or . . . How to Make $25,000 More Per Year Without Writing a Line of Code!!!
Check out the article 5,000 developers talk about their salaries, which is an analysis of the 2016 O’Reilly Salary Survey. If you are a developer who can write good code admit it; you are compensated fairly well. You have probably also noticed that your base compensation is determined by your technical proficiency. Duh.
You may have also noticed that some technical job openings have a wide salary range, for instance between $75,000 and $100,000. The variation in salary is based somewhat on salary history and work experience. But I propose that, assuming you have the technical skills to get to the base salary, you can get to the higher end of that range if you develop your soft skills.
Soft skills like communication, problem solving, leadership and business savvy are often overlooked by the very people who need them. Even if you are not on the management track, improving your soft skills will take your career to the next level and eventually pay off financially. Developers need to be able to work well on a team; a team of human beings.
If you want to succeed, even just survive, in a technology field then you will need excellent communication skills; both written and verbal. Here is a cold, hard reality: You will be severely limited if you are not able to communicate effectively in English.
- Be Understood – We are in a global community and almost everyone has an accent of some kind. However, if you can’t easily be understood when you are speaking English then you should consider getting coaching from a speech professional.
- Speak to Your Audience – Put things in terms that your audience will understand. Are you communicating with executives or stakeholders? Then keep the technology details at a high level and highlight decision-making points. Even if you are speaking with developers, give a quick overview before getting into details.
- Avoid Jargon – Don’t throw around acronyms or jargon unless you have defined the terms. Don’t force an exec to risk embarrassment and have to ask, “What is Jay-SONN?”, take just a few seconds and explain, “JSON (usually pronounced Jay-SONN) is a structured text format for exchanging data, like XML or CSV.”
- Improve Your Grammar and Spelling – Actually, make sure your grammar and spelling are pretty much perfect. Any message you try to communicate will be tarnished if you have errors.
Solve Problems, Don’t Be One
Face it. You are getting paid to use your many skills to solve problems. Skills are no good in and of themselves. Skills are a means to achieve a goal, one that hopefully adds value for the company paying you good money. Someone once gave me some very good advice: Never go to your manager/employer with a problem unless you can recommend one or more possible solutions.
- Nobody Likes a Complainer – If you don’t have something positive to say then keep it to yourself until the right time when you are either asked for your opinion or you can present a solution.
- Don’t Be a Technology Zealot – There is no such thing as a perfect product, framework or methodology. Learn to use different methods to provide workable solutions.
- Do More Than Code – Design, documentation and good, consistent coding practices can often be more important than the technology implementation.
Coffee Is For Closers
You want to become known as someone who gets results and delivers on time and within budget. Having good “follow-through” starts with the little things. If you can’t keep your word with small stuff then forget about succeeding at larger projects.
- Do What You Said You Would Do – If you say “I’ll get you an answer by Friday” then make sure you send an answer on time, preferably before Friday.
- Estimate Accurately – Learn how to give reasonable, accurate estimates and make sure your actual time spent is very close and under budget. Unexpected issues always come up: anticipate the issue, make a line item and budget time for it. It is better to have your estimate given back to you with the mandate to cut it down to less time than to promise an unrealistic timeline.
- Be On Time – to work, to meetings, to everything.
- Run Short, Effective Meetings – If you are running a meeting then start on time and keep it short. Don’t waste people’s time. Have an agenda and stick to it.
One of the hardest lessons to learn is to treat all people with respect, even the ones who don’t deserve it. This applies to your superiors but also to those who may not have a direct impact on your compensation or evaluation.
- Be Kind and Polite – To everyone: from the receptionist to the janitor to the CEO.
- Thank People – Recognize people’s contributions. Share your success. Encourage people when they need to improve and give practical advice.
- Let Owners Own – You are always going to have to work within an authority structure. Do your best to provide input and recommendations and then do your part to make the project a success. You will benefit when you help your boss succeed. Even if you have the kind of boss who “hogs” recognition, if you were a key contributor it will be obvious.
- Know When To Yield – If you disagree with a decision, make your discrepancies known privately with the decision-maker. Give good reasons and alternative solutions or workarounds. After sharing your concerns, if you still cannot support a decision due to ethical concerns or because you think it would do harm to others or to the business then respectfully resign or ask to be reassigned.
- Don’t Gossip – One more time: don’t be a complainer. Be a problem solver, not a problem.
Mind Your Business
You don’t necessarily need an MBA but you need to understand basic business principles. Why is your company in business? Who are your customers? What about the regulatory environment, income, profit margins?
- Cost vs. Benefit – If your technology solution is going to cost more than the realized financial benefit then you need to come up with a cheaper solution or one that reduces costs or increases revenue. Also recognize the negative results of not doing something like paying attention to security.
- Long Term vs. Short Term – You can’t always rewrite or refactor software. Sometimes you need to patch or come up with workarounds that are not as elegant but solve the short term problem. Then make your recommendations if a long term (and more costly) solution is also needed.
Wait For It
One of the most important skills you need to develop in your career is the ability to wait. I’m absolutely serious. You need to have the patience of a long-term investor who is willing to wait through the turbulence of short-term changes in order to reap the fruit of perseverance.
Here are some things you should practice waiting for that will increase your long-term value:
- You Need Time to Mature – It won’t happen overnight. Completing a tutorial is not the same as developing and being responsible for an application over time.
- Don’t Be a Job Hopper – Wait to get enough time in your current position in order to build better relationships with managers and peers. Moving too hastily from job to job is not a good sign on your resume/cv. Employers who are going to pay a higher premium want stability and someone who is dependable.
- Salary Growth – Wait for your compensation to increase over time. Trust me, it will.
Career and Hiring Tips
- Personal recommendations and testimonials are golden; get them in writing and especially on LinkedIn.
- Speaking of LinkedIn, use it to your advantage. Keep your history up to date and stay connected with people. Share content that might be of interest to your followers.
- Write and publish articles in your field of expertise but be consistent and don’t reveal sensitive info.
- Contribute to open source projects. Share code you have written on GitHub. You may not even be considered for some jobs if your work cannot be seen on GitHub.
- Don’t burn bridges; if you leave a company, leave on good terms and give more than enough notice to allow your company to prepare.
- Companies are not faceless but rather made up of real people. Get to know the people who make decisions in your company.
- Document and quantify your successes and add them to your resume/cv.
- Document the true stories of how you solved problems. Practice sharing short and long versions of your stories and include details.
- Be honest about your history and experience.
- Don’t sell yourself short.
Be Humbly Awesome!
We have all been inspired by people who are brilliant or extremely talented. There have been a few rare occasions where I have met a person who had extraordinary abilities but was also humble and showed an interest in other people.
Knowing someone like that can change your life. Being someone like that, being Humbly Awesome, can be more rewarding than making $25,000 more per year. 🙂