Salary, compensation, and tech labor.

Friday, May 1, 2015 :: Tagged under: engineering pablolife. ⏰ 3 minutes.


Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄


Today on Twitter is #talkpay, where we do what's common in many countries (but taboo here) and talk openly about our salary experiences. While I'll tweet my numbers, here are some other thoughts on salaries, tech, and pay.

(More about #talkpay here)

First, if there's anything you take away from reading this, do read Patrick McKenzie's fabulous piece on salary negotiation. Following its advice halfheartedly increased my pay 30% between gigs. It's long, but valuable, do give it a look.

Note that effective negotiation is much easier if you look like me: a tall, cis, straight, White, thin man who speaks without an accent and the trappings of expensive education. People are programmed to just Take Me Seriously. Remember what happened when Jill Abramson _leaned in_. She, like many women, was called bossy and abrasive, whereas dudes rarely get called those things. Racial minorities can tell you of a long history of getting called angry, uppity, or bossy. If you're in a position of hiring, please understand that many people who often get underpaid are punished if they try to remedy this. If you're the one negotiating, know what's working against you.

Practical advice out of the way, let's talk about payment, work, wages, and the like.

One, as an employee, most companies are not your friends, and will not look out for your interests. Remember when Google asked a competitor permission to make someone an offer over several months rather than, you know, just making them an offer and letting market forces work? Remember when a bunch of companies colluded to drive down wages?

Company Heirarchy

Smaller companies will exploit you as hard or harder. jwz tells it like it is. If someone tells you you should be 'excited' to work for them and accept less money, they're full of shit and want to get fabulously wealthy on your back. Being excited about an opportunity is not mutually exclusive from knowing your worth and expecting to be paid accordingly. Learn to read what job ads are actually saying.

On a related note: these are the same people insisting there's a talent shortage. Talent shortage! There aren't enough devs for what we want to do! Well…

The fact is, they just don't want to pay anything approaching the economic value we provide. That's not an indication of a shortage, just that they don't want to pony up. I want a Tesla! But I can only pay $200! Tesla shortage?!

No, I just can't afford it. Similarly, maybe pursuing silly-ass boondoggles like Secret or Dufl shouldn't be as cheap? Maybe VC's would have some limit on the businesses they choose to fund if they reflected their true cost?

The biggest reason I have trouble entertaining notions of talent shortage is that there's plenty of talent much of the industry ignores, steps on, or refuses to listen to. For example, how much more talent would we have if women didn't leave the tech industry at twice the rate men do? How much more talent would you have if you hired at more than half the rate that we produce Black and Hispanic graduates?

There are many, many reasons why those gaps exist, but people get mad defensive if you suggest we collectively allow, participate, and endorse a shitty culture. Reminder that you don't have to be a racist to do harm, or do racist things. I think believing you are immune to biases/prejudices that are observed at virtually every level of society, backed by dozens of years of research consisting of thousands of social-science studies is… a bad bet. Especially if you have any notion of history (for most underrepresented people, it's been bad!) combined with any knowledge of wealth and advantages (or lack thereof) can compound over time (a lot!!), I feel like not accounting for that knowledge is unwise.

You don't even need all that Science and/or knowledge of history: the people in question tell you repeatedly that they have shitty experiences. Other things to remember: women are often rated on performance, but men on potential. Also remember that, counterintuitively, if you focus on "merit" especially hard you may shoot yourself in the foot with your biases and amplify them. Remember that life is intersectional: black and hispanic women make less than white women, who make less than asian women. On average, if you look like me, you make a dollar. If you look like my mom, you make .53.

(yes we need to improve the pipeline but if that's all you've got, that's a terrible answer that conveniently absolves those of us with power, today, from making the changes we need.).

There's a lot, lot more to say on this but if I wait till this post is perfect, I'll never post it. In the end, this rang true for me (there's a whole thread there, btw, feel free to click the deeplink to read more).

SO. With all that in mind, if you are looking to increase your pay:

If you hire people:

In either case:

Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄