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I'm in a sort of predicament at my place of employment, but first the background. Currently, I'm working as a computer specialist making about $29k a year at a local school district in the tri-state area. My jobs include managing the phone system, a few servers, two schools with about 70 teachers, and programming small applications.

Recently, I took the initiative to create an application drawn from the districts desire for a specific piece of software. My initial work on this application took place during my spare time at work and at home. About a year later, I presented my unfinished project to the key people at the district. Needless to say, they were very enthusiastic about the application I was creating and wanted me to continue my work full-time.

Things went fairly quickly after my initial presentation. The wheels got moving to fill my technology specialist position temporarily in order for me to work full-time. I met with the Director of the Business Office and my boss regarding how things would work moving forward. The Director basically asked me to give him a number of what I wanted to be paid. I talked to a few of my buddies and figured out what I feel I should be paid initially. I felt that based on what the application entailed that $80k would be a reasonable amount per-year (plus benefits).

Once I gave the Director my number, he expressed to me that once the application was fully-functional, then he would be able to present my new position proposal to the board. It felt kind of odd, but I was okay with it since I was excited to program every day. I assumed he took this route because of how I expressed my vision for the application. The vision I expressed entailed a "never-done" approach, by adding features incrementally, the work would continue way after the applications initial release. Since then, I've been pulled in and out of my old position as a technology specialist because of the temporary hires. Thus giving me a huge whiplash of playing catch up with the technology department and figuring out where I was at in my programming.

Here is my main question for the community:

Am I being too passive about this whole deal? I feel like I should be paid at my requested rate (if not somewhere close to there) if I'm creating the application. I'm mainly being passive right now because I know it's a public school district and not a business.

Some quick background:

  1. I only have a 1-year of college under my belt and a high school diploma
  2. I've created a few other applications for the district
  3. The superintendent and a few other educational administrators are very interested in what I'm creating
  4. The solution I'm creating is very unique to the district; there isn't any off-the-shelf equivalent at the moment

Any helpful advice would be appreciated!

Thanks,

  • "The tri-state area" - Do you mean NY/NJ/Penn, or WY/NE/CO? You're not narrowing it down, there. If you mean NYC and outskirts, maybe. If you're in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, I'd say your number is a little high. – Wesley Long Sep 21 '15 at 21:56
  • Sorry, the Philly Area – user1568466 Sep 21 '15 at 22:21
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    $29k raised to $80k in a local school district? Not very much likely. – scaaahu Sep 22 '15 at 9:33
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    In the United States most school positions have a published pay scale. Have you looked at the pay scale for your school district, and see which positions pay $80,000 a year? That is the level you are claiming you are worth. – mhoran_psprep Sep 22 '15 at 10:31
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I think it's pretty likely they aren't actually prepared to pay you $80k. I feel like $80k may even possibly be a bit high, but of course pay rates are highly dependent on location.

But also, $80k is nearing the median salary of a school principal (~$88k according to Google) and much higher than the median teacher's salary.

I don't recommend doing work way outside the scope of your current position only for promises of a promotion. People deserve to be fairly compensated for their work, and it's all too easy for promises to fall through, only then people will have the expectation that you'll do dev work for an unfairly cheap price.

I'd insist on getting proper compensation for any additional work it takes to finish, and if they refuse, start looking for reasonably compensated dev jobs.

  • As I noted in another comment, this could be a very valuable expience and something to show potential future employers, but don't expect to be compensated for it now. It's not a bad move though, it shows potential employers initiative and a solid portfolio. Make sure that you capture visual images of your work for your portfolio, since you are being paid, albeit underpaid, for the work you won't be able to take this code with you. – Bill Leeper Sep 22 '15 at 16:59
  • I don't agree for several reasons: 1. The op would still be acquiring this "experience" under their current title, and without an actual developer title, companies will likely overlook their experience 2. By giving their employer their application, they very well may lose control of it, but if they don't, they can certainly post all the source code in their portfolio to help convince future employers 3. I don't think what experience they would get would justify being that grossly underpaid – Kai Sep 23 '15 at 4:48
  • good points other than the giving their employer their application. It isn't the OPs application, it's already his employers if he worked on it while being paid, regardless as to his title or pay. – Bill Leeper Sep 23 '15 at 20:54
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I don't want to be pessimistic, but a company pays a developer 80k, because they can sell the software for 240k. A school is not in the software-selling business though. Your 80k income means whatever your application does, it must generate at least 120k revenue or be able to replace 5-6 full-time jobs - annually!

The end result will be an offer to purchase your fully-functional software ("It's better than nothing after all the time you've invested for the software, isn't it?"), with a small raise for maintaining it.

Sorry.

  • There is an important lesson here: Your work must either generate revenue or reduce expenses. Nothing else really matters. In government work, reducing expenses isn't all that important, either, unless it means not having to create new positions. – Wesley Long Sep 22 '15 at 4:37
  • "a company pays a developer 80k, because they can sell the software for 240k". This is an extremely simplified view of the industry of software development. In today's world software development is more and more often simply a requirement to get the job done. It isn't as simple as "expense reduction" or "revenue increase". Custom software may be the only thing that makes it possible for you to deliver a competitive product/service to distinguish you from your competition, or it may be the only way to solve the problem you're trying to solve. – Brandin Sep 22 '15 at 8:23
  • Sorry, but you are being too much of a pessimist here, and I don't know that you have a clear read on the current environment of developing in the government sector. IT and software development are among the most highly funded areas of Education post-2005. Technology grants are the largest and most frequently awarded federal funding. When, as a developer, you jump from the private sector to the government sector, you can actually expect a sizable increase in pay. Will the school apply and procure the grants if dude is doing work for free? Probably not, but if he pushes, he will get it. – user2989297 Sep 22 '15 at 18:21
  • Also, with this explosion of custom software made from these grants, it is becoming common practice for schools, districts, and departments of education to generate additional revenue by selling their software to neighboring schools, districts, and departments of education, and these entities have these federal grants to buy the software with, so, again, software developed in the government sector is actually much more lucrative than a private business trying to find a client base with money. – user2989297 Sep 22 '15 at 18:23
  • That's what I was thinking in the long-term. It's something that could definitely be sold to neighboring districts (with the possibly of going even further). But from what I'm hearing here, I'm going to be hard-pressed to expect such a raise. The most I may get out of it would be 50k? – user1568466 Sep 23 '15 at 19:18
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Your salary expectations should take into account:

Your lack of degree

Unfortunately, regardless of your skills, unless you have a convincing track record, the lack of a Computer Science or Software Engineering degree means your market rate will be lower than that of those who do.

Government pays less than private sector

Not much to say here, it's just true. (Edit: though keep in mind benefits which are often higher with government jobs.)

So if 80K is what private firms pay programmers with degrees in your area, you won't be able to negotiate for that much. Another consideration is that even if you can provide a certain level of skill or value, the school may not have the budget or need for that level of output.

My recommendation:

Negotiate for a modest increase in salary. Developing custom software that is used in production by end users for moderate to important tasks certainly has value and should be compensated more than system administration of COTS software for a similar number of users.

Alternatively, ask if you can develop software for them on a contract/consultant basis in addition to your normal duties.

When you have several years of experience developing and maintaining production quality software, you can apply for development jobs and use these applications as your portfolio. See if you can create a demo and code samples of the software you've written for prospective employers (making sure that you don't violate your contract with your current employer, or their copyrights or compromise confidential information).

If you already have such experience you may be ready to leave this job.

Also consider talking to developers in your area to see if your estimate of your own skill level is accurate.

  • The biggest problem you have here is that you are working for a school district. The highest most tenured teachers aren't making $80k. So this is a big ask, especially if they don't have experience with software engineers. With 20+ years experience and the right degree I was only offered $60k (about half of typical market rate for s/w engineers) recently when I was discussing a position with a private school. You will be taken advantage of in this situation and you have to decide if the experience is going to be worth it. To get the $80k you are going to have to elsewhere for sure. – Bill Leeper Sep 22 '15 at 16:56
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Something that may be more appropriate in your case is to negotiate with the district now, that even though they are going to pay you to develop this, you want to retain ownership and copyrights. This will allow you to take the code with you when you leave and even sell it to other districts for personal profit.

This is a tricky concept and may not fly, but it's very unlikely you will get paid reasonably for this, given all the arguments others have given. So it's worth a shot. This way when you finish it up, you can leave for a better job and take this app with you and sell it to others or negotiate support contracts with the district. They may be far more likely to pay a nice hourly support rate compared to a full time salary.

  • Much better idea than asking for a 250% raise. If the school could afford to pay market rate they wouldn't be so interested you doing this. – sevensevens Sep 22 '15 at 20:47
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I hate to burst your bubble, but your enthusiasm and dreams of a big paycheck might have clouded your judgement.

First off, it is highly doubtful you will get $80K a year. The average 1st year programmer who graduated with a programming degree is $50K right now. One has to have a lot of years and experience to make $80K annually, which you dont have.

The following is a huge red flag for me:

he expressed to me that once the application was fully-functional, then he would be able to present my new position proposal to the board.

This basically says, we will take your work and there is no guarantee you will get any compensation. What if the board rejects the proposal? To make matters worse, it seems like you have already agreed to do the work for them, with no provisions. You might have already given away your legal rights to this software.

A this point you need to decide how you want to pursue this. You might even want to consult a lawyer.

  • I figured that it was almost impossible to gain rights to this software seeing as I took some of their ideas an incorporated it into the software. I'm glad I'm getting more input on this because I'm completely new to this type of negotiations. I would be happy with making $50k and working my way up if it's possible. – user1568466 Sep 23 '15 at 19:14
  • @Keltari: in the US, every line of code you write for your employer, whether at home or at the office, belongs to that employer, not you, unless you have a specific contract that says otherwise. asp-software.org/www/misv_resources/business-articles/… – Nolo Problemo Sep 25 '15 at 22:55
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Several good answers already, but I'd like to add something to think about which can make a huge difference. I'm with everyone else thinking that 80 k is probably unrealistic (although possible).

But whichever way it pans out, making sure you retain ownership of the software could easily make you a lot more in terms of resale value and maintenance. If your product is unique enough and in demand you could well end up living well off it.

In that case you can look at this as an opportunity to invest in your own future while the day to day living expenses are being taken care of by others. I have done several jobs at a break even cost or worse, only because I saw resale value and steady maintenance fees if I retained ownership. Your basically being paid to develop something for yourself.

So my advice is bring that factor into your thinking on the whole matter. If you have a solid, proven, mature product, no one cares about your qualifications. I left school at 14.

  • Good advice for the future, but he's been working on this application on company time and equipment now. – mkennedy Sep 22 '15 at 16:42
  • And? The majority was done in his own time, if he has the sense to retain ownership he has a business opportunity of his own, not something to be thrown away lightly on a vague promise of a raise, maybe, if, perhaps – Kilisi Sep 22 '15 at 18:05

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