In February, a PayPal engineer sought out a long-lost office love on the anonymous discussion forum Blind. At the bottom of the post, the engineer wrote: “TC: 180k.” In other words, this worker makes $180,000 per year.
All kinds of posts on Blind might include the poster's compensation.Screenshot: Blind
The PayPal engineer didn’t need to post their total compensation to find their cafeteria companion. But as they tell people on Blind who don’t post their salary, “TC or GTFO” — tell us your compensation, or get the fuck out.
The actual use of “TC or GTFO” was mentioned in less than 1% of threads on Blind through the first three months of the year, according to data from the company provided to Protocol. But maybe that’s because people on the platform have already gotten the message: “TC” was mentioned in 36% of threads throughout the first months of 2022, Blind told Protocol.
Blind execs and some tech workers agreed that including total compensation on posts has promoted discussions about salary transparency across companies. But both the company and tech workers also agreed that “TC or GTFO” has evolved into a sign of the times in Silicon Valley: Compensation means notoriety, and those with higher pay can (and do) tout their financial status on the platform.
“Unless you say how much you make, you're not going to be taken seriously, or your seniority — or lack thereof — would never be known to the community,” said Deedy Das, the founding engineer at Glean, an enterprise search product.
Das, who has previously worked at Facebook and Google, said he initially joined Blind around 2015 and noticed that users primarily used the platform to talk about HR issues and other workplace topics. But Blind became increasingly popular for tech workers to compare salaries. “A lot of the questions would be, ‘How much should I be getting paid?’ and ‘I get paid X at Amazon, but I heard people at my level get paid Y at Google,’” he said.
Over time, he said Blind posts that included compensation began to have less to do with pay. People would post about topics like work management and mental health, then throw their pay at the bottom of the post. Das said “TC or GTFO” highlights Silicon Valley’s obsession with pay and the need to show status through compensation. Writing total pay on Blind is now as natural as writing an email signature, Das said.
Das added that the discussion around compensation on Blind is flawed, because most of the people who actually share their pay on the platform are people who are proud of how much they make. “You only get to selectively hear about high comps,” he said. “So everybody has this underlying frustration that you're always not getting paid enough.”
Stefanie Howerton, an IT enterprise project manager at Quotient Technology, said constantly including total pay in posts, especially those that have nothing to do with money, starts to detract from other conversations. “After a while, it just becomes this — and excuse my French — but it just becomes this dick-swinging contest.”
“You can't ask a question without telling somebody what you make,” Howerton added.
People include their pay on posts covering a range of topics, from layoffs to dating in Seattle to deciding whether to switch companies. If people don’t feel they make as much money as other people posting on Blind, they might post the peanuts emoji as their total compensation.
Howerton added that tech workers’ obsession with including pay on Blind has done some good. Discussing compensation helped her realize that she was being underpaid at a former job, and it helped her understand how much more people with her same position are being paid at companies like Apple and Google. She makes around $93,000 annually as an IT project manager, but she noticed on Blind that larger tech companies pay people in the same position closer to $150,000. She said if she were looking for another job at large tech companies like Apple, she'd be able to use the information on Blind to negotiate for better pay in interviews.
Howerton said she’s willing to put up with people’s fixation on pay if it means she’ll learn how much she should be paid. While workers can hear about pay from other platforms, like Levels.fyi and Glassdoor, hearing directly from someone about their compensation is more valuable. “I'm willing to put up with the quirk of ‘TC or GTFO’ if it means that I can have the knowledge that I need to advocate for myself,” she said.
Still, even if Blind gives workers a general sense of how different tech companies pay their staff, that information should be taken with a grain of salt, according to Colleen McCreary, Credit Karma’s chief people officer. People might feel comfortable posting their salary on Blind because the posts are anonymous, but the people reading that information still lack context about who exactly the poster is and whether they are telling the whole truth about compensation.
“I don't think people tend to be the most honest about those kinds of things; I do think that there's a little bit of a brag factor that goes with it,” McCreary told Protocol.
McCreary added that she does not use Blind for a reason. Employees should feel comfortable asking their company tough questions about how their pay is determined and how often it’s reviewed. Even though workers use Blind to learn about other people’s pay, employers likely don’t make decisions on compensation based on conversations on the platform.
“We have employees who have asked [about Blind], and none of our management team is on there,” she said. “But what we do pay attention to is our employee surveys, we pay attention to attrition, we pay attention to recruiting and we pay attention to what employers are bringing up in public and private forums that we have internally.”
Kyum Kim, Blind’s co-founder and chief business officer, said Blind doesn’t necessarily want to foster a compensation-obsessed culture among tech workers, but the fact that everyone writes their pay is a sign that tech has a problem with salary transparency. “We're no way in support of only a money-driven culture,” Kim told Protocol. “But who benefits from not talking about it? That's my question. And I think the answer is pretty obvious.”
Kim added that he doesn’t want Blind users to fixate so heavily on pay in the long term. Over 80% of the people on Blind use the platform to evaluate a company before making a job decision, according to an internal survey, and Kim said workers should be able to learn about topics like remote work and employee resource groups — not just compensation.
“There are many other areas where we can initiate more discussion,” Kim said.