That Developer's Salary is Bigger than Mine!

A developer who learned his colleagues’ salaries reflects on pay levels for programmers. Plus: factors to keep in mind about your salary as a developer.


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I was staring at the salary of every single one of my developer teammates. A small gasp was forming at the back of my throat.

When I saw that my salary was next to last on the list – nearly the lowest – that gasp came out as a profanity. And just like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, “fudge” is not what came out of my mouth.

My mood brightened as I thought about this as possible manna from heaven. Or, was this a potential trap that could lead to serious problems?

But first: How did I come to have my hands on this golden spreadsheet? No, I didn’t steal it. It was an accident.


About 30 minutes prior, my manager had visited me at our client’s site, where he had reserved a conference room to conduct everyone’s annual review. During my review session, he handed me a plain manila folder that contained my review and my salary increase.

The discussion was very formal and mostly positive. He told me how much the client liked me and went on about some of the creative development work I had completed that year. There were some suggestions for improvements, but nothing I didn’t agree with. And with a big smile he told me in an upbeat tone about my salary for the coming year.

“I have some good news for you. We were able to give you a 6% increase. Nice work.”

Seemed like a pretty good deal to me too. But I had a question because this was my first review at the company.

“I appreciate it. But can you explain how you decided on the increase percentage?”

I thought I saw his lips begin to sour into a frown, but they quickly turned up and he responded, “Oh, it’s a bit complicated. We take a formula that looks at company performance, the current economy and of course how well you performed. And you know with the economy the way it is, this type of raise is pretty darn good.”

With that he looked at his watch, stood up and said he was late for his next client meeting. As he rushed out the door I heard him say, “Keep up the great work!” And he was gone.

As I sat there processing my good fortune to have a salary increase “with the economy the way it is” I flipped open the manila folder and realized there was another sheet of paper in there.

I pulled it out and couldn’t believe what I was looking at. After I got the “fudge” out, my head started spinning with ideas about what this meant. I thought – almost out loud – “What the heck am I going to do with this?”

Bottom on the Totem Pole

Of the six developers on the team, not only was my salary near the bottom, but my annual increase was the lowest. It didn’t make sense to me.

My manager had practically just gushed about me. I knew for a fact the client didn’t just like me; they loved me. I got along with our counterparts there better than anyone on the team. If there was a bug found in my code, we’d usually joke about it and go about fixing it.

And like most young developers, I felt I was at least as good a coder as most of my teammates. Two of them asked for my help all the time – and now I knew that they were making more money than me.

One of them had just been hired six months ago and received a bigger increase than me. The more I read, the more my blood boiled!

I wanted to call my manager up and lay into him with this newfound information. Upon further reflection and a few deep breaths I realized his response would be defensive and not likely to result in a productive outcome. I decided to talk it over with my friend Justin, a developer I had worked with before.

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Tags: developers, IT Jobs/Salary, developer salary

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