I regularly sit down for coffee with women (occasionally men too) who ask for career advice or guidance. The questions and requests I receive are usually from newer developers or aspiring data scientists. To spread the knowledge, I will start answering the questions here.

Question about salary negotiation

Here’s a question I recently received from a woman who is making a career change into software and is wondering about how to negotiate salary. If you have better or additional advice, please comment!

What is a reasonable starting salary for a back end developer in Java or Python or C? Some jobs say to send your salary requirements, and I would have no idea what a reasonable one is. Indeed.com says average salaries for some jobs are about $90k, but that seems awfully high for a beginner.

My Response

I don’t have a good sense of starting salary for people after a career change (plus salary varies over time and by region!), but this is what I would do to get a gauge of what to expect:

Attend a meetup!

That’s right - the internet and polls at websites such as Glassdoor will only get you so far. It’s hard to compare yourself against the internet masses because you don’t know the background, experience, personality, etc, of the poll responders, especially when you are new to the field or job function. You need to speak with people in a similar position to you in your local region (since salaries/demand vary wildly by region).

So, select a meetup such as the local Javascript, Python, or whatever language you are targeting meetup (or just go to the meetup with highest attendence related to your industry). Then, during the usual job and event announcements section of the meetup, you have to be brave. Stand up, and mention that you are entering into the industry and could use advice/info on starting salaries. Ask anyone with knowledge or experience to find you to chat. You will make some new connections and will walk away with better expectations about starting salary. Bring business cards!

Do not quote a number

Now that you know what salary to look for, DO NOT tell this to your potential employer. You are not required to provide a number. All you need to say is “I really can’t give you a number”, “I’d really like you to provide an initial offer” and/or “I am new to the industry, so I really cannot say. You have a better idea of what someone of my experience level can expect to be paid”. Just repeat this over and over if you are asked. Do not back down, do not feel bad about it, and just be friendly about it, but firm. Stating a number removes all of your leverage in the negotiation, but you want to have a number in mind so that you can be sure that you are getting compensated fairly.

Here are some good resources about salary negotiation (they are really old though):

NB: I think this advice changes slightly as you gain experience. There are cases when quoting a number may be an okay idea, but I think this is mostly for certain senior roles and other special circumstances.