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Big Company vs. Startup Work and Compensation (danluu.com)
730 points by ingve on Dec 18, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 402 comments



250k a year in 5 years at a big corporation, really? Yea if you're lucky to work on a project/team higher-ups care about and are also willing to bust your ass working long hours to meet insane deadlines. Also, you better be someone who is excellent at communication and charismatic if you want to get invited to the table of interesting work.

There are a lot of brilliant hyper-competitive people who work at these big companies and you will be a small fish. So I think this article is spreading a myth that there is guaranteed piles of money to be made by working at Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.


That this is currently the top comment reinforces the author's hypothesis that many software engineers underestimate how much they could make at a large company.

> 250k a year in 5 years at a big corporation, really?

Yes, really.

> Yea if you're lucky to work on a project/team higher-ups care about and are also willing to bust your ass working long hours to meet insane deadlines.

Nope, not true.

> So I think this article is spreading a myth that there is guaranteed piles of money to be made by working at Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.

Have you worked at Google, Facebook, or Apple for 5 years? If you do, and you're a decent programmer (not a rock star, but a solid contributor), you'll find there are guaranteed piles of money to be made.


Firstly, everyone not working in the Bay Area can ignore these figures because they are bloated due to cost of living (3K for 1BR/1BA apartment) and competition for talent (from startups and peers).

Secondly, people are ignoring the fact that RSUs at the 3 companies mentioned (and a few others AMZN/MSFT) have grown substantially in the past 5 years (about 125-150% on average) and is the biggest factor in these "surreal" figures.

Broken down into base (110k starting common at BigCorp), RSUs (initially 100-150K over 4 years) and bonus (10-20% base comp ), these numbers would make more sense. First year total comp is close to 145K-170K. By the time you are a senior engineer (mid-level) and assuming this took 5 years, your base comp is close to 135-160K, with refresher grants (and accounting for market performance) your RSUs probably hit 100K/year, bonuses at 30K bringing total comp to 265K-290K.

I happen to work for a BigCorp in SV (close to 1.5 years now) whose stock is performing poorly, hence my total comp is 160K (110K base, 25K bonus, 25K in RSUs/year). But if we had FB/AMZN/NFLX type of stock performance, then my comp would shoot up to 185K without any promotions.


Err, this is not accurate from my experience. I work at a large company (not one of the 'big 4 tech though) ,remote, in a medium cost of living locale and my salary is what your total comp is. I would get a huge jump if I went to one of the big 4 in the bay area.


Forgot to note that I am fresh out of college.


Location is one of the core factors of this article. I'm 3 years into my career and still make less than half the starting rate at BigCorp in SV.


How much is your rent?


This style of reply is not constructive. How can we know with certainty whether or not you have a reasonable shot at making 250k/year after five years of working at Apple, Amazon, Google, or Microsoft?

Provide an anecdote, links to articles, etc.


Throwaway because I don't want my salary history to become public.

I spent 5 years at Google. My AGI (as measured by the IRS) during my time there went $130K, $200K, $280K, $280K, $300K, $356K (for my last 5 months there...it also includes unexercised stock options for the last 5 years, though). The bump to $280K was upon promotion to senior SWE; the one to $200K was largely because of a generous stock refresh grant.


Also throwaway for obvious reasons. What you say sounds totally in line with my experience:

I am Senior SWE at an Alphabet company. Came to MTV in middle of 2015 from a company in the midwest where I made over $200K last year (much of this was profit-sharing bonus), and I was definitely at top of the market for my city.

My total compensation for this coming year (based on current value of GOOG, obviously this can vary) is projected in the mid-$300Ks. (Some of this is initial GSUs vesting, so it's slightly inflated). With the difference in cost-of-living it should be about equivalent to where I was last year. Too soon for first refresh grant, so I can't speculate about where it may go from there.

I've already gotten a larger raise and bonus than I expected, seeing as I negotiated a better offer than they originally gave me. My manager has been talking with me about what I need to do to get to promoted Staff level.

So yes, there is money to be made in SV, at big companies.


One more datapoint from Google (non-Bay Area office):

$75k (partial year), $182k, $254k, $360k

and then I left for a start-up where my total package is $50k. No less happy :-)


That is because you have shitloads of cash.


what part of the stack did/do you work on (machine learning/AI, infra, web services/APIs, frontend, other)?


When you say unexercised you mean unvested, right? Can you redo the numbers and break-out the vesting stock?

Also, since the thread is about making decisions about your career, considering compensation, why did you leave Google?


By unexercised I mean unexercised. Stock options vest continually (well, usually monthly or quarterly usually, after the 1-year cliff); when they've vested, you have the right to exercise them, and they're considered your property. You only exercise them when you choose to, and it's at that point that you're taxed on the difference between the current stock price and the strike price.

Many of my coworkers would auto-exercise-and-sell their options immediately as they vested. If I'd done this then it would've added between $15K-$60K for each of the first 5 years, but the last year would've been about $130K instead of $350K (I benefitted significantly from the stock price appreciation of GOOG, even if I did screw up nearly everything tax-related).

I left Google because five things happened within a year or so: #1 I started feeling bored at work #2 My existing project ended and I couldn't find one that really excited me #3 I passed a million bucks in liquid net worth #4 The outside tech world started entering what seems to be a period of high uncertainty and #5 I started thinking seriously about marriage & kids and realized I only had a few years left. So, in the spirit of YOLO and with immediate financial concerns taken care of, I figured it was time to do some things I'd always wanted to do.


> I figured it was time to do some things I'd always wanted to do.

Does that mean you decided to do the startup thing or that you decided to take time off?


Startup thing.


does it vary by what part of the stack you work on? The impression I've got is that Google tends to value infrastructure engineers more than others (like frontend engineers).


Not to my knowledge. I started in frontend but had touched every part of the stack (including infrastructure and some ML) by the time I left.


I suspect its pretty certain, it certainly held true when I was working there and that was before Google was 50K employees. The flip side though is you may not make it to 5 years. A lot of employees don't (which is less commonly talked about) but Google has always tried pretty hard to not retain people who weren't providing what they considered an appropriate level of contribution.

So if you start working at Google, and you make it to 5 years, then yes I'm sure you'll be making $250k+ total compensation.


> A lot of employees don't

And what is your evidence for that?

I hope it's not an estimate for the average time an engineer has been at Google, which is clearly not the same thing.


I don't know if it is still true but there was a lot of data available during the 4 years I was there to watch this in "real time". Lots of data sources and a number of people interested in the question. You couldn't easily pull apart terms vs quits but at the end of the day it amounted to the same thing.


I'm currently still in school, and I personally don't know anyone who is making $250k/year five years into their career. But I have seen new grad offers that make that number seem reasonable. One of my friends is a really smart developer who got several offers from places competitive with those companies. I don't think they really had much full-time work experience. The first year total comp in one of their offers was around $200k. A 25% compensation increase over five years seems reasonable to me.

Edit: It does kind of depend on how you value stock/RSUs in your compensation package. Most of the offers they got were from public companies that were well run. So I personally would not be extremely worried about the stock losing most of its value before I was able to sell.


At FB, my first job out of college, my W2 income was: 110k (started midway through the year), 300k, 350k.


Harvard/Stanford/MIT?


No


Anecdote: I've been at one of those companies for three years, and made about $250k this year.


After college,

2 years of startup @ $90k, worthless stock (one of the first employees), long hours. Learned a lot, but definitely underpaid in stock.

FB @ 2014 - $230k/yr = $150k base + $50k stock / yr + $30k bonus.

FB @ 2015 - $480k/yr = $200k base + $200k stock / yr + ~$80k bonus.

Getting into the senior levels at FB/GOOG does indeed get you 250k+ easy.

Friends at FB who joined the same day as me, but fresh out of college: $200k+ / yr right now.


If you're talking about total compensation, 250k is on the low end. Base of $140-190k is common. Add to that $10-30k of cash bonus and $100k of stocks.


Stock bonus for Sr Dev at microsoft is up to 30% of base(vested over 5 years). That won't hit 100k even if you are at fifth year. Is it typical for google, facebook to give 100k in stocks per year (assuming they vest more a less over same 5 years or so).


It's not like they give you 100k RSUs automatically each year, but I think the math tends to average out so that that is basically what is happening.

For instance you may get 100k-150k initial allotment and suppose you get promoted in 18-24 months, they will likely give you a refresher of 150k-225k plus whatever bump you got on your salary. It's also important to note that the refreshers don't have the one year cliff of your initial grant, it starts vesting immediately.


One thing I'm always curious about: most of these discussions seem to be targeted at college grads, discussing where they could be after their first 5 years in the industry. The sense I've gotten is that these big companies tend to compensate all new hires approximately the same, caring little about experience outside their company or perhaps one of the other big companies. It seems to me that smaller, less well known, companies are more hungry for experienced people, because they are relatively starved of people who can drive architecture, decision making, and hiring, and are thus more willing to take a risk on paying a premium for experience.

So my question is: stipulating that the numbers favor bigcos for fresh graduates, is the same true for people who already have that 5 (or 8, or 15, or 20) years of experience elsewhere?


At 3.5 years of experience Google offered me about double what I'm hearing for new grad total comp, so it seems that they value at least the first few years. Given the oft-cited ageism in the industry, I expect that tails off pretty quickly. I wouldn't be surprised if 10 years of experience wasn't worth noticeably more than 5 years.


People get $100k of stocks a year? As in, not RSUs - vested stocks? I suspect you're confusing the two, though I admit I'm not certain


RSUs are stocks. A grant of 1 RSU means that on the date it vests, the company will buy 1 share of its stock and drop it into your account at a major brokerage. It's considered compensation and taxed as income, though it's often withheld as bonus income.


My point was that inasmuch as they don't vest the same year they're granted, RSUs are nothing but a commitment that part of your compensation in the future will be in the form of stock.

If I grant you $1,000,000 in RSUs, vesting over 1000 years, is your annual income $1,000,000 ? No, it's $1,000.


Agreed, but I don't see that mistake being made often.

Generally what happens is a laddering of grants. 100k over 4 years. Then a year later, another 100k grant. Then again the 3rd year. And again the 4 year. Once you hit that 5th year, you are indeed seeing 100k in stock each year.


When people cite total comp, including RSUs, they only include the RSUs that vest in that year. At least, this is how the recruiters at the big companies talk about it, which is typically where total comp numbers come from. So a grant of $300k worth of RSUs vesting evenly over 4 years counts as $75k of compensation.


Obviously, it matters very much what the market price of the stock is. Your grant will be for a certain number of shares on some vesting schedule, not for a certain cash value.

Remember kids, stock prices don't always go up. Some stock prices go down, and sometimes all stock prices go down together. Those RSUs that, if fully vested, would have a market price of $400k at time of hire, may well be worth anything from $0 to $millions at the time they actually vest.


When talking about companies as well established as these the risk is a lot lower. In some cases since the goal is to give you a set number in compensation they will factor in a poor stock performance and give you an adjustment to make up for it.


Do you mean companies as well established as Yahoo, MySpace, AOL, and Netscape? Or companies as well established as Woolworth, Kodak, MCI, and Sears? Or perhaps you had in mind the New York Central Railroad, LTV, and Pan American Airlines?

Yes, it is possible that you will be given additional grants or options repricing if your company's stock price declines. Usually not, unless you're a key employee or top performer, but maybe. But that doesn't mean the price won't just keep going down anyway. To say nothing of the bonuses and raises you won't get, or the mandatory across-the-board 10% pay cuts, or the elimination of all the miscellaneous perks. At least, unlike the employees of many of the companies I named above, you won't have a pension you can lose too.

I know it's hard to believe. Intellectually, you can look at history and accept, know very well, that most of these companies will fail someday, and many of them probably in the very near future. But viscerally, you can't get it, because they feel invincible right now. But they aren't. Believe it[0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braniff_%281983%E2%80%931990%2...


Over long enough period of course each will decline.But within 5 years risk is small.


Here's what my comp has looked like at FB over the years:

2012: ~75k (internship + first half of sign on bonus + relocation bonus)

2013: ~100k (salary for ~6 months + second half of sign on bonus)

2014: ~225k (~110k base salary + stock)

2015: ~265k (~130k base salary + stock)

I believe myself to be around average. From what I've heard about some of my peers' comp they sound comparable to this as well.


Yes it is, because its relative placement in the thread serves as a sort of poll on whether it rings true to people's experiences.


How is it any less constructive than the person he is replying to...?


This doesn't undermine the author's point. As another commenter said, people are really underestimating the likelihood of earning a $250k salary at a large company. It's really, really doable at a large company within 5 years if you hit senior level and live in a metropolitan area.

The author's core point is that you are much more likely to become a senior engineer at a large company (and thus earn ~$250k in salary) than you are to hit the jackpot at a startup.

If you were to take the set of people who achieve senior tier (or comparable) at large tech companies and the set of people who earn at least $250k as a lump sum payout for working at a successful startup, you'd find that the former group is vastly larger than the latter.

If you were to do the same exercise and replace the second group with folks who actually got "rich" (for any reasonable definition) working for a startup, you'd find that it would not even be visible as a pixel next to the former group.

Statistically, you are simply better off trying to hit senior at large tech company if you want to optimize your career for wealth. This is so doable within five years that at large companies like Google and Microsoft you are expected to hit senior level, and if you don't it begins to reflect badly on your record. More explicitly, "senior" is the last level that everyone is expected to hit, and at which you are "allowed" to not seek further promotions.


>"senior" is the last level that everyone is expected to hit, and at which you are "allowed" to not seek further promotions.

I was under the impression that Senior is mid-level? I thought the ladder went, Junior/Associate, (Just) Software Engineer, Senior (some places have Senior I/II), then Principal, and finally (Optional for really big companies with R&D like Cisco/Juniper/United Technologies), Fellow or Distinguished Engineer (and Senior Fellow).

>a senior engineer at a large company (and thus earn ~$250k in salary)

I'm under the impression that the $250K salary is total comp, usually $150K in Silicon Valley (which is like $80K in fly-over country) and $100K in stock options/bonuses which varies year to year (e.g., what was the annual bonus of SV programmers in the year of 2002-2005? vested options now worth for employees of TWTR and LivingSocial?); also how secure are these Senior Engineer jobs and people's average tenure at those jobs? What is their hourly wage accounting for how many hours they work?

I propose a better formula for salary range for all job ad's, your cost-of-living adjusted annual salary * (1 - % involuntary attrition per year at your company) * (40 hours / avg hours worked of employees in the team) + (50-percentile bonus) + (employee stock options {if not public 0 else 50-percentile of the cohort of the one year price target of stock analysts}).


Risk adjustment is definitely appropriate, but I think the author is being conservative even with this in mind.

You're right that "Senior" is still mid-level, but the author is being conservative.

The reality at a healthy, profitable company is something like this: $250k being the "total comp" for someone is a T5 seems right to me, even adjusting for risk. A T5 at Google, Facebook, or Apple is likely earning much more than this as their stock from 4 years ago is vesting at a much higher price than it was granted at.

150k guaranteed comp, 25k bonus, 75k vesting equity is low for the companies w/ equity run-ups in the past several years, in my opinion. Also worth noting -- the bonus is basically guaranteed. It can be much higher if you get very good performance ratings.

The author also didn't include 401k matching (about 8.5k there), free offsites to go skiing or go to Vegas (w/ team trips to Hawaii not unheard of for high profile, long-term projects), generous medical/dental/vision benefits, free food, free gyms, matching charitable donations...

And IDK if it's just my team, I don't see people working extremely long hours.

You're totally right that you're at the mercy of stock prices in some regard -- but it works in two directions. Both FB and GOOG have gone up something like 150% in the past 5 years. So if someone got an initial stock grant of 200k vesting over 4 years, last year that 50k at vest time was more like 100k. Meanwhile they've gotten subsequent equity refresh grants -- the actual equity comp might be more like 200k, not 75k.


> 150k guaranteed comp, 25k bonus, 75k vesting equity is low for the companies w/ equity run-ups in the past several years, in my opinion.

You're right, assuming that everything continues as it has. Nothing is guaranteed; that 150k can vanish in a puff of smoke through no fault of your own, and take all your unvested comp along with it.

> the bonus is basically guaranteed.

No, it is not. Many, many people will tell you of their time spent at BigCo when the economy is not booming, and after the free donuts, the first thing that goes is the bonus. You have to read the bonus plan very carefully to understand how it's computed. It's quite possible that your bonus at Facebook or whatever depends solely on your own rating, but at most companies that's just the final multiplier and all kinds of other things have to happen in order for the bonus pool to exist at all. In even mild headwinds, it's likely that only a part of the expected bonus will be paid, and not unusual for there to be none at all. Furthermore, the bonus plan is usually determined one year at a time, so the fact that whatever needed to happen this year for everyone to be paid at 100% did happen is no guarantee that the criteria in next year's plan will be satisfied.

Do not assume that the future looks exactly like the recent past. It is certainly possible that the near future will be even better than the recent past, but at least some kind of mean reversion is a hell of a lot more likely. I predict that very few people will end up receiving as much total cash for their work over the next 5 years as their simplistic and rosy-eyed calculations of today would indicate.


Yes, senior is mid-level if you look at a ladder. It's usually SWE I, SWE II, Senior, Staff, Senior Staff, Principal, Distinguished, etc. for large companies.

What I meant was that large companies expect all hires to eventually hit senior, give or take 3 - 6 years. If you don't, they have something of an "up or out" approach, where it counts against you in subsequent reviews. However, not everyone is expected to achieve Staff or higher.


> I was under the impression that Senior is mid-level?

Yes and no. It's a middle level in that there are levels above it. It's not in the sense that it is where most people will cap out. A senior engineer is expected to be exactly that for most teams, but you will see principles (or whatever) there for the harder/bigger problems.


> It's really, really doable at a large company within 5 years if you hit senior level and live in a metropolitan area.

If, if, if, if. Just by numbers, most devs don't meet these criteria. And even in the periods of time which I personally have, I still was not making anywhere near this kind of money.

These numbers are inflated and out of reach to the vast majority of developers in the workplace today, full stop.


Yes, there are if's involved. It is not certain that you will achieve senior tier at a large company in a metropolitan area. But you are also not certain to earn anything from your startup equity.

I will reiterate - you are more likely to reach $250k working at a large company than you are to earn it (in salary or lump sum) at a startup.

This has been corroborated by numerous individual's experience in this thread, including my own. I personally interact with companies that pay this on a weekly basis.


You need to quit saying "a metropolitan area" when you mean "Silicon Valley and a few places that have satellite offices for companies based in Silicon Valley," is the thing.

Show me the companies in Columbus, OH that pay that way. Or Milwaukee, WI. Or or or.


New York, Philly and DC exist. They all have tech markets that are not at all dependent on SV.


It is my experience that these figures are well on the high side for Philly though.


You're exactly right. And it comes down to simple economic truths. If mass amounts of people could "easily" make 130k out of college on a path to 250k then the hundreds of thousands of programmers around the world would give up their ~$100k jobs and go do that. But they don't. Just look at glassdoor salary averages! It's right there in black and white! The sunny salary numbers he posits are, as you said, out of reach for most.

(It should be noted that I completely agree with the article's conclusion. I've come to feel that the EV of buying a startup lottery ticket is woefully lower than pg, sama or [insert vc/angel here] assert. If you can land a solid and interesting bigco job, that's probably your best bet.)


I think a good number of people just don't know that they're underpaid. I worked 3 years at ~100k, then started interviewing and quickly moved up to the kind of numbers mentioned in the article (note: nyc, so all numbers are somewhat inflated). I also gave up some unvested equity, but there's no way it could be worth anywhere near the salary difference.


Of course most devs don't make it to senior, but even fewer devs cash out significantly from startups. I think that's the point they're trying to make.

i.e Say there are two groups of 100 engineers of equal average ability. One goes into megacorps and the others do startups. Which group will have earned more as a whole after 5 years? 10 years?


So, is hitting the startup jackpot. If a 250k job has 5% odds, and a startup jackpot has 1% odds then it's really worth thinking about.


> It's really, really doable at a large company within 5 years if you hit senior level and live in a metropolitan area.

So Dallas doesn't count as a metropolitan area? I can almost guarantee nobody here is making that kind of money after only five years. In fact, I'm willing to bet that this kind of compensation is extremely rare outside SV, NYC, and possibly Seattle.

In fact, based on what I remember of the salary bands at my former company, it was impossible to reach $250k/year in five years, anywhere in the country.


Some cost of living calculators make $150k in Dallas equal about $250 in NYC. It's worth noting that $150k is high for Dallas, but not impossible for people with Principal, Fellow, or Chief in their job titles.

It's worth noting that using a flat cost-of-living adjustment both overestimates and underestimates things.

The kind of place you'd likely rent in Plano or Addison would cost ridiculous amounts in NYC, given comparable neighborhood qualities and commutes. You can easily afford to have three, four, or more kids. In NYC, one kid is doable, two is a challenge, three is crazy. From that metric, $150k in DFW sounds awesome.

Though if your goal is retirement, maxing out your 401k in NYC is much easier. If you plan on moving to a lower cost-of-living area to retire, or are otherwise looking to hit a certain dollar-figure for some reason (paying for kids to go to college), NYC probably has the edge. That is, people usually adjust their total salaries for cost of living but ignore that annual contributions to medium-term and long-term savings generally shouldn't be adjusted.


> It's worth noting that $150k is high for Dallas, but not impossible for people with Principal, Fellow, or Chief in their job titles.

No one is reaching any of those titles 5 years out of college though.


Absolutely not, no.


> Some cost of living calculators make $150k in Dallas equal about $250 in NYC. It's worth noting that $150k is high for Dallas, but not impossible for people with Principal, Fellow, or Chief in their job titles.

I'm not challenging that. There's a reason after all why I have not yet and never will move to California (well, a bunch of reasons, but most are irrelevant to this). As I said to my other respondent, I'm taking issue with the absolute numbers.


Yes. All other things being equal(and they are, for the most part), if you save 10% of your salary a year, you are going to be a lot wealthier upon retirement living in the higher cost of living place. If you want to maximize your retirement fund, you should be looking to move to the place with the highest cost of living possible.


That's as may be but what are your chances of making the equivalent of 5 years at Dallas BigCorp busting your ass to get to a senior X or X Supervisor in 5 year vs busting your ass at start up in Dallas?


That isn't the point I was addressing. I was concerned with the absolute numbers being floated in this conversation. They are thoroughly unrealistic for people outside a certain few areas.

On this specific point I don't have a good opinion. I don't know much about the startup scene here because nobody is doing things I am interested in, but from what I can tell they seem to be saner than what you get in the Valley because nobody has delusions of unicornhood there. Similarly, there are plenty of bust-your-ass BigCo jobs around here. So both camps seem to pay similarity and seem to have the same scattergun of stress levels.


They are also overestimating the likelihood of hitting the jackpot at a startup. The d100 rule of thumb guidance is insanely optimistic; there is not anywhere close to a 5% chance that your lottery ticket will be worth life-changing money; it's probably 1% at best (and later discussion suggests that 0.5% might be about right). Nor is there a 30% chance your ticket will be worth anything; 10% is more realistic (ignoring all the ways that your ticket in particular may end up being worthless), and the "anything" is likely to be so small as to be noise relative to a BigCo base salary. Remember, a general rule of thumb across all industries is that 90% of new ventures fail within 5 years.

Of course, given today's stock market prices, it's likely that any options you get at BigCo will be out of the money when they finally vest, and there's a good chance your RSUs will be worth less than you're valuing them today. But the effects of these things are still much smaller than the vastly overstated likelihood of ending up with a winning lottery ticket.


> This is so doable within five years that at large companies like Google and Microsoft you are expected to hit senior level, and if you don't it begins to reflect badly on your record. More explicitly, "senior" is the last level that everyone is expected to hit

Not at Amazon. They are fine if people cap out at SDE 2. It's a bit of an odd thing IMO, and it's resulted in a comparatively low number of senior and above level SDE.


Amazon is different than those companies in that its leveling options are much smaller. SDE II is a very broad range and at a company like MSFT/GOOG it would realistically map to 2-3 different job levels there based on experience and contribution level. Same with SDE III. Principal+ is probably the most aligned.


Probably because Amazon has enough problem with retention as it is, they don't want to encourage even more people to leave.


Pretty much.

The ratcheting hiring bar[1] and the punishing promo process[2] mean that SDE II has to be treated as a career role as a practical matter for the tech orgs to continue to function. As hard as it is to retain good engineers, it'd be even harder to retain good managers if they were expected to manage all their SDE II's up or out.

[1] - Every new hire is expected to be better than 50% of the current employees in a given role and level across the company. This means the "bar" for a given role and level continuously trends higher modulo attrition.

[2] - Senior engineer candidates typically require at least a dozen peers and managers at or above the senior level to each dedicate a couple of hours to write detailed SBI feedback. The promo candidate's manager then has to spend many more hours crafting a lengthy document from this. The doc then gets reviewed (i.e. picked apart) multiple times at every management tier up to the org VP. At any point along the way it may be punted back for rework, or denied. The process gets even more cumbersome going to principal - so much so that it's often said that the easiest path from senior SDE is to leave Amazon for a couple of years and get hired back as a principal.

source: former Amazonian who really liked working at Amazon, but who finally got an offer elsewhere he couldn't refuse.


> punishing promo process

you mean the ridiculous and pretty broken process?


I think people are actually really out of touch with bigco pay scales. 250k is pretty easily achievable in a bigco. At Facebook you'll hit 250k+ in total comp at level 5, at LinkedIn you'll hit 250k+ in total comp at Staff level. If you also factor in stacking allotments of RSUs, your pay can easily exceed 300k at these levels given a few years of tenure.


I can corroborate this. 250k is very, very attainable.


Just in the states? What about in Europe? FB, Google and others have headquarters in Dublin. I don't think they pay anything like that, do they?


I live in Dublin, don't work for Google but I have many friends that do (as well as in London and Zurich).

No, they don't pay anything close to that. Actually, AFAIK, in Dublin the salary that Google pays for developers is on the low side of the scale (they offset that, in part, with all the benefits like free food and the rest).


Dublin is in a weird situation. Loads of immigrant here. I lived there couple years and worked in one of those big corps.

Salaries do go quite up a while but statistics on the corporate ladder are stacked firmly against immigrants, the higher you go the less chance you have to find non local people.

With soft career ceiling and continuous influx of people salaries are driven down. You can still make a fine living, but nothing compared to the colleagues on the other side of the ocean.


That's what I thought. I'm in Dublin too but not in google/fb/etc


$80K is top of the top developer salary I heard of in Ukraine. My own salary is $55K. With $250K, I can hire team to work instead of me. :-)


Don't forget that those 250k are pre-taxes, and salary in Ukraine is usually quoted after tax afaik.


Does not appear to be the case in London. I know indirectly people working in Google around here and they are on the low side of banking salaries.

Getting $250K is certainly doable in bank, but it does not follow a specific career plan. I have known senior system tester making 150K GBP and for the same job and responsibilities another was making 50K GBP. Doing it in 5 years out of school is difficult in tech.

It is doable without too much trouble in finance in trading, m&a, ... the trick is that you need to survive which require more luck than skills.

Overall though, in the 4.5 million workers in London, only 120K make between 100K GBP and 200K GBP, and 60K that make more than that.


For a BigCo the Dublin pay is going to be roughly 50-70% of the US pay for the same job.


Do you base this on something?


I am a hiring manager at a big software company and have worked at others in similar capacity. I have seen salary data for my employees in both Dublin and the US.


Is this only in Silicon Valley? Or are these pay scales appropriate for satellite offices as well? For example: could you hit $250k working for Google in Pittsburgh?


You wouldn't be far off the GBP equivalent working for an investment bank in London as a VP developer.


Agreed, the post is pretty similar to my experience in London. Within 5 years I hit a total comp of over $250k USD.


From my understanding, they don't really recalibrate pay scales at the bigcos based on location.. but this is purely anecdotal evidence.


In my BigCo experience, they do recalibrate pay scales at different locations, but not nearly to the extent that they should. For example, one of them had three US geo "zones" that were supposed to reflect the cost of living there. The bay area and perhaps Manhattan were the highest, I forget what was in the second, and the third was basically "everywhere else". The difference between the top and bottom was maybe 10-15%, considerably less than the width of the salary band for each grade.

So to make it concrete, a new hire at a particular grade might have gotten $120k in SF or $105k in Little Rock (base). Considering the high taxes and housing costs in SF, the new hire in Little Rock would have had a much higher standard of living.

Of course, working at a non-HQ site is a major career-limiter, so 10 years down the road you might have been better off relocating anyway. Depends on where you are in life and what you want to achieve.

By contrast, non-US salaries are dramatically lower independent of the cost of living at a particular location. So if you're working for a US BigCo outside the US, you had better be in Chiang Mai or Belize, not Berlin or Hong Kong. As the author of this post notes, no one seems to know why this is so, only that it is.


Well, there's really no corresponding data for many other markets . Facebook and Google don't really do Work From Home and don't have a lot of remote locations for development depending on where you are. (Amazon is another example). I don't know what they offer datacenter staff, but in many areas, recruiters are pretty adamant about people moving.

From my experience, say, the North Carolina scene, you're lucky if you are going to get $120-ish with ten years of experience. There's some give or take, but includes large companies and banks. You can do a little better at something like a Cisco if you are willing to trade quality of work. Most big companies as well as startups are paying new grads somewhere in the low-high 60s or maybe 50s depending on where. I don't have hard data, but it's no where near $130k.

Data from cost of living comparison sites that some companies use indicates that these companies hiring someone in the bay area may pay those people 20% more for cost of living at most.

Startups pay substantially less on average, with senior level personnel getting around $100k, maybe $120k if you're excellent and the startup is well funded - but this is 10 years of experience kind of stuff. I have unfortunately had to turn down some great folks because they wanted north of that - and they were worth it. I've also seen companies where their maximum pay tier tops out at 135 for what amounts to principle engineer level positions. (I'd assume a fellow at IBM would do better, but they are uncommon and few have a chance of surviving the machine to get there).

Conversely, really senior level software development positions at basically-exit-ready startups in CA aren't going to be much better than 40-50% better than the above. Some of these can be obtained remotely - sometimes.

What the article states as common for Google and Facebook are absolutely not the norm, and I'm not really sure how achievable that is for most people even there.

It's great if Google/Facebook can allow to pay people that, definitely. I just wouldn't say it's even remotely common and does not translate.

I've heard some ancedotal completely crazy numbers from hedge funds that most people would hate working for elsewhere, but nothing nearing the numbers in this article.

I don't really have hard data on the New York software scene or Texas, but .. again, this isn't normal. HN may be more of a microcosm than expected if most people do feel this is normal.

To put it in perspective, this is still amazingly high compared to a lot of other positions and you'd still have it really good.


I was in NC and made about $100K after 7 years. I kept hearing people made $150K elsewhere so I took a gamble and moved. After my first position making $130K I doubled my salary at another well known company to about $260K.

I know from recruiter spam that $260K seems to be on the high end, with only the top firms mentioned paying close to that. I have friends that dwarf what I make, but they had good stock options at companies that made it to IPO. Definitely don't regret leaving NC.

I'd love to know what someone mildly famous like Mbstock, Rich Hickey, etc would make. I am a nobody and have done what I consider well.


> Facebook and Google don't really do Work From Home and don't have a lot of remote locations for development depending on where they are. I don't know what they offer datacenter staff, but in many areas, that's all they have for "not CA".

This is just untrue. I haven't looked closely at Facebook recently (beyond watching the [office in Seattle](http://www.geekwire.com/2015/sneak-peek-facebook-plans-epic-...) grow quickly) but traditionally Google has had ~50% eng in MTV and the rest spread out. NY is the second largest office but Seattle and Bangalore are pretty big. Seattle (and Kirkland) are now at ~2000 people (https://twitter.com/juberti/status/675022362438316032).


It's completely accurate - hence the location part. If you sought to add clarification, the first sentence was unneccessary. Let's confine this to "they won't hire in most of the Continental United States". Even for exceptional candidates, remote is also completely out of the question for them. That's obviously their right and I don't hold them against them. (But it's worth contrasting with someone like Red Hat, who will hire someone from anywhere if they are awesome).

I have had lots of experience with Google and Amazon recruiters where CA was the only viable option. Google also tended to have a bad habit of offering SRE positions for datacenters in the sticks, but that was not a development-flavored SRE thing in the least. They pretty much close the door on you if you don't want to move and are dropping the ball on some pretty awesome development centers IMHO.

Facebook is often avoided by some very sharp kernel (and other) folks, because they greatly insist on a boot camp and can't guarantee what department you are going to work for. They lost some brilliant folks as a result. I wouldn't work for them for that reason, as I think the team and the manager are the most important parts of the hiring decision.

Yes, Google has other offices, but they are not hiring people in some pretty darn major development regions. There is allegeldy an office in Chapel Hill for instance, but it seems to be on the edge of being decomissioned and no recruiter will tell you anything about it.

So, yeah, it's not quite like you can just work anywhere.


> Facebook is often avoided by some very sharp kernel (and other) folks, because they greatly insist on a boot camp and can't guarantee what department you are going to work for. They lost some brilliant folks as a result. I wouldn't work for them for that reason, as I think the team and the manager are the most important parts of the hiring decision.

That sounds better than Google's "work on what we tell you to" approach.


What I meant here is that you go to the boot camp and then they (what I've been told) assign you to a group.

I don't know how much preference you can have.

As such, I think it's possibly very similar, though I thought with Google you did get to apply for specific groups.


At least it would be only BigCo in USA and the tech sector.

I know only numbers from germany and somebig corporations here. Apart from management you would here be very unlikely to even hit 100k (neither $ nor €).


There was an internal, self-reported survey of compensation within Google that showed very little variance of total compensation at the same level in different offices.


I got a $150k starting offer from one of those companies. A friend got raised to $200k after two years at one of them. Another started at $170k with a masters in stats. Admittedly this is all anecdotal. But these numbers don't strike me as crazy.

My brother got a starting salary of $80k at a startup that went on to IPO in the single digit billions (he joined after the series A). After he sold his options, he earned an average of $130k / yr at that company.


> average of $130k / yr at that company.

Its more about the kind of experience or skills you want to gain. Money comparison in my opinion can't be head to head, some make millions while some make 0 at startups.


Yeah I saw that and thought, ok maybe if you are on of the known or maintain a popular open source package, a conference speaker. But 250k in year 5 is not a number that rings true.

Or, maybe I am doing something wrong here and am underpaid...


200k for sr in the valley is not weird.

Remember: it's not year 5 of your career. It's year 5 of your tenure at one company. It's a little unusual for people to stay longer than 4 years at most companies.


Then there is a selection bias: only those who manage to make it to the 200k level stay long enough, the others (the large majority) understand after a few years that their present company is not gonna promote them to that level and try to find greener pastures.


I mean, there is totally a selection bias, but we're talking about companies that have lots of 5+ year people there making that salary.


What companies are paying 5 year senior enigneers $200k base salary in the Valley???


The best approximation of an answer to that question I can find is "virtually every large non-startup tech company in the valley that isn't Cisco".


If that's the case, shouldn't there be evidence (other than anecdotal comments via HN) to support that?

Not that it's so far fetched that big Valley firms are paying over $200k base salary, but if it was so prevalent, I'd expect to see more concrete evidence to support that.


Literally, ask any friend working as SWE in any of those companies - they will confirm numbers. You are pretty much guaranteed to make that money in 5 years if you get promoted with average velocity.


I'm not saying you are wrong, but wouldn't this: https://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Google-San-Francisco-Salari...

be more indicative than asking a person first hand what they make? I don't think saying 'personally confront friends/workers at said companies about salaries' is anymore reliable than anonymously submitted.


Look at total compensation - average total compensation says ~$238k for senior, which certainly seems to confirm numbers...and they may be higher currently since I'd guess that those numbers probably span across a number of years. Google SF is a smaller office also.


That's total compensation.

The claims I'm interested in regard Base salary.


I hate to be put in this position, but I have to call BS. This entire thread is highly biased towards people who make more: people who make more want to chime in, people who make less are more embarrassed / discouraged from chiming in.

I'm a natural (coding since 3rd grade), out of college for 6 years, and I've only known 1 engineer in my career who made over 200k. Now if by BigCo you mean Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, then I don't know them, so I can't comment.

But if by BigCo you mean IBM, Cisco, Intel, etc then I can guarantee you that I don't know a single person making 250k, and glassdoor generally corroborates (if you google STAFF (> senior) software engineer in SF for IBM your average is 132 base in SF)


Where do you live? These numbers are fairly local to SF/NYC/Seattle, with other large cities trailing a bit and smaller cities farther behind.

That said, in those cities they are far from absurd. I started out similar to you (coding since elementary school) and now live in NYC ~3.5 years out of college. Off the top of my head, I could name half a dozen developers making seven figures, and at least 100 making over $200k.


I live in San Francisco, and have for about 4 years.

I'm shocked you know the salaries of 100 other developers. Care to share some of the companies that are paying this much to developers 3.5 years out of college? I'd love to corroborate on glassdoor.


I don't know exact salaries of that many people, but I know payscales at a couple high-paying companies and people who work there, so I put 2 and 2 together. I wouldn't count people who are borderline since there's a bit of estimating involved. I would slightly less confidently put the same group of people at $250k or more.

I recently turned down an offer from Google for $270k total comp, so they're definitely one of the high-paying companies. I know Facebook pays similarly well, but have no interest in working there. Being in NYC, though, the highest paying are mostly in finance.

I've found Glassdoor to run very low for higher-paying positions, though. Their numbers are all salary as far as I can tell, while a large portion of compensation is in RSUs and bonuses (40%-90% at compensation levels of $250k and up).


At least 6 developers making over $1M? Doing what?


They likely work on trading desks at hedge funds.


Facebook, Salesforce, LinkedIn. And that's just what I have either direct or first-hand knowledge of.


AppAmaGooFaceSoft and every company which is isomorphic to them. Tens of thousands of people have this pay package.


I don't think Amazon compensates that much - I interviewed with them this past summer, and they tried to lowball me. I gave a firm number that I would not go below after giving some numbers I have turned down in the past, and the process stalled indefinitely. I have also heard stories about Apple lowballing friends as well, to the point startups were giving higher compensation. The others, I have heard stories about or could believe.


You were probably down leveled based on the interview. The comp will max out lower (and therefore the offer won't be able to budge significantly higher) than you may achieve somewhere that did not downlevel you.


I don't think so - I am pretty certain I aced both technical phone screens, answered the questions fast, and explained everything clearly with a high level understanding of everything asked (including all the nuances) while remaining calm & jovial the whole way. The technical screens were some of the easiest interviews I've ever had.

I should note that I didn't get to the in-person interview, and that was because salary negotiations start beforehand. I did my research afterwards, and everything I found seemed to point towards cheapness.


Having worked there, I am not sure I believe you. An SDE interview is a single phone screen before onsite. Salary is also not negotiated before an onsite + offer in hand. I was a hiring manager and often matched or exceeded competing offers from MSFT/GOOG, so our pay was not significantly different. The only difference is that Amazon base pay maxes out lower (at about 160k) and therefore RSUs make up a larger portion of salary for higher level positions.


I can come up with a few on top of my head: Netflix, Apple, Google


I don't think anyone makes $200k base at Netflix after 5 years as a serious SWE. "Starts with a 3" is what I've heard pretty consistently.


Do you have sources for this information?

Is 200k median salary, or an outlier for the top senior engineer there?


The top senior engineer at Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn is not making $200k.

More than 10 years ago, my in-the-door offer as one member of a team of 5-6 senior developers at an east coast tech firm was higher than $200k.


> The top senior engineer at Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn is not making $200k.

Fair point. The Top engineer at each of those companies is making more than $200k.

Edited for clarity.


What he meant is that they are making far more than $200k, which makes his next sentence illustrative as an example.


I understood what he was saying, and I concurred to his statement: that top engineers at Google et al, are making more than $200k


Not only are they making more than 200k, they are making WAY more than 200k.



It's not median - it's maybe median if you select only for senior-level engineers, most of our industry leans quite young.

The "outlier for top engineers" at the above companies are in the $500k+ range. I'm being entirely serious.


Are you a senior engineer? Are you at a large company in a metropolitan area? Is your salary less than $250k?

If you answered yes to all three, yes, you are probably underpaid. That doesn't mean you're doing something wrong if you love your job, but know that you could earn more.


I'm sorry but... if you were a senior software engineer in Sacramento (a metropolitan city) and asked for 200k at intel, hp, oracle, apple, etc., someone would quietly hang up the phone hahaha. A laughable amount is even closer to 150k if it wasn't a tech giant ie. Sutter, Blue Shield, Proctor & Gamble, PG&E, Franklin Templeton, etc.

Lead, architect, principal... they may not hang up but I would expect a double take and a "let's be realistic."


This whole conversation is about pay at tech companies, where developers are the primary revenue generator, as opposed to other industries where developers are generally considered a cost center.


Agreed, doesn't take much looking on sites like glassdoor to confirm.. Most salary bands for principal roles are 120-150k w/ 15-20k bonus and occasionally same in stock.


When Sacramento is a 2 hour drive away, why don't you move to Fremont and work in SF, Mountain View or San Jose?


> Are you at a large company in a metropolitan area?

...on the West Coast or Northeast, sure. It's my understanding that $250k is a little high for other cities, unfortunately. Hopefully the corporate culture there catches up.

Otherwise, a lot of engineers are getting used to living off of some sort of bubble.


I recently got an offer from Google for 270k total comp (<4 years experience, nyc). I would expect tenure to be worth a sizable amount over that, and it's my understanding that nyc is very similar to silicon valley.


You and me, both, brother.

I'm not sure why your comment is grey; it's spot on, although it's not likely a sentiment that HN folks are fond of.

On the other hand, your second paragraph is exactly true in my case. But still...


I think the median after 5 years is closer to ~225k. (source I've worked at Google 5 years after joining right out of school).


Damn! I did not know that salaries where that high here. I just came to SF on an H1-B and can only look up to that... But way to go - i guess...


total comp.

Not salary.


250k = salary + equity + bonus


yeah true. for me its about the same though... guess i was so happy to come to the US in the first place ;)


Did you go to a top school with top scores?


This is not true, although I thought it was before joining Google from a startup. I'm now two years in (after joining at entry level) and my compensation is ~220k. 250k for senior is pretty conservative, if the Googlers I've talked to at that level are representative (and we don't work in the Bay Area).


This is your take home pay? So after taxes?


The rule of thumb if you work in California is that you'll take home half, assuming all your income is base + bonus + RSUs and not exotics like ISOs or deferred comp plans. The rest goes to the cost of non-cash compensation, various governments, and your tax-deferred retirement savings. It's usually slightly more than half, depending on the exact numbers, whether you're buying medical plans for a family, how much you save in a retirement plan, etc., but that's the safe first-order approximation if you're budgeting.

So someone starting at BigCo in California should expect to take home 100-125k a year for the first few years. That said, I would caution new entrants to the workforce about three things:

- Tax rates are likely to go up, and certainly will not be going down. It would not be shocking if you were taking home 10% less in a few years solely because of higher taxes. You can also expect your cost of living to grow much more quickly than the tax bracket boundaries will rise.

- Your RSUs are likely to be worth less than you're expecting, because market prices will decline in a bust (a major bust is all but certain at some point in your upcoming 4-year vesting period).

- In a bust, you will likely get a smaller bonus or none at all (even if the company is still making money), and are unlikely to get a raise, even a nominal cost of living adjustment. These conditions can last for several years, so even if you keep your job (hardly a given), your total compensation will likely be much less than you expected when you were hired. A few companies may be doing well enough that you will be exempt, but don't count on it.

All of these things need to be factored in when evaluating compensation. It's not as simple as adding X + Y + Z and assuming that all changes over the next 5 years will be either neutral or positive. That's not how life is.


Oops, that is not at all what I meant by take home - my bad. I meant total comp; this is very much before taxes.


I'm a senior programmer at a smallish company (30 programmers around 150 people total) where I've been for 5 years and I make 60k. Funny part is I bill out at 140 per hour and am 95% billable.


I think this community is frankly out of touch on compensation expectations for the bulk of the population, but you are definitely underpaid and should find another job elsewhere.


I knew about a lot of the numbers in this thread, but reading them here blows me away anyway. Mine went like this (all numbers inflation adjusted for 2015, and are base salary. Location is NYC):

Company 1 (~25 employees, entertainment industry. No benefits. No stock.)

1997-2000 $30,757.56 (entry level)

2001-2002 $98,944.97 (junior)

2003 $128,986.96 (senior)

Company 2 (post dot-com crash brought salaries way down, ~150 employees, software company. Ok benefits. No stock.)

2003-2005 $66,838.10 (mid-level)

2006 $77,699.29 (senior)

Company 3 (non-tech startup, 5 full-time employees. OK benefits. Small amount of stock.)

2007 $114,465.95 (senior)

2008-2012 $77,529.03 (senior, pay cut after investments were cut)

Company 4 (~120 employees, ad firm. Goodish benefits. No stock.)

2013 $100,000 (mid-level)

2014 $110,000 (senior)

Not only do company sizes, upward trajectories, educational background, company industry, etc. impact earnings, but where you are in relation to business cycles and booms/busts really matter.


Service companies are always a bit of a problem. Your value is effectively capped by your hourly rate minus overheads. And that's in the highest levels. At all the lower levels you're paying the salaries of the higher ups and non billable folks.


Why are you still there?


Not many software jobs in Alaska. I am against moving as well.


go remote!


$250k Total comp. That's salary, bonus, equity, and benefits.


When I use total comp, I exclude non-cash benefits, and I think that's the normal use of the phrase. Health care, vision, dental, long-term disability, etc are all excluded.


I would include 401(k) or HSA matching under benefits (cash equivalent).


Agreed. I'd not consider those "non-cash benefits".

In the neighborhood of $250K, 401K and HSA match are just a few percent of comp generally.


I don't know about 250k, but there is a lot of money to be made at a big company. I am not a 'SWE' at Google so these are not my numbers, but I know it's pretty normal for people to see this out of college:

~110k salary ~60 shares of GOOG per year (so right now about 45k) ~15% bonus (so 15k, conservative)

That right there adds up to 170k and that's entry level. Get a promotion or two (could be a 20% increase if you're lucky) plus the general year-to-year raises to keep up with the market and you're looking at 250k being possible before you're 30.

Now of course this can't be everyone. But it's a lot of people, and anyone who is going to be competent enough to keep a startup afloat is probably good enough to rise a rank or two at Google/Apple/Facebook/etc.


I worked at a big corporation and changed jobs after 2 years. Day one at the new big corporation I was making ~$200k (that's total compensation; so bonus, salary, and stock that will vest this year). I think $250 is very doable.


It's $250k if you count the equity. The base salary in cash is not that amount, but if you include options/RSUs, and the company continues to do well, those numbers make sense.

If you do the math as base+equity you will often find startups that are giving out even better offers. I've seen $300k+ if you consider dollars in RSUs the same thing as dollars in cash. Unfortunately the math really is base+(equity*chance_it_pays_out). With that math, you are much more likely to come out ahead at Google, FB, Microsoft, etc.


Startups will give better offers at the lower levels - however, as someone gets more experience, the big companies will go far and away above in total compensation typically. Even companies like Uber, Airbnb, etc. aren't paying as well (although they do pay well)...and that doesn't even go into the riskiness of startup work.


It guess it also depends on what level one is when joining the company. I guess this article is for people with an undergraduate degree in CS?


...from Stanford or a similar school.


If you're saying this to suggest that students from Stanford or similar schools are able to attain better offers, then sure. If you're saying this to suggest that companies give students from Stanford vs students from "worse" schools better offers, that's not true.


I did an AMA on Reddit a few months ago. I worked for a well-known Sillicon Valley company for about a year and made around $200K/year and that's with about 5 years of programming professionally under my belt.

Just wanted to give you a heads up. I went back to startup work and my salary got immediately cut down to $125K.


Google, Facebook, Apple, etc aren't the only game. You can easily make $250k with the right knowledge in all sorts of places.

I worked with a guy in a .gov billing $250/HR, with about $100 going to the upstream contract holder. He was an ITIL/process expert.


This comment is like a parody of someone that didn't read the article.


I'd recommend anyone looking for their first job out of university to consider strongly a job at a startup. Consider it a 'finishing school', where you'll have the highest chance to touch as many different technologies and tasks as possible (from system administration, to backend to frontend work), as opposed to the 'Big Company' where (especially for a first job) you'll be focused on one task.

The important thing is to leave after one year, no matter the compensation you are getting. Teams have a tendency to give the shittiest work to the most junior member, and there's very little inertia to replace that person if they are doing a stellar job at that shit work, but once you leave that startup with bankable experience under your belt, you'll have a much easier time interviewing and negotiating yourself a cushier position at either another startup or a big company.

Most big companies have a much better career 'ladder', where you'll be on a path to more interesting work once you've proven your worth, but I suspect you'd still be in a better position coming into the company one or two years in, rather than starting the treadmill at a lower salary/title.


Everyone is either saying go to a big corp or go to a startup as your first job.

What I usually tell new grads is: Get offers from both, and take the job that has the best potential person or people that you'll be able to learn from. There are a bunch of ways you can research this. Try asking people on the team to tell you who they've learned the most from in their career.

Do not take a job where you'll be a lone wolf. As a new grad your goal should be to find great people to work with and learn from them.

If you want to have a balanced career you should try both big corps and startups, but ordering doesn't matter.


Do not take a job where you'll be a lone wolf

Good point. Fresh out of school I went to a tiny company of under 10 people. I had a great time and I was really impressed with the skills of the people I worked with.

But within 18 months or so it became obvious that I had by far the most theoretical knowledge of anyone there and a lot of their approach was guesswork. In two years, I began to realize I was just as good an engineer as any of them, just inexperienced.

I should probably have left after year three when the fun-factor was in sharp decline, but I stayed 5 more years, then took a job at at $BIGCO where my salary almost doubled instantly and projects were much, much bigger and infinitely more fun.


^^ Great advice. I had a college student ask me for input on this very question this morning and my response was not to stress too much about finding "the best, most ultimate company ever to work for," but to find a position where you can learn a lot and develop skills you know you need from people willing to invest time in you. (As an aside, something like 70% of people say the most stressful part of their job is their boss. So if there are ways to screen for working with someone who is willing to take the time to cultivate you, amazing.) I think it's tough, especially for the generation of students graduating from college right now (millennials coached to believe they need to have a HUGE impact wherever they go and to believe that their contributions are insanely important), to understand that a first job is just a first step and is not career-defining, in my opinion. You can work somewhere, get some good experience, and then leverage that to get a job you're really excited about.


I went about it the opposite way, and can definitely recommend that as well: big company first, then small. The big company experience shows you a ton of things, like how to interview, build, and deploy at scale. The small company can benefit from your ability to bring order to chaos, develop tools which are obvious in any big company but strangely missing from every small one, and more.

Maybe it doesn't matter which one you start with, but you should give both a try at some point.


This sounds great when you envision that big company as Amazon, Google, Microsoft or Facebook. It sounds less so when you envision that company as Oracle, eBay, Yahoo! or SAP. Some large companies are mostly going to teach you politics, byzantine process and spending money as a means of scaling bad software.

It's important to differentiate skills learned at big companies. Some are very useful, but others are coping mechanisms that have no place in a startup. Meanwhile, the scrappiness and well-rounded skill set learned at a startup will almost always have a place in larger businesses.

My own personal recommendation for early career workers would be to prefer the cream-of-the-crop mid and large companies where you'll get useful experience you can't find anywhere else, then prefer startups and leave the slower-moving and more dysfunctional larger companies as a last resort.


yes. which big company matters so much. i find it frustrating when my hacker school friends deride big companies as having no interesting work being done or not being great places to work. Having worked at startups and two different big corporations, I've learned the most at the very large company I work at now, almost nothing at the first one I did and a mixed bag at startups.


Heck, even well known boring big companies (eg IBM, Oracle) have great smaller teams that are doing interesting things. Much of it is a crapshoot. The nice benefit of the smaller company is that you have much higher likelihood of seeing your code go into production, and experiencing the feedback from it being used. At a big company you will get shielded from that. Often for good reasons - but the feedback truly helps your career.


Dont't knock spending money to scale. The most important lesson I learned at BigCorp was when to buy vs build. Not Invented Here syndrome will kill even mega companies.


Agreed. Large companies have entire programs for the intake of new graduates. At a startup you're much more likely to be left to find your own way - which can be great, but can also be awful.


What I like about "big before small" is that while you can't replicate what the big company does, you can selectively adopt certain "big company lessons, tools, processes" at a startup. At a big company, you also may gain a view into how scale works to understand where your changes at a startup will have the most bang for your buck.


Agreed - I actually worked at a big 4 consulting firm - and it made me considerably more disciplined, and structured over my peers. I can solve problems more clearly, succinctly, and focus on critical path which comes from pressured client work.


I think it really depends on the kind of person you are. If you're seeking fast pace and get bored easily, a startup is the right place to be. Otherwise, if you're like me, you can lead a pretty satisfying career in a large company. For some reason I was conditioned in college into believing that the startup mentality was the only respectable way to go, and any time spent at a big company should be a temporary.


I can also recommend this. The big company has a good starter program and lots of resources to learn and draw inspiration from. Also you get to touch such massive amounts of code and technologies. Of course it depends on the company, yet I think it will benefit you to switch job after a year.


It's kind of difficult to have start-ups hire juniors because they desperately need people to be productive and so I'd caution that start-ups that accept junior coders straight out of school may not be the kind of start-ups that give the kind of experience that's desirable even for a year.

Instead of recommending what people should go after college for their first job, I'll recommend what people should not do:

1. Work for a consulting / contracting company that has companies people don't like to work directly for. This is probably the worst arrangement of bureaucracy possible because you have the maximum possible layers of management overhead combined with business incentives to keep your compensation and impact upon the business as little as possible. Working for a web development shop that has big customers doesn't count here IMO because your work as an engineer is largely unchanged regardless of your customer paying you $2000 or $200k.

2. Work in corporate IT. These are high-turnover positions for many reasons. It seems like there's a lot of money in it, but it's mostly going to those that sell software to these places. People are miserable enough in F500 companies as it is, this is probably among the worst places for combination of stress, pay, and career mobility.

3. Work in a non-software company. A company whose business doesn't take its software seriously invariably treats its software and IT resources as cost centers meant to get maximum cost savings for as little money as possible via opex reduction and will, ironically, likely fail to make bigger expenditures required to keep costs (and really, wasting time) lower.

Being around non-motivated people in a demoralized environment is a great way to kill any starting career and learning what the signs of these organizational attributes are have important for avoiding really bad career moves.


>> Work in a non-software company. A company whose business doesn't take its software seriously invariably treats its software and IT resources as cost centers meant to get maximum cost savings for as little money as possible via opex reduction and will, ironically, likely fail to make bigger expenditures required to keep costs (and really, wasting time) lower.

To expand on this, there are some companies that seem like non-software companies, yet still treat software as a competitive advantage rather than a cost center. I worked for a big bank that did their best to stay six months to a year ahead of other banks on technology. The marketing folks were constantly coming to us and saying, "Give us cool features that we can sell." It was a fun place to work.

I also worked for an insurance company that viewed technology as a necessary evil that should be as cheap as possible. The marketing folks there were constantly complaining about how much time and money the company was wasting on technology. (Curiously, they also complained that the company's technology offerings were hopelessly far behind its competitors.) It was a miserable experience.

If you're looking for a job, ask questions about management support and budget priorities. If they're evasive or they say things like, "we're proud of how far we stretch our investment," it's not a good place to work. You can also ask how the company compares technically to its competitors. If they're evasive or talk about how they're trying to catch up, that's a bad sign, too.


The more correct rule is that you should try to find companies that have closely aligned business and technology objectives (which I haven't found outside of finance and the usual SV companies in the F500), but I have my doubts even that is the case because I'm working for a large organization that meets this criteria and I'd never think of advising a young, ambitious recent graduate to even reply to a recruiter for this place given the horrifically bad budget situation. Just because business leaders want something and try in earnest to plan for it doesn't mean much if they don't have the resources and momentum to execute.

A good example of what I mean are large, innovation-less companies with "start-up in a large company" efforts to bring themselves some relevance that almost always become the worst of large company inertia / legacy with the fiscal and market position disadvantages of start-ups. I've been through at least 4 of these efforts with varying degrees of "success." And while they're a large part of my career and I want to believe it can happen, I have no evidence of this working out well and am convinced it's a rather high risk to take with disproportionate upside.


I have an offer to do data science work for a large, public insurer. I will work inside an "innovation lab", and was promised lots of freedom and authority during the interview process. They say they want the "innovation labs" to run like startups, trying out new products and ideas at a fast clip.

Do you have any thoughts about what the general environment will be like, and is there any chance the place will be mired in bureaucracy? I'm relatively early in my career as well, and have never worked for a Big Co before.

I'd love to get in touch with you, but you don't have contact info in your profile. I'll be grateful if you can drop me a line - mailshanx at yahoo dot co dot in


It's hard to tell without context but I don't recommend most big company jobs that are not working on things that are high risk and high reward for recent graduates normally. There's a lot of questions to be asked about what the objectives of the project are, executive backing, and (most importantly) how strong the funding is to demonstrate the worth. As an example, my customer has made huge investments in attempts to hire developers while skimping tremendously on dependent efforts that would remove barriers for those developers to the extent that most developers are doing 9-5 jobs and unable to accomplish a lot while a lot of the infrastructure teams are working 12+ hour days working on very much solved problems from decades ago that only exist due to lack of respect and understanding of basic automation principles required to scale software companies of any sort. Everyone wants to work on modern, relevant problems - make sure that people are specific about their current barriers as being technical rather than organizational as a prospective employee.

Look for a deep culture of respected and accomplished leaders in software up and down the hierarchy. If nobody in a position of authority has delivered software successfully before that you can recognize as an engineer, pass because culture and experience among executives is massively important and their priorities should focus on long term growth (Amazon was ridiculed by enterprise vendors while I screamed that they will eat their business in a decade - they don't care because they'll go somewhere else while I have to deal with the very expensive consequences of bad software). There are too many great companies around today to waste time on mediocre companies - it is better to be jobless for months or years waiting for a great company to accept you for your talents than to waste some of the best years on companies where your best efforts will result in second rate winnings. It's a huge risk to work for mediocre companies that will not put the work you will have to put in themselves.

My e-mail is djk29a on Google's e-mail service. Not sure how the first part of your e-mail works out and I'm several days late so hopefully this is relevant advice.


If you take a startup job out of school, make sure that they embrace pair programming. Work for a Pivotal Labs. Work for an Andres Camacho. Work for a Chad Fowler. Or an Ernie Miller.

Find the leaders that understand all programmers need training (especially around process and coding standards). Sell that on your passion and that you want to become good _quickly_.


Pivotal is pretty awesome, definitely on my list of "seems cool, bro" companies. A lot of the criticisms I've heard hardly are a concern for me because everything I've known is that they're so busy coding they're hardly able to mess around taking submissions from others outside the company.

And to be a little cheeky, Pivotal (compared to Pivotal Labs, not the same but still) is nowhere near a "start-up" company by most definitions. They're planning for an IPO and are pulling in many millions in revenue like Cloudera and HortonWorks, it's hardly possible to keep these plans from being kept under wraps.


Pair programming is not for everyone. More generally, you want to be somewhere you can learn from senior folk. Pair programming and high quality code reviews are both great for this, and will appeal to different people.


Strongly agree on point 3. On top of my list of requirements for places to work is "the product is software", just before "great colleagues".

http://henrikwarne.com/2013/03/26/what-do-programmers-want/


I'd recommend anyone looking for their first job out of university to consider strongly a job at a supercorp. Starting a start up will be much easier with a network of professionals, a pile of personal savings, and it is way easier to go from supercorp to startup than vice versa.


I recommend getting into a small company (i.e. 80-200 employees and profitable), if possible. At this size, you have opportunities to wear different hats and moving sideways, but you also get opportunities to see and participate in workforce scaling (helping form new processes, seeing new departments emerge, etc).

The important thing is to be vocal about what you want to do. If you came in as a frontend dev want to do more about backend work, go find gossip about new projects and express your areas of interest to higher ups. If you want manage people, offer to improve the technical hiring test. If something is stupid (maybe there's burnout due to too much overtime, or a process is over-bureaucratic, or some aspect of development is too cowboy), be proactive and offer solutions.

The unique thing about small companies is that there are enough people that narrowmindedness and complacency start to appear (and with it, process problems), which gives you plenty of opportunities to prove yourself with out-of-the-box thinking, but not enough bureaucracy to prevent you from being able to make changes.


This was my experience and it has worked out really well for me. I've seen a few levels of scale (~120 people to start, ~1500 now), have worked in several different departments and touched nearly every area of the business. Incredible learning opportunities and ability to drive real change/results (which is a main argument for startups) while also having advantages of larger companies in terms of resources, training, pay etc.


I totally agree. This is the path I have taken and I do not look back.

I rebuilt the recruiting process at my first IT-company after college.

Now I started my own IT-recruiting agency in Zurich. If you look for a tech-job in the most liveable city in the world, check out my story "8 reasons why I moved to Switzerland to work in IT" on http://medium.com/@iwaninzurich/eight-reasons-why-i-moved-to... or send me a mail to the mail-address in my HN-profile.


I believe the inverse, I think most kids out of school should start at a (good) large company, they have the resources and framework to provide all kinds of career training you'd never get from startups or small companies. Mentors, leadership training, technical skills training, much bigger budgets, and a smaller group of tasks that someone is expected to perform. The pace is likely more deliberate, if not even boring, and that is good. As a newcomer you'll get a front row seat into what processes really work (code reviews, source control [yes, I still run into old/new people who don't use/believe in it], documentation, etc.) and you will be able to see how not having them can be detrimental in the future.

Starting off in a startup will lead to little support and a cowboy attitude, what the world needs more of is people who know when to cowboy, and cowboy with purpose rather than using 'just get shit done' as an excuse for a lack of standards and quality.


Also, this has been MY career experience to this date. As I now run my own tech companies and have been hiring technical people for the last 7 years, I have anecdotally found this to hold true. The early to mid-career types that have only ever been at tiny companies or startups are really good at having a breadth of experience and an ability to move fast. The spent all my career with big company types have usually been pretty deep at something (a language, framework, tech niche) and are very used to processes. They're typically slower and have a need to encumber small things with bloat (process, tech, etc). Marrying these people together on a team has yielded me fantastic results in nearly every case. The big enterprise people feel like they've been released from a cage, and the scrappy startup types seem a little less feral, while providing an infectious get shit done attitude.


> leave after one year

I've been trying to leave my small company for a mid-sized startup in NYC (currently in NJ). Started just before my year mark. Almost every startup wanted someone with more experience under their belt. Of the few that were willing to take on someone with one year, I was still in competition with others who had much more experience. I got the same line over and over again - "strong technically, passionate, good fundamentals, but we need someone more experienced". So I waited a few months and tried again. It's gone a lot better so far (no offers yet) but I've had to shift my image from that of a young up-and-comer to one who knows how to Get Stuff Done. I stopped asking about mentorship opportunities. I still really want to work at a startup but I need a new job ASAP - I don't think I'll be attractive to them for a few more months at least.


I agree, but a year's a bit tight. You may want to give yourself an option of another 6-12 months, if your job is still rotating through things and changing enough that you're not pigeonholed yet. I'm not sure I could put into words why, but I'd look much more favorably on two years rather than one if I was looking at your future resume.

Flip side, I'd also add an option at months three and six to ask myself whether I should just get out now and basically just not put it on my resume in the future. Interesting tech is interesting, but if the startup has pathological personnel or psychological problems, a year may be too long. I would suggest sticking out anything other than outright abuse for at least 3 months, though, since you do want to account for the fact that, ahem, a real job is not school and there are certain different expectations, regardless of where you work.


> another 6-12 months, if your job is still rotating through things and changing enough that you're not pigeonholed yet

This reads as if you're advocating against ever becoming an expert in anything. A few months is nothing--if the domain is difficult you're barely up to speed.


In the context we're discussing, we're explicitly taking a job to sample many things.

Given the recent specialization in programming (web backend v. frontend, "mobile", devops, etc.), which is a continuing trend from previous decades, this seems sensible. I advocate for a T shape in skills, but before you pick what you go deep in, get somewhat established in the wide. Fresh out of school you just can't have the width yet to know what you want to and should go deep in yet, not even if you've had a job the whole time.

Actually, I suppose I ought to raise that up as my true point: Go a bit wide before you select what to go deep in. Try not to just float into something without thought. Width should emphasize learning things that have demonstrated staying power, but you want to go deep on something that you expect has future power. It probably shouldn't be the current hottest fad tech, but the current hottest fad tech is probably at least in the area of a good future choice; it's more interesting why the current fad is a fad than the specific fad. If you do go for something that became super hot in the last 6 months to a year, try to figure out how to leverage that into learning about fundamentals even so. There's ways at both big companies and startups to succeed and fail by this metric.

Of course, on the flip side, you don't have to get it perfectly correct. You can't go deep in everything all the time, but "pi-shaped" Π is feasible in addition to T-shaped too. (That's capital pi, for those who may not have seen it before.)


Well remember, the pigeonholed part is in terms of the crap work.

And I would say that in your first several years, you really don't want to be an "expert" in anything, cause you likely haven't had exposure to enough different things.


Alternative view: large corps often have graduate programs that will cycle you through various parts of the business (Cap Gem's is particularly good, IMO), and make a great platform for figuring out what you want to do next.


Yes, my sister did this -- she was a bright college grad and went through an associate program. Gave her a ton of exposure and helped her then find her niche and accelerate quickly. Let's be honest, know one in college knows what the ins and outs of "marketing" or "customer success" or "operations" looks like; my sister was surprised to find herself really interested in the niche field of fraud for a big travel booking company, and now she's able to parlay that expertise to get a higher salary and better job title elsewhere.


I recommend opposite as well but look for things like Leadership Development Programs in JPMC,WF,CITI etc... you get well rounded experience in 2/3 years and then you can decide to stick around or move.. Or work in big company and contribute to open source. There is lot to learn with big companies and if you can solve their problem you can solve small company problems as well but all small companies will get tired and have to behave like big corp to continue.. start up momentum is not sustainable beyond 3/4 years. Once you hit about 15000 people then you start having all kind of issues so better know how to manage that or seeing that will give you idea how to segment your company.


When you graduate from school with debt and no savings it is a good idea to maximize your initial salary. You can live on ~70% of it while building yourself a financial cushion for a while. Then, if you want to go to a startup later, you are in a better position to handle the risk of its failure and already used to spending less money. (Or you can stay with big companies and get a nice lifestyle boost after your emergency fund is established.)


I've made this point before, but since it's a bit relevant here, I'll make it again (sorry to repeat):

If you're primarily interested in making money, or if you love the startup but not the compensation, you should NOT work at that startup.

If you're a good developer, you can get a better deal by working at an established company and simply investing. This has been true for every startup offer I've ever seen. Ever.

I've considered lots of startup jobs because I believed strongly in the companies. Every single time, however, I was able to get a larger chunk of the company by keeping my current job and simply investing.

To give an example, my current job pays about $250k, and one year, I invested $100k of that into a startup, leaving me with ~$150k of salary. This $150k + startup equity was a better deal than the startup was offering in both salary and equity (BY FAR). Plus, equity bought as an investor is much less tax toxic than equity options received as an employee of a startup.

On the other hand, most people who work at startups aren't interested in money. If that's you, that's totally cool!


AFAIK, working at Google et. al. pays well, but for most people your career will cap out at senior engineer. At other big companies (banks, telecom, oil, etc) a good Google dev can climb the tech career ladder quickly and make more money, get more responsibility (if that's your thing).

Do you want to be a small fish at Google, or a big fish at Goldman Sachs?


You may be under-estimating how competitive and difficult becoming a big fish at Goldman Sachs is. And in many places (ex, banks), your technical chops are not appreciated as much.


I wouldn't want to stay anywhere long if I was the big fish simply because I enjoy learning new things so much.

That being said, at this point in my life/career, I'm not worried about being a big fish at either Google or Goldman Sachs.


How do you invest 100k into a start up?


It usually requires a bit of networking, but that's all--most startups are more than happy to take your money! (And they will usually try to hire you as well.)


Out of curiosity, How much experience do you have, and what kind of work do you do? (eg management, coding, lead engineer?)


I've been out of school 3-4 years, and I work at a large company. I'm about 10% a manager, 10% a resident data scientist, and 80% a coder, and I love my job.


so are you a valley coder at netflix? seems suspect you already have a 250k salary as a 26 yr old


Looking at the salary numbers from H1b applications (http://visadoor.com/h1b/index?company=netflix&job=&case_no=&...), I wouldn't find that too far fetched. To add to that, I know someone who went there as "senior" with 5 years of work experience


To provide a counterpoint, I don't think that's suspect at all. I just thought of ten individual people with that salary at that age (or younger).

Just sharing anecdote for anecdote.


My personal observations (at a bigco) suggest that it's not super unusual to have 200k-250k total comp at a bigco after a few years.


I didn't do more than browse the article because I didn't need to hear the arguments to accept the conclusion. I think the only place perhaps in the world where working in a startup could be seen as any way superior to working at an established business is in Silicon Valley, where enormous amounts of VC money come together to create a modern Rome.

Certainly we need Rome, the modern world wouldn't have existed without it, but Romans themselves are myopic and self-obsessed. They need to be, otherwise it wouldn't be Rome.

I love that Silicon Valley exists, but I wouldn't want to live there. I love the people that go there and exist on the bleeding edge of innovation. I'll happily sit here behind the curve and have a normal life with a house and car and kids. I'll root for the dreamers that go there and hope that they too can one day achieve their dream life. I don't need that glory.


Actually, as an European (as in, in a completely different environment than SV), I'd recommend the opposite with a small tweak, add "small company" to the startup meaning.

Most big companies I've worked with in Europe have horrible new employee training package or no training at all. I haven't worked in a single one that took fresh out of college types and allowed them to work in different departments. The most common scenario when a new graduate gets hired into a team doing X is to throw him in, get whatever documentation the team has, even maybe someone to ask questions and the expectation is that he will do X for the next few years.

Opposed to this is the environment in a small company/startup, where you'll be forced to do a bit of everything and even lend a hand with stuff that is not your job at all. You'll have the chance to see different technologies, see the whole process end to end AND then, decide what you want to do.

BTW, is salary that important for people starting their careers? Salary advancement yes, even what salaries you might expect with 2/5/10 years of experience, of course. But for a first job? Does it matter that much?

My first salary was crap (600€/month in the year 98), but allowed me to work in multiple environments (web, databases, sysadmin, embedded system...) and when the time came to look for a new place, allowed me more freedom to choose what I wanted to do (the biggest problem I had finding a job, in the middle of the .com crisis, was convincing employers that, yes, I had indeed worked with all those technologies in 'only' 2.5 years). I multiplied by 5 my salary with that second job, which was a more than decent salary in the country at the time.


We're on the same page here.

I don't work at a big company, I work at an established one. The key factor is that they're not still trying to validate their business plan, not the size. I want one that's been around for at least ten years. Less than that and I have to ascertain for myself whether the company's going to be around long enough for me to get what I went in there for.

The goal here is mitigating existential risk to your employment situation. There's outside risk, the chances of your company going under, and internal risk, the chances of getting fired or laid off before you've accomplished your goals.

Working at an established company mitigates external risk, working at a small one helps mitigate internal risk because you can get to know your company very well and keep alive to shifts in politics. For me, the small, established company is ideal. I work at such a company now and will only jump to a similar company for a significantly higher salary. Small bumps aren't worth the switching costs.


The phrase for your mentality is "early majority". You share that taste with ~35% of the population.


I'm hardly Rome-free. America is the Rome of the world, technology is the Rome of America's economy. Programming is the Rome of technology. Ruby is the Rome of programming. (that last one is debatable)


The two most famous rails sites, twitter and groupon, currently use scala and node respectively. I guess that last part is quite debatable.

Python, golang, and Java(+jvm languagages such as scala/clojure) all have a TON of users at very large and interesting firms. I was just reading today about the new york times open sourcing their golang microservice framework.


The essential elements of a Rome-like ecosystem are willingness to innovate, the ecosystem exerting a pulling force on the surroundings drawing resources inexorably towards it due to ideas built structurally into the empire, and the aforementioned myopia and self-obsession stemming from pride. Power and innovation.

I think that programming can be further subdivided into web development and everything else, and then Rails as a platform compared to other frameworks.

Rome had its own evolution, and so each individual Rome is also in a different part of its evolution. When Rome fell, it did so not because of any real weakness on the part of the Romans, but because they'd succeeded in exporting what made them powerful to the surrounding lands. Rome couldn't maintain dominance faced with its provinces each wanting self-rule.

So I consider Rails in the last throes of empire. Its legions will still fuck you up, but it can't fight the whole world anymore. Still the best web dev framework out there, every other framework ends up reimplementing Rails, but it can't be all things to all people anymore.


You're lucky. The drive is both a gift and a curse.


It isn't necessarily an either/or proposition. Between remote offices, remote work, or local startups, you can live in $NOT_SV and pick certain elements of the SV lifestyle that you may appreciate. You don't get full unrestrained choice, but, well, you never do anyhow, so shrug. Tech workers can still have it better than most could even dream of.


Remote work is one of those Roman ideas that I just can't bring myself to be interested enough in to try. Sit at home all day with nobody but the cat for company while everyone else is at work / school? Give me a regular desk and let me see my coworkers in person every day.

Besides, from what I've gathered from the job postings here, SV startups mostly don't hire remote workers. You're expected to move to Rome.

Local startups offer substandard salaries, the very real proposition that your company will run out of money, and inevitable reticence on the part of the founders to clue you in as to how the company is really doing. No thanks.


> Sit at home all day with nobody but the cat for company while everyone else is at work / school?

That actually sounds awesome to me. I know I'm unusual, though.


I'd submit that what you have there isn't that what I've said is wrong, but that what you've "picked and chosen" from the SV lifestyle is nearly the null set. That's fine for you, no sarcasm, I am glad you are happy and I have no great love for SV myself, but it doesn't make my point wrong.

Me, I live in the Midwest and work in a quite substantial local office of a SV-based company that is now midsized. I get the job I want (in particular I want to work in a place where programmers are the core value providers of the company, not a cost-center afterthought, which is what is generally true of the other companies where I live), in the place I want, because I do not want to live in SV, and do appreciate being near family. Granted my choices are less, but I only really need one job "right now" and enough fallback that I have choices; I do not need thousands and thousands of options.

I know it can be done. I know it's not an either/or, because I have in my hands an existence proof of something that is not either/or.


I wasn't necessarily arguing with you, just trying to highlight that even just having a little bit of SV startup influence on your life is still "living in Rome". The phrase, "All roads lead to Rome" comes to mind.

You want Rome in your life, having Rome there is way way better than not having it there. But Rome is dangerous, precisely because of the infectious nature of Roman ideas. When you 'live in Rome', you are ceding control over your life over to Rome in exchange for a more exciting future. You've sold the family farm, uprooted yourself and moved to the big city.

I don't want to live in Rome. I don't want Roman ideas controlling my life. I want to live out here in the periphery, maintaining as strict a boundary as I can between myself, my lands, my family, and Rome.

I don't want little bits of Rome on my lands. If Rome wants to come to me, offer me a fat salary and a cush job right inside my kingdom, I'm going to examine that gift horse extremely carefully to make sure it's not hiding a bunch of soldiers inside, or, more likely, ethical failings on the parts of the founders that can wreck my life along with my kingdom. I can't fight Rome, Rome is unstoppable, but by keeping my head up and not falling prey to ego and hubris, I can enrich myself and my kingdom through Rome rather than get destroyed by it.

Hacker News is how I get exposure to that ecosystem while still maintaining control over my life. It's perfect for me, no less than I need, no more than I can handle.


I've worked at both startups and big companies since I first came to SV in 1999. And some startups that became big companies. For me, there's much more than the practical & financial considerations laid out here. Deep down I know that I enjoy taking risks -- I like the roller coaster ride, and having a very real and visible impact on whether the company as a whole sinks or swims. Know yourself and don't ignore your intuition.

Also, while "rand(100)" might be an accurate characterization of the returns of all employees over all startups, it is not entirely a game of chance. There is skill involved in picking the right startup to join: being proactive in your search, building a personal network, finding founders with track records, considering enterprise startups. You can learn to improve your odds -- a bit like learning to count cards.


If you think you're that good at picking financially successful startups, why not invest just money rather than time AND money?


Because you're not legally able to do so unless you're an accredited investor?


If you have the $250k/yr at BigCo then you are accredited, so there you go :).


You can do friends and family financing without being an accredited investor. You just need an existing relationship before the investment.

However, 200k for the last 2 years + an expectation for 200k next year qualifies you as an accredited investor. (300k if married) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accredited_investor


Is this true? if so, how can sites like angel.co exist? I believe I can invest in most of the startups right now on there..


You must be an accredited investor to invest on angel.co. see: https://angel.co/help/general-solicitation/accredited


From the AngelList FAQ: "Investors are required to fill out a questionnaire to establish that they are accredited. You can only accept money from accredited investors whether you raise money publicly or not."


Hmmmm... I'm guessing this law exists to prohibit speculation by people who would use their children's tuition for it?

I remember reading something about the Great Depression and it involved ordinary people investing in stocks and losing everything.


Not their children's tuition, their next month's rent or grocery bill.


Because more people have time to invest than have money. And because investing time in a fast-growing startup is a hell of a lot more fun.


Because I enjoy the work and I like being part of the action. I invest my money too, but it doesn't meet the same need.


Because it is very difficult as an unknown individual to invest in any "real" startup vs the latest Uber/AirBnB clone on AngelList.


Time is money.

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