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I'm a software engineer with ~3 years of experience. I also want professional growth. Partially because I enjoy learning and growing my technical skills, partially because I want to move into more leadership roles, but a huge part of it is because I know that if I'm good, I will be paid a massive premium for it. levels.fyi sort of convinced me that being a good engineer is a life changing event for more than 1 generation. I answer questions like these as growth primarily because I know growth is an investment for my life long earning potential, and I just so happen to have a passion for growth to begin with---it's a lucky combination to be drawn to.

I'd love to see questions like this phrased to account for this: "Opportunity for professional growth, to grow my future earning potential." "Opportunity for professional growth, because I enjoy learning new things." "Opportunity for professional growth, to reach a role I cannot fill with my current skills."

I know the article tried to address this with the responses, but that's sort of the default answer you give in this field. No one really says, or enjoys hearing, "I want to learn more so I can make more money".

> "Partially because I enjoy learning and growing my technical skills, partially because I want to move into more leadership roles, but a huge part of it is because I know that if I'm good, I will be paid a massive premium for it."

And it's one of the unfair things in life that jobs that pay more often get other benefits as well. Making $40k/year? Chances are you get 2 weeks vacation, inflexible work hours, inferior equipment. Making $200K/year? I'll be you also have top of the line equipment, no one keeping close tabs on your hours, 4 weeks or more vacation, money to go to conferences, etc.

A mentor of mine once told me that I should seek to make more money, even if that's not my motivation. He said that more money is always nice to have, but also that when someone pays you more, they respect you more, so you get all the benefits that come along with that.

> when someone pays you more, they respect you more

The counter-example to that could be that once you're senior enough, you are never 100% on vacation. If enough goes wrong, you will get called back to work.

I give my boss/coworkers my wife's phone number when I go on vacation. I tell them you have to talk to her to get to me. I then put my phone in airplane mode 95% of the time and use it as a camera. I'll occasionally undo airplane mode to upload photos or check the internets for something, but vacation for me is usually unplugging as well.

I've yet to be called with this strategy.

Funny, I tried this once when I was on call and I still got called. And for a while after that, whenever someone couldn't reach me on my phone, they would call my wife. So really, it was a lose-lose.

Maybe I don't understand your situation, but screening your calls and staying in airplane mode while you're on-call doesn't seem to be appropriate.

It wasn't on purpose; that particular weekend we were going somewhere my phone didn't get any reception, but my wife's did. So, not exactly the same situation as OP.

That strikes me as wildly out of bounds. I imagine your wife has a job too, and her own work issues to deal with. I'd be very upset with the individual bothering my spouse because I hadn't returned their call fast enough for their tastes.

People in desperation tend not to think things through, especially when customers are the ones telling them that there's an issue. After the second occurrence, I explained to the relevant parties that my wife's phone cannot be used as a secondary contact for myself, and it didn't happen again after that, so I chalked it up to a misunderstanding. It was annoying, yes, but no one was pestering my wife on purpose.

You're somewhat more generous than I am. I'd have told my wife to just block that number, and waited until I got back from vacation to explain that it'll happen to anyone else who calls my wife for anything other than an existential emergency as well.

He also knew he was on-call and went somewhere where he didn't have reception. It sounds like he knew that might be an issue so gave his wife's number as a backup. That's basically training the person who has to escalate to use his wife's number as it's the one he responded on. I don't think he's being generous at all, it seems like an obvious outcome of being on call and not responding on his own phone.

This is accurate, although to be fair to myself, I didn't know I would be on call until after the plans were made. With that said, I take issue with this being an "obvious outcome" and the notion that I was "training" our staff to use my wife's number. I was explicit with the company (at least I thought) about the need to use her number only being applicable for that weekend; the fact that some people tried to use it when I was on call again in the future is on them. Mistakes happen, and everything worked out just fine, but I don't see how that part was my fault.

I suspect "training" here was meant much in the same way the person in the following story "trained" their cat that they're entitled to food when they high-five:


> my brother is teaching his cat how to high five by giving her a treat every time she successfully taps her hand to his hand, which is all well and good, but now she thinks that she is entitled to food every time she high fives someone. i can’t eat in the same room as her anymore because she’ll just bap my hand rapid fire and then go nyoom straight in for my pizza like no Kelly that’s illegal go finish ur own dinner

Yeah - that's fair. I was responding more to natefox's parent comment, where he was on vacation rather than RussianCow's on-call scenario.

I should have worded myself more clearly...

Is giving them your wife's phone simply to discourage them from calling for non-emergency situations? Because in an emergency I highly doubt it would prevent my employer from getting in contact.

I do agree about unplugging, but I've never had a vacation ruined by having a work-related text or call steal my attention for 5 minutes. If me being reachable (not necessarily _available_) puts my employer at ease then it makes it easier for me to take the vacations I want to take because they're more likely to be flexible with my schedule during busy times.

That's honestly an amazing strategy. Adds a pretty big extra layer of thought about whether the decision to call you would be worth it.

> Adds a pretty big extra layer of thought [..]

I don't think the average <employer/line manager/assistant actually making the phone call> cares about it nearly as much as one might think they would:

Boss: "we need to reach $person urgently, get them on the line for me..." <walks back into office>

Assistant: "Sir, yes, sir"* <looks up numbers, calls $person's wife>

* or local equivalent

Not just that, but they also need to convince your wife that you're needed

That has nothing to do with seniority, it's 100% about how you draw personal boundaries between work hours and personal hours. You can make it clear that you will be completely unplugged during vacation.

Once you are an executive, you often have contractual obligations. You are the key decision maker people escalate to. If time sensitive things that need a decision to be made the buck stops with you, no matter where you are.

To give an extreme example, the President (of the US) is never truly unplugged. In the cases where the president is truly unplugged, SoP is for that person to temporarily stop being the President.

Delegation of authority is key here. If not for the commander in chief role of the president it’s conceivable they could just delegate decision making to the cabinet.

You can absolutely do that, but then you will not get promoted past a certain stage at most companies. I do this because I'm not yet in a very senior position but if I were managing 100 people and in charge of an entire product I doubt I could do that

This makes a lot of sense but goes against the article. Making more doesn't always give you more freedom. If you want power you have to pay for it.

In your case why would you push for a higher role knowing the tradeoffs?

Because the money is worth the loss of flexibility, for me, under certain circumstances (envision a yield curve of salary vs. some proxy of work-life balance). Specifically I think the tradeoffs are worth it up to staff/senior staff and first rung of management, depending on the team.

That depends on the position, I believe it is easy for a software engineer in a big corp. For senior management or an engineer in a small corp with lots of domain knowledge: a lot harder.

The second set of people can try but when shit hits the fan they will have to explain what happened and why it couldn’t be prevented.

You can make it clear that you will be completely unplugged during vacation.

To get to that level you will need to go through levels where you can’t do that without jeopardising further promotions.

Only if you are not good at process. If you have solid practices, documentation and system design skills you can make yourself removable, then you can go on leave whenever and things will be fine.

A good way to measure this is look at how long it takes to do handover when someone leaves a project. If it is more than half an hour of showing someone where the repo is and a brief explanation then you have a problem that can be fixed with better processes. Ideally, someone should be able to pick up a project or a product very quickly as all the information they need should be in a simple, easily navigable format that they can consume and understand. I realise that is an ideal case but if you are senior enough to lead you can be senior enough to never make yourself a dependency and that callback never comes because it is never required. Ensuring management above you understands your value is another problem (anyone who can code themselves out of a job is worth keeping around and giving harder jobs to and good managers will understand that).

Or even nothing goes wrong suddenly. Once, I had a vacation planned for six months and had to spend the long weekend cooped up in my hotel room overseeing a complicated migration.

To play devil's advocate, why was a migration so complicated that your engineers couldn't do it without you if it failed, being done on a vacation that everyone knew about for six months?

I won’t say anything the planning, but I’ve learned that migrations are usually hard, in the sense that you have to deal with poorly understood, seldom documented and, almost always inconsistent data. And at the same time critical since you usually can’t afford much downtime between the shutting down the old system and start using the new.

Planning something over your vacation and expecting you to work on it is just your manager being a dick. If they can do it without you, they should. If they can't do it without you, guess it can wait 'till you get back. Not like you dropped it on them last minute.

> once you're senior enough, you are never 100% on vacation

This has not been my experience either personally or by proxy to my more-senior colleagues. But it may be I have found myself in a particular niche which is non-representative.

That is more of mark of desorganized workplace then something inherent to senior role.

I disagree. For reference, I work in a big bank and all the high level people are always on call when fecal matter hits the rotating turbines. Often times, theres an issue with this or that feature in production or we are having an issue with a release and we need an emergency signoff. The process stipulates that a high level person is required to give this emergency signoff, and they often want to know what happened, what are our options, which one we chose so there's usually a lot of time spent chasing down answers or people who can answer those questions.

This sounds like a disorganized workplace to me. The standard thought experiment is: what happens if <supposedly important person> gets hit by a bus and dies? What if they're just in a coma for a few weeks? The response to the first satisfies a sudden "I'm quitting" and the response to the second satisfies a sudden "I'm going on vacation". Business is more forgiving of course, since both quitting and vacation planning typically have a time delay.

The simplest response for both is to delegate: "<person y> now has temporary or permanent authority in the decisions <person x> used to have". That means you need to have a person y for each person x and there needs to be enough trust that person y will make decisions that x would approve of (even if sometimes different). If you're a single-person startup, there is no person y, but then these questions aren't really relevant. As the Pinboard FAQ says, the answer to what happens is the bus will be fine.

I am going to hazard a guess: you have not been exposed to some of the nuttier regulations within this space.

The regulatory demands in financial technology, and especially in those industries where both the regulators as well as majority of the players may not be technically literate, are effectively the anti-thesis of robust and reliable engineering. When the industry regulations demand that for every potentially disruptive action (recovering from an outage is very much potentially disruptive) there has to be a named individual - not even a role, but an individual - to sign off on every single release step... This is why an outage can last for hours. An engineer, or even a lead, is with high probability not allowed to sign off on an out-of-hours deployment. The fix might take 20 minutes to identify, 5 minutes to implement, 15 minutes to test, and 10 minutes to roll out. But until the organisation can get the named [supposedly responsible] person online, the fix must wait, unreleased.

And the irony? The wider dysfunction may be imposed by the regulations, but it has been requested by the industry at large. It is the result of the industry players, majority of whom are incapable (read: technologically illiterate) of interpreting prescriptive regulations. So instead of figuring out how to meet expectations and adapt their processes, they have been lobbying for the regulators to come up with highly descriptive playbooks and step-by-step instructions. These sequences then specify rules and requirements that allow technologically incompetent players to comply, even if they do not understand why they are doing the things.

And then these regulatory playbooks become the One True Way[tm], effectively forcing dysfunctional practices, but also actively preventing any process improvements.

It's cargo-culting taken to the extreme: "do this and you will not be found to be non-compliant, even if the quality is utter shite". The worst part of this all is that the descriptive regulations make every effort to strip engineers of their agency or decision power. Every "modern" best practice is explicitly ruled as non-compliant and hence effectively illegal. I use scare quotes around modern to highlight that these practices are by no means modern and have been known since ancient times. There are research papers from 1950's that explicitly endorse [rapid] iterative bottom-up approach as the only sensible way forward.

The finance industry regulations explicitly reject them because these studies assume that engineers can be trusted to know what they are doing.

So... to anyone wondering why finance industry jobs are generally thought of as soul-sucking: that's why. They are subject to regulations, expressly designed to deprive individuals of their agency.

I have consulted in very large financial institutions. Yes, there are a lot of rules. At the same time, those rules will be 'creatively interpreted' if not skirted all the time to keep disruptions to a minimum. 'The rulebook' treatment was in fact a sure sign of internal political power games being played out.

Thanks for the great comment. I don't think we're in disagreement. Government-mandated disorganized workplaces are still disorganized... I wonder about the thought experiment for such an environment though. Tragedy has a cruel way of striking from multiple vectors. You might have a critical issue that demands immediate deployment of a fix, but just before then you learned that the only named person who can legally sign-off on the deployment was involved in a fire and is dead/missing. I suspect the decision would get escalated to someone who might not have the legal authority that the dead person had, but who has enough business authority to make the call on whether the financial damage to the company from not rolling out the fix now will exceed the fine the government will impose for not following the regulation + any potential negligence lawsuit costs if the not-fully-approved fix causes even more issues.

You're right I haven't been directly exposed to such regulations (our emergency releases also require sign-off from management but there are multiple people who can approve and different people for different stages) and I don't ever intend to be. Even for something much lighter. At my current job I refused a request from my boss/boss's boss to go through the process of obtaining a Public Trust Position which would be necessary if I needed to debug my team's product for one of our government customers. Fortunately I didn't have to quit over it, and I still got promoted later. Other people on other teams just went along with it. So I guess I'd amend my thinking (aided by your comments on lots of the regulation in finance being self-requested) that for people who get themselves into a position where it's "not possible" to go 100% on vacation, regardless of the level of dysfunction at the org, many of them generally don't mind it. If they did, they could switch jobs, and anyone concerned about accepting such a deal should weigh that instead of imagining that there's nothing to be done.

Everyone who has not worked in the heavily regulated finance industry should read the above post, because this person speaks the truth.

As someone who has never worked in the finance industry, I feel like one shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the point of it all is to not have millions of dollars just vanish at random as often happens with Bitcoin. Making software engineers happy is not the point.

I agree with your sentiment. However, I believe you are missing the forest from the trees.

The desired result of the regulations is, first and foremost, accountability. This includes, but is not limited to, audit trails and provenance. But because the regulations have been written to specify exactly One True Way[tm] of reaching an adequate level of accountability, they end up causing nasty second-order effects.

As sibling comment by PeterStuer mentions, the unfortunate end result is inventive interpretation to avoid the worst of the disruptions. So from my point of view, the rules put in place to _enforce_ accountability have created perverse incentives to _reduce_ proper accountability.

That can not be a healthy situation either in short or long term.

> There are research papers from 1950's that explicitly endorse [rapid] iterative bottom-up approach as the only sensible way forward.

Interested in this... any links?

In my sibling response I mentioned that just 5 articles have been truly valuable. In no particular order:

DOI: 10.1109/MC.2003.1204375 ; "Iterative and Incremental Development: A Brief History"

DOI: 10.1109/AGILE.2013.17 ; "Continuous Delivery? Easy! Just Change Everything (Well, Maybe It Is Not That Easy)"

DOI (with link): https://doi.org/10.1002/spip.344 ; "The agile professional culture: A source of agile quality" [the article itself is pretty light on useful material but it contains some of the strongest individual arguments I've seen, all in one package]

Direct PDF link: https://www.futureworksconsulting.com/perch/resources/pdfs/t... [the valuable material is on the first page]

DOI: ; "Evaluation of Quality AssuranceFactorsinAgile Methodologies"


There are plenty of other reports and papers on the topics, but they bring very little to the table on their own. These five have provided me with a decent starting point. The references to findings and reports from 1950's are in the first one, btw.

Thank you!

I'll dig out the archive when back at the office, next week. There is plenty of research into iterative/agile development, slightly less into quality, and surprisingly little on accountability.

The most valuable sources have been just 5 (yes, five) research papers / reports. Luckily they sport citations, but sadly I haven't poured over more than a fraction of them so far.

Here is original statement I reacted to: "once you're senior enough, you are never 100% on vacation. If enough goes wrong, you will get called back to work."

If fecal matter hits the rotating turbines often that you are never 100% on vacation, then you have fecal hitting around all the time. It is not like seniors would be on vacation 50% time of year.

> Often times, theres an issue with this or that feature in production

You should not have often issues with features in production. You should have them once in a while, rarely. The situation that seniors are always desperately needed to fix crisis during their vacation requires workplace that is having crisis pretty much all the time.

Capable management does not generate projects that are in crisis all the time.

Emergency sign off is correlated with a broken process in my experience.

I don't know anyone that hasn't worked in a disorganized workplace then.

I definitely did. Once in three years project senior being acutely needed during his vacation? Sure. Every time senior is in vacation? No.

There being once a week release that needs senior involvement each time it happens so it surely hits also vacation? Badly organized.

I agree with your sentiment, but I don't think this is quite a "counter-example". The fact that someone gives you a lot of responsibility is definitely a sign that they respect you more. But yeah, along with more pay and responsibility comes the expectation that you take the blame when things go wrong. And if they go wrong during your vacation, it's up to you to fix them. This can definitely be true in lower level positions as well, but I agree with the sentiment that this tends to be _more_ true with upper level management.

> If enough goes wrong, you will get called back to work.

True, but if you're good at your job, then this should be a very rare occurrence! It's still well worth the trade-off.

Definitely. Called back to work from a holiday on a Thai island. CEO was near frothing at the mouth over my absence when shit hit the fan.

What the hell? Did you accept the call back to work?

> CEO was near frothing at the mouth over my absence when shit hit the fan.

I'd be the one offended for having my vacation interrupted.

Sometimes I wonder how such emotionally immature people become so successful. I know it’s common, but if I knew someone who started throwing a fit over something incredibly minor and predictable (an employee took a vacation) I’d think they were unfit for any leadership role.

I go on road trips... I'm largely out of range of decent reception on the road.

A nice side effect of this is, if you're making multiple six figures, your chances of being asked to work on bullshit projects that don't matter is much lower, and you can basically pick and choose what to do, and _tell your boss_ what to do as well. Money is not just compensation, it's also a powerful signaling mechanism. People just assume that if your time costs a lot, you must be super good. This is _mostly_ true, but not always. Some people get paid a lot for no apparent reason at all. The inverse, however, is often not true (yet the pricing signal is interpreted exactly as you'd expect): there are lots and lots of great people who are severely underpaid. Some are victims of circumstance, some just consider pursuing top dollar to be "beneath their dignity", majority (anecdotally, I don't have data) are just too lazy to do anything about it and change jobs once every 2 years as they should.

There's another thread that recently rose to prominence about ascertaining the quality of clothing and something along the same lines popped up: expensive clothes are not always high quality, but high quality clothes are generally more expensive -- the cost is a signalling mechanism aka heuristic and like any heuristic it can be gamed

> when someone pays you more, they respect you more

I can't stress this enough. The more I charged as a consultant, the more my clients would shut up and heed my advice.

The lesson every consultant, including me, seems to have to learn on their own.

When I went out on my own a few years back, it was a rush to sign any client at an hourly rate not that much higher than my previous salary rate. Those first clients were rough.

As you’re saying, I’ve also seen first hand the more I charge the more people take my suggestions seriously, and overall the better the clients are for my business. Go figure.

My first boss started to respect me after we had a shouting negotiation with him over my work contract. The employer-employee relationship is weird and toxic as hell.

Work long hours? Develop additional tool during your free time? Help clients more than your job requires? You are a sucker.

Manage to shout enough to get a raise? Now you are a champion.

> The employer-employee relationship is weird and toxic as hell.

Doesn't need to be in my experience, both the employee and employer can respect each other even when they don't get along well on personal level. However it is actually quite interesting that it is a relationship that can be weird and toxic, while still providing (economical) value for both parties.

I had some healthy relationships with bosses, but every employer I had who was a decent human ended up being fired by shareholders.

And yes, the strength of free market and capitalism is to transform greed and all the behaviors that come with it into a fuel that helps the economy for everyone. It does not transform these into virtues though...

Every time I hear these stories, I'm reminded of this classic Ribbonfarm post:


That's pretty close to class warfare IMO. I like this passage:

"A Sociopath with an idea recruits just enough Losers to kick off the cycle. As it grows it requires a Clueless layer to turn it into a controlled reaction rather than a runaway explosion. Eventually, as value hits diminishing returns, both the Sociopaths and Losers make their exits, and the Clueless start to dominate. Finally, the hollow brittle shell collapses on itself and anything of value is recycled by the sociopaths according to meta-firm logic."

This realization has stopped me from trying to hire people. I don't think I have the shoulders to be the chief sociopath.

I've had the same experience. Whenever there's money involved, people will take advantage of you unless you adequately convince them it's a mistake.

Maybe it's only made toxic by those who need to shout to negotiate a raise.

I know people who have killed for a couple thousand dollars. It's no surprise I've met many others who will lie, cheat, and connive for more. If people think you're a weakling, they will rob you. As a normal employee, you don't have many options for defending yourself besides clear verbal argument and leaving for greener pastures.

I hope you can make your way toward a less noxious & more trusting version of the human experience.

It's mean out here on these streets I'm from. I envy you.

You don't envy me, you don't know anything about me.

Well, you seem less noxious and more trusting.

This rarely has anything to do with salary and more so to do with what your company can afford.

I've made 60k/yr at jobs where I've had awesome equipment and flexible hours.

People respect you more if you get things done and solve problems. Not because you have a big salary. How often do you think people respect management?

Just geography alone determines salary. I could make double if I simply moved to San Francisco for the same job. Doesn't mean I'm "more respected".

> People respect you more if you get things done and solve problems. Not because you have a big salary. How often do you think people respect management?

That's not what the person you replied to is saying. The above person is saying that companies which pay well also tend to respect their employees more, so seek out a higher salary because those companies also tend to offer better benefits/culture.

That isn't necessarily true. There's a difference between respect and benefits/culture.

Some would say that Google, in all its free lunch glory, doesn't respect its employees that well consider they've had employees go on strike due to their policies.

> Some would say that Google, in all its free lunch glory, doesn't respect its employees that well consider they've had employees go on strike due to their policies.

The protests were mostly against sexual abusers/harassers and the arbitration policies. Are you implying that most other tech companies haven't had any executive-level sexual harassers? That most other tech companies don't have forced-arbitration policies?

How many other companies openly allow their employees to organize protests through company emails and forums? Not many. The open culture is what allows people to protest.

Disclaimer: I work at Google.

But they did retaliate against the organisers - some of whom have since left.

Most I got for mine (leading an actual strike) was a written reprimand -probably forced by the hr manger of a certain BT division (not the one I worked in)

Did mange to change company policy and get several k people a better pension later on.

I think a better example of this is Netflix. They make it a stated goal to pay you more than what you will be able to make anywhere else. They also are pretty straightforward about wanting a return for that pay :-) They'll milk you for all you're worth and if you aren't 100% anymore, they will replace you. They are completely above board and honest with their approach, so I think it's fair ;-)

Not saying that isn't a good strategy for some people (and I probably would have enjoyed that pace when I was younger), but it's not really what I think of when I think about respect and good culture.

Darn... I can't edit this any more. I'm bemused by the downvotes because usually when I get downvotes it's because I'm wrong :-) I believe this is the post where they explain how they do things: https://hbr.org/2014/01/how-netflix-reinvented-hr

I'd be very interested to know if this has changed.

20 days is the legal minimum in Germany. I think a lot of other countries have similar rules.

It's kind of sad that in the US and Canada, 4 weeks vacation is special, and 2 weeks vacation is legal.

There's no minimum in the US

I think the exact opposite way. I wish there were no legally paid time off ever. Just pay people when they work and not when they don't.

With $200k/year also comes accountability.

No one keeps tabs on your hours, but you better get stuff done!

As long as it’s mostly fun stuff with proper checks and balances hell yeah!

You observe a correlation but not necessarily causation.

Technical jobs that are well payed and well respected are found more often in companies that produce a product or service that is sold rather than in companies that sell your time, whether directly or under the guise of 'projects'. If your time-sheet impacts the bill to the customer, you are the product being sold. The reason to avoid the latter is that all benefits to you, either salary or equipment/working conditions, are seen as expenses that impact the margin on the rate, while in a product company they are far more likely to written of as investments into the IP producing engine.

Creator of levels.fyi here - a big part of making the site was to highlight the economic impact of working a technical job and the exponential growth it comes with as you progress in your career (Glassdoor sucked at showing this). There are just more & better opportunities the farther you go!

Yep, it can be a big motivator. I think companies should dangle those numbers around more. “Competitive compensation” doesn’t really mean anything. Saying top engineers can earn >$1M will make a lot of people ask “what do I need to do to be a top engineer?”

Huge fan. Not only is it great to see the data there, but the story that it tells is super compelling too. I myself wasn't sure just how much more worth it was to think about the BigCo game but now, after so many bouts at growth stage startups and plateauing out, I'm seriously considering it.

Hey, thanks for the site - it's pretty cool.

I was curious what made you pick your cities, though. Data availability? Boulder and not Boston surprised me.

Just added Boston to the filter dropdown. Honestly, we've just been adding cities as we go and totally overlooked Boston, thanks for pointing it out!

Hey, that's really cool. Thanks!

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