How to get the salary you want as a developer
Money is important. To say otherwise is a bit hypocritical. No one works just for the fun. So, as a developer, how do you position yourself in terms of salary? And above all, how do you get the salary you want?
The dev rush
It’s a secret for nobody, there’s money to be made as a developer. A lot of people, rightly or wrongly, have been interested in this profession for this reason. And I’m not here to judge. But it’s a reality that needs to be pointed out.
And often, when we talk about developers’ salaries, we immediately take extremes as an example. You have to make people dream. We’re talking about the salaries of developers in a FAANG like Google.
US$200K for a junior and up to US$500K for a lead tech. And these figures are not bullshit. They’re real. It’s just that Silicon Valley is a parallel world for developers.
And it’s by taking the scales of this parallel world that we introduce you to this profession. It doesn’t work exactly like that in the real world.
In the real world of real reality
My first salary as a web developer, as a beginner, as an employee of a SME, in France, in the provinces (Lyon), was 27K EURO.
Just after my internship, it was for me a shower of money that fell on me. At that time (2011), compared to my level, my city, and the value I brought to the company, I found this salary quite acceptable.
In addition, I was promised a raise at the end of the year. Now all I have to do is work like crazy and get my money, great!
As you would expect, it happen everywhere, all the time, for all types of jobs, in all companies that promise a lot. I didn’t get my raise.
I told myself it was my fault. I had to work more to get what I wanted. And that’s how I started working really hard!
Another year went by. Now i was a machine. I knew the company’s systems perfectly, and in a totally autonomous way I shipped project after project. I was sure, this time it was going to pay off!
But it didn’t. At the end of the second year, disappointment. Still no increase.
How do you get the salary you want?
After two/three years of experience as a developer, something important changes. Your Linkedin starts blinking more and more. You are slowly starting to receive job offers and/or meeting proposals.
I decide to respond to one of these companies that contact me. And the main thing to understand is that I am in a position of strength at that moment.
I’m a permanent employee and there’s no hurry. If they say no to me for the job, it doesn’t change anything for me. If the salary offered doesn’t suit me, I’m out, and it changes nothing for me. This detail will be important during the salary negotiation.
I found myself at the end of the recruitment process with a promise to hire at 33K EURO. With this paper in hand, I went to my company to resign. They immediately lined up.
What had been completely impossible for 2 years was put in place within 30 minutes.
Beyond any argument like “I don’t work just for the money”, “I love my company and my colleagues” that I fully understand. If your goal is money, then this is by far the quickest and most efficient way to get the salary you want.
It works the same for any job. Fortune favors the bold.
But there are still two things that are different in the developer field.
- The developer market, for intermediate and experienced levels, is still very strong (even with a global pandemic thanks to remote). And this market allows for much more impressive increases than in other areas.
- With this strong market, many companies are doing everything they can to stay out of line. Betting that either you don’t know the market or you are afraid to change jobs. This leads to incredible salary inequalities everywhere.
At the beginning of this year 2020, a tweet coming from a mobile dev in the United States triggered an incredible global phenomenon. To fight against the inequalities I just told you about, this developer publicly unveils his annual salary.
It will then be taken up by all developers worldwide with the #KnowYourWorth hashtag. I’ll let you check the answers in this tweet and the tweets in the hashtag to see how much it has grown.
It went so far that someone has scrapped all the salaries published on this hashtag. He turned it into a public Excel with the salaries of 700 developers around the world!
The inequalities being crazy, many developers hallucinated when they saw that they were horribly underpaid. To avoid that to happen to you, you need to know how to position yourself.
How to position yourself?
When I told you about my very first paycheck, I started to clarify a lot of things.
- The title (web developer, mobile, frontend, backend etc etc)
- My professional experience
- My status (employee, freelance, etc etc)
- The country
- The city
Each of these points is ABSOLUTELY crucial to take into account to position yourself. You have to compare what is comparable.
The salary for the same work in the provinces of France is lower than in Paris. A salary in Paris is lower than a salary in the United States. The top of the food chain is a very small area in the United States called Silicon Valley.
I will explain to you how I personally position myself.
- Do not take into account your company’s salary scale.
This salary scale is an imaginary wall set up by your company. If they can’t keep up with the market, it’s their problem, not yours. Don’t fall into the trap of saying “it’s okay” because you are well paid compared to your colleagues. Who cares?
- Look at the platforms where salaries are published by real people.
I also look at studies done by research firms, but I’m very suspicious of them. Nothing beats a mass of real people publishing their salaries anonymously. The two most reliable platforms that I always look at for salaries are :
You can search precisely by post and by city. And above all you can see it spectrum from the lowest to the highest salary. This is important.
- Play the game of negotiation.
I know this is where a lot of developers fail. I’m not going to lie to you, nor am I an expert at this game. And to be completely honest, I hate this game. But I have no choice.
When I have to play it, I always follow two rules.
- Always be in a strong position. If I’m refused the job, fuck it, next.
- Always ask for more than I want. Because my interlocutor has anyway planned to give me lower.
Over the years, respecting all that, in a job market that is favorable to me, I have remained very satisfied with my compensation.
Well, frankly, that wasn’t enough. Because, to be taken seriously, you have to invest in yourself and have a plan. This is essential.
Invest in yourself
I could write 20 articles on this topic alone. And afterwards, I will still have things to tell you. The article is already long, so I’ll make it short and tell you where to find the rest.
In changing my salary over the years, I quickly hit two major obstacles. Most people do not pass these hurdles and do not increase their wages.
Bring more value
The first obstacle is that in order to have a better salary, you have to bring more value to the company. To bring more value to the business, you just have to be better at what you do.
And that is really the complex part. It takes time and a lot of preparation.
While trying to find solutions to this problem, I came across an exciting book. It’s called “So Good They Can’t Ignore You“. This is typically the book I would have liked to read earlier. This is a book that gives you GREAT short and long term strategies for your career. Because yes, you need a plan!
I already told you about it in the passion article, but I’m doing it again. It is too important.
He explains that passion comes when you get good at something. Not the contrary. And if you manage to trigger the virtuous circle described in the book, your progression curve does not stop. Your progression curve will accompany your salary curve.
But he’s not only talking about that. He tells you a lot about the Craftman mindset. This is absolutely central for a developer who wants to evolve.
He talks to you about creating a career plan. He tells you about success, but mostly about failure. He talks to you about results, but mostly about analysis. The sooner you read this book, the sooner you will have a decisive advantage for your future.
The second skill
The second hurdle came in the form of a huge slap in the face the day of a technical test. I arrived very confident, I left absolutely devastated. I had failed this test so hard. It was horrible.
And it wasn’t the fact that I had failed the test that disgusted me. It’s the fact that this test had absolutely nothing to do with the job in question. If you don’t understand how this is possible, I invite you to read the article on technical interviews.
In short, the test was on obscure algorithms that I had studied once in school and immediately forgotten. They bring them back to you 10 years later and if you can’t pull them out by heart, you’re shit. You must therefore take care of this second skill frequently to be ready in technical interviews.
And to do this, it’s simple, I worked on the same book that millions of developers have worked on before me: “Cracking the code interview“. Not much to tell you other than that it’s the entire package in one place to get through this kind of complex technical interview.
Without this book, there are a lot of technical tests that I would have failed miserably. It took a while, but now they don’t scare me anymore.
This article is primarily intended for developers who want to upgrade their salary. Obviously, I do not think that this profession should be considered only with this aspect. But ignoring it completely is just as ridiculous. Getting paid a fair amount shouldn’t be an option.