Hello, I am a software engineer at a hardware startup company in the South Bay Area and live in San Francisco.
I make $124K/year and have been at the company for little more than a year (I joined out of college in mid-late 2022). Work-life balance at the company is pretty great (40 hours/week), the company does make exceptions for working remote from other locations from time-to-time (i.e. when you’re traveling) and is generous with PTO (this may change in 2024 as new processes have been put in place). The company raised quite a bit of money in 2021 and receives funds from government research grants so they’re in a good financial position and are even looking to hire a bit in 2024. The company culture is positive, the software team as a whole gets along quite well and I genuinely like my manager; there’s very little office politics. The company also encourages its engineers to learn.
Admittedly though, strong mentorship is lacking; something that I think I’d be highly receptive to given that I deeply cherish and frequently act upon feedback.
As for the company's future, I think the company has established a solid technology moat and might do well (maybe unicorn?). But I don’t think the company will explode into wealth anytime soon (5+ years to get there) and the equity payoff is OK (I might make an additional $280K/yr if the company 20x in valuation to be a unicorn).
The reason I am seriously considering resigning is the commute. The company has a hybrid model (3 days in-office, 2 days remote) so it’s about 1hr 30 min one-way, (3hr roundtrip) 3 days a week and it’s really getting to me.
To commute, I walk 30 min (or 20 min by bus) and then drive for an hour, sometimes in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 101-South to 280-South. Then I repeat this going back, one hour drive, and a 30 min walk (or 20 min by bus). In multiple ways, this is costing me.
Financially-speaking, I’m paying $545/month ($250 parking and $300 for gas, that’s $12,500 gross, meaning pre-tax), so effectively I make $111,500/year. I could maybe pay more for parking ($350-$500) and skip the 30 min walk, then I’d be making even less.
While I could live near Caltrain in SF, even taking Caltrain would involve taking a bus and then a 8 min walk (still roughly 1 hr 30 min one-way). Additionally, I really enjoy where I live in the city and would strongly oppose any move (as a last, last resort only).
Time-wise, I strongly feel that it’s a waste of my time to sit in traffic! I often put on podcasts + songs to distract myself from staring at the bumpers of vehicles in front of me. Getting back 9 hours of my time per week (effectively a whole day) would be incredibly beneficial. This is time and energy that I want to put towards things that are deeply, deeply important to me, one of which being health (gym, yoga, movement in general).
Health is a really important pillar for me and so having reduced time & energy to go to the gym strikes me as a major red flag for this job. I value my health far, far over compensation and career growth.
Energy-wise, on the days that I commute, I feel incredibly low energy after work. I typically come home, eat junk food, watch some on Youtube and sleep late. It's not the person that I am when I’m not commuting.
While I recognize that the market may not be so great, I am considering quitting my job in the beginning of next year and diverting my efforts to looking for a new job within the city, either startup or Big Tech (generally a company where the profit center is technology) and something with a much shorter commute (a bus or walk to somewhere in the city is perfectly fine). Alternatively, a remote job w/ healthy culture would also be OK.
I also have 6+ months of savings and am not at a risk of being deported (a U.S. citizen).
Additionally, I have multiple friends who live & work in SF, others who commute 1/week to South Bay and even some who work entirely remote. Some also work at SF startups that are actually looking for engineers right now!
So in my head, it’s quite hard to justify driving each day, paying all this money, spending all this time & energy to work at a company so far away for equivalent, or many times, less money than I would be making here in the city or even working remote.
Would greatly appreciate any thoughts y'all have! Any and all feedback is welcome :)
I used to commute from SF to San Jose 4 days a week. I wrote down what was keeping me in SF, then figured out if I could do those things in the South Bay, or enough of them to keep me happy. I eventually moved to the South Bay. I'd also consider what kind of companies you're applying to and see if they are in the South Bay.
I'm a huge proponent of shorter commutes, especially if it's "dead-time" where you can't work or sleep. I was nodding my head with pretty much everything you wrote. You've clearly done the math, both in terms of time and money, and it's clear that your quality of life will improve if you cut out the commute.
There's an oft-cited study that adding 20 minutes to your commute makes you as miserable as a 19% paycut. I want you to have a shorter commute and make the same (or ideally more)!
So if we've established that your commute needs to change, I see 3 possible options:
You can probably tell my preference among the 3 options above, but the answer should be where you'll find more opportunity. Many startups and young people are in the city ("city" = San Francisco, for those who are not from the Bay Area), so if you can leverage that, I'd go for it. South Bay has many of the larger, more mature companies, with a decent mix of startups.
Luke M, hugely appreciate the advice to start off. I have lived in South Bay before for a year and after moving to SF, I found myself simply being much, much happier. So for me, SF is where I want to be right now and I'll be looking for future jobs in this area/remote.
Hey Rahul, thanks for commenting! I really appreciate the answer; I definitely agree, the commute's gotta go. Hmm, moving my commute times strikes me as a temporary band-aid and not a full solution. Option 1 strikes me as the path to take; SF is really where my community is at and I definitely don't want to leave.
Given that's the case, I was curious what is your take on the tech job market right now; if you could answer my question below that'd be swell! :)
How is the market right now for junior engineers? (jointaro.com)
As we've said before in Taro, time is far and away the most important resource. You should definitely leave this job. Given how poor transit is in the Bay Area (and hence awful traffic), SF <-> South Bay is so horrible. On top of the raw time cost, it also severely damages your health across the mental and physical realm.
Even though SF has regressed a lot due to the pandemic, it's still an economic and cultural center of California and the broader American economy. It also has a distinct vibe from the rest of the Bay Area (which is almost entirely suburban sprawl), so if you genuinely love SF, you should try staying there. I personally would never live in SF and have never lived there, but I understand why the people who like SF really like SF.
Here's our job searching resources:
I used to make the commute in the opposite direction, from Sunnyvale to SF. We had a WFH day on Wednesday, so I did this 4 times/week. It was a 10 minute drive to get to the Caltrain station, an hour Caltrain ride up to get up to 4th and King, and then a 10 minute walk to the office, (times 2 since I'd do the reverse commute in the evening), so I can understand where you are coming from.
I was similar to you where I didn't have the energy to go to the gym at night because I'd get back to my place at 8pm. I ended up going to the gym in the mornings instead. If you do want to continue your commute, so that's an option.
But, I really regretted the long commute after doing it for years because of all the time I wasted during my commute. It sounds like you know where your priorities lie and health and community are more important than work. I really do believe you'll be able to find another job where you can get paid the same amount, if not more, have time and energy to go to the gym, and be able to socialize with your friends at the end of the day. I remember being a zombie for the entire day when I was doing that commute.
If I was in your situation, I would strongly recommend you try to find a company that is in the city or has a better remote work schedule.