Maximizing Your Technology Salary (and Opportunity) in 2021

Your salary hinges on multiple factors. The kind of company you work for can have a huge influence on your paycheck and other kinds of compensation. For example, entry-level software engineer salaries at Google, Microsoft, and Amazon can hover at around $150,000 per year, including bonuses and stock options. At smaller firms, you might not make that same amount, even if you’re doing roughly equivalent work.At some startups, you could make a choice to take a very small salary in exchange for equity that you hope will be worth a massive amount someday.  

Your salary will likely increase whether you jump to a management track or deepen your skills as a specialist. At those tech giants just mentioned, software engineers with longtime tenue can expect to earn between $300,000 and $400,000, and that’s not the ceiling. 

If you’re driven by the prospect of outsized compensation, make a point of pursuing hot in-demand skills such as machine learning that relatively few technologists have mastered. “Right now, A.I. is an elitist sport—there are very few people who know how to practice it,” Tom Eck, the CTO of industry platforms at IBM, told a conference in New York City a few years ago. “The top-tier A.I. researchers are getting paid the salaries of NFL quarterbacks, which tells you the demand and the perceived value.” 

But skills specialization isn’t limited to these cutting-edge categories such as A.I. For highly skilled, in-demand roles such as data architect, cloud engineer, and DevOps engineer, the salary is often higher than the technologist salary baseline (according to the latest Dice Salary Report, average annual technologist pay stood at $94,000 in 2019, just a 1.3 percent increase from the previous year):   

You likely won’t make mega-millions as a systems architect or security engineer, but your specialization within your chosen field will mean that you’ll have lots of job opportunities so long as you keep your skills up-to-date.  

Negotiating Salary 

There are two ways to boost your salary: a.) negotiate with your current company for a raise, or b.) move to a new company.  

Negotiating with Your Current Company 

If you want your current company to give you a raise, your annual review is the best time to make that ask. Raises are often hard to obtain outside the standard review cycle. 

Show Your Value  

Sit down and explain to your manager how your current scope of work makes you more valuable than what you’re currently being paid. If you can bring data that backs up your argument, do so. For instance, if you’ve created a new line of business or figured out how to save the company lots of money, you have substantial leverage in negotiations. You can use the Dice Salary Calculator to determine the true value of your current skills.  

Stay Flexible  

During your annual performance review, your manager may proactively offer a raise that you feel is too low. If that’s the case, you don’t have to automatically accept it. Instead, you can take a chance on asking for more, especially if your scope of responsibilities has increased over the past year. 

In a similar fashion, if your manager proposes a raise in exchange for an expanded scope of work, you’ll need to analyze whether the extra dollars are worth the increase in your workload. Be aware, though, that more responsibilities can help your career long-term, even if the money isn’t quite what you want.  

You Can Negotiate for More Than Money 

Whether you’re a newish or longtime employee, you can negotiate for increased benefits in lieu of cash. Perhaps you want a more flexible schedule, or more vacation time, or even funding to take educational courses. Whatever perks you desire, a company may agree to those instead of a salary bump. 

Moving to a New Company 

If you’re applying to a new job and want more money than they’re initially offering, keep the following points in mind:  

Don’t Reveal Your Current Salary Ahead of Time  

A recruiter or hiring manager might ask for your current salary, but that doesn’t mean you need to provide it. Many cities and states (such as New York City) have laws preventing prospective employers from inquiring about your pay.  

So what to do if asked? If the initial ask is part of a written application, you can either leave that section blank or write that you’re willing to talk about salaries in person. If it comes up during the interview, you can say something like, “If I’m right for this role, I’m sure the salary will work itself out.” You may consider flipping the question back on the interviewer: “How much has the company set aside for the position?” 

Don’t Start Negotiations Too Late 

Don’t accept a job and sign a contract, only to come back a week or two later and ask for a belated money bump. The time to negotiate is before you sign, which is your moment of maximum leverage. 

Don’t Aim Too High or Low!  

Just because you live in a major tech hub full of technologists (for example) doesn’t mean you need to offer yourself up at a low salary in order to seem more appealing to a prospective employer. Believe in your abilities and skills; you’re worth whatever the employer is willing to pay. 

At the same time, don’t ask for an absurd amount of money, even if you do possess those highly specialized and rare skills. Sure, some machine-learning and A.I. experts are earning millions; that doesn’t mean you can ask for a seven-figure salary just because you’ve mastered TensorFlow. Do your research (the Dice Salary Calculator can prove a huge help in this regard) to figure out what technologists with your skills and experience tend to earn.  

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