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Alphabet's Median Pay Nears $200k (wsj.com)
107 points by rbanffy 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

Just a quick reminder what median means in this case:

You have a finite set of wages/pay - and $197,000 should be in the middle of this set. Meaning that half the wages at Alphabet are below, the other half above this wage.

It is a rather robust measure, because it is insensitive to extreme values (like the arithmetic average would be), while also giving you a good overview, e.g. that 50% of all the wages are above $197,000.

Vice versa, it tells you nothing about how low or how high the wages are aside the median (e.g. the lower 45% of the wages could be <$45,000). So take it with a grain of salt.

Also, as with the Facebook news that their median is $240k (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16955393), it could well be the case that Alphabet's lower paid staff are mostly contractors who wouldn't be counted in this metric.

Everyone seems to report either median or average, both of which leave out a lot of interesting information. If people simply reported both values, it would go a long way to painting a more accurate picture.

I was just thinking about this. Ideally, the median and mean salaries should account for added value but not vary so much as to make inequality unbearable. Having CEOs paid 100 or 200 or even 1000 times more than other employees is bad for everyone in the long run. It leads to so much inequality that people end up tearing each other appart, looking for culprits (immigrants, strangers, neighbouring countries, etc). Having a CEO paid more than others is fine as long as everyone can benefit from the added value, not just a few.

For an accurate picture, you can't beat a picture. A graph of the distribution of employees over salaries is easy to understand and information rich.

Median is the only one you need a disclosure for. Mean is simply the compensation expense divided by the number of employees. But the mean salary doesn't really say anything, it'll always be higher than median and at a company the size of Alphabet you don't really get additional insights from that.

Reporting median is a good step, most companies don't disclose that.

The difference between mean and median provides information. It's always safe to assume the distribution is right-skewed, but having both median and mean gives you a sense for how much.

Just the difference doesn't tell you much. It's always right-skewed. But that could be because it's bimodal with developers earning a lot and support staff little or it's because everyone makes the same except for some really well paid executives.

What would be really interesting would be to see the actual distribution. But I don't think we'll ever see that.

I think at this point we're quibbling over the definition of "how much" it can tell you. I think "median of $70k, mean of $150k" vs. "median of $70k, mean of $1.5M" carries a lot more information than just mean or just median, even if it doesn't approach a full summary of the distribution's shape.

Amazon's medium pay is $28,446. But they also employ nearly 500,000 people. The linked article also has salaries for other tech companies.


Reporting and pushing median pay now is smart for a company like Amazon.

When you have a Democratic Congress, $15/hr minimum wage is coming. Many of the grunts will be getting a big raise, which will increase that median significantly in a few years.

These companies are reporting it now because they don't have a choice, it's a federal law that most large public companies have to report median pay and CEO pay.

Most of them work for Integrity Staffing not Amazon.

Nope. https://www.theverge.com/2017/2/3/14504526/amazon-job-growth...

That story from a year calls out that it excludes contractors. It does include full-time and part-time employees.

Totally possible. I am not acquainted with the regulatory statutes regarding who you may or can count as FTE in such a statistic.

But sure sounds like a feasible strategy to prop up median pay.

I'm pretty sure most companies would want to make median pay appear as low as possible when making SEC filings. Investors hate high labor costs.

I would agree in regards to SEC filings, but I'm not sure this comes from an SEC filing?

Also, do you have to state median pay in such a filing?

You're right, I suspect this article is based off of new federal requirements that companies report employee vs. CEO pay disparities [0].

0: https://www.sfgate.com/business/networth/article/Yes-median-...

I don't think companies are required to and this statement from the WSj article:

>the fourth-highest pay among the hundreds of companies in the S&P 500 index that have disclosed those figures.

seems to imply that it is not.

This article seems to suggest it's mandatory for public companies:

>As Congress chips away at bank regulations established by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, another part of the measure is exposing the extreme income inequality between bosses and their workers.

>The law requires publicly traded companies to calculate the ratio of their chief executive officer’s compensation to the median pay of the companies’ employees. After a series of delays, firms are finally disclosing their pay ratios in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. [0]

[0] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/ceo-pay-disclosure_us_5...

It is the case. Almost all of their scaled support is from overseas most of which are not Google employees. They pay other companies to manage these folks. That 85K employee headcount is only the FTE count. The number of non-FTEs is crazy.

If the underlying data is normally distributed, then there's no difference between median and mean for a sufficiently large sample size. Which is why mu can be median or mean when calculating the probability density function.

It's safe to say salaries at FB, Apple, and Alphabet are normally distributed. Thus, reporting average or median doesn't matter.

Uh, no, it is not safe to say that salaries are normally distributed, and they certainly aren't.

The salary distribution graph for a large corporation is likely to look something like this:


with a very, very, very long tail to the right representing the salaries of the CEO and senior executives. Depending on the corporation, there may be multiple humps ("salaries for Amazon warehouse workers" representing one hump, and "salaries for Amazon programmers" representing another, for example).

It's nothing like a normal curve.

> It's nothing like a normal curve.

If the data comes from a sample, then it's going to normal, regardless of the underlying distribution. So the mean and median will be approximately the same.

You may be confusing the distribution of the means of the samples (which will be normally distributed if the Central Limit Theorem holds) with the sample itself (which will not generally be normally distributed).

Is this salary, or total comp? From the article ".. a median pay package.. ", so that's not clear to me. What is the original source of the info?

When I was at Google, GSU (stock grants) and bonuses typically added anywhere from 25% to 60% to your salary. That depended on level, years of vesting, etc.

I find the more interesting story to be the "Software developers really don't want to believe that their profession pays as much as it does" message that's playing out in the comments here and the similar Facebook story today.

It's something I notice every time salary comes up here.

Story: "Yet Another Datapoint showing that the current market rate for developers is $300,000/year and higher."

Hacker News: "No It Isn't!"

You can almost see the fingers stuck in ears reading the top comments on these stories. In my mind, the thing to do when somebody tells you how you can make twice what you did 5 years ago in this profession isn't to call that guy a liar. A better reaction would be to talk about actionable ways to go get one o' those salaries.

Probably because you'll never come near these kind of offers outside a few cities in the world - no matter how good you are.

Most of developers in the world aren't allowed to move to SV or Seattle and get those salaries.

You're mistaken.

Just for a datapoint, I've never lived in the Bay Area (and haven't worked on-site for a dozen years), and I make a lot more than that as a developer. I am in no way unique. This is in fact what good devs make if we ask for it. Nomatter where we live.

Incidentally, you're right that you generally won't receive an initial offer for that kind of money. You need to negotiate for it. That is sadly another area we devs are not historically good at:


Do you own your own business? It's definitely possible to earn that much when you run a successful website or app. But I have a really hard time believing developer salaries are $300k+ at companies outside of CA/WA/NY.

The national median is right around $100k.

Developers that earn significantly more than that have significant ownership stakes in the company, highly desirable skill-sets, or notoriety in the field.

At the moment, yes. In the context of my above reply, no.

Personally, I prefer to listen to the person who has tried a thing and declared it possible, rather than the person who has never tried that thing and declared it impossible.

Sadly, this thread (and others like it) fill up quickly with that latter group.

You are absolutely unique. The fact that you have no problem pulling down a salary that's 3 times the median yet don't appreciate that fact suggests that you work in a bubble.

You're typical mid-western Java dev is not going to get a job for $300k. Or anywhere remotely close to it. Those salaries are for very specialized roles and consultants.

Would you be willing to give any details about what you were doing as an employee earning that much outside the Bay Area etc? What sort of skills were you using, what were you hired for, was it remote/contracting etc?

which company (do you work for) and state do you live in?

I don't think they're calling that guy "a liar". I think they're looking at credible available data and concluding that 300k is not the current market rate for developers.

And keep in mind, I can do both things at once. While I don't buy it that the current market rate is 300k even in San Francisco, I am absolutely all ears. I would appreciate it greatly if you wrote in more detail about how I can get to this salary level. Since this is HN, I guess I'll just add this bit: no, I'm not looking for detail to pick apart and argue about. I would absolutely like to hear about how you've achieved this and believe that it isn't a remarkably difficult thing to do.

> Story: "Yet Another Datapoint showing that the current market rate for developers is $300,000/year and higher."

for extremely competitive, highly sought-after employers. I guarantee you if you go to Texas, that salary $ is not that high on the mean at all.

Does this include employees (not contractors) outside the US? It's not clear from the article.

> In its proxy, Alphabet asked shareholders to vote against an investor proposal seeking a management review of potential abuses of Google’s digital platforms, such as Russian interference in U.S. elections.

I feel like this is the most interesting part of the article, even if it's not relevant to the main content.

It's really not. Have you ever read one of those proxy voting guides? Investors propose all manner of stuff and the board systematically asks you to vote against.

The same as for Facebook, most low-paid workers don't work for the main company (cleaning, building security, support, hospitality, various services), probably not even half the people working full-time for Alphabet are actually employed there.

Do these numbers include stock + bonus, or is it strictly salary numbers?

Also it isn't even clear if it includes benefits like health insurance and 401k costs. Anyone know?

I think this probably includes base salary, stocks, and bonuses.

I don't think it includes health insurance and 401k.

Why not? It is an ask from feds, and they track insurance as a sort of income.

This document is for the SEC. The IRS already has the W2 form for every full time employee.

Seems this would be a primary driver of low inventory and world-leading single family home prices in S.V. Inventory is ~50% what it was one year ago:


Google has the lowest ceo/pay ratio since their CEO gets $1.


I know Facebook included Mark's security/ travel into compensation. Did google just not do that?

> Google has the lowest ceo/pay ratio since their CEO gets $1.

That's misleading, because their CEO gets paid in other ways. Garbage in garbage out.

Considering their quarterly profit per employee, they still have room to go up from here: https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=google+profit+per+empl...

As was pointed out in another thread about Facebook, and I'm sure this is also true for Google / Alphabet, a lot of the lower-paid jobs are done by contractors, temps, etc - all off of Alphabet's employee / pay numbers.

The WSJ article doesn't seem right. Here are a list of the top paying companies by median income:

Chimera Investment




Equity Commonwealth

Agios Pharmaceuticals

Incyte Corp

Neurocrine Biosciences Inc

The highest paying software company appears to be Splunk with 256k. There seems to be a lot of biotech companies that pay a lot.

There seems to be a lot of biotech companies that pay a lot.

Here is my theory why that is: first off, most biotech companies are started by very experienced people with impressive work histories, not by 22-year old drop outs.

Second, biotech start ups tend to pay very well, often similar or higher to the big biotech companies.

Third, the "virtual biotech" model is quite common with a small groups of leadership and everything else contracted out.

Combine all that and you end up with a pretty high median salary.

These are start-ups, right? The article is talking about Fortune 500 companies, not start-ups. Having said that the top 2 ones are pharmaceuticals. I wonder whether the fat salaries trickle down to their bioinformatics divisions.

No they are all publicly listed companies. I am not sure if private companies are required to disclose median pay.

One way to interpret this is to focus on the pay, and just how wonderful it is.

The other way is to ask why they must pay so much? Alphabet must be a relatively awful place to work. Something is very wrong if they pay is this high.

It might be an awful place to work. Or it might just be, if I'm going to work at a place that has made several people billions of dollars, if I don't get paid pretty well, I'm going to resent it. They might have to pay well to keep morale up, not because it's an awful place, but because it's easy to envy others who also work there.

Seems really low. Imagine if they unionized!

I have always wondered why Americans see their unions as so dysfunctional and harmful. I have never had problems with unions as en employer.

Then I learned that US has completely different union system from Europe.

You guys have so called enterprise-level bargaining with union shops and agency shops where workers must be part of an union or pay the fee for an union. Then union negotiates pay in enterprise-level. I can see how this is extremely harmful and entrepreneurs must fight tooth and nail against unionizing.

Most of the world has so called sector level bargaining. Unionized workers negotiate for all workers in an entire industry. Union representing electricians negotiates with federation representing companies that hire electricians. After they reach a deal that covers enough unionized workers the deal is extended to the whole industry. You essentially negotiate minimum wage per sector plus benefits.

Agreed. Per sector is much better. The companies in that sector still can compete on a level playing field. In the US the company with the worst labor practices has an advantage.

I would assume it has to do with the low rate of unionization. A high rate of organization among employers and employees really disincentives 'rogue' behavior. These online discussions naturally tends to focus on things like salaries and conflicts, but often these organization also have other roles in industry, education and even politics. At least I often find this preferable to just having a few politicians or a few large companies trying to decide what to do.

In practice, labour contracts with one firm within an industry, for major unions & firms, often set the industry payscale

This was long the practice in the US auto industry.

Discussed in this story:


That can be true even without unions when the industry is dominated by handful of large companies and their is demand for labor.

gosh what the tech industry could accomplish with a union...the excuse I always hear is "but we have it so well! why do we need to organize?!".

Organize for the people that clean your office space, organize for marginalized peoples, organize to make the world a better place, not just your industry. Think what would happen if AWS was without site reliability for 72 hours.

Oh not this deceased equine again. Is /r/sysadmin leaking?

>gosh what the tech industry could accomplish with a union

Much less than it does now.

I've had odd jobs at union places. I know career workers in union-dominated industries.

We don't want it within 10 miles of tech.

A fun thought experiment I ask people to do that usually puts this one to bed:

Imagine the most useless, technically incompetent, lazy sack of flesh that you were unfortunate enough to share the title of "engineer" with(and office space too).

In a union, they'd be very nearly impossible to fire, and based on tenure would probably make more than most of their peers.

Multiply ^^ said scenario over multiple tech companies and a few thousand workers, and see what happens.

>Imagine the most useless, technically incompetent, lazy sack of flesh that you were unfortunate enough to share the title of "engineer" with(and office space too). In a union, they'd be very nearly impossible to fire, and based on tenure would probably make more than most of their peers.

I worked 4 years in a Canadian Auto Workers unionized plant. This is not my experience, whatsoever.

If you do your job, you can't be fired because you rub your manager the wrong way (imagine that?). If you don't, there's a process to fire employees. A union is just that: a union of people. If you're a cancerous employee, the union doesn't want to work with you either.

Why doesnt that happen enough in current unionizes jobs ?

This does happen in current union jobs.

There is a reason for outsourcing, and its not just cost.

The only thing that highly technical workers dislike more than meeting in real life with each other is having someone tell them what they can and can't do.

Unions aren't really compatible with the mindset in Tech today, in my experience knowing people. Small movements start, bikeshedding happens, and everything fractures.

Well, theoretically Google employees can Unionize but theoretically Google can also spin out half dozen labs as separate companies and buy technology at exorbitant rates. Meanwhile union employees will get paid union rates which I am thinking won't be too high.

Depends on the deal. My cousin is a state police sergeant. He makes as much as a director level employee in most areas.

My sister in law is a unionized nurse practitioner. Unionization raised her salary a bit, but most importantly stabilized her schedule.

Our engineeers had the opportunity to unionize.

We had a fantastic team and boss. Everyone wanted us to be non-union.

Then... The union factory people demanded we joined the union.

We became a heated center of debate despite 0 of us wanting to join the union.

We survived, and I get paid for lunches!(they dont)

>organize to make the world a better place

I'm terrified of labor organization specifically because of vague and ill-defined goals. Without a well defined purpose, the goal of an organization turns to self-perpetuation, and can do so at the expense of members.

Of the reasons to organize, the most convincing to me is an ethical opposition to abusing the time, privacy, and mental state of users who have no practical option but to trust the tools we build.

Get a critical mass to build and commit to specific and articulate goals. On screen and upfront. Then, and only then, will I entertain the idea of a union to implement it.

As someone living/working outside of the US, I'm not sure if this post is a joke. Is a median of $200k actually low?

I think its a joke, or it should be. Income of $200k puts you above 97.3% of Americans according to https://dqydj.com/income-percentile-calculator/ .

$200k is not low anywhere in the US for any job (except maybe certain types of specialist doctor).

Depends on where you live.

There is nowhere in the USA where $200k is low.

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