A Reflection on Compensation

From Kunal Gupta

Founder of Grapevine, Year Zero Studios, and Polar

UW '08 Software Engineer

As once a co-op student myself and now having hired over 300 co-op students in the past decade, I have been asked many times by students about how I think about compensation.


My perspective here is clear and simple. Optimize for the long-term, not the short-term.


The best co-op experience is rarely associated with the highest paid co-op experience. There might just be an inverse relationship, as the companies that have a poor co-op experience have to pay more to attract students.


The compensation we provide for Grapevine placements is likely lower than what other employers are providing. If compensation is your top priority (for whatever reasons), we understand and encourage you to take the opportunity that is best aligned for you.

Grapevine is designed to give you the best co-op experience possible. 


This includes the chance to work with a small business where you will get meaningful responsibilities, a reasonable compensation, and participation in The Collective, a skills development, mentorship and learning program to help prepare you to be more effective in the workplace in the short and long term.


Grapevine is also optimized to create more co-op student placements, so that companies hire more students. At this time of pandemic, thousands of students are unemployed because businesses are not hiring enough. We are looking to change that, and working hard to create more placements, for more students. This requires striking a balance between how much companies are willing to pay and how much students expect to be paid.

Why are you here?

A few years ago, I became curious to understand why do people work. I began asking people on my team “why are you here”, to which I received blank stares. I then realized that it is not an easy question to answer and that people needed help answering. 


After further reflection, and input from a diverse group of people, I built a framework called Why Are You Here.

These are the five possible values that inform why anyone works at any organization:


  • Mission & Purpose: I value the problems that my organization is trying to solve, believe them to be meaningful and feel inspired to play a role in helping advance the mission.

  • Growth & Development: I value the opportunity to learn new skills and gain new experiences professionally, with less concern for the specific domain I am working in.

  • People & Community: I value the culture and environment greatly. Building meaningful connections with others, both inside and outside the organization, is important to me.

  • Recognition & Compensation: I value being rewarded financially or being recognized, privately or publicly, for my contributions to the organization.

  • Wellness & Balance: I value feeling supported and encouraged to practice work-life balance, have flexibility in my schedule, or not feeling stressed on a day-to-day basis.


After building this framework, I shared it with my team and then asked the question, “why are you here?”. People found it easy to answer this difficult question and also to explain what these values meant to them.


Optimize for what really matters to you over the long-term, not only the short-term.