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    Ownership makes careers

    You may have seen this tweet about bonuses in big tech. It went kinda viral.

    Build a hugely successful product, get 20k bonus and a pat on the back. Company posts record profits. $142 billion of 'em.

    (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

    Yeah I'd be miffed too. You do all this work you're proud of, it goes well, and you're getting peanuts. Why is that!?

    I think there's a few things going on here:

    • money doesn't motivate
    • low ownership

    Based on observation and talking to friends in big companies. I don't have insider info on this situation specifically.

    Money doesn't motivate

    Early in your career, money is a huge motivator. Because you don't have much and money is nice.

    Somewhere around the 180k to 250k income level (in USA, adjust for elsewhere), your relationship with money changes. Your basics are taken care of, you're saving plenty enough, and more money feels like throwing a twig on the pile. It doesn't meaningfully change anything.

    I wrote a few paragraphs about this the other day:

    An experienced engineer at GitHub makes 260k to 520k per year.

    You can imagine that a 20k bonus, even though it's objectively a nice chunk of money, doesn't really do anything emotionally speaking. Too much to blow on a night out, not enough to make a big life purchase.

    Best thing you can do is go on a nice vacation. But at those income levels, you can already afford a vacation whenever. The hard part is making time.

    Yes yes, put in index funds, wait 30 years, and that 20k turns into 89k. Yawn. Rewards have to be quick or there's no motivating value.

    Low ownership

    Why does a VP on that same project get huge rewards, heaping praise, and a gold star on their resume that can turn into millions of dollars?

    Again: I don't know about this specific situation, we're talking in general.

    The VP owns that project.

    That doesn't mean they swoop in to steal credit when the project succeeds, it means they're accountable for project success. The VP puts their name on the project before it succeeds. They raise their hand and say "I will make sure this works".

    Everyone loves ownership and being associated with a project after things go well. That's worth peanuts.

    You know what happens when a project fails? The VP gets fired.

    Not the engineers, not the product managers, not even the engineering managers. The VP. Because they're accountable.

    From a CEO's perspective, a VP is always on a PIP (performance improvement plan). That's ownership. Taking the hit when things go wrong.

    You have to put your name on projects before they succeed. Own the outcome, not the work. Stake your reputation on something and make it happen.

    👉 Own shit. At least put your name on things.


    PS: the mechanism for those big rewards is called stock or options. You need to own things in the economic sense too. The higher up an org you go, the more of your compensation comes in stock.

    Published on June 23rd, 2023 in Mindset, Career

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