How to Make More Money as a Programmer

Is it possible to get a $1.2 million salary as a programmer? Yes, take Sergey Aleynikov for example.
Sergey was a developer for Goldman Sachs who was paid $400K salary way back in 2007. He got a threefold raise (around $1.2 million per year) at competing trading firm Teza Technologies in 2009, which made him one of the highest-paid programmers in the country. Goldman Sachs was not happy with the move and they accused him of stealing Intellectual property/source code.
He was prosecuted and jailed at least twice by Feds and state governments but was finally acquitted, after enduring a good amount of jail time and humiliation, and losing everything he had in the process. Again, his legal case itself makes very interesting reading, but his salary history makes one of the most unusual fairytale dreams runs, in the annals of software development.
In the words of Michael Lewis who wrote an article about Sergey Aleynikov for Vanity Fair, “He was not just smart but seriously gifted in multiple technologies and multiple areas.”
In a nutshell, Sergey is an ‘expert-generalist’ that makes him invaluable, rare, and highly paid in his area of expertise.
Let me explain.

Orit Gadiesh, chairman of Bain & Co, who coined the term, describes the expert-generalist as:
‘Someone who has the ability and curiosity to master and collect expertise in many different disciplines, industries, skills, capabilities, countries, and topics., etc. He or she can then, without necessarily even realizing it, but often by design:
(1) Draw on that palette of diverse knowledge to recognize patterns and connect the dots across multiple areas and
(2) Drill deep to focus and perfect the thinking.’
So What Orit means here is that the one thing that separates the great innovators from everyone else is that they seem to know a lot about a wide variety of topics. And their wide knowledge base supports their creativity. For example,
Albert Einstein was trained in physics, but to formulate his law of general relativity, he taught himself an area of mathematics far removed from his expertise, Riemannian geometry.
James Watson and Francis Crick combined discoveries in X-ray diffraction technology, chemistry, evolutionary theory, and computation to solve the puzzle of the double helix.
Steve Jobs, of course, drew on insights from his study of calligraphy and a rich understanding of design to create a new breed of computing devices.
And so on……………
And Orit says, the more you broaden your knowledge horizons, the more you start connecting the seemingly unconnected dots from various disciplines. And that is when you see a surge in your creativity and your analytical abilities to being able to compare analogies between various disciplines.
Needless to say, your diverse skills and perspectives make you invaluable, and subsequently, you earn a lot more money compared to your peers.
And here are some simple ways to be an expert-generalist programmer.

Learn a completely new skill

Noted psychologist Vygotsky argued in 1978 argues that learning is most effective within the ‘zone of proximal development’.In simple terms, it is the space slightly beyond a learner’s current knowledge base and skill level, but a place where learning is still within a person’s reach.
And the core theme here is discomfort; more precisely, constructively using the power of discomfort to achieve something new. And this is one of the prerequisites to be creative. After all, being creative requires doing something that has not been done before. If you are not willing to do something new, then it’s hard to be creative.
And creativity often requires drawing analogies between one body of knowledge and another. Pablo Picasso merged Western art techniques with elements of African art. He was struck by the way African artists combined multiple perspectives into a single work, and that helped lead to the development of cubism.
Similarly, Johannes Kepler struggled to understand how the planets could move around the sun and drew on his knowledge of light and magnetism to try to understand the force that moved the planets.
The more that you broaden and deepen your base of knowledge, the more opportunities you will have to be creative and subsequently the more invaluable( and of course better paid!!) you become in your field.

Be an open networker

Ron Burt, Professor of Sociology and Strategy at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business conducted several studies to understand the commonalities between extraordinary innovators in multiple disciplines.
Here’s the amazing insight he discovered: the one variable that explains 65% of the variance in someone’s career success is having an open network. And the most successful people tend to be what Ron Burt calls Brokers.
Brokers tend to belong to multiple networks and are able to speak the insider lingo and translate to help move information or make introductions of people across those network lines. And this dissipation and assimilation of knowledge in social circles are what make them insanely creative in their respective fields.
For example, as a programmer, let us say, you attend a UX designers' conference, which is outside your area. It’s going to take a little while, it is going to be uncomfortable to meet people that you don’t know and to learn new lingo and terms beyond your normal working. But that is ok.
The benefits aren’t going to be as clear upfront, because it’s just a whole new area. But then over the long term of doing it persistently, you’re going to be much more innovative, and be able to make connections that other people wouldn’t and more importantly have the empathy to understand other’s pains and step into their shoes. This connection with others makes you invaluable.
Always remember if you want to be a successful broker, you must decide to be open to different experiences, however uncomfortable they can be.

Be a versatilist

‘Versatilist’ is a good description of the professional needs expected in today’s world.
The term “Versatilist” was first coined in an article from Gartner (Gartner, Inc. Technology Consultants & Research Group) where it states: “Versatilists are able to apply a depth of skill to progressively widening the scope of situations and experiences, equally at ease with technical issues as with business strategy.”
OK.you might ask here.
“What can I do as a programmer? I only know to code.”
The short and simple answer is to do more than what is expected from you and then ask the company to be compensated for it.
Remember your current salary is a reflection of the skills the company is aware of at a point in time. But if you want to earn more than the current salary, you need to do more than what is expected of you. Any company is in the business of generating revenue. So if your additional activities bring them additional revenue, there is no shame in asking what you truly deserve.
Some things you can do can be.
· Manage more projects (more revenue)
· Fix more bugs holistically by giving permanent fixes(cycle time reduction)
· Train new team members (productivity increase)
· Take part in identifying automation opportunities to reduce the cost of operations.
· Take part in organization-level internal initiatives ( build reusability across projects)
The list is just a starter to whet your appetite. There is a lot more you can do and think of to improve your value for your organization. Remember to survive the future, we have to learn more, evolve more, do more, give more, and be more to have more. We must be versatile and willing to go beyond our comfort zones.

Concluding thoughts

Finally, keep close track of the ways you grow and add value.
Keep track of your salary increases with the frequency. When your salary lags behind your expectations, investigate the reasons, implement the corrective actions, and do whatever it takes to realize your maximum potential. Do that consistently, and you will make a lot more money over your career.
As Bill Gates has rightly said.
“If you are born poor it’s not your mistake, but if you die poor it’s your mistake”

About the author-:
Mythili is a programmer by passion and a connoisseur of fine arts like painting, calligraphy, and pottery. She writes in the twilight between relationships, creativity, and human behavior.