Workplace

'TC or GTFO' may be a sign that Silicon Valley’s money obsession has gone too far

Over a third of posts on Blind include someone’s total compensation. Is this promoting pay transparency for the people who really need it?

TC: 180k

“TC or GTFO” has evolved into a sign of the times in Silicon Valley.

Photo illustration: Cimmerian/Getty Images Plus; Protocol

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.

Blind forum screenshot 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.

Policy

Musk’s texts reveal what tech’s most powerful people really want

From Jack Dorsey to Joe Rogan, Musk’s texts are chock-full of überpowerful people, bending a knee to Twitter’s once and (still maybe?) future king.

“Maybe Oprah would be interested in joining the Twitter board if my bid succeeds,” one text reads.

Photo illustration: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images; Protocol

Elon Musk’s text inbox is a rarefied space. It’s a place where tech’s wealthiest casually commit to spending billions of dollars with little more than a thumbs-up emoji and trade tips on how to rewrite the rules for how hundreds of millions of people around the world communicate.

Now, Musk’s ongoing legal battle with Twitter is giving the rest of us a fleeting glimpse into that world. The collection of Musk’s private texts that was made public this week is chock-full of tech power brokers. While the messages are meant to reveal something about Musk’s motivations — and they do — they also say a lot about how things get done and deals get made among some of the most powerful people in the world.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Fintech

Circle’s CEO: This is not the time to ‘go crazy’

Jeremy Allaire is leading the stablecoin powerhouse in a time of heightened regulation.

“It’s a complex environment. So every CEO and every board has to be a little bit cautious, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Protocol at Converge22.

Photo: Circle

Sitting solo on a San Francisco stage, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire asked tennis superstar Serena Williams what it’s like to face “unrelenting skepticism.”

“What do you do when someone says you can’t do this?” Allaire asked the athlete turned VC, who was beaming into Circle’s Converge22 convention by video.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

Is Salesforce still a growth company? Investors are skeptical

Salesforce is betting that customer data platform Genie and new Slack features can push the company to $50 billion in revenue by 2026. But investors are skeptical about the company’s ability to deliver.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce has long been enterprise tech’s golden child. The company said everything customers wanted to hear and did everything investors wanted to see: It produced robust, consistent growth from groundbreaking products combined with an aggressive M&A strategy and a cherished culture, all operating under the helm of a bombastic, but respected, CEO and team of well-coiffed executives.

Dreamforce is the embodiment of that success. Every year, alongside frustrating San Francisco residents, the over-the-top celebration serves as a battle cry to the enterprise software industry, reminding everyone that Marc Benioff’s mighty fiefdom is poised to expand even deeper into your corporate IT stack.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JoeWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Policy

The US and EU are splitting on tech policy. That’s putting the web at risk.

A conversation with Cédric O, the former French minister of state for digital.

“With the difficulty of the U.S. in finding political agreement or political basis to legislate more, we are facing a risk of decoupling in the long term between the EU and the U.S.”

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, has been an advocate of Europe’s approach to tech and at the forefront of the continent’s relations with U.S. giants. Protocol caught up with O last week at a conference in New York focusing on social media’s negative effects on society and the possibilities of blockchain-based protocols for alternative networks.

O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Latest Stories
Bulletins