IT Salaries: Glassdoor Reveals Tech Pay Figures

Wednesday Jun 18th 2008 by James Maguire
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As the buzz mounts, opinion is sharply divided about a new Web site that reveals the salaries at prominent tech companies.

Are the tech salary numbers at Glassdoor to be believed?

The Web site, launched just last week, claims to have salary data from the biggest tech firms, including Microsoft, Yahoo and Google. Based in Sausalito, Calif., and funded by $3 million from Benchmark Capital, Glassdoor is run by former managers from Expedia and Zillow.

So presumably its pay data is more reliable than if, say, a 13-year-old had tinkered with Robert Half IT salary data in his bedroom.

But we don’t know that. Glassdoor gets it data from its site visitors, who are anonymous. The site claims that it has methods of vetting its data – but skeptics wonder.

Despite these doubts, the site has quickly mushroomed into a buzzmeister, garnering (by its own count) 1.2 million pageviews in its first 24 hours. Forbes dubbed it “workplace porn,” while USA Today ran a reader poll suggesting that users overwhelming favor Glassdoor.

The resulting traffic has helped the site gather scads of user-generated salary reports. For instance, here’s Glassdoor data on leading programmers:

Yahoo software engineer: $99,255 (range: $70k - $128k)

Yahoo senior software engineer: $123,390 (range: $100k - $150k)

Google software engineer: $99,544 (range: $50k - $150k)

Google senior software engineer: $126,653 (range: $80k - $160k)

Microsoft software development engineer: $95,641 (range: $65k - $145k)

Microsoft senior software development: $114,822 (range: $92k - $135k)

Cisco software engineer: $88,947 (range: $69k - $110k)

Cisco senior software engineer: $104,835 (range: $95k - $115k)

Among the salary data is this choice tidbit: a Google data center technician purportedly earns $41,499, with a range that dips down to $31k. Can you live on $31k in tony Mountain View, California? (And is the mighty Google actually paying some of its technicians the same as the local convenience store manager?)

Wikipedia of Salary Data

Nick Corcodilos, a longtime expert on IT hiring trends and owner of AskTheHeadhunter, dismisses Glassdoor as merely “salary gossip” – and a negative for tech professionals.

The site is “more of this new phenomenon where people’s opinions count as news – their prejudices count as news. None of this information is vetted or checked.”

When I informed him that the site endeavors to vet its information, he laughed. In his view, building an information source using data gathered anonymously over the Internet is like trying to build a solid wall from Swiss cheese. Corcodilos points to the example of Wikipedia, the user-generated encyclopedia that, while popular, is famously riddled with major errors.

He advises IT jobseekers: “You should never, ever, ever divulge your prior salary to any employer. Because as soon as you do, you destroy your ability to negotiate.” It’s the equivalent of inviting your prospective employer to judge you by the standards of your last job. “Which is utterly insane.”

Of course posting your salary on Greendoor, or anywhere online (and one has to wonder at the motivation of the posters) isn’t exactly like informing a possible employer. But still, “think about what this does now to the poor sucker job hunter. When people think they know what the salary is for a software developer at Google, for example, it limits them – it doesn’t help them.” It prompts professionals to think within these salary ranges rather than pressing for the best possible deal.

He recommends that IT job hunters ignore Glassdoor and instead negotiate to their best ability.

A Human Vetting Process

Robert Hohman, Glassdoor’s co-founder and chief executive, told me the site takes great care as it checks incoming data.

“We’ve got a bunch of technical and procedural mechanisms to vet the data,” he said, though when pressed on details, he deferred. “We’re not really talking about the specifics that we’re using.”

“On a salary side, we apply a ton of statistics to it,” he said. “If there are outliers or things that don’t make sense, we challenge it.” While the site is anonymous, users must leave a valid email address to post data. “And that’s so we can say, ‘Hey, did you leave a zero off that salary, or maybe put an extra zero on? Because it just doesn’t look right to us.’”

Moreover, “We apply [statistical] bands…We apply standard statistical analysis to make sure the data looks about right. We compare companies’ data one to another to make sure the data looks right.” Anything suspicious gets challenged, he said.

Yet more than the statistical filter, Glassdoor has a staff that filters all incoming data by hand, he said. “The front line of defense is a human – nothing replaces a human sitting down, looking at the data.”

This human filter is particularly intensive in the Reviews section, where users post feedback about what it’s like to work at a company – including reviews of top execs. (Microsoft’s hard-charging Steve Ballmer gets a tepid 55 percent approval rating; Cisco’s John Chambers easily tops him with 85 percent.)

“Ultimately, we review every single review by hand,” Hohman said. “So everyone passes through a human being and we check for various criteria to make sure it meets community guidelines.”

But given that the site will likely receive thousands and thousands of salary numbers and employer reviews, does it have sufficient staff?

“There’s probably about a dozen of us,” Hohman explained, noting, “We’re still figuring that out.”

“What we know is that TripAdvisor still reads everyone single review by hand [the founder of TripAdvisor is on the Glassdoor board]. They made a commitment to data integrity and we’re making that same commitment to data integrity.”

Employee and Employer

As for how Glassdoor will make its money, those details are still being ironed out. (It’s good to see that the dotcom spirit of 1999 hasn’t died.) Hohman expects to generate revenue from advertising, however, “all roads are open, we’ll see what makes sense.” At any rate, the site will always be free, he said.

It’s likely that the site hopes for some kind of revenue generating deal with employers. Glassdoor is making an effort to get companies involved, including forming an employer’s advisory panel. “And even through launch, we briefed the biggest companies on the site – Microsoft and Yahoo, we showed them before launch to get their feedback,” Hohman said.

He added: “To be really fair and constructive, you need to hear from both sides of this” – employer and employee.

Perhaps surprisingly, no company has yet complained about this once confidential data being posted online. “Not one person [employer] has said, ‘We really wish you wouldn’t do this.’ I don’t know – maybe they think that and just haven’t said it,” Hohman laughed.

More Data, Better Decisions

Hohman disputed the notion that making this pay data public will somehow harm employees’ negotiation.

“We want to help people make better career decisions,” he said. “There’s so little good information about what it’s like to work for a company, what is fair compensation. And sometimes that results in people not making good decisions.”

He pointed out that, while Glassdoor posts pay averages (which might group all workers together in an average herd) it also provides the highs and lows. Furthermore, “As we get more data, we expect to be able to allow you to dive in and spin that data by, say, years of experience.”

In short, providing more data can’t hurt workers. “Compensation is always a personally negotiated thing,” he said. “But the more information we put in your hands, the better decision you can make.”

More samples from the Glassdoor data:

Yahoo project manager: $83,333 (range: $62k - $105k)

Yahoo senior Unix administrator: $128,500 (range: $113k - $144k)

Yahoo hourly pay: $22/hour

Google site reliability engineer: $95,433 (range: $73k - $110k)

Google product manager: $107,800 (range: $95k - $160k)

Google hourly pay: $21/hour

Microsoft senior consultant: $118,143 (range: $107k - $130k)

Microsoft user experience design: $92,833 (range: $86k - $100k)

Microsoft hourly pay: $41/hour

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