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Ask HN: Fulltime software engineers over 250k, how'd you get there(updated)?
78 points by throwaway007007 on Sept 21, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments
I’ve been inspired by an old HN thread that asks what software engineers with > 200K salary did to get there ( tinyurl.com/hwvw5yl ). I am looking for recent data points/advice on what people did or are doing to get > 250K base salary (total > 300K comp) these days. Silicon valley/new york data points are preferable, but other outliers are interesting as well. To keep the spirit of old thread - there are the questions: How much are you making? Is your income stable or volatile? What industry are you in? Where do you live? How long/What did it take to get to your level? What kind of work do you do? Do you enjoy it, or is it the stereotypical "highly paid because it's crappy" work? Is this a short-lived opportunity, or do you expect it to exist in 5 years? What would your advice be to a 25-yr-old aspiring developer? 30? 35 ?

Hope this post helps someone who is either entering the field or a current player looking for a similar path.

This was a quick write up, so I’ll add any important details I missed later.




Two steps:

- Get provably good at something.

- Find a company that needs that something really bad.

Notice that you don't just need to be good. You need proof. I'd strongly recommend a fully functioning site that does something undeniably cool and that you built yourself from top to bottom. I'd strongly recommend not just building a bunch of open source stuff that's up on Github.

Another form of proof that's nice to have is happy clients & bosses. You want their CTO to be talking to your old CTO over drinks and have your ex-boss mention how he once had to lay off a team of 12 developers when they ran out of money, but they needed to keep one guy around to finish the thing up, and how there was this one guy on the team who was clearly the guy to be that guy. And if you're looking to do this thing we've been talking about, which sounds hard, and you need somebody to build a team around, here's his email address.

Work for lots of places, build good stuff, and make sure it's always recognized and visible. Then build more recognizable, visible stuff on the side that can only be attributed to you.

Then go ask for that rate.


Should be more like

1. Find a company that needs something really bad

2. then get provably good at it.

No point building skills without a market :)

Now, if you've been with a company for 2~3+ years, you should be able to figure out what domain specific things will make you non-fungible.

But, really I don't make 250k+ base so what do I know.


> 2. then get provably good at it.

Still risky because the company will probably find someone else while you are getting provably good at it. Or they simply may not like you for some other reason.

> Now, if you've been with a company for 2~3+ years, you should be able to figure out what domain specific things will make you non-fungible

A good start, but also you need the company to be able to afford the new rate. Also companies work hard every day to make sure that everyone is as fungible as possible. Playing politics may help make people perceive you as less fungible.

The sort of plan I'd come up with (not an expert though) is try to find a very large company (or an industry) that routinely pays people this compensation to many people and figure out how to get that role.

Google and finance spring to mind.


This. Really. I'm on the stage of what you say. Its not that easy to decide what to build based on the knowledge you have since your working alone. Then when you've decided you'll eventually struggle to making it work. I won't worry that the project will not be recognized at least I've spent happy moments learned a lot of stuffs. Built my own tools in getting ready to move on to build yet another interesting stuff that can't be recognized. Doing this just to learn new things until you gained experience and ready to sell your self with the proofs you've made.


I work in finance, most often front desk trading. I love what I do, and I can't imagine doing anything else. I won't go into exact compensation figures, but my total compensation tends to be mid-6-figures (plus on a good year -- most of my comp is bonus based), but I also work a lot of hours.

I have very unique skills for high-performance, low-latency programming especially in Java and C++. There aren't too many people who go digging through assembly dumps from Hotspot. I've been doing this for about 15 years now. It can be very stressful. I've literally had a day where I lost a million dollars in seconds, but I've also had days where I've made tens of millions in seconds.

I'm a very good programmer. My math skills are pretty good too.

I live in NYC (I've also lived in Chicago). No surprise there. Right now I'm actually taking a pay cut to work at a finance startup. Maybe one day I'll be principle of my own firm. Or at leave a C-level :)


So if I can write programs that out perform Java programs I can make 250k?


Yes. Especially if you can deliver them at the same rate as the Java team and with the same or fewer bugs.

That bar may be surprisingly more difficult than you think...


Can you write Java programs that can outperform C++ programs is the questions? That are also significantly bug free? Oh yeah, and don't GC, and either use only in-house libraries or or ones you've written. Almost everything I've done is hand written just because of the very unique nature of the softish-RT and high-performance requirements. The work is very interesting, very demanding, and very fun.


I would use ISPC and optimized memory layouts to shame whatever programs people told me couldn't be faster.


I've interacted with ISPC based trading cores, they provide some value but the trading context is frequently not that parallelisable and often the things that ISPC is good at are even better done by custom hardware.

The real challenge is integrating with other systems and changing the code as new requirements come to market, so the kind of work being described is to make the some Java component that must be communicated with fast enough to not have to be rewritten entirely.

In any case, if you have a mix of Java/C++/HPC, can prove it, and enjoy it, there are lots of finance jobs that pay in that relm.


One thing I've really wanted to try is a FPGA on a socket. I've seen FPGAs that fit in CPU sockets before and used the QPI link to communicate to the other processor and anything else on the ring. Since you don't need to pay the PCI bus latency costs you could potentially do some pretty wild things such as talk to the NIC directly and keep your book on the FPGA and pushed into the LL cache. You can even speak to the LL cache directly, make DMA calls. Talk to the memory controller. Etc.

I've tried some GPU stuff for options and looking down futures curve, but the cost of going off core is prohibitive in most cases.


I assume you mean wouldn't pay the PCI bus costs.

But yeah that would be cool.

I've never had a chance to work on in router asic/FPGA and I'd like to try that some time.


Another thing judging from your profile - the best way to get a raise is to change a job. You seem to be changing jobs in every year (or less).


A lot of that was a string of consulting gigs. I hated that. Employee positions was about every other year. That was still a bad habit. I'm really working on changing that. Part of changing that is finding a really strong team. It sounds weird, but I don't want to be the strongest member of a team :) And I'm pretty damn good. I want to learn and be pushed to be better. A team like that can be hard to find.


NYC and Chicago seem to be the hotspots, but is anyone familiar with this sort of work going on in the Atlanta area?


may I ask what your education background is?


    How much are you making? What industry are you in? Where do you live? Is your income stable or volatile?
I charged a $250k rate ($125/hr) as a contract front-end developer based in SF for years. I worked exclusively for startups, and I worked remote more than 50% of the time.

My income was stable. I never had any downtime between contracts, and I often turned down work. I only had "light" months when I took vacations. Some months I made as much as $30-40k.

    How long/What did it take to get to your level? What kind of work do you do? Do you enjoy it, or is it the stereotypical "highly paid because it's crappy" work?
I started as a web developer in college and I had contracts where I charged $60/hr. I didn't start charging $125/hr until I was 26.

I genuinely enjoyed the work I was doing. I only took gigs where I'd have a lot of creative license. More than a few times, I was the only front-end developer on the team. Sometimes I was the designer, too.

    Is this a short-lived opportunity, or do you expect it to exist in 5 years?
Depends on the supply and demand of the startup economy: how many startups there are, how much funding they're getting, and how many good developers there are. Things seem like they're going strong, though. Last year I taught a smart friend of mine to code. She got a job making $100/hr in January. In hindsight, I probably could've charged more than $125/hr :D

Personally, I'm done with contracting. I really like the idea of running my own businesses/projects that generate regular income. Currently I'm working on https://IndieHackers.com. Not only is it a business for myself, but it also helps other with the same goal. I think being independent is the future of work for programmers.

    What would your advice be to a 25-yr-old aspiring developer? 30? 35 ?
Don't become complacent. Never stop learning. Keep working on side projects and releasing them into the world. Almost all of my contract jobs were inbound requests that came when people saw my projects and wanted something similar for themselves.


  Currently I'm working on https://IndieHackers.com
Just read a couple of the background stories on the page, bookmarked and subscribed to the newsletter, great site!

I've been working independently as a software developer for three years, I have customers all over. I mostly build websites/webapps, everything from server setup to fiddling with bootstrap and JS. There is definitely a lot of money to be made for good independent developers. Select good customers, prove you can deliver and build your customer base from there, increase your rate as your skills, track record and customer base improves. Build a cash buffer to handle dry periods!


Hey,

Can you tell me where do you look for freelance projects ?


Getting that kind of rate requires building a network (usually in person).


infinite8s is correct, you need to build a network. I've never actively looked for freelance projects on any kind of website or marketplace. Almost all of my freelance requests have been inbound from either (a) friends of friends, or (b) strangers who've seen things that I've built. So my best tip is to spend time building cool stuff, publicize it to get your name out there, and make lots of friends and acquaintances.


> "> 250K base salary (total > 300K comp)"

This point will keep lots of people making >$300k out of the conversation if "base" is taken to mean cash compensation (which is what I would take it to mean).

I've gotten offers in the past year for north of $300k in liquid assets but in all of those cases equity made up >40% of the deal.


In finance its not hard to make. What is hard is to get hired for those roles: great school, do awesome in interviews that involve software, math, probability domains. On the buy side (hedge funds), you will be easily making that much in 2-3 years after joining. And finance folks love their puzzles and brain teasers too.

In tech, its harder. Equity is key. A big company can offer that kind of equity if you offer something really unique or are in great demand (i.e. wanted by multiple great companies). Startups, you got to choose carefully and see if you can pick the right one that won't go under and also offer you good equity. I have rarely heard anyone getting paid that much in cash in tech except senior roles that can take a while to get to.


In general, work in finance. I have a friend who works as a systems engineer (sysadmin who can code) at Bloomberg and makes just that. His total comp is > 300.


Remember if you work in finance you will most likely live in NYC or London which are not cheap.


It depends if you are willing to give up luxuries or not. My girlfriend and I rent a cosy, but modern studio apartment in East London for about ~£800 p/m. Obviously that money would get you a lot more in most other places in the world, but if you are in finance (or a similarly-paying job) then it's really not a push. It takes me about 50 minutes to cycle to my job in central London - it keeps me fit, and saves an awful lot of money that would otherwise be spent being packed into the tube like sardines for a similarly long, but significantly less pleasant journey.


I second work in finance. It is very easy to reach that level with experience in this industry.


Does he have a lot of experience? My Bloomberg offer was low and the Bloomberg engineers who put their comp on the salary spreadsheet seemed to be paid much less than their experience would get them at a Big 4.


Bloomberg starts low (especially as a junior out of school) but pay can ramp up quickly if you deliver.


holy shit. what do they do all day in bloomberg??


Maintain large kafka clusters, futz with mesos, and futz with kubernetes. Same as all of us really. The difference is that a lot of startups will talk about their "hard big data problems" and might have 500T. A firm like Bloomberg's "big data problems" might be 400+ Petabytes. They also generally speaking totally shun the cloud as at that scale it tends to be cheaper to build on-premise.


They also shun the cloud because they have one of the largest physical datacenters on the island with real heavy iron (IBM and Sun/Oracle boxes)


There was a talk at the recent (quadrennial) DTrace conference from someone at Bloomberg which gives some numbers instructive of what at least some staff in tech there do: https://www.joyent.com/about/events/2016/dtrace-conf/videos/...


In 2014 Bloomberg had 19k employees and 9.3B turn-over. There must be something going on there[1].

[1] http://www.forbes.com/companies/bloomberg/


Bloomberg has some of the best tech departments I've had the pleasure interviewing with. Besides being a media company, they also run a few exchanges, such as one of the largest bond exchanges in the world, and their tech people are on point. Totally to rate. I completely underestimated them until the recruiter I was working with set me up with them, and I was completely shocked at how good they were. Their top group at least was very very talented.


Sell those terminals and connections that are tens of thousands of dollars per year (per month?).


For Bloomberg, it is $20,000 USD per user per year. One user == one traders. Most firms have more than one trader.


It's more than just traders. On the sell side, you'd also see salespeople with terminals (and often the middle office guys would also have a terminal).


Live in the US. There's no way you'd make that kind of money anywhere else in the world as a SE.


This lands in the Top 5 Harmful Assumptions Developers Make About The State Of The World.

It's false, and believing it can only cause you harm, since it'll affect your negotiation with for that remote gig for that US based company.


How is it wrong ? Where can you make that but in the US ?


I have never read on this site a 250K+ wage outside of US.


CIOs & CTOs make that in Australia as well - though in AU dollars. Some consultants I know make considerably more.


It's wrong because of existence disproof. Right now, there are lots of people writing software outside of the USA and billing more than $300k to do so.

And the answer to your second question is "anywhere with power and internet." That is the subset of places from which one can telecommute to the USA, where there exist dozens of large software companies that hire remote staff. For that much money. Honest, no foolin'.

It's sad that I find myself repeating this here so often. Nobody seems to want to believe that their industry pays as much as it does.


But they are billing to USA companies, right ? Can you tell us any country/company that provides those wages ? (most I can think would be finance in London/Australia/Switzerland)


The top comment in this thread starts with "live in the US" to which this person responds that you can make the salary in question while living outside of the US with a "remote gig for that US based company."

You're arguing against a point that wasn't made.


This is playing with words.. but ok, you are right.


Places like Dubai and Middle East could possibly land that sort of salary. In the UK, it's highly unlikely, only if you work for a giant corp and are seriously valuable to them could you get close to that figure. You'll probably end up having to step into a CTO type role though.


Have you ever tried looking for a remote job in SV? I did. The results are very disappointing, almost all of those companies are looking for people on-site and are very narrow-minded about that.


I have had and have devs making more than 300K working for me in:

+ London

+ Singapore

+ Hong Kong

+ Tokyo

Edit: and NY, Chicago and Houston but that doesn't really make my point.

I have very good reason to believe (I've seen their salaries) also in:

+ Paris

+ Frankfurt

+ Dublin

The trick is to have skills that are needed in industries that understand the value of tech and have the money to pay for it.


Can you give some examples of the kind of skills you are talking about? I keep hearing this but no one mentions concrete examples.


What industries understand the value of tech?


Would be very surprised to hear any devs in Southeast Asia making that much as tech is undervalued there. Maybe in Finance.


A dev in the UK on $300k? Full time employee? Would love to know the sector and skills.


Finance. Strong knowledge of derivatives trading and trading system. Usually one or more of Java, C++, Python, C#, VBA but generally less important unless they're coding quant models in which case usually need C++.

Yes, fulltime. Only had one part time on that level.


Live in San Francisco, actually. (Maybe NYC). Otherwise, you're not going to get there just programming.


I know people who make that salary & higher in Chicago, Austin, Dallas, Nashville, Seattle, Portland & Atlanta.

I know people who approach it for a rounding error in Bloomington IN, Boulder CO, & Kansas City.

You are right though, none of those people are just programming. They are all solving business problems with code.


I know people who make it in London.


Get multiple gigs going. It's not too hard to get > 300K if you are willing to work all the time! I've been able to do it with just a couple clients. I don't really recommend working all the time because it does take a toll. But there is a benefit to having multiple clients in terms of diversification, i.e. if one goes away you're not left in a lurch.

How'd I get here? Worked at one startup after another in Austin for about 20 years. Then started working consulting jobs. Not nearly as exciting as startups and in fact most of my projects now are rather boring. But good SE's are hard to find and when companies find someone that can reliably deliver the goods you are in and it can become stable work.


Hey - Fill in your hacker news profile, maybe we can work together?


Maybe these software engineers are working on Oracle's new public cloud:

"The company has offered many of the team working on it stock-based incentives worth around $500,000, and has thrown additional incentives of $100,000 or more at people who have shown interest in leaving for other companies."

http://www.businessinsider.com/oracle-has-special-team-worki...




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