Google has a reputation for paying technologists a lot of money, particularly highly specialized employees such as A.I. researchers. But what does it take to unlock truly epic pay at the company?
Higher compensation, of course, is linked to seniority just as much as specialization (and the two are often heavily linked). According to levels.fyi, which crowdsources salary data from the biggest tech companies, those Googlers at the L7 level (i.e., senior staff software engineer) can earn an annual salary of up to $270,650 per year, coupled with $406,100 in stock options and a bonus of $81,900. Once you ascend to the level of Principal Engineer, payouts can top a million dollars annually.
That all sounds great, but what does it take to operate at such a high level within the Google hierarchy? Blind (which surveys anonymous-but-verified technologists on a range of issues) recently spoke with an (anonymous) director of engineering at Google. This 16-year veteran of the search-engine giant claimed that they oversaw a team of 150 engineers and earned some $1.5 million per year.
As you might expect, it’s important to interact well with your colleagues—there’s no room for “brilliant jerks” within a team expected to operate at peak performance. While technical skills are prized, “soft skills” such as empathy and communication play an equally crucial role, especially as you migrate into management. “A good engineer is not the smartest, but the one who uplifts the team, understands what managers want, and is a great peer and report to work with,” this director told Blind’s audience.
When you’re overseeing dozens—or even hundreds—of highly qualified technologists, the ultimate goal is to create a team capable of self-reliance. By hiring well, coaching effectively, and delegating responsibility, a manager can craft such a team (although it may take quite a bit of time and effort).
In an interesting twist, the director also cautioned against excessive specialization: “Unless you are really deep into a particular technology (AI, ML, hardware, etc.), it’s almost always better to be a generalist.” Those who eventually want to manage teams would do well to learn as much as possible about planning, talent management, and the principles of effective leadership.
Even the most well-compensated Google employee has quite a bit to go before they reach the level of CEO Sundar Pichai, who earned an eye-popping $280.9 million in 2019 alone, as well as roughly $1 billion in stock grants over a 10-year period.