$250K for an “Entry Level” software engineer?! My three takeaways…

Recent blog by Haseeb Qureshi on his experience in interviewing for a software engineer positions in Silicon Valley received a lot of attention.  The nugget that made the blog buzz-worthy is that Haseeb landed a job with $250K annual compensation by negotiating aggressively and by pitting companies against each another.  These companies included the likes of Google, Airbnb, and Yelp.

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If one reads through Haseeb’s long blog, one realizes that the matter is not as simple as a random entry level software engineer landing a $250K job by clever bargaining. Haseeb is an extremely talented individual – though he did not study programming in college, he picked up programming expertise through one year of intense training.  His background as a former word-class poker player also signals that he had the right raw talents needed for becoming an elite programmer.

Beyond the basics such as the need for negotiating and receiving multiple offers, I believe this story reveals three systemic themes as below:

1. Programming talent can originate from any educational background

Haseeb was an English major, a field not known as the hotbed for programmers.  However, individuals pursue their passions in college that are not conducive for programming jobs (and yet many of other such candidates don’t pursue formal college education at all).

Now, programming is not a satisfying career for everybody.  Many would rather pursue other options such as arts or writing.  For the others, those would love a programming career if fate leads them there, there is an opportunity as revealed in this story.  Good news is that many alternative education outfits like App Academy, General Assembly, and Galvanize are working to expose this hidden talent.

2. There is growing froth in Silicon Valley

The fact that eight or so companies were bidding against each other for a single programmer indicate companies behave as if they are desperate for talent and have no budget restrictions.  From reading Haseeb’s blog, it appears like companies are interested in acquiring top talent without really knowing how to apply it to their business.  The attitude seems to be – “bring the talent and then decide what to do later”. This is not a sustainable business practice and will stop real quick once the economic hammer falls – whether in terms of tighter VC funding or shut IPO market.

3. Hiring is heavily biased towards local personnel (to the detriment of company’s financial interests)

Companies tend to gravitate towards local talent causing the compensation bubble in Silicon Valley. If companies give training to hiring managers to effectively work with remote talent, such tight market for local talent will subside.  The current wisdom in the valley is that all team members have to be in the office for new ideas to bloom.  It is a bit anachronistic, considering all the new technologies that have emerged to make remote workers close in productivity levels to that of local talent. It is fiduciary responsibility for companies to bring down frothy compensation levels by training their people managers and mandating wider geographic distribution of talent.

Conclusion

Let us loop back to Haseeb who caused the uproar by being transparent with his job hunting and negotiating techniques.  I believe he did all of us a major favor by shining a light into the talent acquisition practices in Silicon Valley. I also want to commend his “earning-to-give” pledge that donates one-third of his income to charities.  I am sure all those charities will wish him continued success in his professional endeavors!

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Posted by Joju Mangalam

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