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