Author Topic: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?  (Read 2876 times)

jjcamembert

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Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« on: November 21, 2017, 01:33:13 PM »
I'm curious if anyone has experiences they'd like to share about overcoming their salary cap. By cap I mean the maximum salary that most companies are willing to pay for your skills.

I'm currently paid around market average for my skills, where switching jobs wouldn't necessarily get me a higher salary. However, I know especially in software, there are many developers making upwards of $120k, even in the $160-200k range, whose roles are general software developers, not necessarily machine learning specialists. I'm not that interested in moving into management past team lead.

FWIW I have over 10 years experience in C# building data-driven applications for both desktop and web.

I'm wondering if I should focus on developing specific software skills in demand, or if starting a consulting business would be a better use of my time pursuing a higher income.

Timmm

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2017, 02:18:18 PM »
For me, I think it's been my non-technical skills. I've been working on systems in one vertical market for about 20 years and know the business and our users and customers as well as anyone. My technical skills are pretty good too, but usually not the most advanced in my dev group. And my general soft skills serve me well too. But it's my expertise on the business at a high level that will be difficult to replace.

I continued to work hard to develop new skills and improve old ones until about 10 years ago - I still learn and use new stuff of course, but devote relatively little attention directly to doing that.

This has also served me well in holding long-term positions. I never wanted to hop to a new job every few years.

Zola.

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2017, 02:23:09 PM »
To get the big money you usually have to move into management positions. Soft skills are just as important as coding skills in some working environments.

GuitarStv

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2017, 02:27:38 PM »
Quit doing what you love and join management.  That has been the fastest route to more money for software developers in every company I've ever worked for.

jjcamembert

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2017, 04:09:14 PM »
Quit doing what you love and join management.  That has been the fastest route to more money for software developers in every company I've ever worked for.

Haha thanks for the brutal honesty. I have actually been considering an MBA program and have taken a class, but can't decide if the effort of getting the degree is worth more than focusing on a high-demand niche technology and/or starting a business. I'd enjoy the latter much more.

bacchi

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2017, 04:24:24 PM »
Move to Silly Valley.

obstinate

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #6 on: November 23, 2017, 03:33:51 PM »
To get compensated that much, your work has to be worth at least that much to your firm's leadership (or your shareholders if you are the top dog). Corollary: you need to work somewhere where your work impacts a lot of people, or else somewhere where the impact you have on fewer people has a very high amount of value. Examples: Facebook, Google, many banks, Netflix, etc.


The way to get paid a lot is to figure out what people value, and do that with skill. Fwiw I have ten years of experience, work at one of the above, and pull down more than $400k. Not as some kind of super special ml engineer. Just a moderately senior individual contributor programmer. There are hundreds or maybe thousands of other people at my firm in the same position.
« Last Edit: November 23, 2017, 03:38:10 PM by obstinate »

sokoloff

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #7 on: November 23, 2017, 04:52:22 PM »
To get compensated that much, your work has to be worth at least that much to your firm's leadership (or your shareholders if you are the top dog). Corollary: you need to work somewhere where your work impacts a lot of people, or else somewhere where the impact you have on fewer people has a very high amount of value. Examples: Facebook, Google, many banks, Netflix, etc.
Largely agree, but I'd extend it a bit. Whatever you want to make, be able to plausibly explain how you created 3x that value for the company. The reason it's way over 1x is because you have all kinds of fringe benefits (insurance, 401k, building costs, tech costs, random other costs your employer pays) and then you need to make a multiple of all of that so that your employer is getting an obviously fair deal, given that they're taking way more financial risk than you are.

Want to make $350K? Easy. Create $1MM in value.

Want to take home a greater slice of your value created? Strike out on your own, but realize the risk that you'll take home only a fraction of what you're making as an easy W-2 working for someone else.
« Last Edit: November 24, 2017, 05:59:39 AM by sokoloff »

GuitarStv

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #8 on: November 23, 2017, 06:31:10 PM »
I completely disagree with the above.  Most managers make significantly more money that software developers and engineers.  They don't add more value to the company . . . the developers and engineers do the actual work that makes the product that is eventually sold.

If you want to make 350K it's not going to be easy.  You'll have to work your way up to middle management, then up again to upper middle management (typically very competitive).  In most companies, these promotions are political not performance based.  Value to company doesn't matter.

Paul der Krake

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #9 on: November 23, 2017, 07:08:05 PM »
The highest salaries for programmers are generally in finance and large tech companies. Get a job there.

sokoloff

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #10 on: November 24, 2017, 06:01:39 AM »
If you want to make 350K it's not going to be easy.  You'll have to work your way up to middle management, then up again to upper middle management (typically very competitive).  In most companies, these promotions are political not performance based.  Value to company doesn't matter.
If promotions to upper management are not value/merit based, you should leave such a company as soon as you can, for that's a sign of deep and incorrigible rot in the thinking of executives. If the people steering the ship aren't capable, it's going to run aground and you don't want to be on it when it does.

YoungInvestor

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #11 on: November 24, 2017, 10:21:37 AM »
If you want to make 350K it's not going to be easy.  You'll have to work your way up to middle management, then up again to upper middle management (typically very competitive).  In most companies, these promotions are political not performance based.  Value to company doesn't matter.
If promotions to upper management are not value/merit based, you should leave such a company as soon as you can, for that's a sign of deep and incorrigible rot in the thinking of executives. If the people steering the ship aren't capable, it's going to run aground and you don't want to be on it when it does.

I think that what we really mean when we say they are political is that the people who are best at creating relationships, coaching, communication and networking get the promotions.

I think that's as close to merit as it gets. Being the best developer in the history of Google would not make you a good manager. The above would.

PaulMaxime

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #12 on: November 24, 2017, 12:24:47 PM »
I have two answers for you.

First, I used to be a government employee at one of the large intelligence agencies. Made decent money but nothing great. (1985-1996)

So my first big bump in salary (75%) was leaving the Government and going to a small consulting company that paid by the hour. We billed ourselves as elite individuals who charged accordingly.

Then after 10 years (1996-2007) at that place, I left and got a job at Google.

i was looking for a change for lots of reasons (wife passed away in 2004 and wanted a new start), no longer loved my old company.

Moved from Maryland to San Francisco (ouch, even in 2007) and took a slight salary cut. But I got stock and options and good annual bonuses to the point that my earnings were nearly double what I had after 10 years at the consulting firm, which more than made up for the increase in cost of living.

Now, approaching FI, I joined a startup (in 2015) which became highly successful and though I took a pay cut again, I have a large number of options that have the potential to be worth a lot of money.

So, I've been lucky.

But I think you can make more money by going in to consulting, or by joining a large tech company like Google, Netflix, Facebook, etc.

I don't actually recommend the small startup lottery though I think it's going to work out for me. I took a risk because I could afford to. It usually doesn't work out though it's a lot of fun.

Now those companies are in very high cost of living areas and California has high taxes so you have to make sure that what you are making is actually more than what you are making in the old location.

I was willing to take the initial pay cut because it seemed to me that I would not really get the opportunity to work somewhere like Google all that often and was willing to see what would happen.

sokoloff

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #13 on: November 24, 2017, 01:42:58 PM »
If you want to make 350K it's not going to be easy.  You'll have to work your way up to middle management, then up again to upper middle management (typically very competitive).  In most companies, these promotions are political not performance based.  Value to company doesn't matter.
If promotions to upper management are not value/merit based, you should leave such a company as soon as you can, for that's a sign of deep and incorrigible rot in the thinking of executives. If the people steering the ship aren't capable, it's going to run aground and you don't want to be on it when it does.
I think that what we really mean when we say they are political is that the people who are best at creating relationships, coaching, communication and networking get the promotions.

I think that's as close to merit as it gets. Being the best developer in the history of Google would not make you a good manager. The above would.
Yes, but those are the things that have value for the company for an executive role like that. It was the underlined phrase that made me suggest that someone leave if that became true.

Ynari

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #14 on: November 24, 2017, 02:03:19 PM »
Geoarbitrage, I believe they call it. SO works for a big company with multiple offices, and gets a ~15% cost of living adjustment for living in an expensive area. TBH most of that gets eaten up in rent (rent prices here are at least double what they are in HQ's town in the middle of nowhere) but since we're mustachian, I think we still come out ahead. Plus we don't have to live in the middle of nowhere. FWIW the COL rating for our area is just under that of tech hubs like LA and Seattle.

But even if geoarbitrage isn't in your cards, keep in mind that different salaries often come with different benefits, areas, hours, etc. Everybody's advice above is pretty good - askamanager also has some good info for getting a raise, see her blog or outside articles - but keep in mind that the people who make more (gross) salary than you might have a lot of circumstances or trade-offs that make it an unfair comparison.

Simpli-Fi

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #15 on: November 25, 2017, 12:34:32 AM »
Apply for a hardship expat position.

As other people have said, join management.  If itís megacorp and you enjoy programming, youíll hate it.

obstinate

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #16 on: November 25, 2017, 01:23:18 PM »
Apply for a hardship expat position.

As other people have said, join management.  If itís megacorp and you enjoy programming, youíll hate it.
I work at a megacorp, enjoy programming, and don't hate it. I think most of my coworkers are pretty happy with the job too.

i_have_so_much_to_learn

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #17 on: November 25, 2017, 07:32:12 PM »
To get the big money you usually have to move into management positions. Soft skills are just as important as coding skills in some working environments.

Actually I disagree with this. there are departments where devs make way more than their management. I work in an oncall function (production dev) and get compensated accordingly. Every hour oncall is 75% of my "hourly pay" (i'm salary, but they calculate it based on a 40 hour workweek). When they decide bonus, they also calculate it based on hours worked. So the percentage is off the total pay. This works out nicely for the annual bonus, since I'm oncall for a whole week every 6 weeks (9a to 9pm, we have a sister team abroad that covers as well). So each oncall day, pays 75% of my pay from 5pm-9pm, and 12 hours of 75% pay on weekends. Then bonus is NN% of (your pay + oncall hours*75%).

Simpli-Fi

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #18 on: November 25, 2017, 09:36:35 PM »
Apply for a hardship expat position.

As other people have said, join management.  If itís megacorp and you enjoy programming, youíll hate it.
I work at a megacorp, enjoy programming, and don't hate it. I think most of my coworkers are pretty happy with the job too.

Sorry I wasnít clear.  I was trying to say if you work for megacorp and enjoy the technical aspect of your work...you might not enjoy the management side of megacorp.  I donít like office politics, lame megacorp silos (chain of command), illusion of middle management having authority, and the bureaucracy that doesnít allow for actually moving the needle.  Your megacorp may vary.

kayvent

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #19 on: November 26, 2017, 05:47:49 AM »
I work in the lowest COL city in Canada. I also work with general developers who make 120k. To put this number in prospective, you can get a nice 160 sq metre home for 160K where I live. Iíve know of American developers making in the 200K range. Here is my understanding of how it works.

Developers are either dividers, substractors, adders, or multipliers. Every developer I know who makes cr@zy salaries is the latter. So the answer to OPís question is simple: if you want to make 150K, be worth it. Be knowledgeable, be effective, synergize, mentor juniors, work well with seniors, and be able to take on any task headlong. If you do all that, your current company may not pay you the big bucks but eventually someone else will.

formerlydivorcedmom

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #20 on: November 27, 2017, 02:13:08 PM »
I second a focus on soft skills.

I went more the IT route, building .NET web apps for internal customers.  My coding skills were just slightly better than average.  My salary was definitely above-average for my position. I took a substantial pay cut to work for a non-profit; within 2 years I was making more than my boss and they sort of threw money at me until they hit the hard HR cap for my position. 

What set me apart?

*I have mad organizational skills, zero tolerance for the waste caused by poorly run projects, and an inability to see stupid without fixing it.  I parlayed this into PMP certification (project management professional), mostly so I have credentials to point to when someone questions why I revised all the procedures.

This means that my value is WAY more than my code.  I make my whole group more efficient, which makes my manager look better, and my coworkers are (mostly) happier because they don't need to spend so much time on rework or tedious stuff.

*I specialized in data.  I can code, but I LOVE databases.  Most developers do not feel this way.  Their code reflects that.

*I am nosy as hell.  I want to understand the business.  I want to understand how this decision affects that process.  I want to know how all of the pieces fit together.  I ask lots and lots of questions.  I saved the company a lot of money because I could tell them "this requirement doesn't make sense because of business process ABC/ if we do this we need to change Z, Y, and X, or we'll be madly trying to rewrite it the week after go-live/ etc".  It's better to have someone understand this up-front than to discover it all in integration testing, or, worse, after go-live.

*I am a good teacher. I volunteered to mentor new hires, I created and led training classes for end-users and other devs, and I organized developer knowledge-sharing sessions.  One of my bosses told me that if I couldn't turn around an under-performer in 6 months, no one could.  To prove it, they handed me all the underperformers.  [This is not necessarily a good thing - I got a little burnt out trying to keep projects afloat.]

*I know my own strengths and weaknesses and partnered with people who complemented those.  I worked with one guy for 7 years - we were a dynamite team.  Even if we weren't on the same project, we constantly bounced ideas off each other.  We made each other better, and we wowed everyone when we were assigned to the same projects.  Not because we were both crazy awesome, but because between us we could cover almost everything that came up.

If I were more driven, I could be making the 160k+ salary.  To deal with burnout, I moved out of coding and into report-writing.  I almost feel guilty because I'm making $120k and my productivity level is about 50%.   My bosses are thrilled with my output and I get to surf the forums for a part of every day.

formerlydivorcedmom

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Re: Software devs: how to move toward high salary positions?
« Reply #21 on: November 27, 2017, 02:23:52 PM »
My other advice is to have confidence in yourself and be able to articulate what sets you apart from other applicants.

When I got the non-profit job, it was advertised at 80% of the salary I wanted, which was average for that industry.  It was also in a technology I had never used before, and I was honest about that in the interview.  When they called to offer me the job, the HR person told me he had already informed them I wouldn't accept the original salary and asked me what I wanted.  They immediately agreed to my goal salary.  The team lead told me I got the job because I was so confident I was worth it that they couldn't help but believe me. 

I found out later that the others hired around when I was had very little luck negotiating their salaries - they were all hired in within 2% of the advertised salary.

I had another offer for the same salary at a different company; they weren't willing to negotiate much, which told me they didn't value my soft skills and it wouldn't be a great fit for me.

So don't be afraid to apply to jobs that only offer what you are making or even less; if you're prepared to sell yourself very well, you may end up with a higher salary anyway - or at least a negotiated plan to get you there.