Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash (Modified)

How I determine my value as an IT professional

Some idle thinking on salary and the related topics.

I have been a software developer for approximately 5–6 years now, working almost exclusively in the e-commerce vertical and mostly for consulting companies. During that time, I have moved from three different companies, each of which have left their own largely positive impression. IT is an interesting industry; it’s incredibly fluid, world-wide in scope and seems to regularly reassess its own fundamental assumptions. It stands to reason then that our careers are similarly chaotic, shifting between one opportunity to another as we see the shifting rhythms of the industry to best capitalise on our skillset.

https://what-if.xkcd.com/111/

The importance of money

It’s perhaps worth first considering the nature of the thing that we’re given for (usually) our time. From Wikipedia, the definition of money is:

Power

Broadly, money (especially salary) is a mechanism to express the value of a person. Having money buys access to a socioeconomic class of others who have similar amounts of money, each of whom wield their own pools of influence. The greater the level of money, the greater the access to these high power individuals.

Choice

As mentioned and by way of an increase of social power, wealth buys us choice. Perhaps this best understood by examining the inverse; the scenario in which some of us are restrained to positions of little choice, and are thus unable to increase their relative wealth — the “poverty trap”. Broadly, there is a segment of our society who are unable to make the sort of investments that lead them to contribute more value to society at large — education, transport or even food and safety.

Direction

The nature of our economic complexity is such that we are often unable to see the yield of our work directly. At the time of writing, I see that these posts have been read by around ~900 people in the last 30 days. But I have no notion as to whether they’ve helped improve lives or yielded any societal value.

Determining our value to a business

Unfortunately, not all businesses are equal, neither are our development contributions to them. Even if we work for ourselves, our value lies in the value that we’re able to provide to others rather than the technical excellence of our solutions, our ability to understand the clients requirements or whether we’re nice people. It gets a little messier when discussing concrete value versus perceived value, but that’s a topic for another day.

Measuring it

If you’re lucky enough to be a part of a company that makes its financials transparent, then it’s a fairly straight forward journey between determining our contributions to the business as compared to our salaries. In my case, my salary is derived from the aggregate of our consulting services, in turn billed by units of time. I try to maximise my value by first ensuring that our project partners and project team is happy. It then folds out into ensuring that the project teams more generally are happy, and then to the business proper.

Measuring proxy values

There are now an abundance of services that provide some comparative data across industry between companies. Such services generally ask several questions like:

  • What are your qualifications with ${X}
  • How old are you
  • What industry are you in
  • What type of organisation do you work with
A generated report from Payscale.com for “software developers” in Frankfurt am Main
A generated report from Payscale.com for “Site Reliability Engineer (SRE)” in Frankfurt am Main

Asking

Ultimately, all calculations of salary are hypothetical unless they’re against the open market. While reading salary calculations and other related literature, it’s easy to see only the best of ourselves and determine that we’re being underpaid, and we’re rockstars in our respective fields.

  • Requires us to prepare a portfolio of our knowledge suitable for others consumption. This helps our own orgs as well in their learning.
  • Forces us to prepare systems such that they do not depend on us, and deliberately spread knowledge and skills around.
  • Requires us to to investigate the skills required by other companies, especially those who pay larger salaries. In many cases those skills are extremely useful regardless of the efficacy of the application.

Putting a price on a ourselves

As far as I know, there is a limited objective set of prices to evaluate a given person's value; it’s an inherently tricky task. However, the above guides and things should provide some clarity as to the expected salary return.

The team

Broadly, the team of people I work with are among the best engineers I have ever worked with. They’re smart, talented, empathetic and driven to improve the quality of the project and increase our customers return on their investment in us.

Business benefits

In our cae, Sitewards is fairly generous with business benefits, and definitely has a super relaxed culture. Sitewards pays for things like:

  • Qualifications
  • Courses in German
  • Office space and other utilities to make our work places better

Negotiating position

Perhaps the most frustrating part about salary negotiation is that it systematically rewards those who are able to risk more in opening these discussions, requesting higher salaries or even moving companies and locations with a view to increase their personal worth.

In Conclusion

Determining our value as IT professionals is a difficult topic. It is perhaps not natural as humans to attempt to express ourselves in terms of a numeric salary digit. In the culture in which I was raised we are deliberately effacive, eschewing self importance for the improvement of family, friends and community.

See https://www.andrewhowden.com/