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! 😉 ).
The year was 2019 and I was 29 years old. I had studied Spanish Philology, so my whole life revolved around humanities: I worked as an English teacher and a Spanish-Russian-English freelance translator in Valencia and Sevilla (Spain). I worked for multiple places and took on many clients at the same time to be able to earn enough money to buy groceries and, essentially, survive.
However, I eventually reached my tipping point. My economic situation was not going to improve – if anything, I was getting more and more tired and worn out. So, that year I decided to try something completely different: study Linux System Administration. By then, I was already living in Sevilla. Yes, it was a long shot, I had no tech background at all, never programmed a single line of code, none of my hobbies had to do with technology and in general I was just another 29-year-old woman who had a basic knowledge about what IT is. Before deciding on my career path I didn't even know that an OS like Linux existed.
However, this risky movement was not as crazy as it seemed. During the previous years, I met many people working in the tech sector and got a lot of input and valuable opinions.
I asked every question that I had (it’s the best thing you can do) so I ended up learning about their actual work (not just the job title), what a normal work day looked like for them, what problems they faced, how they planned to grow, and how much money they were making.
Yes, I asked all of that and many of them answered. Because of this, I had a true idea of how much I could make working in tech. At the same time, I started to participate in Tech communities and follow interesting people on social media and got an even better picture.
I studied for about six months by myself, I had no money to pay for a bootcamp or a more formal education. I gave myself a shot, left all my jobs and studied for a few months (with the help of my partner).
In the beginning, nothing made sense. I just read about new technologies and things I had to learn and tried to do my best and trust the process. Little by little things started to look more organized in my head but I still was not prepared to look for my first job. My savings were running out so I looked for a temporary job in a Call center to keep studying for just a few more months.
Life has a weird sense of humor: just one day after I signed the contract for my non-glamorous and non-tech temporary job, the pandemic began. The entire world was in a lockdown so I never started that job. I stayed home and kept studying.After the initial pandemic panic passed (in May 2020), some tech job offers started to appear, especially for infrastructure and system administration roles. I was in a good place at a good time but I knew it wouldn’t be easy. My first job was as an intern without a proper contract and working extra hours for about 8k euros a year (600 euros per month). Not enough to live but I was happy because I definitely was closer to being part of the tech sector.
I had to learn every day how a tech company works and understand what was expected from me. The job was pretty stressful but I kept studying in my free time and looking for a proper job with a real contract. Just two months after that I found something just a tiny bit better than what I had: a systems operator job as part of a monitoring team. It was not a trainee contract and at least I was making more money: 15k. The downside was that I worked in shifts, including night and 12h shifts on the weekends. Life got tough, so I focused on my objective: getting a job I would enjoy and making enough money to live.
While studying I realized that System Administration was staying behind and the future of the infrastructure was now depending on new technologies like containers, infrastructure as code and more importantly – the public cloud. While working in shifts I started to study AWS and tried to squeeze the most out of its free tier, documentation and free online workshops.
During the next few months my husband and I had a “warm bed policy”: most days I was finishing my job and going to bed when he was getting up and starting his day. Despite the fact that the job was terribly stressful and those schedules were incompatible with a normal life, about 5 months in my managers noticed my efforts and promoted me. I did a few interviews and started to work with a new client as a System Administrator.
However, there seemed to be a mistake in the process and I was informed that I had to go back to my previous position. They realized that someone who had worked in IT for less than 5 years could not occupy the System Administrator position. In any case, I was destroyed. Going back to shifts was a low hit after almost a year of working hard.
After crying my eyes out for the whole evening I started to get angry and posted a tweet. I had met a lot of people during the previous months and had participated in many tech communities. As a result, many of my followers were people who personally knew me and could vouch for me. The tweet was retweeted many times and I got a lot of job offers out of it.
I participated in all of the processes that would accept my CV, though I did have my doubts at first. I was hesitant to participate in a process at a company that was looking for a Site Reliability Engineer. When the manager himself shared the job opening with me I said: “Sorry, I am not an engineer”.
Spoiler: I jumped in, passed the interviews, and got the job.
My entry salary was 24k per year. Not bad at all considering that I was coming from 15k. I used everything I had learned up to that point and worked in a quickly growing startup surrounded by brilliant people. There were no repetitive and mechanical tasks and I really had to focus on making it to the end of every day.
My motivation – hard job and growth – (literally) paid off as after a year my wage got reviewed and I started to make 30k. A few months later, it got bumped up to 37k with a promotion in my role. I grew from low-level eng I to eng II in about a year and a half. I can’t leave out the fact that my company also had to increase my wage as SRE positions were starting to be requested by other companies especially because there were no Jr. or mid-level SREs out there.
During the next two years as an SRE, I kept studying and participating in many events and initiatives: I gave talks, organized 1to1 with anyone who could use my experience or advice to evolve their career in tech, and helped other women start their tech journey. This all gave me visibility in the Spanish tech sector and people started to know who I was.That was how I got a job offer. I was kind of looking for a new job but not very actively. I was not sure if I wanted to leave my current company but started to think that I needed to see what was out there for an SRE.
Someone who knew me from Twitter wrote to me and asked if I was open to new adventures. It was a unique offer: a two-month-old startup with a strong financial backup that realized that they needed an SRE in their 20-person team in order to build all the infrastructure in its early phase in order to avoid future problems.
It took me more than a month to decide to leave the company that gave me my first big shot as an SRE and taught me so much. I went back and forth and doubted my own capacity to build an entire infrastructure by myself. Just three years before I was a translator, for God’s sake!
But, as you can imagine, I did not get to this point in my life taking the less risky decisions. I accepted and am currently working as the only SRE person in a growing startup. My salary also grew – obviously, it was one of the reasons to accept the offer but to be honest it was not the most important one. I quit Clarity making 37k and was offered just below 50k in my new job.
So that was the journey. What did I learn from it? Many, many things. Some of them are:
- Never wait “to be ready” to send your CV and go to interviews. You will never feel ready. You just have to do it even if you don’t mean it.
- Normally, whatever optimistic salary range you have in mind for yourself, add 20% to it and that might be the amount of money you should be asking for.
- Never be afraid of talking about money: talking about money – in networking events, with friends from the sector, in social media, with your co-workers – is the only way to know how much money you should be making and what to expect.
- Constantly update “what you are worth”, literally and figuratively. All your knowledge, experience, previous jobs and side projects are important and make you more valuable so...claim your value.
- We have many reasons to be in the Tech sector, some of them are the huge advantages it has compared to other sectors like wages, perks, remote jobs, number of open positions all year through. So don’t waste that advantage: if you are not happy with what you are being paid, move your a** and look for something else.
- Sometimes, money will not be the only reason to look for another job, but never go lower than your personal minimum. Ne-ver. Once again: we are lucky, let's make the most of it!
As you can see, it's been a ride. Definitely. I still have a long way to go but one last thing that I always keep in mind: remember where I started, not only to feel grateful but also to find the courage to grow more because I’ve already proved myself that I can do it.
And if one of these days I doubt myself and I don't know if I deserve something, I follow one of the best pieces of advice my husband ever gave to me: act as if you were any random white guy...and go for it.