OpenAI Engineers Earning $800,000 a Year Turn Rare Skillset Into Leverage


(Bloomberg) — OpenAI reinstated Chief Executive Officer Sam Altman after hundreds of workers threatened to quit over the ChatGPT creator’s ouster, highlighting just how much leverage the tech industry’s most valued workers hold right now.

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Artificial intelligence engineers earn anywhere from 8% to 12.5% more than their non-AI counterparts, according to an analysis by compensation data platform Levels.fyi published in May.

The most common salary range for an engineering job listed on OpenAI’s website is $200,000 to $370,000, though a handful of more specialized roles advertise ranges from $300,000 to $450,000, said Roger Lee, co-founder of compensation benchmarking firm Comprehensive.io. Salary ranges don’t include bonuses or stock awards, which can bring an annual salary of $300,000 closer to $800,000 in total compensation, according to Levels.fyi.

In an industry where talent is the scarcest resource, the kind of exodus threated at OpenAI would have been catastrophic. “For emerging technologies like AI, you only have a very small, small group of people who are experienced. They are the product, they are the company,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at job site ZipRecruiter.

That put OpenAI employees in an unusually powerful position to exert direct pressure on the company’s board.

“The supply constraint is a very real, binding one, especially in the short- to medium-term,” she said. “You can’t easily train these people, you can’t easily recruit them from elsewhere. Retaining the ones you’ve got is the most important strategy.”

As for recruiting from universities, there’s a big difference between understanding AI models on a theoretical level and having the skills and experience to actually apply them. OpenAI’s highly specialized software systems also makes its current developers even more valuable.

“It takes a long time to learn an actual company’s code and tech stack. An AI engineer inside the company is worth three AI engineers from outside the company, given that dynamic,” Pollak said.

OpenAI staff already had job offers waiting. Before Altman was reinstated, Microsoft Corp. said they would be welcome to join its new AI research lab. Microsoft has a roughly 49% stake in OpenAI.

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