Am I being duely compensated?
October 30, 2006 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Am I making enough money? According to my pay should range between $50k and $70k, but I make $40k. Are online salary comparison tools to be trusted? Am I getting ripped off?

Some details - I'm a relatively recent college graduate with a bachelors in CS. I graduated cum laude, have about a year of work experience and am currently employed by relatively small, but growing super quickly, consulting company. My job title right now could be best described as J2EE/Java Developer.

We have good health benefits, and get a bonus at the end of the year as well as accruing 1.25 vacation days a month (these are lost at the end of the year, no reimbursement or carrying over). This sounds pretty generous on its face, but most people never have enough time to take vacation because we're kept so busy. The company expects you to put in whatever hours are necessary to complete projects on time, including lots of extra hours. I've worked 60 hour in weeks, including one 21 hour day. We're told that these sacrifices will be taken into account when our bonuses are distributed, but there's nothing in writing or any guidelines.

We have a couple of offices on the mid atlantic coast, and most on site locations are relatively close to our offices, but there's no guarantee of this. If we pick up a client 2 hours away, and are assigned to the project, travel is mandatory. You're reimbursed for the expenses, and sometimes given a per diem - but sometimes the client site can be as far away as New Mexico.

I've been working here since the summer, and because I was desperate and my credit cards were rapidly becoming maxxed out, I accepted an offer to work here for $40k a year. According to's salary comparison tool, I'm in the bottom %1 percentile for this job category, with the average salary ranging from $53k - $67k. Is this accurate? Am I being taken advantage of? Should I ask for a raise?

I feel like there's a huge disparity, but can't prove that I'm not just inflating my own worth in my brain.
posted by youthenrage to Work & Money (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You've only been in the work force for a year; do you know what that internet salary range is based on? I'm guessing it includes people who have been working for years and years. Patience, grasshopper; very few people make big bucks right out of college.

Meanwhile, if no one in the office has time to take vacations, has to pay for company travel, is working incredible hours for a "bonus" that may or may not materialize (I worked for a place like that, and guess what!!! It didn't!), that sucks. You've been at this place 6 months; I say, start looking for a new job on those facts alone.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:40 AM on October 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

How much is your bonus? I'm assuming that those numbers include bonuses, and therefore if your bonus is big enough, you might be in the range. But it still sounds like your job sucks and like you feel as though the time you put in is not adequately compensated.

If you're not in the salary range you feel is fair for your work (and that's way more important than what some website says), you have a couple of options. The first is to ask your boss for a raise. Point out all of your hard work, especially specific ways in which your contributions have made money for the company. Don't whine about how much work you have to do, and don't mention that you got numbers off the internet, just say, "Now that I've been here for a little while, I think it's clear that I'm bringing value to the company, and I'd like to discuss additional compensation or bonuses."

Your other option is to look for a new job. Some experts will tell you to work your first job for a year, but that's not a hard-and-fast rule. It sounds like you have a sucky job regardless of the money, and I think it's perfectly fine to put your resume out there. Don't tell your current company that you're planning to leave, and be discreet about your job search, but put out some feelers to see if you can find something better suited to what you want in a job. For whatever reason, it's easier to find a job when you already have a job (potential employers like to know that someone else liked you enough to hire you, you seem less desperate, etc.), and you now have more work experience, so you're in a better position now to find a really great job.

Then, when you get a new job offer, negotiate on salary. I don't know whether you negotiated for your current salary (sounds like maybe you didn't), but you should always attempt to ask for more money, and now you can negotiate with some firm numbers in mind about what you feel is acceptable compensation. Don't accept the first number they throw at you. They won't rescind a job offer because you negotiated; the worst they can say is "no, we can't pay you more than $X."

I wouldn't pay as much attention to what the internet says you should be paid as to the fact that you seem unhappy in your current job. Decide whether you want to keep working for this company, decide how much you'd like to be paid, and then take steps to get yourself into the job you want at the salary you want. It may take some time, but if you're good at what you do, you'll get there.
posted by decathecting at 9:42 AM on October 30, 2006

$40k is a good starting salary. I wouldn't complain. I don't know where you are but unless it is in SF or NYC, your living expenses shouldn't be too bad. Roll with it a few years until you get some good experience and then think about sending out some resumes.
posted by JJ86 at 9:57 AM on October 30, 2006

The short answer to your question is probably not.
Especially considering the hours you put in. This of course assumes you work hard and smart during those hours instead of spinning your wheels. And for those who say that you can't get big bucks starting out, well you won't if you don't try. Salary comparison tools are a good negotiating point.
posted by captaincrouton at 10:02 AM on October 30, 2006

I agree with the other posters that the salary is not the primary problem with your job, but is simply providing a focus for your unhappiness.

Whether or not your specific salary is just or not depends on more details than you provide- are you a project lead? Do you manage other developers? Do you do specifications, or just write code based on spec? Are you writing complex business logic or simple input/search/report interactions?
posted by mkultra at 10:18 AM on October 30, 2006

Best answer: As someone who works in HR, I can tell you that many of us in the field do not consider the (free) information available on to be of much value. The 'premium data' may be of a bit more help to you.

Take a look at the methodology page for a bit of clarification.

The bottom line is that there are a great many factors which need to be taken into account. The free survey data available to you merely takes a national average and applies a multiplier based on your geographic location.

"The Salary Wizard's free answers are based on salary values averaged across survey responses from all company sizes, all industry types, and all locations, and offer no personal customization. The Salary Wizard applies a geographic adjustment factor based on the city or ZIP code"


"The data in's premium products is fully scoped. This means the underlying survey data for a given benchmark job has been segmented to reflect pay practices specific to various locations, company sizes, and industries.
Furthermore, the report may be used to account for differences in estimated market value arising from personal attributes such as years of experience, performance, education, and other compensable factors known to have some influence on an individual's pay. "

Depending on your specific circumstances (I agree with those above), you may or may not be underpaid.
posted by mockjovial at 10:34 AM on October 30, 2006

I'm in NYC, where salaries are higher in general, but that being said, it does sound to me like you're not making enough, for a developer with a CS degree, even with no experience.
posted by bingo at 10:37 AM on October 30, 2006

Am I making enough money?

Isn't that a question only you can answer? Are you bills covered? Do you have enough left over to enjoy the lifestyle you want AND have some to save?

If not, then no, you're not making enough. If yes, then, well, yeah.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:52 AM on October 30, 2006

From my limited experience (same degree, same Java background) I was hired fresh out of college at a company I interned at three years ago for more than what you're making and I'm in the middle of Iowa. So, you might want to look into a raise or some other jobs.

The average salary ratings from or the like are pretty much crap, though.
posted by mikeh at 11:09 AM on October 30, 2006

Entry-level IT jobs (with a bachelor's degree) in Washington, DC with the federal government are $42k/yr. These positions also get a little under 1 day per month of vacation time, but you can carry the vacation over.

$40k/yr is NOT a bad salary for an entry-level job in any industry. You can do better in IT, but it's a good thing to put this in perspective. I have friends who were living on under $30k/yr after they graduated college in DC. Not knowing where you are, I can't give you a comparison, but chances are that your housing runs you less than $1000/month.
posted by kdar at 11:24 AM on October 30, 2006

Gov't-sector jobs often have lower salaries than their private-sector counterparts, with the balancing factors of more time off (in addition to vacation, all those holidays...), better benefits, and better job security.
posted by mkultra at 11:46 AM on October 30, 2006

My suspicion is that you should probably be making more money, but the best way to determine your market value is to put yourself on the market.

(Anecdotal evidence: my peers were making around $40K as entry-level BSCS software developers, with decent benefits, and without doing too much in the way of travel or overtime, almost 15 years ago. This was in Austin, TX.)
posted by magicbus at 11:48 AM on October 30, 2006

You're doing all right for year 1; in another 2-3 years if you aren't making at least another 10K, you will want to start looking around. Do you have a clear path of promotion in terms of salary & responsibility? If not, you might want to start looking now, despite the "super-quick" growth.

As far as the hours, they sound like crap. I'd switch jobs based on the hours alone; I'm a sysadmin, so it's "feast or famine" in the hours department, but even I never had to work a 21 hour day (not even during a Disaster Recovery test).

I think it comes down to your personal satisfaction, as Brandon Blatcher mentioned above. Can you pay the bills and still have a life? Then you may not want to risk ditching a somewhat decent job.

Of course, you can always keep your eyes peeled while still working there. Nothing wrong with that, and it's not too difficult either.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 11:50 AM on October 30, 2006

Don't forget to factor in cost of living in your particular locale.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:12 PM on October 30, 2006

Best answer: I've hired CS new-grads at my last three companies, all doing consulting work.

For a skilled CS new-grad in a consulting position, you've got a lot to learn, and thus are of limited use. That said, 40K/year is pretty damn low. I generally start by budgeting around 55K, and adjust upwards for regional cost-of-living. (Max of ~75K for a stellar candidate) But either way that generally includes some work experience in prior internships, and more than a single skill set. (i.e. not just Java). If you were in a traditional developer position, in the same cube every day, that would be 40K to 65K max... but the travel adds a premium. It's damned disruptive to your life!

The vacation (15 days effective, say 10 days 'vacation' plus 5 'personal holidays' or somesuch) is pretty standard now. But if you can't actually take it, it doesn't matter, now does it? Rollover policies are getting rarer (unless required by local labor laws)

What you need to be aware of is the industry business model! Consulting shops make money by having a few stellar 'architects' (>100K/year often) who present to the customer, and justify huge rates with their expertise. But really, they're mostly sales guys. The grunt work is done by guys like you, bright but under-experienced or naive folks who work for chicken feed. You get strung along with intimations of 'huge' bonuses, and 'potential' raises... but none of it is in your contract, so if you see anything, it won't be 'huge'. The entry level consultants have an expected shelf-life of 3-5 years, after which they either burn out, or are fired. Generally, the only way to raise your salary is to change employers, and know what you're really worth when you do. (Baseline, figure out what hourly rate they're charging the customer... $50/hr, $75/hr, $250/hr? You should be getting around 40% of that (*2000 hrs / year) in total compensation.)

You can ask for a raise, but be prepared to hear some song-and-dance about how you need more experience, wait for a review next year, blah, blah, blah. Maybe true, but you'll neve know until you try. So, smile, nod, and start sending out a good resume.
posted by zeypher at 12:22 PM on October 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

IMHO, you're not being paid enough, especially considering the long hours they're making you put in. It does depend on location, and I don't know where you are. However, my guess is you should be at least making 48-50k, before benefits.
posted by knave at 12:26 PM on October 30, 2006

Best answer: Simple answer: You are being ripped off, used and abused. Leave, and leave ASAP: unless you're hopelessly incompetent, you should easily be making 15K more than that. I'm kind of amazed you didn't realize this already....

But don't feel bad: this is a popular tactic, and the principle reason companies like Microsoft among many others foster the "campus" environment of the workplace. They know that young kids like yourself coming out of college wouldn't have the stones or the willfulness- much less the experience- to know how to say no, or to ask for more, or to even understand what is and isn't okay.

An ignorant workforce is a compliant workforce.

I don't care where you are, as zeypher points out: 40K for a CS grad and developer- even an inexperienced one- is a fucking joke. All the more so if you're working insane hours and prevented from taking vacation. First, you are paid for 40 hours a week. That 41st hour at the office should have an ungodly price tag to the company; this is something the younguns never learn at first: you aren't a charitable organization making donations to the company you work for. Stop doing them favors, for god's sake! If a 60 hour work week if normal for you, then you're basically making $12 an hour, without vacation. Have you considered working the night shift at a 24-hour supermarket? Those people make around $13 an hour. Sure, you may be told you don't have "experience" yet, but it's not like those night-shift checkout people have CS degrees; you are a trained professional, so act like one. The experience element only matters when talking about much greater income, into the six figures if you're a little aggressive.

Is it clear yet? You are being RIPPED OFF. Others on this thread will hem and haw, but I'll say it point blank: you are being cheated. Leave!!!

Now, if you were making gobs of cash hand over fist, then maybe those crazy hours and lack of vacation would be worth it. But for what you're making, you should just go be a bartender 3-4 nights a week. You'll make as much if not more, and work a lot less. Plus, free booze!

The lesson here is that you are giving up your precious youth for a pittance; you won't be young forever, and the great part of being a young CS grad is that you have the energy and- if you weren't being robbed from- the money to live it up in the prime years of your life. Wise up, and LEAVE NOW. The only possible way this job makes sense is if you are being given insane amounts of stock options and believe this company has a legitimate chance of going public and making up for the non-vacations and 21 hour work days. If that's not the conscious gamble you are making, then flip them off as you walk out the door.
posted by hincandenza at 3:15 PM on October 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

here is another data point. when i finished my BSCS in 1992 i was making just a few K under what you are making now, but i was working for a university. when i finished my MSCS in 1996 and started a new job, i was making about 1.5x what you are making now.

i think you are underpaid. start looking for a new job!
posted by joeblough at 3:55 PM on October 30, 2006

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