As I am jumpstarting this blog, I would like to start this project with some thoughts around Gratitude towards the life I was able to build by working in the tech industry. Let’s see for how long I can keep it up, as many blogs get started, and few get kept running.
We, as software professionals, like to complain a lot. Sometimes over very silly things whether you need Kubernetes and Microservices to deploy your silly app with no users, sometimes over things that do matter a lot, like how we managed to mess up the inclusion of underrepresented groups so badly. Or how we waste more energy than some major countries to move bits onto a Blockchain. In any way, we (and that includes me) usually complain about everything.
But I sometimes forget how nice my life is currently, and that can, to a large degree, be attributed to the salary and the working conditions I am benefitting from working in the tech industry. I’ll dive a little deeper into both points later, but I want to lay out first where I started in life:
I was born in a small village next to a small town in rural Bavaria, and my parents can be considered working class or “blue collar” workers. That is a pretty privileged life if you compare it to people growing up in non-western countries or active warzones - We had all we needed, good food, a house and two german cars in the ridiculous massive garage in front of the house. Unfortunately, all that life was pretty much-built razor’s edge - We were not in debt (besides the mortgage), but the running expenses of a family of 4 with that lifestyle didn’t leave much room for error. Unemployment was a big scare for us. This had a few nasty consequences:
Money was always a scared resource, doing anything extraordinary was the source of many debates. This mindset of frugality has stayed with me until now (looking at my disheveled t-shirts full of holes), and almost threw a wrench into my career aspirations: Getting my first computer was a big deal.
Jobs could not be changed, as it was too dangerous - we were always at the whim of my parent’s employers. When they did something bad (like asking for unpaid overtime, or not compensating business travel expenses), we just swallowed it.
My parents were away a lot - working and making money for the family, and my Grandparents were quite busy handling us unruly kids.
So what’s different for me?
1 The competitive salaries of the tech sector
If you look at some (biased) surveys like levels.fyi you see that 2022 Salaries mention a median of 83.385€ and a 75th percentile of 103.000€. That might be biased a little as levels.fyi is more frequented by big-tech employees, not people working in software for non-software organizations. Statista thinks different, and I think this difference can be well explained by this post about the trimodal nature of tech salaries. But still, In summary, I think working in tech pays everyone involved quite well. At least for white males like me.
I am doing personally very well after a good decade in tech - a Senior Engineering Manager Salary is a bit better than a median Senior Engineering Salary, but even before the last 2 or 3 promotions, I could already live differently from how my parents lived: I always have enough fuck-you-money to feel completely free. If my job annoys me, I can walk out on the spot because I have enough savings to keep everything running for a year+. I didn’t know about the concept of “fuck you! Money” before going into tech, but I do find it very powerful. This also enabled me to -just now- take 7 months of parental leave for my child without getting the family into any trouble. This feeling of financial freedom is unparalleled, as I remember my parents worrying and arguing about money a lot. And even more, I can live in a house - something I never thought was possible in the economic realities of Germany in the 2020s in a major city.
Seems to me that money doesn’t buy happiness, but it makes most reasons for unhappiness disappear. To be happy is a lot easier when you don’t have to worry about your washing machine breaking.
If I had stayed in “my lane” as a working-class kid, doing an “Ausbildung” in the “Handwerk” [that means going into the trades, like a plumber or electrician], I wouldn’t have any of this. No House, no parental leave, messed up knees and a ton of worries on top of that.
2 The working conditions
As tech is generally an employee’s market, even during its ups and downs, we get treated pretty well. With the recent mess that happened at Twitter, you can see how bad it could get if you let a lunatic exec run loose. But also rest assured that what we call terrible and unimaginable is the grim reality of most of the workforce. We are living in a pretty sweet spot without really realizing it.
People treat you with respect - even if you don’t have an average white boy CEO physique. Everyone seems to know that you keep the whole madness going. In some of my previous jobs, people threw stones at me, yelled expletives at me, forced me to get in trucks with drunk drivers, forced me up on trees where I fell down eventually, made me shovel literal dirt into buckets and the list goes on. None of that ever happened to me in tech, and I am forever grateful.
The work times are flexible. Working other jobs, a traffic jam would cause a mild panic attack for me, in tech such things don’t matter. If you start later, nobody cares as long as your work gets done. This removes a lot of stress when life throws a few bricks your way.
Most jobs don’t have career progression or a career ladder or anything like that. You get a job, and then you do that job until you die or you get laid off. Enjoy your 2% bi-annual raise.
We can work remotely (a lot). I can spend time with my daughter in the mornings, feed her at lunchtime and bring her to bed in the evenings instead of spending it in traffic.
What’s my advice for people reading this?
I think tech has more than a decade of good conditions in it, probably enough to support another lifetime of solid careers. We do make our companies a lot of money, so I assume this will continue with some ups and downs for quite a while. So besides expressing my thankfulness, I would still advise people to go into tech. It’s pretty neat here, come join us. There’s still a lot of work to do.