Click on our Sponsors to help Support SunWorld
Career Advisor by Edgar Saadi

Does my salary stack up?

What's considered fair for my skill set?

August  1999
[Next story]
[Table of Contents]
Subscribe to SunWorld, it's free!

Edgar helps two individuals assess their "value" and counsels one creativity seeker about whether to stay put or get out. (1,800 words)

Mail this
article to
a friend
Dear Edgar,

I've read many of your articles and find them extremely informative. Perhaps you have time to help me out.

My husband has discovered an untapped flair for Web design and finds it extremely easy to pick up new skills with brand-new design programs. He also finds that he can usually complete jobs to satisfaction with great speed. He has been working for almost five months as a Webmaster (he is now proficient in almost all Macromedia and Adobe products), and prior to that he had been doing programming in Visual Basic 5, Excel, and some Cold Fusion for about nine months.

We both recognize that he isn't very business savvy -- originally having been hired at $26K by his current job, we found that they have only been paying the equivalent of $24K. His boss says that's what he was hired for, and my husband is someone who doesn't like to talk about or deal with money (you can guess who takes care of the finances). We've both researched salaries and believe that $35K to $55K would be more appropriate.

An acquaintance who is extremely successful in the computer industry believes that this company is taking advantage of my husband and has suggested he work as a contractor.

  1. Can you make a better assessment of my husband's worth?

  2. My husband and I are both covered under my company's health plan, and I have a good IRA started as well as some mutual funds. Is working as a contractor a viable option?

  3. Should my husband seek official certification, or can he carve out a good living learning "on the road" and backing it up with hands-on experience?

Is there any other advice you might offer that would be useful to him?

Please Advise

Dear Please Advise,

It appears that your husband has made a U-turn in his career path, and an attempt can be made to assess his worth by categorizing his IT skills. In his prior job he was developing in Visual Basic and building Web applications or sites in Cold Fusion. These would be considered backend programming skills. Backend development is a more difficult and more sought-after skill set in the industry.

Currently, he seems to be doing all-around Web development. You stated that he was proficient in most Macromedia and Adobe products; though I am not sure which ones, it is safe to say that he is doing heavy frontend/graphic work in a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) development environment. Even though it appears that your husband is able to do more with these frontend software products, he will never be compensated as much for his skills in that area as he would as a backend programmer with Java, Perl, and HTML skills.

These products were developed for less technical people, such as graphic designers. It's a logical step for a graphic designer to move into this Web environment because of traditional Adobe/Macromedia software skills and interface familiarity. For various reasons, you rarely come across a programmer who makes the transition into the frontend environment. As far as your husband's worth, he's in the appropriate range for frontend work, but at the lower end of that range. We must take into account his lack of experience in one skill set and lack of formal training.

Consulting at this point in time would be a very bad idea. Consultants are considered to be the best in the industry and most top consultants have many years of experience and formal training. I assume that your husband would want to contract his Web development skills. Currently, he seems to be the proverbial jack-of-all-trades, but the master of none. Consultants are traditionally called in for serious jobs that others can't finish. As far as consulting in the future, he should look into developing a specific set of skills and becoming very proficient in that area.

Certification, which is most often associated with backend skills, may not be the final solution, but it never hurts. Experience and/or a formal college degree -- either in IS or graphic art or new media, depending on the career direction he pursues -- will always hold value over a certification that may prove useless in a year's time. Either direction he chooses (backend or frontend) is potentially rewarding -- both creatively and monetarily. The choice is his.


Don't I deserve more, too?

Dear Edgar,

I am a recent college graduate. I have an AAS in applied computer technology, a BS in IT, and an A+ certificate. I have a wide variety of skills such as graphic design, C++, COBOL, Visual Basic, some networking, and interface design. I've just been hired as a Web developer in Olympia, WA, where I'll be using Visual Basic, Access, HTML, SQL server, and IIS, and making only $35K a year. I'll only be making $1.30 an hour more than I did as a temp programmer. I strongly believe that I'm worth far more than this. How do I handle this? I'm deaf but have very good communications skills. Research typically shows that deaf people are paid less than others with similar qualifications.

Treated Fairly?

Dear Treated Fairly,

To get an appraisal of your market value I consulted Pencom's Salary Guide at and did a comparison between the salary generated with your skill set in NY vs. Washington. Based on your level of business experience, as well as technical skill set, and geography (Washington isn't known as a high-cost-of-living area), I received an approximated salary of $36K, so it sounds as if the company you joined is on-target for your qualifications. I repeated the process but used New York City instead (a high-cost-of-living market driven by the financial community) and a salary of $41K was calculated.

As is true for many people entering the workforce, it's difficult to gauge whether or not you're being compensated fairly. Work ethic and ability are tough to judge in your first job. I suggest taking time to glean as much as possible from your current technology environment and gain an in-depth knowledge of applications and systems. Also, strive to do work that is on the cutting edge and difficult to learn. The skill set you mention is very frontend oriented and not as complex as some other areas of technology. Take this experience and build a name for yourself, and I'm sure you'll continue to earn what you deserve.



What's my next move?

Dear Edgar,

I have a master's degree in computer science. I started out as a programmer, and am currently the manager of a technical support group for a leading software company. For the past six years I have been managing application, data, and technical architecture groups, database administration/middleware groups, and a technical support group. This work involves answering client questions, troubleshooting their problems, and installing the software and databases.

Here, I have the opportunity to learn new technology, learn the business, and do some hands-on database and C/C++ programming work, but I'm not happy about the nature of technical support. I would like to do more creative work and be able to make my mark here. I'm not sure if I should stay put and gain more depth or move on.

Pondering a Move

Dear Pondering,

There are a few factors to look at when making a decision like this. First, what drives you to get out of bed in the morning? Is it the money you make or the job you do?

In an industry as fast-moving as technology, six years is a long time -- currently about three times the industry average. As you've said, it's the continuous changes and new challenges that have kept you interested in the job. Generally, people who are involved in technical support and IT are there because they like to solve problems and attack challenges. As their tenure increases, the challenges have to become more complex or the job becomes mundane. Based on the fact that you have outlasted most technology professionals in the duration of your job, I have to assume you have been reasonably challenged and thus happy. So at this point your need to stay challenged has most likely outlived the job you're doing.

You've said you aren't happy with the nature of technical support, so maybe you do need a change. But make sure you're being honest with yourself. Are you unhappy with technical support, which is a huge multibillion dollar industry with thousands of facets, or do you just need new challenges?

Ask yourself this: Can you stay challenged and get into the creative side you are looking for at the company for which you currnetly work, or do you need to look elsewhere for that opportunity? Because you've been away from the creative side of development for a while now, will getting into it at this point mean a significant cut in compensation or stature? If so, are you willing to do that right now -- and can you afford it?

There is a lot of creativity involved in properly running technical support, as I'm sure you know. When you say you want more creative work, I assume you mean development or coding, or architecting a product. If you stay put, will you be able to contribute to the creative side in the same way that you contributed in technical support?

What you might need is to be in a situation where your creative side is constantly stimulated. For you, it might mean being part of a company where your expertise and experience involved in implementing IT solutions can be put to work on a project-to-project basis.

There's one important factor to keep in mind: We're living at a time when telecommunication companies are buying out cable companies at a dizzying pace in a race to increase bandwidth. Bandwidth and Internet infrastructure are the fastest and most exciting elements of the IT industry right now. More necessary than anything else in the next 10 to 20 years will be figuring out how to manage this vast amount of information -- which is exactly what you're doing now. So, with the type of expertise you now hold, why wouldn't you want to tap into (and capitalize on) that source?

Thus, the key is to realize why it is that you're thinking about changing your position. If you need to be challenged, there is definitely no shortage of challenges (ask any CTO). It's just a matter of deciding if it can happen where you are. Can you be a changing force, and will these new challenges keep you happy?


Click on our Sponsors to help Support SunWorld


Additional SunWorld resources

About the author
[Edgar Saadi] Edgar Saadi is senior vice president of Pencom Systems Inc., the largest open systems/advanced systems recruiting firm in the US. In his many years in high technology staffing, Edgar has helped guide the careers of thousands of open systems professionals. Visit the Pencom Career Center and the new 1999 Interactive Salary Guide, featuring the new online trends magazine Tech-It-Out!.

[Pencom Interactive]

What did you think of this article?
-Very worth reading
-Worth reading
-Not worth reading
-Too long
-Just right
-Too short
-Too technical
-Just right
-Not technical enough

[Table of Contents]
Subscribe to SunWorld, it's free!
[Next story]
Sun's Site

[(c) Copyright  Web Publishing Inc., and IDG Communication company]

If you have technical problems with this magazine, contact

Last modified: