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A website by Patrick White

How to Make More Money as a Software Developer I: Get a Raise (by Playing Politics?!)

The most obvious way to make more money as a software developer (“more” being the key word there; this assumes you’re already making some money as a software developer) is to just get a raise at your current job. Easier said than done, of course.

In my own thinking about how to get raises, I’ve found this advice from Thomas Ptacek to be a good starting point: “If you want more money, get closer to the money.”

The idea, which is a basic one when you’re talking about making more money as an employee, is to be able to clearly justify your contribution to the company in dollars and cents. I did X that reduced costs by $250k. I did Y that increased revenue by $350k. Stuff like that.

I think that advice is obvious and true, but I suspect it appeals to us software developers because it’s so orderly. It’s based on the notion that your compensation is based on your contribution, at least in this specific case. We would love for the world to operate in such reasonable terms. Sadly, it does not.

The thing that advice misses is politics. Regardless of the systems in place, salary is ultimately determined by people and people are irrational. Work on something that catches the eye of the right person in upper management, and you can make a lot of money even if the project doesn’t. That sort of thing.

So, maybe, just maybe, play politics, if you can stand it. It can be an effective way to get that raise you want and, from my experience, requires much less effort than you’d think.