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I work in a small business, <15 employees, where there are 4 software developers with one being the director, one being senior, one being on the verge of being senior and me. I have recently finished an apprenticeship working in this company for 2 years and they have taken me on full time as a junior developer.

For personal reasons I would like to know what pay I am expected to get in the coming years. Is this something I should be able to ask of the manager/director? If so how should I do it?


I am aware things change in a business, especially a small one, but I would like to know a rough estimate of what I could be earning next year and in five years time etc.

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    Bear in mind that saying you will paid maybe potentially lots of money in the future but not now is free and easy for your company and commits them to nothing. – Nathan Cooper Jun 6 '17 at 15:49
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"What sort of pay can I expect next year" isn't an unreasonable question, although the golden opportunity for that has passed (as @TheFamousDirector commented). Unless they bring it up themselves, your next best opportunity is at your next review (although I'd make sure to wait no less than 6 months in the event you have one earlier).

The five-year view is unrealistic to ask for, I've never known a business that could answer that question unless it had defined payscales based on time served, and it would be especially difficult for a small business to answer. Asking this is worse than useless IMO - not only can they not answer with any effectiveness, it could also be perceived negatively, i.e. "I'm not happy with my salary and am already eyeing up leaving".

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  • actually some larger companies do have a defined pay progression for new graduates BT used to do this over a 2 year period you would get a pay rise every 6 months as you got up to speed. – Neuromancer Jun 6 '17 at 16:03
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    @Neuromancer yep some do hence I said "unless it had defined payscales based on time served", apologies if I wasn't clear enough :) – motosubatsu Jun 6 '17 at 16:05
  • To check what insudtries pay check it in payscale.com – Nagarajan S R Jun 7 '17 at 8:27
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For personal reasons I would like to know what pay I am expected to get in the coming years. Is this something I should be able to ask of the manager/director?

I would like to know a rough estimate of what I could be earning next year and in five years time etc.

Well, they say "there are no stupid questions". So from that point of view you can ask anything.

But I'd be shocked if a tiny company would commit to, or even comment on, future years' salaries in anything other than extremely general terms. In my experience, five years is an eternity for this size company, and nobody would try to predict salaries that far out.

You might hear something like "We tend to pay market rates." I wouldn't expect much more than that. Of course who knows what the market rates might be in five years?

I've worked at a good handful of small startup companies. If you came to me with that question, I'd say something like "Well, that depends on lots of factors - some of which are in your control, some of which are in my control, and many of which neither of us can control."

Then I'd point out that you should work as hard as you can in order to give you the best chance at the best salary and that this was pretty much the only part you could control.

In larger companies, I might review the company's formal process for determining and granting raises. I'd describe the meetings, the reviews, the levels of approval, etc.

But I'd never give you numbers, that would be foolish. And in most cases, since the numbers are derived from annual budgets and budgets are seldom set up far ahead of time, I couldn't know the numbers anyway.

So if you are looking for hard and fast numbers, I'd suggest that you not waste your time.

If so how should I do it?

Just ask. Something like "For personal reasons I would like to know what pay I am expected to get in the coming years. Can we talk about it?" should start things off.

Note: I can only speak from the point of view of every US-based small company I've ever worked at. You haven't indicated your locale - perhaps things are different there.

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As a supervisor, this is something I'd expect my staff to be interested in, and to ask about.

Now, to be sure, you're not going to get a specific answer - "You'll make $80k next year and $100k in five years" - but what you should be able to ask and find out.
Some companies will be able to give you very specific numbers (bands, really) for particular roles. Some will choose not to, and some will be unable to. But it's not harmful or rude to ask; just be willing to accept non-answers without pushing back too hard.

I would note that in five years' time, it's unlikely you'll still be there as a junior developer; if you're still a junior in five years' time, it's probably a sign you aren't very good at your job. You thus should not be looking for just 'what is the dollar number', but what is the career path you would potentially follow - what other positions are there up the ladder, and when does a typical employee move up the ladder. And more importantly, what do you need to do to show you're ready to move up the ladder - because you can start working on that now.

Here are some example q/a's. I've had very similar conversations to all of these. I would not consider it out of the ordinary to ask your manager any of these questions at really any point; it's part of their job to help you understand your career and develop it, and it makes them look good to have motivated employees under them who show an interest in career development - even if it means their best employees leave their department for bigger and better roles in the company. It's far better than the employee leaving for another company.

What is the normal career path for someone in my role? What position(s) might I be eligible for in the next five years, if my performance is satisfactory?

A Junior Developer typically becomes eligible for Devloper in 2 years and Senior Developer in 5 to 7 years.

What does a Senior Developer typically make as a starting salary?

Senior Developers at this company typically begin make between $90k and $120k, depending on their particular role and their particular skills.

What will I have to accomplish in the next 5 years to be a good candidate for Senior Developer at that point?

A good candidate for Senior Developer typically has been the task lead on at least two projects that delivered on-time and on-budget. They have received "exceeds" reviews each year they were in the company, and have shown substantial progress in learning multiple technologies. A Senior Developer will typically be comfortable with at least 5 of the technologies that we use, often more, and will have shown an aptitude for picking up new technologies when required quickly.

What other career paths are potentially available to me here, beyond the Developer track?

Career paths that Developers may consider branching off to include Project Management, Quality Assurance, Sales, and Technical Writing. Each has its own requirements, and as you progress through your career as a Developer, if you find that you have an affinity for one of these paths, there are resources available for you to learn more about these careers.

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  • I'll note that while this might not be as easy to answer in a small company, your manager still should be able to answer the questions - and as willing. – Joe Jun 6 '17 at 20:59
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I would like to know a rough estimate of what I could be earning next year and in five years time

Go to the HR person or your manager and ask them for a meeting to discuss your expected pay over the next five years. Be careful of your wording as you may be thought to be looking elsewhere for employment. I may suggest explaining that you're trying to plan your future financial plan to buy a house in the near future.

Before going into that meeting prepare. Know what the going rates are and what you're prepared to accept. Let them know if their expectations are too low. Also ask (since it's a small company) if you'll have an option for stock options.

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    Note that, in a company of less that 15 people, it's unlikely that the "HR person" is in a position to have that conversation; manager (or whoever hires you/decides on pay) is a better candidate. – RDFozz Jun 6 '17 at 18:29
  • @RDFozz I'm not saying you are wrong, but I'm left wondering... in a 15 people company, if the HR person doesn't deal with this stuff and/or hiring... what does (s)he do? – xDaizu Jun 7 '17 at 8:09
  • @xDaizu - In a 15 person company the "HR person" is probably an outsourced company who advises the company on the legal aspects of HR, and isn't involved in payscales in any way. – AndyT Jun 7 '17 at 10:22
  • @xDaizu - What AndyT said - and the in-house person would basically be handling the paperwork aspect of things, and probably part-time. Again, in the small companies where I worked, the owners usually handled interviews and hiring/firing - it was their company, after all. – RDFozz Jun 7 '17 at 15:04
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Asking specifically about salary probably won't get a useful answer, beyond some vague statement like "well, that depends on how good your performance is". No senior company manager is going to make a binding promise about your future pay in the medium to long term if they have any sense at all!

On the other hand, asking about your probable career path in terms of promotion to higher grades, taking on more responsibility, supervising other people, etc, is a good question which should lead to a useful discussion - and you can then make your own estimate of future salary based on what you learn.

Keep in mind that to grow your career, there are basically only two options: (1) do more (and/or harder) technical stuff, or (2) do more management stuff. It's never too soon to start exploring which is the right career path for you personally - not everybody wants to be a technical guru, or a top manager!

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  • I agree. Asking about salary directly might be taken the wrong way, asking about Career Progression though is much more constructive. – Tim B Jun 7 '17 at 9:45
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An approach: if the company's been around for notably more than 5 years, asking what kind of pay increases have been typical from starting pay to five years in should be answerable, especially in terms of percentages (avoiding the need to actually divulge anyone's actual pay). If the company's only 6 years old, there may not be a typical yet.

When I worked for a company that size for 10 years, my pay almost doubled. Mind you, I'd get a review every 2 years or so, saying "you're really good", and getting a significant bump, but that's how it worked there (and then). Note: my employer was a privately held corporation in the US, and we had no bonuses or stock options. We weren't a startup where we could expect the size of the company to shoot up from 15 to 150 or anything; we were a consulting company that developed customer computer software for our clients.

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Even in small companies I think it's reasonable to expect the following.

  • A company structure

  • Roles and responsibilities

  • Salary bands for roles

This isn't about what you expect it's about what you can work hard to get to.

If there isn't anything written down that says "if you work hard you could move up to X" I'd worry that there will be arguments about when and why you deserve a promotion or pay rise.

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  • It's common and typical in the UK in marketing too unfortunately but most companies won't mind telling you what role you should be aiming for and what the average salary is for that role. I think if they have no idea where you'll be in five years, it means they have no real plans. – Lawrence Alexander Jun 6 '17 at 18:16
  • @JoeStrazzere "But perhaps it's different in the UK." I don't think so. If you are working for a large UK company where there is formal trade union representation for all employees (including those who are not union members) there will probably be a structure that says "after X years you should expect be on level Y" - but such companies are unlikely to pay the best salaries anyway, though they may provide some level of safety-net for below-the-industry-average-standard employees. – alephzero Jun 6 '17 at 18:54
  • @JoeStrazzere Just because the OP isn't working for a large company now doesn't mean that he/she never will. Some people prefer to be in an environment where they know "exactly what they will be doing" in 5 or 10 years time. Others don't – alephzero Jun 6 '17 at 19:02
  • @alephzero That's my point too. I'm not saying they'll have it, but asking like this is the best way to find out. I probably need to work on my answers to make them clearer. – Lawrence Alexander Jun 6 '17 at 19:07

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