Amazon Web Services, a globe-spanning cloud computing network that is part of the online retailing giant Amazon, has rapidly become one of the most powerful forces in technology. It has also become a target for poachers…
SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon Web Services, a globe-spanning cloud computing network that is part of the online retailing giant Amazon, has rapidly become one of the most powerful forces in technology. It has also become a target for poachers.
Last October, at a conference in Las Vegas with thousands of corporate executives and software developers in attendance, A.W.S.’s chief, Andy Jassy, strode before an intentionally poorly disguised image of Lawrence J. Ellison, founder and chairman of the Oracle Corporation. Foot-tall words like “bullies,” “extorted” and “strong arm” appeared next to Mr. Jassy and the image of Ellision. The logo of Oracle, one of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley, was barely crossed out.
“Our marketing team needs work on redaction,” Mr. Jassy joked.
Better cloaked was the reason for his enmity: Oracle had been slow to get into the cloud business, but recently made multiple hiring raids on A.W.S. Both Oracle and Amazon declined to comment on Mr. Jassy’s dig.
The hunt for the hard-to-find talent that can build and run the massive data centers behind cloud computing is pitting three generations of companies against one another. Old-guard companies like Oracle, tech’s current giants like Amazon and its peers, as well as Bay Area start-ups are offering big salaries and big perks for cloud computing experts.
On the social media site LinkedIn, for example, there are over 130 engineering positions available at Oracle Seattle. Many of them are the kind of jobs that now pay $300,000 to $1 million a year, according Shannon Anderson, who has been recruiting engineers in Seattle and the Bay Area for 25 years.
Seattle and its surrounding towns are a hot spot for this kind of tech talent because they are home to A.W.S., which runs the biggest cloud computing service, and Microsoft, which has a large cloud business called Azure. Google also has a cloud computing office in the area. So does Facebook.
“Someone working deep inside Amazon is getting five to 20 recruiting offers a day,” Ms. Anderson said. “Compensation has doubled in five years.” For a recruiter, who is typically paid a percentage of a star engineer’s compensation, “this is a very good time,” she said.
Cloud computing, which powers an increasing number of our devices and services, allows a vast collection of computers — often spread around the world — to operate like one giant machine.
These computing clouds are being filled with once unimaginable amounts of data from apps, websites and sensors on all sorts of things. Fast-growing online services like Snapchat run on cloud systems. Apple has its own cloud, as does Facebook. Cloud systems even offer the computing muscle needed for things like artificial intelligence.
As other tech sectors show signs of slowing, cloud services have created unprecedented demand for highly educated engineers and mathematicians who can build and operate these flywheels of data. Instead of asking about the latest computer coding languages or how to make a web page load faster, the most important question in tech hiring has become: Can you handle petabytes? That is the data in about 13 billion images, or roughly the amount of printed information that would fit in 20 million file cabinets.
In the Bay Area, $125,000 a year is not an uncommon salary for someone newly out of graduate school with the expertise to do cloud computing work. With five years of experience, $300,000 along with a range of stock or job opportunities that greatly inflate the value of those paychecks have become the norm.
“It’s an aggressive market,” said Corey Sanders, director of program management at Microsoft Azure. “We are all data engineers now, and we can convince people that this is the best place to learn that.”
The ability to deal with so much data has also become important to industrial companies like General Electric in figuring out things like jet engine maintenance schedules. G.E.’s pitch to cloud computing experts: We offer a chance to rebuild the industrial world.
In the last three years, G.E. has hired 1,500 software developers and systems engineers, and trained a similar number of existing employees to work on cloud systems connected to everything from smartphones to wind turbines and jet engines.
“We’ve hired from every large company, places like Amazon and Google, as well as start-ups, or out of schools,” said William Ruh, the head of G.E.’s cloud business. “We pay well, with attractive benefits, a life and a chance to work on the mission to remake American industry.”
Still, he said, “I’m totally shocked at how fast compensation is moving up.”
For smaller companies, the gold rush is more complicated. In San Francisco’s South Park neighborhood, Tom Chavez runs a company called Krux that scans data from more than three billion devices, creating a trove of seven petabytes of information retrieved by several hundred companies. Many of his 160 or so employees are just the kind of people the giants, along with other start-ups, are looking for.
“LinkedIn or Facebook can offer an engineer with a few years’ experience a package close to $1 million,” said Mr. Chavez, who co-founded Krux and is its chief executive. “We wanted someone out of Stanford for an internship, and Google offered her an annualized $180,000 for the summer,” or about $60,000 for three months.
Facebook also wants employees like the people Mr. Chavez has hired. In fact, Vivek Vaidya, a Krux co-founder, calls the steep salaries Krux is compelled to pay “our Facebook tax.”
Krux takes up several floors of a brick building at the base of South Park, a onetime place of sweatshops that has filled with start-ups and venture capitalists.
On the ground floor, development engineers get daily calls asking if they want to jump ship. A nearby team of data scientists gets 20 or more unsolicited emails a week via LinkedIn. Upstairs, Krux’s recruiter strives to keep people, even as he looks to take from others.
“I can’t compete with a $50,000 signing bonus from Google, so I focus on the person, what really motivates them,” said Cade Garrett, who has recruited about 100 people to Krux.
Besides offering stock options that could be valuable if the company has initial public offering, a fast-growing start-up can offer younger engineers a crash course in technology — the kind of training that could one day allow them to start their own companies.
“I tell them this isn’t the best-paying job, but they have to think about where things are going: Everything they do here is mission critical,” Mr. Garrett said. “You go to Google, you can’t be sure that in a couple of years you’ll have a product to show.”
Mr. Chavez thinks industry titans like Larry Page, the chief executive of the Alphabet holding company that includes Google, are intentionally driving up salaries. “If I was Larry, I’d do the same thing: throw a few more million at people and cut off everyone else’s oxygen.”
Even so, Mr. Garrett tries to keep engineers’ contact information off the Krux websites to foil recruiters. And he is more than happy to do his own poaching. Zenefits, a fast-growing online employee-benefits company currently reeling from the departure of its founding chief and a round of layoffs, is a target.
“Absolutely, I’ll call into any company that is in trouble,” he said.
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