Can a company pay you enough to quit?
In the case of Google, the answer to that question seems to be “yes.” A new report in Bloomberg suggests that the search-engine giant paid some core employees in its autonomous-driving division enough to walk right out the door.
“Early staffers had an unusual compensation system that awarded supersized payouts based on the project’s value,” the news outlet reported. “By late 2015, the numbers were so big that several veteran members didn’t need the job security anymore, making them more open to other opportunities, according to people familiar with the situation.”
Google’s milestones for payouts reportedly weren’t tied to the commercial release of a self-driving vehicle. Although Google—and later, its autonomous-driving subsidiary, Waymo—spent years perfecting the hardware and software that allows cars to self-pilot, other companies have already begun rolling out vehicles (pun intended) with some degree of autonomy. Waymo recently partnered with Chrysler to build self-driving Pacifica Hybrid mini-vans, with the first test units scheduled to hit the road at some point in 2017.
As anyone in technology will tell you, pay is a funny thing. If a company offers too low a salary, experienced tech pros will take jobs at firms that pay a higher rate. But as Google just demonstrated, extremely high salaries and compensation come with their own issues and temptations—a tech pro who’s racked up millions of dollars in stock-related bonuses is potentially one bad week away from marching out the door and starting their own firm, or retiring to a nice beach somewhere.
Just for comparison’s sake, the average technology salary in the U.S. hit $96,370 in 2016, according to Dice. That was a 7.7 percent increase from the year before. Average tech salaries in seven major metro areas hit six figures that year—a first in the decade that Dice has conducted its salary survey.
For highly specialized professions such as self-driving cars, salaries are obviously much higher. Examples of autonomous-driving specialists making a lot of money extend beyond Google: take the case of Uber, which recently paid $680 million in stock plus a hefty share of future profits to Otto, an autonomous-truck startup with relatively few employees. That’s the sort of potential payout that tech pros spend their lives working for.
For companies in hot industries, calibrating salaries is tricky. For tech pros, though, the rewards can be vast—so vast, in fact, that a few might opt to walk away from their company altogether.