It is sad that one of the most influential engineers or our time thinks that to be the best engineer he has to be on the bottom of the org chart. Says quite a bit about where we place value.
I suppose he means the business org chart because in the engineer/programmer/hardware guy/tinkerer hierarchy or org chart he is at the top. My first game was on the Apple II in 4th grade because of Steve Wozniak.
It's because he knows what org charts mean. Being at the bottom of the org chart doesn't mean being the least compensated or least respected, many engineers that are leaf nodes in an org chart are some of the highest paid and most respected.
Being at the bottom of the org chart means that your job is to write code, not to go to lots of meetings, make lots of slide decks, not to manage people with all of their weird quirks, not to persuade a bunch of executives, etc, etc, etc. What he's saying is that knowing what it means to be in other positions in the org chart, he'd happily be the guy whose job it is to write code all day.
Your ceiling in the lower ranks is often in the 100-200K range if you're lucky.
What's really sad that many companies have pay scales that all but force engineers to move up the org chart, and therefore out of engineering positions. But there's nothing sad about being happy to not have any direct reports.
Those guys can be paid as normal, or they can be paid according to execs at similar slots in the chart, depending on why they are there. The latter will often be accompanied with a suitably important sounding title to justify it, but still be effectively engineering positions with some advisory capacity tacked on, often with wide latitude in picking and choosing what projects they want to work on.
A reasonable number of organizations also explicitly have "grades" associated with people and have parallel non-managerial grades for engineering that goes fairly high. E.g. when I was at Yahoo a decade ago, there were engineering grades that went up equivalent to 3-4 managerial levels - near director or VP level if I remember correctly. They'd still be leaf nodes, but in the more critical teams.
This hasn't been my experience.