I was making $800K at Meta before quitting. Here's how I significantly increased my compensation and why I left.


When I was starting out in my career, I heard about tech workers making half a million dollars a year, but I didn't think it was actually attainable. I certainly didn't expect that I could make substantially more in just a few years.

I spent the past decade working as a software engineer across multiple companies in Silicon Valley and was able to drastically increase my income over the years.

I started out as a founding engineer after graduating from Stanford, and then I joined Pinterest for two and a half years. In 2017, I joined Facebook (now known as Meta) as a senior engineer and worked there for almost five years.

My compensation at Meta rapidly increased to more than $800,000 a year. In 2022, I left to start Taro, a community to help other engineers achieve similar career success.

Rahul Pandey's total compensation graph.
Rahul Pandey's total compensation. 
Rahul Pandey

I struggled with anxiety when I joined Meta

I received an offer to join Facebook in 2017 as a senior engineer:

  • Base salary: $170,000

  • Signing bonus: $45,000

  • Restricted Stock Units (RSUs): $150,000

  • Target annual bonus: 15%

This offer translated to a total compensation (TC) of $390K in the first year. Not bad! Because I had five competing offers from companies like Snapchat, Uber, and Airbnb, I had the leverage to negotiate a strong equity package. I ended up choosing Meta because of the strong offer and exciting project that promised an opportunity for growth.

My first few months as a Facebook engineer were difficult. I dealt with imposter syndrome and anxiety as I struggled to adapt to the company's culture and tooling. I put in lots of extra time in the office, unsuccessfully trying to master a massive codebase on my own.

Coming in as a senior engineer — a level E5 at Facebook — I felt pressure to become independent and start contributing quickly. I thought that asking for help would "out" me as someone who didn't deserve to be a senior engineer. At the end of my first half, my manager said I was doing ok, but he wanted to see me take on more ownership within the team.

On top of my performance concerns, Facebook was struggling as a company

The product I worked on was mired with delays, employee morale suffered due to the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, and Facebook stock was at a low point. Several teammates quit and joined other companies. I had only been at the company for a year, though, so I felt it was too soon to jump ship. Instead, I made a concerted effort to improve my performance.

One of the obvious areas for improvement was fostering deeper collaboration within my team. It'd be impossible to take ownership if I didn't know what my teammates worked on, they didn't know what I worked on, or we didn't know how the pieces fit together.

When I finally started leveraging the talented people around me, I became more confident in the codebase and technical direction.

I reached out to engineers on my team along with tech leads on adjacent teams: "I'd love to grab 30 minutes to better understand how my work on project X could help with what you're doing, and get any feedback from you."

I scheduled 1:1s with each person to understand their priorities and learn from their work. The feedback and context I gained from these conversations were critical to my ability to prioritize and deliver my work.

This led to my first rating of "Greatly Exceeds Expectations," reserved for about the top 10% of engineers in the company. By asking for help, I was able to achieve a meaningful impact and articulate it in my performance review.

Rahul Pandey's performance ratings.
Rahul Pandey's performance ratings. 
Rahul Pandey

I started to feel more confident two years later

After two full years at Facebook, I finally hit peak productivity. I built an internal tool that gained adoption throughout the organization and led to huge time savings for engineers. I not only had the technical knowledge to complete my work, but I also had enough context to lead projects. This is a critical part of being a senior engineer and beyond (staff or principal engineer).

In late 2019, I received my second "Greatly Exceeds Expectations" rating and a special additional equity grant from a Senior Director.

This led to a massive equity refresh valued at $400,000 over four years.

The next year brought the turmoil of COVID

As shelter-in-place orders were established, services like Facebook experienced record usage, as we all relied on technology to feel more connected. The usage spike was stressful, but I felt well-equipped to rise to the occasion; at this point, I was one of the most experienced people on the team to quickly diagnose and fix issues in multiple tech stacks.

I landed a promotion to staff engineer in late 2020. This led to the largest increase in my base salary, up 14% to $231,000, and another large equity grant valued at $250,000. The majority of my compensation at this point came from equity.

For my last year at Facebook, I transitioned into a manager role and switched teams after three years in the same organization. As 2021 wrapped up, I began exploring the world beyond Meta. After almost ten years in tech, I had achieved some degree of financial freedom, and I realized how much more I could learn beyond engineering.

I left Meta in 2022 to build my own startup, Taro.

You can do things to increase the likelihood that you'll move up

My total compensation in 2021 exceeded $800,000 due to sustained strong performance and a run-up in the Meta stock price. I was in the top 1% of income earners in the country! At that level, the money doesn't actually feel deserved: luck plays a huge role.

However, "get lucky" is not very actionable. I strongly believe that you can put yourself in positions that create luck and opportunity.

Here are my recommendations:

1. Commit to at least two years in a senior role

Job hopping works when you're early in your career, but not when you're more senior. Getting to a staff or principal engineer requires multiple years of organizational context, relationships, and impact.

Only after you have built enough trust can you tackle problems of sufficient scope that justify a promotion. Too many engineers constantly have one foot out the door, always on the interview treadmill. My success was due to my persistence within the team, sticking around for three-plus years.

2. Be strategic about improving and understanding how you're evaluated

We'll all struggle at some point, but the solution is rarely to put in more hours at work in isolation. Two structural changes I recommend:

  • Set up recurring "performance discussions" with your manager and other tech leads to get feedback on what you could do better.

  • Understand your company's evaluation system. How can you find work with an undeniable impact on your team and product, and how is that impact measured?

3. Don't forget that equity is valuable too

Wealth creation in tech is based on the idea of owning a piece of the company you work for (equity). 2021 was my blockbuster $800K year at Meta, and almost $600K of my compensation came from company stock.

At the best companies, both startups and Big Tech, a huge portion of your pay is stock. Too many engineers focus myopically on base salary instead of understanding the value of their equity as the company grows.

I left Meta as a much better engineer compared to when I joined in 2017

I attribute this to a mindset shift around building deep relationships at work. I understood that asking questions is a prerequisite for growth within a complex, fast-moving team. I was able to receive actionable feedback from colleagues, which allowed me to identify and deliver high-impact projects.

I eventually found success, but the tools and tactics shouldn't have been so hard to learn. That was my motivation to start joinTaro.com: simple insights and ideas lead to less frustration, higher compensation, and happier tech workers.

Too many engineers stagnate for too long in their careers. If I could enable a transformation for other engineers similar to what I experienced at Meta, I'd have made a meaningful difference.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post