Author Topic: So how do you actually get a tech salary when you have tech qualifications?  (Read 1349 times)


  • Stubble
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I have a couple of engineering degrees (chemical + nuclear) and about 3-4 years of miscellaneous job experience. Given how salaries above $100k are thrown around on this forum like they're not even worth commenting on, and it seems like everyone else in the 20s-STEM demographic is rolling in cash, maybe my current $55k a year is weaksauce.

The thing is, apparently I just have no idea how to get a job despite trying to learn how, since this $55k is a personal record. Even that came after 7 months of unemployed searching post-Masters degree, which itself I only decided to get after 1 year of searching post-Bachelors...and this is while every economist is screaming at the top of their lungs about a labor shortage. Or perhaps my understanding is just flawed, and the archetype about well-paid recent STEM grads doesn't reflect reality very well. Mustachians with 'tech salaries' somewhere around this demographic, how did you pull it off? What strategies work and which ones are wastes of time?

Even though this question is about making more money, I'm also asking because the difficulty of getting a job has a huge impact on confidence and inner peace--e.g. at the moment, I would not feel secure having FU money until it became FI money, because losing a job means losing another 1.5+ years of income before being able to find another.


  • Pencil Stache
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What job experience do you have?
Where are you? And are you willing to move?

J Boogie

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I think you're probably underemployed in a position that doesn't value your education. You have some specialized education that will probably yield you a six figure salary after a year or so with a company but chances are you don't live in a region where nuclear/chemical engineers are sought out.

With your 3-4 years of "miscellaneous" experience (I'm reading that as random, unhelpful to your resume) what I would do in your shoes is this:

1. Identify a dozen or so ideal employers that have need for the type of education you have.

2. Identify entry level/contractor/lab tech positions in these organizations and determine if they can truly get you a foot in the door or if the company has no history of promoting this type of employee. Often asking directly during an interview can tell you a lot, as they'll answer yes directly if so, but beat around the bush with maybes if not.

3. Apply aggressively to these positions. Save up and relocate if a bunch of these organizations are all in the same region. Your school might have good info on things like this.


  • Pencil Stache
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Have you checked NNSA installations? Sounds like you could work well at Sandia National Labs, Kansas City National Security Campus, maybe Los Alamos. Unless you want to do programming or IT or something unrelated to your degree. If that's what you want, how good are you at coding?


  • Magnum Stache
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For me the keys were "willing to relocate" and "being very good at what I do" and "going freelance(ish)". I didn't have great grades out of school, although pretty good and I graduated with a double major in accounting and computer science and my first job was in the same city working for an insurance company (computer programmer).

beginning of 2006 - first "real" job - $42K

13 years later - $95 / hour on 1099 with as many hours as I am willing to work available.

So, be willing to move, be good at what you do.  "Generally competent" is a rare skill apparently, even among tech workers. In my line of work, 1099 has worked out well for me, so I'd also advise doing the math on what benefits are really worth to you and be open to contract positions as well if the money makes sense.


  • Stubble
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    I started out straight out of college at 50k. Ten years, a few job hops, a couple of certifications earned on my own time, and a portfolio of work also generated on the weekends and evenings, large network of professional contacts built, and I'm scratching at 100k.

    The people who frequent this forum are a self selected group of high achievers. So, don't read the posts here and get discouraged because you're not 25 years old pulling down several million a year from the multinational conglomerate you started and now run on 4 hours a week. Comparison is the thief of joy or some such rot. And if you're comparing yourself to folks here you're comparing yourself to the high achievers so maybe it's OK to not compare favorably. Because you can see what they are doing differently and apply that to yourself.


  • Handlebar Stache
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1) If you're in a LCOL area, that can make a HUGE difference.  I more than doubled my salary by moving across the country.  I have way more experience now, and am worth a lot more than I was, and would still expect to take a 50% pay cut if I moved back.

2) It's hard to go from $55k to >$100k in one go, even if you're worth it.  Current (and new) companies don't like bumping someone's salary so much at once.  You might need to job hop a couple times, increasing salary as you go.  Previous/current salary dictates future salary, so you have to actively work your way up.


  • Stubble
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I have wondered the same (except I currently choose to stay in my current job for quality of life purposes) and this is what I've found. For the super-fat salaries, get in with a big-name tech company (FAANMG) and work your way up the ladder. The hardest part is passing the interview, but there are many resources online. You need to study for these interviews like you would for a major test. For example: Keep in mind that it usually means relocating to HCOL area too.

Other soul-sucking options: work as a defense contractor (chemical + nuclear, cmon! That's an easy $160k salary) or get a job in finance (they just want smart people).

Those are all your top-tier options AFAIK. If you don't want to work quite as hard but have a cushy job, there's megacorp and government.

The other key is changing jobs and negotiating. My friends who got to $100k+ in their 20s switched jobs every year. I was never quite so savvy.

Paul der Krake

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The truth is that your individual negotiating power is usually limited, especially early in your career. Go somewhere where the market pays more and enjoy riding on the coat tails of others.

Personally I went from about ~50k to ~250k in 7 years, and I attribute most of that to local market forces, not skill.


  • Bristles
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As others have said, be willing to move, focus on industries that pay well (e.g., defense, financial, established tech, government consulting), and be reasonably competent. Unless youíre in a LCOL area, these industries tend to have starting pay for engineers/developers between $75k and $100k and you donít have to be a rockstar. Unfortunately, a lot of times youíll end up doing less engineering and more project management but the pay is good.

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  • Bristles
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It pays to join another company.  It pays even more to move to a new city for that other company.  Target cities like Seattle/San Fran/Austin/etc etc etc.  Never mention your current salary.   Aim high.

I work in finance.  5 years of experience... Masters in finance.  Was making $65k and was determined to make $100k.  Most of my friends/coworkers/recruiters told me to expect ~$75-$80k...  Guess who scored $100k?

Aim high.

Edit:  I'm in SLC.  My next move will most likely require me to jump to a different state to earn that ~15-30% bump in 2-3 years.


  • Handlebar Stache
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What job experience do you have?
Where are you? And are you willing to move?

This.. All this..

If you arenít in a peak area, or not willing to move, it seriously can make all the impact in the world. It doesnít matter what sort of experience or education someone has if they donít live in an area that has that certain type of work available.

Iíll make over $300k this year, but Iíve also lived in over 8 states and probably 15+ cities in the last decade. If you arenít willing to live anywhere and everywhere and constantly looking to move up, it makes a huge difference. If I lost my job tomorrow and forced myself to stay where Iím at (despite being one of the Mecca cities for my industry) Iíd probably make $150k-$200k..