A few days ago I came across a job search site, and given I have decided to dive into a geeky path, so I clicked into the site to see whether there will be a future for being a tech guy in the Hong Kong industry. Not to my surprise, the first thing I noticed was the extremely low paying monthly salary ranging from HK$8,000 to $12,000 (that is about US$1,000 to $1,500 a month) as a web developer or designer. What struck me hard was that these jobs require specialized skill, at least not everyone could become a person capable of working with HTML, CSS, PHP and SQL in a few months. And so what is the reason that they still get paid so little working six days a week? Why are employers still offering a salary that anyone could barely survive with in Hong Kong?

I became curious about this matter because a few weeks ago I applied to Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco. DBC is an intense program that will teach Ruby on Rails in 9 weeks, and on average graduates get paid US$80,000 annually for being an entry level developer. Hmmm…using my middle school math, that’s US$6,666 a month, almost four and a half times higher than working in Hong Kong. Just a few months of intense programming and anyone will “definitely” get a much better pay about 8,000 miles away.

So I started pondering, are the jobs really that different in HK and in SanFran? Is it the culture? Is it the boss?

In my point of view, culture stands as a huge differentiator in this situation. The competitive environment forces young people in Hong Kong to underestimate the value of their work, thus lowering their own expectations of salary. They tend to believe they have “no say” over what they are offered, and if they don’t take the job, someone will. This scenario makes it so easy for the employer to just stick with a low paying salary because eventually, a young man in bad financial shape will step into the shoe of this job and be willing to take the job with that amount of money. With this salary level, most of the jobs even require working on Saturday, which is totally ridiculous.

Secondly, a lot of business owners in Hong Kong pay more attention on the numbers (profit and cost) over the quality of working in a team (personality, motivation, company culture). I have interned in startups before, and the environment of startups is not far different from a normal small business. Everyone gets there around 9:30am, sits in front of their computers, and occasionally hold meetings. Though it is better, it is still too much like a traditional business without the fun and energy a startup should have. Employers look for the cheapest possible labor to do the job, and the overall culture and how happy this guy will be? Screw it, not a big deal.

If the majority of the industry (mostly fresh graduates from local universities) remain silent with the money they get paid, then the payroll will never be able to rise. It takes a whole system of people to make an impact, and it is a very difficult task. This is just what I feel about most tech jobs in town, I might be wrong because I’m extremely new to this. Hopefully I will see more upside rooms and potentials leading up to successful stories in the near future in my own land.