Why The Engineers Are Ditching FAANG In Droves

Ethan
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BRAIN DRAIN

Historically, big tech has been the go-to destination for some of the smartest software engineers, data scientists, and product managers in the world. With bleeding-edge projects and top-of-the-line salaries, it’s no wonder why superstars are drawn to these companies or at least they used to be. 


It turns out that more and more, superstars don't want to join big tech companies. In fact, just recently Facebook was having a bit of a hiring crisis where only half of top-tier job offers were being accepted. A large reason for this is that many of these applicants weren’t actually looking to work at Facebook or any other big tech company at all. 


Why The Engineers Are Ditching FAANG In Droves


Rather, they simply applied and went through the interview process in order to get a strong anchor from which they could negotiate with the companies that they actually wanted to join. It’s not much different with the people who did end up joining these companies either. 


Many of them only see these companies as a means to an end. A way to gain experience, build a strong resume, and climb the corporate ladder before starting their own company or joining a project that they’re actually passionate about. 


This isn’t a new trend either. For decades, the startup scene has been dominated by ex-big tech employees. But this trend has vastly accelerated over the past couple of years. And who could blame them? 


They’re just looking out for themselves and making the best choices for their careers, but this brings up the question of: where does this leave big tech? As they slowly lose their status as being the destination for superstars, what will happen to their flagship products like the Metaverse and Google Bard? 


Also, what will happen to the culture of these companies as they slowly devolve from being an engineering playground to being just another corporate office filled with politics, antics, and egos?

 

Well, likely nothing all that great. So, here’s an in-depth look at the big tech brain drain and what this means for these companies and the tech industry at large. 



THE GREAT MIGRATION

Starting off with the biggest question: why The Great Migration in the world are people not accepting these job offers? Is the compensation just not high enough? What’s going on? Well, this breaks down into 3 major reasons starting with big tech offers not being all that hard to come by. 


That’s probably quite a controversial statement because for you or me, scoring a big tech offer might be borderline impossible. But, for the people who actually end up getting these offers, it’s often not all that crazy. 


In fact, it’s not uncommon for them to apply to 5-10 companies and get job offers from all of them if not most of them. If you’re wondering who these people are, I would recommend checking out teamblind.com. Over there, they’re everywhere. 


Literally half the posts on Blind are something along the lines of: Should I take $667 at Meta, wait for an L7 offer at Google, or keep my L7 Amazon job, let me know. This is especially true once you already have your foot in at one of these companies. 


After that, you don’t even have to apply to other FAANG companies. Instead, recruiters from these other companies will basically beg you on a weekly basis to come interview with them. So, the reality is that for a lot of superstars, once they’re already in the industry for 5 or 10 years, scoring another big tech job offer isn’t some sort of holy grail. 


In fact, they’re often over the whole idea of working at big tech which brings us to reason number 2: the compensation isn’t enough. With slowing growth and high interest rates, big tech companies have largely cut compensation, especially stock comp which is the most lucrative part of these job offers. 


But, that’s not what I’m referring to when I say that compensation is not enough. Rather, what I mean is that higher compensation alone is not enough to convince superstars to join. The reality is that they’re often already multi-millionaires. 


Because of how expensive these cities are, it’s often the case that they’re not able to retire even with $2 or $3 million in savings. But while they may not be able to retire, they’re definitely well off and never need to worry about money again. 


As such, they don’t make their next job decision purely based on who is offering the biggest salary. They’d often much rather take a lower job offer with a lot more scope and growth opportunities. I mean, just think about it, while it might sound cool from the outside to say that you work on the YouTube iOS team, what does that actually entail? 


It’s not like you’ll be coding out the new shorts feed or the new recommendation algorithm from scratch. Rather, you’ll probably be working on fixing bug #2001 regarding community posts or debugging some issues with dark mode. And that’s not Google’s fault. That’s simply the reality of joining any project that’s as mature as YouTube. 


Now, I can already hear a bunch of you saying that you’d love to fix some bugs and earn that much, but that’s not exactly how the high achievers that these companies are targeting think. They’d much rather join a smaller fintech company or AI company where they can actually play a larger role in product development even if the compensation is slightly less. 


And that brings me to the 3rd reason that superstars are no longer interested in big tech which is compensation potential. Sure, compensation at smaller companies may be lower because the cash portion is lower but they have far greater growth potential. 


For example, would you rather have $100,000 worth of Google stock and work on Google Bard or $100,000 worth of OpenAI stock and work on ChatGPT? From that perspective, the answer is obvious.

 

So, whether you’re in it for the money or the role itself, big tech offers simply aren’t all that appealing especially when they’re “not hard to come by”. But if superstars are no longer joining big tech, who is? 



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THE OPPORTUNISTS

Ironically, the question of who is getting into big tech today is extremely easy to answer and breaks down into 3 categories starting with the sellouts. The people who have their eye on the ball for increasing status, job title, and compensation. 


And I want to note that I’m not criticizing these people by any means. They’re just looking out for themselves as they should be. Moreover, these people are more than qualified for these roles as they’re just as smart as the OG superstars. 


That’s why they were able to crush the interviews and get in but their intentions are far different. They’re less interested in using their skills to build the best products and are more interested in using their skills to maximize career progression and compensation. 


A good example of such an employee is quant engineers. If you’re not familiar with quant engineers, their jobs are to use their extensive knowledge in applied mathematics, data models, algorithms, statistics, and calculus to create software that can trade the financial markets. 


Essentially, quant engineers are creating insane algorithms and software just so that financial firms can regularly skim 0.5% on natural gas futures or a few cents on bid-ask spreads. Obviously, rather monotonous soul-draining work but it pays extremely well. 


After all, making 0.5% on a billion-dollar natural gas position adds up to $5 million in profit for every single trade. And it seems that FAANG companies are heading in the exact same direction, especially as they keep pulling back from moonshot projects. 


Eventually, all that’s left are monotonous maintenance and refinement jobs that only appeal to people who are really only in it for the paycheck, but at least these candidates are highly qualified. The same cannot be said about our next category of opportunists which are the game players. 


These people don’t necessarily have strong engineering backgrounds or a passion for tech. They’re often stuck in a corporate job that pays alright or even a low-paying job that they’re stuck in, but what they do have is a massive amount of drive to change their situation. 


And that’s when they hear about all these people in big tech earning massive salaries straight out of college with very little experience. Naturally, they decide to make the switch, but their strategy usually has less to do with learning the skills required for the job and more about learning the skills required for the interviews. 


You know, grinding out leet code problems, crafting compelling stores to tell hiring managers, networking with as many people as possible, and just playing the game in general. Honestly, this strategy is way more effective than just being a good engineer. 


This is why a lot of great engineers are never able to break into FAANG. They’re just not able to sell themselves as well. But while this is a phenomenal strategy to get in the door, the effectiveness of these individuals once they get in the door is a lot more questionable. 


I mean, how much does solving leet code problems really translate into building highly scalable solutions or new innovative products? Likely not that much, but at least, these guys are largely here by choice which cannot be said about our last category of opportunists which are the groomed. 


Now, I don’t want to throw shade at Asians but this is extremely common within the Asian community. Basically, starting from age 5, parents will push them to join a bunch of STEM-related ECs, coding camps, and take a bunch of CS classes. 


This way, by the time the kid is 18, regardless of interest, they’re pretty good at coding. From there, they’ll usually attend a top public university if not an Ivy League school where they major in CS before they crack their way into FAANG. 


Putting the whole ethics of all of these aside, this doesn’t exactly lead to the healthiest workforce. You basically end up with hundreds of thousands if not millions of sellouts, game players, and groomed individuals across which brings us to the question of: What Happens Next? 



THE REPERCUSSIONS

How exactly each of these groups got here The Repercussions are vastly different but they tend to end up having very similar individualistic motivations. Job security, maximum pay, and promotions which again are not bad goals to have. 


They’re just not all that great for the company itself. This sort of environment is what leads to entrenched workforces with nothing but office politics. Much of these employees’ efforts don’t go into creating the best products or efficiencies possible. 


Rather, they go into outperforming their teammates and pandering to their bosses even if that doesn't lead to the best results for the company. The reality is that most of these guys don’t give a hoot in hell about the company other than the status that it gives them and the growing stock price. 


In terms of actually serving their users and customers, a lot of them couldn’t care less. In fact, many of them don’t know how their role is even linked with the end user. Most people would hate such a work environment, but these guys thrive in this environment. 


Many of them have been dealing with such environments for their entire careers and by the time they’re in their 40s and 50s, they’re masters of managing politics and getting exactly what they want. This is how you end up with tech leaders who have no formal tech background. 


Oftentimes, they’re from the marketing department or finance department. Their playbook is usually just infinitely cutting costs and increasing efficiencies, but this can only take these companies so far as they veer further and further away from what initially made them successful. 


And soon enough, you end up with your next generation of Intels, Ciscos, and IBMs. Meanwhile, the superstars who made FAANG into what it was moved onto up-and-coming companies with promising tech and helped scale these companies to new leagues far beyond what the previous generation was able to achieve and the cycle repeats all over again. 

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