What Matters Most When Ranking Tech Employers? You.

by Aubrey Bach

tech workers

Is tech an innovative utopia or a soul-killing purgatory? Depending on which article you read on a given day, working in tech either means being surrounded by hoverboards, rock climbing walls, and an endless supply of free, gourmet food, or being subjected to endless late nights, cutthroat competition, and corporate cultures where "balance" is a dirty word. PayScale's new report, Tech Employers Compared, shows that the hunt to name a single "best" tech employer, or even label individual companies "good" or "bad" places to work, is tougher than it looks. And ultimately, if you're a tech worker, it's less about finding the best overall company, and more about finding the best overall fit for your needs.

PayScale's new report compares 18 different tech employers on nine different data points. And while some things are clear, like the fact that tech workers do in fact earn a lot of money (the median mid-career employee salary at every company is over $100,000), it simply isn't possible to rank employers overall. Sure, fresh-faced Facebook employees with less than five years of experience earn a whopping $116,800 a year, but their sense of high job meaning (78 percent) is eclipsed by the fact that 92 percent of SpaceX employees say that their job makes the world a better place, even though their early career median pay is a comparatively paltry $78,500. Meanwhile, SpaceX employees are also most likely to report high job stress (88 percent).

tech workers

Last year, the New York Times published a scathing article about Amazon that made it seem like the Seattle tech giant is a place where white-collared employees are subjected to an endless grind of never-ending email, adversarial review systems, and meetings styled after The Hunger Games. It wasn’t at all surprising when this article inspired a long string of responses. The surprise was the variety of voices that responded, including both praise for the article and its role in exposing a toxic culture to staunch defenders of the company who celebrated the "work hard, play hard" mentality that drives Amazon to such success.

The article's authors cited PayScale data in the piece, but our response wasn't a condemnation or endorsement of the article, or of Amazon. We looked at the diverse responses the article generated and concluded that Amazon in itself is neither good nor bad. Rather, it has a unique culture that appeals to some people and makes others totally miserable. Our advice to workers considering a job at Amazon is to think about what kind of work environment they want first.

tech office

After reviewing the data in the new Tech Employers report, we stand by our previous advice. All of the companies on this list are doing amazing things with technology. They all offer great pay and a variety of valuable perks. But no company is perfect – some pay more than others, have more employees saying they are stressed out, some have less than desirable job meaning statistics, and most have workforces that are overwhelmingly young and male. All of these companies need top talent, so they are eager to highlight their positives, and many are addressing the negatives by focusing on providing the flexibility that supports employees with families, and, of course, reviewing their compensation strategies.

When you consider a job with a new employer, researching how much you should be paid is a crucial step, but it's not the only research you should do. It's just as important to research the company itself. What is the mission? What is their philosophy on work-life balance? How do actual employees describe the environment? (Want the inside scoop while you're interviewing? Whenever you're making small talk before or after an interview, ask what the last great vacation they went on was like. If nobody has taken a break in the last year, you'll get an idea of how much work-life balance is really available.) What does their leadership look like? Could an executive meeting pass the Bechdel test? Are you going to be working exclusively with young, ambitious Millennials, or will you be working with thirty-somethings who actually get your Seinfeld references? (And also are more likely to have families to go home to.)

tech office

Some people need balance in order to be productive at work, and some are bored if they aren't writing code late into the night. Some people will take a cut in pay to work on a product they think will change the world, and others demand top dollar in exchange for hard work.  Preferences like that make a huge impact on how happy an individual will be in a particular work environment, and that plays a big part in how long somebody chooses to stay with that employer.

It's rare that a week goes by without a new ranking of the best and worst companies to work for. Those stories make great headlines, but they aren't actually very useful for individuals trying to make a decision about where to work. In the fast-paced world of tech employers, there is no single winner or loser. But PayScale's report comparing how some of the top tech companies compare on key data points can certainly help an individual find his or her best fit.


About the Author
Aubrey Bach is the Senior Editorial Manager at PayScale.com and writes for PayScale about salary, pay equity, higher education and career strategy. She leads salary negotiation workshops around the country. She is a recovering Diet Coke addict who grew up on the mean streets of Orange County, California, but since coming to Seattle in 2007 has embraced everything the city has to offer (except, of course, the weather).

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