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How do I get past the Boston 140k salary barrier in software?
January 31, 2012 2:35 PM   Subscribe

How do I get past the Boston 140k salary barrier in software?

I am a seasoned product manager and internet/mobile software engineer living in Boston with 12 years of experience. I'm regularly told I'm in the top 10% of my peer group, so ok great, I'm good, but despite that I feel like I have hit a ceiling in my salary at about 140-150k/yr with a director-level title. It doesn't seem possible to make more than that in this industry here despite reading that 21 year old college grads are getting $120k/yr + 120k equity offers from Facebook.

Is there much more upside, and if so, what can I do to make more money? If it's title bump, what do I need to do to get to, say, VP? Do I need an MBA? Is it possible to get past 200k/yr in software without being a C-level exec? If so, how? If not, should I just move farther from the city so this income feels like more?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I will answer the last part of your question.

I might suggest moving to Raleigh, NC--there are lots of software engineering opportunities in the Research Triangle, and your salary will go much further. Many of my colleagues have moved from Boston after experiencing situations similar to yours.
posted by 200burritos at 2:53 PM on January 31, 2012


If it's title bump, what do I need to do to get to, say, VP? Do I need an MBA?

Bingo.
posted by amaire at 3:14 PM on January 31, 2012


Consulting is another angle.
posted by mmascolino at 3:40 PM on January 31, 2012


It's tough. Recently, a recruiter from Blekko (Sillycon Valley) called to discuss opportunities. Their highest paid individual is $125k .

I don't think Boston is that far off from Sillycon Valley. In fact, your dollar probably stretches further in Boston.
posted by jchaw at 3:41 PM on January 31, 2012


Actually, I think you may want to consider moving to NYC or Chicago and work in financial services. Their base pay is typically higher than pure software firms and they also pay good year-end bonuses, 15% to 30% typical. It is quite common for executive directors to hit $200k onwards.
posted by jchaw at 3:43 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


21 year old college grads are getting $120k/yr + 120k equity offers from Facebook.

I know people who work at facebook as developers. This isn't true. I'm not saying there aren't developers making $120k at facebook but they aren't straight out of college. So don't feel too bad about that.
posted by magnetsphere at 4:45 PM on January 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is it possible to get past 200k/yr in software without being a C-level exec?

Yes, but it may involve owning your own company, which amounts to the same thing. $150k a year for a programmer who doesn't have some kind of executive position or an ownership interest in the company is actually pretty competitive nationwide, from what I can tell.
posted by valkyryn at 4:47 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Blekko isn't representative of salaries as a whole in this area. They're an awesome company with some very smart people working there, but their compensation doesn't really represent the industry in the Bay overall. I wasn't going to comment on this question, but then I saw some misleading comments above so I wanted to chime in. I don't know anything about directors, VPs, or MBAs, but your question:

Is it possible to get past 200k/yr in software without being a C-level exec?

has this answer: Yes. It's totally possible to be an individual contributor software engineer (or any one of many other kinds of engineer), and make a contribution which will yield this level of reward at software companies in the Bay Area. I don't work for Facebook, but I would be surprised if they didn't hire fresh college graduates at 120k, at least, on occasion, or possibly only for certain teams. 120k is not a high salary for a software engineer in the Bay. Going over 150k is common (I won't say easy) and over 200k is not unknown for a high achiever.

Now, Boston, I have no idea about.
posted by doteatop at 5:39 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Product manager, VP and C-level exec are three different roles with three different skill sets. You're really asking how to grow into different roles, not just get a higher salary.

And with regard to salary, at some point, yes, you would top out as a "product manager" simply because "products" don't get big enough that they can't be "managed" by a product manager. It's like paying someone an exorbitant salary to mow a lawn. No matter how skilled they are at mowing, it's still a lawn.

So, I think you need to not think about "title bump" and start thinking about roles, responsibilities and what kind of change you can effect in those roles. Then you can get paid for doing that.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:20 PM on January 31, 2012


Yes, there are individual-contributor software engineering jobs that can pay over $200k/year in the Boston area. If you work for an enterprise software company in a role with quantifiable license revenues attached (i.e., as a sales engineer or a professional-services consultant), you can make the case for that kind of income, though it's likely to be highly commission-based and perhaps not a great lifestyle. I used to have a role like that in Boston, and it involved very long hours and a lot of travel.

You may also be able to achieve $200k/year in your current role by volunteering to take riskier compensation (less salary, more profit-sharing, say) and/or by being a stronger performer. Top 10% in one's peer group is fantastic, but above-band comp is usually tied to being perceived as the absolute top person (or very close) in the entire tech organization by both tech and business folks. You'd want to be the sort of person about whom senior management will say "yeah, we'll pay that to retain her" when your manager proposes a raise.
posted by backupjesus at 5:37 AM on February 1, 2012


I don't work for Facebook, but I would be surprised if they didn't hire fresh college graduates at 120k, at least, on occasion, or possibly only for certain teams.

I agree with magnetosphere - there is no way a fresh college graduate is going to earn $120k/year as a dev, unless by "fresh college graduate" you mean someone who just got their Ph.D. or someone who went back to school after a decade in the industry. It just doesn't happen. A wet-behind-the-ears newbie makes $60k-$80k.

....unless facebook has some crazy compensation scheme out of scale with the rest of the industry, that is, but I have a couple of friends who've gone to work there and they haven't mentioned anything about an absurdly high salary scheme.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:04 AM on February 1, 2012


Late to the party - but others have already touched on the best way to do this: you need to make it clear to whomever is controlling the budget that they need to pay more to retain you. If you're not 1) blatantly critical to your current company's operations and 2) in high demand at competitor organizations, then it can be hard to reach the really big guaranteed salary numbers in tech. Commission is a different story.

In the bay area, unless you're a senior contributor working on the core revenue projects of money machines (fin serv software, google, facebook, apple) you're likely pretty close to topping out. Companies that have yet to make it to that level or are still running off venture simply can't pay as much. If you're just in the trenches or on some side project, even insanely profitable companies won't pay you as much - in fact, there's some evidence they tend to pay worse in that case, as those kinds of people are trading compensation for the "status" of working at those places.

Short version: you need a to negotiate against your next best option. If that option doesn't exist, why would anyone pay you more?
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:18 AM on February 1, 2012


Have you checked out Glassdoor? It will at least help you identify which companies in your area pay well for the kinds of positions you're looking at. The salary data isn't perfect, but it's the best I've found.
posted by phoenixy at 6:07 PM on February 1, 2012


A wet-behind-the-ears newbie makes $60k-$80k.

There are definitely kids out of college making 90K+. They're coming from the top schools mostly but they are definitely out there. I know personally of starting salaries for college hires at that level (not at facebook per se although I would expect so, but certainly at other tech companies). Undergraduate college hires, not phds. Undergrads were getting ~80K from Microsoft when I was leaving college many years ago, and we're back in the bubble days. It's not really worth getting yourself worked up over, because they don't tend to have huge increases in salary after that initial higher start, but those kids are definitely getting that high start, at least some of them.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:17 PM on February 1, 2012


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