Compensation in China can now be on par with that in the Valley, at least on a before-tax cash basis.
For data, I looked to Norman Chang and his excellent team at headhunting firm PCI Executive Search China, and here is what they came up with. In an effort to use the most complete dataset available and to compare like with like as much as possible, Chang restricted his search to technology companies with more than 1000 employees, which are mostly based in first-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, and only takes into account before-tax cash compensation, as non-cash benefits vary widely. Also, in order to capture purely technical positions, only candidates with graduate degrees in engineering related disciplines are included. Here, “China” refers to locally owned firms as opposed to MNCs, or foreign multinational corporations with local Chinese operations.
The data surprised me – while for junior engineers China looks to be about on average a little more than half as expensive on a cash basis as Silicon Valley, that difference vanishes at the director level (typically a dozen years of experience or more) and above. At the junior level, I did a quick search on one of the most popular Chinese websites for Internet jobs, Lagou, just to confirm. Sure enough, a junior Python engineer in Beijing (with just 1-3 years experience) can expect to make at least 15K RMB ($2400 USD), or around $30K in annualized base salary and up to 35K RMB ($5600 USD) or $68K, for a large, well-funded company (such as Meituan). This is not including stock options, additional cash or non-cash bonuses, or other benefits.
In addition, it is important to note that many local Chinese companies provide other allowances as an incentive. Even for mid-level management, packages often include tax deductions for specified housing, food and transportation expenses, and the total can be as high as 30-35% of total cash income.
As a tech investor, I am heartened by the rising wages of developer talent in China, which means that there is real demand from fast-growing tech startups, and which also means that more and more talented young people are going to seriously consider a career in STEM. All that’s certain is this – whether in the US or China, it is a great time to be a computer programmer.