Comparing Sydney to Silicon Valley

I was recently asked by a reader this question..

“How do you compare Sydney to SV, in terms of  work-life balance, housing costs and traffic?”

So here goes. The following is based on my 3 years of experience working in the valley with over 8 years from Sydney. Some things may have changed in the last 3 years but I’m certain most still hold true till today. If I messed up anything let me know and I will correct it. Happy reading!

Silicon Valley, California – yap. It’s in the valley

Work-life balance

Sydney Silicon Valley
Mainly corporate companies dominated land scape and thus a very corporate lifestyle. Wage is mainly just salary and the manager rules in the workplace. There are few exceptions like Atlassian but overall startups are rare. Like in London, most Aussies head to the pub after a 8 hr work day (especially Friday) for a drink and chat with their mates leaving weekends for the beach. Very startup orientated landscape and thus a very casual work lifestyle. Great Software Engineers are like gold and always hunted & looked after with great compensation (wage & stock options), tools (Mac) and free food. If you are at a startup it is common to be working 11 hr days 6 days a week or hanging out at a hackerspace building a new online or mobile product. Not much pubs or beach going on here unless you live in San Diego.
Australia has a “public” health system and also the option for private health. Your health is not tied to your company like in the USA. Taxation is different and higher but also wage dependent – see your tax agent for details. Most people are encouraged to buy an investment property to reduce it via the many benefits available for investors. Thus most Aussies are financially savvy. Check out my previous post on employment & contracts in the valley. It has many things to watch out for. Especially the dreaded health system being tied to your work. No job no health cover unless its via your partner’s employer. With tax you pay the federal & state taxes but it will still work out for the better by 3-5% for software engineers working here vs Australia.
Software Engineers do not exist. They call them IT or programmers whom are treated (at corporate firms) like reusable hanky. Managers & big titles rule the floor here. Good Software Engineers are what makes companies great. Always the last to go when head count is being reduced. Without good software engineers there is no business.

Conclusion: If you’re a good software engineer then you belong in silicon valley. Here’s a guide how to get to silicon valley. Otherwise Australia is better for lifestyle.

Super Happy Dev House – the hacking culture in Silicon Valley

Housing costs

Sydney Silicon Valley
Buy: Real estate prices in Australia are (currently) valued at more than they are worth. Median house price is around $500K. This of course fluctuates based on popular cities like Sydney & Melbourne. Check out the property update for latest data. Buy: Varies based on county & sub zip code. San Mateo is around $500K & Santa Clara around $460. Let’s take Mountain View. 3 different zip codes 3 different prices: 94040 – $950K, 94041 – $699K & 94043 – $545K. Los Altos (next door to Mountain View) is $1.5m.
Rent: The closer you are to the city the more you will pay. In Wollstonecraft (10 mins from city) average 1 bedroom will set you back around $430 per week. The newer and closer to transport the higher that figure will go up. Rent: City (San Francisco) is still expensive to live in but so is living 1 hour down into the valley (San Mateo county) where all the tech companies (and jobs) are located. In Mountain View(home of Google et al) expect to pay anywhere from $400 to $500 per week for a 1 bedroom apartment.Moutain view benefits – lifestyle
Good sites to check out on property pricing are and Good sites to check out on property pricing are and

Conclusion: Expect similar buy & rent prices between the 2 locations. In Sydney you will live inner city and pay the same as you would in the valley away from the city.

Sydney, Australia – beautiful isn’t it!!


Sydney Silicon Valley
Not all roads are free. Sydney is cursed with british influence of 2 lane (each way) freeways. Most major public roads have been cut back to 1 lane forcing people to use the mostly private 110 km Sydney Orbital Network to get around. Sections of this have different owners and different prices via electronic means. Expect to pay around $20+ to do a full loop. Disaster! Traffic gets bad as LA near the city. All roads are free except the Golden Gate Bridge ($6 south bound). Freeways can span up to 6 lanes each way. Huge arteries run thru the valley like 101 & 280 – see here. Also a good chance you will run into many bad drivers. More people on the road = more bad drivers. The one pet hate I have is the lack of use of indicators. Such a common event it angers me cops aren’t doing anything about it.
People are angry & fearful to drive faster due to cash safety cameras (speed & red light cameras) all around Sydney. It’s madness. So traffic is going to be slow on roads (mentioned above) which are already crammed up. Please bring electric self driving cars to Sydney and stop this camera madness as a way to save lifes. No safety cameras anywhere except for few in San Francisco. Most motorists drive fast on the freeway averaging 80 miles/hr. I’ve seen a cop car zoom in front of a batch of cars and slow everyone down with lights blinking and moving between lanes. That’s manners!
Public transport is very good & reasonably priced in Sydney with bus lanes in most busy suburbs & throughout the city. Highly recommend using the bus if you have access to it else you will be left with City Rail. City Rail has been a disaster (delays & service cancellations) but it’s getting better. Most people drive their cars to work. The HOV is there to encourage American’s to carpool & use electric vehicles to get around even faster. During business hours even the freeways clog up but traffic still moves. More on public transport options & commuting here.

Conclusion: In Sydney use public transport. Sydney is congested due to bad & expensive road infrastructure. You will also save more money that way. If you prefer to drive than USA is the king of the road.

few more of my own additions…


Sydney Silicon Valley
During summer it is hot, sticky and humid around 40°C (104 °F). Winters are dry and cold dropping to 2°C (35.6°F). Australia is very brown. Not as green as USA. During summer it is farken amazing! Excuse the F word but this is the BEST place in the world for weather. Dry and sunny sometimes peeking at 40°C (104 °F). Winters are rainy and cold dropping to 2°C (35.6°F).
Go to USA to shop for clothes for choice & price. 2 major grocery retailers (ColesWoolworths) play a game of monopoly with consumers keeping prices high and pushing the smaller players out. Clothes & cars are half price of Australia. Competition is high here with many many retailers. Competition is healthy to bring prices down & increase consumer service. If you buy organic free range food here it is as much as in Australia for standard supermarket food.
A large island in the middle of the South Pacific with a population of 20m. Most of Australia is dry/red, population lives in isolated centers on the edges of the island with nothing in the middle but deserts and deadly animals. Flights to Sydney from USA average around 14 hrs. Few places like Great Barrier Reef exist but not the diversity you get in the USA. Massive population of 300m spread across most of USA. Opportunities galore. Urszula has met and attended events ran by gurus in her industry. All those books she read the authors are based in the USA. Same goes for travelling for holidays. Every state is different and has something to show and see. Plenty to do and explore all under few hours of flight or drive.

Have questions you want answers to? Contact me.

~ Ernest

Author: Ernest W. Semerda

Aussie in Silicon Valley. Veryfi CoFounder (#YC W17 cohort). GSDfaster Founder. View all posts by Ernest W. Semerda

One thought on “Comparing Sydney to Silicon Valley”

  1. I wish I could tell how many years ago this was as I recently moved from Brisbane to the Bay Area. So perhaps a few updates? Housing prices have doubled since this was written.

    First – some geography – but first a political lesson for the Aussies – A county in the US is the basic civil division for our courts, birth/death/marriage records, jails, social services, etc and most local infrastructure (roads, transit, water, sewer, etc) and parks funding also happens at this level. Counties are then usually broken up into smaller municipalities which govern things like schools, police, fire, garbage collection, etc. Many counties with a big city are consolidated so that the city government and county government are one and the same. San Francisco is one such city.

    Geography then – the Golden Gate is where San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific. North of the Golden Gate is also known as the North Bay – which is also wine country – in Napa, Sonoma, and Marin Counties. Directly east of the Golden Gate is the East Bay which includes Alameda and Contra Costa Counties and where you’ll find cities such as Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, Fremont, etc. What you might be tempted to call the West Bay is known as “the Peninsula” which covers most of the area between SF and San Jose. That would be all of San Mateo County and the northernmost towns in Santa Clara County (Palo Alto & Mountain View). The South Bay is mostly synonymous with Santa Clara County. Silicon Valley stretches from Redwood City in San Mateo County, down through Santa Clara County and back around the Bay to Fremont.

    While the tech monoliths still dominate the Valley a whole lot of web and app based companies have sprung up in San Francisco with still more being driven to Emeryville and Oakland in search of cheaper office rents. SF is by far the most expensive part of the Bay Area for housing. Santa Clara County, especially around Palo Alto, is a close second with San Mateo County (between SF and Santa Clara Co.) is a bit cheaper if for no other reason than it now finds itself between these two great job centers. The East Bay (Hayward, Fremont, etc) is still a good deal cheaper.

    All of the bridges have tolls. They vary between $4 and $6 depending on the time of day. The FasTrack toll pass is a good companion for your car. Traffic can be nightmarish during peak periods. Most of the larger employers are required by the State to run their own shuttle services so that places like Google and Facebook offer their employees a “free” transit service right to those campuses. For the smaller firms you’re on your own. For the most part each county runs its own transit system but one only need to keep a Clipper Card topped up to use all of them seamlessly.

    San Francsco has MUNI which runs all of the buses, trams, and light rail in SF. San Mateo County runs buses as “SamTrans”. Caltrain runs trains through San Mateo County from San Francisco down to San Jose. San Jose, which is the center of Santa Clara County, has the VTA which runs all of the buses and light rail in Santa Clara. BART is the subway system that connects SF with Berkeley, Oakland, and the rest of the East Bay. There is a ferry network that connects downtown SF with the East and North Bay but it’s small by Sydney standards. Part of the reason for that is that the Bay is quite shallow in many spots south of San Francisco and environmental regulations make dredging especially costly and time consuming.
    The Bay Area is far from the best when it comes to public transport but it’s hardly the worst either.

    Healthcare – quite a few things have changed in the last 2 years. If you lose your job now you get to keep your insurance (if you want to) without having to pay exorbitant prices. If you can prove little to no income you get full coverage health care for nothing. When I lived in Oz I was required to have a private health cover and, as a non-citizen/non permanent resident I had no access to the public health system. It’s fairly similar here.

    The weather – we’re in the midst of a bad drought but nothing that Aussies would be alarmed by. Since the area is dominated by the Pacific, the Bay, and mountains there are a variety of microclimates. You can see in the picture at the top of this page the fog rolling over the hills in SF. That hill is actually a ridge that runs north/south from SF all the way down past San Jose and the hills get much larger as you move south from SF. To the west of that ridge the weather is often just as you see it in that picture – cold, damp, and shrouded in fog. You’ll find the cheapest rents in the Bay Area west of the hills. To the east of the hills you’ll enjoy more sunshine and warmer temps although SF itself is often cooler and windier than the rest of the Bay Area. For instance, during the summer months it’s quite common to see a high temp of 65F/18C in the miserable parts of SF, 72F/22C in the sunny parts of SF, 80F/27C in Oakland, and 87F/30C in San Jose. In fact, most larger apartment complexes in the South Bay/Santa Clara County have swimming pools. It’s unheard of in SF, the North Bay, and the East Bay north of Oakland.

    One last important point – Australia made it through the GFC with nary a bruise compared to what happened in the US. Throughout the country it was nearly impossible to get financing to build a house or apartment block for a solid 4 years and for 2 years after that it wasn’t that much easier. The Bay Area was one of the few places in the country where there was rapid job growth but in a place that is famously anti-development to begin with there were very few houses built over the last 7 years. 500,000 new people have moved in while fewer than 100,000 new housing units have been built. You can do the math on that one. This is why housing prices are so out of control here. Keep that in mind when looking for a place and don’t be surprised if you wind up paying a ton of money to live in a suburban house with 4 other people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *