Web developer salary check.
April 16, 2006 4:06 PM   Subscribe

I am a Senior Web Developer. I work in Minneapolis/St. Paul. I have a CS degree and I have been at my company for 5 years now (in the industry maybe 6 or so). I work at a big shop with big high profile clients and (i am assuming) larger than normal salaries? I do this stuff during the day: 90% (of my day) HTML/CSS (expert) 8% (of my day) PHP/MySQL (hacker) 2% (of my day) JS & Flash/AS (slacker) So what the fricky frack should I be making?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know of a senior Web designer with 5 to 6 years experience who is making $70k ish (plus bennies), in the Boston area. Personally I think he is underpaid. (Note he is a designer, so mostly incorporating Photoshop and the like into HTML, but responsible for the overall interface)
posted by Gungho at 4:14 PM on April 16, 2006

When I think of Web Developer, I think Web Applications Developer. As in, Java, C#, whatever. I don't think "HTML/CSS" fits the description very well, though I'm sure the sound you just heard was a million code monkeys screeching in disagreement.

To put things in perspective, I make less than your "pretty good" link in question doing a lot of js->ajax->java web development. I spend about half my time doing HTML/CSS/JS and the other half connecting it up to the backend objects (Java, Hibernate).

I could see someone working in markup (html/css) all day making $40k. Tack on another five-to-ten grand if they're in a big city or have been doing it for a few years.

Most of the people making $HUGE DOLLARS$ doing web development are working for companies with more money than sense. And that's fine--I wish them the best. The problem is that when someone gets a job like that, making money like that, they're not going to walk away from it. Which means you won't be seeing that kind of dough, because those positions were snatched up a long time ago.

It's far more likely that your HTML/CSS expertise will land you a temporary contract position at best, with no "bennies," only to be cast back into the aether when you've finished. At worst, you'll see "jobs" for that offer little in the way of compensation but "would be great for padding your resume!"

And to the disbelievers: all I ask is, "Where are these fanciful $80,000+ HTML/CSS jobs? Plus bennies... Ha!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:31 PM on April 16, 2006

I'm going to be honest here - your description of what you do does not fit into what I consider to be a "Web Software Developer, Senior". I would probably call you a "Web Producer, Senior".

Notice "software". If you are spending 90% of your time on HTML and CSS, you are not developing software.

I've been out of the US market for awhile (working in Europe), but I can tell you that in my experience, someone who fits the "Web Software Developer, Senior" job description generally earns at least double what his "Web Producer, Senior" coworkers earn.
posted by syzygy at 4:41 PM on April 16, 2006

$88k is more than what our senior software engineers make, and those are people who do 90% Java/C#/Python/etc. I'm not sure what our (expert) CSS/HTML guy takes home, but I doubt it's more than $60k. This is in Boston.
posted by nev at 4:54 PM on April 16, 2006

Hmm, yeah. Doing HTML and CSS isn't hard at all, and since many people can do it the price you would pay someone shouldn't be all that high.

A stab in the dark: Maybe $40k.

Now, if you're spending so little time coding because you're just such an awesome programmer that it doesn't take you very long at all that's another story. But PHP/MySQL isn't really that challenging either.

On the other hand, if you're cranking out million dollar web pages, whoever it is who's paying you doesn't care how much they pay as long as the know you'll do good work. It's all about relationship, web design isn't really a commodity.
posted by delmoi at 4:55 PM on April 16, 2006

"Doing HTML and CSS isn't hard at all."
...is a great way to start an argument.

"Doing HTML and CSS poorly isn't hard at all."
...is a little better.

"Doing HTML and CSS correctly, consistently and fluently is as hard as any other aspect of web development."
...is better.

More and more are the foundation languages of the web becoming important. I work with web software developers who've been working web for 10 years, but couldn't string together two lines of CSS. Or, for that matter, produce any amount of compliant, accessible XHTML. That's not because they're bad at their jobs, it's just because they're different talents. There's a place in the market for good front end developers; because standards are becoming important again, and because too many people think that HTML and CSS are easy. I should know, I just had to find one.
posted by armoured-ant at 5:14 PM on April 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

armoured-ant, I'm sorry, but as someone who has done their share of standards-compliant XHTML, js, and Java, I can tell you that doing proper, valid markup is an order of magnitude less complex than programming a full-fledged application.

You know why? Because of dojo. Because of prototype. Because of websites like this or that or that. Because markup can be done by one guy, while applications usually have teams. Because the model/controller typically need a hundred times the code of the view.

It's not just that it's a different skillset. It's that the skillset is fundamentally easier, and can be learned (or copied) by the competent programmer in a matter of weeks. Try teaching yourself Java in a couple of weeks.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:54 PM on April 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've been doing HTML/CSS/JavaScript for... oh....7 years? The last five, though, have seen me shift pretty much exclusively to Flash. These days, I'm full-on Flash/Actionscript/XML.

Having worked in Flash/AS since version 3, with experience on companies like P&G, American Airlines, Alcon, Nationwide, Exxon Mobil and TXU, I generally can expect to pull down $50k to start at a new agency (probably more if they were hard up and I felt like pressing the issue), or about $50/hr freelance.

Clients who only want HTML/CSS will seldom, if at all, pay over $40/hr for freelance work. And that much is rare. Jobs requiring only HTML/CSS are typically given to students fresh out of (or sometimes still in) college....or worse, farmed out overseas. Those usually start at around $30k.

That's in Dallas, for the sake of comparison.
posted by kaseijin at 7:02 PM on April 16, 2006

When I think of Web Developer, I think Web Applications Developer.

Irrelevant. There are still HTML/CSS developers out there. At some point the front end needs to render to the browser, and that's an ever more complexly-optimized thing to do. Believe it or not, WYSIWYG applicaions did not entirely kill the need for HTML devs (kidding, I know you you know that).

However, if you're going to fill this niche of Markup Master, you had best brush up on your design skils. Your job is basically to render pages and make them look good. I'm surprised to hear you say that you work for a large firm and yet are expected to mix front and back-end technologies. Sounds like bad management to me. In my humble experience, HTML gurus are much better off having graphic / UI design under their belt than MySQL. Perhaps that's because I work at a largish web company where there's more specialization.

But trust me, the front-end devs where I work don't write queries - well, of course they do, but only via an interface provided by the back-end groups.

In SF you'd be making probably 70K if you were good and had a sense of design to contribute. Probably less considering Murphy's Law, and if you only had point-and-shoot HTML skills on offer (40K is not too low an estimate, even here).
posted by scarabic at 7:50 PM on April 16, 2006

Scarabic brings up a good point re: the design skills. The $50k in Dallas that I quoted was with pretty strong design skills to boot -- I started my career as an (online) art director (though we had to know how to build our own pages out at the time), and eventually moved into Flash when we wanted to pick that up and there was nobody else to do it.

So yeah - that's $50k in Dalllas with a strong background in Photoshop, Illustrator and Fireworks/ImageReady.
posted by kaseijin at 8:43 PM on April 16, 2006

Prior to leaving the job for graduate school, I made about $50k here in Chicago. Far from simply producing standards compliant code (which, sadly, I had to sell to my often bone-headed superiors), I was responsible for designing intuitive, usable, accessible interfaces. I'd test them with focus groups, make certain that visually impaired users could navigate the site easily, etc.

That aspect of the job was difficult. The code writing (and this designer doesn't really consider HTML and CSS code) was far easier. I looked forward to working up style sheets and debugging for browser compatibility as a sort of vacation. It was pleasant, straightforward stuff. Like a sudoku puzzle.

If I'm ever in a position to make 88k, it'll be because of design and HCI work rather than any code writing. The production of designs, though very important and not to be taken lightly, is secondary.
posted by aladfar at 8:57 PM on April 16, 2006

"Doing HTML and CSS correctly, consistently and fluently is as hard as any other aspect of web development."
...is better.

Well, it's not hard for me. And in my opinion there is a decreasing economic return for correctness beyond a certain point. A page that is 99% compliant will make just as much money as a page that's 100% compliant. For an e-commerce site, if opera users can't order that's a problem. If some little thing doesn't render properly in IE (like the metafilter logo) it's less of a problem.

And the point is, the difference between writing a non-compliant page and writing a compliant page doesn’t really require any intelligence, just attention to detail.

Anyway, I find it very easy.
posted by delmoi at 9:03 PM on April 16, 2006

It's not just that it's a different skillset. It's that the skillset is fundamentally easier, and can be learned (or copied) by the competent programmer in a matter of weeks. Try teaching yourself Java in a couple of weeks.

Of course, the more C-like programming languages you know the easier it is to move between them. I was able to learn C# in minutes because it's exactly the same as Java in almost every way, and visual studio has pretty good Intel sense.

I was able to jump right into Actionscript because it's so similar to JavaScript (without any of the cool stuff, like first-class functions). PHP because it's another "C-like" language.

But yeah, learning programming is not nearly as easy as doing markup. The only "hard" part of doing compliant markup is that sometimes you don't get the feedback you need about the non-compliance because it works anyway. It's not the same with a Java or C++ program, for sure.
posted by delmoi at 9:09 PM on April 16, 2006

The only "hard" part of doing compliant markup is that sometimes you don't get the feedback you need about the non-compliance because it works anyway.

Actually, I'd say the hard part about markup isn't compliance at all. It's consistent cross-platform rendering and good practices. Markup is easy to get right 90% of the time or so, it's the quirky 10% that can really drive you batty, and if you have someone on hand (or are someone) who knows those quirks well, it can genuinely save time and money. Good practices also make changes easier, which saves time and money. There's other ways in which a good, experienced "markup professional" can provide benefits to an organization, too.

So while I agree with the statement that application development is more challenging (and really *good* application developers are probably more rare than good markup pros), I think it's also fair for some seasoned client-side coders to command a premium over the inexperienced code monkey.

Should they make what experience application developers make? Probably not. But "maybe $40k" also seems inappropriate for someone with years of experience who really knows their stuff. If they're working on projects that are persistent and ongoing, the good practices and knowledge of quirks are the kind of thing that will end up saving the company thousands of dollars in the end, and that's worth paying for.
posted by weston at 9:27 PM on April 16, 2006

But "maybe $40k" also seems inappropriate for someone with years of experience who really knows their stuff.

See, that's the thing, though... at least in my realm of experience (and much to my bitterment) --- "years of experience" means jack all when it comes to web work. This counts where things like Flash and Javascript are concerned, but especially where markup is concerned.

Within my specific set of proficiencies, it's a constant struggle to stay afloat on what's current. Sure, I've been doing web work for 7 years now...sure I've been writing ActionScript since it was first introduced into Flash, but that sort of longevity doesn't really matter. If anything, it's a liability.

The problem is that clients always want whatever the latest trick is, and what gets taught in schools is the latest. Yesterdays tricks and widgets are old hat. What everybody was demanding a year ago is not entirely what they want today. Ever see any 45 year old art directors? I spent a good bit of time learning Macromedia Generator and how to hook a Flash site up to ColdFusion. Know who does that now? Nobody. Generator doesn't even exist anymore!

If there is a supply of fresh college graduates, each cohort of which is schooled on how to produce whatever the "latest thing" is for that particular moment, and they're all willing eager to do this job for $40k... then what incentive is there to hire some fogey with N years of experience just to do what a recent grad could do? Time saved in number of hours put to the job? That would be a plus, but I have yet to see it be a priority in any agency I've worked at. As long as you're billable, middle management doesn't notice you one way or the other.

The fact is that as long as people will do the job for $40k/yr then that's what employers will pay -- and there's plenty of recent grads who would do it for even less (especially considering that the bulk of web authoring experience isn't "cumulative" they way you could say any sort of trade is... or medicine... or many other jobs). Living in a college town, I catch wind of companies even trying to woo recent grads with promises of a whopping $25k to start.

And the kids do it, too. Anyway - sorry for the ramble.
posted by kaseijin at 10:15 PM on April 16, 2006

Mod note: a few comments removed, please take further "is CSS?HTML hard/easy?" discussion to email or metatalk
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:02 AM on April 17, 2006

What if the person in question is billed out to clients in the 100 - 120 range hourly?
posted by rdurbin at 8:14 AM on April 17, 2006

In my experience, rdurbin, they may be billing a person out at that price, but they probably aren't actually billing 40 hrs / week, 52 weeks / year for that person.

When I worked for a large agency, we had these sort of billing rates, but 2 things happened:

1. We weren't spending 100% of our time doing billable work.
2. The agency didn't bill for 100% of the billable time we actually spent working.

Add to that employment taxes, insurance, bene's, other employment costs + the cost of providing you with training, a workspace, PC, email, network, a sales force to bring in the work, managers, support employees, and, finally, the company's need to turn a profit on your work, and $40K per year is probably still a reasonable salary for someone doing the work mentioned by the original poster.
posted by syzygy at 8:33 AM on April 17, 2006

What syzygy said. When I got my first agency gig in '99, I started fresh out of college for $35k/yr, which was pretty low back then, all things considered. I was billed out to clients at a rate of $100/hr.

Thing was, not all of my time was billable. Maybe 70% of it was. Additionally, I'm not certain that different task codes didn't amount to different billing rates, so I *may* have been $100/hr for art direction and Flash, but only $75/hr for markup and meetings. Or something like that.

One thing I have always pondered was why agencies can bill me out at $100+/hr, but yet when I freelance, I can't seem to get anything over $50/hr (sometimes $65/hr for more complicated tasks, but sometimes less -- Aquent tends to charge around $40-45/hr for use of their temps, and I've had to match that to get work before). My best guess for that discrepancy is that clients are willing to pay more to an agency because of the variety of competencies that an organization offers over an individual.
posted by kaseijin at 10:07 AM on April 17, 2006

Eh, I'm a junior web designer*, doing half CSS/HTML and half design. I'm getting in the mid 30s, which is decent in my area and age. (Yes, I am one of those young kids out of college taking up the jobs.)

Are you doing actual user interface design or are you coding what a graphic designer hands over to you? Because while I don't think doing great CSS/HTML is something any joe schlub can do, usually it's a skill that's packaged with something more to earn the bigger bucks. Creating the look and feel and branding of a site from ground up, working with the clients to get their idea on the web is worth 60-100k, (as is being able to code applications in PHP, or making a great user-interface experience, or being able to organize the hell out of a complex site). CSS/HTML, even expert, around 40k, if that's all you bring to the table.

*You're not a web developer--that's someone who's doing PHP/Java/crazy moon computer language 75% of the day, building backend applications. You're a front-end web producer/designer.
posted by lychee at 11:57 AM on April 17, 2006

[a few comments removed, please take further "is CSS?HTML hard/easy?" discussion to email or metatalk]

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:19 PM on April 17, 2006

That said if you're a good artist along with being a good Markup monkey, you should be able to get a lot of money too. Artists are hard to find.
posted by delmoi at 7:12 PM on April 17, 2006

I have a bunch of friends working at a few different web site design firms in the twin cities (one downtown minneapolis, one just off of 94 going in to St. Paul) with similar levels of experience to what you're doing. They make in the 40's and 50's and work very hard to get that. I've also seen freelancers in the twin cities pulling in about $35-45 an hour for that kind of work.
posted by freshgroundpepper at 11:41 PM on April 18, 2006

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