The Incredibly High, Totally Justified Salaries of Silicon Valley Interns

A blog about business and economics.
July 8 2014 11:23 AM

The Incredibly High, Totally Justified Salaries of Silicon Valley Interns

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Who doesn't like it when companies pay their interns fairly?

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Silicon Valley is a giant fjord flowing with cash, and like everyone else in the tech world, the interns are making out pretty well. Bloomberg is out today with a piece marveling at the competition for young coding talent that has companies like Facebook and LinkedIn recruiting high schoolers for their summer programs while handing out luxe perks (Microsoft booked Macklemore and Deadmau5 for a concert) along with big salaries.* Per Bloomberg:

It’s become standard for engineering interns to snag free housing, transportation and salaries of more than $6,000 a month, according to job-search site Glassdoor Inc. That compares with the $4,280 average monthly income for U.S. households in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of the top 10 companies paying the most for interns, all are technology companies except for Exxon Mobil Corp. Glassdoor said in February.
“It’s kind of insane that as a 19- or 20-year-old, you can make more than the U.S. average income in a summer,” said Daniel Tahara, 21, who interned at big data startup Hadapt Inc. last summer and mobile-security startup Lookout Inc. the year before. Tahara, who declined to say how much he was paid, started a job with online storage startup Dropbox Inc. this month.
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Some might retch, but this is actually one of the happier stories about the tech industry’s labor practices. Essentially, it means hot companies are paying their interns like normal employees. Given how much time we spend worrying about unpaid interns, this seems like a good thing.

Here’s Bloomberg’s graph of Intern pay. Members of Twitter’s summer class might make $7,000 a month, which multiplied by 12 comes out to $84,000. Meanwhile, Glassdoor tells us Twitter software engineers make between $84,000 and $165,000 per year. Considering that many tech-industry interns are asked to deliver professional-caliber work, or close to it, that seems only fair. As a point of comparison, consider that the law firm Jones Day (and many others) pays its summer associates—who are, essentially, high-class interns—more than $13,000 a month, which basically matches an annual $160,000 paycheck. A summer law associate probably isn’t half as productive as a good software engineering intern.   

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From a recruiting perspective, it’s also completely rational for companies to offer interns a preview of the kind of lifestyle they can expect if they one day take a permanent job at Google or Facebook. If that means high pay, massages, and an in-house laundry service, good for them.

*Correction, July 8, 2014: This post originally misspelled the name of performer Deadmau5.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

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