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I used money as a “value” metric

ahmedmusallam profile image Ahmed Musallam ・5 min read

A long story about how I more-than doubled my salary in a matter of 3 years. This story is very personal. I’m not trying to brag, or be insensitive. I just wanted to share my story. Take it for what it’s worth.

3 years ago, I graduated with a Computer Science degree from a little college you never heard of. I loved software development but didn't really know what I wanted to do. I got a job offer from a consulting company. The pay was less that the average for the industry, but I took it and did not no negotiate. A mistake on my part.

I could have landed a better offer if I just asked. That was the only difference between me and other developers that were hired at the same time. Asking. Sounds stupid, but it’s true!

I was not the sharpest developer.

In fact, I was clueless. I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of foundational programming skills. Something college didn't teach me. I sucked as a developer. However, I was hungry to work and learn. Software development was rewarding and the more I did it, the better I got.

I really wanted to become a better developer.

I worked really hard; teaching myself different things and most importantly, seeking advice from more experienced developers. I knew that the best way to force my self to learn was to step out of my comfort zone. I took several training courses on a variety of topics. I joined an internal project where we worked after-hours to develop a talent management system. At one point, I was putting 60-70 hour weeks. I wrote horrifying code, but I learned a lot and continued to improve.

At some point, I realized I was not being paid enough.

Certainly not as much as other developers who were hired at the same time for the same position with worse programming skills than me.

We need to pause here. You might be wondering, how did I know? Isn’t the “salary conversation” forbidden? Well, yes, but people talk, and I also asked anyone who was comfortable and willing to talk salary with me any chance I got. It was “research”. I thought: “well, if glassdoor says I should be getting paid at least 20k more, whats the harm in asking”.

I hate talking about money. It’s uncomfortable. But no one was going to do it for me. I mustered all the courage I got and walked into the manager’s office:

“Hey, got a few minutes?” - I asked while shaking and sweating like my life was going to end in that instant.

“Sure” - he said

I walked in, closed the door and sat down.

“I’ve been an employee here for a year and a half now, I worked extra hours and put my heart and soul into my work [insert other achievements here]. I’d like to talk about my compensation, I feel that it is not quite adequate given the industry’s average. I believe that I’ve been a valuable employee, however I feel that I’m not valued” or something to tat effect.

Pause.

Yes, value equaled money for me. Off course other things like recognition and other incentives are great. But money is the most important indicator of how much your company values you. After all, companies are in the business of making money and naturally, money is a business’s most valued asset. But, I did not know exactly what I wanted, and I was not direct about it.

Back to my manager.

“Yes, you’ve made quite the reputation for yourself. Let me see where you’re at and what I can do”

click click he clicked away.

“I see you are at X, I can offer you an extra Y, that’s a 15% increase and is the most I can do at this time”

“Ok, I think that will work, thank you!” I was so uncomfortable, anything to leave... we shook hands and I left.

It felt like victory!

I did not get everything I wanted, because 15% of a really low salary is

a really low number, but I still felt like I won! I got a pay increase just because I asked!

Over the course of the next 2 years, I got on projects where I was a lead developer, the business believed in my ability to outperform devs with more years of experience than me. I’ve proven my value and grew into a better developer with time and hard work!

During those two years, I published open-source code on github, answered Stack Overflow questions, read thousands of technical articles and overall used every free minute I had to better my self as a developer. I was also blessed with a little baby girl who filled my world with joy.

I was still unhappy with my salary

I was reviewing code for developers who made more than me. I was also being approached by technical architect for solutions to problems they could not solve. I made a reputation for myself through helping other developer on team channels on slack (where the management team can see it). I answered every question I saw, or at leased tried to.

I asked for a raise a second and a third time.

I was getting excuses such as “budget” or “bad timing”. I still got raises, but tiny bumps was not what I had in mind. Every time I asked, it was awkward. I was still uncomfortable with the idea that I’m asking for money... it felt like begging.

Until one day...

My wife said to me: “you tend to undervalue yourself. You keep telling me how you write code and solve problems in a similar manner to people who make double what you make”

It hit me hard, I was undervaluing my self. I was part of the problem. I did not ask hard enough.

I left the company for another opportunity. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

About a year later. My old company reached out. A different business unit I have worked with in the past wanted me to join their specialized practice. They believed I would be a valuable asset. This time I was confident, I knew what I wanted, and I asked for it. I was ready to say “no”. I negotiated a high salary that someone my age would not be able to negotiate; given my extremely short career. I got what I wanted, and then some! And it was for the right reasons: excellent career growth opportunity, fantastic peers I can learn from, more responsibility, work from home (I can be there for my 2 year old!) and best of all, great salary!

Hard work pays off. And this is only the beginning of the road for me! I’m excited about the future and looking forward to becoming the best developer I can be! (And gain twitter followers with a “K” suffix. Shameless plug: @AhmedAtWork)

Ok, my flight is descending, I dont know what kind of reactions this post will get, but I hope this was helpful to others? Feel free to scream at me in the comments if orherwise :)

Discussion

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nikalomoiris profile image
Nikolaos

I am at the point of your story that I have gotten the first small raise (22% on a very low starting salary) and now looking to move to another company because I feel I am not paid fairly for the amount of work I do. I am glad that worked for you and I hope I can say the same story in a few years! Thank you for sharing!

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ahmedmusallam profile image
Ahmed Musallam Author

I hope things workout for you! Keep working hard and you will be rewarded!

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itsasine profile image
ItsASine (Kayla)

I think I'm the anti-you. I started at a very low salary, almost immediately they gave me an extra $3/hr to be more competitive, then I got 3%, 14%, 10%, 4%, 5%. None of this was asked for and 3% is the best merit raise the company does as a rule (and 10% for promotions, which is why there was a 10 in there). To make sure I was being accurately compensated for my value, some strings were pulled behind the scenes around review time, but it was never started by me. I was just informed of it after the fact.

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ahmedmusallam profile image
Ahmed Musallam Author

Hi Kayla, that is awesome! and sounds like you have a great employer that values you and really wants you to stick around! That says something about you and you should be proud of that!

That said, not every employer will do that. Businesses always want to keep costs down and salaries are part of that cost.

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itsasine profile image
ItsASine (Kayla)

Thanks! It's a weird dynamic since there are a ton of articles that are like "You need to move companies every 1-2 years so you don't stagnate!" "Early in your career, move around to make your best salary!" but I'm 4ish years in at my first job out of schooling and am quite alright with my salary situation. Plus, my responsibilities have consistently grown, so it's not like I have nothing to show for it either.

It's an odd looking win in a sea of large employers that will certainly take any lowball offer they get. I can't tell if that will hurt my career long term, though, since it's not obvious on the outside that I have kept up with the market.

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ahmedmusallam profile image
Ahmed Musallam Author

Good points! I dont think you need to move around to show your skills. You can easily do that with an online portfolio, or bu having a conversation about it during the hiring process.

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hpinio profile image
Haritian Pinio

You've worked really hard. You were unhappy, but you were not bragging, instead you determined and worked really hard. That's a quality tend to diminish nowadays.

You are an inspiration!! Just wanna say thanks for sharing this.

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ahmedmusallam profile image
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juniusfree profile image
juniusfree

I really wanted to become a better developer.

I worked really hard; teaching myself different things and most importantly, seeking advice from more experienced developers. I knew that the best way to force my self to learn was to step out of my comfort zone. I took several training courses on a variety of topics. I joined an internal project where we worked after-hours to develop a talent management system. At one point, I was putting 60-70 hour weeks. I wrote horrifying code, but I learned a lot and continued to improve.

This reminds me of Cal Newport's So Good They Can't Ignore.

  1. What other learning strategies that worked and didn't worked for you?

  2. In your experience, what do you think are the top 3-5 most important skills that a developer should develop to become a more valuable to an employer/client?

Thanks!

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ahmedmusallam profile image
Ahmed Musallam Author

For learning strategies, I personally think each person has their own way of learning. I learn best by doing. I was extremely lazy and put things off as much as I can, but soon I realized that the more I did something, the better I got at it. I used that and basically pressured myself to learn. I purposefully put myself on projects I know nothing or little about, so that I am forced to learn something because I really wanted to be a top performer. That was it for me.

For skills employers look for, I think most employers look for communication, consistency, and skill (there maybe others im missing) Here is an explanation of each from my point of view:

Communication: basically the ability to explain technical things to business folks, and having a positive attitude while doing it. You can get better at this by writing posts, detailed documentations and by reading a lot of technical posts and understanding how others explain things.

Consistency: it’s all about leaving a positive impression and consistently delivering and keeping your manager/co-workers updated every step of the way. If they keep seeing that you are consistently delivering on your responsibilities, they’ll rely on you more and you’d make a name for yourself as a solid resource.

Skill: this is something you can keep building. Tell your manager and coworkers about your side projects. It shows initiative and aptitude!

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juniusfree profile image