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Amazon added a non-compete after the employee entered the U.S. on an L1B visa (twitter.com/dvassallo)
710 points by luu on June 14, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 495 comments

In Washington State, where Amazon is headquartered, there is a recent law that makes noncompete agreements unenforceable for employees with incomes at or below $100k per year (RCW 49.62). The original threshold for this was $180k, but Amazon lobbied to change it, presumably because too many of their employees would have been covered under it. Makes sense from their position, but it should be known that they lobby to limit the legal protections of their own employees.

Last week there was discussion either here or on reddit that Amazon has a hard cap for salary compensation at ~160k in the Seattle area.

Dropping the threshold from 180k to 100k would cause everyone who has maxed out their salary at Amazon to have enforceable non-competes.

I'd be curious what types of jobs at Amazon were immediately under the 100k threshold, and what percent of the total Washington state Amazon workforce has a salary of 100k+?

$100K isn't what it used to be. In addition to inflation^1, the death of pensions means that salary and other liquid compensation is now a much larger percentage of total compensation.

For example, in our state, teachers and government employees receive a full pension after 20 years of service. That pension pays out 1/2 of some average of their previous few year's salary. Even if you retire making a relatively modest $60K/yr, that pension is still worth north of $50K/yr over those 20 years.

Salaries that don't include pensions aren't nearly as generous as they sound. $100K/yr without a pension is comparable to $40K/yr with a pension.


1. Including absolutely incredible housing price inflation in major cities like Seattle which typical measures of inflation don't properly capture).

I think that you would be shocked to find out how little an annuity costs that pays out starting at age 62 (common US federal government minimum retirement age).

I don’t know the specifics of the examples you are thinking of, but pricing the pension value/cost at $50k a year probably posits some extreme assumptions (e.g., start and retire at lowest age, end with a very high salary, take pension with full value immediately, and live a very long time).

> I think that you would be shocked to find out how little an annuity costs that pays out starting at age 62

I think you would be shocked how much an annuity costs that pays out starting at <50 years (like police or other workers with very strong unions get). One million dollars saved up might get an annuity of $30,000 per year.

Completely not shocked.

The post my original reply was to was for teachers and “general government workers”. I gave a typical retirement age for those folks.

Military, police, firefighters, and (iirc) prison employees are a completely different cup of tea. Unions are a part of it, but the element of danger is also supposed to be factored into their pensions (rightly or wrongly). They also can start getting paid as soon as they retire without regard for age (unlike many/most other pensions).

All that said, the reality is actually worse. Structurally those positions tend to give members of those groups a relatively-easy-to-get disability component to their retirement (which can often be huge). They also have functionally similar jobs with higher pay that are designed to goose up their salaries for the last x years that is used to determine their pension.

These pensions are completely out of control, imho. That said, the politics and optics around those jobs make them tough to change to a more reasonable level.

These types of pensions are completely different than that of a typical government worker that doesn’t work in these types of jobs — a complete apples and oranges comparison, imho.

For a civilian employee, the pension basically equates to about a 20% premium on top of salary. Usually pensions are 60% of salary after 25-30 years. It’s not worth as much as you’re estimating, unless those employees get free healthcare or something else.

The crazy benefits that people nag about are for uniformed folks only, as they tend to get overtime based on seniority, and don’t have aggressive caps. Most civilian employees like teachers don’t get anything like that.

US federal civilian pension (FERS) is 1.1% per year after 20 years, so roughly 27-33% of your final 3 years of salary. They also took out the hacks for overtime, bonuses, etc. to prevent the games you sometimes see with state and local pensions.

The caveat to that is as of today you contribute 4.4% of your salary / year into the pension fund, in addition to 401K savings + social security. The Obama administration raised it from 0.8%.

It may not be what it used to, but it's still $40k above the median household income in the country.

Again, I think that number is probably considerably lower when you include pensions in the calculation. And especially when you include CoL differences between Seattle and the rest of the country.

Even then, sure, it's above median. My point is that it's still "normal middle-class average joe" money, not "basically an executive so there should be different special non-compete rules" money.

Most people do not have pensions in the United States, and those that do don't have it worth 2/3rds their yearly salary. It's not average joe money either, a six figure salary is firmly in the upper middle class everywhere in the country. Including the Bay Area.

It may not "feel like it" but to be alleviated of financial burden and put away meaningful savings puts you above half the country outright.

This isn't the right yardstick, middle class does not mean 'median income'. Its a cultural idea.

Non-conpetes should be reserved for select few in the firm that know the secret sauce, and are paid well enough that a year on the beach will hardly affect their cash flow. Basically executive level compensation and responsibility. This clearly does not qualify.

The $40k median income is low too, as it doesn’t meaningfully value benefits.

I doubt it. United States gdp per capita is 53k. The median should be a lot lower because of the outliers. Of course that does include everyone not just salaried folk.

Just to put some real numbers on the value of a pension. A lifetime annuity of $30K a year (1/2 of $60K) is worth about $600K if you retire at 60. You can play with different numbers here.


I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to calculate how much you would have to save in a 401K over 20 years to have that much at retirement.

> I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to calculate how much you would have to save in a 401K over 20 years to have that much at retirement.

When making these calculations, remember:

- lifetime annuity

- include death protection (at least in my state, surviving spouses continue receiving pension payments).

- Everything above $19,500 is fully taxed (...and, in fact, not including tax on that $19.5K isn't even an apples-to-apples comparison).

Anyways, you can add or subtract many tens of thousands to the annual salary equivalent and the point remains the same: without a pension, $100K is not "special person who doesn't need non-compete" money.

The website I posted does let you calculate an annuity based on both you and your spouse.

>Salaries that don't include pensions aren't nearly as generous as they sound. $100K/yr without a pension is comparable to $40K/yr with a pension.

I don't know how to square this with 12 percent of salary I was contributing towards the state pension. Care to share your math? I agree that pensions are worth something, but not 150% of salary.

Every job in the US saves 15% of your income for retirement. It is called social security. The problem is the politicians control it instead of the individual so the money is not invested but spent. If people were allowed to have private retirement accounts with that Social Security money, everyone would be able to retire comfortably.

I guess you’ve never been in a country with (hyper)inflation or with stock market dropping 90%, and when all of your private retirement money goes up in smoke in a year. the closer you are to retirement age the more interesting it gets.

This isn’t technically true in a lot of ways. Social security is taxed at 12.4% for up to $137,700 in wages, and technically 6.2% come from your paycheck and 6.2% come from the employer. There is Medicare taxes, which could be considered retirement savings in some ways, which is a total of 2.9% (1.45% from both the employee and the employer), bringing the total “retirement” associated taxes at 14.4%. There is an additional 0.9% Medicare tax on all earnings over $200,000.

There is a big difference between money taxed and money saved, and calling money collected from Social Security “savings” is misleading.

> If people were allowed to have private retirement accounts with that Social Security money, everyone would be able to retire comfortably.

The drawback of a capital-only pension system is that ever more and more "dumb money" gets locked into things like ETFs - and more and more shares of "safe" companies get owned by entities which have ... questionable interest in exercising their voting rights.

For example, take big oil or coal companies. Their time to live is limited, last but not least because the demand is going to dry up sooner or later. Normally, investors would shed off these shares or at least push the company to sustainable goals - think car companies here: the long term goal that's most beneficial to society is to shift to electric / hydrogen, while the short-term goal that's most beneficial to next quarter's benefit is to cut r&d and sell high-margin SUVs instead.

The other problem that locking huge amounts of money into ETFs presents is a bit more complex: as more and more marker volume is held by ETFs which have to track the base stock get into a precarious position. Assume a stock drops in value because of a large sell-off, bad news, a Presidential Tweet or whatever, the ETFs the funds have to follow... and sell off, creating a race to the bottom due to oversupply (and the other way around). That means that, as more and more percentage of wealth is gobbled up by "dumb money", the remaining traders gain undue influence since they can essentially force the hands of the dumb money.

And then there is the final drawback: a government backed pension scheme like the German one where current employees pay the pensions of current pensioners in exchange for the in-kind promise ("Rentenpunkte") will weather any economic crash as long as the government keeps existing. A capital-based system is in for a nasty surprise in a total collapse event. The 'rona was a warning sign in that case.

Sure, everyone can retire comfortably as long as we naively assume that stock returns are predictable and will be very high forever.

> The problem is the politicians control it instead of the individual so the money is not invested but spent.

You're undercomplicating the story of Social Security.

1. The program was instituted with an eye towards applying to everyone immediately, not 30 years from now. You cannot hand out retirement benefits to people using savings that were never set aside; so the program was always pay as you go. Not necessarily a bad thing but considering the government has low borrowing costs, perhaps it should issue some low cost, long term debt to fund the program. On the other hand, investing on the margin like this is fraught, so /shrug

2. There actually was some investment made when the boomer population came around. They were putting in more money than their predecessors took out and thus we have a surplus. Those boomers are now retiring and drawing down social security surpluses has begun, leading to the '75 cents on the dollar' estimates we've seen

3. The actuarial estimate of the cost of running social security relies on predicting variables far into the future, many of which are affected by the rules of social security itself. Longevity in particular has gone up with time.

4. People on average are not great at investing. They buy high and sell low, they buy the dividend, they don't read the prospectus. They're not even great at saving; it's why we had to institute the SS program as mandatory. Folks pointing to their 401k strategy on HN ignores how the HN crowd is a highly biased sample of the population.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23519601 assumes no emplyoee contributions, so adjust the math accordingly.

Anyways, even if it were equivalent to $30K, as others have suggested, I think that still speaks to my original point. That doesn't exactly hit my threshold for "wow you're definitely super duper well-paid so we should exempt you from non-compete rules because you're making so much damn money".

You were probably in a later pension tier and stuck paying for the richer benefits of people from the 70s.

Or the employer stiffed the pension fund in the past.

The state ends up paying a lot more than your contribution to it.

Are you sure? Have you calculated the cost of an immediate lifetime annuity?


The flip side of this is there are a lot of teachers who claim (and probably believe!) they are poorly compensated, but are actually paid well if you factor in the cost of the pension.

So you’re saying if I put 60k/year away for 20 years, it won’t be worth more than a teacher on 40k/year’s pension?

I think with 1.2mn you can get a better annuity than 20k/year

It’s probably more like a 100k job with no pension is comparable to 60-70k with a final salary pension

$1.2mm/20 years = $60K. So, max out your 401(K). Your before-tax income is now $80K. Of that, you have to save $40K to reach $1.2mm in 20 years. So your pre-tax income that doesn't go to retirement is $40K.

Sure, there might be an employer match, and your money will maybe grow over those 20 years, but unless there's a generous match and your portfolio grows, a lot of that gets eaten up by the 20%-30% taxes you're paying on that extra $40K you need to save. I mean, market returns were good between 2009 and 2019, but beating that tax burden of 20%-30% a year is pretty damn hard.

Also, your money might now grow over those 20 years. Especially the next 20 years. I don't think anyone has high hopes. "Past performance is no guarantee of future results". C.f. public sector pensions, which receive extraordinary protections and pay out the same whether the market is up 5% or down 30%.

That market independence is the major benefit of a pension.

The other not talked-about benefit is that a public pension is doing the investing and maintaining the financial discipline for you. Most people in the United States are not capable of this, as the savings rate has only been approximately 7%[https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PSAVERT], and 5 years down the road Once the Covid vaccine is developed and the economy has recovered it will probably return to those levels. Which brings me to the point that it is almost impossible for 99% of people in the United States to save 40k/yr. At a 10% savings rate this is someone making 400k/yr which is way above average even for FAANG companies. So government work might not be so bad afterall.

Every worker in The US is already saving 15% year for retirement. It is called social security. If that system was managed correctly it would be all we need. But instead the money is lumped in with general funds and spent.

That 15% would need to be distributed evenly among workers otherwise it doesn’t amount to much. That is only $5055 for the $33k real personal income from the fed https://free.stlouisfed.org/series/MEPAINUSA672N

That $5055 is not much, under the Roth IRA limit and not nearly enough to pay the median rent for a 1br apartment in the United States At $1025/mo per month https://www.abodo.com/blog/2018-annual-rent-report/amp/. IMO it’s time to go full ubi and Soviet housing blocks as we are keeping way too much artificial scarcity in housing. This will only get worse and causes more social unrest as we are currently seeing the beginnings of.

But will the pension even be there? Is the pension even there now? Has anyone gone and checked on the pension fund to make sure it's still there?

Depends on the state, but yes, generally public pension funds receive extraordinary (literally, as in "more than the ordinary") protection. It's certainly going to be a hell of a lot harder for a city/state to stop paying their pension than it is for your 401k to simply shrink and/or stop paying out 4% YoY. Just ask anyone who's checked their 401k balance this year.

Except that they don't follow the rules necessary for private pensions - they expect that there is always tax money to top it off when it can't get paid. We'll see if that happens.

Interesting. So hard to find trustworthy people, up to the task of supervising such a large sum of money. Extraordinary protections are certainly needed.

This begs the question - wouldn't it be advantageous (recruiting wise) for governments to stop offering pensions, and instead increase base pay?

These are advantages in public sector recruitment. The public sector is never going to be able to compete with the private sector on pay, but for many people the promise of steady and reliable income and benefits combinded with a good retirement plan is very attractive.

> The public sector is never going to be able to compete with the private sector on pay

Why? I’d rather pay government employees in cash rather than with future tax money from my kids as the politicians and government employee unions will undoubtably understated benefit costs and underfund it.

They're also paid with tax money now -- which is much harder to sell, since that's money now instead of later.

> I’d rather pay government employees in cash rather than with future tax money from my kids

well 2 factors..

1. Most people care about TODAY not tomorrow, this is reflective in all kinds of metrics related to personal fiance

2. Many people do not have kids, including myself, so I am not sure if I care they paying with things with YOUR kids tax money instead of my tax money

That's politically tricky -- if the rank and file are paid less than government workers, then it's easy to make ad hominem attacks on the government employees for living a cushy life / excessive spending.

Advantageous to whom? The government can promise money that may or may not be there in the future, and it is up to future generations to deal with it. So current politicians get the best of both worlds - love and sympathy from their constituents who are promised guaranteed income for life, without actually having to figure out how to pay for it.

pensions are a great deal for the government because it doesn't really have to fund them properly. if a private company offers pensions, it has to fund them enough to essentially guarantee that there will be money available for all the pensioners, making pessimistic assumptions for the market and optimistic assumptions about the pensioners' lifetimes. the government usually makes fairly lax requirements for funding its own pensions and relies on the ability to make up any shortfalls in the future from taxes. shifting from something like $40k + pension to a competitive salary-only compensation would cost a lot more money in the short term.

"begging the question" means to assume the truth of the proposition you are arguing for in the process of arguing for it.

You seem to instead mean something like "prompts the question" or "brings to mind the question"

This is a much more thoughtfully constructed article on the topic https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/beg-the-questi....

Language is a lot more nuanced than a freshman philosophy major’s Logic 101 textbook.

"begs the question", like using "literally" to mean "figuratively", is so widespread that is is difficult to call it an incorrect use of language. However, both constitute what I consider a dismal use of language. (But for different reasons.)

"literally"'s conversion to meaning its opposite represents a loss of meaning in the language; expressiveness dulling into useless ambiguity.

"begs the question" isn't a term that expresses the underlying idea effectively, it merely indicates a failing attempt to sound educated.

In either case, I prefer to educate people on how to use language less dismally. This does make me a pedant.

I prefer this discussion of the meaning of the term: https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2290

401k contributions are tax deductible, and they are often matched to some percentage, so it isn’t that bad. You get to sock away around $30k/year pretax, and that grows (or shrinks) with the market.

You’re still paying Social Security on that ‘tax deductible‘ income. 401k’s also cap out at 19,500$/year unless your close to retirement.

Further where compound interest limits the impact of savings very close to retirement, pensions are more closely linked to your final salary.

Early on compound interest often wins, but at 40 getting a government job can be a very good financial decision.

Social security is capped (and it isn't a tax, really). So someone making $150k really isn't taxed on their 401k contributions.

Uhh, in what way is mandatory payments to the government not a tax? If your unlikely to live to retirement age your still stuck making SS payments. The cap is also 137,700$ so it depends on how close you are to retirement age and if your making catch-up payments.

Also, medicare doesn’t have a cap and is also ignores your 401k.

Let's modify the law slightly: you are now required to invest at minimum 6% of your income into a 401k or Roth IRA. This 6% is, invested in goverent bonds. Caps are increased to compensate. Social security is removed.

Is this a tax? Is it materially different from the universe today?

Social security is an investment, you should consider it as such when budgeting for retirement.

Yes. If I put 12.4% of my income in a 401K (the employer’s half is part of your compensation) and I drop dead before I can use it, my heirs get to keep the money.

This is still true to an extent with social security. Heirs can claim some, or all of the benefit that the person would have had.

A retired couple on SS simply gets their benefits cut if one of them dies. The ‘death benefit’ is a token 250$. In many cases the survivor gets exactly half as much money as the couple would have.

The spouse of a young worker can also receive benefits assuming they have children. But, that’s very much a social program effectively independent of how much money the worker had paid into SS though not their income.

Your spouse can collect either your social security or their own if they don’t get remarried. Your minor children can collect your SS until they are grown. It’s nowhere near what you can do with your own 401K.

From the government’s perspective they would suddenly need to pay for many programs like:

Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

The SSI program pays benefits based on financial need and is intended for low income individuals and families.

If SS taxes where not paying for that money then it would need to come from the general fund. Similarly, with SS doubling your income from 50k to 100k doesn’t double they payout at retirement age. Instead, money is being shifted to support the less fortunate. Further, a married couple with one worker get’s a 50% larger payment than if that same worker never married.

In the end social security doesn’t act like a self funded retirement program.


Plenty of taxes have predefined limited usage - that's irrelevant. E.g WA gas tax: https://www.king5.com/article/news/local/take-5/deep-dive-wh...

19,500 is your contribution, I think employer matches are limited to 50% of that (at least mine is, so something like 28,750/year total). The contributions are pre income tax (but not pre-Payroll tax), you pay income tax on the out (but not payroll taxes), when you’ll likely be in a much lower tax bracket.

> I think employer matches are limited to 50% of that

No, I they can be much higher than 50%. I think the NFL does a 200% match.

There is a $56,000 total limit though of employee + employer contributions. So assuming that an employer wants to do the max match that still has the employee contribute 19500, then that employer should have a (56000-19500)/19500 = 187% match.

Oh wow, that’s nice. I guess my employer is just not doing the max then.

>1. Including absolutely incredible housing price inflation in major cities like Seattle which typical measures of inflation don't properly capture).

I'm sorry, but what? Rent or Rent equivalent is absolutely a part of US regional inflation measures.

edit: The BLS publishes a Consumer Price Index published by for Seattle metro area^1. The breakdown^2 quite literally includes housing as part of the basket of goods, listing about a 3 percent increase for that section yoy, and I believe the weighting is typically 1/3 of the total index. Seems like it's capturing it just fine?

^1 https://www.bls.gov/regions/west/news-release/consumerpricei... ^2 https://www.bls.gov/regions/west/news-release/consumerpricei...

I've never seen a regional measure used.

The union contract I was party to with a state university used one; seems like a no brainer when your staff is regionally concentrated.

EDIT: And rent is part of the national CPI as well. It just doesn't reflect narrow regional trends because why would it? Those are outliers, and not particularly relevant national news media, and even those news stories that do cover it would use the more specific Case-Shiller indecies to tell the story.

>Last week there was discussion either here or on reddit that Amazon has a hard cap for salary compensation at ~160k in the Seattle area.

I don't understand - are you saying that Amazon pays nobody in Seattle more than $160k? I can't believe that's true. How are they employing competent senior people for so little? Are they paying their corporate lawyers that low?

I've heard of Amazon's hard $160K salary cap many times over the years. The rest of the compensation is through stock and bonus. It wouldn't be unreasonable for a senior engineer hired in at total annual compensation of, for instance, $350K, but only $160K of that will be in salary.

I'd guess they have some leeway make exceptions to the cap, and I have no idea if it applies to management track positions.

Leeway on the cap is only for bay area employees and maybe employeees of acquisitions.

They do have a max salary limit. When you first join, before your stock vests they give you an extra hire on bonus. This has clawback restrictions, something like you lose a quarter of it when you leave before 2 years (someone current there will know the rules better). So if you were going to make lets say 200k a year you'd get that extra 40k divided into 4 quarterly parts to equal it out. Then after you start getting stock this 'extra' goes away. I had an offer like this a few years ago, but I don't recall the exact details of clawback.

It's still kind of amazing that so many people go there, I guess it's that great big top line number when you add in stock. I know so many people who left there before 2 years, cause they hated it so much. What are the places that don't suck there?

Your sign on bonus is paid monthly over two years. The first year you get paid more of it since you only get 5% of your RSUs, the second year you get paid less since you get 15% of your stock vest.

There is no clawback - I checked my paperwork. I think one of my friends told me that he did get part of his bonus when he was first hired. In that case there would probably be a clawback.

When I was hired as an SDE I in 2014 the first year of the sign on bonus was paid upfront, so there was a clawback.

A friend hired as an SDE II at the same time had a higher sign on bonus, not paid as a lump sum, so no clawback.

Lots of stock grants and bonuses. It's only base salary that's capped.

Does that not cause people cash-flow problems? In my experience things like mortgages are based on how much you're guaranteed to be paid and if you just say you hope to get a bonus and you hope your shares are worth something they won't be happy.

If your total compensation is something like a quarter of a million as an Amazon engineer does that mean you have to live much more frugally for your first year until you get your bonus and shares?

Yes, but this is offset by Amazon's sign-on bonus. According to online sources, Amazon's stock vesting schedule is:

5% in year 1, 15% in year 2, 40% in year 3, 40% in year 4.

This is unfavorable compared to other top-paying tech companies, however Amazon may offer a sign-on bonus for years 1 and 2 to help even out the total annual comp.

> Yes, but this is offset by Amazon's sign-on bonus.

Aaah, I see how it all works together then.

Not really, that offsetting by sign-on bonus is a lie too: other companies not only offer a higher sign-on bonus, but also monthly or quarterly vesting in even chunks.

It’s not “a lie”. They tell you the total comp target and it’s made up of salary+bonus+RSU. You either accept it or you don’t.

The idea that it balances their compensation out versus the rest of FAANG is a lie though.

A lie by who? Amazon?

Yeah, Amazon's compensation structure is really bad compared to other FAANG companies. Perks are worse (pre-Covid-19, at least). And most people seem to think work-life balance and company culture is worse.

On the other hand, AMZN stock has done much better than Facebook, Google, Apple over the last five years, so at least they have that.

> On the other hand, AMZN stock has done much better than Facebook, Google, Apple over the last five years, so at least they have that.

Yes, but you don't have to work at AMZN to buy their stock. And RSUs are just another name for 'cash compensation, that was immediately spent on buying company stock'.

True. But if your target comp over the first four years was hypothetically $900K based on salary+bonus+RSUs and the stock went up significantly during that time you would end up making more. Of course if the stock goes down....

I think I heard that Amazon bases future grants on the assumption that the stock price will increase 15%. But I can tell you that my salary+bonus+RSU when they made an offer was based on the stock price not changing.

Amazon’s sign on bonus is paid and vests monthly if it’s for a substantial amount.

No. My mortgage looked at taxes, which show the value of shares I received each year (and bonuses). Plenty of people earn income outside a salary - think of a successful sales guy, where most of their income is commissions.

The bank wants to sell you a loan. They aren't going to intentionally leave money on the table by intentionally ignoring what an RSU is

The banks include RSUs if you have two years of history of receiving them. Otherwise they ignore the stock plan.

The same goes for the sign on bonus, they ignore the bonus portion of comp unless there is two years of history and an expectation that it will continue.

Source: I have been at Amazon for 2.5 years and checked with a LOT of banks.

That's salary. It's not uncommon for total yearly comp to be north of $300k, and very likely closer to $500k/yr. It's just paid differently. I'm not sure why their base is so low though.

Does seem strange - what happens when you want a mortage on a Seattle-price house? Do you tell them you only get paid £160k but you're definitely going to be getting a big bonus this year. Who would believe that?

Income is income in the US. Doesn’t matter if that income is monthly or one big check at the end of the year.

They look at what they can verify on your taxes. So let’s say you made $350k at Amazon last year, that’s all they really worry about. Doesn’t matter if only half of that was salary. They’d still consider your income as $350k and use that to approve whatever amount you’re looking to borrow.

If you just started at Amazon they wouldn’t be using your income to verify anyway. They’d want your previous work history going back, in some cases, 5 years.

Total compensation is stock + cash. This is just the cash cap

I’m an L7 SDE in Seattle, hired 2 years ago.

Year one comp was about $520k (160 base, 320 bonus, 40 RSU)

Year two comp was around $580k (160 base, 280 bonus, 140 RSU)

This year I’m on pace to gross near $700k (160 base, no bonus, 500+ RSUs)

Amazon likes to pay more comp in stock, rather than salary, so that hard limit isn’t really meaningful to most Amazonians who are doing well there.

Stock comp wouldn’t be excluded in any kind of limit anyways.

I've heard from a few former Amazonians the same story: Amazon puts a hard cap on stock grants too, so if the stocks grow and you're due to a stock refresher, that stock refresher is withdrawn on the grounds of "your current stock has grown enough already". The total comp numbers are just OK in Amazon too.

From reading Blind, total comp ranges for a Sr. SDE (~10-15% of the company) is 250-400k

In what world is that "just ok"?

1. Everyone on Blind lies.

2. People who are there previous five years are quoting their TC w/ current stock prices, people who recently onboarded do not have the same strike price and will be less.

3. Golden handcuffs, and apparently non-compete.

It sounds nice on paper, but spend some time in Downtown and go to a few Amazonian bars and you'll figure out alot of the downsides. Especially if you're at any of Amazon projects that aren't really..working e.g. Blue Origin.

levels.fyi estimates Sr. SDE has $304,787 total comp. But I'm not sure whether the stock component is at vest price or grant price.


Any salary or compensation website will be skewed upwards. It's how humans naturally are. Linking a different website doesn't change this reality.

Im curious about 100+ distribution too. Live in amazon area, cant imagine a single employee making under 100k, even 5 years ago

Non-tech roles.

As you go up the pay scale they actually try and move your base down towards 90k.

Is that a joke about Bezos's $81K salary?

This is not true (current 5+ year amazonian)

It's still shocking to me how lobbying is legal in the US. Corporations can affect any aspect of your life.

> shocking to me how lobbying is legal in the US.

Lobbying is legal in most (all?) of Europe too. It's a slippery activity to pin down, not amenable to banning because it consists of nominally innocuous activities. You can put degrees of limitation on activities that reduce what you'd call lobbying, but I don't see how you could make it fully illegal.

I thought giving gifts etc was illegal in Europe, but apparently not?

It's (basically) illegal in the US as well.

Lobbying itself is not bad: legislators need information to make decisions about things, and lobbying provides them with it.

The bad, and frankly unbelievable part, is the whole "money is speech" and the fact that it's OK for lobbyists to just transfer money in many different forms to politicians as a firm of persuasion to vote for/against certain pieces of legislation.

I really love how "bribery" has been re-named "lobbying" and everyone is OK with it.

Should WA's 100K cutoff be taken to imply that noncompetes are legally enforceable for people who earn more than that?

There are three terms that definitely make a noncompete unenforceable if any one of them is satisfied. If none of them are satisfied, then enforceability would be determined the same as it would have before this new law.

The first term is that it is unenforceable:

• Unless the employer discloses the terms of the covenant in writing to the prospective employee no later than the time of the acceptance of the offer of employment and, if the agreement becomes enforceable only at a later date due to changes in the employee's compensation, the employer specifically discloses that the agreement may be enforceable against the employee in the future


• If the covenant is entered into after the commencement of employment, unless the employer provides independent consideration for the covenant.

The second term is that it is unenforceable:

• Unless the employee's earnings from the party seeking enforcement, when annualized, exceed one hundred thousand dollars per year.

The third term is that it is unenforceable:

• If the employee is terminated as the result of a layoff, unless enforcement of the noncompetition covenant includes compensation equivalent to the employee's base salary at the time of termination for the period of enforcement minus compensation earned through subsequent employment during the period of enforcement.

So...if you earn more than $100k, and you were properly notified of it when hired (or paid to accept it if it was added on later), and you are not leaving due to a layoff or they aren't willing to keep paying you while the noncompete runs out, then it might be enforceable.

To an extent. The boundaries aren't thoroughly tested in court.

And it seniority not just $$ that is one of the key tests ie for a director or C level.

Amazon limits cash Corp to $160K and pays the rest in stock so the law might have covered 100% of their employees. Would have expected to see them quickly take that to $190K though.

Seriously doubt that stock is not counted as income for the Seattle law, as stock vesting is reported on your W2.

Pretty sure this depends on the types of stock that are granted (e.g. RSU vs ISO).

Amazon grants RSUs which are absolutely counted as compensation/earnings for the purpose of this law. https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=49.62.010

But only in the year they were vested. If you’re not in an vesting year then it doesn’t count.

What other states in US have don't enforce non-competes?

Adding some context: as I understood, L1B is a "transfer" visa for "existing" employees, which under "existing" often mean record of employment being outright forged, or being put on very low key position with explicit intent of later L1B transfer. L1B is supposed to be of lesser value than L1A, which opens much more options for an employee/corporate serf to away.

I believe the change is due to the later being a much easier door to US for a lot of people from low income countries where Amazon runs captive outsourcing centres. They didn't want people to scout for another, better jobs around the moment they stepped into US, even if that mean the next hiring company had to do its own L1 for them.

You’re misinformed about L1s

All L1 visas are internal transfers; they require extensive documentation of the role being performed outside the US for an extended period, and tie you to a specific set of responsibilities in the US; and they are not transferable once in the US - you can’t move to an L1 at another company, because you haven’t worked for that company outside the US. THe difference between a and b is just the kinds of roles that are eligible for transfer.

If you are on an L1 and you quit or are dismissed, you lose your immigration status and have to leave the US.

L1 are dual intent visas, which means you will be able to seek employment through sponsorship or green card application tho.

Since it’s much easier to get hired and potentially get sponsorship from within the US, So I’m guessing this is why Amazon added the non-compete.

> L1 are dual intent visas, which means you will be able to seek employment through sponsorship or green card application tho.

Green card application takes forever and is never certain. It will take years, all while you have to stay with the same employer (unlike with H1B visa). And if you are an Indian national, then it goes from "multiple years" to "closer to a decade or longer".

As for "through sponsorship", this has nothing to do with L1. "Sponsorship" means finding an employer that would be willing to file for an H1B visa for you. Whether you have an existing L1 visa or not has no bearing on that process. It is no easier for another employer to file for H1B visa if you already have an L1 visa. Finding a company willing to sponsor your H1B is the exact same process and difficulty with L1 visa as it is without one.

L1A is pretty much guaranteed a green card within a year(EB-1C), L1B is harder but also very much doable within the 5 years limit for B.

Overall if you come as an executive or managerial staff or are promoted to one within your employment you have a fairly easy green card to attain that H1B and many other visa holders don’t.

As for the rest don’t underestimate the value of local networking and recruitment.

Sorry, I meant that the second company would do a B visa for a person who they scouted on an L visa



I remember Apple and Google getting into trouble over non-compete several years back.

Yup. And it's one of the big reasons that Silicon Valley is a force in the world. Without the "Traitorous Eight" and the Fairchildren, things could have turned out very differently. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traitorous_eight

I don’t this is true. With rent prices in SV getting out of control people have started leaving the city, with most heading to texas or further east. If the decision to live/work in CA was based around the protections provided by CA then why is the exodus starting?

Off the top of my head, a few reasons: After 60 years of growth we're hitting practical limits in terms of finding space for people. The technology we have created has made distance less important. And between outsourcing, tech oligopolies, and "blitzscaling" (where VCs burn money to destroy competition), it has lately become harder to jump ship and start a company.

Plus we're really talking about processes on different scales. Individuals moving elsewhere doesn't say much about the pace of creating companies to pursue novel innovations.

I'll also note that CA not having non-competes makes it easy for people to leave and start companies elsewhere. The real question is whether those new companies will create dynamic local scenes of their own, in the same way the Fairchildren did here. If they don't, and if Silicon Valley keeps being a hub of innovation, that's a great sign that banning noncompetes still matters.

To be clear, I’m not arguing against CA’s ban on non-competes. But the problem of rent prices isn’t due to SF running out of space, it’s due to increased regulation around permits [1]. And this directly affects the rate of innovation unless there is enough room to house the people needed for the innovation in the first place. Further, and this part is unclear on your position, the foundations of teleconferencing we’re made outside of SF, and used by SF companies to create things like zoom. To say SF invented teleconferencing is a stretch. And lastly starting a company isn’t hard. Invest time into another project, and eventually you’ll create a business from it. VCs shouldn’t be step 1. New scenes have also popped up elsewhere, Hyderabad, Austin TX, Tel Aviv so Im not sure where that part is coming from.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_housing_shortage

* s/had to do its own L1 for them/had to do its own B visa for them/

Most times when I see a non-compete, I tell them I won't sign it and the company will just remove it. Only recently in Chicago did I have to walk away from two jobs because they wouldn't change their employment contracts:


If a company isn't willing to negotiate their work agreement (and I understand this is difficult with a legal department; they prefer to have unified contracts for all employees based on their start year), then there is no "meeting of the minds" when it comes to signing that agreement. It's not a work contract at that point, it's an EULA.

I personally know people who were told by potential employers they couldn't be considered because of non-competes. They are unethical and they should be banned national wide in the US and not just in certain states like California.

Non competes have their place. But it should cost the employers to enforce it.

The most obvious way is to require paying the employee their previous average total compensation, while still allowing the employee to work outside the non-compete. There should also be some form of “as time goes on you need to pay more to prevent them from taking a competing job”. If you don’t want to pay someone to not work for a competitor, then your non-compete should not be valid.

Pretty much what we have in France. Over here it doesn't have to be the full salary; only enough to be deemed "reasonable" by a judge, and judges working in courts related to employer-employee litigations tend to be more employee friendly.

If it isn't paid, the non-compete isn't enforceable.

It also requires a few more limits to be enforceable:

- "reasonably" limited in time

- geographically limited

- a specific activity / role

So they usually aren't ever enforced, because most of the time employers don't find them worth it.

This should be the happy middle ground.

It covers high-priced sales executives, C-levels, and very senior engineers just fine. Those are the positions that might reasonably take sensitive financials or trade secrets with them.

Joe Blow Web-developer? There shouldn't be a need. And if there is, pay him for the duration.

They do this in finanance, New York has relatively enforceable non-competes. Typically they'll pay you your full salary for the period of time you're not working.

Isn't finance mostly bonus-skewed? Eg. one might have $150k salary but 3x bonus target.

Yes, usually the employer you leave will pay your salary and the firm you're joining will compensate for the bonus you're forfeiting.

It's often referred to as 'garden leave': https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_leave .

require paying the employee their previous average total compensation, while still allowing the employee to work outside the non-compete

This is similar to the British concept called “gardening leave”.

If we want to harmonize the contracts to save the legal department trouble, we should have more collective bargaining!

Nothing about the definition of the word “contract” suggests they have to be negotiable.

Noncompetes are not inherently unethical and should absolutely not be outlawed. If a company wants to pay you $500k to not work and you are willing to be paid $500k to not work you should have the right to come to a mutual agreement with them on the matter.

It’s a free country, if you don’t like the noncompete, find some other place to work. No one is forcing you to sign it.

The fundamental notion of contracts is, as they said, a meeting of the minds. "You do what I tell you or else" is pretty far from that.

Whether or not they're "inherently" unethical is a matter for philosophers. But in practice, they're clearly used heavily as an anticompetitive measure and to exploit labor. Those are definitely unethical, and contrary to free markets.

Your last line is willfully blind to labor history. Quite a lot of employers have done their best to make sure other options are limited. Employers definitionally have a huge power advantage, and there's nothing wrong with leveling the playing field to prevent exploitation.

> "You do what I tell you or else" is pretty far from that.

The "or else" here is you walk away and seek out an agreement with someone else. You're not forced to sign a contract just because it's not negotiable.

> Those are definitely unethical, and contrary to free markets.

I don't think it's unethical or exploitative to pay someone $500k to sit on a beach and relax for a year. Many non-competes are also industry specific, so you can even double dip and get a job while collecting your gardening leave payout as long as it's not within the same subfield you used to work in.

You can argue that certain low-wage, low-skill employees need a paycheck every two weeks or starve, and these people have zero leverage or ability to walk away from a punitive contract, but highly paid tech workers don't fall into this category. There are plenty of options out there for you if you don't want to sign a noncompete. Some people like the idea of getting paid a bunch of money to not work, just because you don't like noncompetes doesn't mean you are entitled to force your personal preferences on other people against their will by outlawing such agreements.

Sometimes non-competes are so lucrative that employees sue their own employers to force them to uphold them even when the employers don't want to.


Does that sound like exploitation to you?

You're arguing against a straw man. The original poster was clear enough: negotiate the contract, if the company won't budge then don't sign. That is your leverage.

There is a question about whether or not the contract is ethical, but that's irrelevant to the original point. Which is simply this: contracts should be negotiable. If they're not, use your leverage.

ALL contracts are negotiable, it's just a matter of which parts. Your salary is part of the contract, and everyone should be negotiating that.

Exactly this was what ended my career with Amazon. I was asked after being there five years to sign a non compete with no consideration.

> You're arguing against a straw man. The original poster was clear enough: negotiate the contract, if the company won't budge then don't sign.

Where did I say that you're not entitled to refuse to deal with companies that won't negotiate with you? Of course you're free to walk away if you the company doesn't want to negotiate with you, but the company isn't doing anything wrong by not wanting to negotiate and there is no legal or moral requirement for them to negotiate.

> contracts should be negotiable

Disagree. Contracts can be whatever the entity who draws them up wants them to be. If you don't like it don't sign it.

Non-negotiable contacts are totally fine and legal. They are called adhesion contracts. Not everything that is enforceable in a negotiated contact is enforceable in a contract of adhesion.

You are taking a very small percentage of noncompetes, the ones where people get paid well for doing nothing, and acting like that's the common case. The sit-on-a-beach ones are negotiated by people with very high leverage. I've never heard of a friend in tech getting one; the only people I know personally who have gotten them are finance quants with PhDs and long track records.

You conveniently omit what I'm referring to above with "those", which is not the four-leaf-clover, sit-on-a-beach contracts. It's the rest, which involve no pay and foreclosed employment options. Those are indeed unethical (in that they exploit power to create negative-sum outcomes) and contrary to free markets (in that they reduce both supply and demand to advantage a powerful market player).

I don't think it's unethical or exploitative to pay someone $500k to sit on a beach and relax for a year.

Generally, that's not how non-competes work in the US. They are typically unpaid. WA just changed their laws. CA mostly outlaws them all together. Most other states allow them.

You're also possibly arguing for a position of higher power as an employee than is typical. Most employees don't have the luxury of forgoing offers based on contract language that HR promises won't be enforced (until it is).

All the regular tech company noncompetes i've seen don't pay you if they come into play. amazon's still applies even if they fire you.

> It’s a free country, if you don’t like the noncompete, find some other place to work.

There is actually a much better solution than this.

The better solution is to sign the contract, and then completely ignore it, afterwords.

The reality is, that in many top tech places it is extremely difficult to enforce non-competes. And it is perfectly possible, most of the time to get away with ignoring them completely.

But it is all about making you no compete without paying you.

Company could for example still keep you hired for that time, without requiring you to perform any work for them. I don't believe non-compete ban would apply for that time, since you are technically still their employee so you still have your responsibilities as long as you are being paid.

Lots of non-competes are paid.

That law is about imposing it on employees without giving them any choice. If you can freely negotiate, it isn't stopping you from signing it[1].

Besides a company could still keep you employed without requiring you to work for them to prevent you from working for a competitor. The thing is that they would rather not pay and prevent you from finding a job at another place, and that's what the law protects from.

[1] https://www.gtlaw.com/en/insights/2018/12/california-employe...

Citation? Outside of states that require them to be paid, I haven't heard of many that are paid.

Don't directly refuse the non-compete. They will just say it is non-negotiable "to protect the company" etc...

Instead insist that they include a severance clause that continues to pay you during the term of the non-compete. Either they are serious about the non-compete and will pay you, or they will drop it at that point.

Don't just sign away a deal point for nothing in exchange.

The nice part about making a good-faith effort to negotiate the non-compete is that if the negotiation fails, that is excellent documentation that it is a contract of adhesion and as such unconscionable to public policy.

But if you have to accept it to get the job, does that not render your point moot? Or is your point you could accept it then ignore it because of this good faith attempt?

"An adhesion contract is a contract drafted by one party (usually a business with stronger bargaining power) and signed by another party (usually one with weaker bargaining power, usually a consumer in need of goods or services). The second party typically does not have the power to negotiate or modify the terms of the contract. Adhesion contracts are commonly used for matters involving insurance, leases, deeds, mortgages, automobile purchases, and other forms of consumer credit.

Courts carefully scrutinize adhesion contracts and sometimes void certain provisions because of the possibility of unequal bargaining power, unfairness, and unconscionability. Factoring into such decisions include the nature of the agreement, the possibility of unfair surprise, lack of notice, unequal bargaining power, and substantive unfairness. Courts often use the “doctrine of reasonable expectations” as a justification for invalidating parts or all of an adhesion contract: the weaker party will not be held to adhere to contract terms that are beyond what the weaker party would have reasonably expected from the contract, even if what he or she reasonably expected was outside the strict letter of agreement."

Trying to negotiate (in writing) and getting it denied makes it abundantly clear it is a contract of adhesion. This significantly weakens the contract's validity on abnormal clauses.

Wouldn't it work the other way around in this case?

Since you tried to negotiate about the non-compete it should come as no surprise that there is a non-compete and you could reasonably expect it to be enforced. In fact since they signaled that they really want the non-compete, your expectation of it being enforced should go up.

Preventing surprise and refusing to be complicit in grossly unfair and unequal negotiations are separate purposes of the courts. The surprise part is more for dealing with the contracts that are part of everyday life that are too lengthy and numerous to have everyone read, understand, and agree to everything. In that case, the courts will enforce what reasonable people would actually understand and agree to.

Very interesting, thanks for explaining.

In practice, how do you use it for documentation? Do you somehow record the negotiation process? Like email, phone call or something?

First of all, IANAL:

An email asking how much of a salary drop it would take to drop the non compete (thus giving Amazon the chance to negotiate) and them replying with "its non-negotiable" should go quite far, the problem is you have to wait until Amazon sues you to actually see if it'll work.

Your best bet would be to retain a lawyer as soon as you get an offer and tell him to do his best to get you out of the non compete, and the legal strategy will vary greatly depending on the state in which you are being hired.

Contracts of adhesion are quit conscionable. They are explicitly encouraged (but regulated) by public policy.

Imagine if adhesion contracts didn't exist and you had to to have your lawyers negotiate every grocery store purchase.

can you explain that? If I don't like what the grocery store did, I can sue them, and people do win those. If they don't like me, they could sue me or block me from the premises. What's the adhesion angle here?

This is common in bonus-heavy industries like finance and companies gladly sign it because their requirement is to pay you the base salary equivalent. If bonuses represent 90+% of your comp, the base salary is a small price to pay for the represented deterrence

make it the average of your last 3 months on the job, or last year on the job. That's how I had it in my contracts.

I don't work for Amazon, but a similarly giant tech company, and I idiotically signed the non-compete because I was excited to work for one of the brand-name companies.

The non-compete specifically says that I am not allowed to open source any software, and until very recently, I wasn't allowed to even open a Github issue. The wording specifically says that they own anything I conceive of while working for them.

I shouldn't have signed it, I'm always working on personal projects and it's kind of depressing that I only realistically have the option to either donate my project to my corporation so that, at best, they own all rights to it and probably never open source it, OR not-release anything so that I have plausible deniability if/when I quit.

It's hard to imagine moving away from California and its moonlighting law. With it, I own everything I conceive of and work on during my own time, as long as it doesn't conflict with what I do at work. I'd imagine that if you relocated here (your company probably has an office in Silicon Valley), many of your restrictions would be lifted.

A company in California that I worked for allowed me to list all side projects that I was working on to exempt them from the "we own your brain" type of paperwork. This allowed be to continue those projects. However, any new projects would be subject to company ownership.

I am not a lawyer, but it is my understanding that in california even though your contract might give you permission to own what you do, you do own it regardless if you do it in your own time. that's the common understanding.

Jeez I would list 300 things with nondescript names even if I had no side projects to get around that ridiculous rule.

I worked for a large company in California and the law prevented me from doing just about anything because it could be plausibly construed as conflicting with the company's business.

The law is much more favorable to employees, and the legal definition of conflict of interest is more narrow than the company would like you to believe.

Oh, I'm sure it is. The problem is that they could sue me anyways.

That can happen any time anyway. But they would have to show damages. And even though you'd be on the hook for legal fees - at least initially, defending such a simple civil suit isn't that big of a deal financially.

Or ... just do open source under an alias.

Agreed, they're trying to scare folks.

When I looked into something similar I found that while companies will fight tooth and nail to not sign away rights to a specific idea/effort, the law is very much on the employee's side as long as you don't use corporate equipment to do it.

Agreed, they'hen I looked into something similar I found that while companies will fight tooth and nail to not sign away rights to a specific idea/effort, the law is very much on the employee's side as long as you don't use corporate equipment to do it.

There are three issues here intermingled.

1) Competing with your current company while moonlighting.

2) Leaving your current company and using any knowledge you gained there against them.

3) Leaving your current company and using your skill set at an unrelated company.

Contracts forbidding 1 & 2 are usually defensible both morally and legally. It’s 3 where the metaphorical water gets murky, since overly broad contracts of this type basically deny workers the ability to work and earn money for the duration of the noncompete, if enforced.

I had a similar one that claimed all IP to the full extent of the law, and anything beyond that extent, they reserved the right of first refusal to purchase it if sold.

Of course, it also required arbitration of anything around that area.

They seemed surprised when I brought it up as onerous!

Edit: This was in the UK where these seem to be becoming the norm.

> They seemed surprised when I brought it up as onerous!

Careful on that one. A good negotiator will always want you to think that what you want in your favour is surprising, onerous and that nobody has asked for that before.

The open source part you described is different from non-compete, and is way more common (and makes more sense). https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2016/12/09/developers-side-pr... offers a good explanation why this is needed from employer's point of view. (disclaimer: I linked that article mainly for the explanation part. I don't necessarily agree with all its advises)

I don't know which giant tech company is your employer. But at least Google has a very streamlined internal process you can apply for to let Google release the copyright of your side project to you. (disclaimer: I worked for Google, and in particular worked somewhat close with the people reviewing those cases for a few years)

It seems a lot of people hear about non-competes being not generally enforceable in California and assume that means it's a nirvana with respect to personal IP/moonlighting/etc. Or even that it means there are never non-competes that will cause a potential employer to walk away, enforceable or not.

Lots of California-based companies have strict policies about ownership of projects that you do on your own time. And there are certainly companies outside of California that don't have non-competes and which have liberal policies about open source contributions.

I don't work for Google, and sadly, while there is a process for getting approval to open-source something, it involves a lot of emails and waiting. I have been waiting since December to submit contributions to the TLA+ model checker.

Sounds very familiar ;) Processes like these make it very, very difficult for employees to work on open source; at most they might have approval for one or two projects that are directly used by the company.

I do agree that your employer's clause are far more restrictive than the common ones seen around the valley and unnecessary.

I heard of this stuff before, sounds insane companies try to claim everything you make as their own even if working on it at home using your own funds and equipment. As much I don't like the politics of California, I feel like this is something they got right.

Wonder if maybe this is why some companies are expanding in other places like Austin, Texas or Salt Lake City? Like for example Apple is going to the largest employer in Austin, yet Texas doesn't offer as many employment protections... Maybe as things grow, Texas and other states will look into the issue more... I do think in general tech spreading throughout the country instead of being centralized in California is a pro though.

> The wording specifically says that they own anything I conceive of while working for them.

That's quite normal, at least under Dutch labour law. It prevents IP discussions if an employee does anything outside of the 9-5 working hours, or anything they were not directly instructed to by their manager.

Of course there can be exceptions, e.g., we exempt open source software by default, and are open for any discussions on other side projects the employee may have. But the concept that all your programming work belongs to the company is not that strange.

Also note that this is not a non-compete, but simply an IP clause.

> But the concept that all your programming work belongs to the company is not that strange.

It is absolutely strange that they’d think they own anything that I do outside of the 8 hours a day I work for them.

I get some of my best ideas, those related to my job, in the shower.

Much of my value is in designing solutions to technical challeneges, not in cranking out lines of code.

This gets even more complex if I get an idea that builds on something I only learned due to my position, but itself isn't directly related to my role. If I could only have ever conceived my idea due to proprietary info, who gets the IP?

While there are grey area's companies have used these type of provisions in extreme ways like claiming they owned a work of fiction by an engineer that worked for the company.

For example do you believe it would be ethical for a company to claim ownership over a "hot new angry birds" game that goes viral simply because they have a IP clause in their employment contract covering the employment of that programmer who also works on their LOB ERP Application?

It should be in very limited to at minimum the type of work I do, one should not have to surrender their mind over to the company for their wages

>But the concept that all your programming work belongs to the company is not that strange.

That we've acquiesced and allowed the situation to fester means that such clauses are not unusual. They are, however, in the grand scheme of things very, very strange.

"Not unusual" and "not cretinous" are not the same thing.

I don't see the problem with it. Think of this scenario from the perspective of an employer:

- You hire someone and they create something and use it as part of your software. - They leave. - Then they sue you because they say you are using their software that they created in their spare time.

Or any of the other 999 IP disputes that can arise from not being very clear about who owns the IP of things your employees create.

This is specifically in the context of programming work done outside of the work for the company. These onerous clauses attempt to lay claim to that work. For example, if a I work at Widgetron writing Widget APIs this clause might be used by Widgetron to lay claim to, say, a game engine I’m writing at home during the evening.

That is easily avoided by having them sign off on the code they commit to the employer's repository. Giving the employer full rights over every single thing the employee creates just to solve such a simple problem is ridiculous.

Then say "the employee grants employer a non-exclusive (exclusive if the work is directly related to the company business as of time the work is conceived), non-transferable, sub-licenseable licence to use, modify, resell or redistribute all works related to employment (even if tangentially), including modified versions thereof, for commercial and business purposes only", not "intellectual property of anything and everything done by employee relating to employer's business, regardless of whether it relates to employee's work, belongs to the employer".

I see a problem with it, Think of this scenario I work as a programmer writing a boring LOB application, in may spare time I write sci-fi fiction stories

the company falls on hard times, cuts my pay but I happen to submit one of my books to a publisher, it becomes a HUGE success and now the company claims to own the right to that book (the money they need to save the company) because they own everything that comes from my mind under these unethical and immoral provisions

It's the default at Google, but if you want to have an open source project or even a side business you can. You have to disclose it first and get sign-off. This seems reasonable to me and avoids any grey areas.

That's not true. If you don't use any work resources and it doesn't compete with google, Google doesn't doesn't own it (at least in California).

The reason they have this progress is that google does so many things that almost anything could be considered competing with Google.

> doesn't compete with google

Alphabet has subsidiaries that work in medicine and autonomous vehicles. You sure your side project isn't competing with the company? You sure you can do so in court when the company comes after you with its top-notch legal team?

> You sure you can do so in court when the company comes after you with its top-notch legal team?

Here is your mistake. The reality is, that they arent going to do that, the vast majority of the time.

The only time when it maybe might happen, is in far out there situations, such as, for example, when that self-driving car guy, built his own multi-hundred million dollar company, on the basis of stolen google documents.

And even then google only went after this guy, after he sold the company to Uber. Before that, google was perfectly fine with the guy running his mult-hundred million dollar company.

Are you going to create a multi-hundred million dollar company, on the basis of literal stolen documents? No? then you almost certainly don't have to worry about it. Nobody is coming after you.

Sadly that's not the case in NY, where I live. I've tried calling my representatives to see if they can propose it for a national law, but I suspect COVID has put this on the backburner.

Is this for anything at all? What if, hypothetically, I want to try out some concepts in angular material to learn? Would I need sign off just to put that in a public gitlab repo (because I get free uncapped CI minutes if it is public). At some point the code should be obvious and silly, right? I mean I’m not doing anything novel here, just learning stuff. It has no commercial value.

You can do whatever you want if it has no commercial value. Google would not bother asserting their rights because your experiments will not grow into a competitor they would care about.

This is for serious side ventures, like you creating a self driving car company on the side. Use common sense, fault on the side of disclosure, and you'll be alright.

you still have to get approval. But the approval is pretty rubber-stampy - my buddy applied for "tasking rtos in rust", which was accepted, despite that being incredibly general. The other side is that "if it is so trivial, why upload it?".

> if it is so trivial, why upload it?

That was clearly answered:

> because I get free uncapped CI minutes if it is public

So if a newspaper writer is working on a novel during their evening hours, the newspaper should own it? Everyone would agree that's ridiculous, why should it be tolerated in software?

That is unfathomable to me, especially in Europe. If I dream of making my own app during the night, I don't own it?

To me, this is a form of slavery, giving away a life's work for a salary.

How does that work? I have a hard time believing this. If they employee writes a sci-fi novel in their free time, does the company own the copyright for that?

This is why we need a union. If you take my contract word for word my company owns the copyright for photos of my family vacation, the awful songs I wrote with some friends a few years ago and even this comment.

You'd have to be pretty desperate to sign such a contract for anything less than 10 million usd a year.

What makes you stay there?

Right now I'm basically just waiting for some more stock to vest. After that I'll probably try and find a job where their non-compete isn't insane.

Which company is this?

Actually mentioning that publicly is against the policy. I can tell you via email if you promise not to post it publicly. (Address in profile)

That's nice of you, and nice of the parent for not taking you up on it, but it could have been someone from the company asking you that.

That's a valid point; didn't even consider the possibility of a trap. Thanks for the warning for the future!

It's Jonathan Rockway. He's not an Apple spy.

Is it "mentioning it publicly" if it's a private conversation? Or is it meant to be "don't tell anyone"?

Private conversations are fine, they just typically don't like you posting about it.

Nah, if you can get in trouble I don't want to know.


Not sure why you're downvoted, this is who he's talking about. It took 2 min of searching to confirm.

too bad, apple needs more of an open-source presence. Where better to get it than their employees working on unrelated ideas on their own time.

Google and LinkedIn are your friends.

Oracle has this clause. It's the main reason I chose not to work there.

It seems like the majority of the top 50 or so tech companies do.

I worked at Amazon in the early aughts. They had the same non-compete then. I worked around it by going to business school after I left. By the time I took my next job, the 18 months had expired. Plan your post employment very carefully -- both financially and career wise when you join one of the big 4. When you receive a salary offer, calculate the actually salary by assuming 18 months of unemployment.

Come to California, where the monocle & mustache-twirling set has been forced to settle for slightly less control of the lower castes.

Actually, I'm so glad I now live in India. Non-competes have absolutely no-validity, and good luck trying to enforce one.

Same in California. For people that want the details:


California Business & Professions Code section 16600 makes clear that any non-compete provision between employer and employee will not be enforceable under California law

Yep, I've seen contracts where they say "Clause x/y doesn't apply in the State of California" and then the employer try to tell me "Well, it's not a non-compete" .. bullshit. It clearly is.

Doesn't stop them from including the clause in the contract though.

(Though nothing is actually enforcable in India like you said, simply because you would probably be retired before the case would get a court date)

If you include illegal clauses like a non compete in an employment agreement it can render the whole employment agreement void in CA and other places.

Just proves that lawyering is the continuation of bullying after your youth has expired

I got the impression from friends that it was a worse situation in India with relieving letters[0], the way it was explained to me you needed your current companies written permission to start a new job and that is frequently abused.


Not sure if it applies for a high-level software position as much as it would for a regular "consulting" engineer schmuck hire though.

In what respects? I moved back to India for family reasons as well, but not sure I see the net benefits completely

yeah, but then you'd have to live in india.

One thing about California law. If you are terminated involuntarily (1), then you can do whatever you need to do to make a living. Build a competing product, hire your former co-workers, sell to your former customers, whatever. Your previous employer can't deny you future income, not one dime. (1)Involuntarily, except for cause, and those causes must be given in writing at the time you are hired.

> Plan your post employment very carefully -- both financially and career wise when you join one of the big 4.

This is only true of Amazon. As far as I'm aware, none of the others have non-competes (Google certainly doesn't).

So maybe the more succinct advice is, just don't work for Amazon.

Amazon was the best offer I got out of undergrad. I came very close to doing some very bad things to myself when I got rejected from Facebook and Google after my onsites and was depressed for months.

Please have some empathy for people like me that can't waltz into any job and don't say things like this.

99% of developers probably can't even get onsite interview at FAANG, for the context.

Neither does Apple. This topic of non-competes came up in an antitrust investigation by the House: https://docs.house.gov/meetings/JU/JU05/20190716/109793/HHRG...

I'm pretty sure Google does depending on which State you work in. If it's in California, it's illegal, but if you get hired by Google of NY, they have no restrictions there, so it's probably in that contract.

I'm not sure what happens if you're hired in California and then transfer somewhere else.

I have been working for Google NY since 2014 and I do not have a non-compete nor does anyone else I know of. Maybe it's different at the director and above level but that's above my pay grade.

In a European office I was in they added signing them as a part of promo to L6.

That's false.

Since it's Washington State we're talking about: Googlers who join in WA state do not have a Non-compete in their contract (at least the "rank and file" engineers), even though Google could add it and Amazon/Microsoft have one.

In fact Google took it a step further and tried to lobby to get non-compete banned in WA State:

There was an almost full-ban on non-compete that was proposed a few years ago in Washington State. Google came to the public hearings with full support for the law as it is (which make sense given the status for non compete in California - and how it had gotten sued by Microsoft over one employee, and now again by Amazon). The law would have made it that non-compete are void if laid-off, and void if over 1 year max or if you're not an executive employee.

But Microsoft, Amazon, and the hospitals lobbied hard against it. (Hospitals are using those non-competes on both nurses and doctors apparently)

So the bill got rewritten where it only applies to people with a total comp less than 185k, and where student debt could be subtracted to that 185k. This, again, got fought more by opponents.

Now the ban on non compete only applies to people whose yearly salary (total comp as listed on W-2) is less than 100k, So doctors and tech workers at those companies get nothing out of it, except the clarification that non compete:

- cannot be for longer than 18 months

- if employee is laid off and non compete is enforced, the company must pay base salary for the duration of non-compete.

Geekwire had a good coverage of it over the years:




And the original bills: http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2015-16/Pdf/Bills/Hou...


final bill: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1450&Initiativ...

When I left Amazon, I also left Washington for California, in large part because of this. I'm highly specialized, and I wasn't about to take an 18-month hiatus in my career. You would think Washington state would work harder at keeping their high-tax-revenue tech workers around.

> You would think Washington state would work harder at keeping their high-tax-revenue tech workers around.

Washington State has no income, capital gains, or payroll tax. All we[0] have are consumption taxes that people with lower incomes are forced to pay more of as a percentage of their incomes versus people with higher incomes. This is doubly so since people with higher incomes have the financial leverage to minimize consumption taxes[1]. There's little tax-based incentive to attract and retain people with high incomes. If anything, we are somewhat of a drain on the overall society because we price out and displace people who don't have those incomes while we pay, on a percentage-of-income basis, comparatively little back into society relative to what we're earning.

I'm certain some people will come along under me and crow about how this is the whole reason why they moved to Washington instead of another but I am not particularly moved by any reasoning someone might put forward.

0 - My bias: I am a very well paid employee living in Seattle so I include myself in this but am also active in advocacy for levying taxes on myself and people like me for a more equitable tax system in this city, county, and state.

1 - Buying in bulk, buying a single higher-cost good that will last longer than lower-cost goods that must be replaced, evading taxes by traveling or buying online and accepting the risk of not being held accountable for paying the consumption tax

While I also live in Washington and would be fine with raising taxes to be more equitable, higher taxes here would certainly increase the relative attractiveness of California. I'm already right on the edge of deciding to move due to having lived most of my life in sunny regions and really disliking the gloomy weather here. I don't think that would be a typical response though as most people would still prefer the lower cost of living in WA.

> I'm already right on the edge of deciding to move due to having lived most of my life in sunny regions and really disliking the gloomy weather here.

I'd say that's valid enough reason to move on its own. I've lived in Seattle for forever and the weather is one of the things that has kept me here through economic ups and downs.

The cost of living is only "low" here for people like us who are already doing very well for ourselves and I'm not at all enjoying the yawing inequity becoming increasingly wider. I'm not someone who pines for the "better days" of yesteryear or wants to cling tightly to some treasured local watering hole. We need a sane tax policy and a sane housing policy otherwise this all comes to a crashing halt.

Lobbying for it in Washington is to hurt Microsoft and Amazon while doing nothing to them. If they lobbied for a full ban in Montana, I would give them credit.

Likewise, if you get hired by Amazon in Cape Town, it's illegal. In South Africa non-competes are only legally valid for top-tier exec-level positions, and even then maybe not.

This is incorrect, non-competes in South Africa (I got advice on it once for a gig there) are enforcable is they are reasonable.

For example, if the company pays you your old salary for a year after you leave, the non-compete with be enforceable.

If they just part ways with no reasonable exchange of value for the non-compete period, all you have to claim is this is how you make your crust.

Those folk have a serious legal consititution.

Please don't assume things you don't have any knowledge of. Lots of companies don't put things like non-competes in their employment contracts just because they can.

So say you join Amazon and after 1-2 years you're no longer happy, is jumping ship to FNG (+Apple/msft) out of the question?

Seems a little overzealous if you are a rank and file

Even in the states where these agreements are enforceable, they usually only are enforceable for a job in the same role, a competitive business, and the same physical location. I worked for a company for about a decade with an agreement like this; the people who left usually got out of it by lying about where they're going, working remotely for a while, or getting their next employer to change their title.

That's interesting. At first glance, I thought you were suggesting "just switch roles completely!" But, you aren't saying that, you are saying the new employer just needs to be clever in creating a role with a different name.

But, then again, for some roles a public presence is needed, like public speaking. You can't temporarily have the role of "janitor" and go out and speak authoritatively about AWS at a conference with that role. Maybe people will get the joke after understanding the true state of these agreements.

Wait, do we even have conferences anymore?

> You can't temporarily have the role of "janitor" and go out and speak authoritatively about AWS at a conference with that role.

It is my understanding that you can often get away with being a lot more subtle than that. Things like throwing a proprietary product name in your title, a title that sounds more like a manager, etc.

Not "AWS specialist" to janitor, but AWS to "cloud deployment engineer" or simply "member of technical staff "

lying is just never a good strategy. everyone talks.

Maybe. Are you important enough to get administrative attention after you're gone, or does your HR department only care as much as they have to complete their offboarding checklist?

People may talk, but the reality is that nobody is listening.

Companies are not sending private detectives, to follow engineers to their new job, and finding out specifically what they are working on, and if the contract is enforceable or not.

Mostly, people just forget about you, once you leave. People get away with lying all the time.

I forget the details because, frankly, it had no impact on me, but at one company, I remember a new executive simply not being able to fulfill some of the duties of his new role for several months until his non-compete expired. If the company wants you bad enough, they will find a way to make it work.

But you don't want to ever be put in that position.

When I was leaving Amazon, the logic was generally -- don't go to the same org in a different company. E.g. if you work in S3, don't go to Google Cloud Storage. If you land in ads or maps or search or whatever, that should be fine.

Though, it's really up to Amazon whether they want to keep you unemployed for 18 months, which is (in my mind) totally unethical to even have in the contract in the first place.

I and many of my colleagues worried about non competes at Amazon. But mine wasn’t enforced and I’ve never heard of a “rank and file” individual contributor or non-exec manager having it enforced. My impression is it’s only worth it for VPs or other very high level employees. But the scare tactics evidently do work, in terms of scaring employees to stay or to jump through extra hoops (moving states even if they don’t want to) to avoid enforcement.

Has anyone here had a company try to enforce their non compete, and can share their insights?

I've only heard of noncompete agreements being enforced out of spite against someone who has quit on bad terms, not because of a genuine interest for noncompetition.

Why is that you, and other people here, are treating a contract like it's law? Companies can put pretty much anything they want in a contract, it does not mean its enforceable. You have to take into account your jurisdiction.

There are a lot of people who simply don't have the resources to fight a non-compete clause. Do you think a fresh grad working at Amazon 1-2 years in an SWE role is equipped to take on Amazon's undoubtedly massive top talented legal team if they choose to litigate? The law may be on their side but the resources to pursue it may not and any reasonable doubt of being incorrect could be financial or even career suicide.

If a business can get even a small fraction of its labor to follow unenforcable/essentially illegal requirements, they've made significant headway, even if they don't ever choose to attempt to litigate. Over time, those practices can become normalized and set industry standards where they become more and more successful.

I think it should be illegal to even stipulate such requirements in contracts to begin with to prevent businesses from eroding labor rights over time. There should be massive fines in place that penalize even stipulating those sort of clauses to make sure businesses only include reasonable language/requirements.

This is ultimately what it comes down to. Contracts between very rich/powerful entities and relatively poor/powerless entities, in practice, can contain anything the rich/powerful entity wants because the poor/powerless entity cannot afford litigation. Cell phone contracts, car leases, employment agreements, basically anything written by a company and targeting an individual--just read one of them. All the clauses protect and benefit the company, and very little good is in there for the individual. And they are take-it-or-leave-it: There's generally no negotiation or ability to add individual-favoring terms [1]. Try negotiating the legal terms in your cable bill and let me know how that worked out for you. Contracts among equals tend to be more fair because each side is on a level playing field.

1: Yes, I am aware that there are a few software engineers out there with specialized skills who have successfully managed to negotiate some non-salary terms out of their employment agreements. Congratulations, you are not representative of the general employee population.

You negotiate with your feet by walking away and finding another company that has terms that are more to your liking. You may not have the power to rewrite the contracts presented to you, but you have the agency to choose where you want to work.

It's also a chilling effect on many potential employers, especially small ones. When I was with a very small consulting firm, if someone interested in employment had a non-compete that was remotely relevant--or even an NC that wasn't very clearly not relevant--it was a very short discussion. Management just wasn't prepared to take even a small risk.

Interesting, wonder if some startup that didn't want to deal with the risk could just have a checkbox if you have a current in-effect non-compete agreement and just pipe those applications to /dev/null? Maybe if more companies were picky, people would fight back and try to negotiate better agreements... but then again probably depends on location, In Silicon Valley you can be a more picky potential employee compared to say rural Ohio.

How would you know? What would someone intentionally violating noncompete mention it to an employer?

Lying to a potential employer is a pretty bad first step. If I caught you doing it, say because someone mentioned it in a casual conversation, I'm going to fire you the same day. Same with lying on a resume even if it's utterly irrelevant multiple years later. It's also going to color any future professional interaction because you're an untrustworthy individual.

I'm pretty sure I don't want to be in a position where I'd be fired if a 10-year old lie came out.

A union-like organization could allow workers to pool money to fight these fights.

Please, call it a guild or mutual aid society. Software developers don't like unions.

Somehow I think the legal bills fighting Amazon will be higher than any lost pay, and you might not win.

What do you mean by Big 4? I thought that was an accounting industry thing.

Or just don’t work for Amazon. I don’t know of any of any such clause at Microsoft or Google.

I had a 6 months no-compete at Microsoft.

Do they ever enforce it?

Never heard of it being enforced.

Lol what? You can easily with to another FAANG from amazon

I think the implication is the average engineer at Amazon isn't capable of getting into another FAANG, because Amazon is the easiest/least well paying company in FAANG.

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