Why did I move to the U.S.?

· 1195 words · 6 minute read

I just finalized immigrating to the U.S. (from S. Korea), and here’s the record of my thinking.

I value decision-making as the most critical skill. However, not all decisions are the same. For example, some decisions are cheap to reverse, while others are very expensive or even impossible to change. Here, career decisions are pretty important as they take a long time to evaluate and are costly to adjust. Moreover, as time passes, you have more to lose, making it even harder to modify, and high costs make expensive decisions even harder. So, it is tempting to make a quick decision and forget about it, but I think it is worth spending significant time to make better career development decisions. As a result, I concluded that immigrating to the U.S. as a software engineer was a good decision for me now, and I made a leap.

Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco

A good decision starts with who I am. Good choices cannot exist without clarifying the subject, as there’s no global truth. What are you interested in? What are you good at? What kinds of lives do you want to lead? Delaying the decision has costs, so I moved without complete answers. Moreover, as much as it is important to understand the subject, it is critical to understand the circumstances. For me, the market size was essential. Just looking at Silicon Valley, there are many options for software engineers: Apple ($775b), Google ($478b), Facebook ($270b), Oracle ($195b), Qualcomm ($118b), Netflix ($50b), Uber ($40b), Tesla ($36b), Twitter ($35b), … Not just their scales are impressive, but also their diversities. Different companies may have widely different business models with various potentials. Those companies are also young. They have severe competition, and if they cannot satisfy customers and employees, they become obsolete quickly1. Fierce competition has an interesting side effect. For example, good decisions tend to win, and bad choices are hard to push with authority as it is inefficient and hurts your chances of survival. Of course, it can be stressful for all individuals to handle those pressures. S. Korea also has meaningful markets for software engineers. Not to mention Samsung ($250b), there are great options like Naver ($25b), Kakao ($8b), Nexon ($7b), and NCSoft ($5b). However, only Kakao is reasonably young (born in 2006), and the combined value without Samsung is only comparable to Uber, born in 2009. Moreover, their business models aren’t diverse and heavily rely on games and few others. So, I concluded it is easier for me to make growth and impact in the U.S.

First, the growth rate overwhelms all the other criteria, especially at the early stage of the career. So, the potential for more rapid growth was more important than maximizing my current utility. For example, let’s say option A provides a growth potential of 50% per year, but I need to start from scratch. On the other hand, option B offers room for 10% growth per year, but my current skills are fully valued. Then, I’d choose option A. The decision is apparent if you look at the table below. When you look at a long career, minor differences in the current utilities are irrelevant compared to the growth rate. Of course, life is too complicated to represent with a single number. Still, considering the joy of growth as well, the growth rate seems critical. I chose the U.S. simply because I suspected there’s more room for growth in a bigger market. The inherent difficulty of serving billions of users would justify paying for more skilled developers. It isn’t clear if I’d continue my career as a software developer, but I think the larger room for growth also applies to other fields.

10 years 20 years 40 years
50% 57.7 3325.3 11,057,332
10% 2.6 6.7 45.3
5% 1.6 2.7 7.0

Second, I wanted to have a more significant impact. You can bring impacts in many forms. For example, a doctor saving one life is a large impact, as well as a developer building service for millions of users. Large impacts alone can make the work more fulfilling and easier to focus on. For example, all online services want to reduce latency, but the required work gets exponentially more challenging. So, each business needs to make trade-offs. One research suggests that reducing 1 second to respond for Amazon can save $1.6B. I don’t think any Korean businesses would have a similar impact with a mere 1 second. Even more interesting is that this outcome is determined simply by market dynamics, not the correct-or-wrong answer. As a result, Amazon can easily spend significant resources to improve user experience, but the investment gets less appealing as your market shrinks. Of course, nothing would justify infinite costs, but being able to invest in such work is a great advantage. More abstractly speaking, when you serve a large market, you can focus on the best outcome as a small per-user benefit would have a significant aggregated effect. In contrast, focusing on the best may not be smart when your market isn’t large enough. You need to consider many other options in real life, but the nature of trade-offs is undeniable. Large impacts alone may not make the work enjoyable, but still much better than works with smaller impacts.

The decision to immigrate was vaguer than what I described, but the underlying market dynamics were crucial. Coming to the U.S. wasn’t enough, so I had to think hard to choose a company and a team. Immigration is an expensive decision, but I could lower the costs with past experiments. For example, I previously worked with the new company as an intern for three months and experienced similar options to reduce uncertainties. In the end, I know it may not be the best decision. Also, I acknowledge that the future won’t be the same as I planned, even though I’m reasonably confident I can do a good job. Luck already played an important part because I got a working visa without delay. It could’ve taken much longer to come to the U.S., and the future may have unfolded very differently. For now, I’m dedicating myself to the decision.

One more thing 🔗

Despite my clumsy writing skills, I decided to make this record. Of course, organizing my rationale helps me make better decisions in the future, but I hope this can also help other people. Most people think their hometown is the default option, and moving to different cultures (potentially using different languages) isn’t considered. However, as each individual is distinct, each market can be very different from tax laws to common sense, even with seemingly similar underlying capitalism. Thus, changing a market can be a great option for some people. We often hear that you shouldn’t blame the circumstances and do your best with the given conditions, but I don’t think that’s good career advice. Instead, we should recognize that individual efforts are rarely enough to overcome circumstantial restrictions and be more open-minded in our choices. ∎

Photo credit 🔗

Giuseppe Milo, The Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco United States.


  1. A record shows the average age of the S&P changed from 61 in 1958 to 25 in 1980, and 18 in 2011. ↩︎

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