Here's the latest in my series of six figure interviews, discussions with everyday people who have grown their incomes to at least $100,000 annually.
My questions are in bold italics and their responses follow in black.
Let's get started...
Tell us a bit about yourself (age, marital status, kids, where you live, etc.)
I am 30 years old, male, married, and without kids. My wife and I recently moved to a Midwestern suburb due to a job opportunity I had.
What do you do for a living?
I work as a software architect in a large corporation. Since we are not an IT company, my role is to design, plan, and implement software solutions for internal projects.
How much do you earn annually?
My base salary is $165K.
How does this amount break down (salary, bonuses, etc.)?
I am eligible for a 10% bonus. I have only been with my company a short time (about 6 months), so I have not received a bonus yet.
Do you receive any additional compensation/benefits from your employer (401k match, stock options, etc)?
I received a relocation package when I made the move; I also get 3.5% 401K match and discounted company stock. The 401K match vests after a year of employment, and I am required to hold all company stock for at least a year.
How long have you been working?
I graduated from college in 2005, and have been working full-time since then. So 8 years thus far.
How long have you earned at least six figures?
Since 2010, so for the past 3 years. I started out of college relatively underpaid at a $35K salary.
What have been the key steps you have taken that have allowed you to earn this level of income?
My salary grew significantly as I took on additional responsibility and worked in a technical leadership role. Unlike many of my software developer peers, I focused on understanding the business needs rather than getting caught up with bleeding edge technology or “elegant” code. This led me to more customer facing roles, and eventually to an architect position.
In addition, I am told I have good communications skills, especially for a “techie” person. I think I am good at putting things in perspective and tackling problems accordingly, rather than letting knee-jerk reactions dictate the course of action. And, of course, I’m generally a hard worker and put in the extra hours when necessary.
Which of the following career advancing strategies did you employ (if any) and which were most effective: a. Doing well within your current company and being promoted. b. Jumping around from company to company always seeking a higher salary & responsibility. c. Entirely changing your career path from a lower earning field to a higher earning field (going back to school, etc).
B. Jumping around. There were certainly several positions that I expected to stay in longer, but things didn’t quite pan out that way.
Company 1 (3.2 years):
- Jun 2005: 35K
- Dec 2005: 36K + 1K bonus
- Apr 2006: 46K
- Jan 2007: 51K + 1K bonus
- Jan 2008: 56K + 1K bonus
Company 2 (1.2 years):
- Sep 2008: 70K
- Feb 2009: 87K
Company 3 (2.1 years):
- Nov 2009: 98K
- Sep 2010: 130K
- Apr 2011: 135K + 6K bonus
Company 4 (1.3 years):
- Dec 2011: 150K
- Jan 2013: 154K + 8K bonus
Company 5 (current):
- Mar 2013: 165K
A few notes:
- I was laid off from Company 1; the remaining job changes were all voluntary moves. That lay off was a huge blessing in disguise as I quickly discovered the kind of salary I could make.
- I almost went down the project management route during my time in Company 2. I am definitely glad that it didn’t pan out, since my technical skills are in much higher demand (and are stronger) than my PM skills would have been.
- I almost left Company 2 in Feb 2009, but decided to take a counteroffer. As I have learned, the counter wasn’t really worth it since I only lasted another 9 months.
- Company 3 started as a contract-to-hire role where I was making quite a bit less than the hourly rate that the company paid (I found out how much the contracting company was charging). I threw out the 130K requirement with little expectation of them agreeing to it, but apparently they wanted me as an employee more than I had anticipated. I had wholly expected to stay at this company longer, but changes in the organization had me looking elsewhere.
- Company 4 was easy work, well paying, but had nearly 0 growth potential.
What are you doing now to keep your income growing?
My latest role is quite a jump up in responsibility as I now have direct reports and have migrated from a position that was 80% writing code to one that is now 10-20% writing code. I hope to continue to build on this, and see where I can go within this company.
What are your future career plans?
In the 10-year horizon, I have multiple paths that I might go down. I want to stay on the technical side, since that’s where my strengths are. I’m hoping that can lead to a CTO role at some point for a small section of the business (not expecting to be a corporate-level CTO).
There’s another side of me that sees a form of early retirement and/or second career in my 40s. I enjoy what I do, but I would be okay with something that is less stressful and allows for more free time. I’m quite competitive though, so I’m not sure that if I built up my career further in the next 10 years, my ego would let me walk away from it.
Have you been able to turn your income into a decent net worth?
My current net worth is ~$500K. The vast majority of that is in several taxable accounts, since I have made many financial mistakes, one of which was not putting enough away in tax-sheltered retirement accounts. I will have to put together a Reader Profile at some point and get into more detail about that.
Why or why not?
I have always been a saver. However, I only recently became a bit more intelligent with the investment side of personal finance. I am still sorting through things and trying to line up all aspects of my portfolio at this time.
What advice do you have for people wanting to grow their incomes?
First, I will mention that I’m very fortunate to have a job that I enjoy and that pays well. I would highly recommend that the latter part is met, and that income is not the only focus. Even with early retirement options, most of us are stuck working for a good chunk of our lives so it’s far more tolerable if you enjoy that time.
My personal experience has been that it is beneficial to have an open mind and keep the big picture in focus. All companies suffer from short-sightedness, and it’s beneficial to have a vision at all levels of the corporate hierarchy. In my case, it was on the technology front to make sure that what we implement today isn’t shooting ourselves in the foot in the future. To go along with that though, make sure you know when to compromise as well. You will add little business value if it is ALWAYS your way or the highway.