In response to Open Thread #41
Comment author: benjamin-pence 14 October 2018 06:28:52AM 5 points [-]

Title: Shamelessly asking for karma

Hello! My name is Benjamin Pence. I am a multi-year RSS lurker, first time poster. Can the lovely people of the community please give me enough karma to post? I swear I'm not a robot. Probably. I can do CAPTCHAs after all.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 14 October 2018 08:41:41PM 1 point [-]

You made it to five karma.

Comment author: Ben_Todd 13 October 2018 06:31:51PM 0 points [-]

Personally, I see large differences in the expected impact of potential new hires. I'm surprised you don't, especially at the startup stage, and am not sure what's going on there. I would guess you should be more picky for some of the reasons listed in Rob's post.

I also feel very constrained by management capacity etc. This drives the value of past hires up even further, which is what the survey was about (as also in Rob's post).

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 14 October 2018 02:51:22AM *  2 points [-]

I do see large differences in expected impact of potential new hires, but I see a lot of hires who would be net positive additions (even after accounting all the various obvious costs enumerated by Rob) and even had to unfortunately turn away a few people I think would have been rather enormously net positive.

We're not constrained by management capacity but we will be soon.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 13 October 2018 04:17:17AM 1 point [-]

These would be fun questions to chat over at an EA party. :)

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 12 October 2018 08:26:25PM 8 points [-]

Since this looks like it was written partially in response to me, I’d like to reply. First, I appreciate the clarification. It is very helpful and I definitely agree with most of it.

It strikes me that the actual problem here is one of messaging. By getting EA orgs to list very large figures for their hires and talk about talent gaps writ large, you risk misleading EAs into thinking that they should be focusing on applying or upskilling for these jobs in particular, when the actual value of doing so may be less than it appears (though still potentially large). It seems like it would be far more informative to ask EAs to place figures on future hires or discuss more detail about how exactly they feel constrained or bottlenecked.

Also, if EA orgs are better informed that there actually are a lot of talented applicants out there, perhaps these orgs may invest more in figuring out how to productively bring on more people.

In response to Open Thread #41
Comment author: MercifulVoice 11 October 2018 10:42:38PM 1 point [-]

I have some insights regarding effective altruism of insect and animal welfare. They are questions and ideas I have thought about for a while, and it's a long post. May I post it here? Thank you!

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 12 October 2018 02:14:03AM 0 points [-]

Go for it

Comment author: Denise_Melchin 11 October 2018 09:15:34PM 1 point [-]

I had written the same comment, but then deleted it once I found out that it wasn't quite as true as I thought it was. In Nick's writeup the grants come from different funds according to their purpose. (I had previously thought the most recent round of grants granted money to the exact same organisations.)

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 11 October 2018 09:36:26PM 3 points [-]

Ah, I see. There's overlap on 80K and CEA, but the long-term future fund goes to CFAR and MIRI, whereas the EA Community fund goes to Founders Pledge.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 11 October 2018 08:55:31PM 0 points [-]

One possibility is because the EA organizations you hire for are focused on causes which also have a lot of representation in the non-profit sector outside of the EA movement, like global health and animal welfare, it's easier to attract talent which is both very skilled and very dedicated. Since a focus on the far-future is more limited to EA and adjacent communities, there is just a smaller talent pool of both extremely skilled and dedicated potential employees to draw from.

Far-future-focused EA orgs could be constantly suffering from this problem of a limited talent pool, to the point they'd be willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to find an extremely talented hire. In AI safety/alignment, this wouldn't be weird as AI researchers can easily take a salary of hundreds of thousands at companies like OpenAI or Google. But this should only apply to orgs like MIRI or maybe FHI, which are far from the only orgs 80k surveyed.

So the data seems to imply leaders at EA orgs which already have a dozen staff would pay 20%+ of their budget for the next single marginal hire. So it still doesn't make sense that year after year a lot of EA orgs apparently need talent so badly they'll spend money they don't have to get it.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 11 October 2018 09:34:47PM 3 points [-]

there is just a smaller talent pool of both extremely skilled and dedicated potential employees to draw from

We have been screening fairly selectively on having an EA mindset, though, so I'm not sure how much larger our pool is compared to other EA orgs. In fact, you could maybe argue the opposite -- given the prevalence of long-termism among the most involved EAs, it may be harder to convince them to work for us.

So the data seems to imply leaders at EA orgs which already have a dozen staff would pay 20%+ of their budget for the next single marginal hire.

From my vantage point, though, their actions don't seem consistent with this view.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 11 October 2018 06:58:41PM *  4 points [-]

The median view was that the Long-Term Future fund was twice as effective as the EA Community fund

This strikes me as an odd statement to make, given that - so far - the two funds have essentially operated as the same fund and have given donations to the exact same organizations with the exact same stated purposes. That being said, I agree it’s reasonable to expect the grantmaking of the funds to diverge under the forthcoming new management and maybe this expectation is what is being priced in here.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 11 October 2018 06:35:26PM *  8 points [-]

Continuing on the EA talent paradox (“EA orgs need talent but many EAs can’t get hired at EA orgs”), I’m confused why 80,000 Hours is continuing to bemoan earning to give. I get that if someone could be an FHI superstar or earn to give at $50K/yr they should go join FHI and I get that there are many awesome career paths outside of EA orgs and outside ETG that should be explored. Maybe in the past ETG was too much of an easy auto-default and we want to pressure people to consider more of their options. But ETG is an easy auto-default for a reason and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that ETG is genuinely the highest impact option for >50% of the population of people who are EA enough to, e.g., fill out the EA Survey!

It seems pretty discouraging to EAs to make them feel bad about what is a genuinely a really great option. I think we may have overcorrected too strongly against ETG and it may be time to bring it back as a very valid option among the top career paths, rather than “only for people who can donate $1M/yr or more” or “the auto-default for everyone”.


Edited to add that it looks like 80K seems to actually promote ETG in the way I recommend - see - but I don't think this is communicated very clearly outside that section of that article. In general, I get the sense that ETG has become depressing and low-status in EA when it was once high-status, and I'd like to see that trend reversed at least somewhat.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 10 October 2018 11:47:59PM *  13 points [-]

I’d really like to hear more about other EA orgs experience with hiring staff. I’ve certainly had no problem finding junior staff for Rethink Priorities, Rethink Charity, or Charity Science (Note: Rethink Priorities is part of Rethink Charity but both are entirely separate from Charity Science)… and so far we’ve been lucky enough to have enough strong senior staff applications that we’re still finding ourselves turning down really strong applicants we would otherwise really love to hire.

I personally feel much more funding constrained / management capacity constrained / team culture “don’t grow too quickly” constrained than I feel “I need more talented applicants” constrained. I definitely don’t feel a need to trade away hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in donations to get a good hire and I’m surprised that 80K/CEA has been flagging this issue for years now. …And experiences like this one suggest to me that I might not be alone in this regard.


1.) Am I just less picky? (possible)

2.) Am I better at attracting the stronger applicants? (doubtful)

3.) Am I mistaken about the quality of our applicants such that they’re actually lower than they appear? (possible but doubtful)

Maybe my differences in cause prioritization (not overwhelmingly prioritizing the long-term future but still giving it a lot of credence) contributes toward getting a different and stronger applicant pool? …But how precise of a cause alignment do you need from hires, especially in ops, as long as people are broadly onboard?

I’m confused.

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