Skip to content
Swizec Teller - a geek with a hatswizec.com

What if engineers were paid like athletes

Money and career has been on my mind lately. Lots of conversations. Here's what I uncovered.

The question folks are asking is this πŸ‘‰ With global economy in turmoil, why are stocks up? Why are experienced engineers getting hired faster and junior engineers struggle more than ever?

It's a good question.

I think it's because hiring incentives in tech are shifting.

Old incentives in tech

When we talk about "tech", we mean VC-backed startups with the stated goal of becoming a billion dollar unicorn. Some make it, most don't.

Companies say they're building a product for a market, but look behind the curtain and you'll see the product is irrelevant. At least at first.

The company is the product, investors are the customer.

What do investors want? A big company.

How do you get a big company? Headcount.

whoa giphy

Companies want to hire fast, fire slow, and accumulate lots of cruft. Get 5 junior engineers, let them loose, and wow your valuation looks great.

You added 5 whole engineers! Awesome 😍

How much they get done, how many wheels they invent because they don't know wheels exist, how much your code looks like duct tape and chewing gum πŸ‘‰ irrelevant.

As long as you have 1 or 2 senior engineers for every 5 to 6 juniors, you'll be fine.

New incentives in tech

With the uncertain future, free money is slowing down. [^1]

Companies realized winter is coming and it's time to start making money. Like, you have to build a business.

Wtf that's not what we signed up for ~ every "entrepreneur" with a rich mommy and daddy

First thing that happened were rounds of layoffs at big companies. Even engineers got fired.

Everyone who wasn't directly involved with bringing home the bacon, gone.

Who do companies hire when engineers need to bring home the bacon?

They hire seniors. Because seniors get shit done.

And they avoid juniors. Because they don't have the time to train them.

It's unfortunate and juniors aren't making it any easier. To a hiring committee or an HR person they all look the same.

Friend of mine recently said: Yeah I was part of hiring at my old job and one day I went through 200 resumes and couldn't find one single thing to tell them apart

Everyone looks the same!

Yay graduated from X with GPA, did extracurricular Y, part of frat Z, went to bootcamp Q, super duper know tech A, B, C.

yawn giphy

That shit matters if you have nothing better to show.

Do something.

PS: this is an area I'm figuring out how to help with. Hit reply if you're interested.

What if you were paid like an athlete?

AQaYhqX

Say you're a senior or have a way to stand out from the crowd.

This gives you leverage.

Companies want you. Not any schmuck who can type code into an editor, you. Your experience, your expertise, you.

Not saying it's easy to get there, saying it's realistically doable ✌️

Past a certain level companies stop seeing you as a code monkey. They don't care about your hours, lines of code, or tickets closed.

Companies care about the systems and tools you put in place to make the whole engineering team run better, do more, and make bank.

You're paid for value, not work.

Now what? Cash, baby.

Click through for source
Click through for source

This is a simplistic model of what you could achieve with a pretty basic "The Tech" career ladder for a software engineer. Here's a more realistic version from @ArvindVermani.

You start with a salary and no wealth. 6-figures is common.

Then you switch jobs regularly. About 2 years is the median tenure in tech. 4.7 years across all industries.

Don't worry about looking like a job hopper. Everyone does it.

Reid Hoffman calls this the Tour of Duty model.

Avoid saying it out loud and you'll be fine πŸ˜›

A 30% raise is common when switching jobs. Lots of advice on salary negotiation and how to make this happen.

I recommend Josh Doody's Fearless Salary Negotiation. He's helped me in the past.

And lest you worry that a few 30% jumps lead to unrealistic numbers, check out levels.fyi for SFBA. \\\$500k+ for 10 years of experience is normal.

Yes that means you'll have to bring the bacon. The game is not "sit around and wait", it's "get aggressively better and work".

What about the athlete thing?

Athletes are paid for value.

Sponsorship money. Notoriety. Daniel Ricciardo is the 4th highest paid F1 driver despite bad race results.

But he looks good on camera and has a fanbase. Value.

Your value is the expertise, the experience, the not gonna make avoidable mistakes that cost us 3 years to fix.

Tech contracts come with a 4 year vesting cycle. You're incentivized (but not required) to stay 4 years.

Here's how to shift your mindset πŸ‘‡

Click through for source
Click through for source

cash and bonuses included, equity is the unpredictable icing on top

Happy Friday,
~Swizec

PS: my model above includes 7% investment returns because that's the standard rate everyone uses when talking about "the economy as a whole long term". Individual results vary and years like 2020 are bad.

[^1] free money has weird effects right now because investors want their average returns and have nowhere to put the money

Did you enjoy this article?

Published on July 31st, 2020 in Opinions, Personal

Learned something new?
Want to become a high value JavaScript expert?

Here's how it works πŸ‘‡

Leave your email and I'll send you an Interactive Modern JavaScript Cheatsheet πŸ“–right away. After that you'll get thoughtfully written emails every week about React, JavaScript, and your career. Lessons learned over my 20 years in the industry working with companies ranging from tiny startups to Fortune5 behemoths.

Start with an interactive cheatsheet πŸ“–

Then get thoughtful letters πŸ’Œ on mindsets, tactics, and technical skills for your career.

"Man, love your simple writing! Yours is the only email I open from marketers and only blog that I give a fuck to read & scroll till the end. And wow always take away lessons with me. Inspiring! And very relatable. πŸ‘Œ"

~ Ashish Kumar

Join over 10,000 engineers just like you already improving their JS careers with my letters, workshops, courses, and talks. ✌️

Have a burning question that you think I can answer?Β I don't have all of the answers, but I have some! Hit me up on twitter or book a 30min ama for in-depth help.

Ready to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Β Learn how to build scalable dataviz components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization

Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, modern backend for the frontend engineer.

Ready to learn how it all fits together and build a modern webapp from scratch? Learn how to launch a webapp and make your first πŸ’° on the side with ServerlessReact.Dev

Want to brush up on your modern JavaScript syntax?Β Check out my interactive cheatsheet: es6cheatsheet.com

By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❀️