Our Salary Paths series aims to give fellow Elphas a reference point for salary negotiations and encourage more women to talk about compensation. We hope that opening up the conversation will contribute to more pay transparency and equitable pay.
Interested in sharing your Salary Path with us? Please fill out this form here and we will get back to you (can be posted anonymously, too! 😉 ).
I had, what you would call, a straightforward path into tech: started studying informatics in high school, was good at it, got my Bachelor's degree in Computer Science, and continued working as a Software Engineer for a couple of years.
In Romania at the time, tech was the place to be if you wanted fast financial independence.
Peeling 30 kg of potatoes in one day
But, my path did not start all that smoothly.
First year of university, I got a summer job in a restaurant kitchen to make some pocket money. Peeling 30 kg of potatoes in one day by hand for 40 Euro surely gives you perspective.
At that point, I understood that if I wanted to get financial independence and move out of my parent’s place, I had to get my game together.
First jobs in tech
The next summer, I got my first job in tech as a Web Developer for 300 Euros/month (Romania). My rationale for this was that since you need experience to get a job and you need a job to get experience, I wanted to get ahead before finishing my studies.
In my third year of university, I competed with nine men in a 5-month intensive Java School to get one of the 3 roles available.
I got the job: got hired full-time as a Software Engineer for 400 Euros/month.
They gave me more money than I asked for
I got bored very quickly at that job.
Three months later I applied for a company I really wanted to work for.
I asked for 500 Euros/month during the interview process. They gave me 650/month.
I was so happy I could not believe it! It also made me wonder: what qualities or skills might I have overlooked in myself that made them see value in me? 🤔
Now, looking back, the salary they gave me tells me two things:
→ I was not aware of my value in the current market
→ I could have asked for even more than they offered
Here is where I started stagnating from a financial perspective
After two years in that job, my salary increased ~30%.
I wanted to become a Tech Lead and so I asked: what do I need to do to get there?
The answer was: you are too young, too early in your career to be thinking about that, you have to develop your tech skills way more before we even think about that.
I was not satisfied with the answer so I started looking for other options.
I applied to an international consultancy company in Barcelona that was offering opportunities to grow into a leadership role.
Two weeks later I was joining them as a Software Developer for a bit more than 2k euro/month.
Although it was below what I was expecting given that the living cost in Barcelona was triple at the time compared to Romania, I said yes, no questions asked.
But to be honest, I would have taken anything: it was my dream company.
Looking back, I should have negotiated - the moment you first join a company is the best time to negotiate.
This impacted my salary going forward in that company. Why? Because companies have different budgets for hiring and for internal salary increases. The one allocated to hiring is usually bigger as they are trying to get you in.
After that point, it was really hard to have big salary increases as there was an internal rule that you cannot get more than 5% (or something like that) per year.
I got a 10% increase but I fought with my teeth for it, using each opportunity to prove my value. But from there on I felt stuck money-wise.
Choosing growth over money
But again, I loved the job.
I had growth opportunities, leadership training, access to an international network of experienced people.
I became a Tech lead at 26 – a role which I loved.
I burnout and started burning money
When the Pandemic hit, I had a lot of thinking and reflection time as we were stuck inside.
All I did was work.
I burned out.
I quit the role that I loved.
For the first time in my life, I had no plan.
I had savings, so I used them to take some months off to focus on my mental and physical health.
The first month I could not get out of bed.
Then, I found a pilates gym. Started going every day. That became my work.
Three months later I was back.
I started getting energy and ideas…and people I supported before in their development reached out: where are you? We have an annual review coming up! We need help!
A coffee transformed into a call, a call into a business.
I invested a big part of my savings in getting my certification as a coach and started a business.
Last year I got what sounds like a high paid role
I became an Education Lead/ Product Director for an Education startup, while still running my business on the side.
Sounds like money? It wasn’t.
I was making just as much as before in my Tech Lead role.
But it wasn’t about the money, it was about the cause: supporting women get into tech, showing them that they have other options, and making tech an even better place to be.
As a woman in tech, growing diversity in this industry has always been one of my interests.
Running a business from a money perspective
6 months later I quit as I got the opportunity to do something that I think can have an even bigger positive impact in the tech industry: helping tech companies improve performance and develop a healthy culture by growing their Tech Leads, as I believe the best way to amplify positive change in a team is by having great leaders.
As a former Tech Lead myself, I know that at this level, the gender gap in tech is even bigger and the struggles can be even harder - and there is not so much focus on supporting women in senior roles once they are there, as there is on bringing them into tech.
They say you have to throw money at a business to make money. I see the money that I put into my business as an investment in myself. It’s not even the marketing or the tools, it's the money I spent on sustaining myself with no income while taking risks and learning new skills required to run a business.
And so, for the past two years, I have been using all my technical, coaching, and leadership skills to support more than 200 women at different stages in their careers.
I still don’t have (what they call) a sustainable business, but I am working on it while doing what I like.
→ choosing growth over money is an option but make sure you leverage it well:
- how long can you afford to stay there?
- what do you want to learn?
- how will you know you are done?
→ the interview is the best place to negotiate your salary - this is the point where you have the most leverage
→ when it comes to money, be clear about your number: a combination of how much you need, how much you want, and your value on the market (do your research! - Elpha's salary database is a great resource for this)
→ once you have your number, ask for a little more
→ how much they pay you is how much they value you
If they keep telling you how good a job you are doing, that they know you deserve more but they cannot give it to you, that’s not a good sign
→ you have more control on how much they pay you than they tell you