Maximizing Your Donations via a Job

post by Alexei · 2013-05-05T23:19:05.116Z · score: 115 (117 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 58 comments

Contents

  Pre-game
  Interviewing with a company
  Managing your time
  How to evaluate your offer
    Other factors.
  Thinking about private companies
  Taxes
  Calculating donations
    Time discounting (Cell B1)
    Cost of living (Cell B2)
    Offers (Cells A4-I15)
    Monthly projections (Cells A18-I66)
    Sum (Cells A68-I71)
  Picking the one
  Negotiating
None
58 comments

In November of 2012 I set a goal for myself: find the most x-risk reducing role I can fill. At first I thought it would be by working directly with MIRI, but after a while it became clear that I could contribute more by simply donating. So my goal became: find the highest paying job, so I can donate lots of money to CFAR and MIRI.

A little bit of background on me. Started programming in 2000. Graduated in 2009 with Bachelor's in computer science. Worked for about a year and a half at a game company. Then did my own game startup for about a year. Then moved to the bay area and joined a game startup here, which was acquired 10 months later. Worked a bit at the new company and then left. So, just under four years of professional programming experience, but primarily in the game industry. Almost no leadership / managerial experience, aside from the startup I did where I hired freelancers.

Below is my experience of finding a software engineering job in the Silicon Valley. If you are not an engineer or not in the Silicon Valley, I think you'll still find a lot of useful information here.

 

Pre-game

Before sending out my resume, I spent about a month preparing. I read Intro to Algorithms, which was very good overall, but not a huge help in preparing for interviews.[1] I read Cracking the Coding Interview, which was extremely helpful. (If you read only one book to prepare, make it this one.) The book has a lot of questions that are similar to the ones you'll actually see during interviews. I also did TopCoder problems, which were pretty helpful as well.[2] Looking back, I wish I spent more time finding actual interview questions online and doing more of those (that's why CCI book was so helpful).

After several weeks of preparation, I compiled a long list of companies I was going to apply to. I checked on GlassDoor to see what kind of salary I could expect at each one. I then rated all the companies. Companies with low salaries and poor personal fit received the lowest rating.

I started by applying to companies with the lowest ratings. This way I could use them as practice for the companies I thought would actually make a competitive offer. This was the right move and worked very well. (Another friend of mine did the same approach with good results as well.) Remember, you are not just doing those interviews to practice the coding problems, you are practicing pitching yourself as well.

 

Interviewing with a company

Standard procedure for applying to a tech company:

1. Send them your resume.


2. You'll get an email from the recruiter and setup a time to speak, where you'll talk about yourself, what you've done, why you are interested in their company, and so on. You can and should ask them questions as well.


3. You'll have a technical phone interview with a software engineer where you'll solve a problem or two on collabedit or some similar website. At the end, you'll get a few minutes to ask them questions too.

 

4. You'll be invited for an on-site interview which will be 3-6 hours long, at least half of which will be coding on a white-board. (Although, a friend told me he brought his laptop with him, and most people were fine with him coding on it.)

 

5. You'll get a call from the recruiter congratulating you on an offer. They'll go over the offer details with you.

 

6. You have a few days (usually around 5 business days) until the offer expires to decide if you want to accept it.

 

Always be very nice, friendly, and polite. Walk the fine line between telling the truth and saying the right thing. Ideally, make sure those are the same. Even if you are interviewing with a company you have no intention of working at, make sure to find something you really like about them, something that makes them stand out to you. Always have a good answer to: "Why do you want to work here?"

Before each on-site interview make sure you research the company thoroughly. Use their product. Think of ways to improve it. It's very helpful if you can meet with someone that works there and talk to them. See if they can give you any tips on the interview process. Some companies (e.g. AirBnB) want people that are extremely passionate about their product. Some companies focus more than usual on architectural questions. Many companies expect the engineers to have some familiarity with UI/UX and the ability to think about a feature from all angles.

 

Managing your time

I sent my resume to 78 companies, had at least a phone conversation with a recruiter with 27 of them, had an on-site interview with 16 companies, and received 12 offers. Out of those, I've only seriously considered 3. (Companies with lower ratings had an atrocious response rate.)

My time-line ended up looking something like this:

Some companies move fast, some companies move slow. Google took 2 weeks from the on-site interview to the offer call. This is very common for them, but most other companies move faster. With Amazon, I actually interviewed with two different branches. With one branch things were going well, until they dropped the ball and never got back to me, even after I pestered them. This is unusual; although, Twitter did something similar, but then ended up responding with an on-site invitation. With the other Amazon branch, when I got home from the on-site interview, I already had an email saying they were going to make an offer. This is extremely fast. (I had a very good reference for that position.) Most companies take about a week between on-site and offer. The whole process, from first call to offer, takes about three weeks.

If your recruiter doesn't respond to you during 4 days or longer, shoot them an email. They might have forgotten to respond, or thought they did, or may be things are moving slowly, or may be they decided not to pursue. You want to be clear on where you stand with all the companies you are applying to.

The timing is pretty important here. You want your top-rated companies to give you an offer within a span of a week. This way you'll be able to leverage all those offers against each other.

If your current job position is already almost optimal for your goals, then it's possible you can do a few interviews, get a few offers and pick the best one, which will give you some marginal improvement. Or use those offers to leverage a raise at your existing company. But if you are pretty sure your current job has not been optimized for your goal, then I'd say, contrary to popular wisdom, just leave and spend a full month interviewing. (Or, even better, if you can, take a long "vacation".) You just can't do this kind of intense interviewing while holding another job. The one exception to this rule I can think of is if one of your highest-rated companies is a competitor with your current employer. Then you can leverage that!

Value of information is extremely high during this process. Talk to all the companies you can, talk to all the people you can. Once you have the final list of companies you are considering, reduce your uncertainty on everything. Validate all your assumptions. (Example: I was sure Google matched donations up to $12k, but turns out it's only up to $6k.)

 

How to evaluate your offer

There are 4 basic components in an offer: sign-on bonus, base salary, equity, and bonus.

Sign-on bonus. Most companies will be okay offering something like $12k sign-on bonus. Some will offer more. Most startups probably won't offer any.

Base salary. This is pretty consistent across most companies. Based on your experience, you'll be given a title (e.g. Senior Software Engineer or SE 2), and that title will determine the range of the salary you can expect. If you are good, you can demand a salary at the top of that range, but it's extremely hard to go higher.

Equity. This is the most interesting part. A good amount of value will come from this portion. With a startup, it'll be most of it. Here are two things to pay attention to:

Bonus. This is the bonus system the company has setup. You can't negotiate it, but it's important to take it into account.

Other factors.

 

Thinking about private companies

If the company is private, you might be given RSUs or you might be given stock options. With stock options, you'll have to pay the strike price to exercise your options. So the total value your options have is: (price of a share - strike price) * number of shares.

You can't do anything with your shares until the company gets acquired or goes public. Some companies have liquidation events, but those are pretty rare. Most companies don't have them, and the ones that do only extend the opportunity to people that have been with the company for a while. There are also second-hand markets, but I don't know much about those.

If you are completely risk-intolerant, then just go with a public company, and don't consider private companies. (This is actually not exactly true. Just because a company is public, doesn't mean its risk-free, and just because a company is private doesn't mean there is a lot of risk. There are other important factors like the size of the company, their market diversity, and how long they've been around.) If you are okay with some risk, then you want a company that's close to an IPO or is likely to get acquired soon. If you want to have a chance to make more than a few million dollars, either start your own company or join a very early stage startup (my top pick would be Ripple). Before doing so, check out the stats on startups to make sure you understand how likely any given startup is to fail and make sure you understand the concepts of inside/outside view.

 

Taxes

It's crucial to understand all the tax implications of your salary, equity, and donations. I'm not going to go into all the details, there are a lot of resources out there for this, but you should definitely read them until it's crystal clear how you will be taxed. I'll highlight a few points:

 

Calculating donations

To calculate exactly how much I could donate if I worked at a given company, I've created this spreadsheet. (This is an example with completely fictitious company offers with very low numbers, but the calculations should be correct.) Let me walk you through the spreadsheet.

 

Time discounting (Cell B1)

Money now is more valuable than money later. By how much? That's a very complicated question. If you invest your money now, you might be able to make something like 10% annually with some risk.[3] If you are donating to a charity, and they are growing very rapidly, then they can do a lot with your money right now, and you should account for that as well. If you expect the charity to double in size/effectiveness/output in the next year, then you might use a discount rate as high as 50%. I chose to use 20% annual discount rate based on my own estimates. Since I'm doing monthly compounding, the spreadsheet value is slightly higher (~22%). You can look at the column K to see how the future value of a dollar is being discounted. Note, for example, that a dollar in 12 months is worth 80¢ to me now. This discounting rate is especially important to keep in mind when examining startups, because almost all their compensation lies in the future. The further away it is, the more heavily you have to discount it.

 

Cost of living (Cell B2)

This is how much pre-tax money a year I'm not going to donate. See column L for the monthly expenses. We time-discount those dollars as well.

 

Offers (Cells A4-I15)

This is where you plug-in the offers you get. Bonus row is for cash bonus. Equity row is for the total equity the company offers you. I use the dollar amount, but you'll notice that for some of them I'm computing the dollar amount as: RSUs the company is giving me * current share price. For private companies, this is value I expect my equity to have when the company goes public. For Square it looks like: (percent of the company I'll own) * (my guess at valuation of the company at IPO) - (cost to exercise my options). For Twitter it looks like: (growth factor up to IPO) * (current price per share) * (RSUs I am granted). (Again, the numbers are completely made up.) In my calculations I'm not expecting public companies' share price to rise or fall. If you disagree, you should adjust for that as well.

 

Monthly projections (Cells A18-I66)

We are going to look at how much money we'll be making per month for the next four years. (Four years because our equity should be fully vested by that time.) If you are certain that you will stay at the company for less time than that, then you should consider a shorter timeline. This might affect companies differently. For example, most of the equity you get at Amazon comes during the last two years. If you are not going to be there, you are missing out on a big part of your offer.

For companies that I was seriously considering, I created two columns: one for cash wages and one for equity wages. This way I can do taxes on them more precisely.

Let's go through the Google's offer:

For pre-IPO companies, I've estimated when they'll go IPO. Most have clauses in place that don't allow you to sell your shares until after half a year or so after the IPO. I'm assuming I will sell/donate all my shares then, and then continue selling/donating them as they continue vesting.

 

Sum (Cells A68-I71)

In row 68 we have the total sum. This is the amount of pre-tax dollars we expect to earn in the next four years (remember that this amount has been adjusted for time-discounting, so it'll seem much lower than you'd normally expect). L68 is how much money we are spending on ourselves during those four years.

In row 69 we subtract our living expenses to get the amount of money we'll be able to donate. Note that I'm subtracting it from the cash column, leaving the equity column alone (for the companies where I split the two).

In row 70 we account for taxes. Note that our living expenses already accounted for the taxes we pay up to $65k, so the rest of it will be taxed at around 28% or higher. You could sell your shares, or you could just donate your shares directly to your charity. (That's what we are doing with our Google offer.)

In row 71 we simply sum up the donations from cash and equity.

 

Disclaimer 1: while I tried as hard as I could to double check this spreadsheet, there might still be mistakes there, so use it with caution and triple check everything. The tax calculations as they are right now are wrong, and you'll have to redo them (basically the whole Row 70) based on your own numbers.

Disclaimer 2: this spreadsheet is not great for evaluating an offer from a startup, since it doesn't capture the associated uncertainty and risk. Furthermore, if you expect the startup to succeed after more than 4 years, to correctly compare it to other companies you'll have to compute more than 48 months and potentially start accounting for things like promotions and raises.

 

Picking the one

All right, so how do you actually pick the best company? It's not as simple as picking the one with the highest EV, since you have to account for risk involved with startups and even pre-IPO companies. In fact, you should be surprised if your offers from public companies have a higher EV than offers from startups. If that's the case, I'd double check your calculations.

This is where it becomes extremely crucial to narrow down your uncertainty. When is the company going to IPO? What is the likely valuation? Does the company have a lot of competitors? Does the company have the necessary talent to execute on their plan? What's the company's history? What is the employee churn rate (especially for executives)? How well is the company doing financially? Who are the investors? Etc, etc, etc... There is a ton of questions you should be asking, and you should be asking them to everyone whose opinion on this issue you can respect. Honest opinion from an informed and knowledgeable neutral party is worth a LOT here!

You should also talk to the people at the company. Your recruiter will connect you to the right people if you ask. Keep in mind that nobody there will tell you that the company is going to go bankrupt or fail. But you can still get some valuable estimates, and then potentially discount them down a bit. You can even ask for their opinion on other companies you are interviewing with. Expect them to completely throw the other company under the bus though, but even so, you could get a lot of valuable criticism and bring it up when you talk to that other company. Overall, expect a lot of conflicting messages.

Keep in mind the charities you'll be donating to. What kind of donors do they have already? Are most people donating a bit from their salary? In that case, a more risky venture might be reasonable. Can they really use some money right now, or would they be a lot more effective later on with a large capital? What's their time discount rate? If you care about your charity, you can help them diversify their donor pool.

For me, it was a hard choice between big public companies (primary candidate: Google) and close to IPO companies (primary candidates: Twitter and Square).

 

Negotiating

You have to negotiate your offer. You have to have to have to HAVE TO. For any given company, you'll be able to get them to up their offer at least once and potentially thrice. Example: Google upped my offer three times.

First negotiating phase: simply email / call back your recruiter (who is now your best friend, right?) and tell them that the offer is somewhat lower than you expected, you have other better offers from other companies, and you are wondering if they can increase their offer. If the company made you a clearly worse offer than another similar company, you should be very open about it.

Second negotiating phase: matching other companies. This is when it makes the most sense to disclose your other offers. For example, I used my Amazon and Facebook offers to convince Google to up their offer significantly. For some reason their original offer was very low, but seeing their competitors with much better offers convinced them to update pretty quickly. You can also bring up the perks one company has that the other doesn't (e.g. donation matching or unlimited PTO). The company can make up for that with salary/equity. There is some difficulty in using offers from private companies as leverage, because there is not much information you can disclose about them. You can talk about the number of shares you'll have, but it might not mean anything to the other recruiters if they are not familiar with the startup.

Third negotiating phase: once you picked the company you'll work for, go back to them and say something along the lines of "I really like the offer and the company, but there are a few things that don't make it ideal for me. One of your competitors did this, and another company has that. Right now I'm inclined to go with your competitor, but it's a tough decision, and I would rather go with you. I think if you can make me an offer with the following parameters, it'll make my decision extremely easy, and I'll sign on the spot." Include offer letters from other companies, especially the ones that have them beat or beat on some parameters. Notice the key promise at the end: you will sign with them. Your recruiter will have a lot more leverage in fighting for you if you make that promise. You are not legally obligated to follow through with your promise, but I wouldn't advise breaking it or using it just to extract more value to use as leverage against other companies. Use this tactic at the very end to extract that last bit of value from the company that's already the best. This is what I did with Google. I asked for about 3% higher salary and 12% more equity than what they were offering, and they came back with the exact numbers I requested, which means I should have asked for more. My advice would be to ask for about twice or may be even three times as much (6% and 30% respectively). Even if they come back with a compromise, it'll very likely be more than 3% and 12% increase. If not, you can try to barter one more time.

I'm sure some people will cringe at this kind of haggling, but, in all honesty, this is what recruiters expect, and they are very much used to it. Nobody even blinked an eye when I started negotiating, even on second and third rounds. However, some recruiters might try to make you feel guilty. They'll say that if you really want to work at their startup, then you shouldn't really care about your compensation. Most points they'll make will even be valid, but if you are trying to optimize for donations, then you have to make the compensation the most important factor in your decision. I've actually told most of my recruiters that I plan to donate most of my salary to charities. I don't think that got me higher offers, but it made me come off less like a greedy jerk.

At the end of the day, the company wants you, but they want to pay you as little as possible. But, given the choice of having you and paying you the most you deserve VS. not having you, all companies will pick the first option. ALL OF THEM. This is one of the best perks of being a talented software engineer in the bay area.

Once you accept the offer, don't forget to email everyone else and let them know. Thank everyone that helped you. Some recruiters will be surprised by your decision, and some will even fight really hard to get you to reconsider.

 

 


 

[1] None of the interviews required a data structure more complicated than a heap. All the answers had a very easy to compute complexity, either polynomial, polynomial * logarithmic, or factorial. The most weird one was probably O(√n) for computing prime numbers.

[2] Some problems I did during actual single-round match-up (SRM) competitions, which is good for training yourself how to code and think faster than you are used to. I also did a lot of old SRM problems, which have solutions and explanations posted in case I couldn't get them. I could easily do problem 1 & 2 in the easy division, and could do problem 3 most of the time. I didn't really bother with the hard division, and none of the interview questions were ever as hard as problem 3 in the easy division.

[3] According to the comments, this number is too high. Pick your own best estimate.

58 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Nisan · 2013-05-06T00:30:16.963Z · score: 25 (25 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you so much for writing this. I will be in a similar situation in a couple months.

comment by Nisan · 2014-05-04T20:03:46.709Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

It worked! I now have a similar job to Alexei's.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-06T16:59:21.603Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

This is an excellent piece! If you're comfortable with doing so, I'd suggest that you email 80,000 Hours about posting this on their blog. They provide career advice for Effective Altruists - this would be perfect for them.

The address is: editor AT 80000hours DOT org

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-07T00:43:57.557Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Done. Thanks!

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-05-06T05:03:14.621Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

On resume stuff, one way to make a pretty resume is to format it using LaTeX. If you don't know LaTeX, you can find templates online and modify them (e.g. here).

Here's a checklist for considering job offers.

Re: solving interview problems, I got a lot better at it when I started saying everything I was thinking out loud... I'd have a friendly conversation with my interviewer and just keep saying intelligent things until the problem was solved. (My impression is that it's generally OK to go on tangents as long as they're intelligent tangents. Typically you're going to see multiple avenues of attack for any given problem, and if you intelligently explain your way down one avenue, you can probably get points for that time spent during the interview even if it turns out to be the wrong approach.) I do part-time work as a tutor and I'm pretty good at explaining stuff, so maybe this advice works unusually well for me. But I suspect that "brain freezes" are a huge cause of programming interview underperformance, so if you think you're good at coding but you don't interview well, you probably are actually good and you just need to find a way to solve your performance anxiety.

I suspect that writing bug-free code and fixing bugs without the usual tools like print statements are skills that most programmers don't practice (since they're not typically necessary), but that you totally can practice and get better at. Cracking the Coding Interview has good instructions on doing this; the Quixey Challenge is also interesting. I actually started making a list of all the sorts of bugs I seem to make and cycling through my list before testing my code, and paying attention to what kind of mental activity I needed to induce (in sort of a meditative way) in order to best write bug-free code/search for bugs.

Apparently infosec is so hot right now that White Hat Security is hiring people with no programming experience who seem like logical thinkers and training them on the job. (I can probably put you in contact with someone who works there and got hired with no programming experience if you send me a PM.)

You can claim tax deduction for up to 50% of your wages. That means if you make a lot of money in one year, even if you donate most of it, you'll be able to reduce your taxable income by a maximum of 50%. The rest goes over to the next year.

I'm confused. Do I want to strategically spread my income out over multiple years, or does it not matter?

you might be able to make something like 10% annually with some risk.

My vague intuition is that this is really optimistic, especially in the current economic climate.

In fact, you should be surprised if your offers from public companies have a higher EV than offers from startups.

This guy argues otherwise.

Some companies will tell you their offer is not negotiable. That's not true.

Was pretty much true in the experience of one friend of mine. Ironically, he's a bit of a salary negotiation guru, but was busy when he was interviewing at companies a few years ago and ended up taking an offer that he didn't negotiate up much.

comment by private_messaging · 2013-05-08T08:28:14.708Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that writing bug-free code and fixing bugs without the usual tools like print statements are skills that most programmers don't practice (since they're not typically necessary), but that you totally can practice and get better at.

It may be under-practised because debugging takes too much time. Writing near bugfree code is the only way to get something done in a short timeframe.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-05-08T08:34:09.569Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My experience is that writing bug-free code typically takes up additional time in other ways.

comment by private_messaging · 2013-05-08T18:02:06.359Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, nothing comes for free, of course... but it seems to me that with careful coding one can massively decrease bug rate while spending only little extra time. Debuggers make bug finding much easier but not so much faster. Coding carefully also feels very difficult out of proportion how slower it is.

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-06T23:17:43.853Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm confused. Do I want to strategically spread my income out over multiple years, or does it not matter?

No, I'm just trying to maximize the money I donate. If somehow I could donate it all right now, then I would. Like I mentioned, donating money now creates more value, so in that sense it's easier.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2013-05-06T17:24:55.962Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My (perhaps out-of-date) experience is that lots of recruitment agents, companies etc seem to expect CVs to be in Microsoft Word format, and so providing only a PDF may be an inconvenience to them.

comment by Jiro · 2013-05-08T00:20:52.967Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Recruitment agents often want to be able to pass your resume around to companies while preventing the company from contacting you directly. They can do that by editing out your contact information, but they can only do that if your resume is in a format that they know how to edit, such as Word. That's why many of them don't like PDF--they can't easily edit it.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-06T17:29:15.626Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Conversely, there are some niche places that look very favorably upon LaTeX CVs. It's important to know the culture.

comment by matt · 2013-05-07T22:52:25.053Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

At TrikeApps our job ads say "Choose an appropriate file format for your resume – we’ll draw conclusions about you from the tools you use". Anyone who expects us to prefer a proprietary file format over LaTeX or PDF is probably applying to the wrong place :)

comment by jasticE · 2013-05-06T21:12:51.876Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

An online HTML/JS CV resonated well for me. This was mostly the case with startups without specialized recruiters.

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-06T22:04:16.657Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Below are some valuable comments about this topic posted elsewhere by someone else. I'm simply copying them over here since the OP doesn't have a LW account:

"""If your current job position is already almost optimal for your goals, then it's possible you can do a few interviews, get a few offers and pick the best one, which will give you some marginal improvement. Or use those offers to leverage a raise at your existing company."""

And you don't even have to apply at 72 (!!!?) companies. After one year of employment, I applied at three other companies, got offers from two, leveraged them off each other, then used those offers to negotiate a raise in the range of 50-100%. All while working full time (with some vacation days for interviews).
(I did not have a lot of free / social time during those weeks, though.)

I haven't finished reading original article, but there are often downsides to leaving a job (golden handcuffs, business relationships, social relationships, etc). So staying can be best even if the offer isn't as good on paper, depending...

Also, original article really only applies if you're in an industry where labor is relatively liquid and your talents are highly desired by employers. This is a privilege workers in the software industry (me and OP) have; the vast majority of workers probably can't really follow this advice.

comment by lukeprog · 2013-05-06T15:42:26.806Z · score: 14 (28 votes) · LW · GW

Wow. This is so badass.

comment by Rune · 2013-05-06T02:53:39.982Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

"If you invest your money now, you might be able to make something like 10% annually with some risk."

Speaking of this, does anyone know of any LW posts or other articles about how to make the most of idle capital with some risk? Ideally with the risk analyzed by a competent Bayesian.

comment by CarlShulman · 2013-05-07T03:33:22.458Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

"If you invest your money now, you might be able to make something like 10% annually with some risk."

10% is rather questionable as a long-term prediction: only the most successful equities markets in the world managed close to that in the last century, and many disappeared entirely. After corrections for inflation, survivorship, taxes, and so forth real returns are closer to world growth rates.

Speaking of this, does anyone know of any LW posts or other articles about how to make the most of idle capital with some risk?

The ultra-standard advice of economists is index funds. They beat the overwhelming majority of actively managed funds in any given year and outperform active management (even the rare few hedge and private equity funds that seem to have real repeatable skill just raise fees until the marginal investor is indifferent) via low fees and just holding the diversified market. Basically, it's very hard to beat the market, and management and trading fees are costly, so index funds don't try to do the former and clean up on the latter.

Anna and I invest with Vanguard, which we picked based on low fees, large size, and good reputation, but almost any brokerage will offer them. You can just go to one of their websites with your bank information at hand and get things set up quite rapidly (it took less than an hour for us to invest at the Vanguard website in global equity index funds, seeking high diversification and exposure to the historical equity premium).

You can search LW for "index fund(s)" if you want, and find some economists (James Miller and maybe Robin Hanson) among others saying this, but I would go for index funds based on the track record and the overwhelming consensus of financial economists rather than LW opinion.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-05-07T19:31:49.170Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I was going to suggest approximating your own index funds, Monte Carlo style doing random sampling from the index you want to copy. Saving the additional fees and/or the skimming off the top. Also not relying on the provider's reputation.

But damn, their fees are low.

comment by gwern · 2013-05-06T16:34:52.850Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

10% sounds high, even with the caveat of 'some risk'... how much risk does one have to eat currently to get 10%, exactly?

Speaking of this, does anyone know of any LW posts or other articles about how to make the most of idle capital with some risk?

No, or at least if there is, I haven't seen it. LW doesn't really specialize in finance; but there are so many finance blogs out there that I'd find it hard to believe none were useful, Bayesian, or both useful and Bayesian. (And there's the obvious issue that anyone who really is good enough to do such analyses probably has a finance day job and may not want to give you their analysis for free.)

comment by elharo · 2013-05-07T14:45:17.616Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious. Where did you end up after all this? If you're not comfortable sharing the exact name, I'm still curious to know whether you went to a startup or an established company, and how big of one.

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-07T20:38:37.770Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I chose to go with Google.

comment by jkaufman · 2013-05-12T16:50:20.613Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome! I don't know if you've started yet, but when you do you should join giving@ and effective-altruism@.

comment by DaFranker · 2013-05-07T15:26:58.359Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In the third negotiating phase, it seems implied that he accepted the offer from Google and will now start working there. The most relevant part is here:

You are not legally obligated to follow through with your promise, but I wouldn't advise breaking it or using it just to extract more value to use as leverage against other companies. Use this tactic at the very end to extract that last bit of value from the company that's already the best. This is what I did with Google. I asked for about 3% higher salary and 12% more equity than what they were offering, and they came back with the exact numbers I requested, which means I should have asked for more.

comment by gjm · 2013-05-10T11:25:08.154Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

For those of us who are curious about Silicon Valley salaries (idly so in my case; I'm living in the UK and don't fancy moving across the Atlantic), could you give a rough indication of how much too low the numbers in the spreadsheet are?

[EDITED to fix a stupid typo]

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-14T04:22:21.979Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

At a company like Google you could make ~$100k+ base salary with no experience and a Bachelor's degree, and ~$140k+ base salary with my level of experience. The equity portion will be about ~1.3 that much, but obviously given in stock (options) and spread over 4 years. And then there are bonuses that come out to something like 10-20% annually.

comment by gjm · 2013-05-14T18:48:50.911Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. Those are pretty generous numbers in comparison with what I know of software developers' salaries in the UK, but that's not a huge surprise.

(When you wrote "1.3 that much", did you mean 0.3, or do you actually mean that you get paid more in equity than in cash?)

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-14T22:48:32.465Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Equity value in USD = 1.3 * salary value in USD (roughly)

comment by gjm · 2013-05-15T08:22:13.646Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

So we're talking about a package whose total value [EDIT: excluding other benefits like healthcare, free food, etc.] is on the order of $340k/year assuming the stock price is stable? And you had broadly comparable offers from other companies? Then I take back what I said: those are incredibly generous numbers in comparison with what I know of software developers' salaries in the UK. I don't know how that splits between (1) Silicon Valley being a really good place to be right now and (2) you personally being awesome, but congratulations in either case :-).

[EDIT: If whoever downvoted this is reading, and would like to tell me what's wrong with what I wrote, I'm listening. It still looks OK to me after rereading.]

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-17T02:17:37.721Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yup, that's basically right. Silicon Valley is definitely an amazing place to be right now. I'd consider myself to be a good/solid engineer, but not remarkable. One thing to keep in mind is that the cost of living here is more, but unless you are a big spender (need nice house, etc...), you'll do better here than elsewhere.

comment by Xodarap · 2014-01-22T13:43:11.970Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What's the vesting schedule for stock? And are they options or outright equity?

Thank you for this article, it was extremely helpful.

comment by Alexei · 2014-01-24T03:12:10.661Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The most common one is you get 25% after the first year, and then the rest gets vested equally on monthly (or quarterly) basis. For public companies it's RSU (restricted stock units), which are basically equity. For startups sometimes you get options.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-01-27T19:52:04.544Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm getting $206.5K: $140K base salary + ($140K 1.3 / 4) annualized equity + ($140K 0.15) average bonus.

That looks attainable. It's better than what I'm getting as a developer in the same area, but most of the difference is in the equity package (I work for a privately held company that doesn't offer equity), and there's obviously some risk compensation going on there.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-27T21:16:01.092Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

D'oh, I completely misunderstood what Alexei meant about the equity portion. Thanks to Nornagest and emr for the correction.

($200k-ish is still extremely generous in comparison with the UK, but not better by so staggering a margin.)

comment by emr · 2015-01-27T19:38:43.894Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is this correct?

afaik, a typical equity package (at a large public company) is worth 1-2x the annual salary, but is spread over several years. So you get something like Base+(Base1.3)/4 per year, not Base + Base1.3 every year. So a more typical package might be 150-200k average annual compensation, (which is matches the estimates for total compensation on glassdoor). It seems very unlikely that the median compensation for programmers in the Bay Area is at all close to 300k (although the upper few percent might certainly make that amount).

comment by Dagon · 2013-05-06T19:05:36.929Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

you might be able to make something like 10% annually with some risk.

Please put the same level of thought into this that you put into your other decisions.

1) 10% annually, especially if you're talking after-tax and after-inflation returns, is quite aggressive.

2) "with some risk" is a meaningless phrase. Include risks in your estimates. What's your estimate of mean return, including risks?

Understanding your discount rate (or rather "rates", as they can differ for different purposes) is one of the the most important and underappreciated factors in these kinds of life decisions. Whether investing monetary capital, human capital (say, taking a lower-paying job that leads to higher-paying ones), or just deciding when/how to donate, your time horizon will turn a number of close decisions into obvious ones.

In fact, you may even have a negative discount rate for some charities, if you expect they'll waste a windfall on their current priorities, but would do a ton of good toward your goals after a breakthrough or if it were given to them over time.

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-07T01:06:38.972Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Good point, I pulled 10% figure more or less out of thin air. I've added a footnote.

And very good point on the discount rate in general. I completely agree.

comment by Elithrion · 2013-06-19T19:41:03.006Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Incidentally, if your discount rate is really this high (you mention 22% annual at one point), you should be borrowing as much as you can from banks (including potentially running up credit cards if you have to - many of those seem to be 20% annual) and just using your income to pay down your debt.

I'd say just use your cost of borrowing (probably 7% or so?) for the purposes of discounting your salary and things, and then decide whether you should borrow to donate or not based on whether that rate is less than the expected rate of return for charities. (This is assuming that you can get access to adequate funds at this rate - I'm not entirely sure, but it seems plausible.)

comment by linkhyrule5 · 2013-09-08T20:31:19.896Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Question: how much of this applies to a college grad getting his first job? His second? Basically, roughly how much work experience corresponds to how much bargaining power?

comment by Alexei · 2013-09-19T02:29:18.560Z · score: 0 (1 votes) · LW · GW

All of this applies to getting your first job or your second or whatever. The more offers you have, the more leverage you have, and the easier it is to show others that you are wanted.

comment by linkhyrule5 · 2013-09-19T05:51:24.647Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like there'd be enough just-out-of-college people for it to be easier to just say "nope, I'll take this guy who jumped at the chance instead."

But then, I'm told that the demand for programmers is much higher than supply...

comment by Alexei · 2013-09-20T18:58:55.964Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

If you are a talented programmer, you'll never hear "nope, I'll take this guy who jumped at the chance instead." They want both. Also, during negotiations, they won't tell you "you are negotiating too hard, we don't want you any more". They'll just say: "This is our final offer and we can't do better than that."

comment by shminux · 2013-05-07T16:45:17.015Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm, a fair chunk of this applies to the more mundane of us, those who would not even receive a reply from the likes of Google, Amazon or Facebook, let alone an interview.

comment by jkaufman · 2013-05-12T16:42:43.465Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Google offers 2 weeks"

Why do you say that? I get 3, and I think that's standard. (you get an extra week after four years, and another extra week after six.)

"I was sure Google matched donations up to $12k, but turns out it's only up to $6k."

It was $12k through 2012, now it's $6k.

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-14T07:56:41.082Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

2 weeks, not counting holidays. Right?

comment by jkaufman · 2013-05-14T18:28:28.917Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Nope; 12 holidays and 15 vacation days.

(You might be confused about 15 sounding like two weeks of seven days but actually being three weeks of five days?)

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-14T22:51:48.105Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's correct, and that's what I have as well. It does depend how you count, I was counting 1 week = 7 days.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-05-08T07:53:30.209Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So if Uncle Sam lets me give away 50% of my income each year before taxes, isn't this a powerful argument against Robin Hanson's idea of letting money earn interest and donating it right before one dies? Let's say I've got a great job where I'm making $200K per year, and once state and federal taxes are considered, I'm being taxed at 40% of my income from $100K to $200K. Let's say that I want to keep whatever's left after taxes of the first $100K for myself and give away all the money I make beyond that. I could give away the additional $100K now, and have it stay entirely untaxed, or I could keep it, have it taxed at 40%, and put the remaining $60K in a bank account to give away right before I die (which doesn't seem that attractive, especially in light of other arguments against Hanson's idea).

I guess if I put the money in a donor-advised fund then that would make it tax-deductible while (possibly) still allowing it to earn interest? So Hanson's idea would translate in to "put 50% of your income in a donor-advised fund each year that you advise to donate to charity right before you die".

Does anyone know stuff about this? I did some quick research and it seems like it would work (and might even offer improved growth: "Assets invested in a philanthropic account at Vanguard Charitable grow tax-free, meaning your contributions may be worth more accruing for charity than they would be if you personally invested them in the market." (source)).

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-08T18:26:28.808Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, you can donate to a charity that will then donate it to other charities. But I find the idea of waiting until you are dead to donate to be quiet preposterous to be honest. Given any reasonable time discounting factor, you best impact is to donate right now, unless there are no semi-efficient charities doing what you want.

comment by beoShaffer · 2013-05-06T02:31:17.787Z · score: 2 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I have mixed feelings about this post. On one hand I found it fairly useful, and would have found it extremely useful before I independently the topic and got most of your advice from other sources. On the other hand, I'm not really sure its on topic for Less Wrong.

comment by gwern · 2013-05-06T16:36:11.360Z · score: 49 (49 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, I'm not really sure its on topic for Less Wrong.

As far as the 'instrumental rationality' theme of LW goes, this is more on-topic than anything I've read here in months. Utilitarian ethics, optimal charity discounting, value of information, exploiting the current tech boom, overcoming geek hangups about negotiating, etc

comment by therufs · 2014-07-16T20:22:48.711Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Did you supply any code samples with your application materials?

comment by paulfchristiano · 2015-06-26T18:20:15.416Z · score: 0 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We evaluated this for the impact purchase. Comments and criticism of the evaluation are welcome, though we may not respond.

Our very rough estimate was that writing this post was as valuable as about $20k of stimulated donations by effective altruists.

We looked at the number of upvotes on LessWrong and the list of people who Alexei thought might have benefited during their own job searches. We contacted a handful of these people and asked about how much the post helped them. The sample was not random, and Alexei's list was clearly not exhaustive.

Our impression is that the largest benefits were from:

  • Gaining confidence and pursuing a career search in a more wholehearted way.
  • Increasing the number of interviews that people took, which probably improved their offers and decreased time unemployed.
  • Modestly improving people's ability to perform well on interviews
  • Modestly improving people's willingness to negotiate.

Most of these effects have somewhat ambiguous signs, i.e. people made tradeoffs differently and it's not obvious that they made improvements. Although we have some reservations with some of the advice in this post, the biggest effects seemed to be improving people's understanding of the recruitment process, and we expect that effect to be positive.

Our extremely rough estimate was that this effect amounted to $200k in total increased (pre-tax) earnings. We guess that on the order of 5-15 people benefited significantly from the post, that the per individual benefits were on the order of $5-10k / year, and that these benefits probably persist anywhere from one to a few years (in many cases the benefit was finding a similarly good job faster, which seems to have a comparably large impact concentrated in one year). This is the crux of our estimate, but it isn't very well informed.

Based on the individuals who benefited we'd guess that about 10% of this money is used to cost-effectively make the future better (and probably somewhat more), and we are valuing the intervention at about $20k EA dollars moved.

We are generally inclined to count financial benefits beyond the fraction that is donated, and our 10% reduction is not motivated entirely by this estimate for donations (which we think is a bit low, and which we haven't adjusted to account for the fact that beneficiaries were disproportionately likely to support causes that we like rather than other EA causes). In this case there are a number of considerations that justify the discount to 10%:

  • Much of the salary gains reflect zero sum competition amongst applicants or between applicants and employers, though there are some increases in allocative efficiency.
  • Much of the credit for any positive impact of the advice is reserved for the people who actually made changes on its basis; we try to have the allocation for credit add up to 100%.
  • Related to both of the above, to the extent that taking more interviews, being more likely to pursue a job, and negotiating more aggressively create value, they also have costs that claw back some of the benefits.
comment by MTGandP · 2014-02-22T02:11:25.101Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For any given company, you'll be able to get them to up their offer at least once and potentially thrice.

How do you assess when a company isn't going to up their offer anymore? It seems hard to distinguish between "We're saying this is our highest offer but it's actually not" and "This is our highest offer."

comment by Alexei · 2014-03-05T02:45:37.285Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Intuition. But I found that usually if you are trying to make them up the offer and they can in any way, they will. When they say they are done, they are basically done. The only way you would ever extract more value is if you said something like: "give me 10% more than what you are offering and I'll accept your offer right this instant."

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2013-05-10T02:54:27.742Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This point seems obvious to me but may not be to other people: optimal philanthropists are risk-loving. You should take the option that maximizes expected earnings, without too much concern for variance. Most people make career decisions designed to optimize expected utility, not earnings, and this prompts them to pick much safer, middle-of-the-road type career trajectories. To put it another way, a normal person would probably prefer a guaranteed $1 million career to one that gives a 1% shot at $200 million, but MIRI would prefer its donors to take the long shot.

comment by RyanCarey · 2013-05-06T17:10:30.436Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Don't you need to pay tax before you pay your living expenses? eg B70 = f(B68). And then B(69) = f(B70).

comment by Alexei · 2013-05-07T00:57:41.433Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Living expenses include tax already; it's measured in pre-tax dollars.