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You're crap and paid too much for the little work you actually do

A recruiter's guide on how to get mo' money...

You’re not getting paid as well as you should. I know this not only because you’re bothering to read this, but also because most techies are crap at extracting cash from their employers. It shouldn’t shock you too much to learn that I, as a City headhunter and former contractor, focus quite hard on money - so here's a few ideas that will help you even in tough times.

Continuous Visible Productivity

The first thing you get wrong is spending too much time on things no one sees. No one really cares if you’ve made the backup process run 50 per cent faster unless it’s stopping work, so don't waste your time on this until some politically powerful person or business unit asks. That’s a tactic: the full methodology you should adopt for all your work is Continuous Visible Productivity (CVP).

Plan your work in terms of things other people can see; forget agile dependency modelling, GANTT, etcetera and prioritise with respect to how many useful people see the result.

The joy of CVP is that its cynicism is so pure you can openly share it with your boss – he is under constant attack for the cost of IT which to “the business” seems so rarely to actually produce anything. A staffer who makes him look good is far more valuable than one who knows more C++ syntax, so his fear of you leaving goes up without you doing anything. The highest paid contractor I ever met composed Reuters pages for directors of the bank. That’s drag-and-drop level work and she was a proper techie – so it was far beneath her – but every time she wanted to quit they’d throw money at her, such was the power of her visible productivity. You might not have that option, but making sure your system can easily and quickly support new pages makes you look good, especially if it’s not a documented feature ...

Why you are paid

Your pay is an equilibrium between their fear of you leaving and greedily keeping the cash they could pay you. Do not kid yourself that your pay is a reward for work you have done, employers have less memory than a goldfish and your only lever is what you’re going to do. Any pitch for money must contain a mix of opportunities for your boss to look good flavoured with just enough fear that you might be leaving. The past is evidence for a pay rise, not a cause.

One of the best paid IT guys I know says that he doesn’t sell “solutions”, he sells pay rises; your boss must see it in his interest to fight the battles. Be aware that it’s just pub talk to leave a recruiters card “accidentally” on your desk, if they think you’re definitely going anyway they won’t bother to try and keep you and optional items like bonuses and training won’t be wasted on a lost boy. The last thing your boss wants is to fight for your pay rise and let his bosses see you quit anyway.

Note that the title is “get more money”, not “earn more”. I can’t make you better at your job, my aim is to get you better rewarded for it. You are worth what you can get, not a penny more or less. In negotiations it is useful to use the word “fair” so that the other side doesn’t feel too blackmailed, but never kid yourself that it means anything.

Screwing up to get more money

One serious programmer explained to me that “if the system goes down for 30 minutes, you’re incompetent. Bring it back after five hours and you’re a hero”. They key here is that you’re making a difference when it hits the fan, that’s not someone they want to lose.

Sounding enthusiastic

Your boss has no idea if you’re good at your job. Even in the unlikely event he knows much about database replication or wrongly aliased pointers, he doesn’t have the time to properly measure your performance – and the structure of many IT groups means that the greater their decision-making power, the less the individual understands computers. They use proxies for competence and productivity, working on the principle that a cheerful techie is delivering the goods. They also like cheerful people because it means the team is functional, which is part of...

Business correctness

The richer brother of political correctness, every firm has a bunch of things that one has to pay lip service to. As a techie you are crap at even noticing these and when you do, they form the butt of your acid humour.

You need to say: “We’re a tier one supplier to the NHS,” even when you know it’s a delusion believed by no one outside marketing. You don’t have to believe it. There’s a whole pile of bullshit words you need to use more, such as “business”, “delivery”, “savings” and “revenue” – but most important is “team”.

EDS did a video – “Herding cats” – which beautifully captures how your bosses see IT people...

At many firms they genuinely believe that one day they will have to deal with an outbreak of physical violence in the IT department – and quite a few already have (the time I was punched at IBM’s labs was my own fault).

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