Change is How You Grow

I haven’t had time to really write anything too deeply lately for blog posts lately. I’m learning SO much at the pet store right now.

I’m really pushing myself to get to that point where I understand the code underneath the abstraction.

But, the old blog calls out to me yet again, dear reader.

EVERYONE in tech feels underpaid, because recruiting / hiring in tech is completely broken and crazy. Financially, we are incented to switch jobs WAY more often than we are incented to stay in one.

Salary and turnover and hiring is a fun topic but I’m going to hit you with something.

You are more than your job.

Do you believe that?


It’s OK if you don’t. Took me till I was about 38 years old to really believe it.

Think about a hypothetical situation.

Meet Nia. Nia is an Associate Software Developer.

She applied for a job, interviewed well, and got it, and now is happily coding away under the direction of Software Developers and Senior Software Developers.

After 3 years… Nia’s got quite a few releases under her belt. She knows a few different languages well, she’s ridden a few late nights with releases that went sideways, but she doesn’t make anywhere near the same mistakes she made before.

The job, Associate Software Developer, is still exactly as it was when she took it those years ago.

Her title hasn’t changed, nor has the role in any real sense.

Nia did though. Drastically. She grew.

But, assuming she does nothing, she’ll stay an Associate Software Developer, and will likely get around a 3-4% raise every year for satisfactory performance. 

If she started with an annual salary of $50,000, that means after 3 years at a 4% raise, she’s making $56,243.20.

What happened to our hypothetical associate developer? She grew faster than her job did.

Ask yourself these questions:

Do you believe Nia is worth more than her job pays?

Me? I certainly do! She has more experience than the position requires, knows more languages, and is simply a better developer.

If she was your mentee, would you tell her so?

Me? I would! But I’m a cheerleader for you all anyway…

Would you advocate for her if you were her boss?

Of course I would! I’ve happily done so for many others!

Would you tell her to look outside her role if her boss couldn’t get it done for her?

You’re damn right I would, and I hope you would too!

What if I told you that HR has been recruiting, and offers for new associate developers need to start at $60,000, otherwise we aren’t a competitive place to work, and we won’t get good candidates?


(This should be apparent, but the salary numbers above are purely hypothetical.)

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, ask yourself why?

Why would you advocate for a hypothetical person, if you aren’t willing to advocate for yourself?

But maybe you’re spotting a trick…

“But wait… what if they just gave her a raise that put her in line with what they’d have to do to hire her as if she was new?”

There’s LOTS of reasons!

  1. Her Boss’s Budget. Unless Nia’s reporting to the CEO or the CFO, her boss didn’t set the budget for her raise. The budget came from an executive committee that looked at total salaries for the group.
  2. Her co-workers.  A limited budget–and even a large budget–has to be shared with your co-workers. If her boss is given 3 percent of her salary budget (see reason 1) for raises and gives a spectacular performer 5 percent, that means there’s less for everyone else.
  3. Her own salary band. Many companies don’t just give people salaries–they set salaries within what’s called a salary band. Her job is evaluated and given a range. If she’s at or above the midpoint of that grade, she’ll see very, very small raises.

Remember this.

Salary budgets aren’t personal. Ever.

Your salary just FEELS personal.

Forget about Nia because I made her up.

But YOU. You are real.

So let’s get real.

I’ve been in the position where the bank account is hitting the single digits, and I’ve got multiple days left until the next paycheck. Sure, I can hit the credit card, but that balance just keeps getting bigger.

I’ve been in that position where someone got hired with my same job title and started making 15% more than me.

I’ve felt that ‘I’m worth more than this in this market’ when I looked at my paystub.

I’ve felt that same frustration, anger, fear and doubt and most decidedly the self-recrimination. I HATE feeling stupid, or like I’m a sucker.

I’m worth more than my job.

I have heard cheerleader blowhards (great #selfown, Mr. Brown) and new-age-hippie-types (#selfown-number-2) say it plenty of times.

But simply put, mathematically, it’s just true.

My first job as a programmer was at a tiny video editing software company. I made $27,500 a year. Minimum wage was 4.25 an hour, and I felt like I was BALLIN.’

The company no longer exists, but if they did, the position I had, Application Developer probably would pay someone hired off the street somewhere in the low 90s

According to some F# I wrote (did you wonder when I’d get an F# reference in?) if I stayed in that job and got a 3 or 4% raise every year.

module Interest = 
    type InterestCalculationOptions = {
        Compounding : Compounding
        Rate : float
        Principal : float
        TermInYears : float
    and Compounding = 
        | TimesPerYear of float 
        | Constant 
    let compound options = 
        let core r e = options.Principal * (r ** e)
        match options.Compounding with 
        | Constant -> core System.Math.E (options.Rate * options.TermInYears)
        | TimesPerYear f -> let rate = (options.Rate / f) + 1.0
                            core rate (f * options.TermInYears)
/// Christopher gets 3% a year.
let threePercentRaise = Interest.compound {
                             Compounding = (Interest.TimesPerYear 1.0); 
                                Rate = 0.03; Principal = 27500.0;
                                TermInYears = 21.0  };;

/// threePercentRaise = $51158!!!

/// Christopher gets 4% a year.
let fourPercentRaise = Interest.compound {
                             Compounding = (Interest.TimesPerYear 1.0); 
                                Rate = 0.04; Principal = 27500.0;
                                TermInYears = 21.0  };;

/// fourPercentRaise = $62666!!!

The thing is I grew.

I took jobs that were different. More challenging. More interesting. Different languages. Different scopes.

And, well, they paid more.

Three years ago, I took a Principal Software Engineer job at the credit union that paid much more than an Application Developer in Bellingham. And you know what? I asked around, and I was probably underpaid.

Three years later I proved it moving on to the pet store.

I’m not the only one who grew.

You know who grew a ton, and did it all at the credit union? Rihanna.

(Not the musician Rihanna. This is a reference to a person who is freaking awesome like Rihanna, but whom I didn’t ask about publishing their name in a blog post.)

I won’t speak to her specific numbers except the following.

Rihanna told me that she’s currently making around 10x what she was making when she started at the credit union.

The job she held when they started at the credit union still exists. There are people right now doing what Rihanna used to do.

Those folks do NOT get paid 10x what it was back when Rihanna started.

Rihanna had to grow. Sometimes uncomfortably. She moved into other jobs, 9 times, and in completely different departments. She had managers go to bat for her and win…

… and probably a LOT more times than she knew about, go to bat for her and strike out.

Do you think each manager wanted “turnover” when it was time for Rihanna to grow? Probably not. In the short term, her managers would have preferred she stay in the role she was in, because it would have been easier to not have to hire a backfill for her.

Why would we ever want to encourage higher turnover?

Because turnover is how you grow.

You are more than your job.

When I first heard that, there were all these pictures of my kids and my family going through my head. Of course I was more than my job. My life with them was my highest priority.

But that’s not all it means.

It also means you will grow faster than your job.

Your brain calculates 38 thousand trillion operations per second!

That is in YOU, dear reader. You. Are. Amazing.

No job will truly hold the amazing machine that is you, unless you absolutely love it, and want to remain in it, but please accept this:

Change is how you grow.

Crummy Paintings

Back ~20 years ago, I took up painting. Fun hobby.

The problem with taking up painting is that you sorta end up with a lot of paintings you can’t use. I mean, you hang up a dozen paintings and eventually you run out of wall space.

So I started selling ’em. The town I lived in had a pretty great farmers market, and they let near anyone in there, so I set up a small table and for a few weekends, I was pitching my “If Bob Ross had cataracts” style of paintings.

Vivian. Tall lady, with a huge hat that made her look massive. Sparkly thick pink glasses. Had a hoarse laugh and deep laugh lines like she had laughed for years. Sparse red hair and equally sparse teeth. Talked with me for an hour about her kids, her grandkids, her dead husband, and her deadbeat brother. 

To this day, she is only person to this day I’ve ever heard say the word “deadbeat” out loud. 

She really liked this ONE painting that I had not been able to even GIVE away. And I really wanted this sale.

She held the painting and stared at it for what felt like an hour. Told me about her daughter who came by on Thursdays to do laundry with her who’d have loved it. Told me about how it reminded her of Mount Si (a mountain here in Washington) and how she used to pick blackberries by the coffee-can full near the river there, and the river in the picture looked just like it, so much you could hear the constant rush and gurgling of quickly-moving water.

She was going on so much, I thought she was milking me a bit to try to get me to lower the price.

It was one of my last paintings, and the market was gonna close, so it was kind of working too.

“Well, I’ve got to pack up. Did you want to take it with you?”

“Oh no. Wouldn’t match the bathroom at all. Totally wrong colors. My bathroom’s pink.”

And then she walked away. Just smiled and turned away. I was left packing up with a table, my cashbox and the remaining 3 paintings.

2 of ’em I scraped the canvas and painted over. You can do that once the oil dries.

But I kept the one with the wrong colors.

And when you attach a lot of your self worth to what you do, that ‘not fitting’ can hurt. And when you’re not able to see folks in your day to day, that ‘not fitting’ can hurt. And when you’re the only person on your team that can do what you do, ‘not fitting’ can hurt.

Vivian loved the painting for about an hour.

But did it fit? Nope. Didn’t match her bathroom colors. Vivian was right. It’d look terrible on a pink wall.

I kinda like it on mine though. I’ve gotten pretty used to it.

Moving The Goalposts

Goalposts that move are a pain. They feel unfair, like you’ve been duped into working toward one thing, when you should have been working toward something else entirely.

Or worse… that the progress you made wasn’t really progress at all. It was some larger step that you didn’t realize you signed up for.

Here’s the dirty secret though: Moving your goalposts is precisely what you have to do to keep growing.

As you improve, the goals you set will not really be challenging enough for you to keep.

As you learn, you realize the goal you set isn’t really what you actually want.

As you try new things, you realize and say “this isn’t as important to me right now.”

Weight Loss – My ‘I Improved’ Story.

I mentioned having a goal around fitness in a couple prior posts. Check ’em out: Post #1 and Post #2

Specifically, I wanted to lose a fair amount of weight at the end of year 1, with a slowly downward push in 10 years. My goal was to get to 230-235 by the end of the year.

After the annual ‘Fitness Challenge’ contest weigh-in from my CrossFit gym we do every January-March, I weighed in at a whopping 257.7lbs! The next day, I joined Noom.

As of March 6th, I was down to 234lbs!!!

Here’s my Noom referral link, if you wanna try it. I’m really happy with it.

I have already met my ‘annual goal’. Since it was only early March the goalposts had to move.

New goalpost: 220lbs, and once I get there, maintain it for 5-6 months while slowly adding more calories back into the mix.

Retirement Funding – My ‘I Learned’ Story

My retirement funding goals were mentioned same posts as my weight (from above). I was targeting a simple approach: fully fund my 401k and my IRA.

However, after watching a few lectures about retirement on my Great Courses Plus subscription, I learned there might be a better choice.

The speaker in those videos talked about 401k plans, and mentioned how some 401k plans also offer a ROTH option. I decided to check, and it turned out that yes, my 401K did allow for ROTH funds to be contributed, just as easily as I set the contribution for my regular 401K.

All I had to do was to put in a percentage and voila, the next pay cycle, I’ve got money going into the ROTH option.

So with the new learning, I decided move the goal posts. Instead of ‘fully fund both plans’, I moved to a new goal: Fully fund the 401K, with a mix of pre and post-tax dollars, then fund the regular investing goal, and finally do the IRA with leftovers at the end of the month.

Doing it this way, I mix up my taxable and non-taxable accounts, so that I have more tax options in retirement. Options are nearly always good, especially when it comes to sources of money in retirement.

Do I miss out on the tax write off on fully funding the IRA? Maybe a little, but assuming I don’t fall completely off the savings wagon, I should be good for at least a portion of that tax benefit.

Guitar Lessons – My ‘I Tried’ Story

This one hurts a bit. My uncle made these guitars, and they’re beautiful.

The thing is, the more I looked at it, me taking guitar lessons NOW or LATER doesn’t really have much of a difference in terms of my happiness.

I love my guitars. I play on them often.

I just don’t really care about taking lessons right now.

So, I’m moving the goalposts. For now, I’m calling ‘guitar lessons’ as a within 10 years goal, rather than a ‘do this in 2021’ goal. For now, self taught is good enough.

To recap, moving goalposts is a necessary part of goals. As you improve, learn and try, your goals must change with your new abilities and knowledge.

That’s just life. It moves from out from under you.

When it does, move your goalposts.

Coaching Moment – The Ivory Tower Slash Dungeon or You Are Not Your Product

I had a recent conversation with an engineer. He initially asked for feedback on a presentation he’d done during our SDETs meeting. He presented the data loading tool he and his teammate had created, and he did a great job in that demo.

I do love a demo.

I asked him about next steps though, trying to lean into some higher level discussions I’d had with others about his team. This particular engineer is part of a two man crew dedicated to load testing system at the Credit Union, and has been for a long time.

The system is written using a load testing framework that the vendor is deprecating. His partner and him are considered ‘the experts’ at using that framework at our organization, and are entirely siloed from everyone else.

Even if they could convince management to cough up to add heads to the team, that added body wouldn’t add value until a year or more of working in the framework they’ve created.

I described his silo as an “Ivory Tower.”

He responded “It doesn’t feel like a tower… more like a dungeon”

Engineers design systems to do a job within the constraints provided.

Give engineers a tough technical requirement and add the expectation they’ll run it with no help, and you end up with a monster.

A monster that’s scary as hell to everyone else, but entices you to stick around with:

  1. Job security in a volatile field.
  2. A sense of expertise in a tech environment that’s constantly changing.
  3. A sense of ownership in what you’re doing and building.

The monster might say: “It’s not really a dungeon. It’s a gated community.”

I’d say it’s an abusive relationship.

I recall my time at {Redacted} here. One of the developers there has been working on the same product there for well over 8 years.

He’s good at his job. A highly capable developer. He likes the company, and likes the people there.

They can’t risk having him do anything new at all though. He’s stuck.

When I left, he was leading two teams (mostly by example), both working on the same product, doing the same thing he was doing 8 years ago.

Worst still, the product is largely a commodity nowadays.

There are major platforms written here that will do what his product does, and do it faster, and with an actual support model if something goes sideways.

He forgot that his value was in the expertise, rather than the product.

{Redacted} is a good company, but it’s damned hard to see where he’ll go from there.

“Just try to keep an idea that load testing should be a product… rather than a person.”

That was the message I gave my Credit Union engineer, and I find it true about all engineers. It’s a message that engineers specifically need to know.

You are not your product.

Your value is not connected to your product’s value.

You’re more important than that.

Make sure you treat yourself accordingly, and more specifically, make sure you design systems to treat you accordingly.