Snowflake salary negotiation
May 15, 2015 1:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the process of negotiating a job offer. I am a software engineer living in NY. The proposed salary seems a bit low to me. I'd like help understanding what to counter with and how to back it up.

I don't want to put the proposed salary here but my circumstances are a little unique and I'm not sure how to collect data to bolster support for a counteroffer.

I'm actually doing a major career switch in moving to programming. Previously I was in finance, in a nontechnical role, for 7 years. I don't have a CS degree. I'm self taught, and I began learning in high school. I have never worked professionally as a programmer before.

I'm struggling with determining what "market" comp for someone of my background should be. I've tried using Glassdoor,, and some other sites. I find the data to be contradictory and confusing. Evidently, average comp is either $80k, or $125k. I also find it difficult to find a breakout by experience. Often there are some very senior people with the same title that would be skewing the numbers.

Any tips on how to come up with a good number to go back with?
posted by prunes to Work & Money (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my experience as a programmer in NYC, other experience doesn't matter too much towards salary.
posted by the_blizz at 1:45 PM on May 15, 2015

There are a lot of variables, but as a data point, brand new out of college software engineers at the major tech companies make well above 80k as base salary, and there's usually significant bonus and equity as well. I'd need to know more about your specific skillset, the company, industry, etc. to offer a real opinion.
posted by primethyme at 1:53 PM on May 15, 2015

Was that their first offer? If so, just counter with a salary higher than you want. Let them meet you in the middle. But don't counter again after that. Either accept their counteroffer or walk away.

Your justification for countering can either be salaries for comparable positions or based on your unique value-add to the organization. Or don't justify and say, "I want this salary instead."

You can also try for other benefits in lieu of salary: additional vacation time, better benefits, work from home, 4-day week, etc. Just don't make them too outlandish. At the very least it'll give them something to say no to so they don't feel like you're completely winning the negotiation if they accept your requested salary.

Also, if programming is just a hobby up to this point, you're not a software engineer yet. Keep that in mind and realize that getting professional experience now will lead to a much better offer at your next position.
posted by paulcole at 1:59 PM on May 15, 2015

I work in NYC and I hire programmers. There's no way I'd pay you $125k without any experience. Like the_blizz said, your non-programming experience doesn't matter. Unlike what primethyme says, you wouldn't even be in the running at the kind of tech companies that offer ridiculous comp plans to new graduates (who would still have a CS background and probably some kind of portfolio).

Based on what you've said here, and without further info on your professional background, I'd put you a lot closer to the $80k end of the spectrum. You're basically starting at the bottom as a junior programmer.
posted by mkultra at 2:00 PM on May 15, 2015

[I'm not sure why I have to mention this, but prior experience on Metafilter has indicated that I should say my answer is based on how the world is. I am attempting to maximize your compensation, not change the world. This response is not a perscriptive judgement on the way the world should or shouldn't be].

I'm not sure there is any reference for your sort of situation. There is no market to go off of here. In general for tech positions, experience outside the area being hired for is not appreciated much and will likely not change your compensation much. Until you prove yourself to your employer, I'd expect you to be treated as an entry level programmer. You will likely be able to quickly increase your compensation after that, but not until that happens.

I would note that NYC compensation would be quite a bit higher than general NY compensation. I imagine you're taking that into consideration, but I thought I'd mention it.

I find the data to be contradictory and confusing.

Welcome to tech compensation. Once out of college, employees are mostly compensated by a combination of the value they bring the company and what they can get from other companies. It's common for employees that stay around a long time to be undercompensated (since they've shown they won't leave, and hence, can be undercompensated without an issue) or highly-valued employees with highly specific skillsets to be extremely well-compensated. In some highly valued areas of technical focus (web app development, financial market transactions), employees are very well-compensated. However, similarly, in areas where development isn't as fast-paced, technical employees are not nearly as well-compensated. For instance, you will likely never get a high salary or options at a defense contractor.

Any tips on how to come up with a good number to go back with?

Interview until you are able to answer this question. This is really the only way to figure out your bargaining power. If you are ignored in interviews once compensation discussions start, you are probably too high. If you are getting "too many" interviews after starting compensation discussions, you are probably too low. If you are in a market where you can't interview very often, you are probably realizing that your employer realizes this as well and makes compensation offers accordingly. It's very common for someone's first position in tech to be (relatively) lower-compensated and be used as a stepping stone to a much higher compensated position. In general, employers are somewhat wary of hiring people in your sort of position, as they do not have much to go off of for experience - to them, again, you are much like a new college graduate.

Finally, with the information given in your post (which is absolutely not enough to make a good judgement on your bargaining position and noting that I am not familiar with the NY or NYC market), I'll offhand throw out a number of $80K-$90K with no equity or options for an "average" employer in an "average" market. Increase that for trendy employers, and decrease that for non-profits and/or more traditional employers.
posted by saeculorum at 2:02 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'd echo the sentiment, without any malice or denigration intended, that if you have no professional experience you are not a "software engineer". Unfortunately, especially if you don' thave a CS degree, with no professional experience you are absolutely a junior programmer, and will be paid as such. Depending on your age, such a lack of experience can even make you less desirable -- employers will be aware of the sudden reduction in your industry "seniority", especially relative to your age, and will be increasingly concerned about your willingness to jump ship as soon as you find something better.

For comparison, although I understandably can't give many details, skilled programmers with experience with high-performance applications, working in finance, in New York City, will be making $150k and up, depending on particular skills and experience, and the sub-sector they're in. If you're not going in to a "prestige" industry, coming in with no experience, no formal education, and a career change in your immediate past, $80k does not seem unfair. Inexperienced programmers who are willing to work for peanuts just to get years on their resume are a dime a dozen, and you're competing with that.

By all means, try to push for more, go above $100k if you can, but don't expect to necessarily get that. Good luck.
posted by jammer at 2:35 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

When looking at Glassdoor positions make sure you are looking at programming/coding positions only and not software engineering positions for comparison as software engineering is a specific field with specific education requirements. Anyone who can code can be a programmer. Also unless you are somehow putting your past experience to direct use (coding financial backend databases etc..) it doesn't count for anything. Your closest comparison is going to be entry level programmers.
posted by saradarlin at 2:48 PM on May 15, 2015

Response by poster: I don't want to mince words but, for whatever its worth, the title on the offer letter is, in fact, software engineer.
posted by prunes at 2:54 PM on May 15, 2015

Saradarlin has a good point, which I and others have alluded to, but perhaps to make it a little more explicit:

"Software engineer", while not a precisely defined term/position, has a particular industry connotation above that of "programmer". A "programmer" is someone who writes code. A "software engineer" is a programmer who, at least theoretically, has excellent design and architecture (ideally both programming and systems) skills on top of basic programming.

(These terms will of course vary, and you may find counter-examples, but the general industry feeling would be something like this.)
posted by jammer at 2:55 PM on May 15, 2015

I don't want to mince words but, for whatever its worth, the title on the offer letter is, in fact, software engineer.

Well, there you go. As I stated in my previous post, before I decided to take some of the editorializing out of it... "software engineer" will often denote a higher skillset, or expectation of skills, and hard won experience.

If you have an offer letter for a "software engineer" position, whether or not it would meet a common understanding of the usage of the title, good! Use it to your advantage! Look up salaries for that, not for programmers, and use that as your weapon.
posted by jammer at 2:58 PM on May 15, 2015

While noting that I am generally unfamiliar with the NY/NYC market, on the West Coast, it is very common to give both the sort of people jammer refers to as "software engineers" and "programmers" the title of "software engineer". In fact, I've never worked with someone with the title "programmer". I think this is part of the compensation range delta that the OP asks about.
posted by saeculorum at 3:01 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I looked up 'software engineer' salaries for NYC in glassdoor. The average I got was $80k. Using 'Software Engineer I' as the title (which is what you'd be starting at if you were hired by my employer), the average is ~$72k. As someone who's been in the industry for 15 years and has a good handle on the market in my area where glassdoor is pretty accurate, I say that sounds about right for someone with no professional development experience in a market like NYC. As a further comparison, a "software engineer" at google in NYC has an average salary of $133k according to glassdoor. No offence, but you won't be able to even remotely compete with that average given what you've outlined here.
posted by cgg at 3:05 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is highly dependent on the kind of company you are working for and what your role is. If you're working for a software consulting shop as an entry level programmer, then $80k is expected, if not generous. If you're working for a hedge fund or a prestigious software company or bank, then compensation would be on the higher end.

This question is way too poorly posed. Salaries on glassdoor are useful only for comparing salaries within the same company or between very, very closely comparable companies.
posted by deanc at 3:25 PM on May 15, 2015

I cant speak to the particulars of your situation, but I talked a bit about the wide spread in reported salaries in tech in this earlier thread.
posted by Itaxpica at 3:32 PM on May 15, 2015

One thing about the industry, prunes, is that unlike some other highly skilled trades there is no regulatory board or universal professional certification. You'll find the same job with wildly different titles and valuation both between markets and in the same market but different industries. This is what I meant, perhaps poorly stated after a couple Friday afternoon beers in the office, by terms varying.

However, one thing I've found almost universal, regardless of title on the org chart, is that there is a steady stream of folks with a little education and basic skills who think they're hot shit but are the programming equivalent of day laborers with a hammer and a bag of nails. More experienced folks have seen enough of this to be rather cynical about titles on newcomers, especially those who claim them for themselves.

(I know I've seen enough hacks calling themselves "engineers" to have a reflexive reaction to it which may be evidenced here. No insult or judgement of you personally intended )

One of the NICE things is that people tend to be very appreciative of those who can actually demonstrate those skills in practice, and a sufficiently skilled professional can rocket to the top. I have no formal education, but about 15 years of "proving it" under my belt and I'm currently leading a team of 8 highly skilled developers, most of whom have way more education and experience than I do, archittecting and developing high performance computing platforms.

So yeah, regardless of the title, be humble about your own skills and knock the actual work out of the park and you can do great. It can be a grind at first, it's the nature of the industry.

I do still think $80K is totally credible for what you're describing just to set your expectations.

There, hopefully that's a little less unintentionally prickly than my first answer.
I apologize for any offense.
posted by jammer at 3:40 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Salaries in tech are all over the map. People are willing to take very significant pay cuts (30-40%) to work for trendy/cool employers, or to have neat work environments, or do work that seems particularly impactful. On the other hand "boring" companies have to pay a large premium for talent. So it's hard to say without knowing details about the company. I know here in Minneapolis entry level developers are often getting 60k, and that's way more than 80k adjusted for NYC cost of living, so there's that.
posted by miyabo at 6:32 PM on May 15, 2015

(Software engineer in NYC)

saeclorum's first comment rings true for me, and I suspect your most profitable route will be to switch jobs once you have a couple years' experience.

Are you particularly focused on this company? The way to get more here is to do more interviews and get more offers - you can try just asking this one company for more, but it'll be hard to convince them to make any real increase if they think your options are working for them or unemployment. "Average" compensation for an entry-level SWE position is going to be below 125K, probably above 80, but the Glassdoor numbers aren't going to do you much good in negotation. Compensation's going to vary by industry and the sort of company you're working for, as will working conditions, expected hours etc.
posted by ethand at 7:06 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

What language do you program in? What testing frameworks do you know for that language? What ORMs? and how well do you know SQL? Have you written REST API servers or clients? Do you know the AWS services and their APIs? How well do you know Git? Have you used Vagrant or Docker? Have you been on an Agile team?

These are some of the skills that differentiate an $80K programmer from a $150k software engineer.
posted by nicwolff at 8:26 PM on May 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Most people have to pay some kind of dues getting in programming - for some people it's college, for others its certifications, for others it's working a lousy job for a while. You may be able to shortcut around it, but unless your personal portfolio is really stunning, I wouldn't hire you as anything other than a junior developer, which I'd guess is around $80-90K (you're in NYC, right?). Working solo on side projects is very different than working in production on a team and you need to prove yourself in that type of work. Titles mean very little in the field, and if they offered you something around $80, they're thinking of you as a junior developer. If you're willing to leave NYC, there's places that will give you a lower salary but much better cost of living as a junior developer.
posted by Candleman at 3:29 PM on May 16, 2015

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