“A few months ago I applied for a pretty advanced software engineering position at a local company. I realized that if a potential employer here asks you why you live in Vancouver they are just setting you up to expect a crap pay.”

ams at VREAA 20 May 2011 8:02pm“A few months ago I applied for a pretty advanced software engineering position at a local company, thinking I can get away from traveling east for doing consulting work. I was surprised that one of the questions that was asked in the interview was “Why do you want to live in Vancouver?” I thought it was a strange question but then right after that we talked about salary expectations and discovered my expectations and their were off by about 30K to 40K. That is when I realized that if a potential employer in Vancouver asks you why you live in Vancouver they are just setting you up to expect a crap pay. I think employers in this town think oh why yes you live in Vancouver you should be happy so shut up and accept crap pay because baby you are in Vancouver!”

[Note juxtaposition with next anecdote -> It’s tough for both employers and employees in over-expensive Vancouver. -vreaa]

22 responses to ““A few months ago I applied for a pretty advanced software engineering position at a local company. I realized that if a potential employer here asks you why you live in Vancouver they are just setting you up to expect a crap pay.”

  1. “why yes you live in Vancouver you should be happy so shut up and accept crap pay”

    LOL maybe. More likely they’re trying to figure out whether you’re a “lifer” and have ties that will keep you in Vancouver for a long time (family obligations) or you’re some guy who’s planning on leaving when career ops elsewhere are better.

    • I don’t think that was the reason jesse as I did indicate in the interview that I was looking for a position where I can grow with the company for many years.

  2. I returned to Vancouver from living and working in Silicon Valley for four years (I left after my MBA because Vancouver opportunities were lacking at the time). My wife and came back to start a family, and because we had grown tired of the Valley.

    I interviewed at one company for a Chief Technology Officer position. When we got around to salary discussions, the employer indicated they would be willing to go as high as 90K. I pointed out that this was the salary I earned ten years ago.

    “Oh you can’t compare a Vancouver salary to what you would get in Silicon Valley!”

    “I’m not. That’s what I was paid ten years ago…in Vancouver.”

    <awkward silence>

    Ten years of additional experience, an additional advanced degree, plus international experience in the hotbed of technology in a significant role at a successful startup = no incremental value to a Vancouver firm.

    Needless to say, I now work for a firm in Silicon Valley, remote from Vancouver, at close to twice the salary they offered. For those of you wondering – the cost of living in Vancouver is about the same as living in California.

    What is wrong with this picture?

  3. ams, what was the salary they were offering?

    • low 80 to 85K range, the crazy part is that I was pulling in about that much per year 10 years ago for similar work that I did and I did not have the kind of breadth and depth of experience that I have today.

      What really bothers me about the situation in Vancouver is that 85K a year salary is way over average for Canada and for Vancouver but still if I had taken that job I would be short every month and I live a pretty simple life style I am married with a 14 month baby. In 2010 our expenses for the year were $81,294.01 average of $6774.50 per year, for 2011 we have spent $34,890.08. These were living expense costs rent + food + baby + car + other we own a single car and we have $0 debt and enough savings to put a substantial down payment on a house in a “normal” property market.

      I needed a minimum salary of 105K to have enough money to pay the family expenses and save an extra few hundred dollars per month towards retirement, kids education.

      I currently make way more than 85K per year and was ready for a pay cut to take a full time job from doing the consulting work that i do which has me flying back east quite often. The only reason why I am still in Vancouver is the wife’s attachment to Vancouver, and the fact I make my money outside Vancouver.

      I have set spring 2011 as the date to move back to Ontario most likely Toronto, Kitchener Waterloo, or Ottawa all locations that are much better for IT work.

      • $80k to $85k range is a standard (median) salary for experienced software engineers in Vancouver.
        There are companies that pay $100k – $120k, though.

  4. 90K for a CTO? How bad *are* professional salaries in Vancouver anyways?

    • In general, salaries in Vancouver are about 30% below those in Silicon Valley for a comparable position. Plus, Vancouver firms are pretty stingy about bonuses (but that’s more a Canadian trait, than a Vancouver-specific trait).

      My example above was a bit extreme – it was a smaller startup, so they can be somewhat forgiven. That said, a developer buddy of mine with serious C/C++ experience managed to “negotiate up” a senior software developer position to a salary of $85K. A talented developer could earn that in 3 or 4 months of contract work to the right company, and take the rest of the year off, providing they’re not doing contracts for a Canadian company.

      What’s interesting is when you compare the other components of the cost of living – for example, our apartment is slightly nicer in Vancouver, but slightly cheaper (less than 5% cheaper). We do save on gas here (rarely drive), but get screwed whenever I try to buy something online (because it’s not available in Canada) by the customs/brokerage/duty fees. Food is more expensive, but then there are other things that are cheaper. Taxes versus California are about the same overall.

      Generally, Vancouver comes out even in terms of costs (excluding real estate). It’s just the salaries that simply don’t compete. So, if you’re talented, you’re paying the same as you would elsewhere, but getting screwed by the salary and the cost to own a home). And if you rent, well, good luck finding a three-bedroom anywhere near downtown. Apparently everyone here is single and enjoys living in a shoebox.

      Most of the competent, experienced people I know who do live here are working elsewhere (typically the US). I run into them at the airport en route to SFO, even on the plane itself. I heard of a neurosurgeon who lives off Dunbar but works in St. Louis (commutes once a month for surgery). There’s a pair of guys that have a studio in East Van, but record songs for the likes of Shania Twain and others.

      This is the new reality – if you’re in an industry that has a transportable skill set, people will transport it to wherever the money pays us best. This will only accelerate as companies care less and less about where you work, and more about your results. Vancouver companies, whether they realize it or not, are competing for talent against Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles for talent. The costs of housing only exacerbate the problem, and starve local industry of the creative oxygen it needs to thrive.

      The sad part is that people like us are probably also a part of the problem in Vancouver’s real estate industry – people leave, make money, come back, drive up prices with earnings that couldn’t be generated in Vancouver. Eventually, the result is you have to leave at some point to get experience and proper compensation.

      • Interesting perspective from the IT world, thanks.

        Some personal experience.

        After graduate school (top school in the US), I got hired to teach at a university in the area. Compared to similar jobs at the US, the salary I negotiated (65K) seemed quite generous. By comparison, a colleague of mine — a really first rate scientist — got a tenure track job at a state university in the US for about 15K less a year.


        1) One of the major efforts I was involved in was recruiting new faculty. We hoped to have a blend of young recent graduates, as well as experienced, established academics who might be interested in something new. We did not lack for applications or interest! (Academic jobs — even non-tenure track, teaching only — are incredibly dear and hugely sought after.) Nevertheless, on more than one occasion, the obvious shortfall of even good salary offers compared to local real estate prices was a major problem. At one point, we had a senior physicist (30 years teaching, research, public science TV show, chair of department) back out even after accepting a job offer after he spent a weekend house hunting. Even counting the money he would have from selling his paid off house in Texas, and even with a nominally great salary, he suddenly realized he wouldn’t be reasonably be able to buy a house. So he backed out.

        2) Several of my colleagues hired at the same time did buy. Some had substantial equity from previous house sales. One managed to scrape into a tiny <500 sq ft. older condo, and lived house poor regardless. Another — a senior hire, also with some equity — saw no choice but to sign up with the 40 year mortgage plan.

        3) I was one of the more junior hires, of course. I quickly realized that I wouldn't be able to buy a small, run down house to rebuild (a bit of a dream of mine — that, and building a boat). Reasonable expectations for advancement and raises meant that I wouldn't expect to be able to do so in the future either, unless prices dropped a good 30+%. (This was in 2008!).

        4) For a variety of reasons, I left the Vancouver area, academia and took a job in industry. Almost double the salary for at least 30% fewer hours and hugely less stress and worry. I haven't bought a house yet (no rush) but I'm certainly able to do so. While certainly not at the top of my reasons to leave, it wasn't inconsiderable.

        5) Another industry job offer I had at the time — in Vancouver — would have paid 90K. Had that been an option out of grad school, it would have seemed amazingly rich. Having spent three years in the area, though, what I once would have considered a lot of money seemed considerably leaner.

  5. Pingback: “I now work for a firm in Silicon Valley, remote from Vancouver, at close to twice the salary they offered.” | Vancouver Real Estate Anecdote Archive

  6. Mature Student

    I’ve heard similar stories about people applying to jobs in the Okanagan, an area which is notorious for its low-paying service jobs. A friend of mine considering relocating there was once told, “You have to factor in the sunshine tax.”

    B.C. may have a temperate climate, but that doesn’t justify non-livable wages.

    • everyone is such a namby pampy urbanite here

      the winters in the rest of the province may be long and harsh but talk about beautiful country – i wonder what it will take to make the rest of bc appealing to anyone who doesn’t already know about it??

  7. As much as it pains me to admit that Vancouver’s population is one of the dumbest I’ve ever come across, can we ask ourselves if it really makes a difference to the economy if the best and brightest leave? Vancouver’s economy is, prima facie, doing as well as it ever has with businesses like Urban Fare, Urban Puppy, Urban Barn, Urban Source, Urban Outfitters and Urban Yarns prospering. It would seem that it doesn’t matter or whether you, the young, urban, overeducated professional participates or not.

    • what if i, the young, urban, under-formally-educated non-professional doesn’t participate?

      • According to Rusty you don’t even count as human. Stop breathing my air knave.

      • how foolish was i to think that my great grandfather setting up the manitoba wheat pool, my grandfather farming wheat for 50 years and my father’s 50 years as a canadian gold mining engineer might have earned me a few years to fart around.


    • Dumb is the word… Reality TV, Canucks, golf, yoga wear and iP** (iPad, IPod, iPhone) dominate office conversation. Any mention of anything vaguely intellectual only draws bovine stares and drooling…

  8. Reading this article is painful: http://goo.gl/sY2SP

    Vancouver and Vancouverites try so hard to be relevant.

  9. Hi everybody,

    Even though I am well aware that this thread and post is almost 2 years old I couldn’t find the right place on this entire www to post my question.

    What would be a fair/good iOS Mobile Developer salary for someone with this skill set in Vancouver?

    I’m a iOS mobile developer with about 7 years of programming experience and 4+ years with iOS & OSx development. I have a University Bachelors’ degree in Computer Science obtained in 2008. My portfolio includes a lot of titles available in the app store and at least 3 of those titles are for very big US brands.

    Now as far as I can see there is a demand of iOS developers right now in the Vancouver area. (looking at the recruitment ads)

    The salaries I found online are listed as: $91,000 (indeed.com), $65,000 – $90,000 (on payscale, based on experience), $80,000 (salary.com, intermediate level).

    Now my questions are these:

    1. What would a person with my skill set be considered in Vancouver: entry-level, intermediate or senior?

    2. Based on what you know are the numbers I’ve found online pretty accurate or are they exaggerated?

    3. In case you’re in the recruiting area or can respond to this: What would be a fair offer for someone with that profile? (assuming that the description is objective)

    Thank you for your time and looking forward to see some opinions.


  10. Try Living in Victoria….

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