The situation :

I'm the contracted web developer for my company (which isn't an IT company). They are using a legacy framework that almost nobody knows, has a very small community, and the general reviews on it are just plain bad. (makes me actually wonder why they picked it in the first place)

In short, people with this skill are very few, and I'm the only one in this company with this job description.

My contract ends soon and the company has offered me an extension. I was hoping to ask for a raise, stating several reasons, but on the back of my head, the main reason is because I know my company needs me and if they don't get me hired, their website won't be maintained.

The question :

Is the situation where one specific person knows that the company needs this specific person a reason worthy enough of a raise?

  • @gnat, I've read the link you included and I believe my question and that question are different things. That question revolves around getting a raise on the argument that he is under the average salary of his expertise, and my question revolves around getting a raise on the argument that my company will have a big problem if I left, or got hit by a bus. – Zaenille Sep 4 '14 at 8:41
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    *comments removed* Remember what comments are for. For extended discussions, Get a Room (a chat room). – enderland Sep 4 '14 at 22:33
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    Question subtly changed. This question previously asked if it would be considered "blackmail" to ask for a raise for this reason, and that's the question that many of the existing answers are addressing. – fjw Sep 5 '14 at 3:56

They offered an extension, it's perfectly within your right to make a counter. Just let them know that you've enjoyed working there and that for $X amount you'll be happy to extend the contract.

Negotiation is a learned skill. However one of the intrinsic rules is that the side which needs it less will generally win. So, no matter what, you need to be prepared to walk away. If you aren't, then there won't be much of a negotiation. Just be sure to not throw this in their face.

Going with that theme: you probably don't want to bring up the bad reviews on the legacy framework during this time. As a manager, if I was looking at increased risk for maintaining an effectively dead system which I was dependent on then I'd likely start trying to see what it would cost to just replace it...and therefore you. In other words, bringing it up would be an easy way to talk yourself out of a job.

Is the situation where one specific person knows that the company needs this specific person a reason worthy enough of a raise?

Yes and no.

First off, you should remember that everyone can be replaced. Granted some people are just a little more painful to replace than others, but companies survive all the time after the loss of key people. Also, it's considered pretty bad form to point out the difficulties of finding a replacement when it should be patently obvious.

Second, asking for more money while negotiating a contract extension doesn't really require a reason. Just the fact that you want more money is enough to ask for it, and if you feel you can make a higher amount elsewhere then you should be asking for it. The real question they need to ask themselves is whether the amount you now want crosses a threshold in which it is less costly/painful to just replace you and/or the system.

the main reason is because I know my company needs me and if they don't get me hired, their website won't be maintained

This is demonstrably false. They were looking for someone to maintain the website when they found you. They'll be able to find someone else.

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    As someone who deals in hiring, I will say typically speaking if I replace someone in my staff it's almost always the one who thinks they are the hardest to replace. (Not for that reason, but rather these are the employees that tend to let the quality of their work and professionalism slip, because they think they are safe from consequences because I NEED them.) I've never met a person who could not be replaced, period. – RualStorge Sep 5 '14 at 15:08

Is the situation where one specific person knows that the company needs this specific person a reason worthy enough of a raise?

Worthy enough is a matter of opinion.

It's probably worthy enough from your point of view. You feel you are worth more money, so you can ask for more.

But from the employer's point of view, it's probably a bit more complex.

Nobody is indispensable. Everyone can be replaced. If not you, they will find someone else.

Companies don't have unlimited budgets for maintaining their website. At some point, you will be overpriced, and they may choose to find another way to get it done. Your challenge will be to request enough that the company is comfortable paying you, rather than going elsewhere.

I worked for a small company that had a proprietary system which was maintained by one individual. He was confident that only he could do the work. Unfortunately, he had a heart attack and couldn't work any longer. The company went to a local university and hired an intern who taught herself how to handle the system at a fraction of the cost. It wasn't immediate, there were a few glitches along the way, but in the end she was far better than the original sysadmin. And she created enough documentation that it was never a one-person-system again.

if they don't get me hired, their website won't be maintained.

No. They'll just find someone else to maintain the website if they want it maintained.

Or, as @Areks correctly points out, they could hire another company or individual who will port the website to a newer, better documented, well known technology.

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    Or better yet, they could hire another company or individual who will port the website to a newer, better documented, well known technology. – Areks Sep 4 '14 at 14:48

I wouldn't call it blackmail, but its a very precarious bargaining position.

Economic considerations

Lets break it down like this, you are skilled in the very rare FooBar framework. and finding people that know this framework it hard.

To get a new developer who is skilled in FooBar might cost quite a lot of money, so you want an increase to $X0,000 dollars per year or you walk (where X is far higher that web developers in your area earn). That seems like a smart proposal, but it can backfire on you.

The company can look at how much developers generally cost in your area - lets call this $Y0,000 per year. Now if X is far higher than Y, they may consider that they'll get a new developer at Y and just take a hit on their performance while they get up to speed.

Also, you need understand you aren't really worth $X0,000 per year. If you walk out the door today, you can't get the $X0,000 that you are bargaining for because the FooBar framework is actually also very rare. So you may not be able to find an employer who needs a FooBar developer and will pay $X0,000.

Your knowledge may have put you in the position where you occupy a niche too well.

Ethical considerations

Information Technology has a poor reputation sometimes for having a wild-west cavalier attitude towards business. But there have been attempts to build codes of ethics around IT employment to help mature the branch of knowledge.

Ethically, I believe that it is irresponsible to be sole lifeline for a specific system for an employer. That doesn't mean that there should be two staff with equal knowledge at all times, or that the secretary could take over. What it does mean however, is part of your job is documenting the system to the point that if you were unavailable to work for an extended period your employer wouldn't go bust.

Nor does it mean documenting yourself out of a job. Knowledge and skills are transferable, but while it might be possible for someone to reproduce your work piecemeal from instructions, it may take them much longer due to your greater experience - something which isn't as easily transferred and is much more valuable.

What should you do?

Obviously you have a good bargaining position here, and there is no reason not to utilise it, but its unwise to try and take advantage of your employer. Look at the market in your area, and see how your pay compares. Also take into account the relative rarity of the technology and negotiate a fair raise on that.

Keep in mind that if you are the only one with the knowledge and have never documented anything, then if X is too high there is the risk that they may try and find someone else for the same price that will document.

Personally, I'd also recommend phrasing your position as "I have lots of experience in FooBar which is hard to find" rather than "I'm the only one who knows FooBar". The former demonstrates your worth, and the latter comes across as a threat, and may make them aware that they do have a knowledge transfer problem and they may want to solve that.

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    Is there legal precedent for employees being sued because their employer chose the wrong technology? That seems bananas to me. – Gusdor Sep 4 '14 at 6:58
  • That would especially idiotic is you're hired specifically to maintain that wrong technology. I can see a possible claim if you're contracted to assess all technology in use; overlooking the framework could then be seen as malpractice. – MSalters Sep 4 '14 at 11:41
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    @MSalters: IT workers are not certified by a state, federal or other national government. As such it is not possible to sue them for "malpractice" because they don't meet the US legal definition for "professional" – NotMe Sep 4 '14 at 14:18
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    Also, keep in mind that, if you use the "give me X dollars or I walk away" routine and you don't leave after they refuse, you LOSE ALL LEVERAGE you have in your business relationship ! – Radu Murzea Sep 4 '14 at 14:50
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    @Gusdor I've removed that section because admittedly it was a pretty flimsy remark. – user9158 Sep 4 '14 at 23:54

Only if it's blackmail to sell anything to anybody. In any monetary negotiation, the seller always has the option of simply not completing the sale. If you think of yourself as selling your services, you always have the privileged position of being able to walk away (ie quit) if the amount you're being offered is not deemed enough for your time.

Threatening to quit isn't blackmail. If done excessively and for petty reasons, it can be annoying, even maybe harassment (or maybe just "being a douchebag").

But remember the other side of the coin. The employer also has the ability to terminate you if they think they are not getting their money's worth, too.

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No-one can answer that without knowing if your existing salary already takes into account your unique skills/knowledge.

But yes, in general, having unique skills that the company needs is a reason for a higher salary than you would have without those skills.

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