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I finished my BS in CS this last March, and my school made claims that typical starting salaries for CS grads in my area (Portland, OR) were between $70-80K/year. As I looked around GlassDoor, it seemed like that was correct. Software engineers were getting paid $65-90k/year.

But when I started looking for work after graduation (Yeah, I know, I should have started sooner, but I'm not sure how relevant that is), recruiters were telling me that the positions they were looking to fill would pay $35-45k/year. Only one job I looked at said that $70k was reasonable (Though I didn't get it), the rest basically laughed or scoffed at my expectation of $70k. They said it'd be incredibly unlikely to see a job offer for even $50k.

So during the interview for the job I ended up starting in May, he asked what kind of salary I was looking for, I was honest and said "Well, my school told me I could should earn 70-80K, but recruiters have been telling me I should be happy with $50K" and he said "I can get you 50."

And I didn't argue it, and I'm really wondering if I should have.

FWIW, I didn't get the job through a recruiter, but I am working through a contractor for a larger company. I also had a 16-month internship on my resume, plus could show examples of my coding on personal projects.

My school had an alumni BBQ a couple months ago, and I talked to some of my classmates who had found jobs, and they reported making $45-50K, so I'm wondering if its more likely that starting salaries in my area have just dropped through the floor in the last couple years, or are we all just getting horrendously low-balled?

Did I screw myself over and get myself a salary far below what I'm actually worth?

marked as duplicate by gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings, yochannah, Garrison Neely, Michael Grubey Sep 21 '14 at 10:56

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    You need to have your asking salary number, as well as the lowest salary you are willing to accept. If the offer is lower, you must be willing to walk. Also need to be able to state your asking number with confidence, and without qualification ("my school told me"). This is hard to do early in one's career. Check out kalzumeus.com/2012/01/23/salary-negotiation for more info. – mcknz Sep 16 '14 at 17:48
  • It's worth noting that this is highly regional-specific. I went to a very good high school and decent university, and many of my HS friends went to top tier universities. No one I know was able to get a job making more than 60% of the salary the school (either the high school or college) claims promised. This is at least partly because we live in a very inexpensive area, so salaries tend to gravitate down as well; we make less, but it costs less to live well. Although I also suspect that schools often use suspect methods to generate unrealistically high estimates to dazzle students with. – Nicholas Oct 22 '14 at 19:11
  • I realize this is an old question but, quite simply: programmers with no experience are worth almost nothing. Degrees are sometimes "useful door openers" and "box tickers", which is fair enough, but quite simply education has zero value for programming. You simply get paid by experience. Your first couple years you'll make peanuts. Then, with real experience assuming you're good, you'll make money by the truckload. – Fattie Nov 13 '17 at 14:07
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Your school claims $70-80K. On what grounds? Glassdoor makes the same claim.On what grounds? What if the only people who answered their surveys were the ones making $70-80K and everybody else who is employed is too embarrassed to report that they were making only $35-40K? Forget about those who are still unemployed after graduation - most of them are too embarrassed to even admit that they are still alive and breathing let alone the $6 or $7 per hour they are making working 15 hours a week at MacD or Home Depot.

Anybody can make a survey that reports any answer they want, as long as they suitably bias their questions through phrasing. Survey designs are based on assumptions. Do you know the assumptions behind these surveys? Should you believe everything you read?

Now that you've gone to that alumni barbecue, should you believe the school's figures or your own lying ears?

You are "worth" whatever people are willing to pay you. Whether you think you are being screwed is a purely subjective judgement.

  • Exactly! I think it's worth noting that the average salary in the US is right around $50k per year. That includes all of the upper managers, CEOs, doctors, dentists, and many millionaires. Median salary is well under $50k. Making $70k per year puts you over the 90th percentile (whatsmypercent.com), or more if you live in an area of below-average cost of living...that seems unrealistic to expect with no experience. – Nicholas Oct 22 '14 at 19:17
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First, check your definition of "a decent salary". Most people would define it as:

  • I can afford to live in a pleasant place with a reasonable commute
  • I can feed and clothe myself, and have enough left over for the occasional treat

Depending on exactly where you live, $50k sounds decent enough. And you accepted it, so I think you believe so as well.

But your question seems to imply that a better definition of decent is:

  • As much as or more than all my classmates who are the same as me or worse than me
  • As much as I could possibly get no matter how great a negotiator I am

Thinking that way will never lead to happiness. While 50 is less than 60, it is a lot more than 0. Me, I ask people what they want to make, and either give it to them or don't hire them. I don't want people to tell me a larger number so we can argue down to what they actually want to make. Aggressive salary negotiation might have led to not getting the job, or getting the job but with a boss who's a little annoyed at you.

You've done a ton of research and your salary matches everything, except for the possibly inflated or stale number from someone trying to persuade you to choose them for your education, and the perceived ease of getting the employer to say "I can get you 50". Those two pieces of information are just not enough to lead to any kind of dissatisfaction or feeling screwed. You're making decent money that you're able to live on. All is good.

Keep working at this first job, keep learning about your industry and about salary trends in this area, and perhaps (perhaps!) at your first review, you might want to raise the topic of salary increases, should you come to believe you are underpaid. For example, perhaps your classmates are getting 50k plus benefits, and you are getting 50k without any benefits. But even if that's the case, don't spend between now and then sulking that you got screwed: spend that time figuring out how to earn a big raise here or land a spectacular new job somewhere else, by being great at this job.

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And I didn't argue it, and I'm really wondering if I should have.

Yes, you probably should have, but then again if you're happy with $50k, take the $50k. $50k and experience is far more valuable than $0k and no experience.

Did I screw myself over and get myself a salary far below what I'm actually worth?

Probably not. If your graduate peers are making comparable salary, it's fairly safe to consider that the market rate for those skills in that area. It's to be expected that you'll be at the low end of the curve for glassdoor reporting as new graduates.

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I'm actually going to take a slightly different approach in my answer than the previously stated answers, because there are missing specifics.

I am in your shoes, and I thought $70-80k was typical. Wrong. 5-8 years ago, it might have been ~ $5,000 closer than what it is now. However, that range is not accurate anymore. Areas with a higher cost of living may offer a higher salary, and some companies tend to follow the market value more than other, also. So some of it depends on location.

Information Systems, Computer Science, Computer Engineering are all becoming increasingly popular degrees. The IT field is booming. There are more jobs than there are developers in some areas. In terms of skills, that means recent college graduates in IT (CS, IS, CE) are a dime a dozen these days.

You have to realize that your skillset, judging only from the info you've provided, is not terribly unique. To be honest, unless you've been developing in a single programming language for a year +, you've really only scratched the surface of that language (most likely).

Who gets the $70-80k salaries then? Hardcore, passionate coders and people with experience. In my interview for my current position, I was asked "What do you do to stay up to date with your career field?". Companies want to see you have an app in the app store, or a side project you did for fun, or a nice blog you made because you wanted to hone your skills, or even something you developed to sell on your own. If you don't have X years experience in a single programming language, you are really only worth the base to low-mid salary grade at a company. (I think it is understood that if you go to MIT or somewhere similar you have already proven you are a cut above most people and will likely get a higher offer.)

In IT, experience is everything. You can't 'fake' knowledge, and you can't really get by without having experience. Trust me, and I think you'd agree - there is literally something new to learn every time you turn around. You also have to look at personal management experience. Was the 16 month internship with the same company, using a specific language or a full-stack of languages? Were you the Project or IT Lead on any projects? Did you start, develop, and complete a project while you were there that is applicable to jobs you are applying for?

I think the understanding for IT college graduates is that they understand programming more than the average person, but they don't know nearly enough to take full charge of a project. You also need to understand that developers need to understand the business. You may have built a console application to compute interest rates on a loan (I'm just saying this for examples' sake), but can you build a cross-platform web app to track employee's benefits? This encompasses knowledge and experience in/of SDLC, Requirements Gathering/Management, meetings with users, Database Design, Some programming language, CSS, HTML, possibly JavaScript/jQuery, etc. You see how things can add up.

Take the job that offers experience in what you want to do, even if the salary is below what you had initially thought. Build up your experience, your skillset, and your knowledge of the industry. In a few years, you will likely have the tools under your belt to be able to work as a mid-level developer in most companies (that utilize your toolset), and as time progresses I think you will see why you weren't making the range you had initially thought you should have.

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    it will depend on your locale. In my locale, there's an abundance of completely horrible programmers, and even here they would scoff at $70k. – Telastyn Sep 16 '14 at 18:44
  • @Telastyn For an entry level position? – Mark C. Sep 16 '14 at 18:47
  • Of course, because they're horrible programmers with 3+ years of experience. They won't even apply to those jobs. That said, it's been... 7 years now (and 3 jobs) since a company I've worked for has even considered a (non-intern) entry level programmer. All of them were well paid (though barely competent) Software Engineers - except for the poor H1B's that had no leverage during salary negotiations. – Telastyn Sep 16 '14 at 18:53
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    Sure, that might tell recruiters something, but recruiters don't hire people. In my experience, in my locale, 80%+ of candidates with 3+ years of experience have no valuable skills. They are actively terrible. We would be better off hiring a soda machine in that role. The other 20%? They're almost as valuable right out of college as 3 years in because they are the hardcore, passionate developers you talk about. At least my in locale, that trait is far more valuable than experience - because it's far more rare. – Telastyn Sep 16 '14 at 19:04
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    It's kind of unfortunate,but the money attracts some pretty marginal talent. I am a systems engineer and I used to hate the network guys because there were a few too many who were witless. Now, I am also a software engineer and I am starting to hate software engineers. When the money is too good, there is no escaping mediocrity. – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 16 '14 at 20:44

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