shows Apple's minions work for peanuts

A new site will tell you if your bosses are underpaying you.

Published June 11, 2008 5:04PM (EDT)

According to his employees, Apple chief Steve Jobs is simply a fabulous fellow to work for, more beloved than just about any other big-tech CEO. Jobs' workers love him so dearly, indeed, that they seem willing to take pay cuts in return for the pleasure of laboring on his many visions.

On the other hand, there's Jerry Yang, Yahoo's co-founder and CEO, who finds favor with far fewer of his employees. Sure, one or two Yahoos think the company can do no wrong, that "the only downside is that they took the water bottles out of the break room and substituted it for fresh fruit which is flown in daily from around the world," to quote one employee.

But a great many are fed up with the company's recent disorganization and confusion. As one worker puts it: "We are watched every moment of the day and not given the tools to do the kind of work we could be doing. The managers don't treat us with dignity or respect and the stress is terrible."

How do I know all this? Not because I went out and interviewed people who work at Apple and Yahoo (hey, I'm too busy ferrying people around in my Smart car taxi). Instead, I've been reading, a new Web site that aims to lay bare the soul of corporate America -- the thoughts, fears and pay stubs of employees.

Glassdoor is a review site in the manner, say, of TripAdvisor or Yelp, but here it's the insiders, rather than outsiders, who are doing the reviewing. It's certainly not the first employee-rating site -- is a leader in this business -- but Glassdoor, which is backed by much venture money, is packed with many more features than the competition. And it's free.

Well, sort of free. The site dishes details on a handful of big tech firms -- Apple, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft -- to all, but to get information on other companies, you've got to give up your own data.

Site founder Robert Hohman calls this the "give to get" model. You tell Glassdoor where you work, how much you make, what you do, how you like it, what you think of your bosses, and, if you want, how you feel about the whole situation. This is all anonymous, of course (the site will vet you: Glassdoor verifies your e-mail address, and its staffers, who read every comment posted to the site, will contact you if they sense something fishy, like if you say that there isn't a single thing amiss at your bankrupt company).

In return for your dish, you get full access to Glassdoor. And once you're in, you'll have a ball, whether you're actively looking for a job or are just interested in the scuttlebutt at a certain firm. I suspect folks will linger at the salary data, which is graphed and sorted by employee function.

What does a software engineer at Google make? Based on comments from 10 Google engineers, the range is $80,000 to $150,000, with the typical salary around $97,000. If you work at Google and make less than that, you might consider asking for a raise.

The same's true for software engineers at Microsoft and Yahoo, but as the graph above indicates, engineers at Apple make considerably less -- $84,000, on average. Either Apple's developers are just not as great as the engineers as Google, or the joy of working at such an iconic firm far outweighs the meager financial returns.

Glassdoor's ratings and salary data don't constitute a scientific survey, of course. Glassdoor suffers the same problems that all ratings sites do -- people with extreme opinions are the most apt to contribute. Still, when choosing a workplace, like when choosing a hotel, having some information, even if it's skewed, is usually better than having no information.

If a dozen TripAdvisor commenters warn that the cheaper-than-average Thai resort you've been considering is actually flea-ridden and rents by the hour, it would behoove you to book a room at the Best Western instead.

In the same way, if you're something of a slacker, Glassdoor ought to discourage you from signing up at Netflix. One employee there notes about the company, "There is an understanding -- good average work and productivity does not get a modest raise, but a generous severance." Ouch!

Note that if you visit Glassdoor today, you'll find it slow -- it's just opened up to the public, and is getting much attention from the tech press.

Also, it doesn't yet cover a lot of companies. This is the classic chicken-and-egg problem faced by any new community site. Though if folks are willing to give up their numbers in return for seeing other people's salaries, Glassdoor may overcome that obstacle fairly soon.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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