What’s up with all the “underpaid developers”?

June 29th, 2007

Every once in a while (and lately, more and more often, as can be seen here, here and here) you see blog entries saying that the best developers are severely underpaid. You start reading through these entries, and they say that the difference between the best and the worst programmers is anywhere between 5 to 28 times. An implicit conclusion is left to the reader – why aren’t the best programmers getting 5 to 28 times as much money than the worst programmers?

I can’t help but think that these entries are very popular because of the Dunning-Kruger syndrome which postulates that a person with little knowledge isn’t aware of how little does he know. If this is true, that would mean that every (yes, every) reader of such an article will see himself in that “best” position. The position where he should be earning 5 to 28 times as much as he is earning now (the higher the number, the better the feeling should be).

But let’s look at it from another perspective. Instead of paying you (as “the best”) five times as much as you’re currently making, let’s pay the others (as “the worst”) a fifth of what they’re making now. Suddenly, all the “others” are gone (the average salary in our field is still much higher than the average in many other professions, but not as high as that). What does it mean to you? That you will be doing all the other stuff that was previously was done by the “others”. If you were truly the “best”, most chances are that previously your boss tried to give you better (more interesting, more challenging, more rewarding) tasks. Of course, every once in a while you get stuck with boring and repetitive stuff (especially if it’s your first position), but if you’re really the “best”, you will get better tasks. But not when the “others” are gone…

So, if you don’t like your current place, start looking elsewhere. If somebody is interested in you, and you’re interested in them, make the move. If nobody is interested in you, take a hint. And be happy that programming is still one of the rarest areas where you can have a very satisfying job that pays well.