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Are You Paid Less Than a Tech Intern? Cal Student Conducts Eye-Opening Survey

April 29, 2016
by Krissy Eliot

Tales of internship compensation are typically depressing, in that there is, all too often, no compensation. But in the spirit of misery loving herself some company, recent findings by a UC Berkeley student revealed how much students are being offered for summer internships at top U.S. tech companies—finally giving people with “real jobs” a turn to feel sad and underappreciated.

So brace yourself: According to the survey of more than 500 college students set to intern in the tech world, they will be raking in over the summer more than many American workers earn in an entire year. To wit:

  • Snapchat pays its interns $10,000 a month (plus $1,500 for housing.)
  • Pinterest pays its interns $9,000 a month (plus $1,000 for relocation expenses and $3,000 for housing.)
  • Twitter pays its interns $8,400 a month (plus $6,000 in benefits.)
  • Two Sigma tops the list by paying its interns $10,400 a month (plus $5,000 for relocation and $5,000 for housing.)

Is this a good time to mention that the median salary of American workers is a mere $3,600 a month?

Misery loves that you’re stopping by.

Along with the data of how much each intern made, information was collected on whether the students were grad or undergrad, what year they were in school, number of previous internships, company position, college major, and additional benefits.

“A lot of these companies, as we read about all the time in new sources, have a lot of money. They throw it around. And I would like to see as much as of that as possible going to students.”

None of this fazes 22-year-old Rodney Folz, the Berkeley rhetoric major who conducted the survey—mostly because his personal experience reflects these results.

In 2012, Folz interned at Facebook, where he says he made about $4,800 a month. He was a freshman then, and when he worked there, Facebook based intern pay on level of schooling (so if he had been farther on at the University of California, could have made more). The following year he interned at Pinterest, where he made $8,800 a month. The year after that, he interned at Magoosh, an education-focused company that Folz describes as “entirely bootstrapped and self-sustaining” because “they haven’t taken any (venture capital) funding.” There he made a mere $3,500 a month—which is still a good chunk of good change.

List of tech intern salaries

“I was surprised that some of the companies were lower than what I would have offered based on their perceived value, but for the most part, the salaries were fairly on point,” Folz says.

His results are hardly all-encompassing or conclusive—they are based on self-reporting, include a relatively small sample, and were not peer-reviewed. There really is no exhaustive data on internship salary, but internship surveys on Glassdoor indicate that these results are accurate, and in 2014, Tiffany Zhong, described by Business Insider as a “teenage venture capitalist” tweeted similar results.

Two Sigma, Oracle and Palantir did not respond to California’s requests to validate the accuracy of Folz’s survey. Since some national websites began citing the survey this week, Folz says he’s gotten a little bit of pushback from some companies saying he didn’t get their perks quite right. Airbnb, for example, reportedly says it is only trying out corporate housing and doesn’t yet offer it to all interns.

Folz collected his survey data by asking his friends to fill out the forms and share them around, and he also used list serves and social media to solicit information from other interns.

He admits that some of his methods that could skew the data. He notes that most of the responses came from UC Berkeley, with other participants from colleges known for their computer science programs, such as Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, University of Michigan, and the University of Texas-Austin. And students may be more likely to self-report a good salary, even if the sharing is done anonymously.

Nonetheless it gives us some valuable insight into what tech companies are offering—both the overwhelming and the underwhelming.

Rodney Folz
Rodney Folz

Folz, for example, is on UC Berkeley’s electronic mailing lists for both rhetoric and computer science—which is what he says led him to discover that Watsi, a company that crowd-funds medical expenses for patients around the world, was offering a lucratively compensated tech internship as well as a copywriting internship that was unpaid. He sent Watsi an email to the effect of “What gives?” and says the company replied that while tech interns expect compensation, copywriting interns don’t. (Watsi has not yet replied to a request for further comment.)

Most of the students in Folz’s study are tech specialists, majoring in computer science, product management, software engineering, sales, user experience design and accounting.

But other data confirms that a wide disparity in internship pay carries over to real jobs as well. A 2014 -2015 survey by National Association of Colleges and Employers found that for bachelor’s degree-level students, the highest paying salaries reportedly come from computer science and engineering majors, and the lowest paying internships and co-op positions are in social science, liberal arts and education. (The sample size was half that of Folz’s survey, but it spanned 20 industries.)

Folz found that 84 percent of the tech interns who participated in his survey haven’t tried to negotiate a higher salary. While that may make sense to cynics and liberal arts majors—who might have trouble believing what tech interns are going to get paid anyway—Folz thinks they deserve it. In fact, he says what inspired him to create the survey was the belief that his fellow students should be more informed about the average tech intern salary so they can feel empowered to ask for even more.

“A lot of these companies, as we read about all the time in new sources, have a lot of money. They throw it around. And I would like to see as much as of that as possible going to students,” he says. “A lot of the things these students work on become core parts of the products for a lot of these companies. I want the students to realize that what they’re doing matters and has value, and to be able to capture that value for themselves.”

The next project for Folz: comparing intern pay based on gender, ethnicity and age.

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