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Archive for January, 2007

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A friend of mine sent me a mail last day. His friend is interested in moving to USA to work as a software engineer. He sent me 10 questions:

1. What is the cost of living in USA? I heard it depends on area, but could you tell me (approx.) how much it will be in some of possible areas?Would like to know the average expenditure per month also average salary for an IT professional?
2. Like here in India we have IT/software hubs like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Noida, Chennai, what are the places in USA I can target for my job hunting?
3. What is the tax I have to pay there? Some people say it is 50%, some say it is 30%….. Also do I have to pay tax in India too?
4. I am having exp. Around 5 year in c++, how much salary I can expect in normal companies (not very high pay masters like Microsoft)?
5. Which is the best way to go there, is it thro’ consultancies or direct? I have no idea about what will terms and conditions of the consultancies. Could you tell me what and all I have to consider or keep in mind while negotiating with them? Are there any free consultancies to sponsor H1?
6. How is working in US different from that in India (work environment)?
7. Any description about public life there and things to be taken care..
8. Any other tips and tricks?
9. I am also searching it in the internet, do you have any good links that I can refer for general info?
10. This is not the last question, but very important one for me, do you mind if I ask some of these kind of questions (may be very stupid) in future?

My answers:

1.Cost of living – The main components are rent and food (assuming your company pays for ur health insurance). Rent can vary anywhere from $450 to $1500 (or more) for a single bedroom/single bathroom apartment depending on the city and specific location in the city. If you are single, the best option is to take a 2 bed/2 bath apartment and share with another person. I can give you a general idea of the rent ranges : In Minneapolis, a good 1 bed/bath will cost approx $600-$800 in sub-urbs or $1000 – $1200 in downtown. In Seattle, the cost would be $700-$950 in sub-urbs and $1100-$1400 in downtown. In New Jersey and California, even suburbs can be very costly like $1400 for a 1bed/bath. If you live close to where you work, you wouldnt need a car. But the best bet is to get car and live in a sub-urb. If you cook, the food and other groceries would be surely less than $400 per month (i should say it would be around $200).If you eat outside it will be much higher (it is not very healthy either). To round up, you would spend around $1500 to $2000 dollars a month to live comfortably and $1000 if you are stingy (or live with roommates). The upper limit always depends on the person, ofcourse.
To give a general idea, $800 (rent) + $100 (utilities – electricity, water, garbage, sewer) + $300 (food) + $250 (car payment) + $50(phone bill) + $100 (car insurance) + $100 (gasoline) + $200 (fun – movies, dinner, other crap – optional) + $100 (buy stuff you like – optional). So there you are. If you get $4000 in your hand after tax, you save 50% of your salary, which is good and that is what you should aim for. You can get an idea of the rent in different cities from http://www.rent.com or http://www.craigslist.org.

2.The main IT hubs are California, New Jersey, Texas and NewYork (not necessarily in that order). Then there are cities like Seattle, Minneapolis,Chicago etc. As a matter of fact there are IT companies in major cities of most states (even North Dakota) . California, NewJersey and NewYork are very expensive in terms of cost of living.

3.The tax you pay varies from state to state (there are different components in the tax cut). There are a few tax exemptions but not much. In general it would be around 33% but it could be higher depending on your salary, location and situation (single vs having dependents etc).

4.The salary will always depend on many criterias like your previous experience and domain, your previous companies (brand name), how well you know your stuff, your ability to negotiate your salary, general market conditions, the availability of people with your skill set, whether you are a consultant or a inhouse developer, the location of your work (costlier places == higher salaries) etc etc. On the average a “good” C++ developer with 5 years of exp should get $75,000 + benefits + paid vacation per annum in a moderately expensive place. For costlier places you should be getting $80,000 – $90,000 per annum. For paymasters this would increase by $10,000 to $20,000. I would recommend going for an average salary in a company that gives stable employment as opposed to a high paying company where you could get laid off any day. The reason being that you really cannot afford to live here without a job (unless you have many years of savings, but that would diminish rapidly too).

5.The best way to come here is through direct hire but that is next to impossible (unless you are a well known geek in India). The reason for this is that if a company in US hires you, they really would want to bring you there straight away. Unless you already have a H1 this would not be possible. For H1 visas there is an annual cap which opens in April and gets filled within a month or two. So you should really start you paperwork atleast a couple of months before the cap for that year opens. Assuming that your potential employer applies for your H1 and gets it approved (3-4 months), you should go to the US Consulate and get your visa stamped and you can start working in US from the October of that year. So your employer has to wait for about a year to bring you aboard. Not many would be willing to do that unless they want you very very badly. Consultancies are the easy option but could cause you a lot of headache. There are good consultancies and bad ones. Dont depend on your luck in choosing one, always go for a consultancy for which somebody dependable can give you a reference. A good consultancy can be a better option than a permanent employer especially if you are looking for Green card processing and stuff. Another sneaky option is to get your current employer in India to process your H1 and wait till they send you onsite and then find a job here and change jobs (you can change jobs even if you are on H1, it is called a H1 transfer). Some consultancies charge you money for the H1, but I would recommend not to trust those people. They usually dont cheat you of that money, but it is almost always a headache to get it back. Moreover you are tied with them until you get it back. Some people just take it as a security deposit because some people after coming to US on H1 would immediately change jobs when they get a better offer. This would cause the consultancy to lose money (they shell out approx $3000 for your H1 plus approx $800 for your plane fare, some provide initial accomodation too). Some would make you sign bonds for a year or 6 months (which is ok if they pay decent salary). As a rule of thumb, stay away from consultancies which ask for money or bond. Also, keep away from people who says they will train you and find a job for you if you pay them money.

6. Work environment – Unless you work for a desi company in US (like Wipro, Infosys) you would be having a 8 hour job. Americans like to come in early and leave early so generally it would a 8 to 5 job. But software engineers might have to work some additional hours depending on your project schedule but the good thing is that you get paid for overtime. Americans almost never work on the weekends. They are extermely professional in the work place and they usually prefer to keep work at office and not mix with their personal life. This means that people who work together for many years might not know each others’ spouses or would never have visited each others’ homes. In a sentence, work and personal life are not mixed. Apart from that, conditions can vary from company to company just like in India. There are employee friendly companies and money hungry companies. Your work would always be appreciated if you do things well. There is less office politics (but it is there).

7.Life in USA – I could go on forever on this, but I would try to keep it short.

  • People are very nice and polite to each other even though they may not know or like each other. It is like – give respect and take respect. You will be surprised when complete strangers greet you like you bosom buddies. The atmosphere is generally cheerful.
  • They are very protective of their personal life and privacy.
  • Americans like to enjoy life to the hilt. Examples of things they enjoy are hiking, bike riding, camping, parties, long distance running, building something (almost everybody has pet projects), flying, sailing, fishing etc.
  • Life here can get very lonely unless you have some indian friends or you are married.
  • Everybody has a car so it is highly recommended you get one too because visiting friends, going to work, going to a movie or in short going anywhere can be very difficult and troublesome if you dont have a car.
  • People wont call you late in the night (usually after 8 – 9 pm) and they expect the same (except under emergencies).
  • There is a custom of calling a person in advance and letting him know before going to their house.
  • It is very bad to ask how much one makes, how much one pays as mortgage etc.
  • Honking without a real good reason is considered very rude.
  • You really wont lose your virginity if you dont want to. Infact, if you are a guy, you really have to try hard.
  • Americans are far more self-reliant than the average Indian. They like to do most of the stuff themselves (like repairing broken stuff, painting the house, hiking).
  • You can get sued for the most innocent folly.
  • You are in seriously deep shit if you ever break the law and get caught.
  • Americans are generally honest. A lot of practices in this country works on the belief that people are honest.
  • Most people obey traffic rules. Yeah true… I am not kidding.
  • There are lots of libraries in every cities and they are free. So if you love books, this is one thing you will love about being here.

In short, life in USA should be good if have a decent job and have friends and/or family here and you dont break the law.
8.Tips and Tricks

  • First step should be to find a trustworthy consultant who has direct clients. Remember both are important – trustworthiness and having clients.
  • Have all required docs ready – your degree certificates, marklists, previous employment related papers, birth certificate, passport etc etc.
  • Read about H1 visa interview in websites and mailing lists. If you are going to Chennai Consulate, the visa interview can be a little tough compared to other consulates.
  • Search in Dice and Monster, upload your resume there. Get good resume samples and modify your resume accordingly. (By good resume I dont mean flashy ones)
  • Never ever try to mess with US authorities. Any dishonesty can land you in trouble and you may never be able to set foot in US.
  • In stark contrast to Indian authorities, you can explain a bad/error situation (for eg. why you dont have previous employer’s relieving letter) to immigration authorities and they would understand it.
  • Dont aim at GC processing right away. Be patient. Get a stable job, make sure you would want to stay with that employer for atleast 5 years (and that the employer would want you for 5 years) before starting GC processing. Consultants would like you to start GC processing immediately because then you wont be able to quit them (actually you can quit, but you will have to start the processing all over again with the next employer).
  • I really dont like saying this, but having a lot of “keywords” in your resume helps. For e.g. C#, XML, ASP.NET, Java/J2EE, Hibernate, JUnit/NUnit, Javascript, SQL Server/Oracle. Even if you know only a little bit about it, you can put them in your resume because consultants search by these keywords. Make no mistake, your resume matters. Be sure to prepare well for the interview though.
  • Dont take consulting assignments less than 6 months if you have a choice (unless there is no need to relocate). Short term assignments would typically be a pain considering the relocation (breaking current rental lease, finding new apartment, changing licence if you are moving out of state, not to mention moving all your furniture by yourself).
  • Never ever do stuff that affects your credit rating.
  • Always have cash backup for emergencies. Dont count on friends/co-workers to pull you out of financial emergencies.
  • Use Craigslist for getting apartments/roommates/used cars/furniture etc (beware of frauds though).
  • Dont buy a new car. Neither buy one which is older than 6-7 years. Buy one which is 2-4 years old. Best bets are Toyota Corolla/Camry or Honda Civic/Accord.
  • Always make sure you have health insurance.
  • Winters can be a little rough, so if you have the luxury to chose a state, go for the warmer ones. Snow looks beautiful only from a distance.

9.Links –

10.Feel free to ask.

P.S. There is a follow-up post to this one. You can read it here.

Disclaimer and other crap :

The words above are from my personal experience but may or may not be accurate since it is just my point of view. You should take the responsibility upon yourself if you believe it or act based on it. You have no right to point the finger at me if you are in deep shit by following any of my advice or believing any of the things I said. You choose, you suffer.

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Another year bites the dust

 

The year gone by led me through a roller coaster ride of changes, some small but several others significant, some pleasant, some painful and but all part of a maturing process.

 

I resigned from Tavant by mid March completing almost 2 years, starting as a software engineer and moving out as a senior software engineer. Tavant was a wonderful place to work, I miss the fun times we had especially the quarterly excellence award nights. There were a lot of friends, the work was interesting and life was good in general. Towards the end of 2005 I had several mysterious illnesses which came and went as it pleased and made life miserable for me. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and was suspected to be caused by Pheochromocytoma, a tumor in the adrenal gland. The last straw came when my laptop was stolen on the train. The strain caused by the unidentified illness, high blood pressure and the loss of the laptop made the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006 a very bad phase in my life. I got my H1 visa by February and almost by that time doctors cleared me from my suspected pheochromocytoma and I thought life was getting better. Boy, was I wrong!

 

I wanted to spend 2 weeks at home after resigning from Tavant before coming to USA, to take a break from all the tension and have some rest but as fate would have it, that decision caused me a lot of headache. When I came home from Bangalore I decided it was time to sell our 5 year old Maruti 800 car and buy a Swift. Big mistake! I don’t mean that the car was bad, but the sales and service was horrible. We bought the car from Popular which used to have a good reputation. The bastards sold me a car which had damage while transporting the car from the factory to the sales center. They fixed up the body damage, painted it and sold it to me. The left head light clamp (or its base) was bent and the 2 head lights were not at aligned properly. I went through hell to make them accept that there was a problem with the car, really. You wouldn’t imagine who all I had to call up, how many times I had to wait for them to call back, how many people I had to explain the same thing – it was a total pain in the ass. Ironically these same people used to call me 2-3 times a day before the sales was complete to check if I was doing alright and whether I had eaten breakfast that morning. They would have licked my ass to make the sale if need be. After the sales was complete and I found that there was damage to the car, the story became a different one. They initially denied that the car was damaged but later told that it is a very common incident and that they would do whatever is required to make the car in the original factory condition. As you would have guessed by now, the car is still not fixed, even after 10 months. So much for the wonderful sales and service and customer friendliness advertised by the fuckers at Popular Automobiles. I have vowed never to buy a car from Popular again. I would prevent my friends from doing so too if I can.

 

Thanks to the car buying incident I was not at all able to enjoy my days at home before coming to USA. I had bought my ticket through MakeMyTrip.com and got a pretty good deal on Emirates. I set foot in the land of opportunities on April 6th 2006 at JFK airport, Newyork City. The flight was not bad owing to the fact that Emirates has a good set of facilities to entertain you and they do feed you well too. You eat food, see a movie, take a nap then wake up to eat again or maybe just pee and sleep again. It was a long but pleasant journey. From Newyork I took my connecting flight to Minneapolis, Minnesota where my sister and brother-in-law live.

 

America leaves you struck with awe. Not considering the skyscrapers and sprawling sub-urban malls, it is a place where people hold doors open for you, where queues are formed without asking, where perfect strangers greet you as though you were friends all life long, where honking is rude, where libraries are actually used by people, where the buses come on time, where people workout before they grow overweight, where pedestrians have priority over vehicles, where having fun is taken seriously, where drivers actually obey traffic rules, where workers get paid overtime if they work overtime, where there is freedom of speech, where the opportunities exist for anybody to realize theirs dreams, a place too good to be true – a paradise. Well, almost. All might seem so glittering and smooth from a distance, but there are dangerous under-currents. If and when you get into trouble all hell brakes loose. Especially if you get in trouble with the law. Or if your health is bad. Health insurance and taxes eat a significant percentage of your earnings. Even with insurance if you need to see your doctor, you would have to shell out money to cover the co-pay, deductible and other things which you would never understand, but still have to pay. If you need to get a tooth out, the best option is to tie a string to that tooth and the other end to a fan which rotates at high speed. Or maybe to an open door’s handle and then slam shut the door. The pain would be almost same but it would save you a couple of hundred bucks. I consider the fact that adult teeth wont grow again as one of the greatest engineering flaws God made. No offense meant (I know God reads my blog too).

 

I was lucky to barely escape the long and bone chilling Minnesota winter, the last snow heaps cleared a couple of weeks before I reached there. The summers in Minnesota are beautiful. People get to leave their thick winter clothes back home and come outside in their shorts and enjoy the warm sun. I loved the central library in Minneapolis. It was abuzz with activity from the moment it opens to the minute the lights are switched off. I could have lived in there forever. I think I spent more hours there than in my sister’s house. My sister is one of a kind. She is very determined and never wavers in the face of hardships and is a great negotiator. Sometimes I feel like kicking her though 😉 My brother in law was my driving tutor. A tough teacher he is, but I am very grateful for his effort all the same. He took pains to drive me around for interviews and teached me to cook a few dishes. We had a pretty good time in Minneapolis – my brother-in-law, my sister and me.

 

The next two weeks consisted of intense job hunting. Luckily I got the opportunity to work in the Photometrics Voodoo project which I was working on in Bangalore. I also got my social security number and driving license. I was all set to move to Tucson, Arizona to work with Jorge Ochoa and Austin Blanco at Photometrics. I stayed with Jorge for 2 months during which I started to feel homesick probably because there weren’t many Indians in Tucson and I felt like being in an another planet far far away from home. It was terribly hot in the daytime, you could not stay in the sun for more than 10 min. You can make omlette on your car hood after leaving it in the sun for a few minutes. One of the things I fondly remember about my stay in Tucson is our Friday lunch at a local Mexican restaurant. My mouth still waters at the thought. It was an open place with water sprinklers to keep you cool and the food was authentic Mexican. The Tacos and Burritos are the best I have ever had. On some days quite a few people from Photometrics would turn up there and we would all have a good time. Austin once took me for shooting with some other guys working in Photometrics where I got to fire a real gun for the first time in my life. He also took me for flying in his small private plane which as a bit scary and great fun. Jorge did his best to make me feel comfortable and made things as smooth as possible. I always promised him I would wake up early the next day to join him for his bicycle rides but ofcourse I never did that. I always sleep late and like to stay in bed till 8. Jorge wakes up by 5 am (the sun rises at 5 am in Tucson). I haven’t seen sunrise in quite a few years and I don’t intend to see one anytime soon unless the sun intends to rise by 9 am. He took me to an Ethiopian restaurant where people eat with their hands (the menu recommends that !) thinking that I would feel better from my homesickness. What a friend to have ! He is a devoted father to two sweet kids, a visionary for the Voodoo team, a great manager and a true engineer and most importantly a nice human being. I am forever grateful to him for his kind ways and constant support and encouragement during the 2 months I spent in Tucson.

 

The tides changed quickly and I had to quit Photometrics and go back to Minneapolis. My sister had just had her first kid at that time. Adit is 6 months old now. Job hunting was back in full swing and I got a few offers which didn’t work out for several reasons. This was the toughest part in the whole of 2006 for me. I was negative to the core and wished a million times that I was just dreaming and would wake up soon to find myself in our house in Bangalore. I had to change two jobs in a frenzy which made things worse for me. Either I didn’t like the company or I didn’t like the project or something else would turn up which made it impossible for me to cope with. I had to move to Seattle for the last job which I quit in a month and went back to my old company. I got a contract position in a company in Seattle itself which eased things a bit for me. A childhood friend and neighbor of mine was in Seattle and he helped me to find a place to stay and encouraged me to hang on. I would say that he is one of the main reasons that I decided to stay in Seattle. I moved in with a malayalee family as paying guest but it was quite far away from my office I had to spent almost 4 hours a day for commute as I didn’t have a car at that time. I was tired by the end of the day and had to wake up early to reach office in time. I was completely exhausted by the end of one month and I decided I should get a car. I didn’t have enough money to buy the car without a loan. Getting a loan seemed impossible because I didn’t have an established credit history. Atleast 5 financial institutions turned my application down. It was all very depressing. The winter had started and my commute became all the more difficult. I had already changed enough jobs and didn’t want to think about moving back to Minneapolis at that point. I went almost crazy. If you think this ain’t much to make someone crazy, let me put it in perspective for you.

 

It is winter and I stay far away from my office and I don’t have a car. So I have to take the bus daily to office which includes spending a few hours in the freezing cold on weekdays. On weekends I don’t have to do that because I am stuck at home. There are only few buses on weekends so I really didn’t have a choice. I also need to wake up early because the commute by bus takes longer so I would be starting early and returning late. There isnt any personal time at all. Unless you consider sitting in bus with a 100 other people as personal time. Now I could do two things to make things better – buy a car or move closer to the office. I considered the second option first. To rent an apartment, I need good credit and good rental history. I dont have either of these. I have been in the USA for only a few months which is not enough time to build good credit history (you can build a bad one in that time frame though). I have never had to rent an apartment because while I was in Minneapolis I stayed with my sister and when I was in Tucson I stayed with Jorge. Before that I was in India. I don’t think it would a good idea to rent an apartment in Seattle while you are in Bangalore so that you can have some rental history when you actually come to US. I wouldn’t be able to do that even if I want to because I wouldn’t have any rental history at that time either. It is like the chicken and egg problem. You need to have rental history to rent an apartment and to have rental history you need to rent an apartment. Even if somebody was willing to rent a shabby apartment at an exorbitant price to you, taking advantage of your condition, they would want to have one year lease which wouldnt work for me since I am a consultant and would never know when my contract would end. The best option for me is a month-to-month lease but the owners want longer leases probably because that is far less headache for them. Finding an apartment without rental history is tough enough, so the option of month-to-month lease doesnt even exist. So your choice of moving closer to your office is a dead alley. The other choice is to buy a car. You can buy a new car or a used one. A good new car would cost you approx $20,000 which is hard to buy with cash down. You need a loan where you find the second chicken and egg problem of American economics. To get a loan you need a good credit history and to build a good credit history you need to have loans paid off in time. So if we consider the used car option there is one more decision to make – buy a 2-4 year old car at approx $12,000 or a old one for approx $5000. Getting an old car in a pretty good condition needs a good knowledge of what lies beneath the hood and about things which you never knew even existed in a car or else you need to be very lucky. I wouldn’t bet on either my knowledge on cars or on my luck. So the option for me is to get a 2-4 year old car at approx 10-15K. Now the problem is that I dont have that kinda money to shell out all at once. I can put a decent 4K down payment and pay off the rest in 3 or 4 years. This again brings me to the difficulty of getting a loan. This time it is a little bit easier though because there are several companies who exist just for the purpose of taking advantage of the people with bad credit or no credit. They would charge exorbitant interest rates and try to squeeze out as much money as they can from these poor souls. So I got a loan for 16% interest and now I have my Honda Accord. I love my car not just because it drives great but also because I need to wake up only by 8 o’clock and I needn’t suffer the cold weather and the commute is shorter and weekends doesn’t have to be spent staying home all day. A friend of mine once told me that living in America without a car is like living anywhere else without legs. As foolish as he is, I would attest to my friend’s this particular grain of wisdom any day. The American system of credit history and other crap exists for the sole purpose of making life better for people whose life is already in excellent condition and ruining it for the rest.

 

This was the first year in my life when I was away from home for Onam. I missed the “atha pookkalam”, the green paddy fields, the loud loud-speakers spitting out the latest films songs without break for 3 days, the chit-chat with old friends at the “local junction”, the spirit of Onam in the air, my friends, my home and a state of life known as feeling good.

 

Towards the year end my mother needed a spinal-cord surgery and things were pretty bad for her this year due to her physical health steadily declining. She needs two more surgeries on her knees. I pray to God to help her through the troubled waters and make her well again. It would be a dream come true to see my mother walking without pain again.

2006 brought several changes to my life. To be frank it brought much more than what I could handle. I can take one blow at a time but several ones in succession brought me flat down on my face. I think I have changed my attitudes and outlook towards life more drastically compared to the other 26 and a half years that I lived so far. It was a little too much for me. I don’t like several things changing all at once that drag me out of my comfort zone and I tend to get lost in the whirlwind knowing not what to do. I always need a companion – somebody whom I can trust and rely on. Ofcourse I didn’t lose all my friends this year, it is just that I didn’t have a friend physically near me. They were away half way around the world – their voice and words were there, yet not comforting enough. I am a weakling emotionally, the typical Cancerian – extremely sensitive and touchy – and far from what most people think of me. But I am growing up through my difficulties. Actually, it is being forced on me. I would run if I could, but there is no escape from what is to be. I hope this brand new year would bring in happiness and prosperity for all, atleast for me 🙂 and I hope there would less of growing up to do this year.

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