Last updated: 7/21/2019
TL;DR: If you sign with Amazon, expect only paltry base raises and no new stock grants until the 5th year even if you get promoted. If you don’t, your TC will actually drop to the bottom of band so that’s a cliff in its own way. What you see in the offer letter is all you’re going to get.
I constantly see many people weighing offers in here from Amazon and what they see in front of them, they assume it’s just like other companies in terms of annual raises and refreshers. It’s not.
Many in Amazon gripe about the total compensation target (TCT) model where it’s possible for you to be rated the equivalent of exceeds and see no difference in pay compared to meets. And that’s because the TCT model takes into account your current grants when determining how many grants you get for the future. When an exceed’s TCT is higher than a meets performer, they both can end up getting 0 stocks for a year because for that year, both their existing grants exceed the TCTs.
In order to better understand the TCT model, let’s take the SDE2 role as an example for the purpose of this post. The TCT band ranges around 182-242. Amazon’s fiscal year goes from April to March so when it looks at when stocks vest, stocks vesting in Jan 2019 is part of fiscal year 2018, stocks vesting in Mar 2019 is part of fiscal year 2018, stocks vesting in Apr 2019 is part of fiscal year 2019, Dec 2019 is part of 2019, Jan 2020 is part of 2019, Mar 2020 is part of 2019, Apr 2020 is part of 2020.
Let’s say you have accepted an external offer 2 years ago with a TC of $242k with a base of 150k and you have that last stock vest currently worth $100k for fiscal years 2019 and 2020 and 0 for 2021. When you meet for annual review with your manager, Amazon does not give extra grants for 2019 the current year, but you may or may not get some for 2020 or 2021. You performed excellently this year so you’re going to the top of band with a TCT of $242k. Your base is currently $150k, so the extra grants you get is calculated like this for 2020: max(0, (242 - 100 * 1.15 - 150)/1.15) = 0. For 2021, it’s calculated like this: max(0, (242 - 0 * 1.15^2 - 150)/1.15^2) = 69k. Yes, Amazon implies a 15% annual growth rate of the stock when calculating the value of grants.
Let’s see what happens when your buddy joined at the same time as you with the same offer, also starting 3rd year about to evaluate grants for his 4th and 5th years except he’s been rated meets so he’s at the bottom of the TCT band. His base is also $150k, so the extra grants he would get is calculated like this for 2020: max(0, (182 - 100 * 1.15 - 150)/1.15) = 0. For 2021, it’s calculated like this: max(0, (182 - 0 * 1.15^2 - 150)/1.15^2) = 24k.
Over these 3 years, the comp you will actually get will look like this when calculated in the conventional way assuming zero stock growth: 250k, 250k, 230k. Wait what, wasn’t the last one supposed to be 219k? Well not really because you will have another annual review next year and if the stock fails to grow 15% or higher, you will get extra grants to ‘make you whole’ when calculating as we did above again next year. But let’s see what it looks like for your buddy who just got a meets. 250k, 250k, 178k. Huge cliff when being rated meets. At this point, you and your buddy are only fighting for what you’ll be paid starting 2 years down the line.
“Wow this sounds harsh looking at how different the two outcomes are. Are these really the only two outcomes that are possible? Is TCT set either only at the top and bottom of the band?”
Yes for the most part, but I did say the most part because there’s a slight nuance. The top 20% receive exceeds, middle 70% receive meets, and bottom 10% is needs improvement. If you’re at the bottom, you will get zero stock grants and Amazon is looking for you to improve quickly or get pipped out. There is a nuance within the meets however.
With the meets, there’s a suffix at the end that is enumerated as: with no additional investment, with additional investment. If you get no additional investment which is the vast majority of meets (since the manager has a budget to go by), then your TCT will be at the bottom of the band. If you do get some additional investment, it might go up to 30% range penetration according to the SDM named RBMY63 here, which means target in this example would be (242-182)*0.3 + 182 = 200. He estimates around the top 10% of the middle 70% receive this additional investment. The middle of the band to the top is meant for external hires, while being rated exceeds put you close to the top of the band.
People often say they did get a raise in TCT even when being rated meets but that’s most likely because the TCT bands have moved up every year so the bottom moves up, not because they have moved up within the band.
Additionally there’s actually a catch that made this TCT scheme even worse this year (2019). It looks like HR changed the formula to screw us even more for stock grants in t+2 (2021 in this case) for meets expectation ratings, internally known has HV (including with additional investment, known as HV+) by suppressing the TCT for that year by ~5%, in addition to the 15% discount every year with the growth rate assumption. This is my speculation based on the numbers I’ve seen from TCT sharing threads, but I’ll update this as soon as someone can provide the actual new formula. Due to this, in the example your stock grant will remain the same but your buddy’s TC with the stock grant will then look like 150 + (182 * 0.95 - 150)/1.15^2 = $167k for t+2 this year with $17k in stocks, and then they may provide additional grant next year at t+1 to make it $178k with an extra $11k in stocks assuming the stock doesn’t grow, but the real amount of course depends on how well the stock does and what the TCT is for that year.
My speculation is that HR heard the complaints about receiving no new stocks for a particular year loud and clear so they’ve decided to screw us even more by giving less for t+2 increasing the chances we’ll get some stocks next year for t+1 to give the perception that Amazon now gives refreshers every year. Of course it works nicely for them because the TCT is actually suppressed by 5% in case the stock grows more to the point that it exceeds TCT. So we’re screwed even more if the stock does well since they won’t be giving new grants for t+1 whether they give us 95% TCT for year t+2 or 100%.
For exceeds expectation ratings, it seems like the formula for t+2 remains the same.
“Okay, this sounds definitely like they’re out to screw us, but I still want to stay at Amazon because I’m too lazy to leetcode. What if I get promoted? Won’t I see a good raise there?”
You’re probably not seeing much shit either. The difference in TCT is minuscule because you’re likely going to be rated exceeds for the SDE2 role and be put to bottom of the band for SDE3 afterwards with the meets rating as you have a new bar to be evaluated on. The SDE3 band would be something like 250-370 or so. Your TCT goes up from 242 to 250, and all the stock grants you may get is offset by your base increase from 150 to 160. That’s your raise for being promoted, that’s it but at least you’re staying there instead of taking the risk of snapping to the bottom of the SDE2 band.
“Wow they’re really screwing us, but it can’t be that much better at other companies right? Don’t they also have a cliff?”
Yes they do, but that’s only because they actually give refreshers on top of the initial grant. Let’s take Google L4 for example. You’re offered $240k TC with a $150k base, 15% bonus, and $270k in stocks. Let’s say refreshers are $80k a year, these are all reasonable numbers for meets. Your first year TC is $240k, but due to annual refreshers it’s $260k the second year, $280k the third year, and $300k the fourth assuming no promos/raises or stock growth. Then the cliff comes and you’re left with a TC of $230k. Compare that with the previous Amazon scenario and you’ll clearly see the numbers being higher here.
“But Jeff Bezos told me Amazon is a long-term company to work for! My manager also told me the great thing about Amazon is that there is no cliff once I get promoted.”
It’s very funny based on how Amazon still manages to call itself a long term company, at least when it comes to compensation.
Over the long term, we’re getting screwed because while external offers can possibly be slightly lower due to our stock going up faster than other firms in the recent past, the fact of the matter is that over the longer run growth rates have been similar. Then instead of having our pay indirectly suppressed over the long run with the TCT model, having additional refreshers that stack will in fact be better for us in the long run.
Your manager is also correct, you won’t have a cliff if you get promoted. There is no cliff because there were no refreshers to build the cliff in the first place. *points at head*
“What about when the stock goes down? Because the TCT means the gap is always filled, we get made whole right?”
Have you seen how Amazon treats its fulfillment workers? Not from their propaganda videos but from actual accounts of working there? If/When the stock goes down, it’s very likely we’re in a recession. Amazon’s the type of company to tell us we’re lucky to have a job when that happens so they’ll probably end up lowering the TCT bands for that year for ‘tough market conditions’ despite the fact that RSUs don’t impact cash flow. And yeah, that might not even matter if you get laid off.
The other flaw is that bear markets are simply much shorter than bull markets. Amazon may win for 1 or if lucky 2 years, but there’s the other 6-10 years of bull market where the traditional model is favored.
“Okay, I see Amazon’s playing a game of TC trickery by luring us with offers that look competitive on the outside but screw us once we’re in. But I don’t have offers from other FAANGs, so should I join?”
When you evaluate an offer, look at what your TC will likely be over 4 years compared to getting one from another company, and the worst case beyond that and then make your decision. I also recommend current Amazonians looking for external roles to do a 4-year evaluation of TC when comparing offers of staying in Amazon vs jumping by adding refreshers from that other company by using information here in Blind as well as accounting for the 15% premium for each year forward in stock valuation for Amazon. As we saw above, Amazon actually gives you less than your TCT in grants because it assumes a stock growth rate of 15% every year. It also helps to see what the pay looks like beyond 4 years to get a worst case scenario outlook as well if you don’t get promoted or unable to find another job by then.
Additionally, you can look at the “signing bonus” as part of the stock grant converted into cash instead. So instead of a 25/25/25/25 vesting schedule with the stock, it becomes 3.125/9.375/25/25 and the signing bonus is supposed to be 21.875/15.625/0/0. I made it say 25 at the end and not 40 because you’ll notice that compared to similar offers at other companies, the overall stock grant is actually lower. Then there is really no signing bonus or annual bonuses to top that unlike other companies.
Another thing I mentioned above: If your offer was at top of band, which it likely is for external hires and you have been rated meets for over 4 years and not gotten promoted, your TC will actually DROP to the bottom of the band. Then your TC will be a lot lower than what you have first received.
That’s a lot of text but I’ll be keeping this in my post history as long as I can so I can link to this (and suggest others to do the same) whenever someone received an Amazon offer and is weighing the options.
Also I made this post to raise awareness among the tech community of Amazon’s cunning compensation practices once they are inside so that engineers can make more informed decisions on whether or not to join Amazon or leave if they’re inside. Please feel free to copy and paste some of the things I wrote on Reddit, Hacker News, etc.
Last updated: 7/21/2019
- Op, well written and accurate from what I know as well but I'll probably read it again in case I miss something.
Be aware that some Amazon SDMs will start to counter your view by insisting Amazon has the best TC if stock growth is accounted for. I've seen it many times, and it makes me either want to laugh or cry.
- Amazon nirvana!What else those SDMs are supposed to do? They want to retain talent and at the same time they understand that they cannot do a shit about changing the comp model. Complaining about it won’t help. Top talent will always look for other places. Even those SDMs who admit about shit pay either try to promote or diverge the convo to something else like great opportunities etc.Mar 16, 2019 3
- Amazon / Eng SevEveryone should have a salary spreadsheet that documents when their RSUs vest and what the outlook for the stock looks like on those dates. I can look at any month in the next few years and know exactly how much I’ll earn both leading and lagging 12mo, and have a jump ship point for when it makes sense to move jobs.Mar 17, 2019 4
- New mPOT57@swiss-ish, that is only partly true. Yes, exposure to stock increase isn’t a perk of the job, but being granted an amount for future vesting is the same as being paid cash at that future time—not at present time. The real issue is the built-in assumption of a 15% increase in stock year over year.Jul 14, 2019 0
- Google / Eng craziermoreGoogle may not give it 1 year after joining. But after that, gives regularly, in memoryless fashion
- So I joined in Q3 and didn't get any RSUs for the remaining year. This was well known so I wasn't surprised.
The following year I was surprised to get more RSUs for my rating. My manager told me she gave me extra RSUs to partially make up for the previous cycle. Awesome
All managers have a descretionary fund they can dip into if they choose to. Just don't expect it.Mar 16, 2019 7
- I was so determined to understand it but you lost me half way through this wall of texts. Can you give an example instead of describing it conceptually so it’s easier to understand?
- That’s very useful. Thank you! Quick question if you don’t mind.
- In your example, exceeds goes to top of the band and meets goes to bottom, what about everything else? Don’t you have a 5 scale rating system?
- The calculation is based off of your current base salary, does that mean all the increment will most likely go towards stock with little goes to base? Will manager get to determine that?Mar 16, 2019 3
- I’ve updated the post with another edit. I’m not sure what you mean by the last bullet point. Base raises are usually 0.5-1.5% for meets and it can be around 3-6% for exceeds. That’s assuming your base is under 160k or 185k in SF or NYC, that’s the base cap in Amazon. So it’s just a CoL increase, even less if you’re meets.
- Amazon Another🤡No. There is no 5 scale system at Amazon. There are only two ratings for employees who are not being performance managed; these correspond to the bottom of the bad and top of the band. About 1/5 of employees will get the top of band, the rest the bottom. Managers have a small amount of discretion to recommend something higher than bottom, but it is only a recommendation. Central HR can ignore or only approve a portion of the recommendation.Mar 17, 2019 0
- New / Eng ukssoekjjumoreI've yet to read anything positive about Amazon.. and I accepted an offer with them. Is that stupid of me?
- Amazon FTKr12I'm in the situation described here, and was so confused I joined Blind for insight. Happy to find this information quickly (but sad that my suspicions are confirmed). I left a job in 2016 making TC around $275k for an Amazon role making $200k ($150K salary, $50k variable), along with promises from my recruiter that I could eventually get closer to $250k in my new role. Cut to earlier this week, where I was told my stock grant for 2021 would be three (3) RSUs. That's a cut of approximately $44k from the pay I thought I had "negotiated" when hired.
The $75k pay cut I took when I left my old job to come to Amazon was justifiable since I was leaving a relatively obscure mid-sized company in a high-tax state for a world-famous company in a no-tax state, and $200k is still plenty if you're not jet-setting and don't live in the Bay Area. $155k on the other hand (the apparent TCT for 2021) means we basically stop saving money.
Needless to say, my morale suffered a significant blow to the point where I'm feeling equal parts shell-shock and disgust with the model.
- Amazon / IT jkrow63moreYes, these definately broke the morale since they don' t hold their promise when we get the initial offer.
I feel Amazon just want to trap us in for the short term need and throw us away.
Why do we want to invest more in Amazon if they don't want to invest on us?Apr 18, 2019 7
- Amazon ok justOne of my takeaways is that in Amazon people are targeted either for top or bottom of the band, and nothing in between. That sounds like BS to me. Can anyone confirm?
- TTs are targeted top of range. HV+ are targeted around 30% range penetration. HV are targeted just above bottom of range. LE get zero grants. So much of the range is used only for external hires and overrides. Good managers do use overrides but budgets are generally very limited.
- It's the truth, 75 percentile makes the same as 15 percentile and the targets are both the bottom of the band.
If you are top 25% SDE3, your target is the bottom band 250k but if you are top 20%, your comp Target jumps to 380k.
I think the HR is tone deaf to this system it's clearly broken. Each level at Amazon has a huge range, i feel unrewarded to be promoted to SDE 3, newly promoted SDE3 usually immediately start looking outside. Good job AmazonMar 16, 2019 2
- Everybody knows when you make L6 or L7 you need an outside offer to reset comp or you need to leave. Amazon is Machiavelli's princedom. You only get what you can prove you are worth. This applies to managers, senior managers, principals too. I think it is a bit different at VP level which is why L10s+ stick around and never seem to leave.
- Personally, I think Amazon should at least try to retain newly promoted L6 or L7s. With the current model, only people failed to get external offer will stay. The market value for newly promoted L6 is almost 30% above the 250k target. It's a no brainier to leave unless you don't care much about compMar 16, 2019 5
- I don’t know about the 15% stock growth being calculated into the compensation. My offer was 160 base, 150/105 sign on bonus, and 210 rsu’s. A 15% increase in rsu value each year would put me way over my tct of 310k