Sticking It to Bit Valley Workers

Back to Contents of Issue: July 2000

by Daniel Scuka

Bit Valley has already been accused of over-hyping itself. Now it looks like it underpays, too. Check out this sampling of tech jobs and salaries posted by Bit Valley startups on a local job site recently (

  • Network engineer -- ¥12-1800/hr (part-time)
  • ASP application developer -- ¥3-10 million/yr
  • Web application programmer -- ¥3 million/yr (full-time and contract)
  • Network administrator -- ¥2.5 million/yr (full-time and contract)
  • Unix/C/CGI programmer -- ¥2.4 million/yr (full-time and contract)
  • System engineer -- ¥3.6 million/yr (contract)
  • Web designer for mobile platforms -- ¥2.2 million/yr (full-time)

The salaries quoted are low for the tech world. In Tokyo, they can barely be considered living wages. What's more, these aren't entry-level positions. The companies are looking for programmers experienced in C, C++, Java, and Unix, as well as Web developers who know their way around Perl and CGI scripts. Even techies suited for the mobile Net revolution appear to be getting low-balled.

"I agree that the Bit Valley startups are generally paying a lot less than established companies for engineers and developers," says Leo Keeley, president of Japan InfoTech, a Tokyo-based management outsourcing firm. "While the difference is more pronounced here in Japan," he adds, "you do see a similar gap in the US. Startups and established companies are recruiting from very different gene pools. People who work for startups -- in Bit Valley or Silicon Valley -- tend to be younger and less motivated by money. They're more turned on by the technology and the buzz than by salaries. To the right kind of person, these jobs are really fun, and there's a lot of competition to work in the best startups."

Savvy founders are taking artful advantage of engineers' youthful enthusiasm when it comes to stock options as well. "Early startups with no valuation can't offer a meaningful stock option plan, although I'm sure many offer the vague promise of stock options in the future," says Augie Tam, founder of investing site

It's a classic example of old age and treachery winning the day. And who can blame the employers? When you're putting a company together, and you've got investors, potential investors, and partners scrutinizing every expense, the imperative becomes "Get the best possible people, but at the cheapest possible prices."

Japanese societal customs also favor Bit Valley employers. "Although perhaps less true for the IT field, Japanese companies traditionally offer relatively low salaries to twenty-somethings, as salary is based on age and not just skills," says Tam. "Therefore, these new ventures that want young blood may not feel pressured or be expected to pay good salaries until the employees reach 30, get married, and have kids."

Which, of course, is when youthful enthusiasm gives way to disillusionment and the engineers strike back. After engineers clue in to the fact that a lot of development work involves not the latest and greatest mobile apps, but elevator scheduling as well, they stick it back to management. "It's a different ballgame at an older company," Keeley says. "If you're going to ask a developer to re-engineer that old RPG III time-and-attendance system, you'd better be ready to give till it hurts. No one does that kind of work for love."

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