hypothetical question

I have a (somewhat) hypothetical question: would you be willing to move into the middle of nowhere, Arkansas, and get paid a little over 30k/yr to get a job programming in O'Caml? What about Erlang?

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Short answer

No. My longer answer is "No, unless I really wanted to live in the middle of nowhere, Arkansas." And even then I'd give it a lot of heavy thought because of re-employment issues.

Location is dead

If you're looking to start a company, you can actually work it pretty well over the Internetwork these days. Skype, IM, etc. are your friends.

It's about the benjamins...

Telecommuting is a great option, but then the cost-of-living differential starts to be an issue. While $30k/year might be fine for someone living in Arkansas, I think you'd have to cough up a lot more change to hire people to telecommute from Manhattan and SF...


No doubt about that, but there are a lot of places in the world that aren't in the top 20 most expensive places to live, and I'm told programmers live in those places as well.

My answer: it depends. The usual startup tradeoff is you work for peanuts for the chance of changing the world, and the big payoff at the end. If the deal was like that, it would make sense. Otherwise I can't see the draw.

Longer answer...


On the one hand, either Erlang or O'Caml would be, in themselves, good, and probably indicate an interesting project and environment, given the usage of either in the US. Those two conditions beat a number of other factors, including "middle of nowhere, Arkansas" and possible re-employment issues. For me, at least. (Of course, "m-o-n, Ark." is almost an advantage to me.)

On the other hand, 30k/yr is very low, even for Arkansas. Also, I've seen environments that scared me away from otherwise tempting positions. And there is that re-employment in the middle of nowhere issue---re-employment issues due to O'Caml or Erlang don't bother me, but I hate moving.

If you are looking for an "I'd pay to move to a 1x3-mile island in the middle of the Pacific just to use Haskell!" kind of answer, I don't think you will get it. One programming language is really very like another, and the interesting factor is the implications of langauge choice on environment, in my opinion.

As an aside, I note that 30k/yr in Arkansas is roughly equivalent to 60k/yr in San Jose, according to a couple of cost-of-living calculators I found.

(If you'd asked about California or the New York area, the answer would have been "no", though. Language, project and environment don't go that far.)

Language is irrelevant

OK, I'm overstating what I really think, but any given aspect of a job is only a small fraction of what you need to weigh in order to decide if the experience will suck or not. Things like group organization, habits, experience, funding, personality, long term viability all have huge impacts on day to day enjoyment of a job. So while I personally am really itching to be in an environment where I get to use 'real' languages instead of bloody Java and C++, at the same time I wouldn't go for O'Caml or Erlang if the group didn't know anything about project management, or revision control, or basic computing infrastructure, or respect for your weekends, etc.

Not enough info.

I live in the middle of nowhere South Dakota, so living in the middle of nowhere isn't too big of a deal for me. O'Caml or Erlang would be cool, but, as mentioned in earlier posts, a programming job is a lot more than the language used: the work environment is a big factor (the project, tools, etc.) One big downside is the pay. A little over 30k/year is not much at all. (What does that mean anyway? I'm assuming closer to 30k/year than 35k/year, i.e. 30-32k/year). The cost of living where I live is pretty low, and South Dakota's tax burden is at 9.0%, whereas Arkansas is at 9.8%. Without knowing where exactly "in the middle of nowhere" is, I can't accurately compare the cost of living where I live with the area in question. If total cost of living (including tax burden) is comparable to my current residence, then there would have to be some really strong non-monetary motivations for me to take a substantial cut in pay to move to Arkansas and take such a job.

Needless to say, I like my job. It isn’t perfect, no job is, but considering the alternatives, it’s pretty darn good. I suppose the big non-monetary motivation for me would be: the project is something I found extremely interesting, especially if it was a startup (startups change the situation a little bit, I’m a single young man, so I would be willing to take the low pay for the possibility of large payoff—both monetary and otherwise—in the end).

What kind of work?

Might be interesting if the offer was: "Part-time telecommuter needed to program in O'Caml or Erlang". What exactly is the nature of the work? I'd guess you'd get more takers for a "build a distributed Free Software search engine to compete with Google" project than for the "build an accounting software package plug-in to track Widget® inventory for FooBar Inc." project.

Hypothetical Counter-question

Would you actually hire somebody to write ocaml in a non-high tech place? Attrition can create a maintenance nightmare very easily in a place that is not blessed with a large pool of developers. Because of the same risk, you may even end up paying these unique individuals above the market rates.

This has more chance to work at a high tech place where you can underpay (think startup) a group of individuals who have saved enough at their boring javajobs and could afford breathing in a new, refreshing but risky atmosphere.

The growth and "neato" factors are big...

I agree with what most folk here have to say. Right now, I'm pushing for some changes in my life, so if the project were interesting, I'd think about it. If the project were interesting and I could telecommute from say, Atlanta, where driving in for a few days on short notice is feasible, then I would think even harder.

However, to get any serious consideration from me there would have to be either more pay up front, or even better the promise of growth in the near future. That's what would make an offer like this tempting.

What About Volunteering for The Next Big Thing?

Does the equation change if you were being asked to participate in such a project as a volunteer telecommuting from anywhere so you could set your own level of participation and live off your current Day Job?

Assume of course a noble cause (like creating a legacy free computing platform with a new multiparadigm language) that might be adopted by industry once its Open Source Codebase was released, and thus create an eventual aftermarket for your expertise in having had a hand in its creation? Also, assume reasonably competent management willing to let the project run for as long as it took to do The Right Thing in all of its facets.

"hypothetical" question

Well first of all, it's an unrealistic question, because, whether it's middle of nowhere, Arkansas, New York, New York, Edinburgh, Silicon Valley, Silicon Forest or Austin, Texas, it nearly always has been and nearly always will be an employers' market. So the short answer is, "Yes, because that's probably the best offer I got".

Second, despite what people say, you program both because you love programming and because you get paid to program. Imagine if you will -- you are working as a programmer, and your employer falls upon hard times and is forced to lay off some programmers. Your boss calls you into her office and says, "I'm sorry, but we have to let you go." Do you know what would happen if you said, "I will work here for free because I love programming?"

If you're lucky, you'll get outplacement assistance, but more than likely, you'll be vigorously and promptly removed from the premises. If you *seriously* believe you would work there for free, or even for less than your salary at the point the decision was made to let you go, you are deeply disturbed.

Finally, let's talk about the realities of telecommuting and "live in a cheap place, telecommute to New York." That for the most part is also a delusion for a number of reasons. The main one is that programmers tend to *grossly* underestimate the value of face-to-face meetings and the amount of real information that's exchanged non-verbally and non-technically.

In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that one *not* accept a telecommuting assignment if at all possible -- it is very often a career-limiting move. Now the economic realities may *force* people into telecommuting, but know up front that it is very often a demotion and plan your career accordingly.