Why Software Developers Get Paid Less than Restaurant Workers in Japan

Leo Ariel
5 min readMay 7, 2023

Hardware vs Software in Japan

I’m in awe of Japanese manufacturing. Everything just works. Toilets, sinks, bidets, vending machines, food-ordering machines, hotel check-in machines, elevator buttons, etc.

Accessibility Toilet at Narita Airport. My first impression of Japan. I felt like I was walking into a whole new world…

A Typical Toilet. Button-controlled bidets at various positions + spray strength. Many bathroom seats are heated!

The quality of life in Japan is high. Not everyone is rich, but the floor is very high.

A bathroom at the cheapest hotel.

Japanese physical goods & hardware are world-class.

The best cameras (Canon, Nikon, Panasonic), consumer electronics (Sony, Toshiba), and video game consoles (Nintendo, Playstation).

A modern computer made by Panasonic. I thought it was a toy at first & couldn’t believe it was real.

Construction (Komatsu) and Automobile (Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Daihatsu).

Clothing, Stationary, Furniture, Handheld Tools.

Muji, Uniqlo, CD Store

Vending machines.

There are machines for everything! Drinks, Ice Cream, Metro Tickets, Capsule Toys, Noodles, Barbershops

While Japan excels in physical goods, it’s lacking in digital goods such as software.

Why doesn’t Japan have “Big Tech”?

The only software Japan is known to export is video games.

Playing Mario Kart at an Arcade

The 3 most popular social media apps in Japan are Line, Twitter, and Instagram — made in Korea, USA, and USA respectively.

Most Japanese people can’t speak English. Most programming languages are written in English.

Java, Python, React

But really?

Software developers get paid less than restaurant workers.

Devs earn ~$2k/mo (with some larger companies paying over $3k/mo). For reference, my entry-level salary at Amazon was $170k/yr or $14.2k/mo. 5–7x more than in Japan.

Silicon Valley vs Japan

Recently I watched a video where a YouTuber asked random people on the street in San Francisco questions on computer algorithms. People were cordial and it was generally well-received. I cannot see it working nearly as well in Tokyo. Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7_plggSoC0

Takeaway: Since wages are a function of supply and demand — you can tell how much society values “a thing” based on its willingness to pay for it. Unless Japan changes its attitude towards software, I cannot see the country becoming a technology leader.

5. Future of Tech

🎓 1.5 years ago, I was an academic researcher at Cornell.

⚙️ 1 year ago, I was a software engineer at Amazon.

Taken from my 2021 Annual Review.

I spent 2 months in 2023 re-designing a computer science curriculum. My goal was to condense 4 years of university lectures into a 1hr workshop. Starting from first principles and adding tons of household analogies & metaphors.

72 Slides covering Computer Architecture, Hardware, Binary, Counting, Logic, Memory, Programming Languages, Networking, Algorithms, Etc.

If you’re following technology news, you’ll know that there’s a lot of hype around Crypto and AI. Unfortunately, many people make delusional claims (probably out of ignorance). For example, there are people who actually believe an NFT is a JPG image… Let me take a moment to educate?

What’s the difference between technology and marketing?

Exhibit A: Technology vs Marketing

Exhibit B: Technology vs Marketing

Should I try to understand technology?

Honestly, probably not. It’s rather complicated and probably not worth your time. Just make sure not to listen to absurd claims and lose your money.

What’s your opinion on technology?

Well I personally believe AI / Crypto / NFTs are extremely overhyped and extremely extremely underrated. I still need more data on other technologies such as AR / VR / Quantum Computing.

Novel technologies open the design space for imagination.

With Autonomous Vehicles, you no longer need:

  • A Steering Wheel
  • Front-Facing Seats

So you have room for:

  • Surround Sound
  • A Display / TV

Then you can take:

  • Naps
  • Meetings

Better technology is better for everyone.

Inside an Autonomous Vehicle. Large Seats, Bag Hooks, Embedded Navigation, Apps, Weather Info, Charging Ports. Design by PriestmanGoode.

If Technologies vs When Technologies

People prefer cheaper, faster, better things. It’s why flying cars never came to fruition whereas electric autonomous vehicles will.

Did you know? The first computer was invented in the 1830s but it took over a century (until the 1940s) for people to take it seriously. But once the transition happened — it was irreversible. Same with the internet. Some technologies are just too good.

Cars replaced horses:

Smartphones replaced payphones:

Autonomous Vehicles will replace cars:

Cars will be in museums someday.

NFTs will replace Tickets, Receipts, PDF Contracts & QR Codes:

Blockchain will replace SQL & NoSQL databases:

Blockchain enables “Automated Royalties from Secondary Transactions” which enables artists to easily monetize their work for the first time in forever.