I have reached a very peculiar point in my career, and I am struggling to find the path forward. I am a hands-on team lead with 20+ years of experience with 3 direct reports. I work for a large financial firm in New York City. My current company is undergoing a dramatic change in management and priorities, and I feel that it is time to move on elsewhere.

However, I have encountered some difficulties. It is quite hard to procure a job that would not be a step back for me in terms of career advancement and/or compensation. I want to continue to be a hands-on lead or, perhaps, an architect. I don't want to become a hands-off manager, and I don't want to go back to be an individual contributor. Unfortunately, almost all jobs that I receive through networking and via recruiters are individual contributor roles. Another snag is that after 13+ years in big financial firms in New York City I ended up getting paid really well. This prices me out of most senior developer jobs, and even of most architect/lead jobs.

I did manage to find a good lead, but these people were originally looking for an individual contributor, and promised to give me a team and a higher pay only as an exception. I definitely would not have gotten this special treatment if I did not have my current job. Incidentally, this is exactly how I found my current job: they wanted a good coder, but gave in to my demand to lead a team.

It seems that people are willing to pay good money for my services, but only big corporations can afford that, and even there I do not fit the regular salary structure, so I need to go through the process of lengthy negotiations, exceptions, and special favors.

Frankly, I find this situation alarming and unstable, and I want to do something about it. What is the best strategy to procure a hands-on team lead position? I see lots of openings for coders, some for hands-off managers, but very few, if any, for team leads.

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    What if you moved out of NYC? If you move to a place with a lower cost of living you can likely negotiate a decent salary and get a senior positon doing something related to whatever you do. So...a senior position and more purchasing power. Seems to check the boxes. – acpilot Feb 1 '17 at 5:52
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    There is no question here. When you reach the level of experience and salary that you have this is simply how things work. Opportunities are fewer, vetting processes are longer. High salaries and specialised skills almost automatically mean working in high COL areas for large companies who can afford you. That's just how it goes. Perhaps you are applying for the wrong positions but that's not something we can help with. I have no clue why you're referring to "special favors" though. Employment is a business transaction, potential employers don't do you favors. – Lilienthal Feb 1 '17 at 10:18
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    I agree with @Lilienthal and I would add that when you reach that level, it is naturally more unstable precisely because there are fewer companies willing or able to pay what you make. So what I do is - always be ready to move. Be in touch with previous companies, coworkers, recruiters. Having a solid network is the only way you can cope with the risk that comes with a higher paying position. – user1220 Feb 1 '17 at 16:04
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    Since this has been put on hold I cannot add as an answer but I did want to throw out one thing that it doesn't sound like you have tried. Have you every considered starting your own consulting company? If you have the management skills and the technical expertise "to go out on your own" you might consider becoming your own boss and begin working on a contractual basis. It's not a prospect for everyone and it would require a monster amount of work in the beginning but I know several individuals who were highly successful by going such a route. – DanK Feb 1 '17 at 16:43

I believe you have exhausted all your ideas and looked at all possible options. What you can do is step back a little if you want to leave your current company at the soonest possible time. What I mean is, go back to being an individual contributor even if you don't want it. Sometimes we just have to give up on what we want if it is not available no matter what we do.

It is true that only big corporations can afford you. Are you willing to relocate? Or do you have a family you need to see every day? There's a myriad of factors you have to consider which I also believe you have thought already. What you can do is to find all the jobs you can find in your local area. If you think it's already hopeless, consider to relocate.

You are definitely in an unstable situation but you also have an advantage. If you are a really good coder, do you think you'll find it difficult to find a job that you want? Well, maybe, but you will definitely not be jobless.

  • Yes, I thought about relocation, but I cannot do it right now. Besides, my "local area" is New York City, which is one of the largest job markets for IT. From what I hear, Silicon Valley has lower salaries and higher cost of living, so I am left with perhaps Utah or North Carolina... – Diosdado Loretti Feb 1 '17 at 15:56
  • If the long-term goal is to be a team lead or an architect, taking and individual contributor job is just a backward step. Hiring managers look at steps like that and see someone not really interested in being a team lead. – DJClayworth Feb 1 '17 at 15:56
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    For compensation vs. cost of living, Seattle is the best place to be right now. Housing is half the cost of California or NYC, and salaries are nearly equal. – kevin cline Feb 1 '17 at 17:55

When you're in a special position and 'special' pay, this is part of life for you. You need to develop strategies (as you have) rather than try the normal routes. Lengthy negotiations, lack of positions etc,. they're all par for the course. So don't knock them, they are what work. Instead focus on them and make them strengths.

I've seen many give up and take a big step backwards and never achieve as highly again. Others (tiny minority) persevered and kept moving forwards. I was in a similar position for years. I got lots of job offers, but no one could afford me and I wasn't going to go backwards. So at one point I was unemployed for 6 months cleaning offices at night for pocket money. It all comes down to how much you believe in yourself.

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    What are you trying to say? I don't think I understand this answer's moral. – cst1992 Feb 1 '17 at 6:58
  • @cst1992 keep soldiering on if you want the 'special' deal, don't expect to able to accomplish it easily using normal strategies.... hope that makes more sense, my English isn't too great. – Kilisi Feb 1 '17 at 7:01
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    That's a good point, but what I am worried about, that de facto I play bait-and-switch on people. They start looking for a regular senior developer with a regular salary, and then run into me. Most back off, but some recognize the advantage and craft a special deal, grinding their teeth. I have difficulty finding people that were originally looknig for someone like me. – Diosdado Loretti Feb 1 '17 at 16:01
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    @DiosdadoLoretti there's nothing wrong with that. Folks are looking for a widget and then they see you, this super widget with a big price tag. Most decide they aren't really looking for a super widget. It's too expensive or they don't need the extra features, so they go on looking for a regular widget. Others see this super widget and maybe never realized they could have such a nice widget with those features and they're willing to pay a premium for it. You're not describing something dishonest, you're just offering the premium option. – Chris G Feb 1 '17 at 16:40

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