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Inside the World of Silicon Valley's 'Coasters' -- the Millionaire Engineers Who Get Paid Gobs of Money and Barely Work (businessinsider.com) 226

Business Insider has explored what it calls the "least-secret secret" in the Valley -- "resters and vesters," or "coasters" referring to engineers who get paid big bucks without doing too much work, waiting for their stock to vest. From the report: Engineers can wind up in "rest and vest" jobs in a variety of ways. Manny Medina, the CEO of fast-growing Seattle startup Outreach, has been on all sides of it. He briefly was a coaster himself, and says he saw how Microsoft used it to great effect when he worked for the software giant. He has also tried to lure some "rest and vest" engineers to come work for him at his startup. Medina said he experienced the high-pay, no-work situation early in his career when he was a software engineer in grad school. He finished his project months early, and warned his company he would be leaving after graduation. They kept him on for the remaining months to train others on his software but didn't want him to start a new coding project. His job during those months involved hanging out at the office writing a little documentation and being available to answer questions, he recalls. "My days began at that point at 11 and I took long lunches," he laughs. "They didn't want you to build anything else, because anything you built would be maintained by someone else. But you have to stand by while they bring people up to speed." Years later, he landed at Microsoft and says he saw how Microsoft used high-paying jobs strategically, both within its engineering ranks and with its R&D unit, Microsoft Research. [...] "You keep engineering talent but also you prevent a competitor from having it and that's very valuable," he said. "It's a defensive measure." Another person confirmed the tactic, telling us, "That's Microsoft Research's whole model." At other companies it's less about defense and more about becoming indispensable. For instance, Facebook has a fairly hush bonus program called "discretionary equity" or "DE," said a former Facebook engineer who received it. "DE" is when the company hands an engineer a massive, extra chunk of restricted stock units, worth tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's a thank you for a job well done. It also helps keep the person from jumping ship because DE vests over time. These are bonus grants that are signed by top execs, sometimes even CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself. "At Facebook the 'OGs' [Original Gangsters] we know got DE," this former Facebook engineer said. OGs refer to engineers who worked at the company before the IPO. "Their Facebook stock quadruples and they don't leave. They are really good engineers, really indispensable. And then they start to pull 9-5 days," this person said.

Inside the World of Silicon Valley's 'Coasters' -- the Millionaire Engineers Who Get Paid Gobs of Money and Barely Work

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  • How do I apply for these jobs?!?!?!
  • by psycho12345 ( 1134609 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @10:14AM (#54955679)

    This seems like a good idea. So many companies are foolish and instead of paying for people to stay, they let years, sometimes decades of knowledge walk out of the door to replace them with someone who is cheaper but far less productive. I've watched it happen multiple times at my company over the last year, its mindboggling. Company is now spending way more as other people have to learn and fill in the missing knowledge and domain expertise. Would have been far cheaper just to give those people large raises.

    Also the concept of using vesting stock options to hold on to people isn't new, it's called golden handcuffs, but I guess the new part is it being applied to top software engineers instead of executives.

    • Watch out, sometimes they keep idiots around because they think the idiot knows something. Upper management doesn't really have a good idea of who's a valuable worker or not. They know who's rated highly but that is often political. Sometimes the person who designed the product is also an idiot, and do you really want to keep that person and their unmaintainable crap code or get someone who can fix it without being roadblocked. I see times when a person eventually leaves a company that others breathe a

  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 07, 2017 @10:19AM (#54955711)

    "And then they start to pull 9-5 days"

    Heaven forbid someone having a reasonable work-life balance in this day and age.

    Still, for many I think this would be incredibly boring after a while. Still, there are golden sign-on bonuses if you are that strong and you need to be bought out of your current position.

    • 9-5 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @10:35AM (#54955779) Homepage

      I've worked at a lot of companies in my career and some are fine with you doing a 9-5 so long as you get your work done well and on time. Others such as a certain investment bank I worked at were more interested in appearance than output - if you left at 5 they thought you were slacking even if you did twice as much work as the guy who spent most of the day surfing the web but left at 7pm. Sadly this shallow management mentality ended up with me in front of HR despite me closing more bug tickets than almost everyone else in the team. With that kind of small minded mentality its no wonder they couldn't keep the best for very long and IT was populated by people with little coding talend and no life to speak of who didn't mind spending 12 hours a day at their desk.

      • as the guy who spent most of the day surfing the web but left at 7pm

        Or if you showed up at 7 AM to begin with.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It's easier to watch porn at 7 AM since you're the only one there. After 9 AM, it becomes a bit uncomfortable for the other workers.

          • Why would I care? If you don't wanna see my dong, what are you doing in my cubicle?

            Hey, if you put me in a pen like an animal, don't expect me to stay civilized!

      • Re:9-5 (Score:5, Interesting)

        by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @11:02AM (#54955973)

        Am I one of the few that prefers to work like I did in college? Coast along doing small boring tasks ("homework") for a week or two then 'cramming' during a development sprint?

        I've worked remotely for 7 years and I can't stand a consistent schedule, especially now that I'm primarily a stay at home working parent. Some days it's 7-9 until the kid wakes up. Then 1-3 during nap. Then 10pm-1a. Or any random combination therein.

        Then when it's development sprint time I work on site in an office. I'll work 8a-12a. Put on a pot of coffee and do it again the next day, sometimes pulling an all nighter if I'm in a development groove. I've found I can get a normal '9-5x5' worth of work done in a single day if I eliminate interrupting my train of thought and having a nice quiet office.

        • What would you expect a factory job to be like?
        • I don't know how normal it is, but that's certainly how I like to work. I'll work vaguely normal hours for a while, get stuck into something, and put in a 70 hour week or three. Then when it's over I might do little enough for a few days. Fortunately, in my position I can be useful even when not churning out code or bug fixes; I can grease the skids for support issues, help out other folks, dig around for weaknesses, etc.

      • Re:9-5 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @11:18AM (#54956049)

        I've worked at a lot of companies in my career and some are fine with you doing a 9-5 so long as you get your work done well and on time.

        This.

        In my own companies, I never cared about how many hours my employees worked, or when they worked those hours (with the exception of positions that require coordination with others outside the company).

        What I cared about was that deadlines were met and the work quality was acceptable. As long as that happens, nothing else matters.

        When choosing where I want to work, I tend to look at this as well. If a company seems overly focused on "correct" working hour and durations, I tend to pass. I'm being paid for work product, not for how many hours I warm a chair. If a company doesn't see that, it's a strong indication that I'm a poor fit there.

      • I'll just leave this here:
        George Constanza's rules for 'working hard' [conorneill.com]
      • Warm body. Check, Breathing - optional. A lot of this was due to cost plus accounting in companies where I've worked, where your salary is based on the your cost to the customer. Somebody who fixes a problem in one hour is much less valuable than someone who takes three weeks.

        Not only that, but a manager's salary is based off of the cumulative cost of all underlings so a manager of a large team of mostly incompetent people will be making much more than someone over a small team of highly competent people,

    • Yeah, whomever the "former Facebook engineer" is, is clearly an idiot.

      As if the whole point of being alive is to work for some shit company like FB for a very average wage.

      Imagine the nerve of those people who work reasonable hours,  and get great pay too.  They're such capaitalists.
    • If NASA had stuck to 9 to 5 days during the Apollo era, they never would have made it to the moon.
  • Secret information (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HBI ( 604924 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @10:21AM (#54955715) Journal

    The economy doesn't pay people in a manner commensurate with their skills or work product. They are paid based on other humans' interpretation of the potential value of said person's skills or work product, a not subtle difference. The means whereby this valuation is calculated are sometimes crafty and a lot of times stupid. This is why most people don't work very hard - they've already grokked this and don't feel it worthwhile to attempt to find the places where they might have to work to get more money. They are comfortable with what they have, apparently.

    If you are making $7/hr, you aren't trying very hard to get involved with this scrum.

    • The economy doesn't pay people in a manner commensurate with their skills or work product. They are paid based on other humans' interpretation of the potential value of said person's skills or work product, a not subtle difference.

      That's largely a distinction without a difference. Your market value is by definition what you can convince someone else to pay you. Perception is a part of that. In most cases there is no objective way to value a particular set of skills.

      • by Linsaran ( 728833 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @11:16AM (#54956041) Homepage

        Of note however is that many of the hardest working people are actually paid the least. You can certainly argue that anyone who has put in the effort to rise above minimum wage can do so, and I would probably agree that for certain individuals it's possible. For the average person it's not realistic however. Furthermore the fact is that there is a finite job pool, so while putting in the effort to advance yourself can pay off for the individual, there will still be a need for the people filling minimum wage jobs; so if everyone becomes more educated and skilled; it will still be the people who are the least educated and skilled who take those jobs.

        Minimum wage as it is now is modern slave labor; it doesn't pay enough to reasonably support a single person never mind a family. As a society we should find it ethically unconscionable to force the kind of living conditions many minimum wage workers have to deal with. People need to eat though, so if the choice is working a really crappy job or starving, people will put up with a lot.

        • How do you define hard work, in the physics sense? I worked for years doing lawn care. It was dirty, very hot, required great physical strength, but it was mostly relaxing, I got a good workout, could listen to music, make my own hours and could think my own thoughts.

          I make 10-100x as much as an engineer, but it is much more physically and emotionally draining, I stay up nights worrying about problems, have to be there when the customer tells me and I am surrounded by people complaining about the same and

    • Have you started shooting back yet?

    • The economy doesn't pay people in a manner commensurate with their skills or work product.

      Actually it does, just not for people who have access to the money faucet that is the financial industry. If you are near the fountain of wealth that is perpetual arbitrary loan creation by private investment banks, backstopped by the fed, then I totally agree with your statement. However, for those still stuck in the real economy hyper competitive market forces are working quite well to pummel their value towards zero.

      The difference now is that engineers were not traditionally so close to the money supply,

    • They are paid based on other humans' interpretation of the potential value of said person's skills or work product, a not subtle difference. The means whereby this valuation is calculated are sometimes crafty and a lot of times stupid

      That analysis is actually quite inaccurate, because it misses much bigger effects. Yes, valuation of employees is subjective. But that's true for cars, iPads, loaves of bread, massages, flights, etc. as well. Far more important is that valuation of employees is relative to t

  • by DRJlaw ( 946416 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @10:32AM (#54955757)

    "They are really good engineers, really indispensable. And then they start to pull 9-5 days."

    Such a shame. Its as if a business shouldn't be run in startup mode or run-up-to-deadline mode at every possible moment, and people might desire lives outside of work and sleep.

    We can't have that.

    This quote is an example of how the concept of "fuck you money" arose.

  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @10:33AM (#54955761) Homepage
    I keep seeing comments about $7 per hour but I don't see where that number came from in the summary or article. (My skinny vanilla latte probably haven't kicked in yet.) Federal minimum wage is $7.25. California minimum wage is $10. Silicon Valley minimum wage is $10 to $14.
  • I often find myself in "slow periods" in between big projects - I'm not one of these "coasters" by any means (no real equity, and no sense from management that they couldn't throw a rock and find another dozen of me), but there are times when I'm not racing against the clock to meet some arbitrary deadline either. I do my best to use that time to learn as much as possible, so that when the inevitable crunch time comes back around, I'll be able to fall back on some extra knowledge.
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @10:59AM (#54955949)

    "They are really good engineers, really indispensable. And then they start to pull 9-5 days"

    Working massive numbers of hours weeks is not normal. For a startup, yes...but once a company is out of the "get big fast" phase and actually making money, there's no excuse to burn people out and run the place like a startup. I know younger tech employees want to continue the college dorm lifestyle and live at work, but I dislike the trend of calling anyone who wants to work a sane number of hours a week "coasters."

    Lots of big, successful companies have "Distinguished Engineer" positions and use them for different reasons, such as:
    - To have a raft of smart people on staff, not necessarily to do nuts-and-bolts work but to provide top-level guidance to those who do
    - To have a position that, because of the pay structure of the organization, is the only technical position that pays high enough to reward a technical person for things like inventing the company's cash cow products, etc.
    - For vanity or bragging rights...such as having Linus Torvalds or Vint Cerf on your payroll
    - And of course, to pay these people enough to keep them from jumping to your competitors

    Distinguished Engineers are mostly accomplished enough that they don't really have to worry about finding a job. They're getting paid handsomely, and/or able to live off the crazy amounts of money they've made already. It's basically the prize for winning the meritocracy lottery. It's also the closest any of us techies will get to the level of a corporate CxO -- paid handsomely in cash, stock and free stuff by their primary company, plus getting the salary, perks and influence associated with "sitting" on a ton of other companies' boards. I wouldn't call them "coasters." I'd call them savvy!

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @11:05AM (#54955983)

    Yeah, I just stare at my desk, but it looks like I'm working and I have eight different bosses So that means when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. So I just do the minimal amount of work not to get fired.

  • by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @11:08AM (#54956007)

    Whether I'm making a little or a lot (and I've done both), I can't stand having to be at a workplace with nothing to do. The time goes so slowly, and it's pure torture, particularly when I could be doing what I love: engineering.

    I have seen people who slack on the job, so I understand they exist -- but I will never understand how anyone can handle doing that. You literally could not pay me enough to put up with doing nothing.

    • Usually people stay because of the appearance that the slow period will end soon. "We'll start work on $thing_you_really_want_to_do right after we release _____". The contents of that blank change a few times. Each time it looks reasonable, and appears to be a short-lived condition.

      Then 6 months have passed, you're ripping your hair out from boredom and they just changed the contents of the blank again. And by then you're deep in the sunk cost fallacy - you won't be able to get a job doing $thing elsewh

    • Yep. Left my last job in part because of this. (Getting a modest inheritance from my mum helped a bit, too.) There were some days when things happened, and life was Ok, but I spent most days just watching the clock, waiting for quitting time to roll around. In spite of the regular paycheck, I couldn't handle the inactivity, and I didn't feel right doing side projects on company time.
  • by SoftwareArtist ( 1472499 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @03:11PM (#54957663)

    I've occasionally been in positions where I didn't have enough work to keep me busy, and I hate it. It's more stressful than being overworked in some ways.

    For example, I once started a new job, and almost immediately my supervisor went on vacation for a month. Before he left we went over the project I was going to be working on, and he figured I had everything I needed to get a good start on it while he was away. Well, I finished the whole project in two weeks. So I spent the next two weeks wandering the office and asking everyone, "Can I do anything to help you out? Can you give me something useful to do? Please?" Mostly they didn't, so I sat at the computer and played games. You probably think that sounds fun, but believe me, it wasn't.

    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      I've been in this situation a few times. My solution for staying busy — besides playing with the trolls on Slashdot — is to find the one problem that no one else is willing to deal with. For many IT departments that I've worked in, it's usually a storage closet filled with old hardware that no one has touched in years. IT managers loved to reclaim space that was previously unavailable.
  • FTA:"You keep engineering talent but also you prevent a competitor from having it and that's very valuable," he said. "It's a defensive measure." Another person confirmed the tactic, telling us, "That's Microsoft Research's whole model."

    Tell me again how we have a STEM shortage in the US?

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