Career advice for software developer?
April 7, 2010 7:53 AM   Subscribe

How much should I be making as a software developer, 3-4 years out of college in a place like St. Louis?

I'm working for a company whose focus is not in IT, I'm firmly in operations. I think agile shops would refer to my position as "product lead," however I have no one above or beneath me. Nominally, the network admins and help desk are below me, but are rather autonomous. A lot of what I do is business analyst type things, where the CFO will come to me and say that any vendor with revenue over a certain amount needs further approval before they can be added to the system. That's a very simple example, but it is the sort of thing I do.

I was hired out of college and six months later the industry I'm in was hit hard by the recession, my pay was scaled back about 10%. Things have improved a bit and I'm now at around $54,000 with benefits.

I've had a couple of concerns about this job holding back my career, but since I don't have any friends who are software engineers, I don't know how valid the concerns are.

I should also note, when I was hired they were unsatisfied with what off the shelf applications were doing for them and the limits of their internal staff, who did not have a computer science background. Since I've been here, I've rewrote and at times, wrote from scratch, significant portions of their accounting and supply chain management software.

1. Is my current salary at market rates? I've been responding to job ads in user groups I follow, and the few companies that are hiring here are in the $65-75k range. This feels right, though I'm sure everyone feels as if they should be making $10k more. My plan is to apply and if I get an offer, see if my current company can match it. This seems rather aggressive, but as I don't see any path of internal advancement other than cost of living raises, I don't know how to broach the issue.

2. As mentioned previously, a lot of their line of business applications are things that I wrote. What initially brought a lot of this to my attention occurred when I went seeking quotes from consulting companies to develop a plan on happens if I get hit by a bus. The quotes were really high, $150-200k a year. I realize consulting companies are going to be about 2x more than doing it internally, but that's still 25% more than I'm currently making. Anyway I can leverage these numbers and not play hardball as mentioned above?

3. How much is lacking team experience hurting me? That alone might be worth making a lateral transfer. If the company I'm with grows (as they say they will), the question might be moot, but I keep getting a nagging feeling that 4-5 years down the road not having any significant team experience could really kill me. I write unit tests and keep design docs, but I know that's probably not the same as actually working on a team.

Any other advice would be appreciated. My skills are in C# and Javascript as the demand for .Net skills seems high here. I tool around with Python and other languages as side projects, and feel as if I could go to any language and framework needed. Also, I look back as to what I knew when I graduated and what I know now, and I definitely feel as if I've grown tremendously in what I know and what I can do, even if my title and pay stayed much the same, for what that is worth.

A bonus question: I've been thinking about contributing more seriously to some open source projects I use. While I think this is a good thing to do anyway, does this raise my profile and my desirability? I've always imagined that this might lead to consulting work with companies that use the software or at the very least, a nice bullet point for a resume, but I don't know if that is a pipe dream or not.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
1) Careful here -- you only get to play the competitive offer and let them match card once. After that, you're an opportunist and you'll be let go. Is 10K worth it?

2) You're forgetting that you have benefits and other costs associated with you for your employer. Your total compensation, from your employer's perspective, is 30% more than what you're making, placing you squarely at the bottom of that 150K range when they ask for 2x.

3) It isn't, as long as you're working well with individuals in other departments and can show how you're using relationships rather than role power to get stuff done. Working with people outside your group is a more difficult skill than working on a team.

Other advice: Make an ask for an increase. It sounds like you have some big accomplishments. Write them up in a one page ask and quantify them in terms of costs saved for the company (note: be _realistic_. Inflating these numbers will shoot your credibility). Then ask for 10K. Don't make your boss do the work of justifying it; do it for her!

Also, talk to your boss about advancement. You haven't said what they said in response to questions about career growth, which probably means you haven't asked. Ask, and ask for specific actionable behaviors and goals to get there. Follow up every 3 months on how you're doing.

Bonus question: Accomplishments rule. Any and all accomplishments will make you a more attractive candidate. Just remember, the accomplishments should be relevant to the position you're applying for. Think about where you're going before you start something.
posted by bfranklin at 8:04 AM on April 7, 2010

This is a good book: The Passionate Programmer
posted by samsm at 8:19 AM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is hard to make an exact estimate but I plugged the data you provided and a few guesses into the IEEE Salary calculator. This is 2008 data I believe. The median for someone with your experience in St Louis would be about $64,200 with the 80th percentile at $76,700. $54K puts you between the 20th & 30th percentile.

Also, yes you need to work on a team. This will hold you back.
posted by GuyZero at 10:10 AM on April 7, 2010

If you're otherwise happy with your job but feel you're underpaid, then rather than looking for a competitive offer, write what you wrote here as a bullet-pointed list of accomplishments and a request for a salary increase. Do your salary homework and keep it realistic - within, but not the maximum of, the range for similarly skilled and experienced people doing similar jobs. Then, schedule a meeting with your manager and make your pitch verbally, and offer your written summary.

Unless this is a mom-and-pop shop, they (their HR dept.) already know what that that range is so keep it reasonable. They also know that if you're looking for an increase, you're looking (or at least thinking) elsewhere, too. If they value your work, and your request is reasonable, they should offer you a raise. Know in advance what you'll accept and whether you'll walk to get more. Know, too, that they may just say, "Sorry", so decide in advance what you'd be prepared to do in that case, too. If nothing comes of it, and you can get a better offer elsewhere, they might reconsider when shown an offer-in-hand, but by that point you should be prepared to take the other offer.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 11:24 AM on April 7, 2010

anonymous: How much is lacking team experience hurting me?

Speaking as someone who hires developers- quite a bit. People who "know how to code" are a dime a dozen. People who can work well in teams, both as leaders and as members, are much harder to find. There are the various development methodologies you're probably not being exposed to (please don't tell me your process is "agile"- it's usually code for "no process"), and the best practices you're not learning without a mentor.
posted by mkultra at 2:00 PM on April 7, 2010

Do you know about
posted by harmfulray at 4:22 PM on April 7, 2010

Re: contributing to open source projects

1. Make sure your current employer won't fry a circuit before you do so. You might be under and NDA/Non-compete, or some other IP restriction. The last thing a gpl project wants is to be accidentally exposed to proprietary code!

2. Open source projects are nice for showing that you *can work with teams*, and for having code that you can show off to prospective employers.
posted by gregglind at 4:25 PM on May 29, 2010

« Older Please help me understand international flight...   |   Die, Roth IRA, die Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.