In the News

November 25, 2019

Startup by ICS Alumnus Helps Level the Playing Field for Job Seekers

Zuhayeer Musa and Zaheer Mohuiddin ’14

Want to know what software engineers make at companies like Google and Facebook, or how a move from Apple to Microsoft might affect your pay? A startup company is using crowdsourced data to bring transparency to the workplace — starting with the tech industry — to let job seekers better evaluate salaries.

“Our mission is to help people make better career decisions,” says Zaheer Mohiuddin, B.S. ’14, who graduated from UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) and cofounded the startup with UC Berkeley graduate Zuhayeer Musa. Both majored in computer science and quickly learned when entering the workforce that each tech company has its own system for rating its engineers, making it difficult to understand the various levels or compare salaries across companies. So, the two friends created levels.fyi.

The levels.fyi website lets users visualize how an “L3” software engineer at Google compares to an “SDE 59” software development engineer at Microsoft and outlines what each receives in compensation. “We currently have the most accurate compensation data for technology careers,” says Mohuiddin, who talks here about what they’ve learned from collecting this data and about plans to expand to other industries.

The levels.fyi website compares job titles and compensation at various tech companies.

When you first started collecting this data, what surprised you the most?
It’s been astonishing to see just how high tech salaries are. It’s also interesting to see how companies vary in their compensation plans. As an example, Netflix pays over $400,000 routinely, completely in salary. Most companies cap their salaries at $200,000 and give stocks for the rest of the compensation package. We’ve also been surprised at how willing people are to share their compensation data. By making the site 100% anonymous, we hope to earn their trust and make it easier for people to contribute.

What sort of feedback have you received from people using levels.fyi?
Users love the site due to its accuracy and ease-of-use with our leveling breakdown. They’re hungry for new features and ways to analyze the data we’ve collected. As such, we’re currently working on some tools to slice and visualize the data so users can analyze the most relevant data for them.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in developing this startup?
Marketing has been our biggest challenge. We have very valuable data that we display to users for free, and yet still it takes time and a lot of marketing to spread the word about the site. We’ve naturally seen the site grow over the last two years, and now our biggest challenge is to retain our data accuracy. We have several initiatives to keep data accurate. For a start, we’ve begun collecting offer letters from job-seekers, which allows us to validate the rest of our dataset.

How has your ICS education helped along the way?
Building a website that can scale to thousands of users a day requires some foundational ICS knowledge. Understanding the concepts behind the internet, storing data, developing web pages, etc. has helped us build a robust, low-maintenance and low-cost website. Keeping costs low has granted us flexibility to grow the business without worrying about how to fund its upkeep.

You now have data for seven positions, including software engineer, as well as for internships, and you’re working on five more positions, including investment banker and civil engineer, correct?
That’s right! We’re excited about the new positions because compensation is even more obscure outside of the tech industry. The internships page came about as we noticed many college students coming to the site for inspiration. Around the same time, we realized that many students don’t have the privilege of interning because they can’t afford to take on unpaid internships in the summer. Thus the internships page was born to help students find well-paying internships.

How might greater transparency stemming from crowdsourced data lead to positive changes in industry?
Around a year or so ago, when the gender wage gap began to surface, several users requested we begin collecting gender information. We often hear from users who have negotiated significant compensation increases, as they’re now armed with data of what’s achievable. We’re breaking the information asymmetry between the tech insider crowd and those who are looking to break into the market, including new grads, minorities, etc. We hope that through our data, we can level the playing field for all backgrounds to be fairly compensated.

Any words of advice for ICS students hoping to create their own startups?
Start building! When I was at UCI, I developed an iPhone app that taught me several essential skills in marketing and technology that I use today. My first few projects were not popular, but I took something from every experience. Success is always a concoction of events, ideas, people and things. The more experiences you create for yourself, the more experience you have to draw learnings from.

Anything else you’d like to add about your experience?
I’m grateful for the many friends and users who have shaped levels.fyi into what it is today. I’ve been surprised on countless occasions by strangers willing to help. I’d love to give back. Have an idea to bounce? I’m at zaheer@levels.fyi!

— Shani Murray


Startup by ICS Alumnus Helps Level the Playing Field for Job Seekers

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Media interested in interviewing ICS faculty, students or alumni should contact Matt Miller at (949) 824-1562 or via email at matt.miller@uci.edu.