AI salaries and Chinese tea-boiled eggs

From Chinese A-bombs to exploding AI pay scales.

There is a Mandarin idiom that was popular after Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy in the 80s; 研究原子单不如卖茶叶蛋, or “being an A-bomb researcher isn’t as good as being a tea-boiled egg vendor.”

It’s not as catchy in English as it is in Mandarin.

In those days in China, research in the sciences was a government or academic job that wasn’t particularly lucrative. Meanwhile, there was this crazy new thing called the private sector. Moreover, the previous years of political and economic turbulence had created such a vacuum of economic activity such that doing something as basic as selling tea-boiled eggs would guarantee big bucks.

Fast forward to now. AI is the new A-bomb. Billionaires assure us that AI is way scarier.

And yet now it is the AI jobs that are the high-paying positions.

I think the millennial techie version of “selling tea-boiled eggs” is “Internet entrepreneurship.” To me, “internet entrepreneurship” is an umbrella term that includes anything ranging from running a humble six-figure Shopify business to running VC-funded startup.

Getting Softbank to invest in your AI-first startup is modern equivalent of selling tea-boiled eggs in China in the 80’s — in both cases, the prevailing economic headwinds of the era mean you’ll make money somehow. The only difference with the Softbank case is that you’ll probably end up destroying value, and your employees will get hosed. But I digress.

The big tech companies pay exceptionally high compensation so high to anyone who successfully brands themselves as AI-savvy. The compensation is so high bypassing those job opportunities in favor of Internet entrepreneurship is like financially hobbling oneself, especially since AI startups don’t have a great track record.

I wonder how it will be in five years?