Google self-driving car staff took ‘F-you’ money and ran: report

Pay your employees well and they’ll stick around, one bit of conventional wisdom goes.

In fact, a nationwide survey by CareerBuilder in 2014 found 66 percent of dissatisfied workers pointed to salary concerns as a reason for their disenchantment.

But what if you pay your workers too much?

Well, in Google’s self-driving car program, apparently they leave, having been made so financially comfortable that they felt secure enough to wave goodbye to the Mountain View tech icon — perhaps using the middle finger, according to a new report.

“For the past year, Google’s car project has been a talent sieve, thanks to leadership changes, strategy doubts, new startup dreams and rivals luring self-driving technology experts,” said a report Feb. 13 by Bloomberg. “Another force pushing people out? Money. A lot of it.”

It seems, according to the report, that staff brought on early in the project — which has now been spun off into its own company, Waymo — benefited from “an unusual compensation system” based on the project’s value that awarded “supersized payouts” that led to some “multi-million-dollar payments,” according to Bloomberg.

“By late 2015, the numbers were so big that several veteran members didn’t need the job security anymore, making them more open to other opportunities, according to people familiar with the situation. Two people called it ‘F-you money.'”

A spokesperson for Google’s parent firm Alphabet declined to comment to Bloomberg.

The result of the pay scheme? A “talent exodus” that came at a bad time for Google, when “the company was trying to turn the project into a real business and emerging rivals were recruiting heavily,” Bloomberg reported.

The precise basis for the pay structure was not discovered by Bloomberg, but compensation boosts “snowballed after key milestones were reached” even though the project’s goal of putting fully autonomous vehicles into public service for money was far in the future, according to the report.


Photo: A self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan from Google spin-off Waymo (courtesy of Waymo)


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  • StopJobflowoverseasnow

    good for them, this helps drive compensation up for everyone over time

    • TheZip

      Only if you have the skill sets comparable to theirs. Not like they were paying unskilled workers that kind of money. These were the best of best. Unless the underskilled up their game and improve their skills they won’t benefit from this.

      • Mark

        No they definitely are not the best of the best. Google throws away so many job applications from software engineers, sight unseen, that its unsure what Google’s really getting.

  • Blinknone

    Despite the intent of this story, it’s pretty clear these people weren’t being paid enough. Super-talented software engineers are grossly underpaid, even at that rate.

    • Kenneth_Brown

      A couple of million dollars is real money outside of the Silicon Valley. If you are marking the last couple of years before you can tap (or are required to tap) your retirement savings, a big fat bonus check might cover the span nicely.

      • Barbarajogren

        Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours & have longer with friends and family! !dc19c:
        On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
        ➽➽;➽➽ http://GoogleFinancialCashJobs489HomeSparkGetPaid$97/Hour ★★★✫★★★✫★★★✫★★★✫★★★✫★★★✫★★★✫★★★✫★★★✫★★★✫★★★✫★★★✫★★★✫::::::!dc199c:….,…..

      • joeaverage21

        A couple million means I retire today.

        I have no aspirations about yachts or Ferraris.

        A couple million means I can live better than I do today with no debt and the freedom to do whatever I want assuming my aspirations costs are similar to my current lifestyle.

        • TheZip

          A couple millions isn’t quite enough to get me to retire yet. I’ve got that and no debt. I’m not going to buy a yacht or Ferrari, though some late 60s muscle cars would be enticing. But seriously, how many years can you live on 2 million without actual income? A lot yes. But if you stay healthy even people reaching retirement age can live decades.

          And it’s not like these people retired they moved on to make more money.

          • joeaverage21

            6% returns on $2M is $120K. We can live on that quite comfortably and even reinvest a portion of that.

            A garage of stuff would soak up that $2M really fast unless you turned your hobby into something that pays for itself. Do this in a HCOL area and you’re back to zero even sooner.

            Keep working. You have my support and encouragement.

          • joeaverage21

            Taxes. I didn’t take into account taxes. I think with no debt my family would be happy as could be just to have the freedom to do as we please.

          • joeaverage21

            Basically ~$120K to do whatever I want or more money to spend half of each of my days working… Yeah – I chose to take my mtn bike for a ride or tend my garden.

        • “A couple million” today would safely generate about $80,000 per year. No way am I going to retire on that, especially knowing that $80K is worth less and less every year. I might pull the yellow handle for $4 mil, but even at that level I’d probably keep on working for a while yet… I like my work.

    • Mark

      But Google receives thousands of applications for literally every software engineering job they have available, throwing nearly all of them in the garbage sight unseen by humans. So there’s no shortage of talent available to Google, and hence, no need to pay more.

      • Blinknone

        Hiring is one thing. Keeping them (retaining) is quite another, as Google is finding out.

        It’s like professional basketball. There are 50,000 “applicants” for each playing position. It’s easy to find players.. they literally beat a path to your door. But try keeping Shaq on the team for 500k a year. It isn’t going to happen, even though that is quite a nice salary. Someone else will pay 10,000,000.

        You want the star players (or want to keep them)? Better be prepared to pay star salaries, because if you don’t, your competitors certainly will.

        • Mark

          Google has very high retention rates for its technical staff. But there are a few cases where people outgrow their rather childish and foreign-dominated workplaces, and move on. They can fix that without a lot of money, or by paying more. Engineers at Google are not particularly well paid.

  • Richard Birecki

    They were only responding as most humans would. There are a select few who work for the joy purely of creation. Here’s an interesting column on how it will affect real estate prices. interesting theory, agree or disagree

    • TheZip

      Well it seems like the company just needs to adjust how the compensation is paid out. Like putting much of it in escrow if they meet the goals and pay it out when the project goes live on schedule. Or maybe the company purchases real estate for the employee to live in but only turns over title when the project is complete.

      Don’t put the cash directly in their hands before the project is complete.

      • Levin Yen

        It can’t be done. Period. It is so stupid a company want to be responsible for the safety of transportation for everyone. Worse business model ever. Just a scam to make the company look innovative for the phony stock price

  • charles

    So stupid the way they pay the people that do little get the money and run . The people doing the work dont get much at all.

    • David Phillips

      The self-driving car project is all about the hype – an illusion to make the company look innovative while actually achieving nothing. That’s worth money to companies like this.

      • Mark

        Absolutely. Nobody is going to buy cars that cost millions of dollars merely to avoid driving. They’ll pay a driver instead. And where will the trillions in infrastructure come from to support self-driving vehicles on the current roads?

  • David Phillips

    The self-driving car is a scam and these folks were laughing all the way to the bank. F-you money is right.

    • TheZip

      Really? Clueless. We’ve had autonomous aircraft for years, and I’m not talking about drones. Navy aircraft can even land on a moving carrier autonomously with ACLS. Cars are not really different. This is far past the design stage and is moving through final implementation and far into the test program. Ready to go live? Not quite. Bet technologically in 5 years the major auto makers are going to have it ready to go on the market. The U.S. will likely lag due to regulation, but the rest of the world will have it.

      • Captain Jack

        Cars are not driving at 500 knots with 300 people onboard in a cloud at night. Could be the reasons an autopilot makes sense.

        • TheZip

          Your first argument was it’s a scam implying it can’t be done. Now your argument is whether it makes sense. Which is it? There are many reasons having self driving vehicles make sense. People who can’t drive for some reason will be able to be mobile. Even if individuals don’t use the self driving and autonomous capabilities all the time they use them when they need a break. It’s not like everyone will have to automatically switch to self driving vehicles. But the choice will be there.

          It will be a huge labor savings to companies. Human labor is always the biggest cost to any company. Having self driving trucks will mean increased profits for trucking companies.

          The benefits will be immeasurable.

          • Captain Jack

            Yea, it’s great that technology will replace jobs! So tell me Einstein, how are people going to buy the stuff in the truck without jobs? Immeasurable? No measureable, a lower standard of living. Take a drive to Detroit if you need proof with just a shift to lower paid production to 3rd world countries. And you want to eliminate labor? Silly, moronic, nonsense void of reality.

          • joeaverage21

            You tell me. Automation is soaking up more and more jobs every year. It won’t stop. I don’t think current GOP politics will allow for any solution but sending people to the streets. Seems to me that both parties ought to be discussing this more than they are.

          • Captain Jack

            You are absolutely right except for the GOP comment. This has nothing to do with GOP versus liberal Democrats. This is all about politicians lining their pockets and with money from lobbyists.

          • joeaverage21

            Do you think the GOP would ever go for a universal basic income situation like Switzerland voted on recently? I don’t. I’m really curious what the free markets people will do about the unemployment that massive amounts of automation could create. We’ve all seen people in Appalachia who are married to the place. When the coal economy falters, a good number of them stay no matter what. Sure, some will leave and some will be capable of being technicians to service and manage automation. Some people won’t be able to manage technology careers like that though. Once a majority of the jobs driving, loading/unloading, and retail clerking are gone – I’m genuinely curious about what the low paid employees will do for a living – and how our economy will adapt.

          • Captain Jack

            Curious? Look at Venezuela for your answer. Look at Detroit. A potential answer??? Basic income??? Unbelievable stupidity. Rob people of their self-worth? Trap them like rats in one area like shut down mining towns and destroyed cities like Detroit due to cheap 3rd world labor? What will happen when labor disappears? Labor is what built the modern world. Thanks Clinton for NAFT, BHO for killing coal, and tech for destroying self worth through work. Clowns.

          • joeaverage21

            I’m curious what the least able people will do in 20 years after so many of the jobs they have traditionally work are gone. We are all created equal but clearly we do not have the same abilities – for example not many of us can be brain surgeons. I don’t like a basic income if it encourages people to be lazy i.e. sit on the couch, smoke and watch daytime TV. On the other hand I don’t want to see our country become a place where millions live in squalor b/c too many jobs are automated.

          • Mark

            Actually it’ll accelerate labour costs for companies as the maintenance requirements on self-driving vehicles will be enormous. And if there’s any sort of glitch whatsoever, they simply won’t operate (or won’t be legal to operate!). How many times have you personally driven in a car with something minorly wrong with it? Even a light bulb burned out? If you’re a typical American, probably quite often. Now multiply the electrical/mechanical complexity of such vehicles significantly for “self-driving”, and you have one veritable maintenance nightmare.

            Airplanes only get away with it because they have systems which are 3 and 4X redundant, meaning that the operator can disable broken systems and still make the flight with some redundancy.

      • Mark

        Self-driving cars won’t work for economics. Nobody is going to pay a few million dollars per unit (what they’ll cost when all the electro-mechanical redundancy is built in), and require very expensive professional maintenance. Cheap cars, barely maintained by cheap “mechanics” is the way to go.

        • TheZip

          We are incrementally approaching the self driving cars already and quite far along. Adaptive cruise control is quite common and controls speed as necessary to slow down and speed up. Automatic parallel parking is quite common. So many of the pieces are already in play and being refined all the time. The Tesla autopilot feature, though not totally self driving is very close in many aspects.

          In the 50’s computers were a few million dollars apiece, by the 70’s they were affordable for the average person. You now hold more computer power in your hand that people even fathomed in the 50s. We are already far along the path from the 50’s to 70’s computer usage with self driving capabilities.

          It’s coming and won’t be a million dollars a unit. I doubt with the thousands of vehicles out there now from small cars to tractor trailers ( being tested that they are anywhere close to that cost now.

          With every car and truck manufacturer out there working on this and competing to be the first to market, along with all the other companies from Google to Uber it is going to happen.

          • Mark

            Cruise control and self-driving are two entirely different things, completely worlds apart. And not many of the pieces of a viable self-driving car are actually in existence at the moment. Not to mention that there’s been relatively little research performed into HMI’s, and the other ‘soft’ aspects of a fundamental change in the relationship between man and machine. Most drivers are barely even able to manage all the relatively unsophisticated electronic gizmos that are built into their new cars. I can’t imagine the sort of problems that will arise if ever the unsophisticated public has to try and manage a self-driving car. Especially, as I noted in another post, its maintenance and dispatch requirements which are certain to be dramatically more stringent than anything seen in the human-driver world.

            None of the current implementations are anywhere near close enough to be unleashed on the general public — very highly skilled engineers not only are riding in the vehicles, monitoring them very closely, but they’re also performing impeccable maintenance on them. Nevermind that inclement weather is currently a bar to self-driving, and will be until they dramatically upgrade the technology platforms used for instrumentation (which brings up another problem — military export restrictions!). The end result is easily that a typical self-driving car will cost at least a million dollars, perhaps more, and require on-going support and maintenance that dramatically out-costs mass-produced human-driven vehicles. At lower dispatch reliability to boot. Most of the technology needed to make ‘self-driving’ work resides with Honeywell, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin — the defense contractors with advanced instrumentation and embedded systems engineering expertise, not with the Googles, Ubers, etc., of the world who are just putting on a dog and pony show primarily intended to create hype around their businesses and justify their sky-high stock market valuations.

          • TheZip

            ADAPTIVE cruise control. I’m not saying they are close to the same. But the ability to control speed up and down as needed with sensors located around the car is clearly part of the molecularity of self driving cars. Straight cruise control does nothing but hold speed constant, absolutely nothing to do with automation.

            There are no humans in the autonomous vehicles being tested nor is there any HIMI. Self is another story. Both are on the roads now. The autonomous vehicles don’t always have an engineer in the position to take the wheel, but do often ride as passengers. They have to be able to monitor the components not be ready to take over control if necessary.

            You can continue with your flat earth views. Technology moves faster than you are willing to admit. The more error prone humans are removed from the picture more safety is introduced. Self driving and autonomous vehicles are already proving to be orders of magnitude safer than humans. They also don’t suffer fatigue, a cause of over 8000 traffic deaths a year.

            It’s coming to if you don’t get out of the way. Automation has taken over many unskilled overpaid union jobs in the workplace. It will likely take over for many of the truck drivers sooner that it takes over the everyday passenger car since companies will save money by reducing labor costs.

          • Mark

            adaptive cruise control is just 1 dimensional radar and a bit of signal processing/conditioning on such. Not a big deal, and completely orders of magnitude different from ‘self-driving’.

            And self-driving vehicles definitely will need very highly refined HMI’s as self-driving won’t be possible under literally all scenarios. The transition between self-driving and driver-driving needs to be seamless and orderly. A self-driving car can’t merely drive itself into bad weather and decide, at the last moment, that its unable to continue driving. Human-factors approaches need to be very carefully studied here.

            And there is no proof that self-driving vehicles are safer than humans. Data that I’ve seen actually indicates significantly higher accident rates when adjusted for identical operating conditions. Self-driving car proponents often mislead the public with their claims of lower accident rates because they compare ideal conditions for self-driving vehicles (perfect roads, perfect weather, perfect maintenance!), against overall accident statistics for the real-world fleet of vehicles.

            It might be fun for people to make fun of truck drivers and the relatively boring/lame careers they have, but they’re not going to be replaced anytime soon by self-driving anything. Especially not at what such vehicles are going to cost. Tweaks to railroad dispatch policies and infrastructure, as well as a post-consumerism economy are a far larger threat to truckers’ livelihoods than multi-million dollar self-driving vehicles.

  • Ima Knut

    Pay me so much I don’t need to work. Interesting.

  • TheZip

    Good plans need tweaking. Guess the lesson learned is don’t pay them up front for the work to keep them. They were being paid to meet objectives. So instead of paying it out immediately put it in an escrow account that is accrued and only paid out when the overall goal is achieved, such as the autonomous cars going live.

    • What if nobody wants to work for a payout that might not appear for years?

  • Captain Jack

    I hate those stupid cars. Driving in the left lane at 10 mph under the speed limit. They are like the plague causing drivers to make random lane changes to get around their little gum drop car driven by some skinny kid who’s cool and hip with the Silicon Valley required three days of beard growth while they hold on to a tiny joystick in case the fiberglass flop goes bonkers. Get the dam things off the road.

  • Levin Yen

    Coz they know it is impossible and it is so stupid to even try… that’s why just leave and give them a finger. It is all scam