My (somewhat) complete salary history as a software engineer

It’s 2018 and somehow women are still getting paid less than men, even in supposedly progressive industries like software.[1] Whether that be from companies offering women less than men for the same position, women being less likely to negotiate or less successful in negotiations, or any of the other myriad reasons, the results are still the same: women make less than men for the same job. That’s something that shouldn’t be happening in today’s world and it’s up to us (read: men) to step up and make things right. This is my attempt to do just that.

Why am I doing this?

Longtime followers know that I’ve been dealing with serious health issues for several years. Two and a half years ago I had to stop working to focus on my health and it will likely be a couple more years before I’m able to even consider working a full-time job again. The people responsible for my last compensation package have long since left that company. That puts me in a unique position where I am not beholden to any past employers, and any future employers are far enough into the future that the information I’m sharing here will be mostly useless by then. Plus, as a white man, I know I’m going to be able to negotiate for my salary without backlash[2] when I do start working again. As such, the information in this post is more valuable to others than it is to me.

The bottom line is that nothing gets better unless people are willing to share information. And while I could just share my last salary, I don’t think that’s very useful, especially when compared with the variety of already-available sources of information online. No, to be useful, I felt like I would need to reveal my entire salary history so people can determine for themselves if they’re seeing enough improvement in their salaries over time.

Where did this data come from?

The data in this post comes from the following sources:

  1. My memory. Yes, memory is fallible, but there are some data points that are so important on an emotional level that they tend to stick in my brain. I’ll point those out.
  2. Offer letters. As my offer letters post-2006 were always emailed to me, I’ve been able to be 100% sure of those details. Prior to 2006, my offer letters were always mailed to me, and I have no record of those.

Where my memory fails me and I don’t have an offer letter, I’ve made an attempt to guess the salary range I had at the time.

The data

The table below contains all of my salary (and some other compensation history). I’m including what I believe to be data relevant to evaluating the compensation include the year I received the salary, the years of experience I had at the time (YOE), the starting and ending salary to take into account raises, and any signing bonus (Signing $) and stock options (Options) I might have received. Any amount with a question mark indicates that I’m guessing. I did not include any restricted stock units I might have received because I only ever received them at Yahoo as part of my initial offer.

Year YOE Company State Title Starting $ Ending $ Signing $ Options
2000 0 Radnet, Inc. MA Webmaster $48,000 $55,000 - ?
2001 0 Radnet, Inc. MA UI Developer $62,500 $62,500 - -
2001 0 MatrixOne, Inc. MA UI Designer/Developer $68,000? ? $2,000 ?
2003 3 MatrixOne, Inc. MA Senior Software Engineer ? $75,000? - -
2005 5 Vistaprint, Inc. MA Lead Software Engineer $82,000? $98,000 - 3,000
2006 6 Yahoo, Inc. CA Senior Front-end Engineer $115,000 ? $10,000 3,500
2008 8 Yahoo, Inc. CA Principal Front-end Engineer ? ? - -
2011 11 Yahoo, Inc. CA Presentation Architect ? $165,000? - -
2013 13 Box, Inc. CA Staff Software Engineer $175,000 ? $25,000 50,000
2014 14 Box, Inc. CA Principal Architect $208,000 $220,000 - -

Job Details

The data alone doesn’t really tell the full story, so here are the details around each position. I’ve also included how I came to work at each company, as I think it’s important to recognize blind resume submissions from having contacts as a company.

In 2006, I moved from Massachusetts to California. This undoubtedly affected my pay positively due to the higher cost of living in California. At one point, my manager mentioned that if I moved back to Massachusetts, I should expect a 10% pay cut due to cost of living differences. I’m still in California, so I have no idea if that was accurate.

Radnet (2000-2001)

My first job out of college was at a small startup in Wakefield, MA called Radnet, Inc. I got this job because the woman who used to babysit me as a child was running human resources at the company. My official title was webmaster, and I thought I would be coming in to run the company website. As it turned out, between the time they offered me the job and my starting day, they had hired someone to oversee both UI development and the website. As it turned out, I would never manage the website and instead would spend time making JavaScript components for the company’s web application.

I know that my starting salary was $48,000 (about $70,284 in 2018 dollars) because I was very excited about it. After spending summers working jobs that ranged from $2/hour to $6/hour, this seemed like an incredible amount of money to me. A few months in, they gave me a raise to $55,000 because I was doing a good job. Towards the end of 2000, they believed the company would be bought and so they changed my title to UI Developer and upped my salary to $62,500 with the belief that an acquirer would immediately fire the “webmaster” and ensuring I’d benefit from the acquisition.

As it turned out, the company never got bought and so it shutdown in January 2001. I never really saw much of the $62,500, and eight months after I had started my first job, I was unemployed.

The job itself was pretty low-stress. I worked an even 40 hours per week during my eight months there, and never once worked on a weekend.

Note: I did receive stock options for this position, but I don’t remember what they were. I didn’t really understand what stock options were at the time so that information never stuck in my brain.

MatrixOne (2001-2005)

When Radnet closed down, my manager ended up at MatrixOne and asked if I would like to join him. I had enjoyed working with him at Radnet so I accepted. It’s important to understand that this was during the dot-com crash and there weren’t a lot of tech jobs to be had in Massachusetts at the time. I considered myself lucky to have formed a good relationship that allowed me to find a new job fairly quickly after Radnet shut down.

I don’t remember all of the details but I’m pretty sure my starting salary was close to $68,000 ($96,814 in 2018 dollars). I’m also reasonably certain that I got a small signing bonus, maybe around $2,000, that my manager negotiated for me. I also received some stock options, but once again, I didn’t really understand what they were and so didn’t even register them as part of my compensation. It didn’t matter, though, because the company stock was never again as high as the day I joined. I was never able to exercise options, even when I got some repriced options later in my career there because the stock only ever went down. (Eventually the company would be bought out by a competitor.)

My salary didn’t improve much there because the company was in perpetually poor financial health. There was a salary freeze in place almost the entire time I was there. I survived four rounds of layoffs. I was eventually “promoted” to the position of Senior Software Engineer, but it was a promotion in title only. There was no increase in salary (because of the salary freeze) and no change in my responsibilities (because the organization was weird). It was just a pat on the back to say, “good job, please don’t leave.” Spoiler alert: I left as soon as I could.

Right before I left, I did get a salary increase to around $75,000. It wasn’t enough to make me want to stay.

In terms of workload, once again I stuck pretty close to 40 hours per week and never worked a weekend. My commute, however, added three hours every day (1.5 hours each way). Adding in the commute time would make it 55 hours per week.

This was the busiest time of my life, as I was not only working full time but was also writing my first book (nights and weekends) and going to school for my master’s degree (nights and weekends). I’m not quite sure how I ended up doing all of that, and managing a serious relationship with my then-partner, but somehow I made it through.

Vistaprint (2005-2006)

I often refer to my position at Vistaprint as my first real software engineering job. It was the first time I applied for a software engineering job without having a connection at the company; I just sent my resume in to their email address. I reported into the engineering organization (as opposed to the design organization in my prior jobs), and I got what I considered to be a good offer. The company was pre-IPO, and I was excited to get 3,000 stock options. (By this time, I actually understood what stock options were.)

I don’t recall the starting salary but I suspect it was around $82,000 ($105,867 in 2018 dollars). I definitely recall the ending salary as $98,000 for a few reasons. First, I was complaining a lot about the boring project they had assigned me to so I expected that would eliminate me from any serious raise considerations. I was shocked to get a raise and even more shocked at the amount. Second, I was bummed they didn’t give me the extra $2,000 to make an even $100,000. Last, I was secretly interviewing with both Google and Yahoo, and upping my salary meant that I could use that number when it came time to talk compensation with them.

I was only at Vistaprint for a little over a year before deciding to move to California to work for Yahoo. Vistaprint did go public while I was there, but since I left after a year, I didn’t see much from those stock options.

The workload here was heavier but I still managed to stick to 40-45 hours per week. I don’t recall working any weekends, however, I do recall sometimes needing to work from home in the evening or early morning. All in all, though, the workload wasn’t that bad.

Yahoo (2006-2011)

Yahoo’s initial offer was the best I had received up to that point. In addition to a $115,000 base salary ($143,833 in 2018 dollars), it included $10,000 signing bonus, 3,500 stock options, 1,500 RSUs, and relocation expenses. This was the first time I tried to negotiate for a higher starting salary and was summarily rejected. At least I tried.

I ended up at Yahoo through a circuitous route. I had heard that Yahoo was using my first book, Professional JavaScript for Web Developers, to teach JavaScript at the company. As such, I had an open invitation to stop by the campus if I was ever in the area. I had traveled to Mountain View to interview Google (they had found me through my second book, Professional Ajax) and so reached out to the folks at Yahoo to meet up. I didn’t realize that conversation would turn into an invitation to apply to work at Yahoo as well.

I don’t remember a lot of my pay details after I joined. Being at Yahoo for almost five years, I got several raises and two promotions, so my pay did keep increasing. All of that information was sent to my Yahoo corporate email address, and as such, I no longer have any of the documentation. That was intermixed with periods of layoffs and salary freezes. My initial stock options ended up worthless because the company stock price never again reached the level it was at when the options were priced. I would later get repriced stock options and more RSUs, but I don’t have specifics on that.

By the time I left, I suspect I was making around $165,000 based on how I felt about the offer from Box.

It’s worth noting that I left Yahoo to try to start a company with some friends and so didn’t have a regular salary for about 18 months.

The workload at Yahoo varied based on the position I had at that time. When I first arrived at Yahoo, I was in a deep depression after moving across the country to a place where I didn’t know anyone. I found being alone in my apartment to be unbearable and so I would go into work early and leave late. Focusing on my work kept the bad thoughts out of my head and I really enjoyed working on My Yahoo, so it was a good mix. I was probably in the office from 9am to 7pm most days.

Once I got more comfortable and started meeting people, I spent less time at the office and settled back into more of a 40-hour work week. Unfortunately, I also got more involved with writing and speaking, and those activities started to fill my nights and weekends. Before I knew it, I was basically working every day from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep. Even though all of the work wasn’t Yahoo was paying me for, it was all the same type of work, so it all flowed together.

The one thing I never did, though, was check my work email from home. I told everyone that leaving the office meant I was off the clock and the only way to reach me was to call me (I did give everyone my cell phone number). In my almost five years at Yahoo, I was only ever called once.

There were several occasions when I had to work over the weekend, but my managers were very good about giving me that time back the next week. If I had to work over the weekend then I could choose the same number of days during the week to take off (I’d usually take Thursday and Friday the next week to get a long weekend).

Box (2013-2016)

My offer from Box was also strong. The starting salary of $175,000 ($189,415 in 2018 dollars) was more than enough to make me happy at the time, and the offer included 50,000 stock options. Box was pre-IPO so that high stock option allocation (which I was told was higher than what they usually gave people at my level) was a big consideration for me. I negotiated for a $25,000 signing bonus, as well.

As part of my consulting business, I would regularly give talks at different companies. I agreed to give a talk for free at Box because a friend worked there and mentioned that they were having trouble managing their growing JavaScript code base. I spoke with a few people after the talk, including the VP of engineering, and we decided to explore if working at Box was a good fit for the company and me. Through several more discussions, it seemed like a good opportunity to get back into the stability of a regular salary with some interesting problems to tackle.

My memory is a bit hazy around what happened between joining and the end of my time at Box as this was the period when my health was on a steep decline. I think I got one raise as a Staff Software Engineer about three months after I joined, and was informed of being promoted to Principal Architect six months after I joined (although I wouldn’t get the pay increase for another six months). I’m reasonably certain the promotion pay increase bumped me to $208,000. I recall clearly that I got one last raise to push me to $220,000 during 2014 because I had started working from home full time due to my health and I thought it was very nice of them to give me a raise regardless.

At Box, I managed my workload very carefully due to my health. I started out at 40 hours per week but as my health declined, that number went down. I definitely dipped below that level later, but since we were evaluated on our impact rather than number of hours worked, I still got consistently positive reviews from my peers and manager. Box was also gracious enough to give me flexibility to work from home for two years, and even then, to work my own schedule as my health allowed. Ironically, it was my declining health that forced me to get smarter about how I worked and really keep my hours sane. I was also not spending time writing and speaking after the first year.

I left Box when I was no longer physically able to work from home.

Conclusion

In my sixteen year career, I averaged a pay increase of $10,000 per year, even when taking into account several years of salary freezes at MatrixOne and Yahoo. As such, I suspect I’d be making around $250,000 if I was working full time today.

It’s also important to understand that I never asked for a raise and only negotiated other details occassionally (as mentioned in the post). I never really felt comfortable with negotiations prior to working for myself, and generally was happy with the offers I received.

With the exception of my one year at Vistaprint (during which I was a grouchy pain in the ass), I was consistently reviewed as a top performer at my position. I wasn’t put on any sort of improvement plan and most of my feedback had to do with improving interactions and communication with colleagues. And again, with the exception of Vistaprint (because…pain in the ass), I took the feedback to heart and worked to improve in those areas.

Being single and not having a family to support throughout my entire career meant that I had more options. I could afford to take salary that was lower than what I wanted or could get elsewhere, and I could also afford to walk away from valuable stock options (such as with Vistaprint) to find a job that was more fulfilling. I recognize that not everyone has that option, so I think it’s important to make my situation clear here.

I have two hopes from sharing this information. First, I hope that having this information will make it easier for women to understand how much they should be paid for similar work and just how their pay should be increasing throughout their career. Second, I hope that other men who are in a similarly independent position will also share their compensation history to benefit others.

We can all be better if we’re willing to share.

Updates

  • 30-October-2018 - added in details about hours worked per week based on feedback.
  • 31-October-2018 - many people are sharing their salary histories on Hacker News.
  • 09-November-2018 - Business Insider has republished this article.

References

  1. By the Numbers: What pay inequality looks like for women in tech (forbes.com)
  2. Women Know When Negotiating Isn’t Worth It (theatlantic.com)

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