How Software Developers Can Negotiate Better Salaries with Josh Doody

Episode Summary

For 15 years, Josh Doody held several different software engineering roles at companies like Raytheon, ADP, and Appirio. Today, he owns a consultancy called Fearless Salary Negotiation and helps software developers get paid what the market commands. Join Corey and Josh as they discuss how software developers can get paid more, what the current tech job market looks like, when devs should start thinking about compensation in their next roles, when salary negotiations actually begin, why the goal of a negotiation isn’t always about getting more money, the biggest mistakes people make in negotiations, and more.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Josh Doody
Josh is a salary negotiation coach who helps experienced software developers negotiate job offers from big tech companies like Google and Amazon.

Links Referenced: 

Announcer:  Hello and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host Cloud Economist, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of Cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.

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Corey:  Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I'm Corey Quinn. I'm joined this week by Josh Doody of Josh, welcome to the show.

Josh:  Hey Corey, thanks for having me.

Corey:  Thanks for being had. So this is a bit of a radical departure from the typical guests that I tend to have on this show in that you don't work for a tech company much less one that's in the Cloud. You're a self-employed consultant from sort of the same school that I tend to come from of self-employed consultants. Namely you find a specific expensive problem and then you go after it whole hog.

Josh:  Yeah, I think that's a great description of how I got into what I do and what I do. Yeah.

Corey:  Yeah. Mine, as listeners to the show are probably well aware by now, is that I fix the horrifying AWS bill. What problem do you solve?

Josh:  I help uh experienced software developers negotiate job offers from big tech companies, so I guess that's not really a problem being solved. The problem that I solve is that a lot of experienced software developers um frequently accept far less pay than they should for their valuable skills, and so my job is to help them arbitrage that gap, close it a little bit and hopefully get paid what they're worth.

Corey:  Let me level set this conversation a little bit. Um toward the beginning of this year, Sonia Gupta and I gave a talk a couple of times called Embarrassingly Large Numbers, Salary Negotiation for Humans. I consider myself not bad at salary negotiation. If I were to take a job tomorrow, I would hire you as a coach. Not optionally. That is one of those concrete things that I know I would do. I consider myself good. You are worlds beyond what I'm able to achieve.

Josh:  That's um really flattering, really kind of you to say and although I hope that you don't need to hire me anytime soon because what you're doing continues to thrive,

Corey:  Absolutely.

Josh:  I would welcome the opportunity to work with you. I think it would be a lot of fun.

Corey:  My business partner and I, who are co-owners of the company, uh keep going back and forth joking that we're going to hire you to help get an advantage over the other one and then we realize, wait, we just get partnership percentages here so all we have to do is sell more. We can't really do anything other than that. Which it's sort of a shame because on one end I love working with you on the other I kind of like not having a boss because my biggest barrier to employment is of course my personality.

Josh:  I feel the same way. I was just having a conversation with some friends last night about day jobs but yesterday was four years to the day since I quit my last day job um and my reasons that I gave them, because most of the people that I know, actually I know a lot of people who are sort of untraditionally employed but the reason I give to them that I quit my day job was I hate meetings and I do not like having a boss. So I can fully sympathize with what you just said.

Corey:  So let's start at the very beginning here. When we talk about salary negotiation, when does that take place in the course of, "You know what, I finally hit my rage quit position, I'm going to go find another place to work." Starting from that point, when do I start thinking about compensation in my next role?

Josh:  Yeah, you should start thinking about it pretty much right away. And so I'm going to answer this question and maybe take like a quick tangent and then come back. So I'm putting a pin in that sentence. The time when most people think about salary negotiation happening is when they get, a lot of people kind of imagine they're going to get like a formal offer letter on company letterhead or you know, electronic version of that that says, you know, "Welcome to Google. Here is your offer. Sign here to accept." And that does sort of happen eventually. But that actually often will happen after you have fully negotiated everything. And so you kind of have to back up quite a bit from where most people think negotiations happen. They don't happen when you get that formal letter. Usually the formal letter is more of a document of what you have negotiated or what you've agreed to.

Josh:  Um they even um begin before maybe the next stop point, if you're moving backwards in time, which would be, you know get an informal offer. I get a verbal offer from a hiring manager or recruiter or maybe I get an email with some bullet points in it that says, "Here's what your comp package will look like. Do you accept this?" And in fact, that's the most common thing that people think about. And I think you and I will talk about that. But now I'm going to go pull that pin out that I put in just a minute ago and zoom all the way back to when you are actually beginning conversations with a company and talking to a recruiter. Frequently the salary negotiation will begin right away and when I say how it begins, most people say, "Ah, that's happened to me and maybe I didn't realize I was negotiating."

Josh:  And that is the recruiter will say to you, "Hey, this is exciting. We're really glad that we found you and that we're going to be interviewing you soon for this opportunity. I just have a few questions for you before we start. And one of those is, you know, what are your salary expectations here? What are you hoping to make if this opportunity works out for you?" And that is actually the beginning of the negotiation. There are large mistakes that you can make or avoid in that moment and in conversations that are very much like that. So I think that you should have some idea kind of what you want.

Josh:  And I also think that you should not disclose that information in those early kind of screening type, early stage conversations with companies because that's when the negotiation has actually begun. Even though they're usually clever enough to disguise it as though it's like a pre-screen question or an interview question that you might perceive as some sort of a gate that you need to get through to get to the real interview and then the real negotiation. Uh in fact, it is the beginning of the negotiation and they just sneak it in early sometimes.

Corey:   Oh absolutely. "Oh thanks for your interest in our company. What's your current compensation or what are you hoping to make now?" It feels like it's the socially accepted attempt at screwing someone over and it's one of the last uh questions someone should ever answer.

Josh:  100% agree with everything you just said.

Corey:  At least that's my current approach. It's fine. If you Google salary negotiation for engineers, stuck to the very top of Google is Patio 11 Patrick McKenzie's blog post on this and you're mentioned in it.

Josh:  Yeah.

Corey:  As someone that he actively recommends in this space. This is something that is almost universally held to be true and people don't believe it or if they believe it, it's an intellectual discussion. It's not something that they internalize.

Corey:   From my perspective, the reason to bring you in on a salary negotiation piece isn't because you're necessarily going to tell me anything that I don't already know, but because you see this far more frequently than any job searcher does. When you're talking to a recruiter at the beginning of those conversations, "Well how much are you looking to make?" That's a question that they get to ask four times a day. Whereas you get to answer that question basically once per company that you talk to. They are far more practiced at it. How do you start leveling that distance between your skill level and theirs? From my perspective, you bring in an expert of your own and that's what you do.

Josh:  Yeah. I think you hit the nail on the head. I mean, I love the way that you framed sort of even with numbers what's going on in the other side. And I think this is something that makes a lot of my clients maybe a little bit more at ease, but also maybe a little bit more prepared to go in and actually advocate for themselves. And that is when I tell them, "Look, you know this recruiter that you're talking to, whether it's avoiding the salary expectations or current salary questions or it's counter offering or it's asking for more equity, even though they already gave you a little bit of a bump, that kind of thing, that you're working with someone who's a professional salary negotiator, at least as part of their job, and they do this many times a day. And you, although this is a unique opportunity for you, it may be one of five or 10 opportunities you'll pursue in your lifetime."

Josh:  That recruiter is probably working with five or 10 people right now. They're going to hang up the phone after they talk to you and they're going to call another person and they're going to say to that person, "Hey, super excited for you to be pursuing this opportunity. You know, what are you hoping to make if you come? They're going to keep asking that question over and over and over again. And they're going to keep answering counter offers over and over, over and over again.

Josh:  And I think that it's important to realize that you're not talking to a friend or a family member or a buddy at the bar, you're talking to a professional negotiator and a professional who gets paid based on the number of people they place and a bunch of other metrics. So it's important to understand that you are talking to a professional. I think it's important in that context to comport yourself as a professional, especially with the information asymmetry that you mentioned where they have a lot more data, a lot more reps than you do. And so you're already at a disadvantage. And that's where I come in.

Corey:  One of the biggest problems that I suspect that you may see is that, well, let's back up a second. Have you ever met a software engineer? Generally the approach tends to be from their perspective that I'm really good at this very hard thing, which is objectively true. So that probably means I'm good at everything else too. And from there we get hacker news. The problem with that entire approach is that it's provably false.

Corey:   But very often when I've been recommending your services to other folks, and just as an interlude by the way, this is not a sponsored episode. This is something that I believe in, but you haven't paid me a dime for this. But sorry. So just to be clear, because it sounds like I'm effectively turning this into a sales pitch for you and yeah, when I believe in something strongly enough, that's what I do. But I've sent people to you before and they've always been a little skeptical of, "I don't know, it might cost a few thousand dollars to have a coach come in and help me with this." And my response has been every time that if they are not happy by the outcome, I will pay their fee for them and no one ever has.

Josh:  Yeah. It's really rare that I get to the end even. Sort of for most of my clients I would say kind of you know worst case scenario is that your job offer goes away. That doesn't happen with my clients. But the next worst case scenario is, "Well, I negotiated, I did everything I could and they didn't budge," which is actually, I mean it's not what we want, but it's the kind of outcome where at least you can look at it and say, "You know what? I did everything that I could. I'm going to be really confident that when I go start this job on the first day that I did get the best compensation possible. And I don't have to wonder if the person at the desk next to me is making more than me or if I got shafted or anything like that."

Josh:  And so I think that one of ... Next to almost always improving a compensation package and sometimes substantially, the next thing that I offer is the peace of mind of knowing that you had an expert along for the ride and you did the best you could in that one of the few opportunities that you'll have in your career to maximize your salary. And by the way that you now know the process that you can use to negotiate future salaries and that you can help your friends and family use to negotiate their salaries if you like. And so I think just having that knowledge is super valuable. In addition, you often get a bigger paycheck as a result.

Josh:  I think that's why you know it's very rare that somebody will come to me afterwards and say, "I'm disappointed in this." Um usually it's, "Well, you know we did our best and we wish we could've gotten a better result, but we got the best result that we could," or, "Wow, I can't believe that much money was available to negotiate because I was willing to just accept it as is because I thought it was a good offer."

Josh:  So you know I think that there's a lot of value just in following a process and like you said, sort of outsourcing. You know I was trying to think of the name of ... There's a fallacy, like a name for that fallacy where you're good at one thing and therefore you assume you're good at all things. Um but you know, I am a software developer and I know how hard it is to write software and I also now know how hard it is to negotiate job offers and become an expert in that area. And I think that something I actually kind of admire about a lot of software developers is they do understand that idea of specialization and comparative advantage and they are usually willing to put an economic value on it.

Josh:  It's one of the things I like about working with software developers is that usually, although there are many who populate ACRA news and other sites, many of them understand, "I'm really good at this thing. Josh is really good at that thing. I don't want to get really good at that thing, so I'm going to hire Josh to do that thing for me so I can keep focusing on my area of expertise."

Corey:   When you take a look across the landscape, what is the number one thing people screw up on the most?

Josh:  It's the same-

Corey:   Let's bound that to salary negotiation because I have a laundry list of other things that are mostly personal failure.

Josh:  I'll just close the book here. Um so the biggest thing that people screw up the most is where I started and it's why I talk about this so much. I've spilled more ink, I've said more words about this than I think any other topic which is do not tell companies what you would like to make or what you are currently making. It is not their business and it will definitely trip you up. So that's by far the biggest mistake people make and it's one of the most difficult to sort of unring as a bell.

Josh:  Um it can be un-rung and there are ways to work around it, but it makes your life a lot harder. Whether you work with me or you try to negotiate on your own or even just, you know you move from company to company, you will continually find that you're behind the pay curve because you answer the salary expectations question. So I think the next biggest mistake ... So I think we're taking that one for granted. I wanted to emphasize it because it's so important and because it's so common, the next biggest mistake that people make is also maybe a little obvious and that is they just don't negotiate.

Josh:  So very frequently somebody will come to me and say, "I was thinking about hiring you, but I got this offer and it's a really good offer. So you know I'm just not comfortable. Like I don't want to ruffle feathers or kind of build a bad reputation. So I talked to my family about it and they don't think it's a good idea to negotiate. So I think I'm just going to take it. It's really good. It was better than I was expecting. So I'm just going to do it. You know I was thinking about hiring you but I think this is good enough." And for me the reason that's a mistake is really non-obvious. And this reminds me of like the idea of the seen and the unseen and what the seen is, yes, you got a good offer that exceeds what you're expecting.

Josh:  The unseen is you don't know how much better that offer could be and you don't know why that offer exceeds your expectations. And frequently the reason that offer exceeds your expectations are that your expectations were miscalibrated. That you had bad data or you didn't do your research or you went with your gut instead of looking at levels at FYI or Paysa or Glassdoor or talking to colleagues in this space for really niche kind of opportunities and you underestimated your value to that company. And therefore the offer they made you reflects maybe the lower end of the value that you actually bring to the company and may also exceed the value that you anticipated you would bring to the company.

Josh:  And so anytime I hear someone say that, I say, "You need to realign your baseline. Your estimate was off. Their data is better than yours. And they're telling you your estimate of what you should be paid is too low and that's all the more reason to negotiate." Usually what that means for me as a salary negotiation coach is there's actually more room to negotiate than there normally would be in an opportunity because you underestimated your value so much and they probably are offering a lowish number that just seems really high to you.

Corey:   My default response when people ask, "So what would you like to make in this next role," is, "At this point about $80 million a year plus a company helicopter." At which point the worst thing anyone could ever come back to that with is, "Okay." Because then I know I should have asked for more money. There is no right answer that doesn't have the potential of completely undermining your entire argument. It's better not to play those games.

Josh:  Yeah, you're describing, I call it the bad yes. Um and I think a lot of people have experienced this actually in their career. And that is where they say, "What do you want to make," or you throw a number out there, maybe you are negotiating, but you say a number, you know they offer you 90 and you say, "How about a 100," and they go, "Okay." And then you're like, "Yes, I got it. I got exactly what I asked for. This is amazing. I negotiated so well. I went from 90 to a 100," and then usually within a matter of minutes you think, "Wait a minute, they said yes on a 100. What would they have said at 101 or 5 or 10. How high could I have pushed them?" And what you realize is like you said, "$80 million and a company helicopter, maybe 81 million and a company helicopter was on the table and I left a million dollars sitting out there. Could have done a lot with that million dollars." Right?

Corey:  And you've got to be careful because they're going to give you the crappy last year's model of the helicopter.

Josh:  Right. You didn't even specify what kind of helicopter and maybe you should have gone for a Gulfstream or something.

Corey:  Exactly. There's always room for negotiation. One question I do want to ask you though, um as one white guy in tech to another who's no longer in tech but now tech adjacent, what about people that don't look and sound like us? How much of what you do maps to members of underrepresented groups or honestly let's phrase that differently, how much of this maps to folks who are not a member of our very specific over-represented group?

Josh:  Yeah, it's a good question and so I can give you my answer to it and then the asterisk that's right next to it is I'm working from a limited data set and that is from many, people that I've coached relative to me as one person. I think I'm at I don't know, 60 to 80 clients that I've coached now, something like that. And so that's big for me. But relative to the size of tech, it's nothing. And so that's kind of my caveat is the answer I'm giving you is based on my data and what I've seen and then maybe some opinion that I'll throw in. So your question was how much of what I do maps to other people who are not necessarily like me. And the answer is as far as I can tell, 100%. And in fact I think it may map more because a lot of times those people are the same people who haven't negotiated before for different reasons.

Josh:  And I think you know we would have to like hone in on different groups to talk about what those different reasons are. But I think you know if we take you know us and then kind of everyone who isn't quite like us that we could then segment the not quite like us folks into lots of different groups with many reasons for not negotiating in their past. And so they end up sort of behind a pay curve sometimes. And so the things that I do, the process that I follow, which I follow with all of my clients, sort of regardless of background and that sort of thing um is effective for most people. And I think more effective for people who for whatever reason, find themselves currently behind the pay curve. And so the process works for everyone. I've worked with lots of different people from different nationalities, from different countries, male and female, everything across the board.

Josh:  I've worked with all kinds of people and I find that the process that I follow works because at the end of the day, I think from the business side, certainly in terms of salary negotiation, it's a business transaction. A negotiation is a business transaction that they are uh working with you on. And so for them it's usually driven more by a spreadsheet with numbers and financial data on it than it is anything else. And a lot of the other things that could factor in are sort of personal biases on uh the client side or on the company side and that sort of thing. But I think those are usually swamped by just negotiating effectively and following the playbook that I put together, which is designed to sort of work within the playbook that most of the big tech companies are using to find and recruit good talent.

Corey:  And that's really I guess what I want to talk to you about for I guess the second part of this episode, which is what flexibility, what wiggle room do you have when negotiating with large tech companies? I'm going to pick on Amazon for a couple of reasons. One, they're the largest player in this space so they can suffer my slings and arrows. Two, I've gotten a job offer from Amazon that I turned down, so I know how some of it's structured. And three, it mostly amuses me to make fun of them for the following thing. They're a company that's valued at about a trillion dollars, but one of the 14 leadership principles that they love is frugality, internally, to my understanding. It's referred to much more frequently as frupidity. But we're an enormous company, but we like to save money so we don't pay extravagantly it turns out is not one of the most compelling value propositions to work somewhere.

Josh:  No, it's not. And for whatever reason, what you just said reminded me a lot of like our safety is always on his soapbox about how silly it is to not drink frappuccinos if you want to get rich one day. Um and I think it's kind of one of the modern versions of you know penny wise and pound foolish. And that sounds a lot like what you're describing um with Amazon, who we happen to be picking on or any other company that says, "You know what, we're going to try and save money on salaries." Um for me, even if before I was a salary negotiation coach, that's a really short sighted way to look at things, especially in a market ... You know so I'm thinking of the U.S. mostly right now, but like our unemployment rate rate is lower than it has been in a very long time.

Josh:  Uh it's a very hot labor market. There's a lot of demand for employees in general and even more demand for technical people in general. And then you keep going up that pyramid to like more specialized people, software engineers, machine learning folks, SREs, dev ops. You go up the pyramid and there's a ton of demand for these people. So even if you're Amazon and you save a few bucks hiring someone by you know not giving them an optimal offer or not playing ball as much as um maybe you could when they negotiate, that person's going to find a home at another competitor very soon. Especially, you know we've talked about Cloud companies. I mean Oracle, huge in Cloud, Google, Microsoft, those companies are trying to find people too. Um and so I think it's just really shortsighted.

Josh:  So that's not really kind of related to what you're saying but that's my soapbox is how silly it is to do that um and to try and save a few bucks and be frugal on salaries for something that is not a commodity, but is a very you know highly demanded, specialized skill set that lots of companies need. That's the time that you need to pay the premium to try and get good people in and avoid turnover.

Josh:  Um how much room is there to negotiate? It's a good question and most of my clients will ask me this before we work together. My answer is always the same and that is somewhere between, not at all and a lot. And it's hard for me to know whether it's not at all or a lot until we actually negotiate. Um usually I can get a bead on that by just talking to the person, either in the intro call that I do or in our kickoff call, which is the first thing we do after we decide to work together and I'll find out more about their background and how they came to find out about the role and what their resume looks like. And you know what team they're going to at Amazon and that sort of thing.

Josh:  Um and even then, even if I have an intuition, I'm like 60% you're going to get a good, a really good result here. A big result, a lot of money. Um there's that 40% where I just don't know. And there seems to be sort of a lot of randomness involved there. Um and so sometimes it's nothing. I had um earlier this year, this isn't Amazon, but I had a client who went to Google and I thought, "My goodness, she's going to clean up." I mean she got a good offer as an L5 but I know from the numbers that I see that there was a lot of room above that in the L5 pay band and they wouldn't budge. And I still don't know why. It's very confusing to me. Um and I don't think it had anything to do with her. I think it had to do with maybe departmental budgets or some other nonsense that I couldn't see. But it was very surprising.

Josh:  Whereas I've had other clients who their resume looks pretty good and then we negotiate it and wow, there was a lot of flexibility there. And so it's not random from the Amazon side, but from my side it can be perceived that way. And so the best that I can do is follow a process, listen to what the recruiter is saying to my candidate or my client, listen to my client, get their history and negotiate as well as possible.

Josh:  Um so the low end is zero. The upper end really depends um and like you said, is obfuscated very much by Amazon's weird pay structure. So upper end for salary is often capped at Amazon depending on, I think it's geography, basically. It's somewhere between 165 and 185k and then once you cap that base salary, then you move over to a combination of equity and sign on bonuses that are designed to have um a very weird vesting structure and schedule on the equity. But that is designed to look like a sort of flat annual total compensation number over four years.

Josh:  Um sometimes there can be a lot of flexibility there, um especially in terms of the equity and then the sign on bonus trails that for sort of esoteric reasons about the way they structure their offers. So I would say a really good result for the typical experienced software developer would be if they got 50% more equity, that's usually a pretty big win. Um and I would say five to 10% more equity is an okay when it's not great, but it's not bad.

Corey:  My default advice that I tend to give people who are looking at equity offers is I tend to value equity at zero and this is either wonderful or terrible advice depending upon the perspective. You work for big tech companies that are publicly traded. It is pretty easy to get an approximate value of an RSU since they trade in the open market. If I'm offering you options in my bullshit Twitter for pet startup, then you can't exercise those. You can't do anything with them until there's an exit event or it's unlocked on the secondary market, which is not a guarantee. So at that point you're more or less getting paid in lottery tickets. Am I mistaken on any of that?

Josh:  No, I think everything that you just said is 100% correct. And I am struggling to think of anything that I would add to it. That sounds right to me. That's the way I look at it too.

Corey:  So it seems to me that again, this is San Francisco, and I understand this is not necessarily the typical common case, but it feels like anywhere north of $200,000 a year in base salary starts to get harder and harder and harder to find where everyone seems to want to make that up with equity grants. And those equity grants can be massive, but you're still making at most maybe a quarter million bucks a year in cash. There are a couple of notable exceptions to that, but that's the perception I'm getting from talking to people in my peer group. Is that accurate?

Josh:  Yeah, I would say it is. So I've seen, um like I said, I mean at Amazon they explicitly cap pay salaries, so that's an easy answer. But even for the other big companies, Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, um I've found that even for really experienced software developers that salaries tend to cluster in that sort of 150 to 200k band um and they will sometimes exceed that for special people. But I've worked with more than one client, more than one of those companies, so this isn't just one company that I'm talking about where um I've seen a quarter million dollar base salary. This was for basically a unicorn for one of these companies that had a very special skill set um that was coming from another company where they used to use that very special skill set and they managed to get 250k as an individual contributor base salary and then a ton of equity on top of it. That's an outlier.

Josh:  Um whereas you know at Google, it seems like the salaries are sometimes lower, 150 to 175. For other companies it seems like they'll push that 200 number. Apple will push that 200 number. And then they start to just pile on more and more and more equity. So it's a very weird thing where you can't just look ... If you show me a job offer and all you show me is the base salary, I can't do a whole lot with it in terms of telling you what kind of person got that offer, what level are they, how experienced are they? Because I've seen machine learning PhD's get an offer that's 175 base and I've seen experienced sort of you know full-stack software developers get offers that have about 175 base.

Josh:  But then when you flip the page and you look at the equity say, "Ah, there's the difference." And so yes, those companies right now are very interested in piling on equity and their base salary numbers tend to cluster between 150 and 200. I know we haven't said this out loud and I've alluded to it, so I'll just say it. So Amazon is an outlier because they do the same thing, but their vesting schedule is not a flat four year vesting schedule like the other big tech companies. So most of the time you get, let's say $100,000 in equity, it's going to vest 25% a year for four years, 25k in the first year, at the end of the first year, 25k the second year. You know usually monthly or quarterly or six months or something like that. And it goes on until you vest all of it.

Josh:     Whereas at Amazon you get a 100k equity. The first year you only vest 5%, the second year vest, 15% and then the third and fourth years it's 40%. And what they do, I mentioned earlier that they try to still show on paper that you're making essentially a flat total compensation every year. And the way they do that is in that 5% and 15% year one and year two they also add a sign on bonus that closes some of the gap. And so you might get a 20k sign on bonus and like a 15k sign on bonus in year two from Amazon. But all of them are basically doing the same thing, which is we're going to pay you a pretty good salary. We're not really going to pay heavily on salary. We're going to go between 150k and 200 and then depending on essentially kind of how specialized you are, how experienced you are, what team you're going to, we're going to pile on equity and maybe sign on bonuses to really convince you to join our team as opposed to going to a competitor.

Corey:  I'm a big believer that pay transparency among colleagues is incredibly important because companies already know how much everyone makes. Not just amongst the people they hire, but among other companies too. Because people do tell what their compensation is when they're confronted with that question. So to that end, I want to throw into the public domain I guess the offer that I got from Amazon last year. I wrote a blog post about why I turned down an AWS job offer. Did pretty well. Specifically, it was along the lines of not wanting to suffer their 18 month post-employment non-compete.

Corey:  But I didn't negotiate anything on comp because that wouldn't get moved and rendered the entire thing moot. But for Amazon folks, this was an L7 job offer. Their salary was capped, I think at 160 and then the first year a cash comp because of the bonus came in just a hair north of $350,000 which sounds ludicrous and nuts to anyone who's not in a tech city doing these things longer term. But I know people at Amazon who are making two, three, four times that. There's always a bigger fish. And historically my being embarrassed to talk about numbers like that didn't serve employees super well. So I'm actively getting out of that mode now. So if you hear that and think that that's boasting, great. Good for you. That's not the way I'm intending that to come across. It's a data point that people who very often don't look like us, will be able to use internally.

Josh:  Yeah. And I'll say it's funny because I hear those numbers right. And of course I have a reaction to that based on all the other people that I've coached and I've seen AWS offers and other Amazon offers. And so my response to that just for anybody who's listening and wonder like, "How good is that offer?" And my response it was, "That's pretty good." So I'm not like, "Wow, I've never seen anything like that." And it's definitely not a low offer. But for an L7 it's pretty good. And I think it is important to have that kind of transparency. So I'll use ... I think I wrote about this in my book, but maybe not. I think it is in my book. This is one of my favorite hacks to kind of ... Especially in the U.S. we have this social stigma with discussing salaries that you just talked about.

Josh:  You're trying to overcome that a little bit by publicly writing about an offer that you got, which hopefully will at the very least people will see that offer and they say, "Well shoot, I should be negotiating them. They've got a lot of money to spend on salaries and equity." Um but the hack is, obviously it's considered sort of rude in the U.S. To say, "Hey, what salary are you making," either to somebody that you currently work with or to like maybe a future colleague or somebody who referred you to a position at one of these companies. Referral programs are really big.

Josh:  And so what I suggest that you do, and this is almost entirely transparent and yet it frees people up to be honest. And that is to say, "Hey, if somebody were to be hired in, you know, I'm looking at a position that's a lot like yours. If we hired somebody right now or if your company hired somebody right now with your resume and experience, you know your experience able to do the kind of job that you do, like what do you think that they would pay them coming in to work for your company?"

Josh:  So basically what you're saying is like, "What's your salary?" But you're saying it in a way that's like, "Let's anonymize this. Let's pretend we're talking about an anonymous third party or hypothetical or whatever and then you can tell me." And so I really liked that it takes the pressure off and that way the person sort of has this plausible deniability that, "Well I'm not telling you my salary, I'm just telling you what I think somebody who has the same experience and resume as me in the same position might make. And by the way, the most pertinent data point that I have to share would probably be my own compensation. And so I'm probably going to tell you either my actual compensation or something in the ballpark." So that's something I like to do. I find that people are very comfortable using that for both sides um and it's a good way to get some of that data.

Corey:  Anytime you can contribute what you make to a larger database and helping other folks, it only helps. There's this weird perception that, especially among the folks I guess who come from a background like I do, where I'm not worth even a small percentage of what I'm being paid. So I'm embarrassed and I don't talk about what I make. Well, what if I am in fact being underpaid compared to other folks? What if, more to the point, people who are my peers who are in many cases better than I am, aren't making anywhere near as much as I am? Wouldn't that hurt me? No, it's going to help them. That's the entire point. It is not a zero sum game.

Josh:  Yeah, and I liked that you mentioned like kind of contributing to databases, so a site that ... It's funny because people will come to me and they'll say, "I have this offer from you know AWS or from Google, Microsoft," whatever it is, and, um you know "How good do you think this offer is?" And what I do inevitably is I go to levels at FYI and I look and I say, "Well, is it an L6? Okay, let's look at the," because there's a lot of data that is publicly available for people who uh subscribe to what you just said, which is let's just get that data out there. You can use Paysa, you can use Glassdoor. You have to take them with, weight them appropriately. There's some selection bias and some other types of bias that go into the data that you see there, but at the very least, look at and um contribute to it when you can.

Josh:  Also some companies, I know at Google there's a giant spreadsheet that has lots and lots and lots and lots of internal salaries and equity and all that kind of stuff in it. And I don't think it's very hard to find. Um if I know about it, it's definitely not hard to find. And so I suspect there is similar you know Google sheets or you know spreadsheets that are floating around other companies that do something similar. And so you know finding that, contributing to it if you can, I think is really helpful um to try and level the playing field.

Josh:  In a weird way I'd like to see a world where my job isn't necessary. It is necessary. And unfortunately, you know I work with one person at a time and so I'm really not going to make that big a dent in the universe from my chair. But at the very least, if what I do encourages people to negotiate but also to share stories of negotiation and to share data with other people and to kind of start overcoming that social stigma with talking salaries, then maybe we can at least start kind of normalizing and leveling the salaries that people are paid and stop some of those people from being sort of low end outliers where they have no idea that they're underpaid by you know 50k a year or a 100k a year or more.

Corey:  And I think that's probably all we have time for today. But there's so much more to say on this topic. If people want to learn more, where can they find you? I'm going to assume that there are options on a spectrum between never think about you again and throw a giant pile of money at you for coaching.

Josh:  Yeah, that's probably true. So probably the easiest way to find me in an accessible way where I'll kind of respond right away to you is on Twitter. I'm Josh Doody on Twitter and then my knowledge base that I've built on salary negotiation and other career things is at Lots and lots and lots of articles from interviewing, asking for raises, negotiating offers, lots of content that's specifically written for software developers and experienced software developers to help interview better and negotiate. Um and then I do have my coaching offering, which is sort of at the other end of the spectrum that you mentioned, which is um and that's where I describe uh my salary negotiation for experienced software developers going to big tech companies, a process, what that looks like, pricing and all that stuff. And there's an application there that you can fill out if you'd like to talk to me about an offer that you have or that you're anticipating later on.

Corey:  Terrific. And we'll put links to all of that in the show notes. Josh, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Josh:  Thanks for having me on, Corey. This is a lot of fun. I love talking about this stuff and I hope this has been useful to somebody.

Corey:  As do I. Um Josh Doody, Fearless Salary Negotiation, salary negotiation coach, and frankly just a good person to pay attention to if you'd like to make more money.

Corey:  I'm Corey Quinn and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you've enjoyed this episode, please give us five stars on iTunes. If you've hated this episode and want us to go back to talking about technology, please give this show five stars on iTunes.

Announcer:  This has been this week's episode of Screaming in the Cloud. You can also find more Corey at or wherever fine snark is sold.

Announcer:  This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.

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