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A talented engineer's pay packet is the second biggest at Twitter, after that of CEO Dick Costolo, pictured.
A talented engineer’s pay packet is the second biggest at Twitter, after that of CEO Dick Costolo, pictured. Photo: Stephen Lam

Among Twitter’s highest-paid executives, Christopher Fry’s name stands out.

The senior vice president of engineering raked in $US10.3 million ($10.8 million) last year, just behind Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo’s $US11.5 million, according to Twitter’s IPO documents. That is more than the paycheques of executives such as chief technology officer Adam Messinger, chief financial officer Mike Gupta and chief operating officer Ali Rowghani.

Welcome to Silicon Valley, where a shortage of top engineering talent amid an explosion of venture capital-backed start-ups is inflating paycheques.

“The number of A-players in Silicon Valley hasn’t grown,” said Iain Grant, a recruiter at Riviera Partners, which specialises in placing engineers at venture-capital backed start-ups. “But the demand for them has gone through the roof.”


Stories abound about the lengths to which employers will go to attract engineering talent – in addition to the free cafeterias, laundry services and shuttle buses that the Googles and Facebooks of the world are already famous for.

One start-up offered a coveted engineer a year’s lease on a Tesla sedan, which costs in the neighbourhood of $US1000 a month, said venture capitalist Venky Ganesan. He declined to identify the company, which his firm has invested in.

At Hotel Tonight, which offers a mobile app for last-minute hotel bookings, CEO Sam Shank described staging the office to appear extra lively for a prospective hire. He roped in two employees for a game of ping-pong and positioned another group right by the bar.

It worked: the recruit signed on and built a key piece of the company’s software.

In Fry’s case, his compensation came mostly in the form of stock awards, valued last year at $US10.1 million, according to Twitter’s IPO documents registered with securities regulators. He drew a salary of $US145,513 ($153,689) and a bonus of $100,000 ($105,618).

Some might call that underpaid. Facebook’s vice president of engineering, Mike Schroepfer, took in $US24.4 million in stock awards the year before the social network’s 2012 initial public offering. He also drew a salary of $US270,833 and a bonus of $US140,344. But Facebook that year posted revenue of $US3.71 billion, 10 times more than Twitter’s $US317 million.

Grant said more than three-quarters of candidates who took VP of engineering roles at his client companies over the last two years drew total cash compensation in excess of $US250,000. Many also received equity grants totaling 1 to 2 per cent of the company, the recruiter added.

Lore of 10x

The hot demand for engineers is driven in part by a growing number of start-ups, venture capitalists say. Some 242 Bay Area companies received early-stage funding – known as a seed round – in the first half of this year, according to consultancy CB Insights. That is more than the number for all of 2010.

Another factor is the increasing complexity of technology. Many in Silicon Valley like to discuss the lore of the “10x” engineer, who is a person so talented that he or she does the work of 10 merely competent engineers.

“Having 10x engineers at the top is the only way to recruit other 10x engineers,” said Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy Ventures, an early-stage venture fund.

Former colleagues said Fry, who joined Twitter earlier this year, fits the bill. The messaging service poached him from software giant Salesforce.com, where Fry had worked in various positions since 2005, rising from engineering manager in the web services team to senior VP of development.

Perhaps most attractive to Twitter is the fact that Fry joined Salesforce when it was also a six-year-old company with big ambitions of taking on the software establishment. At that time, Salesforce’s product development needed help, Fry has said in previous interviews. He whipped them into shape, helping build the company into one of the hottest enterprise-software providers in the industry today.

Twitter has had its share of technical problems, such as the notorious “fail whale” that regularly appeared on screens during outages. That made Fry’s experience all the more valuable.

“All it takes is a couple of bad incidents where Twitter is down, or there’s a security breach. That could be the end of the company,” said Chuck Ganapathi, an entrepreneur who previously worked with Fry at Salesforce, where he was senior vice president for products.

“You need somebody of this calibre to run it.”

Neither Twitter nor Fry responded to requests for comment.

Personal drum studio

Today, even entry-level engineers can draw lucrative salaries in the Valley. Google offered $US150,000 in annual wages plus $US250,000 in restricted stock options to snag a recent PhD graduate who had been considering a job at Apple, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The average software engineer commands a salary of $US100,049 in Silicon Valley, according to Dice, a technology-recruitment service. That is down from $US113,488 last year, due to an increase in hiring of less experienced engineers, said a Dice spokeswoman.

By comparison, the average salary for all professions in San Francisco’s Bay Area is $US66,070, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. Other jobs in the area can command higher wages – physicians make $US133,530, a lawyer about $US174,440 and a civil engineer makes $US107,440 – but the tech industry often offers restricted stock or options on top of salaries.

Even for plain-vanilla engineers, competition is intense, said Dice CEO Mike Durney, leading companies to go to great lengths to attract and hold onto the right people.

Accommodation-search service ApartmentList rents a drum studio on an on-going basis to help retain a key engineer, said CEO John Kobs.

In one of the better-known examples, Google famously allowed engineers to devote 20 per cent of their time on personal projects. It is worth it, many recruiters and industry executives say.

Many of the most talented engineers bring more than programming chops, promoting the sort of career diversity prized in Silicon Valley.

Take Fry, who earned a PhD in cognitive science from the University of California at San Diego in 1998. He is a surfer, a sailor and a snowboarder, according to his personal website.

In a fitting twist for Twitter, known for its blue bird mascot, Fry also has avian expertise. His post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, focused on the auditory cortex of zebra finches.


Henry Sapiecha

black diamonds on white line


Jack Dorsey twitter ceo image www.socialselect.net

Jack Dorsey: Turned down for a job at a shoe store shortly before Twitter. 

The New York Times has published an excerpt from tech reporter Nick Bilton’s forthcoming book about the early days of Twitter. Those in search of juicy anecdotes and a Zuckerbergian anti-hero figure in the Twitter origin myth will not be disappointed. I won’t keep you in suspense: it’s Jack Dorsey.

In the course of Bilton’s excerpt, Dorsey goes from a shiftless New York University drop-out with a nose ring to a backstabbing climber to a disastrous manager to being forced out of Twitter and considering a job at rival Facebook to … well, just read the thing.

But what stuck out to me about Dorsey, amid the parallels to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, was that his is a more quintessential Silicon Valley rags-to-riches story than either of theirs. And it’s a quintessentially millennial story at that. Jobs was out of Reed College just a couple of years before founding Apple at age 21. Zuckerberg founded Facebook from a Harvard dorm room at age 19.

Dorsey, on the other hand “was a 29-year-old New York University drop-out who sometimes wore a T-shirt with his phone number on the front and a nose ring”, writes Bilton. “After a three-month stint writing code for an Alcatraz boat-tour outfit, he was living in a tiny San Francisco apartment. He had recently been turned down for a job at Camper, the shoe store.”

Then Evan Williams, the Blogger co-founder and then chief executive of Odeo, the start-up that would become Twitter, walked into the coffee shop where Dorsey was blaring punk rock on his laptop headphones.

“Dorsey, who was shy after battling a speech impediment as a child, was reluctant to introduce himself personally. Instead, he opened his resume on his computer, deleted any signs of his desire to work for Camper shoes, found Williams’ email address online and sent a message to see if Odeo was hiring. Williams, whose investment in Odeo had turned him into the company’s CEO, soon called him in for an interview. He and [co-founder Noah] Glass, both college drop-outs themselves, preferred rabble-rousers to Stanford grad students and Dorsey, with his nose ring and dishevelled hair, seemed like a perfect fit.”

Dorsey was hired, worked with Glass to develop Twitter, brutally betrayed Glass, and eventually remade himself as the dashing public face of the hottest social-media start-up since Facebook. He’s now Twitter’s chairman and the CEO of Square, the mobile-payments company. When he tweets that he’s in New York, Michael Bloomberg tweets “Welcome back!”

Good thing he didn’t get that gig at Camper shoes.

Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal is out on November 5.


Henry Sapiecha

black diamonds on white line

David Ogilvie knew LinkedIn would help him make new business connections, but he never dreamed it would land him a $4 million contract.


But a LinkedIn connection recently introduced the group business manager of a Sydney construction firm to a family that owns an automotive group hunting for a firm to build its newest Hyundai car dealership. Ogilvie followed up with a call and negotiated the deal for Beach Constructions, worth $4 million.

“The initial introduction came through an architect and we won this contract after negotiations with the client. LinkedIn is well and truly opening doors for us and has certainly created an awareness of our business,” Ogilvie says.

While many professionals have a LinkedIn account and invite people they know to join their network, Ogilvie says the site can be better used to actively connect with allied industries.


He spends 20 to 30 minutes a day building connections in areas like consulting, town planning and engineering firms in a bid to promote the capabilities of Beach Constructions.

You can’t expect to win business by just connecting on LinkedIn, you need to use the site to communicate beyond that, he says.

“Connecting yourself to someone else creates an opportunity, but you’ve got to work at it after that point.”

Today, he has 2800 connections and chases up potential leads every day. Once a new connection has accepted his offer to connect, he sends them a corporate profile. He has a premium membership, which costs around $200 a year.

While he also created a Facebook account for the firm, he believes LinkedIn is a more powerful platform for his sector.

“It depends on what sort of business you have and what platforms your sector uses most. Being able to send a corporate profile through LinkedIn has been a really powerful tool for us.”

However, the site does have some limitations, he says.

“LinkedIn doesn’t allow you to connect with people you don’t know, which I believe defeats the purpose of it being a networking site.”

Around the time that Ogilvie was closing the recent $4 million deal, LinkedIn actually suspended his account because he continued to invite unknown professionals to join his network.

Ogilvie contacted LinkedIn for an explanation.

“I hadn’t heard from anyone after five or six days, so I used my premium LinkedIn membership to contact the Australian LinkedIn CEO and demanded to be reconnected.

“I told him that the site should allow people to network on the site given that it’s a networking site. He reconnected me, so I’ve been able to continue using the site.”

Tara Commerford, head of communications, LinkedIn Australia, New Zealand and south-east Asia, points out that the platform offers “LinkedIn InMails” to get introductions to people outside your network.

Professionals use it to network, gain new connections and source everything from partners, vendors, suppliers and new business leads, she says.

The site enables professionals to transition what would traditionally be a cold call into warm leads by leveraging their existing connections to gain introductions and research potential prospects, Commerford says.

“LinkedIn is about growing your professional network and nurturing your connections, so it’s important that you choose quality over quantity and identify people that will add value and strengthen your professional network.

“That said, we do suggest that you have at least 50 connections to get the most out of the platform.”

Commerford recommends linking up with past colleagues, fellow alumni and professionals you know or would like to know in your industry.

Posting regular status updates and contributing to groups in your area of expertise is a great networking tool, she adds.

More than four million Australians are part of LinkedIn, with industries such as technology, marketing and finance among early adopters.

However LinkedIn reports strong engagement across other industries such as mining, retail, healthcare and education.

Ogilvie says he will continue to dedicate around 30 minutes a day to the site.

“I just hope I can do it again,” he says.

Henry Sapiecha
black diamonds on white line