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Background: I work as a software engineer (C, TypeScript, PL/SQL and PHP) for a small technology company (less then 50 employees) in the Chicago area. I've been here for a year and 9 months as of posting this question. When I was hired, it was made clear that they were "taking a chance on me" because my previous job history was not as a software engineer (previously, I was a Business Analyst at a fortune 500 company doing a software engineer job essentially). I received a significant salary increase compared to my previous job ($83k to $95k annual). In my time with the new company I've essentially become a senior software engineer / "go to" person according to multiple individuals including each manager up to the owner of the company. After a year I was bumped to $100k salary which is where I am now. I think I've been pretty successful here for someone with no college education in CS (or any degree at all - I'm self taught).

This week the Software Development Manager / Software Architect (SDM/SA) announce that he's leaving the company. He's my direct manager's boss, but I've worked very closely with him especially over the last 6-12 months - he's my de facto manager in many ways. My direct manager and the technology director (the manager of the guy who's leaving) reached out to me before the wider announcement and let me know that this will mean opportunities will be opening up to assume some of the current SDM/SA responsibilities - they asked if I would be interested and I said yes.

Yesterday, my direct manager called me and told me that at a high level it is "official" that they want to move forward with offering me the new position and title, but that the absolute details are being finalized before an offer is made. He asked if I had a preference in job title between "Software Development Manager" or "Software Architect" - after doing some quick research on average salaries for each I ultimately chose "Software Development Manager". From the sounds of it, I'll basically be a project manager and not have any direct reports (which is perfect to me, I'd prefer not to manage people) and I'll basically be the lead developer / architect for the new software development our company has been doing. I'll also be involved in the design / requirements phase of new development. I'll be able to assemble small teams for various projects and lead those teams as well as continue doing software development.

This all sounds great and I'm very excited at the possibilities.

Here's the part that worries me and what I need advice on:

My direct manager mentioned that a "salary adjustment / pay increase" would be involved but that he didn't know the specifics of what would be offered yet. He also indicated that the technology director suggested that they might want to do an "incentivized pay upgrade schedule" - it sounds like pay increases based upon the projects I deliver or manage. He didn't know any more details of that, but told me that his personal preference was to just give me a normal pay increase instead of tying it to something that needs to be tracked / measured (he would be the one doing that).

I'm not 100% sure what is meant by an "incentivized pay upgrade schedule" but it sounds like no raise initially (maybe?) and a raise spread out over the next 6 or 12 months (I'm assuming here).

What is the best was to press for a standard raise? At my old job I was "promised" raises a couple times that ultimately never materialized and while I think this place is different it's not something I want to just trust will happen considering I'm taking on additional responsibilities and a new title. I'm willing to take the new position regardless of how the pay increase is given, but is there a good approach to protecting myself and ensuring the promised increase will ultimately happen?

Finally, I've tried to come up with a number of where I would expect my salary to be with the new position. I'm currently at $100k salary annually - I'm leaning towards $120k to $125k salary annually (20-25%) increase. Does this sound reasonable or am I asking for way too much?

tl;dr At company less than 2 years as a software engineer. Software Development Manager / Software Architect is leaving, I'm being offered a promotion that includes many of his responsibilities. The salary increase being suggested might be a "incentivized pay upgrade schedule", how can I press for a normal raise or protect myself to ensure I end up getting a raise. Finally, I'm planning to ask for a 20-25% increase ($100k/annual to $120k/$125k) - am I crazy?

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    Why not just do the most obvious and ask your boss what does "incentivized pay upgrade schedule" mean? Seems like smartest 1st step before pushing for something else. – Tymoteusz Paul Jan 8 at 16:11
  • I've asked about that and I'm waiting to hear back - but I'd like to be prepared incase the answer comes with the offer itself. My direct manager did not know what was meant by "incentivized pay upgrade schedule" himself so he said he'd need to check with his manager. – rage8885 Jan 8 at 16:20
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    Does this answer your question? How should I properly approach my boss if I'm feeling underpaid? – gnat Jan 8 at 18:33
  • @gnat, The question you found doesn't match this one. In the question you found, the person hasn't been offered a promotion or a new title. And in the question you found, the person isn't being asked to do a completely different job. – Stephan Branczyk Jan 8 at 21:11
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He asked if I had a preference in job title between "Software Development Manager" or "Software Architect" - after doing some quick research on average salaries for each I ultimately chose "Software Development Manager".

My answer would have been:

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, tell me the pay raise that comes with the promotion. Then we can talk about the title."

In fact, I'd suggest you say something like that if this topic comes up again, or that you say something like that if your boss starts assigning you tasks that are related to the new position before the actual promotion takes place.

Implying that this is not a done deal and that you might reject their offer is very important. It will ensure that their first offer is not insultingly low.

Second, make sure that any scheduled pay increase is automatic and written into your contract. In other words, make sure that the pay raise doesn't require any action on their part. If it does require action on their part, that means the pay raise could end up never happening despite the fact that you'd probably be stuck with the job and x times your normal amount of work (even if they deem your performance supposedly not good enough).

If it really doesn't work out and they want to fire you or demote you back to your old responsibilities and old title, tell them that's fine. That can be their escape clause. In other words, be careful not to tie your pay raise to the success criteria of software projects, unless it's on top of an existing pay increase (due to the promotion) to begin with. Software projects increase in scope or get delayed all the time.

And if you were on friendly terms with the person who previously occupied the position, using your personal email or LinkedIn, ask them: "This is so-and-so, I've been asked to take over your old position at ACME Corporation. I haven't said 'yes' yet. This is all so new to me. Are there any pitfalls or advice you would give someone like me? I promise to treat anything you tell me with the most utmost respect and confidentiality. Thank you. - So-and-so (555) 555-1234 (personal cell)". Use your own words of course.

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  • I agree with this answer. The opening gambit should be that he would like to consider a firm offer before making a final decision. If it is then a delayed increase which is offered, it should be an automatic increase if he is still in the position, with the only other option being positive action on their part to demote him back down to his current pay and responsibilities if they feel he has failed and has no further potential. Management will otherwise tend to reason that any man who'll spend 6 months in the role for less, will certainly spend 12 months in the role for less. – Steve Jan 8 at 20:21
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My direct manager mentioned that a "salary adjustment / pay increase" would be involved but that he didn't know the specifics of what would be offered yet. He also indicated that the technology director suggested that they might want to do an "incentivized pay upgrade schedule" - it sounds like pay increases based upon the projects I deliver or manage. He didn't know any more details of that, but told me that his personal preference was to just give me a normal pay increase instead of tying it to something that needs to be tracked / measured (he would be the one doing that).

I'm not 100% sure what is meant by an "incentivized pay upgrade schedule" but it sounds like no raise initially (maybe?) and a raise spread out over the next 6 or 12 months (I'm assuming here).

What is the best was to press for a standard raise?

Just ask for whatever it is you want.

You apparently have no experience in this new role. But despite being there for less than two years, they like you and want to see how you perform with these new responsibilities.

They are letting you bet on yourself. They are giving you financial incentives to reach goals. Perhaps those will be salary increases, perhaps they will be bonuses - you really don't know any of the details or any of the numbers yet.

Think it over ahead of time what it is you want. Then wait to hear what they are offering. If their offers aren't what you prefer ask for something else. But don't jump the gun. Wait until you hear their ideas first - you might be pleasantly surprised.

I'm currently at $100k salary annually - I'm leaning towards $120k to $125k salary annually (20-25%) increase. Does this sound reasonable or am I asking for way too much?

There's no way to know externally.

Consider how much the leaving manager was making. Consider how much anyone in a similar role in your company is making. Consider what percent of salary is used as a raise for anyone being promoted in your company. Consider how much a similar role with your background in your local market would commend.

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