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Getting a job in San Francisco (penso.info)
152 points by fabienpenso on May 25, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 100 comments

To be honest, this makes me want to get a job in Paris.

The way Fabien describes SF as a Mecca evokes the sense of wonder Woody Allen had about the City of Love:

You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can't. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there's nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.

There's something nice about being in a city where everyone is one the same wavelength, but I think there's something more romantic about being holed up in a Parisian apartment that's stood the trial of centuries, committing to GitHub with the Eiffel Tower in the window (physical or otherwise) and such tremendous history all around you.

Of course the same could be said of Las Vegas, (including the part of having an apartment with the Eiffel Tower in the window :-)

Having traveled around a bit I find city "personalities" very interesting, some, like Brussels, feel very bureaucratic and others, like Melbourne, feel a lot more laid back and relaxed. Zurich has always struck me as the 'busy' city, everyone seems like they are on a mission to get the most done that day, and London struck me a generally both pretentious and fun, sort of like you put on your "business" face during the day and then back to your "fun" face after work was over. And then there are cities with no soul at all, which seem to be either 'pretend' cities (going through the motions) or 'dead' cities (the soul has departed). It is always a bit sad to wander around San Jose as it feels rather soulless, even though I go there regularly to see plays.

No doubt, and Woody Allen and others have touched on this as well, what someone sees in a city is as much about who they are as it is how the city presents itself. My friends from USC that went into the entertainment industry see Los Angeles for example much differently than I do, but I fully recognize that its sort of like the city doesn't reflect any of the light I'm interested in.

I know too meta, sorry, its Saturday and I'm waiting for a kernel rebuild :-)

In this vein, it's been hard to fully appreciate San Francisco. I can "see" the lovely homes in Duboce Triangle and the Castro and in Hayes Valley, and I can "enjoy" the way the earth bends around you on a North Beach rooftop. But being in San Francisco has, for me, had stronger class-resentment associations that stem probably from having commuted there from East Bay and being in a constant "work work work" mode for young entrepreneurs whose flaws have been hard to overlook.

There's probably a fair degree of resentment at being unable to afford a decent apartment in the city. I imagine my tune'd be different had I lucked into something livable in a cool neighborhood, rather than living in an assortment of East Bay towns and commuting by BART.

I'll be working in the peninsula soon, at one of the giants, and that will have its own joys and issues. But I'm looking forward to seeing how my view of SF evolves, as it'll soon merely be that city across the bay I visit for dinners, shows and drinks.

I do love the lifestyle we have in Paris, I think anyone being able to spend a year there should feel very fortunate. Of course French might not agree, but traveling months per year the recents years, I'm always happy to come back.

Yes Fabien, you are happy to come back because you come back for vacation. If you do a typical 9 to 7 slaving away in Paris you will certainly see none of it.

If you can work remomtely, sure. Because those interesting projects will certainly not be in Paris.

I've been working remotely for the last 3 years, working 100% on interesting, Paris-based projects. Just adding a data point!

You are one of the lucky few then, I'd be interested to hear what those Paris-based projects are as well. Are they paying you more than 40k too ?

I'm working as a freelance, my current going rate is 120€/hour (ex VAT); those projects belong to mid-size companies and startups, companies not much seen on TechCrunch or HackerNews.

Yeah right me too. I live in Paris since 2005. I've learnt to dislike the city. And when I read all what happens in the silicon Valley, it feels more and more the wrong place...

Taking my courage with both hands, leaving for SF/NY this summer hoping to find a job.

... in a 18 sq.m. "apartment".

To be sure, apartments tend to be smaller when and where more activity occurs outside in common spaces.

I was sharing a 60sqm apartment with a couple there. (13th)

>When rejecting candidates for my own company I wanted to tell them why I rejected them, and how to improve, but I have been told not to do it, for legal reason.

When the laws prevent you from giving actionable feedback to the person you didn't hire, you know it has gone too far.

The government should have no business in your selection or rejection of new hires, and the firing of them if needed.

>I believe the US way to be better

I don't. It may be less backward bent than France, but there is certainly a lot of room for improvement - like being able to give proper feedback.

The government doesn't prevent you from giving actionable feedback to the person you didn't hire, it just gives the person you didn't hire the ability to sue you should you not hire them based on some criteria (race, sex, religion, or whatever their lawyer can argue).

I thought the real reason was that if you have a candidate that is, say, Black, and you tell him that you didn't hire him because you "felt that he didn't have enough knowledge of Ruby", he would be able to sue you if he found out you hired someone who supposedly has the same level of knowledge of ruby as him.

Sorta. The real reason is that you're giving the other party information that they can use in court. It's the same basic principle as "don't talk to the police without a lawyer" -- you can argue that it's paranoid, but it's a functional sort of paranoia. You have everything to lose and very little to gain.

> "felt that he didn't have enough knowledge of Ruby", he would be able to sue you if he found out you hired someone who supposedly has the same level of knowledge of ruby as him.

Except that you felt it because the other candidate interviewed and sold himself better.

The way it is being presented here you could always sue if you're black and the person they hired wasn't. It doesn't really work that way. They do have to provide proof of their claim of racism/sexism or whatnot. They didn't hire me isn't proof.

That's right. The rejected candidate can always sue. S/he might not win, but s/he can sue.

And for the employer, win or lose, it's a huge headache, risk and cost, with big PR downside to boot. The employer has no incentive to increase this risk by saying more than is absolutely necessary.

It's kinda the same reason that companies don't apologize for wrongdoing. Apologizing is admitting fault, and then they automatically lose the lawsuit.

I don't buy it. The legal reason is to be short. It's not about being rude. The valley's hiring standards are dismal and everybody is just following Google's antisocial geek stance. I believe they need to grow up as this will backfire. Good candidates are already being headhunted by competitors with smarter hiring policies.

Remember that almost always in the US you end up paying your own legal expenses even if someone else unsuccessfully sues you. That means it is expensive even if you are in the right.

Then look at it from the pov of the corporate lawyer. If they okay you supplying a rejection paragraph instead of a rejection sentence and you do get sued then it looks a failure of the lawyer. Whenever I've worked with corporate lawyers they have always erred on the side of not doing anything because the risk is to their career and the rewards go to other people in the organization.

That's not necessarily true. There are lots of situations in the US where the winning party can get a judgement for the losing party to pay reasonable legal expenses.

>>I believe the US way to be better

> I don't.

I was speaking about the technical interview instead of a more relaxing one we have in France.

I think rejecting candidate with a single formal sentence isn't what it should be, of course. Companies should be able to say what went wrong, but noone will for the legal issues raised in the comments below. Why should they take risks?

I think there's no reason to be afraid of lawsuits and very little evidence to support that you should. If a candidate decides to sue, it's probably because there's actual evidence of discrimination.

I am not from SF and hard for me to believe that a company like Twitter cares about your look more than your technical expertise.

  I will add than Twitter had a specific atmosphere compared  
  to other so called startups. The employees seem to be hired 
  on more than skills, everyone at their office is very much 
  hipster like, beautiful looking, feeling super confident 
  and ready to kick it. Walking around Twitter sometimes 
  almost feels like walking within a TV show.

>cares about your look more than your technical expertise.

In all fairness that's not what he said. Some companies - like google - have a very objective hiring process based almost entirely on technical skill. But many other companies include "fit" as a part of the hiring decision. I haven't interviewed at twitter but I could believe they are like that.

I've thumbed down candidates who did well on the technical part of the interview because I felt I wouldn't get along with them day to day. Not as extreme as "beautiful" people who are "ready to kick it", but more like arrogance or social awkwardness.

Has the tech sector really come to the point where coders/geeks can't even be socially awkward anymore?

I thought coding was one profession where socially awkward geeks could make an honest living.

Maybe "bad communication skills" is the more precise way of putting it. I work in a very collaborative team that frequently has to communicate with both technical and non-technical people, so being social and at least somewhat friendly is pretty important. Most tech people are a little socially awkward so getting rejected for it really says something.

I think people with poor social skills can thrive in tech, but in a more internally facing position like pure development or testing.

They still can. Making an honest living can mean anything from coding Rails at a trendy startup to writing SQL Server stored procedures at a Big 4 to doing mail merges in Access for an ISD in rural Kansas. However, there will always be some companies where coding alone doesn't make them a good fit, whether that's being a programmer for Twitter or the Southern Baptist Convention.

I'm sorry but I don't want to work with someone in a collaborative environment whom I can't openly connect with and if there is no clear line of communication between that person and me.

I also don't want to work with someone who I don't think I can get along with, and more importantly; that I feel the rest of the team can't get along with.

It affects the team and ultimately it will affect the product.

It's what happens when an industry becomes democratized, i.e. a reliable source of high-paying jobs.

So long as you can be socially awkward together, you're probably golden.

Thank you, that's exactly what I meant. I probably should improve that part of the article, and it could probably actually be removed. It was some sarcastic humor but in end, I never felt that visiting other companies.

You do feel sometimes technical isn't enough, but at Twitter you could definitely feel you had to look good. And you could also feel how current employees were proud to be part of the adventure. Proud as being part of the topnotch Silicon Valley companies.

  I will add than Twitter had a specific atmosphere compared  
  to other so called startups. The employees seem to be ...
  beautiful looking ...
brb using imagination since no pics

Excellent post, thanks for writing it. The viewpoint of a French developer probably resonates with anyone from Europe.

> You’ll see an immense amazing positive atmosphere everywhere, people working day time for a normal job and coding on evenings in coffee places, trying to work on their latest idea. They might even raise a few millions dollars on it, really.

I completely appreciate this - it's an amazing cultural difference.

I don't buy this. For me, the biggest problem in SF is that it is in US. Ever when I'm in that country I feel like I'm home. The politics, the crooked police, the expensive life... I don't want to be part of it. I really love Europe. This is my home continent with different countries and different people. I love to write code and I can get a pretty decent life also in Berlin. The weather is not so nice, but the city atmosphere really feels welcoming. And not all interesting challenges are in SF, believe me.

Know that feel. I am from Canada (which is probably closer to US culturally than Europe) and having been here for 5 years, I am really really home sick...

Interesting read. Does anyone have recent experience in obtaining a Green Card? I'd be interested to know how long it takes on average, transitioning from an H1-B visa.

>Mecca for Software Engineers, the only place in the World where the guy in front at Starbucks has big chance to be Software developer.

I'm a iOS developer and I love software, but this was one of my main reasons for leaving SF.

Depending on your educational background and working experience, you go into one or another category. Most people here will fit in EB-3, EB-2 and EB-1. If you are in EB-1 you can get it in about a year; in EB-2 you can get it in two years unless you're from China or India; in EB-3 you can probably get it in seven years, unless you're from India.

It depends on a lot of factors. You can get an H1B and renew it once, and each period lasts 3 years. During your H1B, your company can sponsor your Green Card application, which in itself can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years - sometimes longer.

It depends on the E status you can get. If you get sponsored for an E3, forget about it. With an E1 (say, you are the world expert in your field), you can have a green card very quickly. E2 can take a year or two.

The other course, depending on your country of citizenship, is asylum, which enables you to skip the queue and apply for your green card after a year. However, fraud is a big issue and you will eventually get slammed.

I think you mean EB status not E status, which refers to the priority level of the green card application.

I was really confused because an E3 is a visa very similar to a H1-B for Australians and an E1 is a visa for traders from countries that the US has a free trade agreement with.

YES! Early morning brain fart? :-) Thanks for clarifying that.

> But being rejected by a team because you’re not a fit doesn’t mean you can’t try another within the same company, if the company is big enough (Apple, Google, etc).

Google's teams don't hire; Google hires (teams aren't even able to influence the process, by design) -- then you get placed on a team.

> Google's teams don't hire; Google hires (teams aren't even able to influence the process, by design)

Not quite.

While the generic SWE / new grad process is close to what you describe, individual teams and managers regularly exert a non-zero amount of influence: in screening and routing candidates, recommending the interview slate, getting the packet to hiring committee, and bidding on a candidate once an offer is made.

It's also common for more specialized groups (such as Platforms) to have their own HC.

This is a very well written piece with lots of good advice. Thanks a lot for writing this.

> This is a very well written

It may contain some interesting points, but it is obviously written by an ESL writer.

That's international English (lingua franca).

I find it fun when native speaker complain about ESL speakers, since in the end it is likely that international English will win.

I live in a non-English speaking country, the common language in the office is international English (there are 60+ nationalities, and less than 20% are native english speaker). It would be fun to track over time if the native speakers start speaking international english :)

The ESL-voice was part of the charm. It adds a note of authenticity. :-)

As a junior web developer currently looking for my first full-time job programming in San Francisco, this all rings very true, and is a great summary of the job-hunting experience in the city. In my experience, referrals helped more than in the original poster's experience. Usually a referral skips me ahead to step 3 in the process (as laid out in the post).

What is the most important thing and what the article pointed out greatly is the need for the green card, without it, your life becomes incredibly dependent on your employer (unless you remain flexible).

I'm going to college in the US, but am from Germany, and what makes me reluctant to plan a future in the US, is the requirement for me to bind myself to a company for in worst case 10+ years to have the certainty that I can stay in the US, should I chose not wanting to be employed.

Aiming to be a freelancer or entrepreneur becomes next to impossible if you want to stay in the US without a green card. At least to my knowledge, I'd be happy to be wrong in this case.

"French will note US companies don’t pay much tax on salaries like they do in France, what could make you think is a lot of money isn’t. Your French salary costs 40% extra to your company, but not in San Francisco."

Not really the case. Taxes + benefits can easily add up to that much. General rule is it costs 150% of a salary to employ someone in the US. Much of what might be lumped into taxes in other countries is just paid for separately (such as healthcare), but the overall cost of the employee sounds like its about equal.

Would love to also see a follow-up piece about getting a job in Paris

Getting a job in Paris is like a getting a job anywhere else - there are stupid aspects of the system and there are meritocratic aspects. If you're looking to hear "why is it so hard for me to find a job in paris?" You will certainly find enough excuses - though I think the same can be said of almost anywhere.

That being said, here are a few things to know:

1) France's unemployment rate is north of 10% (closer to 25% if you're under 25) and it's not for lack of companies. It's because large companies are essentially on a hiring freeze until the economy balances out, because employment comes with a lot of string attached (hard to fire, expensive to fire, high social taxes on top of employees).

2) Startup employees don't work 35 hours a week - I've never once seen this, and I'd be curious to meet teams who did. If you want to work at a public tech company, or Google France, you may work 35hours/week, just like you would at EA or Oracle in the US. The fact is that the 35 hour work week is a law to protect employees, but the 6-month trail period that precedes your 'protection' usually sets the tempo for work life. Those who can't handle working 45-50 hours a week, or at the pace set by the company, are usually kicked out with 24 hour noticed within the first 6 months.

3) Getting a job in Paris is easy, especially for an American. Your CV is "I'm an American" and any startup who's raised 1Million+ will be a fool not to take you. So, if you're looking for a job in Paris, just tweet it, and you'll have a job offer by the end of the day. If you're a little less technical, Law/accountign firms hire international people with VISAs all the time to cover their intl. clients.

More news about French Tech at @RudeBaguette - http://rudebaguette.com

Well there is a huge difference. As a Software Engineer you want to work in San Francisco because it's where your job happens.

In Paris, nothing happens on that level. If you do want to come to Paris it's because of the amazing food, lifestyle, public transportation system, and certainly not because of the amazing startups we should have.

Not to mention working in Paris is like working part time here. 35 hour weeks!!! Mandated by law too. Of course this might also be why there isn't a vibrant startup culture.

Companies can easily workaround the 35 hours week with the "cadre" status that basically nullify the regulated hours constraint, and they do.

I don't know any developer in Paris that do a 35 hours week. Actually it's even the contrary, French managers have a strong culture of evaluating employees performance based on presence. So you see a lot of peoples doing 10-12 hours a day, or coming back to the office on saturday.

This. I don't know any french developer not being on a day rate instead of an hour rate. An awful lot of people on an hour rate have a number of extra hours factored in their salary by default.

It's still better than the US, "cadre" status (but not top management) is officially around 180-190 day of work per year (depending on the unions).

I'd say that in Paris, a referral is necessary and often sufficient. Le "piston".

In SF, it's often necessary and hardly ever sufficient.

> I'd say that in Paris, a referral is necessary and often sufficient. Le "piston".


I think it's a core deep cultural issue about France. The whole system is completely corrupted, people are used to get "passe-droit" (not sure about the translation) for anything, and even the top Political leaders are acting this way. Politician asking cops not to be fined for something illegal they just did, a friend of a friend asking the School President to let their kid attend their school, etc.

The whole French society is based on this. Many say it's a Monarchy, and not a Republic.

I think the English word you're looking for is "nepotism."

"Passe-droit" means "special favor" in french.

Although this is written for French developers looking to come to the US, I found it interesting as a window into what things are like in France. Thanks for writing it!

AFAIK salaries are rather low there, but cost of living is quite expensive.

As far I as know, here in France CS engineers are never hungry, but they don't have nice cars. I'd say middle class. There is a difference in value here, marketing and sales people are paid more than engineers, and they generally rule the show. Startups are often created or ruled by people out of a business school. F.Penso is an exception I think because he's the original French startup guy, tinkerer and hipster (I mean this guy has a soviet era photo camera) since the first wave of startup hype. I'm slightly disappointed he didn't strike it rich because he's been active in the field for quite some time (and he built what was one of the biggest french websites at the time).

> I'm slightly disappointed he didn't strike it rich because he's been active in the field for quite some time

I appreciate your comment but I'm not disappointed. If being rich means working 20 hours a day for 5 years will little luck of success in the end (like any startups), I'm not willing to pay the price.

I've traveled months per year the recent years, spent a year in Asia, rided 22,000 kilometers in India on Enfield (and about to go again for 4 months) and so more much I can't list here. I feel very lucky of my current position.

However I have to say the feeling I had when living in San Francisco is as following. If I had spent as much time and dedication on my projects while living in San Francisco instead of Paris, I would have had 100 times more in return than what I've had in France. On a money level, as well as on a professional level. Might be too late now.

That is not only in France, it's in all Europe. Salaries in Germany, The Netherlands, UK and so on are much much lower than in SF or NY. Developer jobs that pay more than 60k euro are few and far between. A 50k+ job is already above average and upgrading is not going to be easy.

The difference is, Europe see developers as commodities. They don't care, they don't need them as much as they do in San Francisco.

San Francisco see developers as the only way to achieve their project they just raised 10 millions for. You're gold to them, they accept to pay a higher price.

In Europe most young developers want to be Product Manager (or any Manager positions), most developers in SF don't care about this, they want to have fun. The reason could be you get paid super well in SF, and not in Europe :)

Absolutely, I completely agree with those things. I don't think devs here want to go into some kind of management position because they're not having fun in a technical job. It's because technical jobs in Europe are a dead end. You can make a living (just pray you don't get fired after your 50s), but anyone with a bit of ambition can see that it's just not worth it in the long run. Why stay as a developer when you can go into a cushy management or presales position that pays easily over 100k?

Exactly This. MBA's aren't a joke in EU. They are actually taken seriously..

They aren't a joke in the US or the rest of the world either. It's only in certain circles that they're not valued. There's plenty of companies where an MBA from a well-known university is a passport stamp (and prerequisite) to a high paying job.

What's important is not to stop at comparing salaries. Compare total costs of living. Healthcare, housing, commuting, taxes, insurance. Compare (real) options for work or education or you and your family.

Thanks, now I understand why UK/EU recruiters are soliciting 60-80K euros positions to me all the time. They probably think the salary is so good I am going to drop everything and move over there.

Pretty much, 80k for a dev position in the EU is very rare (except in London/finance).

Interesting. Are these 50-60k/year developers available for contract hire? How would an American company find them online?

Hard to say, every country has its own market gotchas. Those 50k something devs are almost always working in salaried positions.

I can count in one hand the number of technical freelancers I've ever seen or heard about but I also have never actively searched for one. On the other hand there are a lot of companies that act as middlemen between contractors and companies. These contractors are employed and paid by the middlemen, but they go on to work directly on the client's site. These middlemen make a very decent profit since they pay their employees the usual (20-40 euros/h), while they bill them out to companies for up to five times as much. In some languages these companies have a specific name but I don't know how to translate it. I think they're a bit different than the agencies in the USA where as far as I know they take a percentage of the contractor's hourly rate.

In any case I guess Linkedin is a decent starting point. In some European countries it is used by huge percentages of the working population.

Those middle men are just recruitment agencies, generally. As a standard they don't have guys on staff and will take somewhere between 15%-30% on top. The 5x as much usually have full time employees and are something different, though it does happen.

For the contractor, contracting via a respected agency means you're almost guaranteed to be paid. However, they don't really offer much value beyond that. I personally dislike dealing with them but then again, my last contract didn't pay the agent, and I still got paid.

Yes, I wasn't talking about recruitment agencies, I was talking about the ones with full time staff.

Recruitment agencies.

They don't really do that much besides spam the local job sites, but being from the US you won't know the local job sites, so you can either need to invest in figuring that out or you can pay recruiters their cut.

UK wise, there are a whole bunch of sites I guess the following catch most of the population:-

http://cwjobs.co.uk http://gumtree.com/uk http://jobsite.co.uk http://www.s1jobs.com/ http://www.technojobs.co.uk/ http://www.monster.co.uk

60000e is about £50000. Inside London or working within the finance industry, there will be developers who'll be earning more than that figure, especially contractors. However, typically contract rates seem to be between £200 - £400 per day, with some outliers on both ends of the scale.

This. I'm paid almost 50k in Paris, leaving this year to the US to find a job.

I should follow your path. Do you have a visa? Or do you plan to find the firm and request the visa then?

Hello Yves, I don't have one, I don't feel my credentials from Paris will get me far enough, so I will go to SF and NYC physically this summer. The VISA can come later.

Thank you for your (double) feedback! :-)

If you want to communicate more, i'm Igosuki on twitter.

And don't buy the 35-hour workweek for a second. As a developer, especially a lead, the hours can be very similar to the USA.

I read this blog post with a french accent in my head.

Where do these salary numbers come from?

I have to agree, 150k for senior engineer? I would say 100-120k for senior engineer, 75-100k for engineer, 50-60k for intern.

For the Bay Area these days, those numbers seem about right. Big companies pay 100k to new grads

Seconded. Engineering salaries have jumped significantly recently. With 2 years experience out of college I've seen people getting offers of 120k - 140k.

Those numbers are what I'd expect to find in Houston, not in San Francisco.

It'd be hard to get me to move to SF in a senior role for anything less than $120k.

Are you in SF? I'm in Houston, and 100K is closer to the norm for engineers here, but of course, 100K wouldn't go as far in SF. Were I to take a job in SF, I'd probably need a $20K-30K premium.

Damn, sounds like I need to go down there then.

I'm in my first midlevel engineering position and including my year end bonus I make about 125k and this was the salary they offered me. My asking price was below what they offered.

Is there only a 20% difference between someone with 5-10 years of experience and someone straight out of college??

For the long-term career-conscious and money-hungry, it almost makes you want to plan a trajectory that doesn't plateau at "senior engineer". That seems like a shame/misuse of resources, doesn't it?

What's wrong with Parisians?

Basically, they were hipsters before it was cool.

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