From $7.25/hr at a pizza shop to making over $200k as a coach and engineering managerFeatured

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’m excited to write this because as a coach for women in tech, I strongly believe we need to talk more about money. Transparency is fodder for empowerment, and learning from others about what to expect and what we deserve helps tremendously.

Let me start by saying I’ve been plenty aimless throughout my life and for at least half of it, work has never been the main focus. To my parent’s dismay, I was a bohemian English major who fell into a bunch of relationships and moved states/countries every year. I’m very privileged and lucky to have come so far.

I started working at 16 making $7.25 at the local pizza shop – 19 years later I make over $200k as a coach and engineering manager.

My very first salaried position was right after college. I graduated with an English degree, didn’t want to be a teacher and only cared about backpacking the world. I had just gotten back from a solo trip in Europe and took a job as a claims adjuster making $47k.

Career changing into tech

Staying landlocked in my home state grew tiring. I decided to pursue a career in software engineering because, well, it sounded hard and I wanted to prove I could do it. Plus, it gave me mobility. I attended a course and moved to Austin, taking a junior software engineer job making $51K. I stayed there for 1.5 years to get as much experience as I could. I got a raise after 1 year to $55K but I had to fight tooth and nail to get this.

Consider jumping

Staying at a company has its benefits, but there can be financial drawbacks. It can be easier to receive salary increases by changing companies.


  • I interviewed at other companies and received offers for 30K more than I was making in my junior dev position (in the 80s)
  • I ended up getting my master’s in user research and went from $55K to $105K

After 8 months at the $105K job, I switched companies because of the commute. It was 3 hours in total and I didn’t want to be a consultant at a bank. I took a job at Skillshare, which was a dream! I was a software engineer for a creative company and my salary went up $10K in 8 months to $115K.

It’s okay to diverge

There were several times when I changed my career or pursued other interests. Or heck, just took time off to travel. That’s okay! You’re going to be able to pick yourself back up no matter what happens.


  • I took a year off from engineering to get my master’s in user research (and live in the UK) and ended up increasing my salary $50k
  • I moved to Australia with no plan. I spent the year working as a maid at a scuba diving resort, as a cupcake maker, and a journalist (I interviewed an Olympian in Cirque du Soleil!)
  • I worked on my own company in a pre-seed incubator and was able to find another job afterward for the same salary as when I left

Hone your narrative

When talking to people, whether interviewing or networking, make your story clear. If you took the scenic route, how did it empower you to become who you are today? Make your story succinct and make it relevant to whomever you’re talking to. It will be easier for people to remember you and thus, help you out.

Be proactive about opportunities

I went from $115K to $163K when I was hired at my last company, Splice, as a senior front-end engineer. My goal was to become an engineering manager and I told everyone I could about this desire. I met with the VP of engineering ahead of time so months later when there was a position, I was promoted internally. As an engineering manager, I made $190K and then received a raise to $207K after a year.

Giving people a heads-up far in advance

  1. kept me top of mind
  2. gave my manager an idea of what I should improve upon

Talk to people. Lots of them! When I considered career-changing I took at least 10 people out to coffee to learn about what it’s like. To get my first dev job I asked someone for an informational interview and they created a position for me.

Focus on what you care about

The best part of being an engineering manager was empowering my team. I had a team of 9 and teaching them how to set boundaries, hone their skills, and grow their careers was what I cared about. It wasn’t about how efficiently we could write code or our product roadmap.

I took my show on the road and began coaching women in tech. It’s all the best parts of being a manager while also setting my own hours and making more than I did as an engineering manager! I firmly believe that because I care about my clients and what we talk about in coaching way more than engineering, I’ve become more successful. I care more, I focus more, and I give more effort. Think about the things you care about and give you energy. Follow that.

If you want to talk about career changes, money, and fulfillment - I’ve got you! Let’s talk about what you’re going through and come up with a game plan.

Thank you for such a great piece, Sarah! Everything rings true to me but ESPECIALLY the 3rd point "focus on what you care about"! I couldn't agree more.
Thanks for featuring me Elpha! It was a blast to reflect on my journey so far and kind of revel in "holy crap, I actually did that." can't wait to hear more from this series <3 Sarah
@sarahing would love to connect - my career path too is β€œwandering” to some, but diverse and full of interests to me. I need help honing my message so would love to talk through it since you’ve done it so well.
someone coined it "squiggly career" and I think this is just, the best way to put it. happy to talk through it with you! you can message me or book time here <3
@sarahing what an inspirational story! Thank you for sharing - career changes are not for the faint of heart, I love how you approached your career trajectory with confidence and a sense of adventure. We are taught from the outset that diverging and experimentation with one's career is frowned upon in society, and to play it "safe"....What would be your advice for women who are looking to transition into software engineering in 2023, considering the current state of the entry-level job market and the exponential growth/adaptation of AI? Is it still worth it?
Thanks for adding such tremendously kind commentary. Well-written and couldn't agree more about the scaryness beyond playing it safe.That's a great question. Is it still worth it to become an engineer? Yes, I believe so! I think AI will help us do more. Tools like GitHub Copilot are very helpful. I'd look at ways to harness these tools, accelerate your learning, and then once in a job - ways to go even faster. I'd also consider how roles will evolve and how to get ahead of these trends. For example prompt engineering seems to be all the rage as of late - what else is there?
Love this! What course did you take to learn software engineering?
Hi @sibyl152, I attended Dev Bootcamp in Chicago. I picked it because it was a 3 month on-site program, away from my hometown, and taught engineering empathy in the form of yoga and therapy. It's now defunct after being acquired by Kaplan but there are a number of good ones still out there!