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Engineers On Google's Self-Driving Car Project Were Paid So Much That They Quit (theverge.com) 95

According to a new report from Bloomberg, most of the money Google spent on it self-driving car project, now spun off into a new entity called Waymo, has gone to engineers and other staff. While it has helped retain a lot of influential and dedicated workers in the short run, it has resulted in many staffers leaving the company in the long run due to the immense financial security. The Verge reports: Bloomberg says that early staffers "had an unusual compensation system" that multiplied staffers salaries and bonuses based on the performance of the self-driving project. The payments accumulated as milestones were reached, even though Waymo remains years away from generating revenue. One staffer eventually "had a multiplier of 16 applied to bonuses and equity amassed over four years." The huge amounts of compensation worked -- for a while. But eventually, it gave many staffers such financial security that they were willing to leave the cuddly confines of Google. Two staffers that Bloomberg spoke to called it "F-you money," and the accumulated cash allowed them to depart Google for other firms, including Chris Urmson who co-founded a startup with ex-Tesla employee Sterling Anderson, and others who founded a self-driving truck company called Otto which was purchased by Uber last year, and another who founded Argo AI which received a $1 billion investment from Ford last week.
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Engineers On Google's Self-Driving Car Project Were Paid So Much That They Quit

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  • Makes no sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 13, 2017 @08:18PM (#53861649)
    If they were only quitting because of financial security there wouldn't be a single CEO still working in silicon valley.
    More likely there was something wrong in the work environment.
    That combined with lots of money means they will move on to more fulfilling things.
    • Re:Makes no sense (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zaelath ( 2588189 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @08:31PM (#53861735)

      There's no career path from Engineer to CEO.

      So:
      - They're really keen on money so they've become CEO of a company they founded in hopes of pulling a Zuckerburg, or
      - They're not really keen on money and want to work on things that interest them.

      Being cash bloated lets you do either.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        He's an engineer by education and became a CEO of one of the largest corporation of the world. He happens to be one cabinet position I have some hope for even though I don't approve of Donald Trump. Tillerson will act based on facts and not emotion.

        • Yeah, that's one. What do you think the odds are of the same thing happening to every Engineer at Google w/ aspirations of being a CEO?

          • Re:Rex Tillerson (Score:5, Interesting)

            by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Tuesday February 14, 2017 @12:08AM (#53862915) Homepage Journal

            Yeah, that's one. What do you think the odds are of the same thing happening to every Engineer at Google w/ aspirations of being a CEO?

            Low, but that's not really the point.

            The point is that if the engineers are paid so well that they no longer need their Google income, they're free to go try to become a CEO of their own mega-successful startup. Whether or not the startup is likely to succeed doesn't change that equation, especially if they're careful to avoid putting much of their own cash into it, so they are still comfortable even if their startup bombs -- as it most likely will.

            Another Google-related example of this phenomenon, I think, is the now-discontinued "Founder's Award" program. It used to be that truly exceptional performers could win a Founder's Award which came with a huge cash (or stock, not sure) bonus... like $10M. The theory was that it was a way to convince people that they could become wealthy by staying at Google, rather than leaving to found their own companies. It was quietly discontinued, though, and the rumor is that it's because they discovered that nearly all of the winners took their big pile of cash and left to found their own companies. The sort of people who won the awards were exactly the sort of technically-skilled but entrepreneurial leaders who were well-suited to and interested in starting their own companies. Not giving them a big pile of cash might make them decide to leave, but giving them one pretty much guaranteed it.

            So, I guess the ideal compensation approach for retention is to walk the line between paying them enough that they can't leave without taking a pay cut, but not so much that they become financially independent.

            • by pubwvj ( 1045960 )

              Called golden handcuffs.

            • by djinn6 ( 1868030 )
              You have to ask why they couldn't do exactly what they want while working within the Google ecosystem.

              The way I see it, there's only 2 benefits to a startup:
              • 1. More payout when a startup succeeds
              • 2. More freedom to do what they want

              If the founder's award was supposed to fix #1, then it's obviously #2 that's causing people to still leave the company, because there's plenty of downsides to running a startup:

              • 1. Risk of failure
              • 2. No access to existing Google tech or customers
              • 3. Need to spend time looking
              • The way I see it, there's only 2 benefits to a startup

                There's a third, and an even more important one: Having it be yours. Even given the significant freedom that Googlers have (and we do have a lot... and as you move up the ladder it increases), there's no substitute for seeing if you can really build something from scratch, with absolutely no one to question you, and being able to look at it at the end of the day and say "I did that"... which includes all of the business stuff. It's about playing the grand game and winning, and you can't really play it while

      • There's no career path from Engineer to CEO.

        So: - They're really keen on money so they've become CEO of a company they founded in hopes of pulling a Zuckerburg, or - They're not really keen on money and want to work on things that interest them.

        Being cash bloated lets you do either.

        Yes, there fucking is. Do I need to google some examples for you?

        • Half the engineering companies that I've worked had CEO's who were former engineers. Unfortunately for some, being a good engineer does not automatically make you a good manager. And most engineers that I've worked with don't want to be managers because it's not what they really enjoy doing.
        • Sorry, should have been clearer. Without leaving Google.

          There may be for one of them, eventually... but the entire argument here is predicated on staff retention, not the ability of an engineer to eventually become CEO of an entirely different company.

    • Unless they were gaming their metrics and know it.

      If they were, they know they need to get to IPO/buyout on their startups before the whole thing is demonstrated as a (bad/very premature) idea.

      Could be we're agreeing, nothing more fulfilling than 'redistributing some wealth' to yourself.

    • They went from Google engineer to CEO of their own company.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Employees stay when they are:

      * Paid well
      * Involved
      * Challenged
      * Appreciated
      * Valued
      * Empowered
      * Chained to their desks

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nitehawk214 ( 222219 )

      The article is what makes no sense. If all these employees were making huge amounts of money, why would they leave and start companies in the same industry? They obviously felt they could make more money on their own or at different companies.

      Looks like a simple case of a CEO looking at the peon employes and thinking "look at all those overpayed assholes." The "overpaid assholes" then leave the company, and the CEO finds out all his talent is gone and his company is bust.

      • by hipp5 ( 1635263 )

        They obviously felt they could make more money on their own or at different companies.

        Or they wanted the excitement and self-determination that can come from creating a startup, and now they have the war chest to do it without having to risk their family stability or eat ramen for every meal.

        • Exactly that.
          I'm one of the very many who have a great idea, have nurtured it over years and ironed out most details, but don't have the cash to implement it.
          If I were paid that much and managed to gather enough to get started on my idea, I would have quit as well.

      • At a certain point, money no longer matters. You can buy a slightly nicer car or a slightly nicer house, or you can buy the feeling that what you do every day matters.
      • The article is what makes no sense. If all these employees were making huge amounts of money, why would they leave and start companies in the same industry? They obviously felt they could make more money on their own or at different companies.

        Looks like a simple case of a CEO looking at the peon employes and thinking "look at all those overpayed assholes." The "overpaid assholes" then leave the company, and the CEO finds out all his talent is gone and his company is bust.

        Once you are loaded with money and without a problem in finding any job and salary of your liking, you are free to quit and work for something that you like, even if it means taking a pay cut.

        That's what financial independence looks like.

    • Its common sense. There's almost no amount of money that Google can throw at their autonomous car lead developers that can match a tech startup. It implies there's an amount of generous salary that will discourage developers from going startup. But Google hires alpha developers who understand what it means to be a successful startup.

      I really don't even believe Google is the cutting edge of autonomous car development. I'm guessing its Tesla, because they have the closest thing to a functioning autonomous

      • I'd just take the money and retire. Most startups FAIL. But there are other benefits too - being your own boss, actually working on stuff instead of endless meetings, and so forth.

    • Re:Makes no sense (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Wycliffe ( 116160 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2017 @12:51AM (#53863085) Homepage

      If they were only quitting because of financial security there wouldn't be a single CEO still working in silicon valley.
      More likely there was something wrong in the work environment.
      That combined with lots of money means they will move on to more fulfilling things.

      Notice how all 3 examples started their own business? There is a *huge* difference between "making tons of money *and* being able to call the shots" and "just making tons of money". I own my own business and make around 90k a year. I could likely make considerably more working for someone else and I've considered it a few times but I'm not sure the extra money would be worth losing all the perks I get from owning my own business.

    • Sure, lots of people will gladly quit because of financial security. This is sometimes called "retirement". CEOs don't do this because CEOs are not necessarily normal human beings. A CEO might think that you can incentivize workers by giving out more money (or fake money in the form of stock options). But engineers are pragmatic people, and an extra 10% year end bonus will not necessarily convince them to stick with jobs that they hate doing. So retire, or get a less grueling job, or actually get a fun

    • It really depends on how much money we're talking here. One person in the article earned at 16x multiplier on unspecified bonuses, and large salaries to boot. I personally do love my job in IT, but if I was moved to a position where I was doing the same type of work but earning 2x what I do today and earning crazy bonuses to boot, it would only take me about 5-6 years to acquire enough money to have everything paid off and enough alternate passive revenue coming in to never need to work another minute in

    • by Anonymous Coward

      When my Bonus Multiplier reaches 16x I expect to receive an extra ball. But then, I am old. Very old.

    • An engineer would rather be working on projects of their own choosing. If I had the financial security, I would quit my job and venture off into my own projects that may or may not make money some day. I wouldn't need to make what someone else want's me to make just to pay the bills.
    • Conversely, if I had been paid really well - assuming I'd been well-treated - and a new project came up later, I'd be a lot more likely to sign back on again.

      But that sounds too much like Free Market Economics. Spending money for value - and for goodwill.

      As opposed to the popular paradigm where you hire gobs of people, work them until their effective salary is 50 cents an hour. then toss them on the street, uncaring if they despise you so much that the only reason they'd ever come back was if the alternativ

  • Waymo... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 13, 2017 @08:24PM (#53861677)

    ...as in Waymo than we should have paid them.

  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @08:27PM (#53861707)
    So the engineers met the goals that earned the money. Google presumably didn't randomly set milestones, so the things they wanted they got. Headline makes it sound like there was an "oops," but I'm not seeing evidence of it.

    Also, with the amount of money being thrown around at anything involving startup+AI+"silicon valley," I'm surprised anyone still works at google. If Google hadn't paid them an absurd amount of the even more absurd money they have on hand, would they have ever gotten anyone competent to work on it?
    • Good metrics are notoriously hard, especially if you've got a few clear thinking Machiavellians on staff.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      When the measurements become metrics, the measurements will no longer have meaning. Consider how many employee surveys only consider the top score to be a success. How many times have you been told "if you rate me anything other than a 5 of 5, I will be penalized" and you will catch my meaning.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      > Sounds like everyone won though

      Furthermore, "googleness" is spread across the industry. Presumably they did not rage-quit,. they left on good terms. Those engineers bring with them a positive connection to google developed over the time they were there. It is a sort of "soft power" for google to have friendlies sprinkled around the industry. It makes it easier for google to collaborate with the startups, maybe even acquire some of them as their tech matures. That's not something you can easily qu

    • The oops is: Oops, we gave them so much money that now they can now quit instead of making our self-driving car work (better).

      • I'm not familiar with google's approach. Were they actually going to develop a product here to sell or were they simply building the tech they'd patent and license to developers? Because the second sounds like what they were doing with android, and if that IS the plan, then they likely have the tech and IP. Mission accomplished at the cost they intended (potentially)?

        If they were intending to keep these guys around then yeah, oops, but that seems like something they'd be able to see coming if they're as
        • Edit: I mean the underlying tech vs a polished product ready to be relased. Their self-driving cars are at least functional to the point where it seems like (to me a non-engineer) they could hand it off to car companies. Sorry for not being clear.
          • I don't think they're made it clear.. but even if to license to other companies, the premise is that there was brain drain to other companies before it was finished.

  • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @08:38PM (#53861777)

    They say that all these engineers made "Fuck You" money, so they quit working on self-driving cars.... and promptly moved to other start-ups working on self-driving cars. I would make the case that clearly Google didn't reward them enough. After all, why would you leave the huge resources Google will throw at the problem in favor of going it alone, if not for the bigger payday.

    • Depends: If they are 'going for the gold' before the jig is up, it is just a case of cutting out the middleman.

      • More likely less bureaucracy.

        • I would argue "less politics"

          It sure sounds like Google is going through some crazy upheavel in terms of MBAs coming in and demanding results, and alienating the people who actually make stuff. Google Fiber head left, self-driving people all leave; it sounds like Google brings in business-types and ruins the culture that started things, thinking they can simply monetize something and it'll do well.

    • by grumling ( 94709 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @09:15PM (#53862029) Homepage

      This is the problem with big corporations. Small firms and startups can offer a relatively large percentage of the payoff if successful. Google, while able to provide stock options out the wazoo, still can't offer the kind of equity in the company Sergey and Larry have. After all, even acquiring enough stock to offer a 1% payout on success would be next to impossible without either driving up the share price or diluting the pool with new shares to drive the price down. But if you're working for a startup with potential, hey here's 10% of nothing. If it works out, whoopee. If not, well you still have all that "FU money" from your previous employer.

      I'm sure the same thing happened at Microsoft when they went public. I heard that people wore buttons that had the letters "FUIFV," which stood for "f*** you, I'm fully vested." I'm sure more than a few people decided to cut and run knowing their retirement, kids' education and possibly home were paid for. Just the right conditions for going out and starting your own company.

    • I would make the case that clearly Google didn't reward them enough.

      How to get people to do your bidding: dangle carrots and whack with sticks. Google didn't dangle, it just fed them carrots... and there were no sticks.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Threaten me with a stick and I will resent you forever.

        Treat me well and I will love you through thick and thin.

        • that's a mod point, because I have no mod points.

        • Threaten me with a stick and I will resent you forever.

          Treat me well and I will love you through thick and thin.

          That's a nice thought, but employers don't care about resentment or love, they care about results.

      • Warren Buffet once said that one of his hardest jobs was motivating billionaires into diving into work every day and that many of his best employees were billionaires.
    • It is possible that they just wanted to pursue the same goal in a different manner than what Google was doing. Since they already had enough money to be set for life they quit and get to be their own boss. Not everyone is driven by a need to accumulate all the wealth they can. I know a man who quit a job earning a princely salary because he didn't want to work for an adulterer, then went home and pursued his hobbies for 4 years before returning to the work force again.

  • I wonder (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    if someone at Alphabet is playing 5 dimensional string theory Mahjong and seeding the rest of the car industry with experts in order to make the future happen sooner.

  • I'm surprised they didn't retain those employees via do-not-compete clauses in their compensation contract. It sounds like most of them took off to do the same thing they were doing at Google... which would be a blatant violation of a DNC clause.

  • A single person attracted by cash is a contractor or mercenary. In the same way people work for the US gov as a contractor. Its all about the cash until they have enough cash to retire or can create their own company.
    Never allow your bands cash flow to be another persons life style enabler.
    Don't hire single people. They have too much freedom to save and the smarts to think about the next job or their own project or brand.
    Not just day dream like average workers, they can save and create their own job.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      That's a lot of words to say "Only hire mediocre people who can't find another job"

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Have you considered a professional mental health evaluation? Your borderline personality disorder word salad is worrisome.

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        AC most of that is just from Employee monitoring :) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] e.g. clickstream data, the ability to monitor, audit, inspect provided Internet.
        The Fourth Amendment, Electronic Communications Privacy Act, state statutes have all be used to protect from such efforts.
        The ability to guide and shape workers is often commented on too :)
        "Motivating Employees"
        http://guides.wsj.com/manageme... [wsj.com]
  • Workers at the company where I used to work told tales of the early days working there, when the company was new and flush with investor money and new clients coming in left and right and there were no products shipping. They had to code all of it, which wasn't terribly hard early on.

    Anyway, the early employees spoke of being wined and dined all the time, catered food brought to the office all the time, and of receiving massive bonus checks for doing essentially nothing. They were raking in so much cash,

  • by Beeftopia ( 1846720 ) on Monday February 13, 2017 @10:18PM (#53862397)

    Ruth Porat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    "Google to Pay New CFO Ruth Porat More Than $70 Million": https://www.bloomberg.com/news... [bloomberg.com]

    She's worth 10's if not 100's of millions of dollars and yet she's still working. This is just a salary bargaining ploy nonsense. That's why the article doesn't make any sense.

  • You can't stimulate talent with pay. Only repetitive work is stimulated by pay increase. As long as needs are covered, creative work is stimulated by protecting creative freedom, and by the clear understanding of the significance of the problem. See -> "RSA ANIMATE: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us" https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
  • by OneSmartFellow ( 716217 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2017 @07:04AM (#53864233)
    Rather it is the overall work environment.

    From what I've read, and from the very few first hand accounts from Google employees I've heard, the work environment at Google pretty much sucks unless you are running a successful project (i.e.  *THE* project leader).  This is little different from being CEO of your own company.

    Maybe the issue Google - like very many other employers needs to understand - is that the vast majority of people really do work to live, not the other way around.  The idea that it's considered normal to do a 60+ hour week is just bullshit.  All the free ice cream in the world doesn't compensate for that.

  • They didn't quit to go work somewhere else unless that "somewhere else" either paid more, or wasn't such a slave driver, don't be ridiculous. How many actually quit to just lounge away by the pool? Not many, I'll wager...

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