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Ask HN: Software Engineering,Money and Overcoming Guilt of Being Paid Too Much?
26 points by avgeek23 on Oct 7, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 37 comments
Recently I Completed my first Intern at a big-N ,it paid well rather paid more than what the work was worth.

Anyways I was at a conference recently in eastern europe and there were folks of my age(22) serving at the restaurant doing jobs like waitressing,doing the dishes etc. even at the airport I saw folks my age working more hours in the cargo loading department. At the hotel it felt wrong when the housekeeper(21 ish) came to do the sheets for me,or when at the restaurant the busboy(65 something) came to clear the dishes.

Suddenly the guilt of being paid too much hit me. It has been bothering me ever since. I noticed most of the people in central easter europe(cech rep) had simple smart phones etc.

Its just that i dont get why am i or anyone being paid so much for sitting in a air conditioned office,eating free stuff and writing bunch of things on a computer. Manual labor takes more toll on ones body.Pilots etc are paid well because the sleep depravation and physical toll their bodies take but sitting in a office.Idk at one point even communism/socialism(as someone who absolutely hated it at one point) made sense to me.

If you feel guilty, that's probably a good thing. It means you have compassion and empathy. Use that to your advantage.

Instead of lamenting your good fortune, spread it around. Tip well. Patronize local businesses even if it costs a bit more. Use your privilege to take time off and fight for better resources for those less fortunate. Donate your time. Hire people to do stuff for you.

Help however you can by slowly redistributing your own wealth.

Yes, you can feel a bit guilty. But there are definitely some other factors.

I did the jobs you described part time while I was studying. Yes the jobs you listed are more physical, but you gain a flexible schedule and the chance to combine it with different things, art, writing studying etc.

I remember a conversation with a barber. I told her I was a programmer, she immediately reacted with, "I would never be able to do that, I need to do something more creative and social". That was a bit shortsighted from her side. But it also gave me a bit of insight that not everyone wants to sit in an office all day. People are really different, some might do it because they cannot do anything else. Other probably talk about you as you are talking about them right now.

Finally, remember that not all countries have the same social/tax system. I'm not sure where you are from, but when your coin is very strong versus the country you are visiting, it is already very skewed. Next to that countries like the US you get allot more "liquid" money. Money you can easily spend. Some countries actually tax more, giving you a more stable foundation, but it will mean you have less money after taxes.

Just treat everyone like they are human.

> "I would never be able to do that, I need to do something more creative and social"

Why do you think this is short sighted? Genuine question.

I'm a about 2/3 of the way through my CS degree and I'm having second thoughts. I did lots of programming as a teenager, and I'm fairly confident in my software engineering ability and ability to learn.

The thing is... I don't find it creative. I don't get to socialise as much as I'd like, and fellow CS students are often pretty elitist and try to "one-up" people around them. I know this is a generalisation, but (anecdotally) I've experienced this much less in other fields.

I've really enjoyed pursuing entrepreneurship and hanging out with business, creative arts and philosophy students instead. I'm thinking that maybe I should've done a business degree and just developed my CS skills on the side.

I'm very much an extroverted "people person" and I feel that side of me is neglected in this field. I've had an internship and although I definitely talked to my team, it's not the same.

Am I wrong? I've barely worked in industry. I'm a bit worried about my career path.

(Not saying that any of the above is bad, just maybe not suited to me)

>> Why do you think this is short sighted?

Because I do think my job is creative and social, and she just decided that my job wasn't, without trying to understand what I was really doing.

>> The thing is... I don't find it creative.

Well, the weird thing, is that I do not have a CS background, I have an Art background of all things, I choose to change careers. Perhaps from that perspective I definitely see all the creative decisions I have to make. Thinking about maintainability, solving technical puzzles, understand really what the customer wants challenging and supporting the product owner. I think creativity is more than deciding something needs to be red. Don't underestimate the amount of systems and process in "creative" design work. The "real" creative jobs are very rare. I was freelancing and at one point I was making a pack of rice dance for a fortune 500 company, I hated it.

Sure, I understand there are Elitists CS students, but I don't think companies will enjoy working with them. If they stay that way I really think they get a rude awakening at the end of the day, perhaps they can hide in their dynamic programming at Facebook.

I know this is N of 1, but a recent CS grad just left the company I was working for. He fled back the the academic CS world, not able to function that well in a company that also required engineers to understand and communicate with other people.

>> I'm very much an extroverted "people person"

There are plenty of places where extraverted engineers have a place. Perhaps go to a few technical meetups to get a different view of the work-field.

> Just treat everyone like they are human.

I do,i believe in the policy of no job is above or below any other job,work is work.Same reason i don't get the stigma around sex work,its work after all.

Its just that some jobs should be paid more and that some dev jobs can be bit overpaid.A great example would be chefs who work in hot environments unders stress aren't as well compensated when compared to software engineers top chefs are paid well but thats like the 1%

Invest. Now is not the time to give back, you don't know your future. Live a good life, and once you are in a position to donate and help other people, do so. But for that you have to have your life figured out first. You don't want to get generous now and have nothing in three months after unemployment.

Plan it accordingly and you can have a good life and give back to many, many people.

The problem with that approach is answering the question of when you have enough to start giving back. People get used to the money. They increase their lifestyle. They save up more to make sure they'll never have to simplify. Then they save for retirement. And their kids college. And maybe more so their kids have a a nest egg. And they gotta take care of their parents when they get old, too. But they won't fit into the wealthy lifestyle, so they save money to afford the best care providers... And then one day they find themselves at 60, retired, with the perfect life, but forgot to actually stop and give back. But they tell themselves that is OK because that was just a silly thought they had when they were 22.

Or, you can choose a percentage to give back, from the first day of your career. It won't be big to start. But it will grow with your success. And if your life takes unexpected turns, and you don't end up old and wealthy, you still gave back throughout your whole life.

agreed - I donate a percentage of my monthly income to 4 or 5 charities. every few years I pick new charities or orgs to donate to. Kiva is one that I have been donating to for years, and now I don't donate anymore and just reinvest my payments.

If it helps: The salaries paid to early career engineers are mostly option value for mid-career engineers rather than being a direct attempt to compensate for your year 1 productivity. You might have a good bead on what your year 1 productivity is likely to be; you may be surprised how quickly you climb the skill curve and how valuable your labor becomes, at which point your employer will be saying "Phew! Good thing we don't have to get this geek from the market; that would cost [a substantial premium to the largest number you can think of being paid as of today]."

Not sure I have anything to offer regarding the disparity between your income and that of anyone else in the economy, other than to say decreasing your income does not make any of them better off. Tip much more generously than society expects you to. If you have the opportunity to, join a company which broadly impacts economic opportunity.

Yes,i have been tipping more lately.Now this was my first time in europe,i was shocked to see people were doing stuff outside of tech,young people having arts stuff(dancing etc) as a career,folks were working in bars and cafes. There's just so much more outside of tech. Eastern europe made me feel as if i had way more money.

> Now this was my first time in europe,i was shocked to see people were doing stuff outside of tech

I don't know where you're from but regardless, there are young folks working jobs outside of tech literally everywhere. Unless you work, sleep and spend your spare time in Google's HQ or something. How is this shocking?

All the people I know friends,family members, acquaintances all work in tech or have worked in tech at some point (my mom) . I literally didn't interact with people outside of tech that are of my age up until last month or so as I simple did not know them.

I think the culture shock also hit me, coming form a Developing nation I expected people in Europe or developed countries to be more oriented towards stem not just as a career but also as a general thing,being more scientific. Prioratizing education etc. I interacted with young folks and a lot of them thought all this computers and stem was a thing smart people do. Most had not even heard of certain stuff and were short sighted interma of career choices.

The housekeeping chick I talked to told me she had no idea about many stem based things and was studying art history and political science.

My view is shaped by the bible which teaches us to enjoy what we have, not covet what others have and to remember the poor.

If you can master these three things I believe you will have more peace in your own mind and will help others along the way.

I have helped provide food for the hungry in Africa and worked alongside the homeless in South America. My thoughts are not just thoughts.

I have encountered those with much less than yourself who I daresay are happier and more content. That’s the wonder of the teaching above, it applies to all.

Its simple supply and demand. I am in eastern Europe (Romania to be precise). Software Engineers are paid 5-8x above median. Cost of living is low, so life is pretty good.

No guilt here. The industry is screaming for people. There are lots of companies here which hire you with little to no experience and pay you a median wage. Study/learn for a year and you're making 2x the median wage.

Don't feel guilty. They can make the same amount of money if they wanted to.

You're paid more because you are expected to provide a lot of value and are also hard to replace. Society is simply giving you back some of the value that you're creating for it. A housekeeper can only change so many people's sheets per day, while features you engineer at Google can impact a billion+ people. BTW, if you don't feel like you contribute a lot yet, give it some time - in 5-10 years, this should change.

> You're paid more because you are expected to provide a lot of value and are also hard to replace. Society is simply giving you back some of the value that you're creating for it

well, perhaps. your employer is giving you some of the value you are helping your employer generate/extract/appropriate.

depending on what your job or project is exactly, the net result of what you and your employer do may in fact be destroying a lot of value for society, but extracting a lot of wealth from others and reallocating it to your employer.

there is a lot of money to be made pushing profits onto owners of the business now and spreading costs over a large number of people in the future, in a way that's a net loss for society. if you can help a business owner optimise this process, there may be a good business case for the business owner to give you a cut of the spoils... but you're kidding yourself framing this in the language of "generating value". it depends on the details

In the words of Steve Miller, "go on, take the money and run". Everyone wants programming/apps/computers in the workplace for every industry hence our current situation (which has really been steady since before I was even a thought in my parent's eye's).

If you feel guilty about it, I'm sure that's normal, especially for your age. If you want to do something about it, then why don't you mentor those who might want to break into the workforce. "Knowing a guy/gal" still goes a long way.

Unfortunately, people will make choices. Some of those choices are better than others. A series of choices can make or break you. Those choices can put someone like you in your position, or put someone "working more hours in the cargo loading department". Take your knowledge, maybe even some of your extra money, and try to help those who you think might benefit from moving into a programming/testing/general tech industry, because eventually recruiters will start asking if you know people, and entry level jobs will come up.

I was going to say that you won't feel bad if you ever "go without" for a while. I was going to say that if you spend a month or so on the streets, barely getting enough to survive each day, that you'd feel less guilt about earning so much. Then I remembered that I still personally feel bad when I see other people working so hard and barely scraping by, and I get to sit at a desk in my apartment, basically solving problems that are fun and I make 5X as much as they do.

I still feel the guilt even though I've been through some really hard times. I guess it's important to act on your guilt. If you feel like you can help someone that's struggling, then do so. Some people would encourage you to invest, and that's wise! But sometimes you have to do something that isn't wise to feel "complete".

Go with your gut. Life is too short. If you want to be rich, then do what makes you rich. If you don't want to feel guilt, then it seems like your priorities are in a different place. Life is an adventure for some people.

Oh and maybe consider reading "An Appeal to the Young" by Kropotkin (my favorite anarchist/commie). It will help turn your guilt into anger/motivation :D


Interesting, I have a similar problem - I’m bothered that many people around me are making a lot more than me. It feels wrong that so many people are able to buy $3M houses outright. I was browsing real estate section in a local newspaper and suddenly the guilt of not doing enough / not doing the right things hit me.

i faced this aswell as everyone around me a the conference was making 2x of what i made each month + stocks and whatnot.

Don’t worry. You’ll realize how badly you’re being exploited once you get a few years experience.

Changing the inequality is work in progress. Rather than feeling guilty, perhaps you could volunteer to help disadvantaged groups. Another alternative is to donate generously to appropriate charities.

From what I have read the homeless epidemic in SanFran is extreme, people sleeping rough, in broken down cars, etc. I am sure that wherever you go you will find people having it very tough compared to you.

+1 But please be mindful to which charities you give you money to and do a bit of research.

There was a website which I cannot remember now that monitored how much of the donated money converted into actual help and was not used for salaries and events.

Money is a resource. It takes resources to help people. It might be helpful to consider using your money to help people. It might be informative to ask yourself how you could most effectively use some of your money to help others (charity, investing, etc.). Consider budgeting 10% (or whatever you’re comfortable with) to be spent on improving the lives of others. It could be as simple as paying the rent for a family member.

Here, absolve yourself: https://app.effectivealtruism.org/funds/global-development

Or check out https://80000hours.org, which has given me a new perspective on this sort of thing, even if I can't apply all the advice they have

With capitalism the value of a product or service is equal to its value to the customer. Communism on the other hand is based on the notion that work is inherently valuable. Hence, with communism the value of a product or service isn't defined by its value to the customer but by the work put into it.

While communism might appear to be more just at face value it tends to create inefficiencies, false incentives and shortages.

If a busboy gets paid the same as software engineer there might not be enough of the latter to meet the demand. This leads to stagnation and less wealth, which in the end affects everyone, software engineers and busboys alike (even though admittedly it probably affects the software engineer's employer the most at first).

Is it even just if a highly qualified person with valuable expertise gets paid the same as someone whose skills have less value?

These aren't simple problems and questions. The modern welfare state has been an attempt to alleviate these issues while at the same time keeping capitalists incentives. It's not a perfect solution but for the most part it works.

To really solve these problems once and for all we probably have to arrive at a post-scarcity situation first, where products and services are available in abundance at little to no marginal cost.

A capitalist system - perhaps ironically - might be our best shot at getting there.

at the same time good chefs are getting paid way more than engineers and traders have starting salary comparable to senior engineer and stupid rappers and hookers make more than all of the above combined - conclusion is life is not fair so get used to it and adapt.

More generally, the world is simply not fair or just.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just-world_hypothesis

I don't want to look rude in any way by saying this.. If you feel that you make a lot of money and feel guity for it, you could donate to entities that help those in need or even volunteer at those places.

I'm in Europe and my salary is far from guilt-inducing.

Not to worry you'll feel exploited soon enough lol

If you really want to give, first premise is the government won't spend your taxes well.

So, how much to give?

The top part of the range that is taxed highly.

I didn't expect a post to be like this on HN but I'm of the same opinion - the guilt is real and I feel unfair.

What I'm discovering is simply: that's capitalism.

You're being paid a lot and unless you work for a lossy company, you must be contributing to a profit margin that amounts to more than what they're paying you.

Writing a bunch of things on a computer is a gross simplification of whatever skill-set you've accumulated and the ultimate value you produce for your employer.

Internships are a means to an end, so if your internship seemed trivial somehow, it may have been to some degree, but the company has an interest in figuring out if they could benefit from hiring you long-term.

At the end of the day, digital technology is at the forefront of innovation and innovation is (at least one hot spot) where profits come from. You're participating in the division of labor at the frontier, so you're well paid.

Capitalism spreads wealth asymmetrically, though, so it should come as no surprise that you witness that inequality when you find yourself using your wealth to pay for bourgeois luxuries (hotel rooms, conferences, restaurants) adjacent to service industries.

It's an unfortunate down side to poverty to fee like you're being paid too much, but that's just how capitalism works. You shouldn't feel bad if you operate in an ethical manner, and help people with your wealth. Life is also funny in the sense that you can make a bunch of money one year, and then be broke the next, so save money and space for health care... It's not greed, it's survival.

If you weren't making the money, there's always a ton of people that would kill you to be in that place... What you do with the wealth is what will either bolster or hurt your confidence in life.

If you ever feel like you are being paid too much, you can always donate to those that are in need.

I am at peace with this.

One thing that helped me, was when I saw the ammount of taxes I pay :)

I am fairly capitalist, but I do hope one day we would achieve this weir socialist utopia where nobody would need to be working.

I definitely would see a problem with 'work should be compensated accordingly to the toll it takes on the body' because in the long run, don't we want to automate these kinds of jobs away?

Apologies for my disjointed thoughts, I wish you luck in your search for meaning :)

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