Raises, Salaries and Greediness

written on July 3, 2014 and saved for publication until tenure

Someone told me once that Knuth turned down raises at Stanford and that this led to problems because they had rules about salary inversions — that it prevented Stanford from offering starting salaries higher than Knuth’s which was, presumably, modest. I might be misremembering, and I couldn’t confirm this with the all-trustworthy Internet, so it might not be true

However, in my searching, I did read some Knuth quotes and stories that made me feel very good about the world. That there are people out there who aren’t greedy, don’t want to try to monetize everything, and just want to do good. So, here they are:

Knuth decides to not be a compiler writer for the rest of his life and decides to focus on what is important in life:

“Then a startup company came to me and said, ‘Don, write compilers for us and we will take care of finding computers to debug them. Name your price.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay, $100,000,’ assuming that this was outrageous. The guy didn’t blink. He agreed. I didn’t blink either. I said, ‘I’m not going to do it. I just thought that was an impossible number.’ At that point I made the decision in my life that I wasn’t going to optimize my income.”

“The important thing, once you have enough to eat and a nice house, is what you can do for others, what you can contribute to the enterprise as a whole.”
(From Jack Woehr. An interview with Donald Knuth. Dr. Dobb’s Journal, pages 16-22 (April 1996))

“I decry the current tendency to seek patents on algorithms. There are better ways to earn a living than to prevent other people from making use of one’s contributions to computer science.”
(Donald E. Knuth, TAoCP vol 3.)

Maybe Knuth is an anarchist too.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One thought on “Raises, Salaries and Greediness

  1. Glencora Borradaile Post author

    I didn’t negotiate my salary when I started at OSU. I was too shocked by what I thought was a really high salary for a public institution. I’ve yet to ask for a raise, though I did express annoyance when the default starting salaries of the new faculty members starting 3 years after me were higher than what I was making at the time. I’ve commented on it before: it seems that salary is the only thing that one can ask for improvements to. But if you aren’t motivated by (more) money, how do you ask for improvements?

Comments are closed.