when I was coming up in the corp world a lil feature called Money Diaries from Refinery29 blew up. Every week they’d feature a new post titled “A WEEK IN $CITY ON A $XX,XXX SALARY” and it was every bit as juicy and click-baity as you’d think
It was a peek into a week of someone else’s life with someone else’s salary and how they spent it based on their own values (and safety nets). I was hooked, line and sinker.
Every diary was a potential life I tried out in my imagination…
Could I make six figures and catch taxis willy-nilly and buy fancy coffee everyday as a PR manager?
Or be a freelancer and pinch pennies in Colorado while eating overnight oats on the way from my kitchen to the office?
<insert long story about switching from HR → SWE>
And then in my first paying software engineering role I instantly leapfrogged and out-earned my mom.
At 24 years young.
(It wasn’t 6 figgys but it was close)
I went from never having 4 digits in my bank account to being the Top Dog in the Game of Life (the old version that topped out salaries at 100k).
And it has been a wild rollercoaster since then, money and the “power” it provides in large enough quantities fundamentally changed my life. For the better in some ways (yay dental care! yay paying surprise vet bills in full!) and the worst in others (being wasteful, seeking convenience, donating $$$ to causes instead of my time/energy).
Finally though I did it - I found my number.
A number that wasn’t worth sacrificing my mental health, my relationship to my husb, spiritual health, and more. It wassssss: $225,000.
Which is a number that honestly still makes me want to throw up a little. In a world where TEACHERS and SOCIAL WORKERS and folks doing hard emotional, physical labor day in day out for decades don’t dream of cracking the 100k level. I kinda can’t even.
I don’t buy the BS that we in software are “providing more value”. I provided more value mentoring bootcamp grads on the side and helping folks navigate the 3 ring circus of technical interviews than I did in my time as an “SRE” (which is just a fancy expensive rebrand of ops engineer).
Back to wage transparency, one of the cool moves a company I worked for did was not have salary bands. period. everyone at each level made the same, and there were probs some difference in RSUs and obs bias then crept into what level folks were placed at. but all in all L3s made the same across the board and that as a young lass felt great!
Entering the wide world of startups quickly I learned that salary equality and wage transparency was just not a thing. Having PDX based salary as my starting point meant when working for NY/SF startups I was already accustomed to “under market” rates and was happy to take ~$20k raises per job hop.
Although for perspective within just a couple job hops I tripled from my original HR starting salary.
~$40k → ~$89k → $109k → $123k → $132k → $137k → $180k
and the gross thing (to me) is that it just kept rising. that earning potential was like not maxing out. I thought the 200k club was for Directors and VPs and shit. Nope just a regular ol’ SRE Manager can clock ya $225k in this market.
I’m not against money per se (I mean maybe…) I need to smoke and think about that. What’s the point of money anyways?
But I knew I was underpaid not bc of that stupid levels.fyi site or glassdoor or a bespoke secretive google sheet
sidebar its totally in our friggin rights in america to share and chat about our salaries and its disgusting the lengths companies go to to prevent it. also screw the Radford database imo its no better than a legalized cartel fixing prices. anyways #talkpay founded by Lauren Voswinkel or Cher Scarlett's incredible living legacy in progress are some great threads to tug on if you dig this kinda thing
but it wassssss MEN! This is a story where yes the heroes are men! (and the villians too as every CTO I worked under was a man sorry thats just the facts) Some lovely men that I worked with were kind enough to share their salaries with me on their way out of each company. Sometimes I asked to validate my own salary if it was in the ballpark they’d personally accept (as I am hardheaded and for years did not listen to my hubs that I was underpaid) and sometimes I’d ask what I could expect for X level like Lead/Architect/etc.
And it was eye opening. Just eye opening. And I wanted to flip all the tables in the land.
But instead I just got aggressive about sharing my salary and expectations and how I negotiate (always take a sign on! such a nice lil treat!) with the enbys, ladies, and any younger engineer in my life.
So after blowing up my chance at the 200k club (what a tale!) I said fuck it I need out of this tech rat race, I’m losing my soul and conscience and I can and will take a pay cut to leave this all behind me.
And amazingly/shockingly/still-dk-how-to-feel-about-it my pay cut for a non-engineering role that is 0 oncall, 9-5, no Slack on my phone, chill job in tech is paying me $140k 😲 🤯
I like couldn’t believe it honestly.
To be a responsible steward I’m shoveling that into a 529 college account so I can fully pay for grad school upfront, no debt, and maybe just maybe be able to buy some land for the farm. And gonna take a serious ass look at where tf my retirement is invested in. I know its possible to divest oneself of fossil fuel, war weaponry, and other odious investments in a portfolio with some elbow grease and to me that’ll be worth it.
PHEW what a lot of words there. I have some money thoughts so it seems!