Paycheck to Paycheck

This 21-year-old makes $65K as a project manager—but expects to cross 6 figures within the year

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Madison Das works as an associate project manager in Jacksonville, Florida.
Illustration by Gene Kim

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.

In this installment, a 21-year-old shares how she makes $65,000 working as an associate project manager in Jacksonville, Florida.

Madison Das just started a new job in January, but she's pretty sure she's going to get promoted in a few months.

She's not being presumptuous — her new employer told her as much. Das, 21, lives in Jacksonville, Florida, and started working as an associate project manager with a start-up this year. While interviewing, she was struck by how the hiring managers asked about her career plans.

"They told me, 'We don't want you to stay in this role for more than six months,'" Das tells CNBC Make It. "My department director and my direct supervisor are both women, and they both told me, 'The intention is to bring people in to have them grow.'"

Das checked the company's LinkedIn profile and saw many of its entry-level employees were promoted within their first six to eight months. For Das, it was a sign the company was invested in keeping their employees around.

Das accepted the company's offer of associate project manager and now earns $65,000 in base salary. By the end of the year, Das expects to be promoted to the level of project manager with the earning potential of $100,000 a year.

TikTok launched her career change

Das studied biomedical sciences, chemistry and sociology in college and applied to medical school but was rejected on her first try. She took some time to think through her next move and picked up marketing jobs at a few local small businesses.

The Covid-19 pandemic made her want to jump into health care, so in June 2020, she took a job with a health-care network to develop a text-based app where patients could connect to their doctor. She enjoyed working across teams to create trainings and operations materials.

Das earned $20 per hour and, after a year, got bumped up to $20.90 per hour. But she wanted more pay and career growth and felt it was time to change jobs. As she thought through another career shift, she landed on project management TikTok.

"It was honestly TikTok as a platform that helped me put a name to what I was doing, find value in it and then be able to pursue it to what it is today as my career," she says.

Through TikTok clips, Das realized the type of work she enjoyed doing — documenting workflows, creating training materials, managing projects — and learned about getting certified in project management through Google. She completed the six-month course within six weeks and began applying to jobs immediately. She earned her PM certification in mid-December and landed her new job by January.

As an associate project manager, Das works on her own projects and plays a support role to other people on her team.

"I did it so quickly," Das says of her career change. "It feels like really anybody can."

How she'd negotiate differently

Das says she initially found discussing pay in hiring interviews to be "so uncomfortable."

She did some online research and named her salary expectations between $65,000 and $80,000. But coming from a previous rate of under $21 per hour, "because I was increasing so much, I felt like I was appreciative for anything," Das says.

She also felt pressure as the sole earner of her household for a stretch: Her husband, who is originally from Brazil, encountered Covid-related delays with his visa and was unable to work for roughly a year. He received a temporary employment authorization in September 2021, but his visa status is still pending.

So when Das got the job offer of a $65,000 starting salary earlier this year, she "just ran with it." She accepted the package as-is, which also includes a phone and internet stipend, and a 10% bonus paid out quarterly. Das estimates her total compensation to be roughly $73,000. She's eligible to purchase company stock options each quarter, which she'll do for the first time at the end of March.

Das feels she's being paid fairly, as the company worked with her range, and she feels supported on her path to promotion. But, "if I could go back knowing what I know now, I would negotiate, 100%," she says.

Salary transparency in tech

In February, Das posted her own TikTok going over the difference between her base salary and her total compensation — something she wishes see saw more of when she was researching what kind of pay to negotiate for.

She often saw people, mostly men, posting their pay in the mid-six figures. It included their benefits and stock options but often didn't name the base salary, which is what she needed to work off of.

Das heard from other tech newcomers that they felt discouraged and didn't know where to start negotiating. "The internet is one of the easiest ways to get information, but it's also one of the easiest ways to get confused," she says.

Das, who lives with the chronic illness cardiac-valvular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, hopes posting her own salary breakdown encourages others from underrepresented backgrounds to see space for them in tech. "I am a biracial Indian, disabled woman in my early 20s. Breaking into tech wasn't the easiest thing for me."

Das has also grown more comfortable discussing pay with co-workers. Her first week on the job, she asked someone about how stock options work. Her colleague ended up going through her starting salary, her progression at the company and how she negotiated her pay — which Das plans to take with her into her next salary conversation with managers. She feels the start-up encourages a culture of transparency, which makes it easier to talk about money.

Das admits that working toward a promotion and raise within the year "feels like crazy fast development," but given the feedback she's gotten from supervisors, she feels "very confident that I'll be able to accomplish that, whether it's within my current organization or moving to another."

Eventually, she wants to work her way up to becoming a tech executive and lead organizations toward "more success, more growth, and more inclusive behaviors long-term."

Check out:

This 26-year-old tripled her salary to $100K by tweaking her resume—here's how

This 34-year-old earns $125,000 as a project manager—why he prefers to work on short-term contracts

How much do others make for the same job? Here’s where employers are required by law to share salary ranges when hiring

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