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Programmers' salaries at Google $250k (and up) (jacquesmattheij.com)
406 points by llambda on Nov 6, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 265 comments

HN has a curious relationship to money some of the time.

a) Many of us watched our classmates go into management consulting, investment banking, finance, medicine, law, etc. These are all fields where $250k is not exactly outlandish for a 29 year old.

b) We have a lot of friendly, accessible fellow posters who write computer code and are financially very successful.

c) We talk about $X million valuations and $YY million acquisitions and $Z billion IPOs the way catering company owners discuss the price of tomatoes.

d) We have heard many credible people complain of how difficult it is to hire and retain engineers. So difficult, in fact, that they'd pay $10k+ just for an introduction or $50k+ for an actual placement.

e) We understand incentive structures and equity grants exist.

f) We routinely read industry news like "Google and Facebook in heated war for talent", "The going rate for an acquisition-to-hire is $1 million per engineer", "Four large technology firms were engaged in a gentlemen's agreement to conspire against their employees until the government told them it was cartelicious", "Productivity per engineer is going through the roof", "Company Z supports Q00,000 paying customers per engineer", "Efforts of individual engineers have succeeded in adding millions to billions of dollars of value to some companies", etc etc etc, and generally seem to be at least as savvy as C-students in Microecon 101.

and yet

g) Talk of engineers receiving wages above some magic threshold is met with disbelief, scorn, and a wee bit of jealousy.

It isn't hugely interesting to me what any particular person at a particular company is making, but is $250k an outlandish total compensation number? No, it is clearly achievable. Do you have to be programming demigod to achieve it? No, compensation moves along with several different axes and programming ability isn't the main one. Is this anecdote a freak of nature which we'll never see again? No, signs point that this will become increasingly more common over time.

Spot on.

(d) in particular is worth stressing. There is no difficulty in attracting and retaining talent. There is simply an unwillingness to pay them what they're worth and give them an environment in which they'd want to work.

Supply and demand. It's pretty simple.

Yet so many (typically business types) want to treat engineers as an interchangeable cost center. "5 years ago an engineer cost $100k so I refuse to pay more than $100k now to keep my costs in check".

The fact that it's taken this long for engineers to be recognized (financially) for the huge impact we have and the vast differences that can exist between individual engineers speaks volumes about us. As a whole, we're just not as good as the business guys at this compensation game and, a lot of the time, it's not our primary motivation. Give us something interesting to do and stay out of our way and we're happy.

Hi! This is the Market Economics Fairy! I help supply and demand equilibrate everywhere! If nobody can find good programmers to hire, it means that programmer salaries are too low! Raise programmer salaries until...

...erm, actually, students are remarkably goddamn insensitive to their future salaries when it comes to picking a major. And the other way S&D could equilibrate here is by fewer companies even trying to hire programmers because they know they can't afford them. What's really needed - considering the Camel Has Two Humps effect where some people have the magic programming gear and some people don't - is a mass effort to take students in journalism studies or, heck, smart unemployed adults, and administer some simple tests to see if they have large amounts of hidden programming talent, screw the college degree. But that effort would benefit lots of companies equally, and that means it's a commons problem. Not sure the Market Economics Fairy can easily solve this one.

Just a note, there is a followup paper to "The Camel Has Two Humps". From the abstract:

Two years ago we appeared to have discovered an exciting and enigmatic new predictor of success in a first programming course. We now report that after six experiments, involving more than 500 students at six institutions in three countries, the predictive effect of our test has failed to live up to that early promise.


Also, assuming this were not the case, it's hardly clear that searching for magic programming gear is a commons problem. Why couldn't Google/Facebook administer the simple tests and keep the results secret?

I forgot, they already try to do this, but it doesn't give them enough applicants: http://www.mentalfloss.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/Google... http://www.facebook.com/careers/puzzles.php

Or why couldn't a trusted third party, like Microsoft, Cisco or Red had charge journalism majors/unemployed adults to take the test?

I forgot, they already try to do this, but they just don't do a very good job and their tests have little predictive power: https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/community/certifications/c... http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/certification/mcse.a... http://www.redhat.com/certification/rhce/

The new paper didn't say that the problem wasn't correct, just that their original solution (test) didn't work out. It's true that it seems to be hard to come up with a reliable test for this sort of thing, but that doesn't mean that it's impossible.

The magic market fairy can't help supply and demand equilibrate until the simple test exists, right?

My only point is that the problem isn't creation of a public good, the problem is that reliably identifying good people/good matches is really hard.

That was amusingly written but I'm not sure it rebuts the comment it responds to. Yes, you can also work to increase underlying supply instead of bidding up the price. And?

Smart companies already do things to skirt credentialized recruitment paths, because credentials (especially academic ones) are extremely inefficient, at least in software.

This isn't so much "insightful" as it is a basic obvious direct result of the law of supply and demand.

The Market Economics Fairy doesn't work here because there is such a large lead-in time to making money as a programmer. I have had 2 or 3 friends want to become programmers just because they want to make more money, and also because they see the opportunity to make their own apps etc.

I helped them as much as I could but none of them are now programmers because it's just too much work for no return to learn this stuff. You have to be interested in it, and supply and demand doesn't make more people actually interested in it...

If the salaries start getting higher and higher, and wages in other industries continue to stagnate, then more and more people are going to start getting interested in programming, natural inclinations be damned.

Let's put it this way: how many people who go into investment banking are actually interested in investment banking? How many fooled around with financial models in middle school, then realized they wanted to parlay that passion into a career at Goldman Sachs? Maybe the odd freakshow here and there, but by and large, people enter the field for the moolah.

Right now, programming is still dominated by people who became programmers because they enjoy it. That they're well compensated is nice, but many of these people would probably be programming even if it didn't pay handsomely.

The Market Economics Fairy would indicate, however, that that'll change eventually. More and more would-be business or marketing or even journalism majors are going to choose CS when the salary average disparity becomes wider and more widely known.

> a mass effort to take . . . smart unemployed adults, and administer some simple tests to see if they have large amounts of hidden programming talent, screw the college degree.

This is the huge fucking source of programming talent that has remained largely untapped ever since CompSci became a recognized standard for employment qualification, due to the "monkey see, monkey do" best practices effect in businesses across the US. That blind best practices urge in hiring processes, in fact, keeps many actual programmers unemployed while firms in need of programming talent lobby congress to make it easier to import talent from other countries to fill the void created by their own hiring practices.

It's a perverse market right now.

The reason why business types see engineers as cost centers is because engineers have positioned themselves that way. Engineers pushed for higher salary in lieu of the variable upside.

What engineers really need to do is to put more skin in the game. Push for more equity, even if it means accepting a smaller salary. All too often I see programmers who just want a 9-5 that pays 6 figures even if the company is seeing hard times, but that won't improve the situation. Most of those business types you mention see engineers in the same way that engineers see themselves: wanting a large, stable paycheck. The business types shoot for the large end of year bonuses, which in general only get paid if the company does well (ignore the TBTF banks for a moment)

As an example of what I mean, most celebrity endorsements are lump sum payments plus a very small variable upside. William Shatner, taking a longer view, pushed Priceline to compensate him (for his celebrity appearance) in the form of equity, and now he's laughing his way to the bank. In this case, he was willing to take the risk.

"What engineers really need to do is to put more skin in the game. Push for more equity, even if it means accepting a smaller salary. All too often I see programmers who just want a 9-5 that pays 6 figures"

A lot of engineers I know are like this because they were badly burned earlier on in their careers with promises of equity (while working below-market paying job for that equity) that turned into dust (due to massive dilution and other factors) even when the company had a very successful exit.

One could argue there they only have themselves to blame for not being sure of the actual value of their position in all possible exit situations, but now you're arguing they shouldn't just be engineers but also financial/contract law experts, which is especially unrealistic when they are just getting out of school.

This isn't as simple as "push for equity". There are plenty of companies where equity makes no sense (say, a private consulting company, or a company with no plans to sell a la 37signals)

What other options are there? Guaranteed end of year bonuses? Commissions in the form of profit sharing?

It is funny that options are now so associated with a company exiting that we totally forget that their original purpose was as an efficient mechanism for profit sharing

I was thinking exactly the same thing, about the parallels between speculative bets on appreciation and dividends.

For private companies with no plans to sell, ideally it would be an arrangement where the engineer receives shares (in a C corp) or is written into the operating agreement as a partner (in an LLC or LP) but a profit sharing agreement would have the same effect.

In major law firms, the associates aspire to become partners in the firm, which is analogous to my interpretation when saying "equity".

Actually, setting up software firms where the best developers can "make partner" would be quite an interesting approach.

I'm not sure it would work, but if it did, it could be a perfect solution for keeping a great team together for the long haul.

See: Accenture.

It's a consulting company not a product company; it may be significantly different when "making partner" at a product company. However, from what I've heard, each partner at Accenture essentially runs his or her own business within the larger scale of the organization. Success is directly tied to the success of the internal mini-businesses. It is, however, an example of a company where IT professionals can become equity stakeholders in a private firm.

I imagine a product company would need to make the partners in charge of one product each (or maybe a couple of partners on one product) in order to avoid the "Too many cooks in the kitchen" problem.

Though your premise is correct, Accenture is public, not private. They (like many others) wanted to expand beyond pure consulting, and the partners wanted to cash out.

Accounting and law firms may be a better example, though even they aren't as entrepreneurial as you think. They have their own regulations and internal politics.

The amount of politics and backbiting and sabotage that gets mixed in with partner-track programs is horrifying. Find an incentive scheme that empowers first-year hires to do amazing things for your company.

That's sorta the YCombinator model, isn't it? If you do really amazing things, you get acquired for a few hundred million. If you do somewhat amazing things, you get acqhired for a million or so. If you don't do anything, you get nothing.

Seems to be largely working within the specific space of Silicon Valley YCombinator-funded startups, but I'm not sure how well it scales. There's a pretty sharp filter for getting into YC, and for someone without access to PG's connections, the chance of hitting it big or getting acqhired may not be worth the risk they take.

But YC invests in technically-competent businesspeople, not engineers

As someone who left software engineering for law, I have to say that partnership is a great motivator.

I don't want an incentive scheme to help make you money. Pay me 20-25% of the revenue I generate for the company and give me a non-zero chance to be a stakeholder and I'll work my ass of for you.

Most traditional firms, to make partner, you have to be personally responsible for a large amount of business.

At Andersen, at one point, I heard the number was $10M/yr of revenue.

It would be harder to figure out how much revenue is generated by an individual contributor (even if they are a superb coder).

Also, partnership usually involves leadership decisions

Private consulting companies have all sorts of var comp plans; the most common is profit sharing.

Presumably, equity in these companies would be like being a "partner" in a law/accountancy firm.

I hope not. If you talk to folks in law, in particular, the partnership system is broken. It basically results in a situation where it's in the interest of the existing "partners" to have as many "non-partner" employees as possible, dangle the carrot of partnership in front of them so they work really hard, but in reality only promote 1% or so to partner. That maximizes the return to existing equity holders but it means life sucks for everyone junior.

Yet the partner/director carrot in law/banking/consulting convinces tons of Harvard, Yale, etc, grads each year to work 80 hour weeks for their 20s for a shot at equity (which realistically is more like 5-10% at big NYC type places and upwards of 30% in secondary markets).

This is really mostly a law thing - banks and consulting firms, by and large, aren't partnership models any more and haven't been in a long time. Any large bank or consultancy is public now, which means they give equity to employees out of a huge pool and it has relatively little effect on the comp of their managers. That's different from a law firm, where even in fairly large ones the addition of new equity partners can have a material impact on the existing partners' comp.

As for making partner in a BigLaw firm, folks I've talked to describe it as "a longshot" to "nearly impossible." A firm like Skadden will hire 500+ new associates a year (worldwide) and name maybe 4-6 partners, not all of whom started as associates. Unlikely the chance of going from associate to partner breaks 1%.

(Updated #s after asking someone who worked for Skadden.)

McKinsey and Bain are incorporated partnerships, and BCG is still an actual partnership. Goldman Sachs, JPM, etc, are public companies, but their investment banking and trading divisions operate very differently from a typical public company. GS, for example, pays out 50% of revenues as compensation, with MDs and PMDs (partner managing director) sharing from a huge profit pool. Internally they function very much like partnerships.

As for the chances of making partner, it depends heavily on the firm and the year. Skadden is something of an outlier[1]. The other big NYC firms bring aboard about ~100-120 associates per year, and promote between 5-15 depending on the economy. The last few years it's been around 5 and during the boom it was around 15. At medium-sized firms outside NYC, the %-age is more like 20-35%, though profits-per-partner at those firms are more like $300-500k/year, versus $2m+ at Skadden.

[1] Though your numbers seem grossly exaggerated. Worldwide Skadden brought aboard ~200 this year, which was a big crop. The two years before that were ~100 put together. And over the last few years, the partners promoted counts have been: 2007 (29), 2008 (25), 2009 (8), 2010 (6), 2011 (8).

I read in an interview that at the end of the year, 37signals takes most of its profits, and pays them as a dividend to its shareholders. I don't know if lay employees get a chance to own stock, but if they did it could be a great incentive.

Having worked on the Priceline campaign and with Mr. Shatner, I can tell you he laughed significantly less than halfway to the bank. He cashed in his shares ten years ago, well before Priceline's recent stock blast-off. Your point, however, is valid: he was paid with shares.

structuring compensation as base / bonus could also alleviate this. at least that's the carrot finance industry is using to get most performance out of developers even though the bonus is usually exactly what promised/paid last year + n%. but it seems to work (especially around 3rd/4th quarter). but the higher you go, the higher % of your pay is bonus and supposedly tied to co performance. though this is not as good as equity as there is still no real ownership incentive.

"structuring compensation as base / bonus could also alleviate this" <-- I am not convinced. If you knew that your bonus was a percentage of your salary, the only way that it would motivate you is if your salary was low (or if your bonus was extremely large). And for developers, the bonus is generally in the 10-30% of base salary range. There really has to be a variable component depending on the firm profits that isn't capped at a percentage of salary.

"though this is not as good as equity as there is still no real ownership incentive." <-- this was the largest complaint to the investment banks transforming from partnerships to corporations (in the former case, the partners were personally liable for losses)

In fact, I think this problem is even worse in the CEO world due to the legacy MBA culture of greed.

You're talking about The Pardo Axiom:

"There's no shortage of smart, hardworking engineers. There's a shortage of smart, hardworking engineers willing to work for very little money." ~ David "Pardo" Keppel

If you're having trouble hiring, it's probably because you're not paying enough. It turns out that talented people are worth paying a lot for.

Or put another way, the stagnant salaries for developers has incentivised/pushed many of us into starting our own companies so that we can make money commensurate with what we believe we should be making.

$250k developer salaries invalidates much of that pressure.

The problem seems to stem from the fact that most people are presented with paltry-sounding offers from places like google. As is mentioned in many of the response here, it seems that the guy probably quoted total compensation. However, prima facie the only number people see is the salary number from their offer. The offer doesn't tell you how good the bonus will be, nor can you immediately appreciate stuff like 401K match or stock / options awards.

So yeah, I think a lot of people would be jealous if they thought they received a 100K offer from google while some other person received 250K.

This is highly relevant. I had an offer from Google with a base salary lower than a competing offer from a startup...but when I factoried in benefits, stock, etc. on both sides Google's offer was about 50% larger. Of course, you're eating the same food as you get promoted, so some benefits/perks become a smaller fraction of your comp as your total comp goes up, but they're still significant around 250k.

Did it actually amount to 50% more or did it have the potential to? Because if it's only potential than it's worth less than 50%. The other offer is money "in the hand" as it were.

My expected value is 50% higher. That's assuming I get the standard bonus (rather than the superstar one), keep eating roughly the same amount of food, etc.

Does Google fail to explain the non-base comp in offer letters, leading to recruits taking competing offers that actually pay less total? That seems to be a very easy to fix mistake, so I'm surprised they'd keep making it.

Uh yeah...

HN has lots of readers. Most probably make less than $250K even though quite a number make more. Still, most of those who make less than $250K probably aren't venture capitalists.

A million dollar deal doesn't get anyone chiming in with "but my deals aren't million dollar" 'cause they don't have deals of any sort. $250K salaries, on the other hand, do get exactly that reaction.

Is there anything here that isn't screamingly obvious?

Yes. Yet, when I posted The Pardo Axiom in a recent HN thread related to talent acquisition and hiring, I received an irrational, angry response. I don't get it. If there is a huge demand for engineering talent, then it seems obvious to me that companies haven't even approached the top end of what they can offer.


Well, the recommendation at the end of the post was "outsource your engineering". I suspect that, instead of ridiculous wages becoming "increasingly more common over time", offshoring is what companies will do instead of continuing to pay engineers higher and higher wages.

What does "cartelicious" mean? All that Google turns up is a lot of stuff on MySpace and Xanga...

It is a made-up word (a portmanteau, if you want to get technical) meant to suggest that the activities of the tech companies were similar to those of a cartel. I frequently use non-standard English constructions for comedic effect when writing or speaking informally.

it's not a portmanteau, because a portmanteau is a combination of two real words whose meaning draws from both constituents (and it's not clear what real word that ends in 'icious' that is relevant to this context)

According to OED (oxford english dictionary):

"A word formed by blending sounds from two or more distinct words and combining their meanings. Also more generally: a term or phrase which encompasses two or more meanings."

Portmanteaus can be composed of morphemes as well as words. -icious is a morpheme. If you try to parse it as a combination of two words, which a lot of people do, the ambiguity as to which -icious I could mean (delicious or vicious might spring to mind) helps to heighten the comedic effect.

</language geekery>

The nerdery in this thread is amazing!

Can you give a citation for that definition?

(had to dig out a dictionary :/) According to OED (oxford english dictionary) a portmanteau is:

"A word formed by blending sounds from two or more distinct words and combining their meanings. Also more generally: a term or phrase which encompasses two or more meanings."

The key conditions here (each of which must be satisfied) are:

- constituents must be words

- blending sounds from the words

- combining meanings of the words

You answered your own question. From your quote:

"blending sounds from two or more distinct words"

(note emphasis)

The word "brunch" is widely regarded to be a portmanteau, and does not consist of whole words.

"brunch" is a portmanteau of breakfast and lunch, and refers to a meal that occurs in the late morning in lieu of separate breakfast and lunch meals.

This satisfies the 3 conditions:

- constituents must be words

"brunch" is a combination of "breakfast" and "lunch"

- blending sounds from the words

the beginning sounds like "breakfast" and the end sounds like "lunch"

- combining meanings of the words

described above.

And cartelicious:

-Constituents must be words

"cartelicious" is a combination of "cartel" and "delicious"

-Blending sounds from the words

the beginning sounds like "cartel" and the end sounds like "delicious"

-Combining meanings of the words

It's delicious cartel action, for repugnant values of delicious. I don't think this one is a strict requirement, in any case. This is getting a bit too pedantic.

This is a thread with all the charm of a Wikipedia Talk: page argument. Maybe we can just let it die.

Haha yeah, I wasn't planning on adding any more to it. I just thought it was ridiculous that it had gotten as far as it had, so I was hoping to kill it with that.

Last remark on the issue:

Let's all agree that, before saying something like "a portmanteau, if you want to get technical", you are 100% sure that it is correct. Maybe that should be in the HN guidelines ...

I only brought up this issue because technically it's not a portmanteau (at least according to how OED and a bunch of other dictionaries define the word), and probably wouldn't have made a remark if the phrase "if you want to get technical" wasn't used ...

I lay down my guns ... now

How about instead we agree that you are interesting and appreciated HN commenter (I particularly enjoy your contributions to financial tech threads), and Patrick is an interesting and appreciated HN commenter, and neither of you are likely to make comments that warrant whole threads simply to correct.

The words in question for "cartelicious" are "cartel" and "delicious". I believe you can do the rest.


If we believe the miscellaneous crowdsourcers of Urban Dictionary it comes to us by way of Beyoncé's coinage "bootylicious", which makes it pretty obvious that it derives from "delicious".

I'm amused by this part:

Parents and middle-aged talk show hosts often use this to parody the ghetto culture, much as they latched onto the suffix "izzle".

I do believe the Urban Dictionary has just called me a clueless white talk-show host! Oh well, if the shoe fits... ;)

That could be a portmanteau. Consider that "cartel" has "el" near the end, and "delicious" has it near the beginning. Voila, portmanteau: cartelicious.

I don't know why you were being downvoted or why it's hard for people to see 'cartel' and 'delicious' in that. Some of these po-faced downvoters are in dire need a humour transplant. It's one thing to not find one of a few examples funny, it's another thing to downvote someone when they are trying to explain when someone has honestly asked for a clarification.

Google, Apple, Adobe, Pixar, and others settled with the DOJ on charges of collusion related to alleged mutually agreed hiring practices.

Cartel-like. Made up word.

As a point of data, I work at Google and am at a similar point in my career. My base salary a year ago was $136k, but there was a companywide 10% raise last winter, and now my base is $150k.

You get a cash bonus each year that's around 15% of your base, but if you're a superstar it can be double that, or if you're a total disappointment, it can be nothing. But if I perform as expected, that's another $22k.

Finally, I was granted 300 shares of stock that vest annually over four years. So each year, I get 75x the value of a Google share. GOOG is trading around $600, so that's another $45k.

So my total annual compensation this year will be $217k. If I were bragging to an ex-employer, I'd probably round up to "a quarter million" too. :)

Adding to the data pool:

I'm also an under-30 engineer making ~250k in the Bay Area (at a publicly-traded gaming company, not at Google). My company has six pay grades for pure engineers; I'm at the second highest. My 2011 comp breaks down as follows:

* 166k base

* 45k bonus

* 35k stock grants (RSUs)

Note this does not include 401k matching, stock purchase plan, healthcare, or any other quantifiable perks.

When I took this job a year ago, I had a similar offer from a prominent NYC startup: ~220k (150k base, 30k bonus, 250k options over 4 years using offer-time valuation). I was 26 at the time.

For added context, I did not attend an elite school. I did not complete my undergraduate degree. I'm smart, but not extraordinarily so (800/710 math/verbal SAT). I interview well. I have a "disruptive" skill (cloud expertise).

> I interview well

Any tips or techniques outside of the standard behavioral based interviewing techniques (like STAR)?

Also, I suspect you may be underselling yourself here, you very well may have excellent communication skills (like presenting complex ideas clearly to senior management) or even just social acumen.

Brushing up on your standard CS algorithms and concurrency school problems, a favorite of SV interviews. And being skilled in whatever area you are being interviewed for.

Isn't a perfect math score very hard to get, something like the upper 1%ile? Do you know your IQ? I'm scandinavian and could do a traditional finance/consulting/management/accounting thing in my home country but the software industry seems far more fascinating. I'm afraid my 120 to 125 iq means I'm too stupid to do well in SV though.

No, you are not. The more damning trait would be believing you are not qualified because of a test administered when you were 8 years old (or worse, believing the results of any IQ test administered after that).

There are certainly brilliant folks around in the valley, who can grasp concepts faster and more deeply than seems human, but they are a significant minority.

The prime requisites for success as an employee in the valley are still:

1) Good judgement (which tends to come from accurate self-reflection and critique)

2) Love of learning (so it takes you a couple hours or even days to grok redis's failure modes instead of 20 minutes, who cares -- the question is are you going to learn it (and every other useful thing that comes along, for years))

3) Basic sociability (the valley is a small world, everyone knows each other, if you are a jerk life will get more difficult).

For a much more eloquent description of how to thrive as a programmery type in the valley, consider http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/YouAndYourResearch.html but translate research into "generally useful skills for building stuff."

"You and Your Generally Useful Skills for Building Stuff." :-)

I had that 155+ IQ and 800 SAT-M score, and honestly, the best thing it's done for me is take away my excuse for failing.

Once you get to a high enough intelligence that you can understand what the people around you are telling you and follow their train of thought, intelligence really doesn't matter all that much. Other characteristics like perseverance, social & communication skills, and emotional stability become dominant. There's nothing "magical" about getting an 800 SAT-M (or working at Google, for that matter), it's just that the effect of having a large body of knowledge that we spent thousands of hours acquiring to draw upon.

IQ is a good test, but at 120-125 you are still far smarter than most people on earth.

Just look at the normal distribution of IQ scores: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:IQ_curve.svg

Sure, a lot of people are in the 120+ range on Hacker News, at top management consulting companies etc. but if you are 110+ IQ you are probably smart enough to do almost any job on the planet.

I'm not a programmer, but I imagine that like business, there are plenty of terrible programmers with 140 IQs that believe they are entitled to not working hard or being good with people.

They will always make less and even their high IQ will not allow them to figure it out.

all your iq score really measures is how well you do in iq tests. if you have an interest in and a basic aptitude for programming, you should be fine.

(also, a perfect math score in the sat isn't impossibly hard - the level of mathematics is probably lower than your last school exam. it just takes a lot of practice to do that many questions fast and accurately.)

800 SAT is upper 1%ile among "potentially college bound high school seniors", AKA the sort of people who go on to earn a CS/Math/Science/Engineering degree and then join a prominent tech company.

If you haven't seen the SAT math, it is a slightly creative twist on 10th grade math (Algebra and Geometry). Scoring an 800 means you could get an A grade in high school math, and are not so slow at solving the problems, and are careful enough to avoid sloppy mistakes in your work.

"120" IQ is supposedly 2 standard-deviations above the "(human?) population mean", which is ~98%ile of the population, which is well within the margin of error of these sorts of measurements.

I don't know if things were different when he took the SATs, but I know several people who got 800s in math last year. It's not that hard, especially if you're reasonably intelligent and study a bit. (I myself got a 770 and a 780 for two different tests without really studying for math, and I think those were both just one question wrong).

what kind of work do you do - what programming languages you can write in and what type of tasks you do

Do you know if the 10% raise is automatically applied to the base salary of new hires as well?

I'm looking for a new job, and strangely, Google's base is about 10% lower than the base from my other offers (Apple, Facebook, Zynga, LinkedIn), rather than 10% higher.

Also, to add my own datapoint: I'm four years out from undergrad at an elite school, and Google offered me $120k base and 500 stock units over four years. My recruiter said that given the way annual bonuses work (15% bonus if you perform average, all the way up to 15% * 3.5 = 52.5% if you're extraordinary), I should haven't have much trouble getting about a 30%-35% bonus. So my expected annual salary from base, stock, and bonuses is about $120k + 125 stock units * $600 (which is what Google is currently trading at) + 30% * $120k = $231,000.

If I'd joined Google right out of school, I expect this would be even higher, since I would have received the 10% raise last year (and also, I've made a series of poor career decisions to join no-name startups that I think have kept my current base salary lower than normal and made me a little less desirable). Pure speculation, though.

Tell your Google recruiter about your competing offers, especially if you're considering choosing another job on this basis.

Ah, I did, and he slightly more than tripled my RSUs (from 150 to 500), but left my base the same. Which is also weird since that base is lower than my current one.

That's about $50K/yr, assuming a 4-year vest and today's price range. Nice job.

I assume they give out RSU more than cash because it's a better-aligned incentive (both in motivations and risk profile), and it makes your x% raise cheaper next year.

The 10% is factored into new offers.

Yes, it is. They just increased their pay scales by 10% across the board forever.

I'm at another large valley company, at a similar point in my career, and I have almost the same base / equity compensation. Added up I hit around 220k.

I've had offers from other shops in the same just-over-200k ballpark, and I know peers at google pulling in around the same. I don't doubt 250k for a second.

I'm web developer, 25 years old, I'm raising 21000 euro/year. What I'm doing wrong? :/

> What I'm doing wrong?

You're not applying to visa-friendly startups in Silicon Valley right now. :)

Welcome to the club, I'm also from Europe and make few percents more and I'm 31.

Looks like Poland/Czech?

Working in Europe?

>>So my total annual compensation this year will be $217k. If I were bragging to an ex-employer, I'd probably round up to "a quarter million" too. :)

That last part about "a quarter million" made me crack up. Awesome stuff!

Now, down votes, come to me.

Let me add some perspective to this as both an engineer and a Google employee.

The first thing I'll say is this: people lie about their incomes. They even do this anonymously (Glassdoor, etc). Not that I'm calling (or even suggesting) this a lie but be very careful believing anyone's salary claims unless they show you an original offer letter, employment contract or a W-2.

I'm not even sure if they're simply bad at math, lying to themselves or lying to others. Whatever the case, they lie.

With respect to Glassdoor and similar sites, another problem is different people have different ideas of what "salary" means. Does it include stock? Actual bonuses? Expected bonuses?

Likewise it's a skewed sample. I kinda have my doubts that many principal/distinguished engineers have the inclination to accurately report their incomes on such sites.

That being said, my experience in the outside world is that your salary quickly tops out as a senior engineer, architect, whatever. The only way to increase it is to move into management.

While you can move into management at Google, you can go very far (in terms of career and compensation) being simply an engineer if you're good at what you do, get things done and have a lot of impact.

This compensation can take many forms (vested stock, base salary, annual and periodic bonuses, etc).

Also, Google realizes that after you've been here awhile you become increasingly valuable. This is true for an engineer no matter where you work. The cost to a company of replacing someone who has worked there for years is huge (both in recruitment costs and getting them up to speed). Google is simply the only company I personally have worked for that seems to both recognize this and build it into the compensation system.

This really is a great place to work. That alone attracts and retains an awful lot of people. You can also get to work on some very large problems and systems (another draw card). The fact that Google does (or can) pay you very well is just icing on the cake.

Do you or anyone else know how much/little Google outsources their development work? I was having a discussion with a fellow engineer about the outsourcing model and innovation.

Outsourcing? Not even a little bit. Not only that but AFAIK contract engineers are incredibly rare and nonexistent in many product areas.

This isn't to say that Google doesn't have partnerships with external vendors. We do. But engineering in general is a core competency, something far too valuable and of strategic importance to outsource.

I can confirm this: you can basically count the number of contract engineers in the US on your fingers and toes.

Are we counting Google Account Managers hiring third-party contractors to do ad-hoc work for major clients?


There are exceptions. But for software engineers who contribute to Google's (non-open source) code base, Google pretty much got out of using contractors around 2008 or so. Some contractors became employees.


They outsource by buying startups.

Wouldn't that be more like "insourcing"?

Sure after they've bought them, but buying them, no.

Speaking as a Google engineer: There are three components to compensation here. Base salary, annual cash bonus, and stock grants. When he says he "takes home" $250k, he probably means the sum of all three. When the author says he thought the average Google salary was $130k, he might be referring just to the base.

Most of the comments in this thread are similarly ambiguous. If you post a comment, please be clear about whether you're talking about base or total compensation!

Yeah, 250K total comp (salary + bonuses + stock) is very believable. It's likely upper end of the scale for a 30 year-old, but completely believable.

Without wanting to sound stupid, when you talk about salaries do you always mention the amount before or after tax? Here in Europe it's almost always after tax.

In the US some taxes are paid by the employee and some by the employer. The salary that's quoted is before employee taxes but after employer taxes.

In the UK, it has always been before tax with me.

In Portugal, it depends: if you are on a contract then it's after tax, if you are not on a contract (think consultant) it's before tax. This happens because most people have no idea that the other side receives only the net wage and vice-versa.

I'm from Belgium, and I've never heard people talk about their salary after tax.

edit: to answer your question, the 250k is before tax.

I'm Belgian too. So if your Brut salary is 3k and your Net 1.5K you say during discussions that you make 3K? Everyone I know does the opposite.

EDIT: Actually I see what you mean. In the above scenario I would never tell a friend I make 3K but during salary discussions and in writing I guess you would quote the Brut.

In the states all salary numbers are before tax unless stated otherwise.

Really? In Finland we always discuss salaries as in before personal tax. This amount is a bit less than the company pays though, because they pay a part as social security compensations etc.

In Ireland, salary refers to before tax.

in austria it is always before. heck, i know a lot of people who don't even know how much they make after taxes

Why does that happen? If you check your balance you can clearly see your net wage, right?

It can differ by principality / state. Personally, I live in New Jersey and work in New York City, so I have to pay income taxes to TWO states, whereas my best friend in Florida doesn't pay any income tax at all. It's subjective and skews numbers, also you can't negotiate after-tax pay with your employer.

yes and no. Some just don't check their balance as they don't care about 100 or 150 euros a month.

what makes it a bit more complicated too (not complete, i am sure there are other reasons as well): we get paid at least 14 times a year, where the non-monthly payouts have a completely different taxing. my father working for a bank gets paid 16 times a year plus a bonus once or twice a year.

also, once you have paid a certain amount for your social security, you don't pay it at all anymore, skewing your net wage.

it might be that the employer miscalculated your net wage and you might have to pay the IRS at the end of the year (or if you are lucky, you get money back)

I see, thanks, I wasn't thinking about all those complex cases. :)

In Poland it's always after tax. Moreover we almost never mention yearly pay, always a monthly one.

Spain and Luxembourg also before taxes

Not to mention that they may get a retention bonus if they were part of a startup that was recently acquired. This could easily add up to $250k.

This is very dubious - the Glassdoor stats at http://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Google-Salaries-E9079.htm have 1,500 entries for Software Engineers that max out at $190k and average $100k.

The position above, Senior Engineer, averages $130k.

There doesn't seem to be an incentive for 1,500 people to understate their earnings by 50%+ on an anonymous poll, especially a poll of engineers at one of those most engineering-centric companies in the world, where corrupting a dataset would likely feel akin to high treason.

Not inclined to trust second-hand information from one individual - sounds like they're either working at a much higher level than regular programmer, inflating their salary by including perks/stock/etc to make it seem higher, an extreme outlier, or just lying (people who tell their friends how much they earn in casual conversations also sound like the kind of people who would inflate that number).

I believe this post. I took a peek at the MSFT numbers on glassdoor, and either they are salary-only or total compensation packages have been reduced significantly since I was a manager ~6 years ago. I remember the general salary ranges for each of the levels (those titles correspond to numeric level ranges which had fixed salary, bonus, and stock ranges), and the glassdor numbers are reflective of salary data, not stock.

Stock would be hard anyway because they vest over N years so how much you vest in a given year depends on a) your promotion velocity b) whether you got any gold stars/special bonus grants and c) how you ranked within your peer group.

That is about right. Below is salary data reported by the company to Department of Labor for labor purposes http://www.salarylist.com/company/Google-Salary.htm

Why do you think perks and stock are not part of compensation?

They are, but consider that they are very volatile. When I worked at Yahoo, my stock added an equivalent of about $50k/year to my total compensation for the period I worked there. But I was lucky - I joined at a low and left and cashed out all my options with Yahoo trading at one of its highest amounts of the last 7-8 years.

At the same time I had people working for me who had 10 times as many options, but had been in the company for ages and received the vast majority of those options before the crash in 2000. As of this year, the couple of those people who are still at Yahoo will have options worth maybe $30k-50k total from 10+ years of employment that are over water, and their older options will start expiring soon.

Of course Google people receiving new Google options now are currently in a better position, but estimating the value of options grants over time is tricky.

I'm not sure Google gives out options...I think they generally give RSUs.

The issue is the same in principle - just less extreme in that barring a total meltdown you have an easier time assessing the lower end value of the package. But to take the Yahoo example: When I joined, a share was worth about 1/10th of the strike price of the bulk of the options of several people that worked for me. 1/10th would've been a lot better than getting nothing, but still.

Total compensation = salary + bonus + perks + whatever else they give you.

You have to be careful when reporting them as part of compensation because they're difficult to value. Stock is easier in an already-public company like Google, although it is still subject to some uncertainty due to vesting schedule. The monetary value of being able to come into work at 11 is going to differ greatly among employees.

A few months ago I heard a first-hand account from within Google of a developer who was paid a $1M annual bonus, a team that divided a cash and stock bonus between them that was worth $1m+ to each team member, a PM who was paid $40M (and another who got ~$20M IIRC) not to go to Facebook and many other similar stories from Google that make $250k a year sound rather normal.

The theme is that Google has upped compensation in the past 12-18 months in order to retain top talent, with a lot of cash bonuses and base salary increases since competing against Facebook stock options with Google stock options isn't a fair fight any more.

Edit: apparently they also don't like developers talking to each other about this (although team bonuses are highlighted within the company), since they don't want developers interviewing with Facebook or another co. just for the purpose of getting some cash out of Google.

I have no clue why people are obsessing over 250K. If you care about money as a programmer, you are better off working at a hedge fund.

My programmer friends at hedge funds (all between 22 and 26) are averaging 500K salary with 100K bonuses (note: as a programmer, base is much higher but bonus is lower). So if google isn't paying those types of numbers to people, then money cannot be the only factor at play.

This is certainly true (I've worked both sides of the fence in terms of types of firm).

To add a generalization, my rule of thumb is the variable part of compensation varies most for the domain experts. So in technology for the sake of technology style companies like Google, total comp shoots up based on stock/bonuses. In reality, Google is an advertising company so presumably the ad sales folks bringing in whales aren't hurting either. Naturally numbers get skewed by overpaying to keep certain people (i.e. overshoot on retention packages), and given large scale, there are always some overpaid due to lucky timing/placing. Such is life! In hedge funds, the traders get the big bonuses, but the programmers get a solid salary so lower bonuses don't hurt quite so much. Luck also plays a part for those folks var comp. For those in hft, I'm aware of a few places where given the right mix of skills, someone who likes to think of themselves as a programmer can get the trader style bonuses.

i think what's happening here is that no one really envies hedge fund programmers. sure, they make a lot of money, but the job itself is perceived as unpleasant, unfulfilling, boring, stressful, or some combination of those. google, on the other hand, is a standard[1] software job - the type that most people in the hacker news demographic are probably doing, so it is seen as directly comparable.

[1] i don't mean that in a dismissive sense - i work there and it's the best job i've ever had, but the work is not qualitatively different from what you'd do in other software-focused companies. hedge funds are not software-focused.

A /lot/ depends on the fund. I know some that are extremely tech focused as it makes the difference between profitable and not.

true, but their product is not software, nor do the dev team develop anything outward-facing. i'm not saying that some of the funds aren't great places for a techie to work (anecdotally, if jane street capital had an office in san francisco i'd have been tempted to apply there), it's just that there is no perception of them as enjoyable places for a dev to work. pushing money around simply doesn't excite me, and i daresay a lot of other devs (especially those who work in product companies) would feel the same way.

I agree there isn't a perception of them being an enjoyable place to work; I think that is more due to the fact that one isn't really encouraged to talk about it, and the most successful actively avoid the limelight! Now there are plenty of sweatshops out there, but there are also plenty of tech companies I wouldn't touch with a barge pool.

Many people, even at Google, will be writing coding that isn't The Product. Having spoken to people at such firms, and their competitors, there are plenty of dev jobs there that sound boring as all hell, alongside the fun ones.

Pushing money around does sound boring, just like "pushing web pages around" or "pushing 140 char messages around". yawn ;-) In the last 12 months I've worked on custom languages/compilers, custom databases, kernel hacking, oddball processors, little visualization hacks, and have a giant stack of as yet unreleased hardware piled up to experiment with. I get to program against millions of events per second with minimal latency, giant result data sets for batch work, and points on the spectrum in between. The data itself is finance related and it's fun to munge and experiment with trading algorithms on it.

So far I have, over time, swung between product companies and trading companies. Fun to be had on both sides, among many other places. Actually, one of the more surprising things I've learned over time is how little most programmers realize about the variety of fun things out there. And how conservative and fad following most programmers are, funnily enough.

Besides working conditions, there's also the question of whether your work (and the company you work for) makes the world a better place.

I'm not naive about that - large companies have their own agendas. But someone working at a silicon valley firm still has a better chance of doing something meaningful than someone working at a hedge fund where the answer is pretty much "no" by the nature of the business.

Hmm, I think it depends on what "meaningful" means. I don't mean to break out the Clintonisms but it depends on what you are looking for. I've worked in hardware product firms, software product firms, and trading firms.

Is it "meaningful" to spend my days figuring out ways to get more people to click on more adverts? Not really. Build a social network for dogs' left testicles? Not really. Squeeze another dollar out of the equity markets? Not really. Build a faster database? Build a web analytics tool so people can squeeze out a few more conversions? Take a few cycles out of a market data feed handler to lower latency for a trading algorithm? No, no, and nope.

Are there good side effects from the above? Sure, we can come up with examples. For finance, you can take a look at the tightening of spreads (e.g. hft tends to make spreads go to their minimum making trades cheaper for everyone). Or adding liquidity in regular conditions so when someone small like a retail user comes along to sell some stock they get a good price quickly (not always of course, I mean really, you expect smart teams to take obviously dumb trades in an illiquid market?). Or more rapid price discovery (i.e. if something is mispriced it tends to get arb'ed away pretty rapidly, so that is faster info dissemination).

Can it be fun? Sure. Is it more good for the world than bad? Yup, I think so. Is it /meaningful/? Is it bollocks.

None of the above is meaningful compared to other things in my life. Important things like my family and trying to leave the world a better place than I found it (e.g. I give to charity -- probably more than most will ever earn).

That, and I'm with Vonnegut. "We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different.".

That does sound like fun. Can you address how meaningful the work feels to you too? (I don't mean the question to be provocative.)

See my answer just above.

tl;dr no more or less than other silicon valley jobs I've had, but then again, I don't expect it to compare to the important stuff in life.

fair point, i've never really worked in a trading company, so i have very little room to talk. and you do make your job sound like a lot of fun :)

What kind of backgrounds do they have? CS or STEM degrees at ivy league or similar schools? Does people with liberal arts degrees and a finance MBA get those kinds of jobs? (Assuming they can program.)

CS/STEM. Need not be Ivy League but it certainly doesn't hurt-- though I know a team or two in the top tier that almost have a preference for non-ivy league :-)

To be a quantdev or quant, an MFE is far more useful than an MBA.

If you have a finance MBA and want to make money in finance, you'd be insane to try programming.

the idea was that you had to take a 5x pay cut to do interesting work in a good environment with smart people. it's interesting that it has reduced to a 2x paycut.

Many hedge funds have 2 of those 3 and sometimes 3 of those 3. It's a myth that every finance job is as bad as I-banking for Goldman.

It seems like we're missing some important information. I'd be interested to know what he did before going to Google - i.e. he didn't go there straight from university. So he worked for Jacques, then left and some unspecified stuff happened in the middle, and now he's at Google. What did he do in that period that made him so valuable?

Maybe I can shed light on why some of us are "shocked" about this number, while others seem to think it's no big deal.

I work for Cisco, which is certainly not considered a Google or Amazon, these days, but still a fairly respectable place. I'm a software engineering doing embedded work for the last three years out of my BS in CS. I got hired on at $73k with 300 options (now underwater).

I have had consistently good reviews, though only given one promotion and one raise - with a whopping $79.5k in salary afterwards. A bonus is typically 6%, though this year I've got the highest rating possible, so I had a 12% bonus. I've been given RSUs once, at a value of about $10k, though the stock price dropped and they are sitting at around $5000 now.

So, my yearly compensation is about $90k or so, though they've jacked up our medical costs, taken away free drinks, raise prices in our cafeteria, taken away the home broadband reimbursment, etc etc since I've been here.

So, Anyone need an embedded engineer with a network security focus?

Polish up that resume and start the search (the easiest way IMO is via contracting agencies, since they only make money when you do). Everyday you spend working below your market rate is a day you leave cash just laying on the table. You only have so many years you're going to be able to earn, I wouldn't waste them.

I'm in a similar situation (except with an even bigger tech company) but I work in a geographic area with no other tech employers. I do believe this cuts down on the number of people leaving for greener pastures and helps keep salaries down.

This smells funny to me. From everything I saw when I worked at Google, Glassdoor had the salary range right. For all the guy's self-deprecation, if he was really making $250k, even after bonus and stock, he must have been promoted multiple times, or hired at a fairly high level.

Haven't there been several stories in the last ~year about outrageous-sounding salary wars between the likes of Google and Facebook?

The average for "good" developers at Google might have shot up recently.

Exactly. I've talked to a couple of internal recruiters at Google, and they assured me that if interested, my demand for a $300K total salary package would be no problem for a senior engineer. They didn't even hesitate or ask to get back to me. They were clearly authorized to match that level on the spot.

I too recently lost a co-founder to a Valley company of similar size. Considering that he is very green, not exactly the best in our startup and that we are based somewhere with rather low pay for engineers in general, the offer he received was very hard to believe for everyone. It's hard to convince people to stay when those work in Valley could be as interesting without the stress and come with a big fat cheque.

I recently interviewed with several companies, and my experience shows that including bonuses, this isn't an unrealistic amount to expect. I had only one offer that ended up under $200K and that's only because the company didn't have a bonus program at the time. Many of the offers were much higher.

It was a really had choice to turn them down to start my own company, but I figure that being my own boss had some value, and being able to create something that was completely my own vision was more enticing. However, at the same time it gave me some confidence that if my startup didn't go according to plan, I did have a decent fallback.

$ 250,000 a year must include stocks, bonus, 401k and healthcare. As is, it doesn't match the insider information I have about Google's salaries.

Let's be realistic a minute, $ 250k/year is a lot of money.

250K is a lot of money depending on where you live.

You can't take simple things for granted in the Bay Area. Want to raise a family of four and actually have three or four bedrooms, you're looking at a million+ dollar house.

250K is what you should be shooting for if you have goals such as these.

Probably not health care. The value of that is hard to deduce. Possibly not 401k match. Most people don't factor that into their totals. Traditionally, compensation package for an engineer means salary, bonus, stock.

As mentioned by another poster:

>The revenue per employee at GOOG is $1.2M in a very high margin business.

$250k/year is not a lot compared to that.

Google's one of the few big companies that's smart enough to let engineers' careers progress without forcing them over to a management track.


During a boom time, wages rise. Wages are "sticky", meaning they lag behind the current state of the economy. Wages for programmers have really gone out the roof in the last few years due to lack of US computer science graduates, stingy visa provisions, etc.

In a few months, the funding wave will start to level off and dip, but wages will still be as high as ever. That's the crunch. Winter is coming.

EDIT: Think about it this way: in 2009, a 1M seed got you 10 engineers for a year. Now it gets you 6, maybe 7. Ouch.

Economics again though!

In 2009 servers were more expensive, and programmers handling your cloud were both less experienced AND had inferior tools. There is a small funding glut, but 7 vs 10 isn't a fair compensation. It's more like 7 people that work 20% more effectively, so 8.4 vs 10.

That is true, but we're talking about total compensation. Base salary is sticky, but stock options and bonus aren't.

I'm not sure why people find this so unbelievable.

The revenue per employee at GOOG is $1.2M in a very high margin business. That means some of their best developers, the guys whose products generate all the revenue, take home only 20% of the pie. In finance, this would be laughable.

Corporate America baffles me sometimes.

Which areas of finance? From what I understand from some finance people is that they don't take away as much either.

There's also an oversupply of labour in the city though.

I've been meaning to ask some of my founder friends about this.

I've casually heard that Google and Facebook have driven the starting salary for Bay Area developers up above $150k/yr for college kids with no experience.

I'm a talented 25 year-old web developer who jumped from contracting to full time a year ago. I received a $110k/yr (not eligible for bonus) offer. The people I asked at the time said it was a competitive salary and not worth negotiating.

Now I'm wondering if it's time to move on. I see boxes in on job applications for "expected annual salary" and I don't know what to put. I know the money you save when you're young is what allows you to retire/start a company/etc., and want to make sure I'm being paid competitively. At the same time, I don't want to misread the market and come across as out-of-touch on one of these apps.

Guys, what's the going rate for a talented front-end web developer in the Bay Area about 4 years out of school?

I see boxes in on job applications for "expected annual salary" and I don't know what to put.

"Negotiable", "Market rate", etc. That box is asking you to compromise your negotiating position. There is no legal or moral stricture that says you have to oblige them.

The people I asked at the time said it was a competitive salary and not worth negotiating.

This makes me angry. Of course it is worth negotiating. What would have happened if you had said "That is an interesting number. How would you feel about $115k?" Answer: in all probability, you'd be a couple thousand dollars richer now for three minutes of work, the worst possible outcome would have been accepting the offer at $110k, and nobody at your company would care either way because the difference is bat guano to them.

>the worst possible outcome would have been accepting the offer at $110k, and nobody at your company would care either way because the difference is bat guano to them.

That's a pretty unimaginative worst possible offer. The company could pay you 115k, resent it, and use it as justification to give you various shit-work. I've seen that happen to a friend and it actually hurt his mid term learning and career growth.

It's also fairly common for a company to simply choose to fill the position with someone who's less troublesome.

If you have an exceptional value to offer a company then, you have significant room for negotiation. If your skill is a common commodity, you likely won't.

Any company that treats you like shit because you negotiated a 5k bump over their first comp offer is a company you are better off not working for. And, please, read that sentence again.

The worst case scenario is that you accept their first offer and don't find out until you've spent a year and a half of your life working there that the company isn't worth working for. That is the worst case.

There's a difference between giving someone extra work, likely "shit work" and treating someone like shit. More than one employee at excellent companies has been assigned more work due to having a higher salary than colleagues at the same grade. This is an easy, even somewhat logical rationalization for a manager to make.

The "worst case" you put forward is still far from convincing. In work, black swans are generally positive. If a typical job has a value of x, most will be between .8x and 1.2x, but a few will be 10x or even 100x. Outside the military, where death is on the line, -100x jobs are very, very rare compared to +100x jobs.

Wasting a year and a half in a ho-hum environment is not as big a price as missing a once in a lifetime opportunity due to over negotiation. In the opposite vein, the amazing opportunities often come at a reduced salary. How much less would Warren Buffet be worth today if he'd tried to negotiate a higher salary with Benjamin Graham instead of doing the exact opposite?

I don't know how much more simply I could have said it, but I'll take a shot:

If your employer treats you more poorly because you negotiate a better comp package, you shouldn't be working for them; they are a bad employer.

If negotiation costs you a "once in a lifetime" opportunity, the opportunity is "once in a lifetime" in the "boiler room pump and dump" sense, or the "late night infomercial" sense. A year of your life, however, is priceless.

>I don't know how much more simply I could have said it, but I'll take a shot:

Your previous comment was only four sentences, one of which was an exhortation to read the previous sentence twice! I'm sure your implication wasn't intentional, but I find the suggestion that you aren't speaking simply enough for me to understand your reasoning offensive.

It's not that your explanation was too complex. I just don't agree with it.

It's rational to demand more from someone who you pay more. If one employee of a certain job-title asks more money than his/her colleagues who have equivalent skills, then expecting that person to handle more work or less desirable work that comes to the team is rational. It may not be optimal in every case, but it certainly doesn't make the manager's entire company "a bad employer".

There are many good opportunities in life that can come from not being maximally greedy. Some are once in a life time, some are more commonplace. One need only read biographies to find examples.

No, it's not rational to demand more from someone who you pay more. Negotiations are two-sided.

If, for your $5,000 pay bump†, the company decides they'd like you to be closing 35% more bugs than every other employer in your pay band, they can demand that in the negotiation. You can then make a decision about whether or not the bump is worth the concession. If it isn't, you can decline the job, or you can negotiate the concession, or you can decide to accept the previous offer.

It is (word chosen carefully:) alarming how bad engineers are at negotiation. Beliefs like yours (aggressive negotiation entitles an employer to maltreat employees later on down the line) are alarmingly common. They're simply not true.

The detail-shackled brains of nerds†† seem unable to get past something here: no matter what employers say the feel about negotiations, surely they can register the tenor of the negotiation in the back of their heads, and then ratchet their expectations appropriately. Surely, nerd engineers think, that must occasionally happen. Answer: yes, it does happen. AT BAD EMPLOYERS. Good employers understand how salary negotiations work and allow for it. The best employers even account for how bad engineers are at negotiations and go out of their way to help educate candidates (Fog Creek, for instance, once said they often "top up" the best offers some candidates receive --- that should function as a big red flashing light to those people that they didn't negotiate well enough).

I am not telling you that employers won't do irrational things if you negotiate hard with them. I'm telling you that if they do, you should run run run away fast, because that's the canary in the coalmine. Those employers are also going to dilute the shit out of you, call you in to work on weekdays, swap your tolerable manager out with some douchebag they hire from a BigCo to increase productivity, lock you into a regimented COLA-based incentive comp plan, slash your health care benefits 8 months down the road, and never ever improve the hardware you're issued.

Don't believe me? Think of it this way: the best engineers are disproportionately likely to negotiate aggressively. Employers that get vindictive about negotiation don't get to hire those people. Why are you interested in working at an employer that shuns the best talent?

(Hiring manager, one of many at my company, speaking here.)

There. You got a prolix response from me. Happy? :)

† (about which Patrick is right: its a rounding error, and it's the kind of rounding error that --- unlike, say, a better- but- out- of- spec laptop, which might incur a huge companywide "new laptops for everyone" shitstorm --- is particularly easy to concede to a new hire.)

†† (see my about:)

I'm more familiar with how BigCorp engineering works than startups, but I haven't heard of a place that doesn't use pay in performance reviews in some way or another, maybe unofficially, the idea being that what constitutes "good performance" for someone making $200k has to be a higher bar than for someone making $100k, or else why would you not just hire more of the $100k people? They have to be doing more or better work to justify their higher cost, which should then get factored into the review. Not necessarily closing 30% more bugs or whatever; it could just be that they're the go-to person for the hardest problems, or a repository of institutional knowledge (for long-term employees), but it has to be something. I would guess $5k doesn't register on that scale to get you kicked into a higher bar for reviews, though; $115k and $120k look like roughly the same kind of compensation tier.

Current pay is used in salary reviews everywhere. But that's obviously a terrible, terrible reason not to negotiate today. How can you possibly be worse off in a salary raise negotiation than by having the money you deserved at entry held by the employer as a concession at your employment review?

The go-to person for the hardest problems (who you generally want to be) is usually not chosen by the person who controls you comp, but in either case it's reflective of your title, not your salary, right?

Thank you for your comments in this whole thread, tptacek.

Um go me!

Some errors in my previous comments:

I meant "call you in on weekends", not "weekdays", and I meant "at your performance review", not "at your employment review".

I do appreciate the more detailed comment. I had a misconception about Fog Creek. I'd thought they had totally standardized pay grades!

I really can't speak for engineers, since my experience as an employer wasn't at a tech company. I've been an owner of a painting business and a school. In my experience, I the correlation with the aggressive negotiating and job dedication skewed the other way from yours. In a pinch, particularly at the school, a forceful negotiator could extract higher pay (aka a raise) from me, but afterwards I had very little compunctions with pushing right back or firing if necessary. Less you think I was a terrible employer, I did pay employees between 30% and 80% over the market norms. It's just that employee loyalty is particularly important in that market (children's education), and creating an environment in which negotiation is the norm would have been creating a drain on both time and morale.

Now that I'm entering the tech industry, I suppose it could be an entirely different world. There is a limit to what I'll put up with, but for now my focus is on creating value, not extracting it. That said, I'll definitely keep your comments in the back of my mind next time I have a good opportunity to discuss pay.

missing a once in a lifetime opportunity due to over negotiation

I doubt it can be a once in a lifetime type of company if they would not hire you over a requested 4½% pay increase. If they play hardball over the requested raise, then you should accept the $110k offer.

>The company could pay you 115k, resent it, and use it as justification to give you various shit-work

So if that starts happening to you, you get out. And when the next place asks you how much you made at your last position you're $5k better off in the negotiations.

>It's also fairly common for a company to simply choose to fill the position with someone who's less troublesome.

Do you really want to win a race to the bottom? It seems like you have a terrible attitude (fear-based) about negotiation. I wish people who thought like you do would stay out of my field. You're pushing rates down needlessly.

A lot of people seem to find this incredible (from my twitter feed), but I don't, really.

I know a couple of people running brick-and-mortar shops (think: selling furniture etc), or lawyers, or other professions that earn just as much too.

Someone -- and indeed, looking at the real estate ads -- a lot of someones -- have to be running up the demand for $1M++ houses throughout Silicon Valley.

At Google, Sr. SWE makes about $155K if female, about $180K if male. Base salary. Bonuses and refresher grants are also skewed accordingly.

These are 2011 numbers, personally researched.

From what I've seen, as an outsider with a lot of friends that work at and/or have interviewed at Google, they seem to have some serious issues with sexisim, issues that go beyond a pay gap. They are trying, but man, they are not doing so well, and they are losing out on talent because of it.

So check this out. I finally have a data point to use to prove this. I've been out of there about six months. One of my friends recently transitioned male-to-female. This is a unique opportunity to find out, right?

She is now being passed up by people visiting her team's cube to ask about things regarding the service. Their default response is to go ask the guys in the cube instead.

"Welcome to my world", I said.

I'd expect discrimination against transexuals to be much stronger than anything else, so I'm not sure that proves anything about how women in general are treated.

One of the things I notice is that the satisfaction levels of men and women I know working at google, even normalizing for skill level, is vastly different.

You don't sound particularly happy; why are you still there? my impression is that there are other places with cultures that are better at least in that regard.

My experience at work but not at Google, has been your standard sexism really accounts for most of discrimination, which I've put down to being seem as not a man. Yes you get get some extra problems being trans but way less than I expected pre transition

I left back in May. Now I'm in a spot where the culture is entirely my own creation: working for myself. If it works, then I win.

This must be partly a team-specific culture issue, because my observations are different. In my area of the company there are quite a few women engineers who are highly regarded, extremely influential, and well-compensated. The gender ratio is still poor like most places in the industry, but I haven't seen any evidence of women doing worse in career advancement.

I'm surprised that gender-based pay differences aren't addressed at Google?

They can't even buy the right numbers of T-Shirts (hint: unisex isn't. One word: breasts), so why would they get the big stuff right?

Seriously, ask any woman who's still left in SRE about the Mission Control jackets in 2008-9. There was an impressive post-mortem written about it earlier this year right before I left.

Another effect this will have on the start-up scene is that if you build your company in 'The Valley' that companies like Google will be competing with you for talent. You may have an upside from being in the SV eco-system in the first place, however you may find yourself paying a lot more for developers than if you were in a place where parties with pockets as deep as Google are rare.

Headquarters in Silicon Valley, development somewhere else might be a good strategy if you want to keep the burn rate under control.

Any thoughts on this? Can a small startup compete with the Googles and Apples in the Valley?

While it might be harder to get good employees cheaply, you would expect that finding financially independent co-founders would be easier.

If you have reasonable financial discipline, 5 years of $250,000 can easily build yourself a war chest of a few years living expenses: the perfect co-founder.

I'm not living in the Valley (far from it, mind you :-) but I think a small startup has more to be worried about other small startups than about Google/Apple.

> Any thoughts on this? Can a small startup compete with the Googles and Apples in the Valley?

They can and do!

Does anyone know if they have an active program to cut the bottom performers? If not, I suspect they have quite a collection of overpaid mediocre programmers.

I worked for many years at a company that paid significantly higher than average salaries. Even with a program to cut the bottom 10% per year, we had quite a few people who were mediocre at best.

It's easier for a busy manager to hold onto the people they have than to hire and train new ones. Paying high salaries is an easy way to do that if you have the cash.

A company so toxic as to have a 10% attrition commitment is going to be filled with employees trying to abuse the company as much as the company abuses them.

I remember (but can't seem to dig up) some research that those programs harm the productivity/morale of the top performers as well, who end up being unreasonably worried that they might end up in the bottom 10% somehow. Either they underestimate their own skills, or worry that a bad review process will undervalue them, so they end up spending a lot of time/stress worrying about reverse-engineering how the review works and optimizing for its metrics, rather than focusing on their real job.

That's what I was wondering. Two former employees from my group have ended up at the Goog. Both of them can talk the talk in an interview, but they're both below average as programmers. They're both still there, too. If Google is paying either of them $250k it's time to short the stock.

Being able to 'talk the talk' will not get you a job at Google. You have to be a very strong problem solver, a fast thinker, and lucky. All Googlers might not be rockstar programmers, but they are almost all unusually intelligent. There really are no average people there, apart perhaps those that came in through acquisitions (like myself).

So I've heard. And yet, I can guarantee you Google has hired at least two dim bulbs. Well, that can happen. After all, it can only be so efficient, and some people sound a lot more intelligent than they really are (which is why we hired them).

But it all makes me wonder how good Google's internal processes are, and how long it's willing to wait for people to become productive.

>And yet, I can guarantee you Google has hired at least two dim bulbs.

No you can't. I really hate this kind of attitude people have. A person is not a static thing that is always X. Maybe they didn't like your company. Maybe they were suffering from burn-out, or had some kind of personal crisis. It could very well be the case that they're absolute rock stars at Google even though they were worthless at your company.

It's not hard to distinguish a person with problems from a person who just doesn't have a knack for programming. These two will never be "absolute rock stars". And they weren't "worthless" at my company. Just... a bit below average.

So you feel confident in saying that nothing on earth could make these guys improve? I don't believe it. I believe some people just need that "aha" moment. Others don't get it simply because they don't want to understand it.

"Nothing on earth could make these guys improve"? No, I wouldn't say that. But I am confident in saying they will always be below average. I've been doing this for a few decades now, and the idea everyone has the potential to be a great programmer just isn't borne out by that experience.

>But I am confident in saying they will always be below average.

Of course there are and what I'm saying is that this isn't a static group. People will move in and out of it. I'm sure there is a very small percentage who stay at the bottom just as their is a very small percentage who stay at the top. But the bulk programmers are moving between these different groups through-out their careers.

>and the idea everyone has the potential to be a great programmer just isn't borne out by that experience.

What experience? You don't have any idea what's happened to the "no hopers" you've known in your career. I agree that some people seem like they're not going to get it, but who knows? Maybe they'll meet someone who flips a switch for them.

Heh. Relevant thing happened today: One of them called yesterday asking if we had a position open.

and ironically, my employer has hired at least one dim bulb from Google.

Tl;dr: someone's ex-employee is now working at Google, says he gets $250k salary and he's under 30.

Why is this even on HN, let alone #1?

I think it's on HN because such salaries will hunt talented or not even good engineers down and if this happens it could be a really hard time for startups. Let's be real for a second without engineers ideas are worthless and if all of those good ones are at big companies which gives a out a lot of cash what can you do as a startup? I don't it is bad as it sounds but it could be tough and it could kill a lot of startups in future if this attitude by big companies grows.

In the contrast: you don't have to start your company in the Valley to be good and maybe it can save you a lot of headaches and money to not do so.

But at the end the source of this problem is different: the Valley just needs more engineers to get things rolling.

It's absolutely correct that technical ideas are worthless without effective implementation. That said, I strongly suspect that the current crop of startups, as a consequence of being overcapitalized by the current bubble, are also over-staffing their engineering teams. You don't need a dozen developers to write a me-too photo sharing app.

I would go a little deeper and so that you just need those who are really thrilled about what they are going to create. They need to believe into what they doing. Those are the ones who make the difference.

I'm really curious about how far this game will go.

> Why is this even on HN, let alone #1?

Maybe it is because a large number of HN'ers are currently gainfully employed in the valley and that figures like these can come in extremely handy when interviewing with any company there especially if that company is google.

Datapoints like these are few and far between, sure people lie routinely about their salary but by now I think this thread has given more than enough corroboration to take the original statements by my friend as truthful.

It also nicely showcases that places like glassdoor.com show base salary only but that the total compensation can be much higher, which should factor into any decisions you make with respect to working for big company 'x' (or G in this case) versus running your own thing.

Because it's on jacquesm's blog. See http://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=jacquesm

Yup, its all about credibility & trust in the business world, and in the salary disclosure world. I believe the number because not only it it posted on HN but several people on this thread have confirmed that number. I trust this data more then I trust the 1000+ people posting on glassdoor.com

My impression is that there is an unusually large dynamic range in the salaries of programmers, especially when looking at the middle third of the organizational hierarchy in non-technical companies. This post informs the discussion about finding compensation levels that are adequate to retain people with around 10 years of experience, who are exactly the type of people HN-ers would want making implementation level decisions.

It's really dangerous to take one anecdote as data.

This is a good sign. Market salary for a 30 y/o corporate lawyer in NYC was north of $250k this year, and for a 30 y/o banker it was probably 1.5x-2x that. Yet Google makes more revenue per employee than any law firm or investment bank.

Professional salaries are a function of both objective factors (supply and demand), and subjective factors. Engineers have long had a disadvantage on the subjective side because it is difficult to quantize their contribution to the revenue of the company. Hopefully signs like this mean the perceptions are changing.

Like it or not, the Valley needs to pay more to attract top people. If you're a science/engineering major at a top school at the top of your class, how much would you be willing to give up to go into engineering? Prior to these recent salary spikes, you were looking at making $30k less to start versus finance, growing to $300k-$400k less by 30. It takes a lot of love and dedication to turn that down for what is at the end of the day just a another job.

This article does not give a good feel of how smart this engineer really is. The programmer says he feels stupid at google. Well, truth is often the smartest people are often more humble!

Being the stupidest person among your peers is probably the best things you can do for yourself if you want to learn. Who better to learn from than a bunch of brilliant people!

I do not compete with Google for talent. Well, certainly not talent that I want anyway. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of fine engineers at Google, but they aren't startup engineers.

Because I don't compete with Google for talent, I, nor anyone I know, pays engineers anywhere near $250k/year. Personally, I believe Google pays that much because they have to just to keep people from jumping ship.

If you're an academic, I believe Google may be the perfect place. Your meals are provided, there is always something intellectually interesting to research and the stress level is quite low. The fact is, nothing you do as an individual is going to make or break a $30B/year company and that has its pluses and minuses.

Luckily for me and other startup founders, there are a whole lot of talented engineers out there that don't find the slow, calm, quiet life particularly appealing.

This is a nice data point. But if you want to know the real deal, don't talk to fellow programmers. Talk to guys in finance who support the R&D function at tech firms. We know all and see all, everybody else except HR only sees data points. And are you seriously going to trust anybody from HR to interpret numbers?

My advice: Do this work because you love it. But negotiate aggressively. Programmers don't push as hard as other types of employees, there's no real cost to pushing on compensation, just don't be a jerk about it. Read books, blogs, etc on compensation negotiating tactics.

Bottom line: This compensation will not last and plans are already in the works to put an end to it. I will bet money that 2-3 years from now people will be wailing about the drop in programmer comp.

>This compensation will not last and plans are already in the works to put an end to it.

Like the collusion big companies were already doing and got busted for? It's going to get harder and harder to distort the markets with instant communication. If anything is going to come to an end it's probably going to be the absolutely ridiculous overpay that executives have been enjoying for the last 20 years+.

Please do elaborate. I can only guess that you're talking about massive investment in CS departments in universities (US and abroad). I suspect that the only way to decrease salaries is to increase the pool of skilled labor.

My personal prediction is that programmers will continue to be in demand over the next decade, as demographics (shrinking workforce) collide with a growing economy, and the businesses that are currently disruptive become mainstream. That's my weakly held hypothesis at least...

Care to elaborate about these plans?

Ignoring passion, does it make sense economically to join a startup in the Bay Area?

It doesn't seem uncommon for very young (25+) top engineers in the Bay Area to be making anywhere from $175k/year -- 250k/year in base salary + bonus + equity. Over 30 years, that's a more or less guaranteed $5m -- 7.5m before taxes from a single income. (Ignoring things like promotions and older engineers possibly needing to retrain.)

If you're not an early employee at the next Google, or a co-founder of a to-be-talent-acquired company, is it likely at all that you will beat those numbers at a string of startups? And if you do beat those numbers at a startup, is it because you're basically doing the same work you would be doing at Google anyway, likely ads or infrastructure?

"It doesn't seem uncommon for very young (25+) top engineers in the Bay Area to be making anywhere from $175k/year -- 250k/year in base salary + bonus + equity."

It's very uncommon. Less than 1%, for sure. The other 99% don't make headlines on HN.

I may have a biased sample, but six out of my seven engineer friends 25--35 have salary + bonus + equity in that range or higher. The only one not making that is at a very early stage startup. Even my friends making iPhone apps independently are in that range.

The rational thing to do is look at compensation to you. What are you going to get out of the startup? Comparable salary? Then it's probably ok. Experience that will allow you to make your own company (assuming you want to)? That's worth something.

I just wouldn't figure the stock grant/options for any value at all. The odds are strongly against them being worth anything.

I've heard this is part of the reason Google is expanding in non-SV offices. They can recruit someone right out of school, move him/her to Boulder or Portland or Austin, pay them less and not worry so much about Facebook stealing them.

takes home one quarter of a million dollars annually.

did you really mean "takes home" as in, $250k after taxes and social security?

This is completely believable, if you take into account the bonus and the RSUS.

Suppose the actual salary is $130k and 30% (at least that's what I heard bonus): that already brings his salary up to $169k.

Now add RSUs: over the last five years, the average price had been ~$500/share. He will only need an RSU grant of ~650 RSUs (which sounds reasonable, especially if it was granted in 2008/2009 when the stock price was lower) to be at $250k total compensation. It could also be the case that his base is higher, but he is only getting 15%-20% bonus, or didn't get as many RSUs: there are many ways in which $250k is a believable figure.

Given the near certainty of Facebook's IPOs, what other private companies are trading at on Sharespost and SecondMarket, as well as valuations/prices of recently/upcoming technology IPOs, his total compensation is actually somewhat below what he could earn elsewhere.

Of course nobody working at Google (or Facebook, or any other serious technology company for that matter) is it in purely for the money: otherwise they simply wouldn't have be at the level of proficiency needed to be hired at such companies. Taking a route optimized for maximizing _current_ income is not the same as taking a route optimized for learning. _That_ is the reason engineers will always leave Google and join startups (much like Engineers left DEC/Sun/Yahoo/etc... to join Google), provided the startups are solving interesting technical problems. Unfortunately, right now there's a dearth of that.

Corollary: you'll never lure a Google-caliber engineer into an actual startup (as opposed to a "certain pay off" pre-IPO company) with talk of compensation. When I hear companies complaining about how difficult is it to hire "because" of Google/Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn hiring all the engineers, they're almost always startups that are _not_ building interesting technology.

Another relevant point: there is no pressure for a software engineer to live a $250,000 lifestyle. An enterprise sales engineer I know once purchased a used BMW 540i. That seemed pointless to me: you can get better acceleration and handling in in a Japanese car, if really want a BMW you could get a new 3-series (getting better handling and acceleration than a 5-series, along with free maintenance for 50,000 miles). If you don't care for performance, you easily spend 1/3 as much money on a Honda Civic or Accord. However, his explanation made a lot of sense: he frequently needs to take clients out and an executive class car certainly makes an impression that can close a sale. I'd imagine the same goes for lawyers, management consultants and the like. A software engineer can easily live on $40,000 a year and save/invest the rest (for either a startup, early retirement or purchasing what he/she truly dreams of e.g., a Porsche 911 Turbo if they're really into performance cars).

The car thing is funny. In germany if you turn up in an expensive car at your client, they think you already make enough money and want to get the price down while in the US people think you are successfull and close a deal. Different cultures i guess :)

This is very true. I know some lawyers who, when they graduated law school and joined their firm, were told by the partners to get a better car as quickly as they can afford it, preferably a BMW. Even if you already have a nice vehicle already, they want a luxury model.

I feel I should speak up for the 5-series. Much more leg room in the back if you have family!

The numbers in this comments thread are staggering.

I know profitable companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon typically offer you more options and stock grants (in addition to cash bonuses) at annual reviews or whatever.

Do (not yet profitable) startups do the same? From what I've heard, most don't offer bonuses in the form of options and stock grants, but this seems kind of weird to me. I can understand not offering cash bonuses if they're not yet profitable, but it seems like if I do a great job, I should get extra stock (since otherwise, basically the amount of stock I ever get is purely determined from my status when I joined, which could be much different from my status four years later).

They have to. Some really talented engineers could re-imagine google search fairly easily. At this point, they have to pay them not to jump ship and become competitors. Google was both "the search engine" and "the best search engine". They are rapidly becoming a shopping site and "karma whores" have gamed their ranking algorithms. What you are looking for is no longer in the top 3 google results. I wouldn't be surprised if facebook or Apple took a run an their core business.

'at Google I feel like I'm stupid most of the time'

Is that let's-pay-them-enough-not-to-leave-for-Facebook-even-if-they-don't-do-much strategy still on?

I think it's likely an application of Dunning-Kruger.

"The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which ... the highly skilled underrate their own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority."


For someone with ~ 10 years of experience who has a very good track record, I could see a total compensation package of that order.

Joe Shlub is not going to get this. But I've worked with very good developers (e.g., guys at Apple who were instrumental in making whizzy stuff happen in the Mac's graphics stack) who are worth this, and more.

I wonder how many of these non-Google $200K+ salaries are for developing in non-Java languages/frameworks

nothing is stopping these guys from coding something up after work/on the weekend. Sure it'll take twice as long to release a project, but it's a small price to keep getting $20K a month salary

Quite the contrary, you don't know Google's non-compete work-contract provisions and, if any, how would they held up in court, so your statement is quite speculative.

Besides, the last thing you'd want to do is to work after-hours and find out your employer is owning the IP of your project (that's besides pager-duty and other after-hour things your employer might make mandatory anyway).

Regarding taking twice as long, just imagine projects like Dropbox or Twitter taking twice as long to get to the market - I doubt they would be competitive in the same manner.

I will preface this by saying I have never worked at google and have not seen their employment contract so perhaps they've found a way around it but from what I understand, California has well established laws in place protecting moonlighting. As long as you aren't coding up a search engine or something that directly competes with the company, you should be ok.

a search engine or something that directly competes with the company

That's a lot of things for Google these days, though. Not just search engines, but also: local search, video streaming, webmail, contextual advertising, maps, route planning, social networking, flight search, RSS aggregation, collaborative document editing, machine translation, VOIP, web browsers, mobile operating systems, app stores, programming languages/compilers/VMs, web frameworks, cloud-computing services, etc., etc.

Newspapers did a lot of things too. But it was Classified Ads that let them do it. Once they lost that revenue stream -- every other part of the business suffers.

See the comment below, it's not "directly", it's "demonstrably anticipated research or development", which in the case of Google means anything (even games, thanks to Google+).

Also think for a minute about what "you should be ok" means in this context. Sure, if you are developing something in your spare time that kinda-mostly-doesn't-compete with what your employer is doing, and they find out, maybe they can't legally go after you.

But that doesn't mean that they're obligated to keep sending you a paycheck, either. California is an at-will employment state, and violating your employment contract tends to remove the "will" to employ you.

Read "The lady from Zynga", a post by Spolsky for a very in depth answer of this very thing.


You are right on the money. Starting a startup while working for Google would be an absolute non-starter. Any code you write, they own (within certain restrictions that end up being so broad as not to matter.) And moonlighting in a business that competes with Google would be grounds for termination.

Google does not own anything you do on your own time. It's unfortunate that so many engineers believe and propagate this myth.

>the last thing you'd want to do is to work after-hours and find out your employer is owning the IP of your project

Has this ever happened? I would imagine that if some guy got his FU money taken away and given to some big company where it would be too small to even register on the income statements that said person wouldn't just lay there and take it.

After all, what you're describing is literally slavery (i.e. anything the slave makes belongs to his/her owner).

Are you familiar with California's laws in this area?

California's laws state that IP can only be contractually assigned to the employer if it is "related to the employer's business or [to the employer's] actual or demonstrably anticipated research or development." Google's position, when I was there, appeared to be that 1) any web app and 2) any app for any phone or tablet, was "related to ... actual or demonstrably anticipated R&D."

There's a lot Google could claim under California law, but that's almost certainly too broad an interpretation to make it through court unmodified.

Ignoring the PR problem, if they sued one of their engineers over, say, an iPhone racing game, a sane judge is going to make them work pretty damn hard to demonstrate that it has any relation to their business.

Leaving aside, of course, the wisdom of losing your $250k job over a game that nets you $753.32 over its lifetime.

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