[Wikimedia-l] compromise?

Erik Moeller erik at wikimedia.org
Sat Dec 29 21:00:08 UTC 2012

On Sat, Dec 29, 2012 at 12:01 PM, Leslie Carr <lcarr at wikimedia.org> wrote:

> How do we even know that salary is a factor in people voluntarily
> leaving?  Has it been established in exit interviews?

In engineering/product, 9 staff members (*) left in the 2012 calendar
year, compared with a dept staff today of about 80. Compensation was
not a significant factor in any of these departures, as far as I know.

5 were let go or mutually agreed that it was time to move on, and 4
left for their own reasons. For the folks we let go, the reasons
typically were performance-related or fit in the broadest sense
(someone can be great but it just turns out their core strengths don't
align with what the org needs). Of the 4 who left entirely on their
own, the primary reasons cited were:

- relocation to a different city/country
- wanting to build their own project
- a challenging and sometimes unappreciative/negative work environment
- a difficult relationship with their manager and/or their colleagues
- perceived lack of autonomy/scope, disagreements about direction.

The SF Bay Area is a weird place when it comes to tech compensation.
Both expectations and realities differ wildly from place to place.
I've had amazing engineers come to me with salary expectations that
are 40% of what they could make at a major tech company. I've had
mediocre devs expect to make 130K before even wanting to entertain the
notion of working at Wikimedia.

We've generally tried hard, as Matthew notes, to find a good place for
WMF in terms of compensation. It's below some companies that are
similar to us, notably Mozilla which is structured as a for-profit
owned by a non-profit and pays market-level compensation (sans
equity). Wikimedia is above most non-profits that do tech work, and
there's a fair bit of room to grow compensation-wise for an
entry-level hire. It's not what people could make elsewhere, and
that's understood by folks who make it through the process.

We've generally been open to have serious comp adjustment
conversations both at the FY review and mid-year to adjust where it
could be a major factor in retaining someone, and have gone
significantly over budget in comp increases this year. I expect we
will need to do so again next year, as compensation expectations are
definitely growing faster than we've been able to maintain our place
on the continuum due to the hot competition for talent.

But the main thing, to keep people motivated, in my experience is not
money. Our job is to take money sufficiently out of the equation so
people don't have to worry too much about it. Where that "not worry
point" is differs greatly from person to person, and some people we're
just not able to hire in the first place. But what matters to people
in the long run is whether they're autonomous, whether they can
develop their skills and grow, and whether they're doing it in a
meaningful context.

This video summarizing some of the related research is worth a watch:

I think we're exceptional at purpose, we're great at mastery, and we
can do better at creating autonomy. (I think there's often more
autonomy than people realize, but hierarchy can stifle people's sense
of scope and the perceived ability to challenge what's seen as a
top-down mandate.)


(*) I'm not counting in the above contractors who didn't fill a
requisition but were hired through an RFP and whose role was always
conceived to be temporary.

Erik Möller
VP of Engineering and Product Development, Wikimedia Foundation

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