The Salary Factor

Last week Eric Mann posted his 2014 Salary Survey Results covering some rough figures about our industry and the average salaries paid for different levels of experience. I like aggregated data in general, and it would be nice if more people take on that sort of studies in 2015, extending their horizons across the entire world, including web development companies in Asia, Africa, South America as well. Because “distributed” is a popular lifestyle in the WordPress Community, and it’s an important factor that we should never forget about.

Before I start, Brian Krogsgard posted about the cost of a WordPress website – which is a post that I truly love, and we’ve tried to cover some very rough numbers just to use as a reference for our prospects – and it’s so unfair as each project is so unique.

So far so good – I like the idea of the posts, I love the numbers, they’re great. But…

Is Salary The Only Factor?

The only paragraph that bugged me in Eric’s post was:

To the senior level developers earning less than their junior level counterparts, I raise an eyebrow and sincerely urge you ask for a raise at your next review. If you’re truly in a senior level position with all of the responsibilities that entails there’s no reason you should be earning just more than half the average salary for your role.

Now, that’s the part I really disagree with.

Because salary is not everything. Our jobs are not equal, our work opportunities differ, the job requirements as well. It’s similar to the client work – same work may come with different budgets, but the type of work could be appealing to some contractors, or the timing could be good, the requirements may be challenging and interesting and so forth.

Priorities and Job Requirements

Chris Lema writes a lot about high performers. These are the people who are incredibly excited about their job, work crazy hours (or just work effectively), and hit home runs. The fact that we’re discussing them as an exception is that the majority of the people are not high performers, for one reason or another.

There are people who value their own personal time. They value their family, or their hobbies, or they love to travel and want as much time off as possible.

Some of those (and others groups, too) insist on working remotely. Or at least telecommute a few days a week. Some of them ask for flexible hours, or demand not to have to work overtime every week. Others prefer game rooms in their offices, free lunch, or other company benefits.

Whatever that is, people have different priorities. And “higher salary” is not the main one for various developers. Companies like Google prove that with hundreds of additional benefits to keep their staff happy.

And even if it is, different companies require different things from their staff, by a different level of responsibility, and different amount of risk. Would you prefer to earn $80K leading a decent team and building interesting, but safe projects, or earn $120K being responsible for the infrastructure of the largest bank in the world, and all the risks from getting compromised, hacked, or anything else, and getting constant calls about false positives at 3am on Sunday morning?

I read an interview with a war hero who started at one of the largest online companies (I think it was Amazon). He said that he used to sleep fairly well during shootings in Afghanistan compared to all of the stress from the responsibilities managing the server infrastructure at Amazon. Can you even believe that?

How Valuable Are You?

I’ve been in every single stage of the business process – employee, freelancer, consultant, employer, partner, contractor, what not. And I’ve worked with clients and for employers in different situations.

One of the things that people often forget about is that their work reflects the company benefits. In other words – different clients/projects/companies have different benefit from working with you.

Depending on the industry, the size of the technical team (and company size), the company business model – your value varies. What do most people think about accountants or lawyers? They are a necessary “burden” but we “need” them, they are expensive and eat out of our profit without bringing any money on the table. What do accounting and law firms thing about accountants and lawyers? They are their main source of income!

Same goes for development. There are non-technical companies where development is a necessity, and costs should be kept to minimum. Other companies earn the majority of the profit throughout their online products in a natural way – therefore the profit from development is high.

Think about sales reps and managers. The potential of a sales rep in a retail store selling cheap shoes is one thing. A sales manager selling to Fortune 500 companies can close a deal over lunch for as much as the annual revenue of the entire company. Value differs, and so do the company terms, responsibilities, salaries, company benefits, etc.

Again, Location

Let’s talk about restaurants and comparable costs. The food market is not competitive at all outside of a small physical area. When you generalize about numbers, they’ll be almost the same in a city, or a state. Food is a business market that heavily depends on time and location – deliveries, expiration dates, people’s habits.

The web development business knows almost no boundaries. US clients work with contractors from Africa. Indian companies hire people in Europe (I’ve seen that). Canadian designers and British project managers deal with Australian projects.

Which is why the numbers differ here, too. Cost of life, opportunities for development, cost of services, etc. I can talk about that for days, but companies like Automattic prove that – there are great clients worldwide, awesome engineers as well. But there are a lot of opportunities for everyone, and we should always keep in mind the global market and the variable numbers across the world.

In Essence

To sum it up, I would gladly participate in and read on some numbers about salaries and costs in our industry. I’m passionate about that. And I’d also gladly earn as much as possible – because let’s face it, you can do everything you want with money – even donate 95% of it to charities – but you can’t afford it if the numbers don’t add up.

But let’s not compare apples and oranges only by price. And let’s consider the hundreds vectors that matter – and let the salary be just one of them.

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