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.

Workplace

What the economic downturn means for pay packages

The war for talent rages on, but dynamics are shifting back to the employers.

Compensation packages could start to look different as companies reshuffle the balance of cash and equity.

Illustration: Nuthawut Somsuk/Getty Images

The market is turning. Tech stocks are slumping — which is bad news for employees — and even industry powerhouses are slowing hiring and laying people off. Tech talent is still in high demand, but compensation packages could start to look different as companies recruit.

“It’s a little bit like whiplash,” compensation consultant Ashish Raina said of the downturn. Raina, who mainly works with startups that have 200 to 800 employees, previously worked as the director of Talent at Index Ventures and head of Compensation and Talent Analytics at Box. “I do think there’s going to be an interesting reckoning in terms of pay increases going forward, how that pay is delivered.”

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.

Policy

How 'Zuck Bucks' saved the 2020 election — and fueled the Big Lie

The true story of how Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s $419 million donation became the 2020 election’s most enduring conspiracy theory.

Mark Zuckerberg is smack in the center of one of the 2020 election’s multitudinous conspiracies.

Illustration: Mike McQuade; Photos: Getty Images

If Mark Zuckerberg could have imagined the worst possible outcome of his decision to insert himself into the 2020 election, it might have looked something like the scene that unfolded inside Mar-a-Lago on a steamy evening in early April.

There in a gilded ballroom-turned-theater, MAGA world icons including Kellyanne Conway, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks and former president Donald Trump himself were gathered for the premiere of “Rigged: The Zuckerberg Funded Plot to Defeat Donald Trump.”

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.

Fintech

From frenzy to fear: Trading apps grapple with anxious investors

After riding the stock-trading wave last year, trading apps like Robinhood have disenchanted customers and jittery investors.

Retail stock trading is still an attractive business, as shown by the news that crypto exchange FTX is dipping its toes in the market by letting some U.S. customers trade stocks.

Photo: Lam Yik/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For a brief moment, last year’s GameStop craze made buying and selling stocks cool, even exciting, for a new generation of young investors. Now, that frenzy has turned to fear.

Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev pointed to “a challenging macro environment” marked by rising prices and interest rates and a slumping market in a call with analysts explaining his company’s lackluster results. The downturn, he said, was something “most of our customers have never experienced in their lifetimes.”

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

Broadcom is reportedly in talks to acquire VMware

It hasn't been long since it left the ownership of Dell Technologies.

Photo: Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Broadcom is said to be in discussions with VMware to buy the cloud computing company for as much as $50 billion.

Keep Reading Show less
Jamie Condliffe

Jamie Condliffe ( @jme_c) is the executive editor at Protocol, based in London. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, he worked on the business desk at The New York Times, where he edited the DealBook newsletter and wrote Bits, the weekly tech newsletter. He has previously worked at MIT Technology Review, Gizmodo, and New Scientist, and has held lectureships at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. He also holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Oxford.

Latest Stories
Bulletins