Welcome to Paycheck to Paycheck, where workers with the same job across the U.S. share how much they earn, how they got to their salary and their best negotiating tips. Ready to join the salary transparency conversation? Apply to be a part of the series here.
Tech jobs have become known for commanding high pay, thanks to an exploding need for people to build and manage the tech solutions we rely on every day, and a shortage of workers with the right emerging skillsets to keep pace. U.S. tech workers earned an average salary of $146,000 per year in 2020, according to a report from Hired, and can go much higher in competitive markets like San Francisco or New York.
CNBC Make It spoke with three people around the country who recently started new software engineering jobs about how much money they make, how they negotiated their pay and how they feel about their earnings.
Name: Martin Yanev
Identifies as: a white man
Works for: a global electronics company
Training: bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering, second master's in computer science
Years in the field: 3
Did you negotiate your salary? I always negotiate. I saw the listing for this job on Indeed, and it included the salary range. I asked for the maximum salary offered, plus $5,000. Then they offered me the maximum salary already written, which I accepted.
Usually, if a job posting doesn't include salary ranges, I'll look up average pay for that job in the state and negotiate for the maximum.
How do you feel about your salary? My salary isn't very high, but it isn't very low. It's fair. It's exactly what I should get based on my experience in this area.
I used to live in the United Kingdom for three years, and before that I was in my home country of Bulgaria. The difference from being in Bulgaria to the U.K. to the U.S. by salary and standard of living is huge. In the U.K. I was making $40,000 a year, so this is a huge jump. I'm happy about it.
What are your long-term salary goals? Living on $80,000 here in Kentucky, including my side job, I feel comfortable. I can save enough money to achieve my goals and do everything I want to do in the next five years. My goal is to some point make more than $100,000 a year. I'd feel successful if I managed to do that.
Identifies as: a white woman
Works for: a software startup
Training: self-guided online courses, computer software engineering boot camp, six-month paid software engineering internship
Years in the field: 2
You went to college and worked as a speech pathologist before teaching yourself to code. Why did you change careers? I earned a bachelor's and master's in speech pathology and worked as a speech pathologist for two years. As a speech pathologist, I had to take two jobs, one that paid $26 an hour and another that paid $34 an hour, in order to make a full-time wage. It was hard work and long hours. At the end of the day, I didn't enjoy the work and needed a different path.
How do you feel about how much money you make? A year ago I was hired at $80,000 but recently got a $13,000 raise, so now I make $93,000 a year. I also earned a $2,500 performance bonus.
At $80,000 I was pleased but still ambitious to get more. Now at around $95,000 with my bonus, I'm really proud to be making what I make. Had I continued as a speech pathologist, I would be lucky to make $80,000 a year after 20 years.
Did you negotiate your salary? I negotiated my pay from $72,000 to $80,000. Based on what was available online, I felt I should be getting more. My brother was also working his first software engineering job and earned $100,000 straight out of college. It was a bigger company in a different market, so you can't directly compare the two, but I felt like I deserved more than that $72,000. What does my brother have that I don't?
I brought those online averages up during the negotiation and asked if they could go higher, which they did.
What's your best negotiating tip? Always negotiate, even if you think you got the upper range of what's available. Someone else will always negotiate, most likely a man, so you shouldn't miss that opportunity.
Name: Nishant Parepalli
Identifies as: an Indian man
Works for: a global electronics maker
Training: bachelor's and master's in telecommunications; self-guided coding courses
Years in the field: 2
How do you feel about how much money you make? I feel comfortable. I'm able to pay my rent, pay for expenses and cover the basic necessities. But I also feel like I'm unable to significantly save or invest in my future.
Did you negotiate your salary? I did. When I got the offer from HR, I actually contacted a few of the people at the company who would be my future colleagues. These were people I had just interviewed with, who said if I had any questions I could reach out to them. I asked them the average pay I could expect.
I also had an offer from my previous company when they were trying to retain me.
So I counter-offered, waited patiently, and the new employer responded with a better offer of $5,000 more.
Do you think you're paid fairly? When HR made me the offer of $120,000, they said it was above average for my location and years of experience in the industry. That matched the online searches I did. So when I signed it, I felt OK. With that said, some of the FAANG companies [Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google] can pay $135,000 for a new grad in the Bay Area.
Do you talk about your pay with colleagues? My company is really transparent about pay. The transparency was really shocking. I think they try to imbue this in every new hire. But it's a good thing. We don't necessarily make time for these discussions, they just happen over coffee or at lunch or after work.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.