Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

Programmers Salaries at google $250k (and up)

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting with an old friend. We caught up about all the stuff we’d been up to since we last saw each other several years ago and one of the things he mentioned was that he’d gone to work for Google as a programmer.

Offhandedly he remarked that ‘what you read in forums about salaries at Google is not correct, I’m pushing $250k per year’. And that’s for someone approaching 30 years of age, programming, not a manager or something like that.

Let me put this into perspective: this guy has a degree in CS from a good school, but definitely not MIT or something comparable, is a good programmer but in his own words: ‘at Google I feel like I’m stupid most of the time’ and is working on interesting stuff that involves little to no risk to him and takes home one quarter of a million dollars annually.

That’s about 4 times the median salary for a Police Patrol Officer in the same region.

The United States president makes only about $150K per year more than he does!

Assuming this is true and not boasting - which I have absolutely no reason to believe, this guy is honest to a fault -, and taking into account taxes and the expenses of living in California that would still leave quite a bit of money to be saved.

The downside of receiving that much cash and/or Google stock as compensation for your time is that it is going to be very hard to let go of those golden handcuffs. Switching from that kind of income to a start-up scenario with a lot of risks and a very much reduced financial picture for the first couple of years would likely be tough.

On the other hand, if you planned it well you could probably finance a good sized start-up from working for the big G for four years and living frugally. Whether you’ll ever make as much as the C*O of a start-up you co-found (unless there is a sizable exit) is a fair question, and for most people that would be one answered in the negative. The responsibilities and the stress would increase enormously and your pay over the first 4 to 5 years - assuming eventual success - would be a small fraction of what you’d be able to make at a company like Google.

In a way I should not be surprised. After all, if Google finds and employs all these talented and driven people and the want to keep them they’ll have to somehow find a way to negate the lure of striking out on your own. The easiest way to achieve that is to take some of that money pile and pass it on to those that are skillful enough to be continuously tempted.

Average salaries at Google for programmers are around the $130K mark so likely the guy I just met is at the high end of the scale and gets a bonus and/or stock. Still, 14 million per year all-in is pretty impressive for someone under 30. Not bad at all. It would probably be safe to assume that those that are more experienced than he is are making more than that.

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

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

Food for thought.

Until this conversation I thought this http://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Google-Salaries-E9079.htm painted a realistic picture, now I’m not so sure.