

So your advice to tech businesses in Austin is to further reduce the pool of people they can hire from? Interesting, considering this wasn't an "I Hate Austin" post but rather a reply to a story about the fact that Austin businesses currently can't find talent.

Also, just because you don't want to up and move to Austin for half as much money doesn't mean you think it's a shit town. You can want to live here and want to be paid well. For the time being the only way I've found to do both is to work remotely for bay area companies. That sucks for Austin.

Money isn't necessarily the reason why Austin businesses can't find talent, and if there is a reason, money won't necessarily fix it. If someone really dislikes a place, it's a bad idea to hire them at any salary. They'll just leave at their first opportunity. The argument that developers are highly mobile is actually an argument against luring them to a place where they'll be unhappy, because they can and will leave.

The fundamental mistake behind the idea that Austin should pay a premium to attract talent is the assumption that money and happiness are fungible. The author lists a bunch of things she doesn't like about Austin and suggests that the solution is to pay developers more, that people who dislike Austin will come here for the right price. Some will, sure, but will they do good work for you when they're unhappy? Can you expect them to still be around in five years as a guru and leader if they dislike where they live? People don't work that way. They don't want to put down roots in a place they don't like. It's no fun to make friends and fall in love while in the back of your mind you're thinking, "Three more years of paying off my debt and I'm outta here." Not liking a place creates a sense of detachment about everyone and everything that you can't take with you, which is very chic, but not very healthy, and in a good job market, there's no reason for anyone to live that way.

Developers are motivated by a lot of things that aren't interchangeable, and employers should be very, very wary of trying to substitute one kind of satisfaction for another even when they have the upper hand. There's a limit to how much people can trade off respect for money, interesting work for status, or lifestyle for job security. That's why it makes sense for salaries to vary by cost of living. Money is 100% fungible with money, but not with much else. Austin companies have to hire employees who want to live in Austin, and paying them more won't make them like Austin more.

That isn't the end of the world. It's true that developers have more of a taste for ramen and public transit than the population as a whole, and it's true that a lot of developers prefer more urban places such as San Francisco and New York, but some people prefer Denver or Austin. When someone who loves San Francisco compares your city to "the damned Yukon" and "middle-of-nowhere fucking Montana all River Runs Through It," money is not going to make that better, and that's okay, because she's not the only person in the world who can do her job. When someone says, "If I’d been single, more confident in my skills, and sans wedding debt I would have moved to San Francisco or New York," well, personal regrets are not fungible with money and anyone would be crazy to suggest otherwise.

As for her complaints, here are some comments for anyone considering a move to Austin:

commuting to some isolated office park that was cheaper to rent than something on a goddamned bus route

There are actually a lot of tech companies located downtown, and they're hiring. When the folks on the Austin big data mailing list organized a new meetup a few weeks ago, it was felt that a downtown meeting location would be best since that's where most of the potential attendees work. Since developers have such the upper hand these days, there's no reason to work anywhere else, unless you prefer the suburbs. (And if you do, Austin is apparently pretty nice. All of my insanely smart coworkers who have kids also have yards and houses. Most of them believe in religions that terrify me. Austin is the kind of place where nobody is surprised that the creator of Linux and git wears polo shirts and blogs about his kids, because what does the one thing have to do with the other? Squares and non-squares have a pretty relaxed relationship around here, to the point that nobody bothers keeping track of the difference.)

don’t believe that spending two hours on the freeway every day is a healthy lifestyle

Again, there are tech companies downtown, right next to our hike and bike trail around Lady Bird Lake, on which you can run, walk, or bike less than a mile to a spring-fed three-acre swimming pool where you'll often see triathletes practicing in their wet suits.

Austin’s lovely, but I like being able to get a decent bowl of ramen. And take public transit.

I can't help you with the ramen (and I'm very sad about that) but who needs to take public transit when you can live, work, shop, run, kayak, swim, and drink, all within a couple of miles? I won't lie: you'll need a car a few times a week, if only because everybody expects you to have one, and if you ride a bike, you'll need more courage (and have more white hairs) than you would in Portland. Plenty of people get around on bikes, though. Also, there's a Car2Go car-sharing service, even here in the middle of Texas, and some people rely on it quite happily.

tacos tacos tacos!

The Mexican food here really is much better than in California ;-)

> The fundamental mistake behind the idea that Austin should pay a premium to attract talent is the assumption that money and happiness are fungible. The author lists a bunch of things she doesn't like about Austin and suggests that the solution is to pay developers more, that people who dislike Austin will come here for the right price.

THIS. Spot on. The title of the blog post itself tells you the error: paying people more money will get them to do stuff, but they won't be happy about it.

Taco bell isn't Mexican food, it's Mexican food-product.

And regarding ramen, Komé on Airport Blvd makes a passable bowl (although it's not as good as what you'll find in NYC, and it's only available at lunch).

It's all well and good if you can find good candidates who already live where you are located, but the article that Garann is responding to here is about how there are no such candidates in Austin without a job. The only choices left to companies there are now (1) relocate candidates who most likely don't want to live in Austin, or (2) relocate the entire company, likely losing the employees that you already have because they are the ones who do want to live in Austin.

It seems to me that, unless you're a two-man startup, relocating the entire company is clearly going to be more expensive.

3) Pay that already-employed local talent more than their current gigs will.


Although, that really just pushes the same decision down to the talent's former employers. After enough poaching, I'd expect that the price of local talent would increase until it became more cost-effective to relocate candidates.

Do women prefer "darling" over "sugar tits" now?

I'm still trying to figure out why there aren't more women in tech.

Although you may have just figured out why there aren't more women in tech in Austin.

After proclaiming that she deserves extra money to compensate her for the displeasure of working in Austin, she shouldn't expect to feel welcome here. She made her bed, and she can lie in it. The hostility and disrespect I communicated were intentional, not motivated by her sex, and, in my opinion, a modest and proportional response to what she wrote.

@a3camero, I admit that as someone from the south, I should know better than to say "darling." I reached for a patronizing term and used it without ism-checking it. Serves me right for being nasty. It's hard to be offensive to one person without inflicting unintentional and regrettable collateral damage. I apologize.

Lolwat. No one proclaimed any such thing. Sorry to break it to you, darling, but your reading comprehension skills need work.

I meant the "darling" thing, but I'm from Ontario where that would be an unusual thing to say and probably sexist.

Maybe it isn't in Texas, in which case, my apologies. Texas is on my list of places to visit and if darling is actually used in a way that isn't sexist, well you just bumped it up a bit more on my travel list!

No, it's sexist in Austin too. For sure.

And in Texas it's "darl'n".

Communicating hostility and disrespect and patronizing your opponent is not the best way to participate in a rational discussion.

well don't set the only non sucky town in a shitty red neck state then - I have no problem with working in the less salubrious areas of the world but I would expect an decent increment and for the company to sort out security and a PPW and an allowance for ammo got to practice at least once a week.

Btw when I worked for a big civil engineer the bonus was up to 200%

Question: If you were hiring a new developer and you did a Google "background check" and found this article. Would you hire her?

That's an excellent question. I hope you get some answers soon, because if there are companies who wouldn't hire someone on the basis of her belief that people in her industry shouldn't be treated as commodities, I want to avoid them.

I'm not sure I would hire her... she makes some very valid points but in a very vulgar way. Based on a quick search she uses the word fuck 5 times and shit 9 times in one article. Overall the article seems pretty negative and I'm not saying all developers need to fart rainbows and whistle dixie all day long but I've seen a few jaded developers kill the productivity of an otherwise great team of developers in the past and I'm not sure it is worth the risk.

If not, would you also not hire Zed Shaw? If not, explain why.

I know I'll be downvoted for this, but the truth is, if these companies would offshore the jobs to Philippines or India, it easily becomes a $30K-50K/year solution. $50K is more than enough to attract senior devs who will run circles around their American counterparts.

These companies are so unsure of their ability to judge the output of their workers that they're requiring their people to relocate to Austin. What makes you think they'd be able to find a great person and manage them effectively on the other side of the planet?

P.S. don't ask for downvotes.

"the truth is, if these companies would offshore the jobs to Philippines or India, it easily becomes a $30K-50K/year solution" - If this was a solution believe me the market would figure it out and reflect that. In fact if it was true, there wouldn't be any engineering jobs available in the US in that it would be uncompetitive to have engineers in the US. Outsourcing has its places but it is not a magical solution where costs are dramatically cheaper - in many cases companies are figuring out the hard way that it is dramatically more expensive.

"If this was a solution believe me the market would figure it out and reflect that. In fact if it was true, there wouldn't be any engineering jobs available in the US in that it would be uncompetitive to have engineers in the US."

Isn't this what's already happening right now? The US is still competitive only because of the Capitalist structure that is already in place. Obama and other Occupy(tm) Socialists are destroying that, and soon you won't have any jobs left.

p.s.: Most of us from the 3rd world would like the US to keep its superpower status, to balance the threat of China. :)

Obama and OWS (which I wouldn't lump together) are a red herring to this discussion.

Unless the laws have changed dramatically in the last few years, there was never any barriers in place contracting labor outside the US assuming you paid them as contractors. If anything, US labor laws favor outsourcing over insourcing "native" contractors due to tax laws surrounding 1099 Technology workers that were put in place in the early 90s.

So really, despite the fact that scales are tipped in favor of foreign contracted labor (cheaper rate, less tax and legal considerations) businesses STILL prefer to hire local labor. To me, that's very telling -- it has a lot to do with the fact that much of the foreign talent, like the US talent, is already gainfully employed and tough to access.

Please, tell me, what senior engineers in the Phillipines or India have 15+ years of software development experience. They don't exist, because the software industry has only been there for the last 5-10 years.

So please, take this "our senior developers (with only 2-3 years of real experience) are just as good as your top US developers" idea and stick it where the sun don't shine. There is a huge benefit to hiring people that have been eating, sleeping, and breathing code since age 10. Our 15 year senior developers might only be 25 years old, but they can code circles around any of your 2-3 year experience engineers.

"Please, tell me, what senior engineers in the Phillipines or India have 15+ years of software development experience."

I do. Started working as a software dev in 1994. Moved to Bangalore to take up another sw dev position at CyberCash India (an offshore office of a Virginia based ecommerce product company http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CyberCash,_Inc . ) in 1998. C on VAX Unix. Those were the days. Lived and worked in the US for a while before returning to India (and have no plans of going back to the USA :) ).

" They don't exist, because the software industry has only been there for the last 5-10 years."

You have no idea what you are talking about. Infosys was founded in 1981, for example.

I never worked for Infosys or any of the large outsourced services dev companies, but the idea that there are no developers in India with 15+ years experience is rubbish. (Not getting into whether 'number of years of experience' is a valid metric for judging sw talent).

And as for "living and breathing code", I started programming when I was 10 years old, on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum in the Eighties, writing games in ZX-80 assembler. We even had a club for Spectrum devs - in a small town in South India, in the eighties. I have many classmates who still code every day (though they have fancy titles like "Senior Architect" these days).

Did most of my generation of coders move into management? Sure they did. Are the good developers swamped by tonnes of clueless people flocking to the "hot career"? Sure they are. But none of that is specific to India.

If you have to deal with dumb Indians off a boat who can't speak English but seem to take your jobs, I sympathize. There are a lot of dumb Indian devs. But I've also had to deal with a lot of dumb American devs who think they are automatically superior to all Indian devs "just because". Plenty of those too.

(all this is just to counter your idea that people with 15 years of experience writing code don't exist here and "the software industry has only been there for the last 5-10 years" (roll eyes). Please educate yourself before making such emphatic (and false!) statements.

I stand somewhat corrected, but you must admit you are in a very small minority in your home country, and your salary probably reflects that.

What I've noticed from working first-hand with outsourcing companies is that they promise degrees and accreditations that don't exist. They promise the developers working on your project will have 5-10 years experience, but for the most part you will get developers with 2-3. They promise masters level CompSci but you are lucky to get associates or trade school level. They promise systems and network engineers with MCSE or RHCE or CCIE but you are lucky to get MCP or CCNA.

I apologize for making blanket statements, but there is a lot of job hopping for qualified candidates in Bangalore (as I'm sure you are aware), so the outsourcing companies are usually offering those candidates that are new to the industry and have not had the time to generate sufficient experience and get a better job somewhere else. That is just the reality of what I have seen in my career.

Hey no worries. I completely agree that outsourcing companies (Infosys, TCS etc) suck big time. The services outsourcing companies scrape the bottom of the barrel talentwise and lie through their teeth to their clients, are infested with scummy middle managers and so on. I am not arguing about any of that.

Just saying, don't dismiss a country of a billion people so easily - with so many people, there have to be some smart ones.

Good engineers are a minority in every country. That said,the USA (and it is a great country) has the advantage of attracting smart people from all over the world to learn, work and settle there, so you have a constant influx of really smart people, an adavantage no other country has(these days, Canada and Australia maybe?). The US also has the finest universities in the world. So I am not surprised that in general, the US has the best tech companies and the best engineers.

But that doesn't mean there aren't good engineers elsewhere. I was only mildly pushing back against your somewhat sweeping generalizations. No insult or harm intended.

If the only Indian devs you've encountered are the lying incompetents exposed to you by the typical Bangalore bodyshop, I am not surprised if people draw conclusions that may not be very flattering.

Hi PlinkPlonk,

I live in a third world country and I know what you mean. There are spectacular developers in Tunisia, but they are a tiny minority. So the point here. The % of developers that can do the work.

Yes, there are pretty impressive developers in my country. But what's their numbers and what are they doing now (either hired, working abroad or running their own businesses)? Are there a new and constant supply of good devs so you don't run out of them (considering you have the money)? Are they enough so that you company can scale when needed? Is there good sales people, managers, office assistants (because you don't only need developers for you business)? Is there a good infra-structure (Internet, Telecom, Importing stuff, Airports...)?

Factor all this and you'll find that third-world countries make no sense to run high yield businesses.

Hello csomar,

the post I replied to didn't make the nuanced argument you do. I am fairly anti outsourcing myself - in practice it results in ancient rotting codebases that people in the West don't want to maintain anymore landing up here and train a new bunch of third grade developers.

I mostly agree with what you say, but that wasn't the point made by the poster I responded to.

He(?) made a statement that India's software industry is only 10 years old (false) and condescendingly extrapolated that to say that therefore there aren't any senior devs in India with 15 years experience (also false).

I quote "what senior engineers in the Phillipines or India have 15+ years of software development experience. They don't exist, because the software industry has only been there for the last 5-10 years."

My post was only to refute his specific claims, and push back just a little bit on his condescending tone. No more,no less.

I made no claims about whether it makes economic sense to outsource to India (or Tunisia or wherever) or comparing India to Silcion Valley, or absolute measurements of number of good devs/square km or whatever.

Please don't assume that we third-worlders didn't have 8-bit computers when we were kids. Here in India we had at least two licensed clones when I was 10: dB Spectrum Plus, a ZX Spectrum+ clone by deciBells Electronics and SCL's clone of the BBC Micro B. I hacked on the Beeb at school until I got a Spectrum of my own at home.

I'd posit that it's not necessary to being a good programmer anyway.

On a tangent, does it really take 15 years before you can start tossing about the phrase "senior"? The only job ads I see asking for that kind of time appear to be aerospace/government, so I'm curious if it's just the startup bubble making me think 7 years is fine?

To have "senior" appended to your title, no -- that is basically nothing, and means as much.

To be a genuinely "senior developer | engineer | programmer" in the eyes of others it probably takes at least 15 to 20 years of experience building and running things. Not all of that needs to be professional - writing door games in high school counts.

In digital agency world "senior" is usually two to four years.

RTFA. They want developers to move to Austin. Developers in the Philippines or India need not apply (unless they have a greencard).

If the company feels the work cannot be done by a local worker telecommuting , how can they expect it to be done by someone sitting half the world away.It is no longer about how good native / non-native developers are - it seems to be more about is the developer at a place where I can meet him when I want to

Total nonsense. The good developers in Philippines or India don't work for $30k-$50k/year any more than we do. They earn close to our rate in country or relocate to Europe/the US.

I'd strongly encourage you to consider why you're likely to be downvoted before posting. I think that a milder version of what you just claimed, backed up with some data or at least some personal experiences, would have been a good contribution to this discussion. You might have been upmodded.

I tried (well, was forced by management) to remotely lead an offshore team (in India). The project was quite complicated (storing, retrieving, and interpreting the results of a large quadratic programming model with millions of variables), and the programmers were paid $12/hr. The first pass was a disaster. I described the problem generally, and got nowhere. I then asked them to use a hashmap to store the results, and they responded ".NET doesn't have a hashmap." I explained that .NET must have some kind of data structure that would allow us to retrieve a variable's value based on it's name or some other lookup key, and that's the approach I recommended they take, though honestly, they're the ones spending hours on the code, so they were free to take an intelligent approach the problem and shouldn't feel obligated to take any approach I suggested, though I was happy to help. A week later, I got code based on arrays. They were iterating through one array to get the variable name's index, then looking it up in a different array. And doing this millions of times.

So you'd think I'd soured on offshoring, right? Not really, I'd soured on trying to find good programmers with a decent math background for $12/hr. We ended up hiring two people located in India, one with an MS and another with a PhD (both from good US universities). I think we paid an annualized rate of $65,000-$75,000 each, though I don't really remember, it was around that much. That was considerably less than we would have paid in the US, and they were good programmers - even better, I was able to describe a need rather than a solution, and they were definitely able to fill in the gaps and get it done.

So, could they "run circles around their American counterparts?" Well, that all depends on how you define counterparts. If you go by dollar-to-dollar, I'd say so - it's unlikely that you'd hire someone in the US who could do this for such a low salary (though plenty of grad students here do as "research assistants" it for a tenth that salary and a tuition waiver). If you go by salary percentile, I'd say no way. The guys we hired were good, but it'd be stupid to claim that they'd run circles around the top tier of US-based programmers. The top tier in the US is very very strong.

Overall, I'm not sure it was worth it, though I wouldn't claim it was a bad experience (like the $12/hr programmer experience, which was definitely a bad one). The company still had to pay me and other developers the higher salaries to oversee the work, converting us into "architects" who managed overseas teams - and I could have just written the damn code myself. We were considerably less agile, and our local people (including me) were less knowledgeable of the code base even though we were spending time reviewing. At the same time, it's hard to hire anyone with these skills, so if they're available overseas, I'd say it's a reasonable option.

Just whatever you do, don't fall into the trap that it will be "easy" to hire "top" developers for vastly lower salaries who will "run circles" around Americans. I do think that you can, with substantial effort, hire strong developers for somewhat lower salaries who will perform well, though you will (in my experience) incur enough overhead that it makes more sense to do this to access top talent than to save money.

The quality of work from a non-native almost never reaches that of a native. They might be willing to put in more hours, but most people will choose quality over quantity.

Managing outsourced workers is expensive, and quite a hassle too. You will most certainly have to hold their hand much more than a native. Without significant oversight and hand holding, it's a recipe for disaster.

In most successful outsourcing scenarios, there is a dedicated team to manage the outsourced workers. For every one success story with outsourcing, there are 50 failed and frustrated attempts.

If my Grandma had balls she'd be my Grandpa.

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