The Secrets to Making the Most Money as a Software Engineer

Learn all about negotiation, consultancies, equity shares, and more

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Negotiation is a subtle, dark art programmers need to learn to make more money. That’s what instructor Gene Hallman says, from App Academy’s Engineering Interview Prep course.

“There’s this perceived risk that both parties, [programmers and employers], are not going to reach an agreement and the employer is going to walk away from hiring you,” said Hallman during a phone interview. “But in reality, they’re excited to offer you what you want.”

So how can programmers get as confident as Hallman in their negotiation strategies? We’ve written a few strategic approaches to help get them there.

Follow the Rule of Three

Hallman says there are three simple negotiation tips for programmers to maximize their salary: Never reveal your desired salary, know when to “talk money,” and practice negotiating.

The first of these, keeping your salary wishes secret, signals to employers whether you’re a good negotiator or not. If you’re not, access to extra available goodies will be immediately cut off.

“The first person to name their price often loses the negotiation,” says Hallman.

The second rule, knowing when to “talk money,” determines when a negotiation actually starts during an on-site interview (and whether you’ll even get an offer). His answer: it starts depending on how long you’ve been in the office. If you’re still interviewing at the end of the day, you haven’t been vetoed by the hiring managers and therefore have leverage.

You can negotiate hard and see your true value. Keep pushing until they say no…

— Engineering Interview Prep Instructor Gene Hallman

This happens because hiring managers use onsite interviews to screen candidates. Because of the sunk cost fallacy, hiring managers only accept negotiations with people they want to hire. They don’t want to waste their time.

“You can negotiate hard and see your true value. Keep pushing until they say no,” says Hallman. The third rule is to practice negotiating. Hallman recommends applying to many positions, even ones they don’t want. So if a job seeker receives an offer, it gives them an opportunity to find out how much employers are willing to pay. Then, they can use that amount as leverage with their dream company.

If you can work for yourself, do it

When people start a job search, they tend to look for jobs at dream companies although it might make more sense to work as their own boss as a consultant. According to Hallman, programmers can make as much as double the salary as consultants.

In his experience as a career coach, Hallman recommends programmers with ten or more years of experience consider self-employment to maximize profit and determine their economic worth. They can start to do this, he says, by setting their own hourly consulting rate.

“You determine true market value by upping your desired salary, like selling a car starting high and going low until someone buys it,” explains Hallman. For the most part contractors are always paid more than salaried employees even if there are some downsides.

“You manage billing and chase down people for payment,” he says. Being a consultant also makes taxes more complicated and costly.

Gain equity shares at a small startup

For those who don’t want to consult, there are other ways to increase potential salary. One to consider is working for a smaller company for equity shares.

Because only one in nine startups succeed, you have to be diligent about which companies you are going to join.

— Hallman

“Because only one in nine startups succeed, you have to be diligent about which companies you are going to join,” says Hallman. He recommends gaining equity in multiple startups by changing companies, increasing the chances one company will pan out.Developers with 2-3 years of experience can easily get jobs as CTOs and Technical Leads, Hallman says. They can help shape the tech, set-up policy, and even get involved in product design. And since startups usually have minimal cash on hand, they often promise equity shares to employees.

Specialize, specialize, specialize

If a programmer wants to work at an established company with a big salary, Hallman says they’ll have more negotiation power if they specialize.

“Big companies need experts, the best of the best, not just average talent,” Hallman says. Specialization improves the market for software developers, especially if they specialize in a growing tech, like machine learning.

Hallman says he benefited because of security expert specialization. After Google suffered a cyber attack in 2010, he was hired to secure its financial databases and ended up making a mint. Experienced developers in security all commanded high salaries.

“The number of humans needed to perform a [cyber] attack is much less than the amount of people you need to clean up after the mess,” Hallman explains.

Hallman says there’s still a shortage of security experts. In fact, he says if all Fortune 500 companies were exposed to a cyber-attack at the same time, 100,000 experts would be needed to clean up the mess. Only 30,000 of them, however, are in the market today.

Anyone starting in the tech industry as a coder, then, should strongly consider security as a potential great long-term opportunity. And with expert advice from teachers like Hallman, App Academy’s Engineering Interview Prep is the type of course that can help potential applicants get ready for their interviews. Choosing the right companies offering the best paths to security management positions isn’t easy, after all, and taking a professional course dedicated to that singular task is likely worth your while.

Written by Lorenz Menendez

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