Should Younger Developers be Paid More?

If younger developers know hot new technologies, does that justify a higher salary?
Posted January 18, 2011

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

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“I heard Facebook is paying new computer science graduates over $200,000.”

I was shocked. Were new graduates really getting these offers? The person I was talking to told me a friend of a friend (first warning sign) said he was offered $220k at Facebook just out of Stanford’s comp sci program.

Even if true, this is an anecdotal reference. Perhaps the new grad was top of his class and had unique social networking development experience. Perhaps as an intern he or she created some awesome Facebook application.

Some quick Web research shows multiple survey sources with the average Facebook software engineer making around $120k. Still not too shabby!

Could this mean that there are older, more experienced engineers making less money than new college hires? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time.

This sort of salary game has been played for decades based on new technology cycles. As the next new thing puts pressure on CIOs and CTOs to identify and integrate new technologies into their applications and products, a battle begins for the fresh talent who actually are on the cutting edge.

Lost in all of this are the dedicated engineers who have put blood, sweat and tears into an organization, only to be left behind when technology changes. But is it their own fault? The company’s fault? Or just a natural cycle?

Not too long ago it was client server technology replacing mainframe applications. The cycle continued with web applications, mobile technologies, web 2.0 and social networking.

I was working on a project not too long ago when I found myself with a hiring decision being pushed by a new technology cycle.

My customer wanted to add new features that allowed inventory to be managed not only via the web, but also via their mobile phone. This was just as mobile computing was starting to catch on. All the developers on staff had deep experience with the client server platform. Many of them were even trained to “web enable” the applications.

The web development training was practically off the shelf, with a longer timeline for the “webification” project. But this mobile engineering project was needed ASAP and was bleeding edge stuff at the time. Training classes would not have been sufficient for the level of skill required in such a short period of time.

I worked with a recruiter to search for candidates with the required skills. It turned out there were a couple comp sci programs that were teaching the exact technology we were after. These engineers in their 20’s had software development skills specific to our needs.

The problem was that we were competing with other firms also targeting this new skill set. Our recruiter pushed us to increase our base salary in order to have a shot at this limited number of desirable graduates.

The VP responsible for the customer’s team felt it was justified to pay a premium for these college recruits and insisted we move forward, agreeing to support the budget required for these new mobile capabilities.

Personally, I argued against it because I didn’t see it as a mission critical application and it would throw our salary ranges out of whack. Was it really that important to manage inventory via mobile phones? Wasn’t web access enough?

The VP brushed off my concerns. “You worry too much. The other team members won’t ever find out how much these new recruits are making.”

Oh, sure.

I lost the battle and the hiring process moved forward.

The good news is we landed enough team members to get the ball rolling. I remember feeling pretty good about this. Then the bad news arrived in the form of a knock on my office door.

I cheerily greeted our lead developer. “Hey George, come on in.”

George wasn’t his usual smiling self. He sat across from me, feet crossed, arms crossed.

“I know you told the team we had to find our initial talent outside of the organization because there wasn’t time to train us and this was a more cost effective approach, correct?” he asked.

“That’s right George.” And I added, “Don’t forget I also promised training to qualified team members.”

“You certainly did. But the whole cost effective thing bothers me a bit because I found this.”

George handed me one sheet of paper. I quickly scanned it and saw it was a job posting from an online job web site. I knew immediately by the content that the job description was ours, even though the company name was withheld.

What really jumped off the page was the starting salary in bold black ink. I hadn’t told the recruiter not to include a salary range, so I shouldn’t have been too shocked.

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Tags: developers, IT Jobs/Salary, developer salary, programmer salary, mobile apps

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