What Salary.com IT job category am I, really?
December 8, 2013 6:10 PM   Subscribe

So my annual review will be coming up in a few months. My job title is "Software Support Engineer." I'm making something in the 30-40k range, which is a good amount for someone with as little experience as I've got (I just started in IT about 2 years ago.) Prepping for my annual review, I bought one of those Salary.com employer salary survey reports. Median pay listed for a "Software Support Engineer I" is $63k! Am I underpaid, or am I really a "Technical Support Representative II" or whatever, and just have a cool job-title?

My company sells a software product to warehouses and distribution centers around the country. We maintain a database, our software, and various kinds of mobile electronics at each customer site.

I'm entry-level, but I've absorbed a hefty amount of .NET and SQL knowledge in a year. I work 45-50 hours a week, including occasional on-call cases. Most of my time is spent dealing with issues with legacy code. I spend about 20% of my time on the phone with customers, 60% delving into code and sprocs looking for bugs, and about 20% creating, testing, and/or deploying bugfixes.

In my second year, now that I know what I'm doing, I'll be coding minor product enhancements for existing customers (adding a button, adding a dropdown menu, etc.), as well as fixing bugs. I might get to code more complex enhancements over the coming months as my skills improve.

The escalation path for issues goes me - developer, or me - support manager - developer. No support tiers. I code most bugfixes for my cases myself.

Once again, for reference: Software Support Engineer I. That sounds like me. But maybe I'm a "Technical Support Representative II". It's a 25 thousand dollar difference and I'm wondering why that is, and which salary is more applicable to me, given that the job descriptions are so similar.

I don't expect a $25,000 raise or anything crazy, but I don't feel very good about going into this review and getting a 6% raise if I'm paid way below the industry average.
posted by UrbanEye to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Technical Support Representative II is the guy the pass the phone to when the guy who says "did you turn it off and back on again" can't fix your internet. They do not code and deploy bugfixes. They provision your modem.

How similar is this job to what you do?
posted by Jairus at 6:24 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Unless there is some balloon payment in the end like stock options or you are living in Bangalore you are underpaid. I dont think there is going to be any benefit to finding the right salary.com slot, nor do I think their data is really meaningful. If you are opening an IDE, any IDE, as part of your job its a $50k/year floor.
posted by H. Roark at 6:24 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Where are you located? Different places have different costs of living. On the basis of your job description alone it does sound like you're underpaid but if you live somewhere with a very low cost of living that could account for your salary.
posted by dfriedman at 6:29 PM on December 8, 2013

I made 30-40k as essentially an intern 10 years ago. You are underpaid.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 6:29 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm located in Pittsburgh. 500 square foot 2 bedroom is $650 a month. Not NYC. But not out in the woods either.
posted by UrbanEye at 6:33 PM on December 8, 2013

(1) You are underpaid. You're not a guy in a call center, you actually have some coding skills. You should be making around $50K, not $30-40K. I would say a $45-65K range would be reasonable.

(2) You will not get a market salary unless you switch jobs. Maybe you should think about it, or figure out how you can extract the maximum amount of learning and marketable career skills from your current job to put you in the best position to switch jobs.

How much do developers make at your job? Are they underpaid too? If not, is there a path for you to become one within the next 1-2 years?
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:50 PM on December 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I bid on government contracts for a living and one of the things we do a lot of is taking requirements for experience and education and projecting what we would have to pay people to fill those jobs. Unless you have expertise in a specialized technology that you didn't mention, my handy spreadsheet estimates that I'd need to pay 43-48k (depending on how quickly I need to staff) in your cost-of-living band. So I'd say that you are, in fact, somewhat underpaid.

I'd also say that comparative salary data isn't usually the best way to negotiate for a pay raise. I'd normally try to focus on my performance and what value I add to the company than to focus on why I think other people get paid more.
posted by Lame_username at 6:56 PM on December 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Based on your description of your duties, you are currently dramatically underpaid.
posted by Perplexity at 7:45 PM on December 8, 2013

Best answer: Most of my time is spent dealing with issues with legacy code. I spend about 20% of my time on the phone with customers, 60% delving into code and sprocs looking for bugs, and about 20% creating, testing, and/or deploying bugfixes.

Underpaid. Underpaid.

My friend makes 15-20k more than this doing only the part of your job that DOESN'T involve any coding or testing that was outside of the pull quote i grabbed. I grabbed that part because that's why you should be paid more. O, And my friend works for a contracting/staffing company that middlemans between him and his actual employer sucking up some not insignificant percentage of his pay.

50k should be your take home pay after taxes. If not more.

Don't feel bad, if you look through my ask history you'll see i went through the same thing... only more egregious. My favorite answer from my "how much of a raise should i be asking for?" was "Zero, the correct answer is find a new job".

I tried to bring my salary in line with the market and got a bunch of wishy washy excuses and offers of no raise but covering more education or certifications. They're not suddenly going to wake up and go "holy shit we HAVE to pay this guy more". If you're irreplaceable they'll be figuring out how to replace you ASAP with someone else they can pay less. If you're not, then why would they bother?
posted by emptythought at 8:34 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I stated in my job 5 years ago, they offered me $N. I asked for N+6%, and they said no. Recently I've learned a lot about what my company pays people: my friend who was hired for the same job title 8 years ago was offered N-6% and talked them up to N; thus he consistently made more than me because he'd had 3 years of incremental raises, which is fine, he'd had more experience. Over the past 5 years, I'm up to N+10% (cost-of-living and performance-based raises). They're currently hiring someone else into this same job title, and my manager is a loud moron who doesn't shut his office door when he talks about these things, so I know they're offering him N+15% as a start, and he's trying to bargain them up to N+20%. I'm in the process of taking my skills elsewhere for N+40%, so I know that my company is a bunch of cheapskates, but what really appalls me is that they're offering the new guy more than I could ever have caught up to via annual raises.

In short, you should absolutely ask for more money, and do that with no embarrassment, in the full confidence that your skills are worth more than they're paying you. I hope it's a good conversation, empowering to be willing to ask for something, and getting you good gains in the shot-term. Unfortunately, your salary is so far off that you can also be confident that your skills are worth more than they will ever be willing/able to pay you. By leaving (which is a longer-term proposition), you can get a bigger pay raise than your current employer will ever give you.

If you want to know more about salaries at particular companies, glassdoor.com can be a good resource.
posted by aimedwander at 8:58 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Since you're doing .NET and (possibly) looking for a raise or a new position, see if you can pass one of the Microsoft .NET certification exams. It's only a couple of hundred bucks and will go far (with some hiring managers) to supplement your 2 years of experience.

As a reference, I was making about the same as you in a similar position 15 years ago. YMMV.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:16 AM on December 9, 2013

Best answer: As someone who works in IT in Pittsburgh, you're significantly underpaid.

Of course, it's my experience with companies in Pittsburgh that IT is underpaid as a matter of course, and that the extent you are underpaid (20K with no trouble) is not unheard of in my experience.

You're almost certainly not going to be able to negotiate a 25K raise, but you should be able to find a new job at that range - at which point, you can either leverage that offer for a raise or (and this is my recommndation) take the new position.

You're being exploited, and unless you are willing to find a new job, that won't change - Welcome to IT.
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:18 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have to agree with the crowd. You are on call, you are finding bugs and refactoring code, and writing your own == you are *not* tech support, you're a software engineer. And you are underpaid because your employer got the "newbie discount" when you started. That said, you learned a lot on the job, so you did get some added value out of the gig, which is a good thing. My first couple of jobs I was underpaid too (wee baby sabrina had no idea what that whole 'negotiation' thing was), but I absorbed incredible amounts of stuff that is still in my toolkit many years later.

I like aimedwander's summary: negotiate with no embarassment -- you're clearly a more valuable hire now than you were then -- but if you want a big bump, be prepared to seek it elsewhere.
posted by sldownard at 6:07 AM on December 9, 2013

Tech salaries in the Rust Belt are as depressed as everything else. You can do better, but I wouldn't feel like any kind of idiot for having accepted this, it seems to be a thing. I have several friends who started out in the range you're in and made jumps to new jobs at more like $50k-$60k after a couple years, a couple hours from you in Ohio, but I've never heard of anybody getting an existing job to give them a raise up to that.
posted by Sequence at 6:44 AM on December 9, 2013

nth'ing, if you want a salary boost you're likely going to have to leave.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:52 PM on December 9, 2013

Best answer: I agree with the above that you're underpaid.

I don't agree that an extreme increase in compensation is impossible - only unlikely. I have a similar job to yours, and over the past 8 years I've gone from underpaid newbie in a depressed market to fairly compensated (roughly doubled salary, about half of which was in the first three years), with the same company and doing more or less the same work within the same spot in the org chart. It can happen. You're not going to get another 25k overnight of course, but over several years it can happen.

Your success will depend on the culture and size of your company. We're small enough that my reviews are conducted by the final authority on salaries, which makes it much easier to successfully argue my value to the company.

Your value to your company is key in salary negotiations. The company doesn't care about fairness, they don't care if you want or need or deserve more. They only care if replacing you will be more costly to the company than the increase you're asking for. Every time you do something that saves your company money or increases efficiency or increases customer satisfaction, make notes for your next review. Data on industry standards is good to have as well, but far more important is convincing them they can't afford to lose you, specifically.

This is all assuming you want to stay where you are. If you're not in love with your current job, moving on with your new skills may well be an easier way to get to where you want to be.
posted by Turbo-B at 7:56 PM on December 9, 2013

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