Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ex-Googler says she exposed company-wide pay inequality with spreadsheet (twitter.com)
699 points by cgtyoder on July 18, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 479 comments

The issue with pay was always a thorny one for me at Google. Not what they paid me, I thought that was fine, but that there was so much enforced secrecy around it.

The entire goal, as far as I could ascertain, of that secrecy was to keep people who had been mislead about how they were being paid, from being able to prove or disprove that Google was actually paying people what it said they were paying people.

And what had been presented as a really performance driven, no discrimination, reward metrics, was perceived to be yet another 'management beauty contest' where managers could swing bonus dollars toward people they liked (regardless of their performance) and away from people they didn't care about.

And to be clear, I was ok with that, it's how a lot of bonus systems are set up, but it bothered me that it was presented as something else. And while I didn't start a spreadsheet, I did get advised by HR that my questions were not helpful :-).

It was suggested that if it bothered me that much maybe I didn't really want to be working there, I thought about that and agreed with that conclusion.

> enforced secrecy

Not that the US government enforces labor law (for the workers creating the wealth any how), but it is illegal under the Fair Labor Standards Act for an employer to tell employees they can't share what their salary is.

Instead of retaliating directly, here is what they do:

1. Create an alternate project

2. Move trouble makers to the alternate project

3. Cancel the project

I've seen this happen on more than one occasion.

> I've seen this happen on more than one occasion.

OTOH, just because it happens doesn't necessarily mean someone meant it to.

That is, for most companies it's hard to imagine creating a project just to fire someone. But it's very, very easy to picture a natural progression like: "new project starts and needs internal transfers -> several managers see an opportunity to get rid of bad/disruptive team members -> project fails because half its team was bad/disruptive".

Never attribute to, etc.

>That is, for most companies it's hard to imagine creating a project just to fire someone.

I beg your pardon, but I think that what you've expressed is a very naive viewpoint. Try a thought experiment. Imagine that you must reduce payroll. How do you do it without a layoff? Or, let me describe just one progression of events that I've seen play out a few times. BigCo acquires LittleCo after LittleCo starts killing BigCo with the new fancy LittleCo process/machine. The buyout terms required all LittleCo employees to be hired by BigCo. BigCo doesn't really care about these new folks, but BigCo promised, so BigCo tries to work them into the fold, and creates group "B" for them. BigCo also has its own internal group "A" of people who were doing the same thing as the folks from LittleCo, but who weren't killing it. BigCo starts shuffling people from "A" to "B" and "B" to "A" or vice-versa, whichever is more convenient; until they have the smart people and cool kids in one group, and the rest of the people in the other. Now, what do you propose will happen to now non-performing group filled with people most of whom may not be fired or laid-off? At BigCo, what happens is that the group of step-children gets a new chief and new "Project Managers". These new leaders are sticklers for the rules though, and have their own ideas about every detail of working at BigCo from breaks & start & stop time, to parking spaces, to TPS reports, and other policies and procedures; and through the power of micro-management they are going to get the group into ship-shape, and do great things at BigCo!!! The new Vogon leadership never seem to get much work for the group though, and for those reasons, morale takes a dive. Then, lo and behold within a short time most of the step-children start getting the hint and either flee to a competitor, form another LittleCo, find a new line of work, or some combination of those things. How many times would you need to see a similar gambit play out for you to question whether maybe it happens that way by design?

You missed his point. He was just saying projects don't start with this intention. He agreed that projects can definitely morph into this. You have to be a pretty weak exec if you can't find projects to kill this way and have to create them from scratch.

I will agree a lot of projects are created with the thought "sure, why not gamble on this.. if it doesn't work, we can just dump our people."

I guess it's a pretty fine line.

I don't believe I did. Whether the vehicle is a new project or an old one makes no difference. The destination is the same. I gave a fairly specific example, not a general rule.

I'm not sure I understand the complaint. In your example you say BigCo honestly tries to work them into the fold, ergo the project wasn't made just to fire people (even though a predictable chain of events might lead to the same result as if it had been). I think we might be saying more or less the same thing.

Side question: how did you get a blank username?

>I'm not sure I understand the complaint. In your example you say BigCo honestly...

It's not a complaint as much as it is an observation, but I wouldn't categorize BigCo's behavior as honest, it is deceptive.

I'll assume you're not being obtuse, but let's be real for a moment. BigCo management harbors no specific animosity for the step-children, a few of whom are actually former BigCo employees. BigCo is a big company, and we're talking about a small part of it. BigCo is actually indifferent to the step-children; but BigCo has a stuffy corporate culture in which certain kinds of people thrive and some otherwise excellent people do not. BigCo knows that it can't really allow the step-children to mingle with the rank and file or else the step-childred might infect them with freedom of thought or whatever it was that enabled LittleCo to beat BigCo at "X", or else there will be a TPS report revolt, or something. BigCo also has practical reasons such as not needing so many people doing job-X.

>ergo the project wasn't made just to fire people

"Firing" people is right out, that's a dirty mean-sounding word, and BigCo already agreed not to do that, so they have to offer laterals or something. The project definitely had a purpose, and the purpose wasn't to have two internal groups competing against each other at job-X.

>even though a predictable chain of events might lead to the same result as if it had been

Okay, so if you grok that a chain of events can be set into motion that will achieve the goal of reducing staff with the least amount of pain for management, why don't you grok that management might choose to do so for the purpose of reducing staff? A rose by any other name, so to speak. Management must reduce staff, management never really wanted most of that additional staff to begin with, but took it on because they had to. Management has limited means with which to accomplish the staff reductions, one of which consists of a few bean-counting "PM's" and a micro-managing idiot savant.

>I think we might be saying more or less the same thing.

We seem to have vastly different ideas about why the things happen.

Side Answer: The usual way.

> We seem to have vastly different ideas about why the things happen.

It seems to me that you two agree on the observable parts of the theory and disagree on the motivation, which relies on their state of mind and is therefore not observable as such.

So it seems more like you agree than disagree to me, at least with respect to the things which can be observed.

Yes, and I'll admit that experiences can be quite different in different industries, companies, countries, whatever.

However, if you go back to a question I posed further up: "Imagine that you must reduce payroll. How do you do it without a layoff? What other option is there to purge a portion of your staff without causing lots of other problems?

If you accept the notion that there are some companies which will periodically purge some staff, and then observe that some of those companies rarely or never have layoffs, then don't you have to accept that there are some similar shenanigans playing out at some of these companies from time to time?

+1 for squeezing in Vogon :)

I agree with the sentiment, but unfortunately, on one instance I was actually told by the project director why the new project was created (I was on the other project).

Yecch. That sounds like some pretty high-school-yearbook-committee stuff to pull in a company.

Your example is certainly also a thing that happens.

But I'm going to also call it naive to say it's hard to imagine. I have a good friend in HR, and she has all sorts of friends working in HR and legal departments. Let's just say some of their conversations are very eye opening.

It's not hard to imagine at all, in general legal departments are conservative and executives want exactly what they want, no excuses. It can lead to all sorts of crazy machinations to get things done while covering the appropriate asses.

OK, I re-read what you said. You are right, projects are rarely created with that intention. But projects quickly develop an attribute of being a place to dump people.

1. Noisy executive wants to do something

2. Everyone else agrees, sure go ahead, but you have to staff it with the freaks

3. Noisy executive either shuts up or rolls the dice because her idea is so good

4. Project usually dies a slow death or by some crazy chance, project heats up and freaks are all seen as heros which get supplemented by steady pragmatists. Often freaks get sidelined (rewarded?) into managerial roles or wander off to do some other risky thing.

Generally steady pragmatists avoid these projects like the plague. They are just not risk oriented.

This is sort of how startups work, btw.

The freak approach is often touted as an effective black ops approach to doing innovative things in a BigCorp.

The flaw in your theory is that you blindly agree with the managers assessment. What if they're the bad ones? It's very easy to stitch up a high-performing employee you think might take your job...

That's why it works. Plausible deniability.

snarfy here is correct, I saw some of the same shenanigans. Consider that there are a lot of really smart people in the company and coming up with a 'perfectly legal' way of accomplishing their goal (which is to have the best people working for them at the least cost[1]) is not a particularly hard problem.

And while it can be hard sometimes to think of your company as a machine which is optimizing its economic output, sometimes at your personal expense, you always have a choice of whether or not you want to participate. And sometimes when things get close to going all pear shaped they respond in economically attractive ways (like giving everyone a 10% pay raise).

[1] Cost is not simply dollars here, its impact on the organization.

3 is irrelevant, google cancels projects often enough that it's sufficient to move someone to a troubled or questionable project and let statistics take care of the rest.

I forgot to mention that the Fair Labor Standards Act was a follow-up to the National Labor Relations Act. That act gives rights to share wage information, prevents employers from interfering with that, and court rulings since then have affirmed it.

As others replied, it is true when it is just the government and company and individual employee involved, companies usually break this law with impunity. If you are in a labor union or a union organizing campaign, like for the CWA, then you are on more equal footing, as all court rulings up to this point have enforced this right.

One of the reasons that these kinds of things aren't often enforced is that they are very hard to prove.

Companies are rarely stupid enough to openly say that you've been fired or given a low performance rating because of this specific act, but do something like this and you'll quickly find that you've got a non-specific "troublemaker/not a team player" reputation starting to be attached to you and once that happens, it's almost impossible to shake.

meanwhile in Canada...

I'm not disagreeing with the other things you said. But there are a few reasons I believe companies want to keep salary information private:

1. They want to get top talent at a cheap price, this is understandable because lets face it all of us want to get the best deal they can.

2. They want to avoid a hostile work environment where people are pissed off because they don't feel Jeff in sales should earn so much.

Those are the only two reasons I can think of that can be legitimate.

Those are understandable reasons, but I wouldn't call them legitimate.

Like I can understand why "being angry" sounds like a good justification for punching someone in the face, but I wouldn't call it a legitimate reason.

If your employees feel Jeff is making too much money, maybe he is? Or maybe your company is doing a poor job of making it clear what it is that he brings to the table.

Besides, you already have a hostile environment when you force employees to keep secrets from each other. (They're certainly not going to be loyal when they are being exploited as a matter of policy. It breed cynicism.)

> If your employees feel Jeff is making too much money, maybe he is? Or maybe your company is doing a poor job of making it clear what it is that he brings to the table.

No matter how expertly this is pulled of, human jealousy is still a risk. In particular, because there are more than a few people who think what other people do is less valuable just because it isn't what they do. In addition, I don't think many companies can successfully justify every decision in a satisfactory way to every employee, no matter what decisions they make. Nor should they have to.

Not that I'm defending keeping wages secret. I think it creates more problems than it solves, and that it doesn't even solve this problem in most cases.

I have seen the jealousy part this first hand. I went to work for a startup in the late 90s during the first "bubble". I was one of the first employees on-board and the company was ramping up quickly. The plan, as with most Internet startups at the time, was to IPO and everyone would be happy.

Salaries and options were fairly quiet talk. No one really discussed them that I ever heard. Then we started preparing for the IPO. A few documents "accidentally" got included in a public filing. These documents included a list of current employees, their salaries, and the number of options they were granted. There was also one sales employee who had gotten an employment contract that was completely out of the norm of what others were getting paid. All of the sudden salaries and options became a major discussion point among employees.

To make matters worse, prior to the IPO it was determined that too many options had been granted and they needed to rain in the grants. The solution was an 1 for 8 reverse split (meaning that if you were initially granted 8000 options you now only had 1000). This was kind of an icing on the cake morale blow for employees. It didn't help when the stock soared at the IPO and people were comparing what they should have made with what they actually made.

EDIT - fixed typo

Can you explain how such a split works? My understanding was that after those things, everyone still has the same percent of the company as before, right? So how does that affect your payout? Forgive me for being naive.

It is confusing, so I will try to break it down as simple as possible at least the way I understood/understand it. The reason the reverse split happened in the first place was that the company was trying to get a certain valuation with a certain opening price for the stock at IPO. With the number of shares they had granted in the option pool, hitting those target numbers was impossible. To adjust for this, it was decided to do a reverse split to reduce the number of shares out thus allowing them meet their valuation and opening price for the IPO. For example, if they wanted raise $8,000,000 on the IPO and have a $20 opening price they could only have 400,000 shares out. Instead they had 32,000,000 shares out. This would have meant to hit the same $8,000,000 raise, they would have had to open at $0.25. So to adjust they did the 1 for 8 reverse split meaning they went from the 32,000,000 shares to 400,000 shares out. Now they can open at $20 and raise their $8,000,000.

Using the same example above, here is where it hits the employee. Let's say on opening day the company opens at $20. Now let's say in the original picture you owned 8000 shares and stock closed that day at $60. You would stand to have made approximately $320,000 ($480,000 - $160,000). However, now with the reverse split you now only have 1000 shares. The stock still opens at $20 and still closes at $60. But now you only made $40,000 ($60,000 - $20,000). That's the downfall of a reverse split.

At least with a normal split (i.e. 2 for 1) you have an upside potential on earnings. This is how a lot of early employees of companies like Microsoft, Apple, Under Armour, etc... have made out significantly well for themselves. With a reverse split they are taking away shares so there is no upside.

If anything, I'm more confused after that. You're comparing the case of a $20 share price without a reverse split to the same share price with the split. That's absurd, since changing the number of shares changes the price (market cap = number of shares * price of a share -- and the market cap is to a first approximation fixed).

The proper comparison would be a share price of 20 -> 60 with the reverse split, or a share price of 2.5 -> 7.5 without. And with those numbers you'll see that the split had no effect at all.

Maybe there's a scenario in which a reverse split screws up the employees. But I don't think it's the one you're describing.

Sorry if it confused you. You are right I am comparing the pricing of $20 using both with and without the split. Let me try again.

Let's say you have 32,000,000 shares and you want to raise $8,000,000. You would need to price the stock at $0.25 per share to guarantee that raise (32,000,000 * 0.25 = $8,000,000). Now let's say an employee has 8000 shares. At IPO their 8000 shares are worth $2000 if the stock opens at $0.25. Let's say the price goes up 4x, or to $1.00, that day. The gain is $6000 ($8000 - $2000).

To rectify the issue of the $0.25 opening price (major stock exchanges will not allow a stock to open that low and have minimum prices), the company decides to do a reverse split to reduce the outstanding shares and in turn raise the price of the stock. The company still wants to raise $8,000,000 so to adjust the number of shares outstanding (go from 32,000,000 to 400,000) they must do an 1 for 8 reverse split. If an employee had been granted 8000 shares when they started, they would, after the reverse split, only have 1000 shares.

After the reverse split and on IPO day the company now opens at $20 (8,000,000 / 400,000). Now let's say the price still goes up 4x, or to $80. The gain is still 4x, and the employee walks away with a $60,000 gain instead.

Where I think this confuses everyone is comparing the gain pre-split and post-split. You are right in that the gain is the same and in theory the employee neither lost or gained anything through the split. However, from an employee morale perspective the employee still views it as a loss. In the back of the employee's head they took the job under the premise of having 8000 shares and when the company IPOs they begin comparing what they should have had to what they really have after the split (8000 vs 1000 or $480,000 vs. $60,000).

The other part that I have left out is that with the reverse split your strike price goes up. So if you were originally brought on with 8000 shares and a $1 strike, you now have 1000 shares and a $8 strike. I didn't factor this in the math above in an attempt to make it easier to follow.

Hopefully that clarifies, sorry if I made that more confusing. You are 100% right the percentages and the gains are still the same in theory. It is a perspective that causes the loss of morale. That is why I was using my original comparison numbers. I am by no means an accountant or attorney so probably not the best person to explain the accounting aspect of a reverse split. :)

All those numbers are really muddying the waters, but I suppose that's par for the course with stock splits.

The bottom line is much simpler: before and after a forward or reverse split, everyone has exactly the same share of the company as before. The rest is just an accounting fiction.

Granted, the exchanges enforce some of that fiction with their minimum share prices, and of course in the old days when shares were often traded in blocks of 100 it made a difference in how small a trade you could make.

But aside from that, it's still a fiction.

A reverse split is like saying "So you want to buy some pie? I was going to sell you 16 huge slices, a full quarter-pie each! But I changed my mind. Now I will only sell you four pies."

In other words, it's a psychological/educational problem, not a financial one. The only people truly affected by the splits you described are those who don't understand splits work.

Granted, this problem can be a real one. I had a friend who celebrated with joy any time a company whose shares he owned did a 2 for 1 split. He was certain that the shares would almost immediately climb back up to their previous price, because that was the natural share price for the company.

I tried to explain to him that he had exactly the same share of the company as before and the split didn't affect the company's financials in any meaningful way, but it just never sank in. He bought companies that had a habit of splitting their stock, and avoided companies that just let their share price rise.

The stock reports on the radio certainly don't help with this: "X co is up $6.51 at $327.90, and Z co is up 55 cents at $14.23."

Which company did better today? :-)

If you are reducing the number of shares outstanding from 32,000,000 to 400,000, it is 80:1 not 8:1 reverse split.

In your example, employee would have 100 not 1000 shares post split, and still would gain $6K.

Yep you are right, added an extra zero in there. One of those days.

An analogy that might help morale about the reverse split: "Instead of each getting eight pizza slices (opening price $0.25, strike price $1), you each get one pie (opening price $2, strike price $8)."

The real danger in a split or reverse with a private company is they can pretty freely change your ratio of unvested: vested stock, trapping you into 4 more years of servitude.

Had that happen to me once and saw others go through it at another company since then that I joined afterwards.

Want to discuss morale killers ? This is a pretty good one

    However, now with the reverse split you now only have
    1000 shares. The stock still opens at $20 and still
    closes at $60.
That's off. Why are you assuming people would pay the same amount for 8 times as much of the company, instead of 8x more? A better guess would be that if before it would have gone $20 -> $60, then after a 8 -> 1 reverse split it would have gone $160 -> $480.

The only reason splits exist is that people have an irrational attachment to the value of a "share" and expect to see it in a certain range, even though the total number of shares available is a number chosen more or less arbitrarily by the company.

That was either not a reverse split, or your company had really math challenged employees.

Typo, should have been 1 for 8 reverse split.

UGH. Having one of those days. It is 1 for 8 reverse split. Sorry trying to do this from my phone and haven't had a full pot of coffee.

> No matter how expertly this is pulled of, human jealousy is still a risk.

I always hear this argument, and I wonder how often it really applies. I have coworkers who do basically the same job as me but get paid twice or more what I do for it. I don't sit around being jealous, I think about how I know it's possible for me to get paid that much and that's something I can aspire to. I suppose in other words, it's information about the salary ceiling. (Of course, that's still an incentive for management to try to make sure I don't know other people's salaries.)

I've never heard anyone, in this environment or at my last job, complain enviously about other people making more money than them. The most I've ever heard on the subject is me and a couple other guys shook our heads discussing another guy who made much less money than we did and definitely deserved more.

I've never heard anyone...

You'd be surprised at how petty some (otherwise very intelligent) people can be.

At a former job, the company paid to send some of team A to a conference for platform B ($1100 / head), while some from team C were sent to conference D ($500 / head). When one member from team C found out about the price difference between the two conferences, he started bellyaching and said the company owed him another $600.

Is someone with that attitude ever not going to be a problem? I feel like if you could get offended by that, who knows what you'll be offended by. And if that affects how you work with others, your thin skin* is a liability.

*Not saying that being offended is always bad--there are things that one reasonably might be offended by, just that this is one of them.

I'm not sure, but I think you might have left out a "not" near the end of that.

(Because "there are some X which are Y, but this X is not one of them" is a pattern I recognize as common, and "there are some X which are Y, but this is one of them" is not a pattern that I am familiar with)

You're correct. I noticed, but only after it wouldn't let me edit.

I have never been bothered by envy either, but for some people it can be all consuming. I have worked in environments where the most common topic of conversation concerned how people in other departments were getting better perks or earning just pennies more. The resentment was really intense.

Then don't pay someone 50K and someone 250K when their value is fairly similar. I think it's common sense that if there's a certain sense of equality among your workers, nobody is going to be bothered because Jeff in sales earns 15K/year more than them, if in general there's not such a big margin between Jeff and Jane.

I also believe making salaries public are also a good way to fight against gender-inequality in the work place and it makes workers think collectively rather than individually.

I take it you've never worked in or around sales with a commission? One big deal can easily quadruple a salesperson's salary for the quarter. When that happens, people will downplay the deal as just being luck and get upset that the salesperson is making so much. However, they don't bat an eye when the salesperson doesn't make their quota a couple quarters in a row and gets fired.

People get jealous and can't handle the truth because a huge chunk of people don't even understand how a business works. Especially from an engineering side, it's really hard to swallow the fact that you have all of the skills and actually created the product, yet you will make 10% of what good salespeople make.

Pretty much. The same people who see salespeople as overpaid schmoozers and order-takers (some are, many aren't) would be utterly horrified at the thought they themselves could be fired without a second thought because of an organizational change or budget cut at a key account.

This happens to engineers often enough.

Well, yes, projects get canceled and people get fired as a result. But there tends to be less of a direct linkage with this quarter's revenue than in the case of sales.

That is because sales people are overrated because you can measure what they bring to the table.

Programmers, not so much.

Value is a subjective thing. What a company values is not necessarily the same thing as what an employee values. So that 250K salary may be due to something the company values at 250k for whatever reason the company has.

This does not of course mean that the coworkers of that 250k salary think the work is worth 250k. That disconnect which can be difficult to fix will often cause bad feelings and poison the atmosphere.

The correct solution of course is for the company to effectively communicate what is sees as valuable so that employees can work toward creating that value and measure correctly. This is harder than it sounds though.

This is an excellent observation and a corrective to the often-seen and simplistic "x employee is more valuable than y employee." The merits a company places on a project or the valorization of said project is also in play.

What's hard: even when Project A is effectively communicated as the most important thing BigCo does, Project B is still essential to BigCo's functioning and BigCo cannot exist without it, so how to counteract Project B employees feeling either devalued or jealous of Project A?

The UK supermarket ASDA is going through a sex discrimination legal case at the moment.

Warehouse employees get paid a bit more than shopfloor employees. Warehouse employees are mostly men. Shop floor employees are mostly women. The jobs are not identical, but they are similar. Shop floor employees include the shelf stackers - they take pallets of boxes of goods and unload these onto shelves. That's very similar to the lifting work that warehouse employees do. (There might be a need for some warehouse workers to have forklift licences, which would explain a small amount of the pay differential).

In this legal case the wages of both group are pretty close to minimum wage.



I've never worked in the supermarket industry, but I have worked in warehouses and on retail floors- and in my experience, the pace and magnitude of the physical labor is significantly higher in the warehouse. Again, I can't generalize my experience to every company.

One way they might address the allegations would be to transfer some warehouse employees to the sales floor and vice versa, providing a better mix, and a good opportunity for employees to see a different side of the operation. Of course, locations may not allow this easily- and may actually play into the pay disparity.

Sales is not a good example as pay is so variable I once helped some one sort out a disagreement over a 15% cut to bonus

That 15% cut was a lot more than the uk's median wage :-)

In Sweden all tax returns are public information and they seem to be managing quite well.

That's no longer true. Tax information isn't being posted online now in Sweden you can make a "FOIA" request but you have to have a legitimate reason now to obtain it.

The public tax records were too often abused for harassment, political extortion and plain crime such as burglary and fraud so they pulled the plug on online publishing of tax records.

No you don't need any reason. You can go to the tax office and use their public computer for example.

Is this from personal experience? because from all what i could gather since 2011/2010 tax records are only issued on demand using a FOIA request form and you need to specify a legitimate reason to access them.

But isn't "I believe my company is treating me unfairly by paying me less for equal work" a legitimate reason?

Do you get full W2 type info, or just the joint income of the family? It would be hard to tell a coworkers income if it is lumped in with their spouses income + investment income + whatever.. vs seeing line item income for that person.

It's individual, but capital income is included.

As well as in Norway (although, the degree of "public" has changed somewhat: Initially it was published in newspapers, that turned out to be not such a good idea as newspapers started publishing on-line (hello: permanent, on-line database of income, open to all[1]). So then it changed to one having to log in to the government portal to look up individual tax filings - and now those you look up get a notice about who has checked their taxes.

I'm a little conflicted about the last part; on the one hand, why not give notice if someone's been "snooping" -- on the other hand it kind of defeats the purpose of having a transparent system -- how will your boss feel if you look up his/her salary? And should it really matter?

Always thought it was nice that one could check some employee/manager salaries before heading to a job interview. One still can, of course -- with the caveat that some might find it intrusive. But then, would one want to work for such a person?

[1] http://skatt.na24.no/

It seems to work out okay in the NFL.

Or maybe Jeff is highly productive but not good at marketing himself. Perhaps he doesn't want the spotlight and is happy to quietly provide value for his employer who rewards him in turn. Perhaps Jeff is black and everyone besides management (the only people who have a financial incentive not to be) is racist. Perhaps Jeff is doing an important but unpopular task; e.g., he's the asshole rejecting pull requests because the schema changes break normal form, or running A/B tests and finding that all the other employee's cool features don't increase revenue.

There are lots of legitimate reasons why Jeff might be effective and well paid, and why it might not be useful to publicize this fact widely. A popularity contest is NOT the right way to allocate pay - among other things, the participants in the popularity contest have no incentive whatsoever to properly evaluate Jeff's value.

I guess you and I just disagree which is okay :)

I guess it depends on why you are angry and punched that person in the face, did they spit on you, hit your wife, etc? Your analogy here isn't very good.

It isn't an employees job to understand what every other employee does and honestly management trying to justify every salary to every other employee would be a bit ridiculous. Maybe Jeff (or lets say Sarah) has a good salary because they bring in 10x the business as the next best sales person. That is easily quantifiable but lets say Jeff/Sarah brings in only the average income but you can see the growth with their customers. That isn't easily quantifiable and honestly doesn't need to be broadcasted to the whole employee base (especially since employees leave and go to other competitors and would then have a good list to work off of).

Employees routinely keep information confidential from each other because it makes sense to do so. This isn't a bad thing like you make it out to be, companies shouldn't be some open society where everyone gets to know each others business.

Hahah no one would trade on the stock market if you didn't have an idea of the order book, it's essential that pricing is disclosed so that FMV can be reached.

Negotiating your salary with out knowing what everyone else was making is stupid. If you're a star performer the goal is to get everyone making what you're making so you can ask for a raise on top of that. (In companies with huge amounts of cash on hand).

Actually you are mistaken with this analogy. One of the most important characteristics of a stock exchange is standard contracts. One Google stock is the same as any other. This is not true of talent. That said, a book of similar talent, if possible, would lead to a more liquid market, more accurate pricing and faster price discovery, like a normal market, but people are different. Bumma.

You are mistaking the premise. I'm not saying you should not have an idea of what the "market" is paying and ask that from a potential employer. But knowing what the person next to you makes is an entirely different situation. I know there are employees next to me that make more/less than I do. I honestly don't care as long as I feel I'm making a fair salary for the work I perform. You can always get an idea of what the market is paying by talking to fellow employees outside the company or the recruiters that hit you up.

You don't know what a fair salary is, because you don't know what your peers are earning. I mean, if you can find out what your competitors are paying their employees, surely their own employees can figure that out. So if you can figure it out, it's not a secret to anybody!

The problem with your approach is that it is very easy to manipulate people when you permit a power/information differential like that. You end up saying "the slave is happy with the food we give him; why should we offer freedom?" -- when he's only happy with the food because you've been beating him for so long he's been conditioned into helpless appreciation of your scraps.

You feel you're making a fair salary? Well then what is the harm of knowing your neighbor's salary? Are you going to learn a new meaning of 'fair?' What's the harm in that? That's just updating your priors and giving you the ability to make better decisions with more information. (That anyone would choose to reject relevant information when making decisions is the height of absurdity.)

A statistical summary of salary for the job is almost as good as knowing everyone's salary, and better than knowing the exact salary of your direct peers but not more.

So in such a situation there's little upside. You already know you're not getting scraps.

But there's a painful downside in knowing exactly who the company thinks does worse work than their direct peers.

What are you talking about? Salary for equivalent positions is only tenuously connected to performance. The only people who benefit from salary secrecy are employers, and they benefit greatly.

>Salary for equivalent positions is only tenuously connected to performance.

But it's often supposed to be, and so salary differences can hurt feelings just as much as if the correlation was perfect. Or they can hurt feelings because the actual reason for the difference is unfair.

>The only people who benefit from salary secrecy are employers, and they benefit greatly.

Is that always the case? Remember, in this scenario we have a detailed knowledge of equivalent position salary, we just don't know which of those thousands of numbers belong to our coworkers. How does that remaining ignorance hurt me in any notable way?

There's a painful downside in knowing you have cancer, but that doesn't mean a doctor can (or should) withhold that information from you.

You already know if you have cancer. The doctor not only can withhold information about your neighbor, they are mandated to.

You're taking the wrong part of that analogy. My point is that it is not the doctors responsibility to withhold information in the name of protecting me from "painful feelings." Other patient's health information isn't relevant to me. Other employee's pay is.

Can you explain why anonymous pay info isn't good enough?

I'm not saying that hurt feelings should override important info, but if the info isn't important, and it's not about you, then maybe hurt feelings should be considered.

If I want to improve my (or my company's) ability to make decisions, I need to know how the decisions are made, including knowledge about what is valued.

Let's say I'm playing a game of poker. I know what my hand is, but nobody else's. You are telling me that I am advantaged simply by knowing the odds associated with my hand.


Except my opponent across the table can see everyone's hand. And they are telling me I should go all in.

That's why anonymous info isn't good enough: it's only anonymous to the losers.

In poker the hands of everyone else directly affect you.

This is more like knowing everyone else's hands in blackjack.

Well, if it's legitimacy you're after, it's illegal to prevent salary sharing in the US.

> If your employees feel Jeff is making too much money, maybe he is? Or maybe your company is doing a poor job of making it clear what it is that he brings to the table.

Please please please do not distort this example by omitting the critical "Jeff in sales".

In the Google context Jeff (Dean) earns all the money they potentially throw at him. And everybody know about his magic qualities. The quotation is Jeff in sales, not just Jeff!

> Or maybe your company is doing a poor job of making it clear what it is that he brings to the table.

I don't think it's really a SWE- for example -'s concern what Jeff in sales brings to the table. I mean maybe they're friends, or work together, and he knows.

But if he doesn't know, and doesn't think Jeff deserves so much, it's really neither here nor there. It's not up to him.

I can't put my finger on it, but the way you parse this situation seems like you're trying as hard as possible to underplay its importance.

"Lets face it all of us want to get the best deal"- it's like you're trying to empathize with "the company", and not think too hard about the people it's screwing over. Promoting salary secrecy at the expense of your workers' justified welfare is called exploitation.

Not really...and I apologize if you think that is my meaning. I guess I look at it from a truly business standpoint and any business wants to acquire an "asset" at the lowest possible cost. Whether that be property, IP, other businesses or employees. It would be kind of foolish for a business to go in an say "sure, we will pay the highest cost" in every transaction they do and will likely lead them to bankruptcy.

As a normal worker of course I hope they all pay us great salaries and equal pay for equal work but part of my "job" in the negotiating process is to make sure that happens.

> As a normal worker of course I hope they all pay us great salaries and equal pay for equal work but part of my "job" in the negotiating process is to make sure that happens.

So why are you arguing for making your own job harder? In what kind of negotiation does one side insist the other keep all the cards so they can play a shitty hand?

Not a fair one.

>>Not really...and I apologize if you think that is my meaning. I guess I look at it from a truly business standpoint and any business wants to acquire an "asset" at the lowest possible cost. Whether that be property, IP, other businesses or employees.

This is the same type of logic that makes people view Human Resources departments with disdain: viewing people as "resources" as opposed to, you know, people.

The fact that you are comparing and equating employees with other types of assets is especially disturbing. A chair doesn't have dreams, feelings, or a family to feed. So it makes sense to get the "best deal" when you're buying one. But humans have those things, and treating them as fairly and humanly as possible should be the priority.

This may seem like bad business sense to the uninitiated, but companies who follow this practice tend to have a lot of competitive advantage in the sense of fierce employee loyalty. If people know you're treating them fairly and with respect, they will return the favor.

>I guess I look at it from a truly business standpoint and any business wants to acquire an "asset" at the lowest possible cost.

That's not the "truly business standpoint" - that's Stockholm Syndrome.

The "truly business standpoint" would be to understand that you are not operating as a charity and it's your responsibility to maximise your benefits.

As an individual and not a corporation - assuming you're not a contractor - you can choose to trade off salary vs intangible benefits (culture, etc) vs equity vs free time/side projects.

But if you're not valuing yourself realistically, you're giving away value to the employer for no rational economic reason.

Landlords and other businesses certainly won't operate as charities, so why should you?

> any business wants to acquire an "asset" at the lowest possible cost.

In the short term potentially. If the price at which you acquired the asset has knock on effects, on e.g. the effectiveness of that asset, employee turn over, whether you can sleep at night, whether the economy as a whole has enough people earning enough to buy your product, whether you are considered to be fair minded and honourable in contracts and disputes, then you might well want to think about it in a little more depth.

There are many reasons why blindly acquiring an asset at the lowest possible short term cost might not be in your interests.

Nothing wrong with empathizing with the company, just as long as you can also empathize with the worker and understand why they might feel like they were screwed over when everybody else is getting paid more for the same work.

> 2. They want to avoid a hostile work environment where people are pissed off because they don't feel Jeff in sales should earn so much.

I've been in workplaces where everyone know each others salaries. Development shared sql database with the hr department so the "information leakage" was obvious. But nobody cared and it didn't lead to a hostile work environment.

I cant say knowing what your coworkers make never leads to hostile work environments. I can only say that I find it illogical that it would (why would it piss you off if someone negotiated a good deal?), have never heard of any work environment becoming hostile because of it or experienced it myself.

> why would it piss you off if someone negotiated a good deal?

I think you're being naive. If you have a peer who works less than you (or whom you think is not as good as you are) and that peer is making more money than you, you will get pissed. It will impact your work, it will make you resentful and you will want to renegotiate your compensation. Either way, it will impact your work, probably your happiness, and it will force the company to deal with you instead of dealing with its business.

Keeping salaries confidential solves all these problems.

I have been in that situation and no hostility arose. :) I'm ready to admit that hostility can happen but then I want examples of it, not theoretical arguments. People often don't react in the ways you think they should. Plus, "wanting to renegotiate your compensation" is very different from "being hostile".

Salary grids is often a better solution to that problem. Performance should rather be paid as a bonus than a fixed comp. The bonus is discretionary and resets every year.

Keeping salaries confidential solves all these problems

Only if the salary is the only way in which your peer is being rewarded.

These sorts of hostilities exist quite frequently in companies that don't share salary information, because rewards exist in lots of forms, including promotion, project assignments, shift scheduling, etc.

Imagine a company that decided to keep promotions secret to avoid hostilities.

Imagine a company that decided to keep promotions secret to avoid hostilities.

I think you just described Valve and similar "flat organizations".

I can provide a real-life (tongue-in-cheek) example in which knowing what your coworkers make may lead to a 'hostile' work environment. I work for a state agency in which all our salaries are public record (and made quite available to be searched for on the local newspaper's website).

There's two developers in our mixed group, of which I am one. The other makes a moderate amount more than me. However, he is much more senior than me, and to be honest, a better coder too, so it's understandable. My gripe is that I think we're both underpayed and I think we both deserve a healthy raise. I wish he was motivated to ask for one instead of just taking the yearly cost-of-living increases so that I might ask for one myself. And that annoys me greatly sometimes. I have yet to be hostile though. :)

I'm not sure why you feel you can't push both of you for a raise.

Surely having the public record is in your favour because you can point to similar jobs that pay more.

meh I worked at places with super strict 'hushing' policies and everyone knew everyone else salary anyway

anyway I always treated policies more as suggestion than binding contracts, since I never sign on those.

I think it is a simpler problem than that. Taking away all emotion, a company has an idea of what they want to pay for what level of performance.

The problem is, people come into the company with vary variable amounts of pay. The solution that Google came up with was this, hire people at a rate that would get them into the company, observe their performance for a bit (8 - 12 months), decide where they were on the scale, and then plot an intercept course for them for "Google pay".

They have always had two ways to control that, one was your "slotting" if you were over paid relative to your performance they could "down slot" you which effectively froze you out of getting a pay raise over two promotion cycles, and two they could "discount" your calibration value which would decrease your potential bonus and even your RSUs[1]. All had the effect of being able to "dial in" your compensation, post hire, into something they considered appropriate.

The only problem with that scheme is getting people to accept it right? Who would take a job at a company where your offer letter didn't accurately reflect how much they were actually going to pay you? It established a minimum amount they were going to pay you (your base salary) which, people whom I knew took pay cuts because hey, 20% bonus target (and everyone told you that "most everyone get all their bonus") and gee that was actually a pay raise right?

In the Bay Area when your HR "business partner" started reminding you that California was an "At Will" work state (which means you can quit any time, they can fire you any time), if you were paying attention you got the message to stop pursuing your current line of questioning/activity/what ever.

But hey, it's there pool and their rules, that is the way of things. And while you might think it was Wrong, other than some of the stuff that came out in Brian Reed's case I don't think they did anything regularly that was illegal. Just optimizing to the a different set of constraints than you might expect.

[1] "Restricted Stock Units" or RSUs would vest based on your 'score' with a max of 1.0 Google Shares to RSUs and a minimum of 0 Google Shares to an RSU.

1. Actually most people just want a "fair respectful share" as opposed to "the best deal they can get". The race to get the best deal emerges from the need not to fall behind the few peers who decided to be greedy (or business-savvy as some like to call it). It goes viral. There are many interesting insights around that in sociology and game theory. Like the playouts of the pirate game https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_game.

2. Well, yes. And whoever is pissed off just go find another job. This way everybody gets to see who is right and who is wrong and learn to respect each others jobs more. It should be noted that a mismatch in the understanding of ethics is just as bad as salary mismatch. Tech workers are encouraged to share all their knowledge while sales/business keep their knowledge and connections private, which naturally makes them more valuable. For example, there is no such thing as open-source business development or open-source sales leads database. Tech workers kind of made the leap, but in terms of sharing the business people are essentially assholes. There is no right or wrong here, it's just an ethics mismatch.

If it were 2 that was driving it, companies would be equally quiet about grades. If you're annoyed that Jeff in sales is earning so much, you'll probably be equally annoyed that he's two levels higher than you.

However, in my experience most companies like to make a big deal about your grade. I know the level of pretty much every person in my office, and whenever anyone gets promoted, they get announced in front of the entire company.

The real driver is around option 1. The company doesn't really care whether you know that there's people in other departments or at more senior grades getting better paid than you. They'll just tell you that those people are doing more valuable jobs for the company.

What they don't want you to find out is how much that they are prepared to pay other people for doing your job. If you find out that the person they've just hired to do the same job as you is on £10K more because that's what the market is paying now, the company has suddenly got a pretty annoyed member of staff with a pretty good bargaining position.

I don't have it ready at the moment but I do believe there is a study from London School of Economics (around 2006?) showing that unhappiness about salaries arises through comparison and not through absolute values. Just playing devil's advocate, could the strict secrecy you experienced not perhaps be an academically informed attempt to maintain happiness despite differential pay instead of an exploitation plot (exaggerating here)?

Both are reasons to keep salaries secret. The information advantage helps in negotiations with employees. Also, the secrecy prevents anger over comparisons. It seems unneccessary to me. Why not just pay people the same for each position, with merit bonuses for those who exceed/excel.

I'd like to agree with 'Why not just pay people the same for each position' but to play devil's advocate, off the top of my head:

* not all people in the same position are equally qualified * reducing the difference to bonuses might mean a lot more overhead * salary might cover for things other than just competence, i.e. Alice and Bob are equally qualified, but you hire Alice out of college while Bob already had a well paying job

I wish there was enforce transparency about salaries but I'm not sure all of them can be just leveled to position+bonus.

Joel Spolsky had an interesting approach to this, a more complex formula but still public and consistent for all employees:


True, you may want to adjust for say, years of experience. Although if that was transparent.

For instance, Dev level 2 makes 100k with 10k additional per every 3 years professional experience - you have differences amongst the staff but less room for people to complain about the variances.

The point is, salaries are not arbitrary, which is the basis of the anger when staff compares against their peers.

> Why not just pay people the same for each position, with merit bonuses for those who exceed/excel.

Because people aren't cogs and they all function at different levels of productivity.

I've literally never worked with anyone who I would consider to be of precisely equal value to me. Everyone else has been either more valuable or less valuable, by a tune of at least a few thousand dollars annually.

Fixed salaries prevent paying people by their value and instead mandate a rigid adherence to "years spent" and "grades." I would literally never work for a company with fixed salaries.

"with merit bonuses for those who exceed/excel"

How do you measure that? In most teams I've been involved in, the entirety of the team suffered with the weakest link. My 'merit' was tied to the efficiency of poor team members. A colleague of mine (different company) was on a team with about 15 others in his dept - 60+ folks in all. The daily incompetence he described was rather high, but not surprising when you have non-tech folks making tech decisions. I said "hrm... perhaps people would be motivated to care/do more and improve if they got some sort of profit sharing bonus". He said "WE DO! My bonus continually gets eroded because we've got incompetent do-nothings who continually shoot down progress" (paraphrasing).

I don't particularly want a large/variable portion of my income to be that tied to situations that I have that little control over.

So, are people in Sweden, Norway and Finland–where you have access to your fellow citizens salary–more unhappy?

No, but they are, as far as I know, societies with much smaller income differences than other countries. So that might make up for the fact that the information is public.

It's probably not unconnected. I heard an interview recently with a company that shares salary data with all employees, and he said it provided a downward pressure on the salaries for top jobs as the people making those decisions knew that any employee could ask them to justify themselves.

In keeping with the topic, I don't think developers are unionized in those countries either.

Some are, some are not -- at least in Norway. Unions are particularly strong in the government sector, and generally even developers will be unionised there -- in the private sector there's a general feel that a software engineer is in such a strong position that they don't need a union.

Like for most types of work -- that's probably wrong. But people only ever figure it out when it's too late.

At my previous workplace (a research institute) I believe pretty much 100% were organized, both researchers, developers, sys.admins and other staff.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong but I would think salaries in such union dominated work places are much less arbitrary in the first place.

Maybe, but I assume only when the differences in pay are large?

E.g. in German universities, your pay is just a table lookup. The position has a certain pay scale (as advertised with the position) and within that scale the number of years of experience at pay scale level is counted.

Such a system may have its downsides (when trying to acquire people). But it is inherently fair: you earn the same regardless of gender, position on the intro/extrovertness scale, etc.

> But it is inherently fair:

That's bunk. Number of years of experience being a major factor is one of the quickest ways to kill any kind of meritocracy. It's true you earn the same regardless of gender, extrovertedness, etc. But it means you also earn the same regardless of competence, creativity, or general usefulness as an employee. Talented people go where they can be rewarded for being exceptional. Mediocre people dig in and count the days until their next automatic raise for continuing to breathe in and out.

But it means you also earn the same regardless of competence, creativity, or general usefulness as an employee.

There is probably no strong correlation between creativity/competence and the skills to negotiate a salary. There is probably a strong correlation between salary and gender, extrovertness, etc. and some correlation between years of experience and competence (within a particular scale). So, yes, it is inherently (more) fair.

No its not, it punishes competent people and rewards incompetence. There is a reason no leading tech companies do this. A university can only get away with this because good professors can earn more money from grants and can get perks like tenure.

Also, if someone can't negotiate their own salary, that's their own problem. Not being able to convince a company you are worth money either means you don't understand what value you can provide or you actually aren't providing that much value. It's not up to the company to do that for you. Doing it is less fair to anyone that knows what they are doing.

Isn't this whole discussion exactly the same old one made between salaried based wages and performance based wages? One side arguing that salaried employees could just roll their thumbs and still get paid, while the other side argues that you would get fired or simply that people who do so won't get hired in the first place.

The reason no leading tech company does this is that they are all trying to pay the least amount of money. You seem to forget that just a few years ago most big tech companies were found to run a scheme to reduce salaries of people working for them.

I agree. I work one of germanys biggest engineering companies (automotive sector), where pay is pretty much equal. There are certain job levels (secretary, technician, engineer, manager, etc.), but inside of these levels the salary is only determined by "years of experience" (which is mostly how long you have been in the company). I found it totally frustrating, because independent on how much effort you put in your work and how much benefit you bring to the company you won't get any monetary benefit or promotion. On the other side you see some older guys which are leaning back and waiting for retirement which get higher salaries. This really lowers the motivation to achieve something good amongst all employees after a while.

It was one of the reasons I resigned and will start at a smaller company next month.

And still, a lot of exceptional people are working at these universities.

If you, as professor, for example, start a research project that is interesting, you also often get funding from the industry – part of which goes directly to your salary, too.

So, exceptional people still have chances to get exceptional pay, but only if scientific organizations like the Fraunhofer Institute or industry corporations are interested in it.

And of course, there is a brain drain of the very best that come to the USA from any place that doesn't fairly compensate. I'm all for these unfair compensation schemes because I want the best and brightest to come to the USA.

Well, that doesn’t happen, though, especially in hardware – the US excels in software development, but especially in classical engineering and more hardware-focused engineering, it’s a lot behind.

Yes, in terms of car design, Germany and Italy are tops, in terms of industrial machinery, (mechanical printing, cloth), the Germans.

But I used to work as a VLSI (computer chip) designer and in that area USA (Silicon Valley) and Israel are tops. After Silicon Valley, Israel has the most computer chip designers in the world, about 20,000. Intel employs 10,000 Israelis in two design centers and two fabs. One of the fabs is a 22 nm node being upgrade to the 10 nm node. It was the Israelis that were in charge of mobile and instigated Intel's change of higher performance from lower clock rates.

Apple looked all over the world for its computer chip design center and chose Israel where it now employs 700 and hiring more. Tim Cook was there in February dedicating a new building. His VP in charge of hardware/computer chip design is an Arab Israeli who has his BS and Masters degrees from Technion, the MIT of Israel.

One of the professors at my university, after he worked as one of the leading ALU designers at intel for some years, founded a company focused on general purpose computing extension cards for PCs, which he later sold, and made a fortune with – all of that outside of Germany. He only came back when he lost his money (which he invested) during the dotCom crash. Now he’s teaching here, and one of our best professors in chip design and digital engineering.

As you said, a lot of the stuff happens outside of europe currently, but that’s also due to extreme electricity prices.

> But it means you also earn the same regardless of competence, creativity, or general usefulness as an employee.

Well, no, because presumably the more competent employees get bumped up a payscale, and the truly "useless" ones are quickly dismissed.

Sorry, this is nonsense.

It's fair in a world where all people are equal. Since people are unequal this is the opposite of fair.

And there are many people who are extremely good, but too shy to negotiate a higher wage. And there are people who are mediocre, who are good at making deals and get the higher pay.

And there are people who are born to rich parents - that's life. People differ in intelligence, looks, ambition - anything really.

My point is that disparity in income (let's say in the same organization) is mostly to do with value that a given individual brings to the organization (in the eyes of the management who decide on this). Negotiation is an order of magnitude less important.

As far as I know, this only regards base-pay. There is a lot of wiggle-room in terms of bonuses, staffing, space… Apparently a professor in our math-department was expensive enough, that a different position needed to be downgraded to the point where no one qualified applied anymore. Your exact compensation also depends e.g. on whether or not you have family, to the best of my knowledge.

It's inherently equal, but hardly fair.

"School of economics" so do you not think they would be biased towards providing results that suited their clients agendas?

Ahh... What kind beneficence... Just helping to keep people happy.

>And what had been presented as a really performance driven, no discrimination, reward metrics, was perceived to be yet another 'management beauty contest' where managers could swing bonus dollars toward people they liked (regardless of their performance) and away from people they didn't care about.

No matter what it is, people are going to favor other people they like over people they don't like. When it comes down to an individual making a decision against two people, this will always come into play, subconsciously or not. You have to be incredibly naive to believe that you'll still get favored for bonuses if everyone hates you, no matter how good your performance is. This is why being likeable/liked is part of good performance.

If we're talking aggregate bonuses, may not apply, but anytime it's a 1v1 thing, yes, of course the amount the manager likes you is going to matter, even if it can't swing the decision in your favor in that particular instance.

Telling employees to keep salaries a secret is exactly like giving candy to a child and telling them not to tell anyone else.

In both cases, the giver is being manipulative and trying to hide something, and it's messed up.

I'm shocked how many people are OK with keeping their salary a secret.

In principle, I wish I could freely share my salary with others. But in practice, I keep it a close secret. Why? Because I have to work with people very closely.

This is not intended as a humblebrag.

So for the year 2014 my performance review was excellent. Pretty much firewalled. I've taken on a lot of technical responsibility above my pay level (because I want to raise my pay level!). I was rewarded with a substantial raise. But several of my coworkers were very upset with their raises (which were very minimal) and vented openly about them. Should they find out that I received a raise higher than them, how would they react? Given their open whining, probably not well. Their anger would be directed toward me. I'd rather avoid that silliness.

You raise a good point - which I why I think the exact specifics of salaries can be a little blurry.

I.e. "Your peers make between $x and $y. They received performances bonuses of between $z and $q this year", etc. etc.

But it's still important to have the open discussion and get it out in the open.

That sort of information gets out anyway. We all know what the salary range is for the various engineering levels. Example, I'm a level 3 engineer, so the salary band is (off the top of my head) somewhere from 85k to 103k/year. The raises given this year ranged from 1% to 6%. So we all know roughly how people are doing, but only our manager knows exactly who got what % raise.

And an additional problem, especially at larger & lower margin companies, is that managers have an extremely limited bonus pool and probably also don't have permission to issue annual merit increases. This results in shuffling bonus money around in ways that make no logical sense. For example, I'd need a couple additional hands worth of fingers to count the times I've passed over someone for a bonus because they had received a promotion or a significant salary increase in the past few months. Is that fair? Absolutely not. But the alternative was that another solid employee would get neither a salary bump or a bonus, which was worse.

Ultimately, I found the best policy while working under these conditions was to be blunt & open with all my staff over how I planned to handle salary increases, promotions & bonuses, so at least I could assuage their fears that it was n't consistent in addition to not being fair.

Big corporations usually suck at talent management and compensation.

All corporations usually suck at talent management and compensation because we are terrible at measuring true value. We pick metrics which we think are a proxy, but often aren't or are easily gamed, or manager bias overrules it all

Agreed. I've had other coworkers direct their anger at me when finding out I made more. And I've felt the glower of jealousy & feeling cheated when finding out someone else made more, even if I was being paid fairly.

In both cases, merit didn't even factor in to the equation. It doesn't seem to be a rational response.

They need to be rational and look at what the issues were (if any) and try to solve them. This has to be looked at from a social perspective too, a more social and leading person will get a raise as it's perceived as knowledge.

The most interesting is that hiding salary information does not work. If you don't receive a raise similar to the average of your firm, sooner or later you will find out and search for another job that will pay average or better salary. And if you receive above average, then you will either be promoted to a level where you're average again, or have your future raises decreased. Basically, the only thing that works is a promotion, which is clearly a public event. So, it would be much better if everyone had their salaries made public, with salaries clearly tied to promotion levels.

I know there are sites that ask "how much you're earning as a software developer" or whatever, to get an idea about how much people are getting paid for a type of job.

But is there a website where it basically gives asks you to choose the company name, then whether you're male or female, white or black, etc?

I think such a site could give us a much better idea of how companies treat their employees.

It's only in their "diversity report". If you do a salary search on glassdoor there is no option to list by gender or ethnicity.

>>> If you do a salary search on glassdoor there is no option to list by gender or ethnicity.

Isn't that a good thing?

...no? How are you supposed to figure out whether pay is biased by gender or ethnicity then?

Pay shouldn't be biased by gender or ethnicity. Which is why I'm confused on why you want to see the salary based on these factors. What about reports of single vs married people? Or based on height? Or ugly people? What's the point on playing with these numbers?

Seriously, do you plan to negotiate your salary based on some factors that have less than nothing to do with the job itself?

managers could swing bonus dollars toward people they liked (regardless of their performance) and away from people they didn't care about.

And to be clear, I was ok with that,


In all my decades of working, I always thought my employer would fire me if he knew I was discussing my pay with others. I know I was told that could happen more than once in my early years so I don't know why Google would be any different and I perfectly understand why such discussions should not take place.

> I know I was told that could happen more than once in my early years

It's illegal for employers to prohibit employees from discussing compensation[1].

[1] http://www.govdocs.com/can-employees-discuss-pay-salaries/

At a glance, it looks like that changed just in April, 2014.

2014 is when (by executive order) it was extended to employees of Federal contractors that weren't covered by the NLRA. For those covered by the NLRA (nearly all private companies) the law has been on the books for well over half a century[1] (discussing pay is considered a "concerted activity"[2]).

[1] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/29/157

[2] http://www.govdocs.com/can-employees-discuss-pay-salaries/

The US Labor Relations Act has been around since 1935. It's nothing new: 29 U.S. Code § 157 - Right of employees as to organization, collective bargaining, etc. - https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/29/157

Yes it has been but that has nothing to do with what we're talking about.

Interesting. I'm talking about when the "don't talk about salary" rule was passed. His reply is a link to an article about when the Labor Relations board was established and I got downvoted?

His or her reply was a link to the law that made it illegal for employers to prohibit employees from discussing compensation, which is exactly what we're talking about so it shouldn't be a huge surprise that a comment suggesting that "has nothing to do with what we're talking about" would get downvoted.

More importantly though, since it appears you're fairly new here, I'd suggest reading the HN Guidelines[1], particularly "Please resist commenting about being downvoted. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading."

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Actually, no, as I will repeat, his link has nothing to do with what we're talking about.

I'm not new here. Been coming here since forever. Just have to get a new account every time I get fed up with near-Reddit like posts and type something. Just like now.

(ex googler here who has gotten, given, and approved peer bonuses)

A lot of confusion here is coming from how the peer bonuses are awarded so I'll give a brief explanation. You can nominate someone for any reason you like but you provide a justification, their manager sees it and decides if they should approve it or not (almost all are approved). Now the important point is the rules state you can't receive more than one peer bonus for a single thing that you do.

It's almost surely the case that 1.) her manager knew that and the other manager didn't or 2.) she had so many pending when her manager saw it that they thought to ask someone what the rules were. For #2 imagine you are her manager and you see 20 people queued up nominating the same person for the same thing, you are responsible for enforcing the rules (in this case giving your report Google's money, it's in the manager's best interest to _approve_ it since their report will be happier) so you don't want to make a mistake and ask around, then someone tells you 'sorry one bonus per thing they do' and you have to deny all of the rest.

I couldn't applaud her more for the salary spreadsheet she put together (it took serious courage) and the really healthy dialog that it brought (I was glued to it when it came out), but the peer bonus part of the story is almost surely not malicious on her manager's part and I hope she hears that somehow. It'd be really sad for everyone involved if this is just a misunderstanding (the peer bonus part at least).

It looks like a major part of the problem she had with the PB rejections was some kind of hypocrisy or inconsistency which she attributed to racism, especially with all that Ida B. Wells stuff:

> Meanwhile, one of the other people involved, a white dude (good friend I won't name, he can name himself if he wants), was also getting PBs.

> His weren't getting rejected. I told him mine were. He was pissed. Wanted to tell everyone what was happening. I declined.

Personally I think 7 x $150 is such a trivial amount of money that it was a mistake to say anything about it at all, certainly not worth losing one's job over.

Ugh, that idiotic jump to racism really watered down what was a great post otherwise. She started the spreadsheet AND had a meeting with her manager about it. Of course her PBs are going to be more closely scrutinized than random person X. She pissed off her manager, it's that simple.

Then she went full on asshole and hinted that he should name himself. For what? To prove that a white guy indeed does work at Google who has a manager that approved bonuses?

If you swing a bat at a hornets nest and you get stung more than someone observing from 50 yards away, do you instantly assume it's because the hornets are racist/sexist?

You're getting what you want out of that thread and not what was written:

She had a good friend who helped her create the spreadsheet and his PBs weren't rejected. As in, they both shared the same responsibilities for getting this thing going, but he was being treated differently. She doesn't name him out of respect for his privacy, but later in that thread he names himself.

He was brought in as a point of reference for her claim she was being treated differently.

I don't really understand what happened in the end, but my best guess is that she was finally fired for telling off her manager and calling him/her a racist.

> Shit WILL hit the fan if you tell a racist (a well documented racist) to go fuck themselves though. In defense of the racist, obvi.

No, she created the spreadsheet, she said it herself. She is responsible for sharing it. Other people might have helped after that, but it just doesn't matter. It especially doesn't matter if they were white. They didn't create it.

Lol, coming to think of it, 7x$150 is my monthly pay!

Where do you live? That makes a big difference.

Absolutely. not everyone on here lives in San Francisco and is paid 100k+ a year.

Yeah, apparently some of these people live in Mountain View and make 250k+ a year.

... but can't buy a decent house for less than $800k. (note: I don't live in CA)

Try $1.5 million.

I live in India - and work for one of the tech giants. Our entire team is split into two - one part in the US and the other here in India. We both do the similar amount of work, in fact the estimates our managers give out for upcoming projects are like 25-50% lesser than the ones in US. Yet, we get paid 1/10th of their annual salary. Not that I complain, just comparing the wage differences!

It's also 12,600 times Steve Job's salary when he was CEO.

to be fair he did accrue nearly 3B is stock, a large amount of that was when he took over in 1997.

If you want to make snide jokes you should at least be informed.

Steve Jobs’ salary when he was CEO was $1 http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2011/technology/1111/gallery....

I think that was exactly the snide joke he was making. ( 7 * 150 * 12 == $12,600 == 12,700 * 1 )

Oh. Woosh.

It's even more a trivial amount of money to risk damaging your company's reputation over. Her manager screwed up royally.

> you can't receive more than one peer bonus for a single thing that you do.

So how do you explain the coworker getting multiple peer bonuses? Was that manager breaking the rule?

It's not clear to me whether a first PB was even awarded (not counting the vaguely worded one that came later).

That was the manager exercising their discretion (approving a PB is discretionary, usually you'd decline >1 PB for the same thing) in a way that was probably bad.

As proof - i submit the fact that it made Erica feel horrible!

Note: It could also be the other manager didn't notice. PB's are automatically approved after X days if they aren't turned down. It's rare to get > 1 PB for the same thing, so it may be the other manager just didn't pay attention (the system sends email once) or whatever. This would be even more likely if the other manager had a bunch more employees.

Yes, I remember this spreadsheet. It listed pay by SWE (software engineer) level and geography.

Google has ~10 levels for SWE's. Most people are either SWE II, SWE II, or Senior SWE, and about 10% are higher than Senior SWE. In the Bay Area, IIRC, pay is in the $110k range for SWE II (base), around $140k for SWE III, and around $170k for senior. There is additional bonus (15%) and stock (can be 15-30% of base, depending on circumstances), and health insurance. Within level it varies by +/- $10k in base, and there are proportionally fewer women at Senior SWE and higher levels.

What's left after-tax in the Bay Area for this kind of salaries?

Awful. Then it gets even worse when you consider that you pour a huge chunk into rent and you make too much to get any deductions for student loan payments, rent, etc. Don't forget to tack on the higher cost of living as well.

If you get an SF offer and are comparing it to normal US cities (not NY), just chop 40% off.

This will give you an idea: https://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=moving+from++San+Franc...

I wonder what sort of sheltered life you have lived to think earning 100k+ anywhere is "awful".

It's awful in the sense that if you want a market-rate one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco you end up spending 60-90% of your post-tax monthly income on rent.

So you compromise -- you split a bedroom with a roommate, or you convert your living area into a bedroom, or you live in a pre-1969 rent-controlled unit and have the people who used to live in those apartments throwing rocks at you on your way to work. Or you live somewhere in north/east bay and deal with a two hour driving commute.

It's awful in the sense of how much is gone to taxes and cost of living. Earning 100k+ that effectively becomes half of the real number because of exorbitant cost of living puts you in a crappy spot.

You lose all of the tax breaks and everything else that people get who have your same take home pay at a lower net income (e.g. student loan tax deduction). Also, you have to deal with ignorant people like yourself that look at salary numbers in a vacuum and assume the person talking is over-privileged.

One of my younger friends moved out to the bay at a 90k salary and he cannot afford to live by himself in a one bedroom apartment in the south bay, let alone SF. Consider that, he can't afford a shitty one bedroom apartment in a suburb.

The fact you assume I wasn't taking taxes and cost of living into account says a lot about the intelligence of the people you prefer to hang out with.

People get by in SF with much less than the numbers that are being quoted here. I'm not saying you shouldn't complain, I'm saying be reasonable about your problems.

> One of my younger friends moved out to the bay at a 90k salary and he cannot afford to live by himself in a one bedroom apartment in the south bay, let alone SF.

That's preposterous. Even with significant payments like student loans, that's easily done on 90k. Typical rent in SB is 2k a month. A good deal on a 1 bedroom place is something like 1200.

Yes, downtown SF is ridiculous. All those stories about tiny places for 4k a month are more-or-less true. Even then, people often find much better deals, but I'll happily concede that the situation is out of hand there. The rest of the bay, though? Pshh. Sure it's not cheap, but it's nothing like people try to make it out.

Sure, but then you have to live in St. Louis, Missouri.

I'm sure I could move to a third world country and have an even lower cost of living. As though it were otherwise equivalent to living in a top US city.

SF is a tech echo-chamber with terrible public transit and rental market that probably wouldn't be so expensive if anyone were allowed to build anything. On top of all that it has managed to attract more douchebags ("tech gold rush") per capita than Manhattan.

I'm not sure the density of craft cocktails bars and farm-to-table restaurants, or the fact that it never gets too hot makes up for the drawbacks.

I actually understand the attraction of the Bay area in terms of climate, access to mountains and oceans and redwood forests, and the overall vibe of the place. If I were interested in moving somewhere else (which I'm not), and someone wanted to give me a really big pile of money, I'd definitely consider moving there especially if I didn't have to commute.

That said, I definitely get your comments. Aspects of the Silicon Valley mindset can get to be a bit much after a while. Much of the actual valley is suburban sprawl with awful traffic and I find SF itself something of a mixed bag even if it has a lot of positives.

SF is def way more than just those things you cherry picked. Also, the "more douchebags per capita than Manhattan" -- you're going to need a citation for that.

Personally, I like the people here - both counter cultural, and also scientific. Very friendly to us aspy-leaning folks. A place where someone can say "I quit my job and am doing {teaching yoga, making the aforementioned craft cocktails, etc}" without judgement. A place where, quite literally, the core of our technological world is being invented. The weather is a bonus, and the accessibility to the great American west.

So yea, quit knocking my town!

I've yet to meet someone who feels this way who's actually tried getting out of their house beyond going to the aforementioned cocktail bars. If you're an uninteresting person and uninterested in exploring, the city you're in isn't going to magically be interesting the second you step out the door. But hey no complaints here, that just means the fun parts of sf are all the less crowded.

Complaints about the rent and transit are obviously legitimate, though you may be overestimating the quality of transit in most other cities.

Complaints about the rent and transit are obviously legitimate, though you may be overestimating the quality of transit in most other cities.

Other cities either have similarly insane rent and much better transit (NYC), or similarly bad transit and much cheaper rent (basically everywhere else).

I would take a short commute time over a higher-quality transit system with long commutes every time.

I've visited SF and the outlying areas. It's nice. But with all the car traffic to get anywhere outside the mass-transit grid (and the West Coast sprawl that's a side-effect of having enough land to sprawl onto), it's not nearly nice enough to justify the outsized cost of living.

Maybe in the future my attitude will change, but as of right now you literally could not pay me enough to move to the SF / MTV area.

Mountain View is a typical upper-middle class suburb that exist in every US city with >100k population. It's single family houses with strip malls and horrible commute from anywhere. Really nothing to boast about. Minority of employees live in SF and waste 2.5 hours of their life on commute.

Speaking as someone who lives in a developing world tax haven, I'd almost rather live here than in SF, even if they cost the same. But it's not even close. I told the Google recruiter that they can't afford me, so please stop emailing me. They can't pay me enough to make up for the difference in cost of living.

Not everyone considers SF to be a top US city. To each his own.

Seattle is pretty alright. Substantially cheaper than the bay, no state income taxes, lower sales tax, and competitive comp.

Sure, but then you have to live in St. Louis, Missouri.

Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Minneapolis, and Boston are more affordable than the Bay Area, and generally considered to be good places to live. (I won't say anything either way about St. Louis, because I don't know anything about it. I was there about 12 years ago and will probably be there this year for Strange Loop, but that's it.) There isn't a lack of affordable, good places to live in the U.S. There isn't even a lack of affordable, good places to live in cities: Chicago is still the Second City, culturally. L.A. is just a company town for the entertainment industry and way too spread out.

New York is expensive but actually worth it in terms of urban amenity (unlike SF). There really isn't anywhere in the U.S. that has that urban density, so if that's what you want, NYC provides it. San Francisco, on the other hand, wouldn't be on the map except for the VC industry. It has more of a one-dimensional economy than Los Angeles.

I make 117k in San Francisco

My take home: 3300 / 2 weeks

My rent: 2600 / month (on the high side, but not ludicrous)

Roughly $100k after paying roughly 40% +/- in taxes.

Very rough numbers of course.

I will confirm that these numbers are accurate. I've heard that bonus percentages improve when you reach Staff.

Google also has, interesting enough, High Compensation Plans (HCPs) for people it's trying to bring in from finance. On an HCP, you get faster promotions and usually you are on the management ladder, which is much easier to climb, especially past level 7+. So, if you come from Wall Street, you can be a Software Manager III or Director but write code full time.

You worked there for 6 months, and it was 4 years ago. You're hardly in a position to "confirm" anything.


> Please leave and let the adults talk.

You know that personal attacks are not ok here.


Telling someone to "leave" and that they aren't an "adult" is plainly a personal attack whether you know their real name or not.

Telling someone to "leave" is saying that he's not contributing. I should probably leave this thread, which I think only you and I care about. That's not an insult to me. There are conversations in which I am not useful and should not enter, or should leave if I do enter them.

Implying that someone isn't an adult isn't an insult either. If someone's 5 years old, it's not an insult to call that person a child. Likewise, I call my cats, "cats", and my friends' dogs, "dogs", and no one seems to be offended.

If someone who I don't know acts like a child, I will presume that that person is a child. If someone posts "sdj;;;s;dksk;ld;sdkl;sd" I will presume that a cat walked across the keyboard. Is this offensive?

This is obfuscatory spin. That comment broke HN's most important rule. This is obvious—it's not like it was a borderline call.

The rule applies to everyone. Please follow it.

It's just bizarre that the rule doesn't apply to packetslave. Snide personal remarks based on truth are okay? Scare quotes around the word "confirm"?

I see nothing wrong with the quotes, nor do I read that comment as snide, exactly. But you're right that the use of personal details as ammunition is not ok.

Ok, fair enough, tone is subject to interpretation.

If you're new to HN you might not be aware of the baiting of googlers that michaelochurch sometimes does.

Thanks, sometimes it's hard to see who's trolling who.

How is agreeing that posted salary numbers are accurate "baiting of googlers"?

Why is every discussion of fact treated as incendiary?

People react as if they were baited when they see my name. That's on them, not me.

packetslave made a specific very personal attack, you responded with a general less personal attack. He started it, but two wrongs don't make a right. It's hard to respond graciously to comments that undermine your credibility, try not to let people wind you up. Walk away. I struggle with not replying in kind to rudeness too, just yesterday I was searching for "how to respond to rude strangers".

The data in the OP shows that the variation is far higher than you exist.

I don't see any data listed, did I miss it?

I didn't either, though it may very well be there. Twitter is a horrid medium for this sort of story and I really wish the teller had done a more traditional blog post, though ultimately I'm glad she told the story publicly at all rather than not tell it.

From what I've read I thought she was careful to keep all the information internal to the company, which seems to strengthen her case that she didn't really do anything wrong.

Variation in self-reporting? Well I never!

I shudder at the data reliability issues of a self-selecting sample of individuals being asked to self-report salaries.

There may well be real pay inequity issues -- in fact, my default presumption is that such problems exist anywhere that there has not been a systematic effort to avoid them -- but unless there's far more to this spreadsheet than the article describes, I don't see how it can reasonably be taken to have any large-scale significance.

I think there's as much a story in the managerial response to the spreadsheet as in the spreadsheet itself. If there really was not a problem (or not a statistically-significant one, or not a statistically-significantly worse-than-industry-norms one), it seems like there would have been better ways to respond. Even "HR did the stats, you can't see them, but our data implies less wage gap than your data" would be worth something.

And regardless of whether we can infer anything about the true pay inequity from the sample, the response by management described here is just totally awful, and strongly implies behavior that is illegal in the US. You're not allowed to penalize an employee for discussing wages simply because their discussion is factually inaccurate or statistically unsound.

Oh, I agree that the managerial response (particularly with her getting flooded by bonuses which her manager vetoed) was idiotic. That doesn't take away from my concerns about how people may be analysing and using the anecdata though.

If someone came to me and said "I did a self-selecting self-reporting survey of salaries, and it says I'm underpaid", I think I'd be more likely to fire them for incompetence than to give them a raise.

> If someone came to me and said "I did a self-selecting self-reporting survey of salaries, and it says I'm underpaid", I think I'd be more likely to fire them for incompetence than to give them a raise.

OK, except that's not what's happening here. What seems to be happening here is someone saying "I did a self-reporting survey of salaries, and there's an existence proof that someone at my level is getting paid $X, can I get paid closer to $X than my current salary." Which is sound.

The statistics and pivot tables are very interesting, but I suspect they're not directly being used for negotiations. Nobody has any good information about how much money they should be asking for. The data this spreadsheet provides is that, if you ask for $X, it's within the range of reason, and not so high that you'll get laughed at.

If I apply for Google and try to negotiate a $200K salary, is that low? high? so high I'll get my offer revoked? (I've heard of that happening in tech!) I have no idea. Knowing even one person who works in my future role and makes $200K would be valuable information. So would knowing that I can't find anyone in that role making more than $110K. Knowing the mean and standard deviation of salaries at 95% confidence is not particularly more useful to me.

What seems to be happening here is someone saying "I did a self-reporting survey of salaries, and there's an existence proof that someone at my level is getting paid $X, can I get paid closer to $X than my current salary." Which is sound.

It's sound modulo the assumption that everybody is being honest when they report their salaries, sure. Of course, in a company Google's size, there are always going to be outliers, so "someone at my level is getting paid $X" is a long way from "everybody at my level should be getting paid $X".

If I apply for Google and try to negotiate a $200K salary, is that low? high? so high I'll get my offer revoked? (I've heard of that happening in tech!) I have no idea.

Right, and that's the proper use of such anecdata -- to help you formulate your bargaining strategy, not as a bargaining chip itself.

Ironically, if information like this had been available back in 2006, I might be working for Google: A few months after I rejected their offer, I was told that it was "pathetically low" and that I could have negotiated at least 50% more. If I had been offered that much more it might have factored into my decision; but I didn't know I could negotiate, so I ended up simply rejecting the offer.

"but I didn't know I could negotiate"

This is shocking to me. Was it your first formal job offer?


I have precisely the same fears. I have been relying on Glassdoor, which seems risky at best. A self-reported internal spreadsheet would be a lot more helpful.

> If someone came to me and said "I did a self-selecting self-reporting survey of salaries, and it says I'm underpaid", I think I'd be more likely to fire them for incompetence than to give them a raise.

Even if besides them being wrong in this one thing, they would actually be competent and underpaid?

If the answer to the above question is no, why do you even have to elaborate. Then it doesn't actually matter at all if the employee complains rightly or wrongly! I have to conclude the answer has to be yes, then.

It's perfectly understandable that you, as a manager or employer, don't want to pay people for their merit if you don't have to. But it's not something you should be proud of.

Drawing conclusions from self-selected self-reported data (without a careful process for validation and debiasing) is a big red flag for (a) being ignorant of basic statistics, and (b) not even being aware of your ignorance of basic statistics. I mean, "why do we use random samples?" is covered in the first lecture of a 1st year stats course.

I expect developers to be familiar with basic statistics.

Wow. Colin, are you just trying to win an argument online or are you really that flippant when it comes to firing an employee? Keep in mind that we're talking about people's livelihoods, here---it's the sort of thing that can stress people out to the point of mental breakdown, even if you're not actively threatening them.

Firstly, this isn't a job interview. If someone's been working with you for long enough that they want to discuss a salary adjustment, then shouldn't your assessment of the value that they bring to the table be more informed than looking for "red flags" on the spot?

Secondly, developers are generally not familiar with basic statistics. If it's important to your business that they be better-than-average at stats, then budget some time and money for training.

Thirdly, in the real world, we make decisions from incomplete and biased information all the time. Sometimes, those decisions turn out to be wrong, but on the whole, it still works out better than pretending that we have no information at all. If you're in management and you have access to more complete information, then the smart thing for an employee to do is to have a conversation with you. It makes no sense to fire someone for that.

I have a lot of respect for your technical work, but the management style you're describing so far sounds authoritarian and abusive. I really hope that's not how you'd actually treat your reports, in practice.

are you really that flippant when it comes to firing an employee?

I don't know; I've never had to fire anyone yet.

I'll admit that when writing at 1AM I may have let some hyperbole slip into my comments. It's quite possible that my reaction would be "great, your assignment for the next week is to do a rigorous statistical analysis of this data".

On the other hand, as someone else commented, I said "more likely"; and that's probably true. I can't imagine a situation where I'd accept a naive analysis of self-selected self-reporting data as having any substance at all, so I would certainly not give someone a raise based on that.

discuss a salary adjustment

Discussing salary is fine. My point is that bad statistics is worse than nothing in this context.

> My point is that bad statistics is worse than nothing in this context.

Actually, even this point is wrong, IMHO. I can easily imagine situations where you get just one data point and correctly infer from it that you're underpaid.

One example is that someone who obviously less competent than you will reveal to you higher salary than you have.

Another example is that someone has access to information will tell you that your salary is low, and you have good reason to trust that person.

I understand that you as an employer naturally don't think that you are or ever will be biased in this way. But it still may happen in the wild.

In any case, I think it was already said, if you still think that bad statistics is worse than none, you should make the information publicly available. It's the similar thing as with rumors.

I can easily imagine situations where you get just one data point and correctly infer from it that you're underpaid.

One data point isn't even bad statistics. It's anecdote. Maybe the other person is being vastly overpaid.

> Maybe the other person is being vastly overpaid.

Maybe; but if you think like that, then no sample can give you that information. Because you won't get any absolute reference point either way. In any case, such situation is a good reason to talk about your salary.

So your argument is wrong; the sample size is not important (that doesn't mean it's useless, though!). Either you have some reference point, and then you can judge the fairness of the salary (even from one data point), or you don't have a reference point, and then no sample size will help you get it.

Let me rephrase that: If you get told that one person is earning far more than you, then you don't know if you're the anomaly or if they're the anomaly.

If you get told that a large representative sample of people all get paid far more than you, it suggests that you're the anomaly.

There is something wrong with your thinking, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Let me try:

Either you assume a prior distribution of salaries or not. If you don't, then you don't know mean salary, and so group of any size will not tell you if you're anomaly. Because they can all be anomalous as well.

On the other hand, if you assume a prior distribution (which is pretty much what Bayesian statistics does), then even one sample will modify the prior, and you gain information (i.e. "suggestion that you're anomaly or not").

Of course more samples is always better, but if you can make conclusion from multiple samples, then you can make conclusion from one sample.

It seems to me that in the first case, you're saying we cannot assume any prior, but in the second case, you're doing exactly that - assuming that there is a mean - 1st moment of the prior distribution and maybe even other moments - which indicate whether an observation is anomaly or not.

The Conversation

"Hey Coliin, I've been chatting with a couple of people, and I've got a concern about my salary"

"You're fired"

The End

I'm going to break something to you - work, recognition and pay is a popularity contest in many organisations. Someone who is seen as a trouble maker gets alienated quickly, regardless of talent, skin colour, gender or looks. I have managed a few large teams (100+ people). My observations were: - gender was not a factor in income, nor was race - but being one of the "players" was important (regardless of competency) - performance appraisals were popularity contests (ratings were often changed or negotiated with senior management) - people that caused trouble (regardless of gender, race) were ostracised. Language was also a major barrier, or cliques that established for one reason or another. They usually worked against the culture management tried to create and were seen as a threat. - good people were nearly always paid well, unless they pissed the wrong people off.

So Colin spoke the truth (as far as I can tell). It is very hard to change a bad culture unless the person at the top is committed to it. I fought a number of injustices and was kicked in the balls many times (metaphorically of course). You learn what you can and can't get away with or end up on the outer - truth be damned. I was often respected for my principles but seen as foolhardy for my commitment to truth. From my experience, gender and race is no basis for judging decent & compassionate management either. I worked with some brutal men and women over the years. It doesn't take Einstein to sort the Wheat from the chaff, people normally knew - although terms like "makes stuff happen", "doesn't take prisoners", "hard ass" were some alternate names for these brutal types. I can't speak for all work environments, but I've seen hundreds of salaries and appraisals over the years. I can not guarantee my experience reflects the broader world of business.

So here is another example of not understanding the basics of statistics.

The statement was 'more likely to fire than give a raise'. This does not mean that these are the only two options available. 'More likely' just means the chance is higher overall, whether it's 99% likely to fire or 2% likely to fire.

It's also not what was said - it wasn't "chatting led to a concern", it was "self-reported, self-selecting study says X". That stuff really is a red flag to folks who have a decent grounding in statistics.

Literal much?

Brilliant mansplaining though!

It's a fairly reliable signal that once you start to use words like "mansplaining" you're well past having a useful point to make in a reasonable discussion.

Why are you complaining that my comment is taking yours seriously, when yours is taking colin's seriously? Nice hypocrisy there.

I was actually referencing your underlying understanding for your ridicule, not the joke itself.

Can you point out where Colin indicated (clearly too subtly for me) that his repeated comments on this subject were a joke and should not be taken seriously.

Once you do that, I'll try and explain (mansplain if necessary) how a play of 2 lines and 1 act is probably not a very serious response.

> a careful process for validation and debiasing

What might something like this look like?

Generally speaking, you would want to take a random sample of employees, verify that the information they self-reported was correct, and perform a regression analysis of response rate vs. other characteristics (age, seniority, gender, salary, ethnicity, etc.).

In this particular context, the biggest threats to data integrity are probably:

1. People lie, and men probably lie about their salaries more than women,

2. Willingness to divulge salary is highly culture-dependent, and in societies where salary is seen as a sign of social success, can be highly salary-dependent (and probably more so for men than for women).

If you're interested in learning more I suggest looking for information about how national census data is processed; they have lots of experience dealing with these sorts of issues (albeit with different factors influencing response rates and data reliability).

Interesting, thanks!

In this thread, the repeatedly reinforced observation that expertise in crafting software does not automatically bestow skills for managing, understanding, or empathizing with people, and those whose work you respect tremendously may just disappoint you when it comes to working for them.

Vetoing > 1 peer bonus for the same thing is pretty much policy.

Certainly it's manager discretion, but that's usually the right thing to do.

(There are other forms of bonusing that would make more sense in such a case, like a spot bonus, or whatever)

An astonishing attitude.

Perhaps, if you ever end up managing people, you'll hopefully take a step back and contemplate investigating whether there was, in fact, a valid concern.

Well, the obvious solution to the self-selecting issue is just have the company publish all salaries publicly.

Of course, very few would dare to do that because they know that the data will be hiding all sorts of embarrassing and possibly resignation-causing truths. Which is kind of shitty if you think about it, especially when taken with the notion that "companies are people"... sociopathic, lying, cheating people...

On the other hand, if I was a manager at an established company with thousands of workers, I'd be very wary of "just publishing all salaries publicly" even if I did think they were all fair (which I don't believe it's true for most companies, granted).

For one thing, fairness is subjective. For many, "equal pay for equal work" is fair, but many others believe that seniority, or a better CV, or many others factors should be rewarded differently.

Secondly, there are issues of perception. A worker might think (s)he should be paid more because (s)he always leaves later than his/her colleague, without taking into account that the colleague prefers to take shorter lunches or fewer breaks and leave earlier. You can explain it to them, but why would they believe you?

It'd be different if a company published the salaries from the start, but switching after growing to a huge size can be very disruptive, and I don't blame managers for avoiding opening that can of worms.

(Again, I don't believe the salaries at Google are perfectly fair, I'm talking about an hypothetical company)

Then again; in all of Sweden everybody's tax returns are public information and their economy still seems to do just fine...

Yes, but that's been open for over 100 years. What I was talking about was the issues surrounding the transition from closed to open, not the openness itself.

They could publish descriptive statistics of the salaries without publishing the salaries themselves.

Many universities publish everyone's salary yearly. Everyone always says Google feels very collegiate...

Statistics is as much (if not more) about careful thought as it is about applying standard tests.

What sampling biases do you think might be present in this sampling that invalidate the stated conclusions?

For example, for a conclusion about gender differences to be exaggerated by the data there would have to be systematic biases to sampling women with lower salaries, and men with higher salaries, in the same position. Does this seem likely?

For a conclusion about gender differences to be exaggerated by the data there would have to be systematic biases to sampling women with lower salaries, and men with higher salaries, in the same position. Does this seem likely?

For a self-selected sample, absolutely. Self-worth is far more tied to salary in males than in females. (I don't think this is innate; I think it's a result of social conditioning which tells males that their role in society is to be breadwinners.)

But you don't need to be able to point to a specific source of bias to say that self-selected samples are problematic. It's up to the person who intends to use the statistics to show that they were either gathered reliably or carefully examined to remove biases.

I don't understand the link you're drawing between self-worth and willingness to participate in this spreadsheet exercise, but I suppose it is beside the point.

I certainly agree that if someone is trying to make a statistical claim then they should be the ones to do the due diligence on the data, and on their analyses, to show that they stand up - I would certainly expect this in a more formal publication.

What I am disputing is that one can dismiss the conclusions simply due to the lack of these checks, without considering what the data might tell you.

Nearly always such dismissive arguments strike me as a disagreement with the conclusions, rather than a claim about failings in the data - a more convincing argument would present a reason why the data are flawed, such as the one you have given in this response (even if I don't understand it).

Ah the want do you want 2+2 to equal boss :-)

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact