Joel Spolsky, at the end of his recent "Architecture Astronauts Take Over":
Why I really care is that Microsoft is vacuuming up way too many programmers. Between Microsoft, with their shady recruiters making unethical exploding offers to unsuspecting college students, and Google (you're on my radar) paying untenable salaries to kids with more ultimate frisbee experience than Python, whose main job will be to play foosball in the googleplex and walk around trying to get someone...anyone...to come see the demo code they've just written with their "20% time," doing some kind of, let me guess, cloud-based synchronization... between Microsoft and Google the starting salary for a smart CS grad is inching dangerously close to six figures and these smart kids, the cream of our universities, are working on hopeless and useless architecture astronomy because these companies are like cancers, driven to grow at all cost, even though they can't think of a single useful thing to build for us, but they need another 3000-4000 comp sci grads next week. And dammit foosball doesn't play itself.
Now that's a business strategy I hadn't thought of: using your vast financial resources to essentially corner the market on programming talent. Hah.
I don't know what Microsoft and Google have all their developers working on, but there's no doubt that it's a great time to be a developer. After English, or perhaps before it, the most valuable language for a kid to learn is a programming language.
In all seriousness, it's more than money that makes Google such a formidable recruiter of technical talent. There's a mythology, and feeding into it is the 20% time, the foosball, the free meals, all of that. The same mystique attaches to a company like Pixar. It's not cheap, and the companies invest heavily in it, but it pays back in recruiting efficiency.
And it helps, of course, to be the market leader.