If you’re in a rush and need career direction, skip straight to the lessons at the end.
I’m a front-end developer, previously full-stack, in the UK. Here are the dates, compensation and years’ experience:
2005: ￡15K ($18.6K), 0 years
2008: ￡17.5K ($21.7K), 3 years
2010: ￡28K ($34.8K), 5 years
2014: ￡42K ($52.1K), 9 years
2016: ￡400/day ($497/day), 11 years
My first web development job in 2005 was at a small web development shop (7 employees) in a relatively low-income area.
In 2008, I started at a larger company (50+ employees) in a large town. In 2009 I was promoted to a department head, but my 2010 salary increase came because of an offer elsewhere. I worked weekends, answered calls and emails constantly and pulled 10–12 hour days. I stayed for six years.
Come 2014, I worked at a FTSE 100 as a senior developer. I was keen to advance, so my hours started creeping up again. Soon I was effectively filling a tech lead role hoping it would lead to a promotion. (Spoiler: it didn’t.)
This year I quit and set up as an independent contractor. My takehome after tax has roughly doubled. I work sane hours and there is far less pressure. Most days I don’t even need to leave the house. I use the extra time to learn, work on personal projects, spend time with friends and family and do freelance work.
For my next contract, I’m aiming for ￡450/day (~$560/day). Next year I’m taking my first real holiday in nearly 10 years.
These apply to web developers in the US and UK; I’m unsure about other job markets.
- Smart web developers are in very high demand. Bad working conditions and below market compensation? Start looking now.
- Talent and experience will help you get and keep the job, but don’t guarantee a high salary.
- What will get you a high salary: go where the money is, change jobs frequently, and always get multiple offers and negotiate.
- Focus on skills that will increase your future earning potential. This includes negotiating, interviewing and communication. All of these can be learned and improved.
- If you’re working harder than you should for less than you’re worth, you are to blame. You have finite time and energy in your life and you’re wasting it. Move on.
- Don’t feel bad about leaving your team or employer in the lurch for a better-paying job. Your team are responsible for their own lives, and your employer will offer more if they really need you.
- Money won’t buy happiness, but it buys a lot of things you need or want. Retirement may seem a long way off, but one day you will be 60, and you’ll be glad for the savings, pension and life experiences you accrued.
- Don’t work long hours for employers who pay you for eight. Use that time to learn a framework, build something, contribute to open source, freelance… anything but donate your time to richer people who won’t pay for it.
To me 10 years ago, these lessons would seem cuttthroat and selfish. Now I see them as being assertive and valuing personal growth.
If you don’t care about growth and self-improvement, you will throw a decade of your life into helping wealthier people who do care about them to live fuller, richer lives at your expense.
Stupid people (me!) learn from their mistakes. Smart people (you?) learn from other people’s mistakes.