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The Software Engineer’s Guide to Negotiating a Raise (mgadams.com)
303 points by mgadams3 on June 30, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 208 comments

As a manager of engineers I would add one thing to this generally good advice:

After you negotiate the raise, make sure you live up to it.

If you kick ass at your job, your manager will very rarely worry too much about what they're paying you, they'll just be thrilled to have you on the team. But if you're not living up to the high expectations you set for yourself then they're really going to regret paying you that extra 5k (or 10k or 20k or whatever).

This is actually the reason that I prefer changing jobs instead of asking for a raise.

Asking for a raise puts me in a position where I have to perform extra to be "worthy" of that raise, while it might have been that my initial salary was way lower than my market value.

Why then add the much increased pressure of asking a raise and the uncomfortable conversations that surely does ensue, when you end up in a much better position by simply looking for other offers.

In final, I would actually say that I strongly disagree with your advice, and you're (at least that attitude) the type of team that I would probably leave. Your base assumption is wrong to begin with. The raise doesn't come from the employee having to do extra work, no it comes from them currently being undervalued and their current salary not being indicative of their current value, i.e. the raise is should not entail more worth, but is there to match the current level of worth of the employee.

There is obviously a lot of nuance here. Certainly more than I covered in my 4 sentence comment. Generally with most companies there will be a salary range for most positions. You're right that if that salary range is out of wack with the prevailing market rates the company is unlikely to retain good people (or attract them in the first place).

But assuming the range has been set more or less correctly you're likely to have a salary at least in the ballpark of what's appropriate.

My point was really about pushing your manager to go towards the high end of that range (either for a new job offer or a raise at an existing job. doesn't matter). As long as you've got some ammo in your corner this will generally be possible. But then afterwards I go back to what I said. Live up to it so your manager doesn't end up regretting his decision.

Aren't you going to start under some additional pressure at your new job, to make a good impression and show you were "worthy" of being hired, and at the price you're being paid?

As a manager of engineers I would definitely recommend showing up and trying to kick ass every day no matter what. If you're feeling like you're under paid feel free to discuss it with your manager and get another job if you feel that is the right move for yourself. Please don't show up and sulk at work and make life miserable with a work stoppage though.

Most times your immediate managers have very limited control of salary decisions and certainly your team mates and customers have almost none. While you may have a professional disagreement with your company about compensation please don't let that ruin your personal reputation and relationships by doing sub par work, continue to build that reputation and relationships with excellent work.

As a personal example I had a compensation disagreement with a company I worked for. After not getting the raise I requested from my manager I still delivered a superior product that is the basis of that companies business to this day. Up until I left for a better paying job 6 months later I did everything I could to deliver the best for my team mates and customers. Two years later my former manager became VP at a new start up and hired me on with a solid salary and equity because we still had a strong personal and professional relationship even if the company we had previously worked for had problems.

Agree, as a manager of 15 people, there's 1 or 2 superstars I would say pay them almost whatever they want - if they demanded it (which they don't). They're worth it. Only true for the highest performers however.

Throwaway cause I'm a lurker and don't really care.

Just sharing a contrarian experience...

As a manager of 7, formerly 10, those 'non-superstars' can easily go find a job elsewhere as well. Remember, these are engineers. "Superstars" or not, they're not stupid. The demand is there.

When management balked at requests to bump pay (not even that much, and only to bring it in line for the region) for people they didn't think were 'rockstars', they walked off to better offers (I don't have authority here to bump pay without approvals).

It's created a bit of a headache. Not only do we have to find replacements, which is time consuming, folks are concerned they may not be considered a superstar (it hasn't been stated so succinctly, but the conversations have that vibe).

And in the long run, it was decided to raise pay across the board to reflect the increase in the area.

Be fair to your employees as a whole. Assess their overall contribution to the company. Not just number of commits, LOC, or that the wrote some really cool but useless feature in no time at all (really hate when my boss beams over having folks like that here, fortunately they're not on my team).

Fun related story: a few years ago, Google was hiring entire teams from Microsoft away to work on Google-only projects. After noticing the ongoing pattern, Microsoft just doubled the salaries of entire teams over night. 90k -> 180k. 110k -> 220k. That stopped the Google drain for a while.

I would take 5 pretty good hard working developers that really want to ship a good project instead of 1-2 superstars any day.

There are exceptions, for some projects your really need a superstar. Designing new APIs to be used by millions is one example. But for 90% of the projects we work on superstars are not needed.

I find superstars harder to manage than regular engineers. Yes, they are amazing but sometimes, enjoy going their own direction which can be hard to manage and sculpt into the group motion going forward.

Rands has a great blog post on this. Learning how to manage superstars well is a very valuable skill!


Are you also empowered to make that decision yourself?

"Live up to it" is why you say when you, the manager initiate the discussion for a promotion. When the worker comes to you and says "I'm underpaid I need a raise" It's really the manager that needs to live up to it..

In general everyone should try to kick ass every day. Imagine how much better the world would be..

After you negotiate the raise, make sure you live up to it.

I disagree, not with the advice (obviously, living up to the new expectations is better than falling short of them) but with the attitude (often espoused by management) that a bump in your compensation comes with a harder job.

Often it comes with an easier job. The intellectual demands may get higher, but the emotional demands of subordination tend to go away when you go from a $90k junior peon to a $135k trusted senior to a $180k VP-level fellow who gets to call technical shots. When I was a junior, I had to maintain shit code written in languages I hated, and if I struggled with something and pointed to the bad code, that'd be met with suspicion because I was lower on the totem pole. Now I get to pick tools most of the time and if I say that something is hard and needs to be done a different way, people believe me.

The technical challenges have become harder as I've risen, but the jobs get easier and way better on the whole. Eight years ago I wouldn't just grab a side office and write some code (I probably could have, but I was insecure and young and felt a need to be in the open-plan environment for 8 straight hours, panic attacks be damned). Now, I know that I have sufficient status that I can do that, and that matters a huge amount. Technical challenges (the part of work that I enjoy) going up and the emotional load of being low-ranking (that slowly kills a person) going down is a win on both fronts.

Of course, if my company gets taken over and everyone has to typecast to a junior ScrumDrone-- "Agile" is "how to be a 2x Junior Developer"-- then I'll be laid off shortly after because I'm massively overpaid for a ScrumDrone. No one who takes "user stories" seriously is worth what I make, so the minute I hear people talking about Scrum (bringing down the 10xers to turn the 0.2x into 0.6x) I get nervous.

If you're planning to ask for a raise, you need to kick ass before you go in and ask for it. And you should really ask for a promotion (not, "boss, I want your job", but more responsibility and perhaps a title improvement so long as it doesn't put you in the awkward position of outranking your manager) rather than just asking for more money for the same job (an unattractive proposition to the boss, no matter what). In general, this happens incrementally. You ask for a 15% raise and only get 5%, so you ask for a title bump, even if it doesn't mean you take on reports. Because of the title bump, you get better projects, you're taken more seriously, you suffer less emotional load and perform better, and you're also in a higher bonus pool. Two years later when the company is flush with cash, you get a 25% raise without asking because you're actually the lowest paid VP and they've decided to correct that.

Working hard matters the most in the 3-6 months before you ask for the new responsibilities, promotion, and of course the pay increase that come with it (or, at least, can come with it). Then you settle into the new role and it doesn't matter that much how hard you work (average to average-plus effort is fine) so long as people like you and you follow the "become part of the team before trying to become its leader" principle. The before- and after-negotiation phases have different rules, but the former is harder on the whole.

Of course, people who are smart about this will negotiate continuously, involving themselves with (or starting) big projects without asking for permission, delegating the less interesting tasks to (preferably eager) juniors even if they don't formally manage them, making changes to your arrangements (WFH, taking a seat with a wall at your back) to improve your productivity, and generally feeling out what their position actually is. If you don't continuously negotiate, you're probably not going to feel comfortable marching into someone's office and asking for $20k more, and you probably haven't done the micro-negotiation ground work (getting your title in line, getting your best projects noticed and your weak spots ignored, delegating the work that won't help your case or make your important projects succeed) necessary to make the raise seem like an obvious "yes".

Reminds me of my first job being told that the way I was doing things was not right and to do it another way. Slowed down the process from 10 minutes to a couple of hours (which makes subsequent development way slower as well).

Looking back, my way was fine. But at that stage you do what you are told.

> 1. Establish your track record as a top engineer. > 2. Lay out your specific future plans to solve their burning problems and objectives.

As someone who's been into raise negotiations on both sides of the table I think the entire article could be distilled to these two points. It's all about solving critical problems and getting s__t done.

If you as an engineer can establish yourself as the one who 'gets it' and who consistently makes annoying problems and complexities disappear your negotiation position is unbeatable because then you're probably amongst the top 5% or 10% of engineers and any good company would do anything to keep you.

Most of the time some percent more or less salary for a top performer don't make a difference in the scheme of things but missed deadlines and key projects do.

I would downplay 'market rate'. That's fine for commodities. Are you a commodity? You are in a certain role and that does put you in a range of how much value you are adding/are capable of adding (although at a startup this would be a wider range than an established co.) Your only justification for an increase is that you are adding more than you're currently being compd for.

There's other factors too, perks, travel demands, how fulfilled you feel, how much you like/hate your boss. You can determine what you are happy with and accept that, but if you can't get it, think about leaving if you can get more elsewhere. But don't stress too much about - am I getting 100% of what I could get.

Know that - that doesn't define your worth as a person - and there are many people making much less than you, and many making much much more. Some of them incompetent. Are you happy is the question.

I've always framed it as "the market rate for me." The nice thing is that things like Hired and AngelList actually let you put a $$ figure on it.

Complementary reference: Negotiation Advice from Silicon Valley :)


One of my favorites!

Seems like solid advice.

One challenge in asking for a raise at larger companies is it can be difficult to find someone who can actually authorize a raise. A lot of times your manager is a tech lead and his manager has no budgeting responsibility.

This is an excellent point.

Additionally, even if you do find out who can give you a raise, it may be impractical to get due consideration. I've experienced a situation where the CEO of the (large, listed) company personally reviewed all compensation changes and hiring offers. He was so busy (doing CEO stuff, presumably) that he'd often miss meetings with his direct reports (no-one would even know what city he was in) so imagine what it was like trying to get a resolution for an underpaid engineer on your team.

After a while of repeating "we're working on it" you start to look either disingenuous, ineffective, powerless - or all of those.

Edit: a word

That's interesting. I was in a small/mid size co. where the CEO had to approve all raises. I would think it makes more sense to have bands for each position and only hiring or going outside those bands would need approval.

I have little experience with this matter, but it seems like the correct answer here is "get a job at another company that doesn't have broken procedures that render them unable to authorize paying for the people they need."

Article like these make me wonder whether I work in a different world altogether :)

Where I have worked (which are considerably big companies) we are "told" the salary raise during appraisal cycle. It is never open for negotiation. At the most, you can "express" disgust and thats about it. Hopefully this "disgust" will be taken into account during next year (depending on the manager).

The only time I have seen someone from software fraternity negotiating is when he coming into the org or leaving the org.

Note: my experience is limited to working in UK and India.

Most companies are inclined to think of raises as tiny annual percentage gains, which may keep in step with cost of living increases only if you're lucky. If you ask for more than that, managers are trained to save the company money and not honor the request. They're expected to call your bluff. If you show up with an offer from another employer, they may counteroffer, but may just as well let you go because of your "disloyalty". People can and do often suffer retribution when they ask for raises.

The business world sees things completely differently than the engineering world.

It's a good post. One thing great companies get right, is to value the engineers that are working on the codebase. If an engineer is or feels under-paid and they get a competing offer, it's already too late to try and retain them. There's always someone out there that can/will pay 10 or 20% more, so, expecting to retain top engineers at the 70th percentile salary is going to be a futile exercise.

One thing great companies get right, is to value EVERYONE, regardless of their position.

Completely agree though as history has taught us, socialism doesn't scale very well. Better results merit better rewards. The term "Rewards" is broader than monetary benefits. Holds true not just for individual performance but also collective performance at a higher abstraction of entity - team, org, company, city, state, country, etc.

And capitalism is doing such a fine job of scaling at present?

> it's already too late to try and retain them

This directly conflicts with the most upvoted advice to go get a competing offer. I've read this before too. Is a company really going to think "he's talked to another company, we can't trust him to stick around." ?

I hardly ever post, but I had to for this one: your post is riddled with typos.

Useful information, but the mistakes were quite distracting. Proofread before publishing please!

You were totally right, thanks for the heads up so I could fix them :)

It's still very readable to me. I'd definitely proofread more if I were him but no need to be so harsh (I don't know if English is his first language).

It was overall a long and well written post, with a clear structure and insightful content.

Also, the article could have been spotless grammatically speaking but utterly uninteresting - I would certainly enjoy the opposite more.

The message is more important than the technique at the end of the day.

I was recently on the job market and read Secrets of Power Negotiating by Roger Dawson. I'm relatively inexperienced and that book gave me a huge confidence boost. I can directly attribute 15% of my compensation to reading it.

Even just the "flinch" he talks about netted me an extra 5k right off the bat. I had always been too afraid to directly ask "what is the compensation range for this position?" but now I ask exactly that, forthrightly and without confrontation. Nobody refused to answer.

> I had always been too afraid to directly ask "what is the compensation range for this position?" but now I ask exactly that, forthrightly and without confrontation. Nobody refused to answer.

My opinion is you should just ask for what you want, rather than asking what the compensation range is. You will get an answer, but you're unlikely going to get an actual meaningful band.

I disagree on this, but with a caveat. The "top" of the band is usually 10-20% below their actual top, and I can triangulate from there.

Yeah, that was what I was assuming as well. I would ask the range, they'd give one, I'd flinch at the top-end of it and inevitably they'd come up 5%ish percent right away. From there I was generally able to wind up 10-20% above top of the original band.

Question to HN: How do you negotiate for a raise when cash value is below market rate but plausible equity value goes moderately above (risk adjusted)? It seems that in the negotiation you have to take a pessimistic view regarding company outcome. Or would you negotiate for higher equity instead of salary?

First decide why you want the job. There are good reasons to work at an early-stage startup, the pace of work will stretch your capabilities exponentially more than a stable job will (from personal experience). The skills I developed working at a startup were worth more in hard $$ after I left than I made working there.

If your primary motivation is financial, you need to think carefully. You are taking an irrational and outsized risk as an early employee if cash compensation is below market. But people play negative expected value games all the time at the casino.

Even if the expected value of the equity is "above" market, the variance on that projected equity is significantly worse for you than getting it in cash.

Either way, you should push for roughly market cash compensation, framing it as "your expectations." I have said these exact words before: "The salary figure is definitely below my expectations (which is $___), I'm worried this won't work out." And then pause to get more information from them. Remember, your expectations are framed by your alternatives, which makes it easier to walk away. Best thing is to have another offer, if you don't it's not the end of the world though. They still have to fill the position, which is leverage for you.

Market rate doesn't matter - what matters is what you can negotiate. The idea that you can swap one $120k engineer in for another is a ridiculous story that employers tell their staff, usually to avoid a discussion about salaries.

What matters is how much added value you bring to the company. The difference between your value and your salary is (in some sense) the profit that the company makes on you.

Further, is it your assessment that the plausible value of the stock brings you in just above market rate, or your bossess? Even if they're right, why be happy getting a bit over market rate, if you think you could get more?

Equity is not worth anything until it's real money in your bank account. Until then it's just an excuse for not paying a higher salary.

"It seems that in the negotiation you have to take a pessimistic view regarding company outcome."

No you don't. You just have to know that cash today is always better than the potential of cash later.

Also, you can't pay rent or buy food with equity.

For the record, it is believed to be in the company's best interest to lowball an employee and use a temporary information advantage to "save money".

This is why some good people probably change jobs more than mediocre performers. If you have skill, at some point you figure out you are being taken advantage of.

"It doesn’t really matter when you have the raise conversation, what matters is that you’ve done extensive research and tht you are prepared going into the negotiation. You can either be proactive and set a time with your manager or you can wait until your normal performance review. "

I disagree with this advice for a few reasons... waiting for the normal performance review time is bad if your company's budgeting process doesn't line up. We budget on the calendar year, we review after 1st quarter. If we didn't have your raise in the budget it's much more difficult to get it approved.

Know how you company does its budget. The best time to ask for a raise is before we do the yearly budget.

ADD: But doing extensive research and coming to the table prepared drastically increases the likelihood of getting the raise you ask for.

This is a great perspective that likely rings true for a lot of larger companies.

I work for a US company via outsourcing site, at $22/h full-time. Was one of the first developers, pushed their dead product up to the finish line almost by myself, now leading a tiny team. Even though I put in a great job for 2 years now, my repeated questions for a review which would (hopefully) lead to a raise ended up in silence. Outsourcer offered to "try and squeeze" $0.50/h more, that was in January.

What's even worse, I am locked in with the them so I can't bring up the financial questions to the client directly. Other than raising stakes and possibly risking my position, which wouldn't happen probably, which makes it even more awkward.

In few months I'll move from Eastern Europe where I live now, to a western EU country, so taxes and cost of living will put me slightly above welfare.


Like the commentator said above, get another offer. Obviously you can't get it from this outsourcing site so you'll have to find it somewhere else.

What's the outsourcing site? They're probably billing you out at $100+/hr. They don't want to pay you more because they don't need to. You've stayed for 2 years at that rate. They don't need to "try and squeeze" anything from the client. They are the ones that don't want to pay more.

You've touched on something that the Op talks about a fair bit, but assumes exists without actually verifying that it does: leverage.

Your situation is rough, for a few reasons. First, because you're not negotiating with the client directly, you can't really use the fact that you know their product inside and out as a selling point to justify the raise. Second, you've already "proven" to them that it's work that an outsourced contractor can pick up and work on.

By no means am I suggesting that you're not uniquely qualified to be working on their product! I'm just having a hard time figuring out how to sell it, especially if your middleman has no vested interest in improving your wage.

It sounds to me like your only real move would be to work around the middleman and negotiate directly with the client. That's probably going to violate contracts that both you and the client have signed.

Maybe your best bet would be to hold onto the gig until you move, and then look for something in your new location that offers more opportunity for growth.

Having been on the "outsourcer" side, I can tell you we're at least doubling (in most cases tripling) your rate. Line up a job in the western EU country you're moving to and say "thanks, but no thanks" to your outsourcer. We will squeeze you dry and find someone else if you demand more.

If your job is sufficiently complex and the software your working on requires a lot of business knowledge, there is SOME leeway. But the most I've paid for an outsourced developer is $35/hr in eastern europe, however none of the work I did was overly complicated.

Having also been on your side of the fence, it's nearly always more beneficial for you to arrange work directly with the company who's software you're working on. My outsourced rates only matched at-the-job rates on the very odd occasion when I hadn't met those I worked with/for in-person.

Thing is, the agency is probably billing the client at least double your rate. If they can string you along without a raise, all the more free money for them.

Your article is quite interesting. Only one thing annoyed me: the text color doesn't contrast enough with the background, making your article difficult to read. It seems to be your first article on this blog this is why I wanted to give you this advice. Keep working hard.

Thanks, great suggestion. I've adjusted it to have a stronger contrast.

It's better now :)

I agree with step 1: Go kick ass, but I would make it a bit more specific.

Make your managers (and if possible his managers) life easier. Use your skills to solve their problems. If he knows he can count on you, and you do work that make sure he can do his job he will be in your corner.

I don't mean to suck up, just when your are doing your magic make sure it is on something that everyone else considers a problem that needs to be solved now. I have seen a few people who have done really clever stuff, but it was on things that wasn't critical for the success of the project.

How about equity that's the same quality (not magnitude) that the company gives investors? I.e. instead of these 10/20/30/40 (non-uniformly-vesting) ISO grants, the company issues the employee monthly debt that is convertible into stock and has a preference on the company's assets if it goes under?

How do we negotiate more meaningful equity?

I wish I could say that I can't believe the conversation going on, but alas, I have been here before. Here is some friendly advice for those of you who were not working in the 90's:

1) This is HN and a lot of people here have drunk a lot of the start up Koolaid. I can understand that; especially in the kind of market we have right now. I should warn you, though, that some day the arbitrary measurements used for evaluating the worth of a startup will change dramatically. Yes, it seems like crazy talk right now, but some day the startup you work for will be evaluated based on sales, revenue and profitability not by how big your burn rate is, or how "disruptive" your technology is.

2) Some day aquisition and IPOs will be difficult and capital for companies without an amazing track record (of making money) will be hard to get.

3) There will be a time when stock prices will persistently go down; even if you work for the big amazing company whose shares have made X number of people millionaires. Some day you will find yourself working for the IBM of the mid 90s or the Microsoft of the early 2000s. You might even work for a Nortel and have a $100 per share price drop to 0 (as well as losing your job) over a year or two.

4) You can over price yourself. I know that seems stupid because obviously you can just price yourself to the market. That 30% increase you got from moving to another company can't be bad, right? Until that company tanks because they are paying stupid money to employees and nobody will hire you because you are too expensive. And when you realize it, and cut your expectations you've been out of a job for 6-8 months and nobody trusts that you can be any good because otherwise, why haven't you been snapped up by somebody else?

4) You can price yourself into a layoff. Sure your company is going amazingly well today. Your company got a $200 million cash infusion just last year, bumping the valuation up to $2 billion. There are 250 employees and your technology is super-awesomely-disruptive. But wait... there is a downturn in the market. Nobody will fund an IPO. You're running out of cash. No angel investors are showing up and revenue can only handle 100 employees. Let's look at the price/performace ratio of the current employees! Wow, Bob is good but... are we really paying him that much???

5) I'm sorry to say it, but IMHO programmers are not underpaid as a general rule. Money you don't negotiate into your pocket is not "left on the table". It's not like the money is piling up somwhere. Money that isn't spent on your salary is spent somewhere else. Companies have slim profits these days and concentrate on growth. Even large companies tend to tune their profits to about 5% and don't even pay dividends! R&D expenses in a company range from about 2-30%, but often hover in the 10-15% range of expenses. For a company whose revenue is driven by technology, that means that the 10% activity pays for the other 90% of the company. Some people are worth the extra 30% pay raise because it will drive the appropriate amount of revenue. I'm just going to have to say it, though: most people are not. If salaries go up 30% across the board, a lot of the companies you work for will tank. I'm not saying that you aren't worth the 30% extra. It's just that the attitude of "We're getting the shaft" is going to kill a lot of companies (as it has done in the past). There's a reason old timers joke about Aeron chairs and foosball tables.

These things I have seen and I'm sure I will see again.

> "Money you don't negotiate into your pocket is not "left on the table". It's not like the money is piling up somwhere."

You're joking, right?

EDIT: Google, 60+ billion cash on hand. Microsoft, 90 billion simoleons. Oracle: 45 billion with a B. Apple: 180 billion dollars American "piling up". So why exactly am I being downvoted?

These companies are exceptional. In fact, one could argue (and it has been argued) that these companies should divest themselves of their cash because almost by definition they are being inefficient. Although there are 10's of thousands of people who work in companies like these, there are millions of people who do not.

I have some experience working at a large company where many of the employees' main motivation was to lay claim to a piece of the company pie. I'm fairly certain that my cautionary advice is not misdirected even in that circumstance.

YMMV and if you never experience the problems I write about, then I will be very happy for you ;-)

>> You can price yourself into a layoff. Sure your company is going amazingly well today. Your company got a $200 million cash infusion just last year, bumping the valuation up to $2 billion. There are 250 employees and your technology is super-awesomely-disruptive. But wait... there is a downturn in the market. Nobody will fund an IPO. You're running out of cash. No angel investors are showing up and revenue can only handle 100 employees. Let's look at the price/performace ratio of the current employees! Wow, Bob is good but... are we really paying him that much???

Thanks for posting this, this is exactly the situation I fear I'm in right now in the local market. I work for company that had doubling revenue for the previous four years. I followed the advice given here, I was disgruntled, went and got another job offer, and took the second counter offer to stay (40% raise and lead position).

Since then the company was bought by a venture capital firm, the new version of the software has been languishing in rewrite hell, and sales have evaporated. Had a 10% staff cut a month ago. Now, I'm certain (speculation on my part) I'm at the top of the compensation range, and the next round of cuts will likely include me.

I'm trying to decide if I should jump ship now or wait it out, see if the business improves. So far I've found that at least one local company says I'm too far over their compensation range. Yikes!

My advice (for what it's worth): Don't jump ship. People are fond of the refrain that loyalty won't buy you anything. Many times it is true, but occaisionally it isn't and the times it isn't, it's worth the chance. Go to the higher ups and say, "I appreciate the vote of confidence you gave me when you gave me the raise. It's time for me to repay the favour. In the tough times it's easy to think that maybe I should try my luck somewhere else. But I've thought about it and I'm here to stay. Whether we win or lose, I'm going to devote 100% of my energy to helping this company."

If you end up losing the job (either by being cut or by having the company fold up), then when asked about your salary expectations in other jobs candidly:

- Tell them what you were making before (impressive)

- Explain that you are mostly looking for interesting work and that you are open to any offers as long as the other factors are in line.

This allows you to gather options and asses the strengths and weaknesses of each offer without explicitly scaring people away.

If your company makes it through this tough time (without laying you off), your public stand of solidarity will likely resonate with the business types who are in a position to reward you later.

These kinds of things have worked well for me in the past. Good luck!

> Go to the higher ups and say, "I appreciate the vote of confidence you gave me when you gave me the raise. It's time for me to repay the favour. In the tough times it's easy to think that maybe I should try my luck somewhere else. But I've thought about it and I'm here to stay. Whether we win or lose, I'm going to devote 100% of my energy to helping this company."

That's one way to completely freak out your manager and cause them to wonder what is going on with you.

There seems to be an assumption here that if you negotiate a higher salary, you'll go out and spend it all.

Save your extra N% and you'll be that much better placed to ride out a layoff, regardless of why it happens.

Also relevant, by Patrick McKenzie: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/01/23/salary-negotiation/

Here's my similar long-form article based on advancing in a large enterprise software organization.


Just letting you know, this needs a fix: http://www.mgadams.com/contact-page/

Thank you.

Step One: Go find a job at a competing firm, because that's the only way you'll get a meaningful raise.

This is what Ben Horowitz has to say about matching competing offers:

An excellent engineer decides to leave the company because she gets a better offer. For various reasons, you were undercompensating her, but the offer from the other company pays more than any engineer in your company and the engineer in question is not your best engineer. Still, she is working on a critical project and you cannot afford to lose her. So you match the offer. You save the project, but you pile on the debt.

Here’s how the payment will come due. You probably think that your counteroffer was confidential because you’d sworn her to secrecy. Let me explain why it was not. She has friends in the company. When she got the offer from the other company, she consulted with her friends. One of her best friends advised her to take the offer. When she decided to stay, she had to explain to him why she disregarded his advice or lose personal credibility. So she told him and swore him to secrecy. He agreed to honor the secret, but was incensed that she had to threaten to quit in order to get a proper raise. Furthermore, he was furious that you overcompensated her. So, he told the story, but kept her name confidential to preserve the secret. And now everyone in engineering knows that the best way to get a raise is to generate an offer from another company then threaten to quit. It’s going to take awhile to pay off that debt.

For what it's worth, most competent managers I know agree with this idea.

Edit: I should mention that I am NOT advocating paying people less than market wage, but as managers know, sometimes you end up in this position with some employees for periods of time without meaning to.


"...but the offer from the other company pays more than any engineer in your company and the engineer in question is not your best engineer. Still, she is working on a critical project and you cannot afford to lose her. So you match the offer."

Jesus that all sounds so ridiculous to me. That's a funny shell game around admitting that someone was more valuable than you were paying them, and then guess what - lots of other people are.

If the argument is "But she isn't always this valuable.. she's just this valuable on this project" then attach a financial incentive to the project.

Sadly, I don't get the sense that Ben is suggesting that there's a problem with not compensating commensurate with value here or with depending on the employer-preferential taboo of the secret salary. He seems to just argue you should let this engineer walk and the project die.

If I were the engineer, I would also walk and let the project die. Because when that project is over, you're going to be the "highest paid but not best person on the team" and there's no reason they shouldn't be looking to release you for that anyway.

If you threaten to leave to another company and that's how you get a raise, the relationship's been poisoned and it's just a matter of time until you leave.

This is just another reason why I love project based consulting more than FTE. The incentives are properly aligned. Adam Smith would smile.

Nope. I took a generous counter-offer over a year ago. I've only increased in critical responsibilities since then.

This can be a double edge sword. you enjoy your new responsibilities? good for you. not everybody wants to get more and more on their shoulders until the point of realizing that there ins't much time for that little thing called life. Also, most people who get promoted/raised around me end up working much more compared to raise they've been given.

Personal experience - in every single work I've done (roughly 10 customers/employers, perm+consultant) in 3 different countries, there was/is always room to grab more responsibility, more tasks etc. State of IT usually just a variation of a term MESS, with some technical debt here and there, everywhere. You work harder, solve more, take more responsibility and your career progresses along (or you go to place where it does faster).

But with this might also come 9-10 hours at work instead of 8 (plus lunch), company phone which is there just to remind you of the work when you're not in, maybe more weekends screwed up and so on. Even in otherwise very work/life balance oriented employers.

Want another advice? When having a formal talk with your boss, tell him you want a raise, but you don't want it for free, rather bringing added value. Define clear terms what is expected from you to get there, fulfill them and watch the magic happen :)

Yes, I got the extra responsibilities I asked for. I don't have a company phone. Everything is actually good.

The damage you can cause is not necessarily the same as the value you contribute. When you're negotiating on threat of tanking a project, it seems to me like you've turned it into a hostage negotiation- a different beast.

(Just imagine a project worth $X with two lynchpins, both of whose absence would tank the project. Both can cause $X in damage, but you obviously cannot pay each $X)

Ultimately if a (large) project is in danger because one or two key engineering people quit, then it's the fault of the managers involved for not mitigating that risk.

Either by increasing their title or pay as they are that critical, or by not distributing the key knowledge around so that everyone is dispensable.

stick around for long enough, and you'll probably become critical. sad true is, most of these people don't have salaries as high as those jumping around frequently. but as long as they're OK with work, not much to complain about

> If the argument is "But she isn't always this valuable.. she's just this valuable on this project" then attach a financial incentive to the project.

This is actually a fantastic idea, for both sides.

For the employer, sure. But it'd have to be pretty high, as in much higher than the raise for me to consider the possibility of that over just getting a raise.

raise is a permanent bonus, on top of other bonuses actually called... bonus

Here's what happens if you don't counter: she leaves. Critical project fails. Everyone in engineering knows that the market rate is greater than what you are paying and that you won't counter. Expect a flood of 2 week notices.

Here's the thing. By the time someone is actively interviewing, you've already lost. Treat your compensation like you would any other product and try and figure out how to differentiate your product. Cash by it's very nature is interchangeable. Benefits, perks, camaraderie aren't.

In general, you can expect all the good ambitious people to leave. The ones who stay are those who think they can stay and play politics better, or have a "beaten wife" mentality that they think is loyalty, or are on a visa.

EDIT: A previous boss of mine was unhappy I was quitting, and apologized that he couldn't give me $40k in cash to stay for another year. Me leaving meant they needed to search for a new, qualified person, and then spend the time training them, which was certainly close to $40k of time-money. Unfortunately, upper management didn't care.

That's why you shouldn't hire "good, ambitious people." I jest, but really. Sure startups want that ambition, but not run of the mill companies. I've worked at a few mega financial firms and what they really want are mildy competent drones that are prepared to idle in their carrier working 9:30-4:30.

You see, the problem with "good, ambitious people" is they want to (1) keep learning new things, (2) work on projects that expand their expertise, (3) continue on a monotonously increasing career trajectory. Sadly 85% of the coding out there is more like "IT" and keeping the lights on, fixing the CRUD apps, etc. Ambitious people are a major flight risk at such companies, and worse, they might bring in some new tech or complicated patterns that the drones that replace them don't understand, and then the firm has to chuck that code and go back to the former, easier to understand but far less performant code. I've seen it happen several times.

>> In general, you can expect all the good ambitious people to leave.

"The thing about this place... Everyone with get-up-and-go has already got up and gone"

I've had this exact conversation more times than I care to remember. Not only does upper management not care but they probably told him off (as they did me) for not sacrificing his integrity and reputation to BS you into staying with promises they knew he couldn't deliver.

I brought up the topic of raise with one of my previous bosses, and he promised to check with the higher-ups.

Some time later, he honestly told me: "The only way they would give you a raise is to prevent you from leaving. At that point, if you already went through the trouble of getting another offer, you might as well leave." Several months later, I did. Money wasn't the only factor -- the big new project I was hired for got finished -- but it was a major one, they were underpaying me pretty badly.

I have always thought this. It can take up to 6 months to get properly up to speed on a large project. So for those 6 months you are maybe averaging 50% productivity. That's basically 3 month salary a company is loosing by swapping staff. How many people get offered that sort of month to stay?

But then the code monkeys have won.

I worked for a major institution's engineering group where we formally asked "We're getting recruited all the time for more, will you raise comp to market to prevent people leaving?" Answer, "No." Annual attrition was 25%. At a recruiting/replacement cost of ~$40K, raises would have made more sense, but then managers would have failed to wield their power to "constrain their budget."

Logic need not apply.

It reminds me of an essay that Joel wrote.


Basically he points out that heavy use of methodology will get you guaranteed results. But that result is of very mediocre quality.

I turned down a job offer because it was about 10% below what I wanted. Four months later I saw the company complaining that they still hadn't filled the spot - I wonder if they think they made the right choice in refusing to negotite. (Probably they do, and they continued to do so with other candidates).

I keep seeing the same ad for a job that I was contacted about a few months back. I refused to do their hour and a half hacker rank challenge on the basis that is nothing like how I work on a day to day basis, and I have examples of real work online if they need to see that I can code.

In general, you can expect all the good ambitious people to leave.

Do the good ambitious people never realize that they won't actually accomplish anything worthwhile if they never stick around more than a year or two?

I agree with that. Anyone who is actually good and ambitions would never realize that because they know it isn't true.

Maybe I am overstating a little, but all the works we see as great required staying power. Apollo was a ten year program. The Manhattan Project took 6 years to develop the bomb. Firefox took 2 years to exit beta, and the iPod took several years to pick up steam. and Tesla has been going 12 years, Space X 13.

It's not that you achieve nothing in a year tenure, but can you really accomplish anything great? Can you think of any good examples of people who showed up January 1st, changed the world, and left by Christmas?

If all long projects were great you would be right, unfortunately duration as a predictor does not positively contribute to greatness.

chrome v8 was built in 2 years: 2006 to release in 2008

Accomplish for whom is the question.

The money comes from different pools for those, though.

To me this is a sign of organizational dysfunction that the money can't be moved from one pool to another.

All money is money - 50 Cent

I'm feeling lucky:

  50 Cent Talks Bitcoin: 'All Money Is Money' | | Observer
  Dec 22, 2014 - 50 Cent is happy he took Bitcoin for his album
  Animal Instinct, because "all money is money."

Most competent managers I know realize that under paying your team is another sort of debt that piles up and comes due. Compensation certainly isn't the only thing that matters to your team, but it is almost always an important factor. I certainly always considered it part of my management responsibilities to get proper compensation for my team by making clear to people making compensation decisions the value they brought to table and how expensive in time and money it would be to replace them.

I'm always surprised at how companies can be so nimble in markets for their products but be so poor at working in the market for their personnel. Often times it seems like getting some counter offers is the only way convince them that the market for engineers has changed significantly.

From a company's perspective, just because one person gets a market rate that is higher than the rest of the team, the entire team can't simply be given a raise. While this sort of largesse may work for Google & FB, I doubt it would for those companies that grow in single digit to low teen % per annum.

Also, if the person given this raise is not amongst your top performers and now ends up out earning the rest of team, it ends up affecting overall team morale. Your star performers then start to feel short changed and think they have to leave to get a raise.

The problem with that theory is everyone that is capable of basic reasoning (which includes every competent engineer) already knows that getting an offer from another company at a higher pay and then quitting if it is not matched is a certain way to get increased compensation, wherever you end up working.

Failing to match when there is value to the company just means that every time you are faced with that choice, you always lose.

While the worst case with letting people know that that's a good way to get raises is that it puts upward pressure on wages until very few employees can get better offers that they'd be willing to threaten to quit for, and you still end up paying people not more than it is worth to retain them.

You probably think that your counteroffer was confidential because you’d sworn her to secrecy. Let me explain why it was not.

Actually, you're problem was forgetting that it's illegal in the US to prevent employee's from sharing compensation information. You can't require that in an employment contract and can't formally punish an employee for disclosing said information. :)

While undergoing an MBA, one of the HR professor told the class which I still remember. That is "Good & competent candidates choose the companies they want to work with. Companies does not choose them." Its upto the org to make it enticing and attractive for the good candidates. That is why working in Apple, Google or Microsoft is still an aspirational thing for considerable number of people.

This off-course does not directly explain to what is being said above in the parent ... just want to share a thought.

So what is actually being advocated here? Pay higher salaries to everyone, or don't budge for competing offers?

His entire argument is that the company must retain power in employee relationships, never the employee.

If one non-manager employee is ever in a position to show other employees they are being undervalued, the employees may do something stupid like demand the company fix the situation. Can't have uppity employees. Employees exist to be subservient to the ever-changing, unanswerable will of the CEO, not set the rules themselves.

The CEO gets to fail upward and become investor-class while shitting downwards on lowly employees who would dare to try and be paid what they are worth. How dare they attempt to confront such holy and monied highness as a CEO. Know your place, employee.

I also read Ben's book. Here's the flip side of that. You don't counter and your engineer leaves. The other company needs more engineers so the one that left helps poach more.

I can't agree with this more. As much as I sympathize with entrepreneurs and managers having trouble hiring engineers in this current environment, I feel like "they" brought it on themselves because wages were probably below what they should've been for years, and because of that, supply became depressed.

Now that a lot more infrastructure and tooling is in place, we're seeing the effects of that prolonged depressed supply. It's easy (relatively) to hire junior devs, and much harder to hire senior devs. And even still, I talk to senior devs who have trouble getting a raise. I'm like... ok... well I hear X is hiring.

> wages were probably below what they should've been for years...

Not only that... tech companies like Apple, Adobe, Pixar, Google, Intel, eBay, Lucasfilm, and Intuit all illegally colluded to keep them low. The settlement for the affected workers was appallingly low!


I agree that the settlement was definitely low, but I really disagree that the settlement was absurdly low on aggregate.

I've always done freelance/contract work, so I'm not 100% sure what 'significantly' better means in the normal software world, but I'm going to assume 5k/year would be a really significant raise. I know the national average is somewhere around 3%, so 5k seems like it would be absurdly more than average. Please do correct me if I'm wrong.

So, just going on $5,000 lost for a year for the 64,000 litigants, that's $320,000,000. They settled for $324,000,000. I swear I didn't presuppose any of those numbers, they just worked out like that.

Given that the suit was about wage collusion, not about suppressing raises, calculating based on raises seems like an incorrect method. The reason prices were lower was not due to a lack of raises, but rather because those companies were artificially suppressing the demand for software engineers by agreeing not to poach, which makes calculating exact losses extremely difficult (unless we can precisely quantify the loss in demand).

This, exactly. We aren't talking about a typical annual wage increase percentage, but collusion that effectively set a cap on salaries for certain types of employees couldn't test the market. I'm wildly guessing, but i would think the difference in salary for many was 40k+ a year.

The period in question is 4 years so multiply by 4 (although not all litigants were present during all 4 years so you can back it off a little).

And 5k is too low. Google gave a 10% raise across the board around the time this information came out. So assume 150k salary * 10% = 15k. Salaries also continued to rise more rapidly after the 10% raise, but it's hard to say by how much without having access to the internal data.

I'm not being snarky; where does 4 years come from? Do we have start/end dates on when the agreement was formed/ended? If we do, then I'm totally willing to revise my judgement on this. Also, 10% from Google does not translate to 10% across the board, only to any employees who would be hired by Google, which would surely not be 100%.

From the linked wikipedia article: "The civil class action which was filed by five plaintiffs, one of whom has died, accused the tech companies of collusion to not recruit one another's employees between 2005 and 2009."

Hence 4 years of wage suppression. Given tech salaries in SV, $5k is off by about an order of magnitude -- especially when you consider the knock-on effects of job mobility that was systemically quashed by collusion (i.e. moving jobs => better pay => faster career progression => compounded earnings).

Your first question is answered by beambot. The 10% argument is that Google felt it had to raise salaries by that much for everyone after collusion ended, in order to retain employees.

>On September 8, 2014, Judge Koh set April 9, 2015 as the actual trial date for the remaining defendants, with a pre-trial conference scheduled for December 19, 2014. Also, as of early September 2014, the defendants had re-entered mediation to determine whether a new settlement could be reached.

Wikipedia seems out of date, what was the final result?

Apparently the payment is increased to $415M, which in my opinion is still too low.


What I don't understand is that the X that is hiring likely also has a bunch of senior devs who are having trouble getting a raise. It would be far more efficient to give raises to current employees who already have expertise at the company than to hire externally.

Company valuations are based on N(engineers). It is said that hiring a full-time engineer increases your valuation by $1M.

And it only costs about 10% of that per year to pay the engineer. Winning.

Basically, there's no incentive to give raises to current engineers because when your company doesn't care about profits or expenses, but about getting and maintaining investment and stock value, it doesn't matter how expensive it is to train new people and how ineffective they are. As long as they are just effective enough to maintain a N(user) growth, you're good.

> It is said that hiring a full-time engineer increases your valuation by $1M.

I won't dispute that this is said, but every once in a while I get the sense people saying these things should double check which column of their balance sheet these things belong on.

yes but when we're talking about the real world where maintaining N(user) growth translates into designing, implementing, and maintaining complex systems, it can be fatal to simply view engineers as a commodity that can be discarded or replaced on a whim...

Your argument failed once you said "yes but" — when valuation is a function of number of employees, adding fine-grained nuance and deeper levels of consideration just won't happen.

If companies want the best, yes they should do all you said. If companies are just trying to grow grow grow, they can probably do better with an approach of 1,000 coder monkeys instead of 10 expert systems builders.

Plus, no reasonable company is going to pay the 10 expert people the equivalent of the 100 coder monkey duties they are actually performing. That would be what... a salary of $10 million to $20 million per expert employee per year. Yes, you are worth that much, but the market finds true-value untenable. We'd rather let companies keep hundreds of billions in spare cash than paying it out to employees who are allowing such hoards of wealth to be, well, hoarded.

> Plus, no reasonable company is going to pay the 10 expert people the equivalent of the 100 coder monkey duties they are actually performing. That would be what... a salary of $10 million to $20 million per expert employee per year. Yes, you are worth that much, but the market finds true-value untenable. We'd rather let companies keep hundreds of billions in spare cash than paying it out to employees who are allowing such hoards of wealth to be, well, hoarded.

Companies do do that. It's called an acquihire. It happens when an expert starts a startup that develops a technology that a bigger company needs. This bigger company then buys said startup for the sole purpose of hiring said expert.

They don't care about the user base or the interface or the company as a whole. They just want the expert to continue developing the technology they're an expert at, but do it for the big company instead of themselves.

It's called an acquihire.

Exactly. Wasn't the original question about how to get a raise at the same company though?

The option of "quit, give up all your security, hope to make something amazing, then get acqui-hired" isn't a tried and true path to just getting a raise.

We see people at Google taking that path all the time. Work at Google -> Quit -> Create new company with the same work you were doing inside of Google -> Get acquired by Google.

Cisco is famous for encouraging that tactic too. Lots of serial quit-acquirhire-vest-quit-acquihire loops going around. It's easy once you have the connections in place to drop out and instantly be established as legitimate again.

Yes, the original post was about getting a normal raise. But if you want to be paid as much as 100 code monkeys, an acquihire or other large stock sale event is your only option.

With extraordinary rewards, come extraordinary risks.

But the bigger point of this comment thread is that you can get raise jumps with practically zero risk as an engineer right now by switching jobs. As an engineer right now you can switch jobs without a single day of unemployment. Just do interviews as a side-project, then when you get hired somewhere else, quit your current job.


But companies are likely to lose the engineers that they aren't giving raises because of the same effect at other companies, so then it's a wash even under the N(engineers) valuation model, and I once again fail to see the rationality of it.

But that's the difference between N and N+1 devs.

My career has basically gone this way:

60k shitty entry level job (< 3 years)... quit for a

90k slightly less shitty job (1 year) ... quit for a

140k + $350k bonus/equity (< 2 years) ... quit for a

160k + much more equity, nearly certain IPO (hopefully for the full 4 years to vest 100%)

Don't hate the mercenary, hate the employer who won't pay you what you are worth!

> Don't hate the mercenary, hate the employer who won't pay you what you are worth!

I think you fail to see a fact, the same fact that was overlooked by all your former bosses actually.

Your 6-years-ago self was probably not worth half of what your current self is. Your ability to land each new job was built upon the foundations of higher skills and professional maturity you achieved on the previous job.

Ambitious, talented employees keep growing, positions are static by nature. Job hopping is the de-facto career path.

Is 160k common in SV for 6 years experience?

I'm in the L.A. area and people want to crap their pants when I tell them to give me 150k.

I am definitely worth more now; I agree. Unfortunately:

1) Management in all but one job I've had invested nothing in training and helping new employees grow. My technical growth has come through personal projects and taking on extra work.

2) Promotion never offered anything like the salary increases a new job offered. The incentive to stay is not there.

> Your 6-years-ago self was probably not worth half of what your current self is. Your ability to land each new job was built upon the foundations of higher skills and professional maturity you achieved on the previous job.

I think employers massively overweight experience, particularly in a field that changes as fast as ours. Five years ago I was just as smart as I am now, maybe smarter - I didn't have 5 years' experience with tools X, Y and Z, but tools X and Y are already basically obsolete. But the market says I'm worth twice as much now as I was five years ago.

You are not worth more because you know more technologies, though it is an unfair fact on this industry that there will be one or two over-hyped stacks at any time. But back to the point, you are worth more because you have been exposed to the social dynamics patterns that repeat themselves over and over in each new development process. You don't learn that kind of stuff hacking on your bedroom and open source contribution, while valuable, can only take you so far. This is, IMHO, as far as and objective reason to hire someone experienced as you will get.

Also, there is the concept of social proof - which you may argue is a form of over-weighting experience, but that's an open ended question. If you have a track record of going to work for somebody else and achieving X, Y, Z goals there, you are perceived to be a safer choice than someone that in theory might be smarter than you, but that is lazy or otherwise unreliable, or with low communication skills, or a first class jerk. Not that you cannot hire this types if you go with someone more experienced, but from HR perspective, you are more of a "known quantity" once you have been around for a few years and built a track record for yourself.

But you also have five years more experience in designing software, organizing code, debugging, etc. All things that are largely tool agnostic.

I have five years more "professional" experience, seems to be the difference - I had verifiable coding experience on open-source projects before that that would have demonstrated those skills. I've got more confident in my judgement but I'm not at all convinced that judgement has actually improved.

Did your core languages change during each switch? What is your current stack/expertise?

I stuck to the JVM (since people seem willing to pay more if you have experience on the specific stack, and my first job happened to be Java); for the last 3-4 years I've been doing almost exclusively Scala.

That was some jump from $90k to $490k! (How'd you pull that off?)

I'm surprised you found a near-certain pre-IPO company who gave you a lot more equity than $350k. Most options I've seen at that stage seem to consistently not even reach 0.1%, which is already much less than $350k for your typical IPO.

To quote Zaphod Beeblebrox, "I got lucky".

These companies can be found, and you probably know their names. You can get through their interviews by adopting the mannerisms of their interviewers (be it old cynical guys, or Stanford new grads, or whatever) and studying your SAT interview question book.

The way to really strike it rich is look for say a social network with 30+ million active users that is willing to give you options. It's hard to fuck up 30+ million users.

EDIT: Just because I got lucky does not mean the OPs post is wrong. My luck was aided by me jumping ship as frequently as I could whenever a good new opportunity presented itself.

Echoing Chinjut's question – I've never seen a jump like that, unless it was equity that turned out to be worth $350k, but looked like less when it was offered. How did that happen?!

Mostly equity; I joined a company the week of the IPO but accepted the offer before that. I basically got very lucky, but the base salary + equity any relatively big name post-IPO company would also be $200k-ish.

Keep in mind that I stayed at none of these companies for more than 2.5 years!

There were 2 brief interludes 1) Non-technical grad school, but that actually netted me a very slick summer internship one year that paid way better than my previous job too. 2) Failed startup, that paid nothing

Unfortunately, I think I've maxed out on the software engineer pay scale now unless I get even luckier.

Those are awesome and I'm sure well-deserved jumps. However, you definitely have not maxed out on the pay scale, especially if you're in SF/NYC. To quote patio11:

> Pick a number, any number: somebody does a lot better than that. For most numbers you’d naively think of, its an awful lot of somebodies. $100k? Not the top. $250k? Not the top. $500k? … Not the top.


Thanks for the response. I'm not a developer (yet... heh), but I think I'm probably within sniffing distance of the top of the pay scale for my particular role. It's a weird feeling to know, "Welp, this is the end of big raises," but at the same time, I'm incredibly relieved by the thought that I could go my whole life without another pay bump, even for cost of living, and still be totally fine. I wouldn't want that, sure, but so long as I don't get myself fired I'll have everything I need. What a ridiculously lucky deal we've found.

The less emotional benefit of getting higher in the pay scale is that job-switches can be about something more meaningful than just, "Oh shit, that's more money!" Now, so long as I can get close, I'll be happy to just go wherever would be most fulfilling.

Maxing out is not considered "unfortunate" by most definitions of luckiness. :-)

Depends. If he gets bored/unhappy at his current positing, then his options for leaving might be narrowed.

At that point, it seems like it just comes down to how much you're willing to pay to be happy. If your lifestyle inflates to the point that you can't take a pay cut, then yeah, that's a shitty situation, but I know of some folks who would gladly trade $50,000 for a little more free time, and in the next year or so likely will.

Hey! Great job. That's awesome.

My trajectories been

25k 6months, 45k 6m, 75k 1yr, 110k now.

Hoping to get to 150k in one more year. 150+ would be a sweet salary!!


that's impressive! what's the shortest time you've spent at a company?

> I can't agree with this more. As much as I sympathize with entrepreneurs and managers having trouble hiring engineers in this current environment, I feel like "they" brought it on themselves because wages were probably below what they should've been for years, and because of that, supply became depressed.

Correction: they are below what people of the quality they want are willing to work for. There are plenty of engineers willing to work for those salaries; the vast majority get rejected.

Whether these entrepreneurs and managers actually need the level of quality they are seeking is a subject for a different religious debate.

> Whether these entrepreneurs and managers actually need the level of quality they are seeking is a subject for a different religious debate.

I'd say its more accurate to say "The quality of engineers isn't effectively determined in most hiring processes."

At my last job, the "one review a year" was held just shy of 6 months after I joined -- and the "only time you could be eligible for a raise" was during that review. I had missed the cutoff for first day by 4 days. My boss told me he yelled and fought for me to get the review, but that they said no.

A year later when I told them I was leaving for a better paying job (with much better incentives and work/life balance), he said "is it about the money? we can pay you more why didn't you just ask".

All simplicity is a lie.

If I could give a professional hint to my former self it would be: the best employers are the ones who are comfortable making a deal -- paying what they need to pay to get it done, and trying to strike the best deal they can. Any hiccup on that road (notably: not paying / checks bouncing / salary negotiations where the numbers decrease at any point, even if it is due to a technical or paperwork error on their end) is a _very_ bad sign.

It depends on the size of the company. Once past a certain size, there is not much a manager, even at director level can do to give an employee a raise out of review time. The HR "partner" have a big rule book on compensation and the poor manager can only "slot" his/her reports into a predefined range. A startup does have more flexibility to adjust compensation.

HR doesn't actually run the business- they're actually there to serve the business needs.

You were 'let down easy' by whoever told you that. It's human civilization on planet Earth, everything actually is negotiable, and "my hands are tied" is just a negotiation strategy.

I've found that's often a BS management excuse to shift blame. If they really want to keep you, they'll find the money.

Yeah, as someone who has (sort of) hid behind that excuse to shift the blame, let me tell you - that's an excuse people hide behind to shift the blame. It's like 'legal won't let me'. Bullshit, you don't care about it enough to ignore the advice that legal gave you. HR's role is to serve the business, not the other way around.

HR is a cancer, majority of the time

Ah I love it. The manager who is shocked to find out people want money. And then the excuses...

* I forgot about that, why didn't you confront me every single day about it

* We were just gonna raise your salary anyway, we just kept it secret

* We were just going to implement the promised equity plan now, we just didn't tell anyone to be a surprise

* Ah yeah the shares turned into options with zero context

* The options turned into 1 year forward priced options, but you will get more, nevermind we hoped you don't notice

> My boss told me he yelled and fought for me to get the review, but that they said no.

Unless you witness it, don't simply believe this one.

It's a cheap & easy way to say "no" while still positioning himself as the good guy. After all, he's the one that has to manage a day to day relationship with you.

And stop to think about that for a moment. If you "yelled and fought" with him, would he or the organization tolerate that behavior? If he wouldn't, why would his boss tolerate it from him?

Don't ever think it is OK for a boss to have "yelled and fought" for you. If your boss does not have the authority to actually make changes within his own team, then your organization has more serious issues than your paycheck.

You should have told him you wanted a skip level meeting as he clearly isn't your manager if he can't give you a raise

When hiring we will often offer an amount near the lower end of the range provided (assuming their range is reasonable) and include in the offer letter a ~5% raise after 6 months.

Interesting tactic. Do you mention the 5% raise in your offer letter? I wonder how this would affect the mindset of the candidate?

Yes we do mention it in the offer letter. Again, we start at their low end of their range though. We want them to know that "if things work out" they'll get a raise.

Staying at one firm is less scary, but is a career killer. You owe it to yourself and your career to move every few years. I aim for 5 years tops at one firm, unless I happen to get lucky and move within the firm to a substantially different job. That's happened to me once.

A different company offers you broader experience, if its well chosen, and of course, a better raise. I don't use a job offer as leverage at the old firm; I think that's a bad career mistake. Of course, jumping is scary, and the new firm might suck, but that's why networking is essential, whether you like it or not.

Can't upvote this enough. Switching jobs vs. getting a raise, is the difference between a 30% raise and a 5% raise.

Also, if you get a 30% better offer, don't be afraid to switch after just a few months. Job hopping won't hurt your career, but throwing away a few thousand dollars of opportunity cost per month will hurt your wallet.

Job hopping too frequently actually can hurt your career.

I've seen people get passed over because they jumped around too frequently. Hiring people is expensive and a hassle, and nobody wants to hire a person who's just going to leave in 6-12 months.

Obviously that doesn't apply if all of a person's past gigs were contracting work or "contract to hire" type things.

If you don't incentivize me to leave, I won't. And I would prefer to work for an employer who understands that than for an employer who plays on my built-in herd instincts and sense of belonging to get me to stay.

There's a lot of opportunity cost in staying at a job where your salary doesn't grow as fast as the market salary does.

Let's say my salary right now is 100k and that is the same as market. Next year I get a 10% raise, which makes my salary 110k. But the market has gone up 30%, which means my salary should be 130k.

Repeat that another year and my salary is 121k, but the market salary is 169k. By not switching jobs every year, I've just lost 68k in two years. Assuming the same numbers, I will have lost 154k after another year. That is more than my whole salary that I've left on the table just because I don't want to hurt my career by job hopping.

In this overblown example (neither raises nor market growth are that fast, I think) I could afford almost two years of retirement after 3 job hops.

What could you do with two years of free time?

PS: this is why companies give you a 4 year vesting cycle with an exorbitant [potential] upside. They understand this calculation and are trying to give you incentive to stay.

PPS: this is also why employers don't like it when you discuss salaries with your friends. To the point that it's become almost taboo to do so

I more or less agree with you.

My point was that there's a limit to how frequently that can be done. By all means, get a higher paying job when you can, but be aware employers are hesitant when they see somebody who jumps ship every few months, and it's unlikely they'll come right out and tell you that if they turn you down.

If they don't believe in their ability to retain me, then I can reply to the other 10 companies whose recruiters contacted me this month.

Totally missing the point.

If looking at your resume sends the message, "Nothing you can do will retain me," then a lot of good companies won't even bother with you.

Maybe it's their loss, maybe it's yours, but in any case it's an opportunity missed due to jumping around a lot. Debating about it on HN isn't going to change the fact that it happens.

Anyway, I'm just saying, "it doesn't hurt your career," isn't completely accurate. To use your example, maybe it would have been 15 or 20 other recruiters contacting you if you didn't jump around so much.

some people get quickly bored no matter what kind of job you throw at them. IT is currently too geenerous profession and these spoilings are very common these days. good if you have skillset interesting enough for companies to overlook that (nobody is blind nor stupid enough to not notice that at all). or if you can just sell yourself, it doesn't matter how one gets the job. but for anybody looking for more than short term head count increase, with at least a bit of project management experience, what you describe is simple - a big NO, not worth the hassle. If last 10 comapnies failed to retain you for more than a year, 11th won't be much better, would it...

if you are a true born hopper there is perfect way to do things right - self employed consultancy. it's also paid better most of the time.

and btw getting bored too quickly is terrible, terrible personality trait, for any aspect of life.

This has been a pretty constant issue for me. I'm only a few years into my career, but my skills have always grown at a faster rate than my responsibilities (and my compensation). Job-hopping has kind of become the norm – 8 months, then 19/6/11 months each, before this one. I keep stumbling into these great jobs, but I wonder how many times I can bail so early before companies stop believing that I actually want to work there.

Yeah, it doesn't take a brilliant hiring manager to notice you've never stayed at a job longer than 9 months for the last 15 years. SV has a much greater tolerance for it than companies did fifty years ago, but you can still take it too far.

Heh, it hasn't been quite 15 years for me yet, but it's definitely something on my mind. The only thing making me feel better is that the last few job hops have been from being recruited, not the other way around, so people must not mind TOO much yet.

At a significant company (Apple, Google, Microsoft) very soon after getting hired, you'll have stock options and/or RSUs worth millions of dollars vesting vesting on a rotating schedule. "Leaving" can be painful unless the next company wants to make you whole against the millions of dollars in stock you'd vest over the next 6 years by staying.

It's often not talked about directly, but established tech companies (not "acqui-hire startup flavor of the month") routinely create hundreds of new millionaires every year. It's one of those weird worst best kept secrets. People don't like to talk about their net worth when it comes from steady work. People tend to only brag when it comes to media popularized lottery/startup windfalls.

Imagine even starting at Apple ten years ago before their stock went all rocket ship. Just by taking your standard options blocks and not getting fired, you'd be extremely well off today without overly exerting yourself (if not overly exerting yourself is even possible at Apple).

One should never consider RSUs as a form of wealth- you don't have any of that money, and you can't control it, so therefore you don't have it.

RSUs, when vesting on a regular schedule, are a form of salary. When I consider how much I "make" per year, in order to compare to other offers/companies, I add my yearly wage with the RSUs that will vest in the next year at current market prices. The sum is my real wage.

Could the stock suddenly go up, meaning my RSUs are worth so much more? Yes. It could also go down. But short of my having/using better information than the market has, the going rate of the stock price is probably a good measure of what the stock will be worth in the near future.

What level are we talking about? RSUs worth millions is a lot higher than what I have heard from people working at Apple/Google/Facebook.

Well, over time. Not one bulk grant (at least for "unimportant" employees), but every year you get an additional grant with a new vesting schedule. Over time it adds up.

Of course, it's always better to have been hired 10 years ago when you could get more stock at lower strike prices anyway.

I think you are assuming people hold onto the stock over those 10 years. Generally this is a terrible idea, as you are violating the core financial principle of diversifying investments. I've seen multiple friends get burned by this approach when all their net worth is with their employer who then hits a problem. It's very risky and just looking at apple or google over the last ten years is survivorship bias.

I work for a well-known tech company that includes RSUs as a pretty big chunk of compensation. I have absolutely no perspective on the level of the additional grants that come attached to the annual reviews, but I was under the impression it was maybe a $5–8k cost-of-living kind of deal. Now I'm very intrigued...

It really depends. The numbers aren't huge life-changing at the beginning, but they add up over time and if you're really strong^H^H^H^H^Hlucky^H^H^H^H^Hshrewd and get promoted quickly, the numbers can get pretty large. The numbers below are hypotheticals but not too far off from people I know doing the BigTechCo circuit. Some do better, some do worse.

As a new grad you might see $5-10k in extra annual compensation coming from vesting RSUs (i.e. in addition to your salary and cash bonus). But RSU grants start to stack. Say your grants start vesting after 1 year at 25% per year. Year by year you might see:

Year 1: $40k/4 = $10k vest, new $10k grant (also vesting over 4 years)

Year 2: $40k/4 + $10k/4 = $12.5k vest, new $15k grant

Year 3: $40k/4 + $10k/4 + $15k/4 = $16.25k vest, new $25k grant

Year 4: $40k/4 + $10k/4 + $15k/4 + $25k/4 = $22.5k vest, new $35k grant

Year 5: $10k/4 + $15k/4 + $25k/4 + $35k/4 = $21k vest, new $40k grant

At year 5 you've seen $82.25k worth of stock vest (assuming a flat share price). Which leaves you with $82.75k left to vest.

Now you're tired of working at BigTechCo #1 and get an offer from their competitor, BigTechCo #2. You know how this works, so you tell them you've got $83k in RSUs. To make it worth your while, they offer you $160k of their own RSUs vesting on a similar schedule. You're an experienced, senior hire at this point so your RSU grants are larger, but maybe because you're a new hire who doesn't know the ropes your first couple of years at BigTechCo #2 show respectable but not explosive growth:

Year 6: $160k/4 = $40k vest, new $30k grant

Year 7: $160k/4 + $30k/4 = $47.5k vest, new $50k grant

Then you interview again and move to BigTechCo #3. Or back to BigTechCo #1. Or you tell BigTechCo #2 you're out and they give you a retention offer. Or you get a big promotion. Either way, the RSU grants add up. All the while you've been pulling in a respectable base salary, raises, and cash bonuses. And maybe, if you're lucky, your company's stock price has gone up too.

Or you realize your gross income of $200-300k in the Bay Area earns you the ability to buy property, which means you pick 2-3 of the following outcomes: [1] small and/or shitty house [2] 2-3 hour daily commute [3] overextended and house poor. So you move to the midwest and buy a palace.

Wow, you put a ton of effort into this, thanks. It's basic math but it really helped to see the fractions laid out like that. Now, to get good at my job and buy a palace...

I guess it also helps to become irreplaceable and/or indispensable at something.

There are employees at Google with hundred million dollar stock packages, but those obviously aren't bottom-of-the-org-chart drones.

You can either work hard for a lifetime single-company career and get there in 10-30 years, or you can try to hack your way upwards with startups and get acquired by the same company. (or, the even more daring option—create something of value as a startup and get your own team to help grow it.)

I think it would be fun to be the type of person who throws startup-centric, hail-mary passes with my career, but now that I've actually gotten myself onto a track that I love, I've very quickly turned into the quarterback calling the end-around and screen-pass every play. I might win less, but I'm less likely to screw something up too badly.

One of the theoretical advantages of a large, diversified firm is the plethora of internal opportunities for job and even career changes with less friction than trying to put yourself on the open market.

In practice, unfortunately, it seems all too easy to get pigeonholed, hit a political snare, or some other roadblock that makes your career there a trap rather than an opportunity.


I worked at Microsoft for nearly 14 years. I had the privilege of working on 4 very different teams (microBrowser, Palladium/Bitlocker, Robotics, Midori)

So in many respects it was like working at 4 different companies, in that respect I avoided the pigeonhole trap (which certainly also applies when you do move companies) but over time I accumulated corporate cruft which ended up dragging me down. Moving to a new company allows you to reset that.

What do you mean by corporate cruft?

For example, your review history follows you, after a certain point poor promotion velocity is used to justify not promoting...

You become the goto guy / domain expert over enough things that most of your time is spent being interrupted or in meetings instead of building stuff.

On the flip-side, joining a consulting firm is like a 10x multiplier on experience. You're constantly updating your resume for clients.

> On the flip-side, joining a consulting firm is like a 10x multiplier on experience. You're constantly updating your resume for clients.

Starting out at an agency was so incredibly valuable for me–the endless train of projects provided a massive boost to my skills and confidence. I started out self taught, basically programming for fun ever since I was a kid, never really considering myself a 'programmer'. My boss (and somewhat of a mentor) basically threw me in the deep end with client projects.

I somehow managed to actually do well on my first project, and wound up getting to tackle some of the more ambitious projects we'd land, eventually participating earlier and earlier in the planning process and having more influence in how things were done. It was such great all-around experience. Now I work at a startup (and quite a fast moving one at that), which is great, but I've realized that it would take me so much longer to get to the same level if I'd started out in a single-focus type of company rather than an agency/consultancy taking on all sorts of different projects.

I definitely agree with this. A previous employer of mine had a policy of never matching any competing offers -- you stuck with what you had or took the offer. Combined with very infrequent raises this led to a fairly low morale. I stuck around as long as I did only because it was convenient enough while I was building up my own things.

This is not always true. There are some rare gems like my current place of employment who's managing partners, with a little persuading, allowed me to give raises up to 20% for some individuals.

EDIT: But yes, for most people and most companies, you'll need to jump ship to jump up a rung or two on the salary ladder.

This is exactly my experience (jumping ship and changing titles). I didn't see much discussion in the article about "what do I need to do to get to the next level" as a point of discussion when asking for more money. This is an easier discussion for your manager in many cases, and in theory at least should come with an increase when it happens. For many larger companies, in the long run the key to increasing your salary is getting promoted a lot. The other factor to consider is how is the company doing. Are they doing well financially and expanding their business, starting new projects? Or are they cutting corners on expenses? If they are cutting corners on expenses, not replacing people who leave, etc, you really are probably better off looking somewhere else in many cases than trying to negotiate a higher salary.

Joel Spolsky, I believe, use to say this "Be a revenue producer, not a cost center." Get a developer job working on the product or services your company sells for revenue. Don't get a job working on internal systems designed to save on costs (looking at all the developers working for insurance companies and retailers developing back ends and internal applications designed to cut costs rather than increase sales and revenue).

Here's a prior HN discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=85843

Step Two: Never accept a counter offer since your loyalty will be in question forever going forward. Only fish for another offer if you are ready to jump ship.

My `raise` has always been 20-40% by jumping.

Isn't it advised against negotiating with current company with another offer? Since they'll just get rid of you later because they know you'll jump ship?

Ask for a contract in the counter.

I doubled my salary in three years by moving jobs twice. I bet I could have done it in 2 if I didn't want to move home for the second job.

Bingo. Not much else to say really.

does not need to be a competing firm. Any tech company will do, just have an offer on the table.

Exactly my same experience.

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