I've got about 15 years experience in software engineering with a great deal of experience working with a variety of companies. I've worked with startups especially in the past 6 years, and recently have encountered something odd in salary talks when engaging a new company. These are new small startups with 5-7 ppl, usually 2 cofounders and about 4 dev capacity people. They are well funded at this point usually. What I've encountered is these cofounders assume all tech people on the team will be paid the same salary. This might work if everyone has the same experience or role but often I'm sought because of my experience and ability to deliver and then assumed to be paid the same generic rate as someone 10 years my junior professionally. Or, the founders think they are being generous but fair by not paying anyone more or negotiating one or another. That they are supporting a flat and equal structure of peers. The founders are often young themselves so may not understand how pay often rises with experience.

This is not the case with larger startups usually once their hiring process becomes more formalized and isn't just one guys assumption. And obviously bigger companies have this worked out.

How can I work with these situations and explain that experience is often reflected in salary and paying 15yrs experience the same as 5 isn't always assumed or might be negligent to the more experienced candidate.

  • 1
    Is this "everyone in the company - through to CEO - is paid the same, has the same say in the company's direction, has the same share options and we're genuinely striving to be a cooperative and maintain forever", or is it "here's what we're paying for tech staff because we can't be bothered to assess performance but managers get more"?
    – user52889
    Dec 13, 2015 at 20:12
  • Doesn't sound like something you have much control over, best to soldier on and PROVE you're worth more, this gives you leverage in negotiations. Experience is all good, but I know many experienced people who's experience is mostly in making excuses... especially if they came from govt sector... no offence
    – Kilisi
    Dec 13, 2015 at 20:14
  • Inability to recognize value or progression of individual contributors sounds incredibly backwards to me. I assume management aren't your peers?
    – Nathan
    Dec 14, 2015 at 0:30
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    Possible duplicate of How should I properly approach my boss if I'm feeling underpaid?
    – gnat
    Dec 15, 2015 at 7:02
  • I think this also reflects a startup culture of mid "20 somethings", who are not used to working with a "30 something" with more years of experience and pay to reflect that. But they seem to be aware of the other side, and that is the poorly experienced developer that is often easier to find and will cause them havoc.
    – Miro
    Dec 15, 2015 at 15:32

3 Answers 3


Extra years of experience and additional skills if relevant for the role you are doing should pay more then someone who has less. This is simply because you are battle hardened and have gone through years of trial and error to learn the best way to tackle a task or solve a problem so are more likely (Not always) to be efficient within the role.

I have worked with lots of clever 'book smart' junior developers over the years but they often are unfamiliar with business practices and make careless mistakes whilst learning their trade.

If this was me i would not be targeting these type of vacancies for my career unless the starting pay was what i was seeking to begin with

  • This is good advice, though a lot of times job movement involves networking and connections with former coworkers. These are the cases I've seen this in recently. I can be more selective with cold-interviewing elsewhere.
    – Miro
    Dec 15, 2015 at 15:30

Well, in my book, performances count over everything. I've got your level of experience(in bigger firms, though), but if comes a kid that overperforms me & help us big, I don't see any problems having him better paid than me. For the same job. I know at least one who would have deserved it. And plenty who deserved to be kicked out.

Which happens often, and leads me to the second point : we experienced people might be more productive and make less errors(but often we have less new ideas, too), but that's not the reason we are better paid, in average. The reason is that people unfit for the position have disappeared(usually to other career paths, more suited to their qualities. I've seen a lady very bad in her programming job ending up as an excellent manager). So, people who are still in the job 15 years later, usually, are fit for the job. Especially if they survived several different environments.

While the young wonder kid, well, noone knows yet if he's really as good as he seems. There is a much bigger risk associated with recruiting him. Hence the lower pay.

Now to your case(my intro has been long, I fear). your founders are young & idealistic. You're not gonna convince them with rational arguments alone. You need to prove them you're worth more than the young kids. Only them, maybe,they'll be convinced. Or not. If it's ideologic for them, there's nothing you can do to convince them. If it's just pragmatic, well, show your worth.


If they want to create a set of pure piers then that is a proper approach. What will happen is people with more skill that can attract a higher salary will eventually leave. People with less skill will stay.

Find another job is a last resort but if that is the value set it is probably not going to change until if fails for that company.

For you as an individual does it really matter what others are getting paid? If everyone else is overpaid but the pay is fair your skill then what is the problem?

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    The problem is that your capacity to do useful work greatly exceeds that of your "peers" and you'll soon find yourself working a lot harder than everyone else without being paid accordingly. Dec 14, 2015 at 14:08
  • @DanPichelman And why would you work harder if you are going to be paid the same anyway.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 14, 2015 at 14:20
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    You wouldn't - but that's what I'm predicting the team & the boss would expect. All the tough problems would be assigned to the senior guy, regardless of fairness or workload distribution. That's why in normal companies the senior guy gets paid more. Dec 14, 2015 at 15:05
  • @DanPichelman But this is not a normal company where the senior guy is paid more. My introduction is "create a set of pure piers". For you to predict they will have equal pay and unequal expectation is a bit of stretch. See paragraph 2 - is not going to change until it fails for that company. See paragraph 3 - it the the pay is not competitive then move on - what others are paid is not a factor.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 14, 2015 at 15:37

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