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Ask HN: How to move past 150k/200k in compensation?
100 points by yerunfa 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments
It looks like i am stuck around 150k range compensation despite having 10+ yrs of experience. The only thing against me is that I am an immigrant. Nowadays, new grads are pulling 120k to 130k right away.

I no longer enjoy coding but I am good at getting things done and building good rapo with people. What can I do to move into leadership roles?

How does someone like me get 200k or more in compensation?

PS- I am not a native English speaker but I have studied in English throughout my life.

Any suggestions?

I know many people personally who make 200k+, with less than 10 years experience. Many of them are also immigrants. Some of the ways they got there:

- live in a tech hub with high demand for programmers. The best places are NYC/SF and probably Seattle

- switch companies every ~2 years, and negotiate for ~25% comp increases when you do. There are some tips that can help you achieve this, but it's a blog post in itself

- work for a lucrative brand-name employer like Google/FB. First, you'll make a ton of money there. Second, having them on your resume will boost your future prospects and compensation offers

- in order to accomplish the above, get really good at interviewing skills. Practice topcoder, cracking the coding interview, fundamental algorithms and data structures, communication and presentation skills, etc etc. Whatever it takes to ace the interviews, no matter how dumb you may think it is

- be good at your craft. Read expert books, work on your own small side projects, push yourself to build high quality code, and not just barely functional junk. Do everything you can to become an expert in your area

- be a great coworker. Leave a positive impression with your manager and colleagues. You don't have to be their friend, but you want to be someone they respect and would recommend to their friends

barely functional junk haha

Even at $10/hr? Hahaha

Most people who make > $200K in total comp receives the excess in either stock, bonuses, or percentages of a firm's profit. (There are some outliers, but even many C-level executives have salaries in that range and then millions in stock compensation.) Keep that in mind when you compare salaries with others - those Google engineers making $400K/year are usually making about $150-170K base, $50K bonus, and $200K+ in RSUs.

That also implies the way to break $200K: join a company whose stock is rising, perform well for them, and negotiate a generous equity grant.

Breaking the 200k ceiling in base is hard. I know I've plateaud.

Go from employee to being a consultant. You can probably double that if you are good (possible to make 400-500k in a good year when you get a few good deals in a row). But there are limits to a one man company obviously so going beyond that is probably only possible by becoming a C level manager at a big company or CEO (so start your own company?) where millions in bonuses and stock compensations are normally part of compensation.

Do you have any resources on the transition from engineer to a consultant?

Make Money Online podcast. Kai Davis and Nick Disabato's sites and mailing lists. Alan Weiss has written s lot of books on being a consultant.

In theory you quit your job, start a limited company (or LLC in US) and then start looking for work again but now via your one man company. Perhaps you can get rehired as consultant by your previous employer to get started.

DoubleYourFreelancingRate is full of some gems.

Two things.

1. Learn soft skills. If we look at the modern business exec they do a few things very well. They can speak to large groups of people with conviction. They can make tough decisions. They can articulate their thoughts through a variety of mediums. These skills are learned. They come from practice and experience. One of the first things I would recommend you do is join an organization like toastmasters and learn the basics of public speaking.

2. Depending on your situation in life, take risk. Risk is what allows people to propel themselves into those 400k+ annual comp. A lot of these suggestions cite going into consulting, which is high billable if you're good. What they lack though is the necessity to win clients, build good relationships and grow your business. This is mitigation of risk + soft skills.

Relevant reading. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/crackin...

Curious if you have read the book mentioned in the Atlantic link?

It's possible, but unusual, to earn over 200k as a base salary. Although it is more common at certain organizations (e.g. Google, Apple) and in roles like sales. As others have mentioned, often beyond that point you're in stock, bonuses and other incentives.

One reason is tax. After 200k almost half of what you earn is going in tax (Assuming US/California here). So going to 250k seems like a jump, but it's going to have a much less increment on your lifestyle.

So you may be better moving laterally/zig-zagging than continuing to optimize on the path you're on. Perhaps a smaller org that can still pay well, but gives you equity or leadership opportunities.

So first, tax is marginal. Only the amount above a tax bracket is taxed at the higher rate.

> So going to 250k seems like a jump, but it's going to have a much less increment on your lifestyle.

Second, the difference between 200k and 250k is that your adjusted gross income legally allows you to participate in private equity investments without you having to get an accountant to lie for you.

So therefore, instead of having to spend 8 years of your life just to get the OPTION of buying $4,000 worth of the two startups you were stuck working at, you can get into the deal flow for any of the trendiest and flashiest companies with the biggest upwards trajectory. Or even better, invest in a VC fund that does this better than you. You can finally stop lying to your company's cofounders about all the passion you have for their non-sensical company just so you can eek out another 1/48th of your option while getting another month of React under your belt for the next move.

There's really no reason to rationalize if you are already that close. You are playing the money game or else you would have used the exact same rationale to not pursue the salary increase from $50k to anything above $75k in whatever suburb or regional support city that you came from. Its only financial engineering from here on and you are in a position to create generational wealth.

You are close to an exemption from the income taxes that make 20% increases in your comp demotivational, when your long term capital gains start rolling in.

You are close to an exemption from the socioeconomic problems of your costly urban environment.

You are close to an exemption from the class system preventing you from obtaining the cheapest and most lucrative investments.

This is about honesty.

> So first, tax is marginal. Only the amount above a tax bracket is taxed at the higher rate.

Yup. That's the core point I was making.

> you can get into the deal flow for any of the trendiest and flashiest companies with the biggest upwards trajectory

Much harder that you're making it out to be. Being a angel investor is tough. Being a successful one is even tougher. Experienced investors can improve their network, access and odds - but it's a lot of work and they're often outliers.

> This is about honesty.

Really not sure what point you're making.

Why did you chose to skip this part?

> > Or even better, invest in a VC fund that does this better than you.

Because it's simply not an option. VCs raise the vast majority of money from institutional investors, not individuals.

If there are individuals involved, they're high net worth already. You need to be prepared to write a $500k-$2M check and not see a return for an extended period of time. Even then, getting into a top-quartile fund with the best return proposition is going to be highly competitive. Finally, funds are relatively infrequent, so you still need to be at the right place at the right time.

Either way, we're clearly describing a scenario which is well beyond the situation in the ask.

I am interested in moving into enterprise software sales to move into higher income brackets. Can you recommend any companies to work for?

If you've got a technical background there are a number of routes/companies. You could make the jump directly into sales, but without experience you'll have to start at the ground floor. If you take on a technical/pre-sales role you may be able to move laterally.

Probably lots of companies you can do that at. Will depend more on your geography, the opportunities that are available. Generally system integrators and technical consultancies can be a good place to start looking...

- Quickest way to make more money is to reduce your expenses. See where you are wasting money and optimize for that. Work remotely for the same amount of compensation and move to a place that has very low cost of living/rent etc (even within US).

- Decide how much more you want to make? Is it purely a greed or do you really need that much money. You alway have to pay some cost to increase your income beyond certain point, it could be your time, safety, health. Calculate those factors in. Earning $50k more then if you end up spending that much on health would not be a good idea.

I think $140k/yr per single male is about the perfect "mix" of "I have money" and "I don't want to push it".

But that isn't San Francisco dollars. I guess it would be closer to $180k/yr there.

At $140k you would struggle to afford real estate in the major US cities. Sure, it's enough for a single male with few hobbies to live in a studio apartment and eat fast food whenever he wants, ignoring the prospects of retirement and starting a family -- but that's not really enough, now, is it?

Are you kidding? How narrow is your definition of major US city. That's a reasonable salary in Salt Lake City for a senior developer. And with that you can easily handle property, retirement, and eat quite well.

Why would you choose a city in the middle of nowhere with air pollution issues as your example?

I pick it because I live in this middle of no where city with my 1.1 million closest hillbilly friends. We have air quality issues which we are working on. But frankly I grew up in Los Angeles and went to school in Pittsburgh and both had horrible air issues.

I've worked in all three cities and I have made a similar salary in all three cities and I have to say it's not hard to live on this kind of salary in cities like Salt Lake or Pittsburgh and both give a beautiful quality of life.

Feel free to pick whenever you'd like to live. But don't insult a city just because you don't want to live there.

Wow, it's so surprising how people "can't" live well on $140k in major metro cities (e.g. NYC). I feel like that is a good salary. I wonder what people are spending their money on. Is it because most have student loans to pay? I want to know the breakdown of expenses before one can declare this salary is good or bad.

Yeah, I'm not sure what these people are talking about.

I lived quite well as a single male working in Manhattan proper with a sub six-figure salary; living in Hoboken, and commuting maybe 15-20 mins everyday on the PATH. This was around 2013-14. And I lived like a king in my opinion... was able to save money, build my credit, eat out wherever, never pay attention to price tags when shopping, and take trips/vacations, etc.

Maybe things have changed.

Switching from salary to consulting pretty much tripled my income to past that range.

Also curious as I'm a consultant, are you a private consultant? Do you go through a third-party to book? Are you a FTE at a consultant company?

I'm not happy currently with the amount of travel required nor the archaic mindset of some of the managers/planners.

I freelance and find my own clients.

How? The people I know who did this basically worked at consulting firms until they'd built a network, then set out on their own.

I did marketing for 7 years at brands, and had a network from that as well as from events I've been at. I also did some cold emailing that paid off.

Second that. I had the same hike in income by calling myself a consultant. Funny thing is that my current contract has run for longer than some perm positions I've had in the past and for all intents and purposes I function like a regular perm employee. Except for the salary.

What are you providing consulting for?

Online marketing

There you go: that's a skill and specialty on the REVENUE GENERATING side. Bottom line, another recommendation is Don't be a COST if you want to go past $200k.

Honestly, don't be perceived as a cost if you want to have a fulfilling work environment.

do you work with smaller companies?

I usually have a 6k monthly minimum :(

Be a guy who can do within 2 hours of a request in a way that leaves everyone satisfied. That is hard: you have to be very good. To be very good you spend 4-10 years of your life doing nothing but writing code, administering systems and understanding what makes things work. You learn to love it and live it.

But 'the system' is set against > 200K in compensation. You get taxed to the point of regret and even in the zone of 'getting better' you eventually realize you can't keep it up. If you are a social butterfly and watch for opportunities maybe you can make it to 500K by killing your friends, but that is what it takes.

You don't need to be a more productive widget, you need to own the share of output of an increasing number of productive widgets.

Shouldn't this be the case for most people? Increase leverage not output, or more ideally increase them both at the same time.

Without more leverage you may not be able to extract the extra value you create with more output, but without more output you can likely extract more value with more leverage. Though if you're concerned with fairness, increasing both is the way to go.

ummm... the point is take 10% of a billion dollars created by a thousand people, rather than try to be worth 100M$ yourself.

Work for Google and be promoted once.

SDE III (a promotion up from new grad) has typical total comp in the 210 - 240 k$/yr range.

This is bang on target. I just did this.

solution architect: an iteration of your current job, except in the front office (working with customers), and paying 1.5-3x your current salary.

Start your own thing, first as a side business and grow it from there... the sky is the limit aftear...

Assuming you have 150k in compensation, your loaded value (the employer side contributions, benefits and taxes) may be another 20-25% bringing you closer to that number.

Consulting can bring you closer but you have to move up the food chain in the type of strategic consulting you do.

Get an MBA and find a niche. Sometimes that means moving to a different company where supply and demand of a particular skill works in your favor, sometimes it means starting your own company.

There are industries (finance?) that provide bonuses to employees based on certain performance goals. Perhaps a situation like that could help you break through?

You're seriously saying you really can't find any companies that need lead devs or managers?

Find some solid and trustworthy people you can work with and start a company and then pay yourself

I like how this gets downvoted on YCombinator of all places.

In what roles at which businesses are new grads earning 120k-130k?

Software engineers in NYC can make that out of college if they are competent interviews and negotiate their first salary

Any big tech company

Find some passive income like investing in CryptoCurrency.

Elaborate on how investing in CryptoCurrency generates passive income?

The marketcap for CryptoCurrency was $11b at this time last year. It's currently $153b as of today and growing fast. If you put $1000 into Ethereum in January you'd have over $30k today for example.

Making $150k/200k a few $1k investments shouldn't break the bank too much. If you are good at Internet research, finding new crypto's with groundbreaking tech before the masses can get you some good return. It may not last forever, but I think it's here to stay and the best ones will remain just like the dot-com bubble era.

Given your experience with this type of advice, would you suggest putting my money on red or black?

The thing is cryptocurrency is new and roulette has been around for a long time. Crypto brings the power back to the people. There's never been 1000% returns on the regular from gambling at a casino. Let alone 100%. Let's give it 3-5 years and see where we're at.

buy a big bucket of soap, a metal ring, make big bubbles, put your money in there and let it drift away :P

I am sure there are few players who are making money in the cryptocurrency market. It is hilarious to see how some people on HN downright reject the idea of investing in Crypto as if it is like throwing money to fire. To people who are making money and taking out profits from the market at same time will see these people living in denial.

Just for example, I bought few Ethereum when it was around $70 and sold half of it and took money out of market when it hit $300. Now I do not care if I loose my rest of money. I just invest in other cryptos for long run and watch where the market goes.

Probably just the good old "I missed out on it, therefore it's going to fail, and I'll be able to feel better about it".

Most people here are used to thinking that if there's something that looks too good, it's probably a scam and/or someone else is already doing it better. But just by being a software engineer and reading HN you are probably in the top percentile of people qualified to evaluate (and invest in) ICOs.

Thanks for your reply. I did the same as you but I got lucky and got in at $10 -- there was an ethereum meetup in my town in 2016! Got lucky. :D

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