How I doubled my income as a software developer in France

Developer in café with coffee and dessert
credits: https://label-escale.fr/

The difficult beginnings

5 years ago, I entered the worst period of my life. I went into a difficult depression. It entered my life and wrecked havoc, trying to not only ruin my present, but also my future. 5 years ago, I was a 21, and I was studying to become an electrical engineer. Me being unable to attend classes, do my homework or write tests was a recipe for disaster. And sure enough, I failed the semester, and was swiftly kicked from my uni.

But these difficult times also came with an opportunity. It gave me time to heal, choose a course of action and come back stronger. After a year of therapy, small jobs, and trying different online courses, I finally decided it was time for a change: I moved to Paris to attend a bootcamp.

This not only trained me rapidly and gave me skills in high-demand, but also changed my vision of learning and growth; but this is for an other story. There, it was extremely intense, with courses all day long, afterwork drinks with students and teachers, and some more studying in the evening. But this positive atmosphere, my growth from the last year and the thrill of learning was everything I needed to rebuild myself. 3 months later, after graduating from LeWagon, I signed my first permanent contract as a junior software developer in a Parisian startup.

The way forward

Now in the business world, I knew that I wanted to get the best deal possible for my services. Companies will reward fairly people that bring the most value to them. So in order to increase my salary, I needed to

  • Learn as much as possible, in an efficient way
  • Do my job as good as possible, focusing on the impact
  • Communicate about my work as loud as possible, but remain a team player

These might seem obvious at first glance, but I kept this in mind everyday at work. Because I knew that I had so much room to grow, and if I would take these opportunities, my rewards would grow too.

Learn

Find yourself a mentor. A more experienced coworker, that knows his way around the product and the code. Someone you can ask questions and who will help, as long as you showed you understand the issue and tried a few solutions yourself.

Keep learning online. There is a ton of ways to bring more value, by learning something new: frameworks, langages, testing, aws, docker,… and so many ressources online: youtube, free courses, communities, subscriptions.

Practice: to get the most of your learning, you need to be able to re-use this knowledge. This is where you need to practice: have a side project, contribute to open source software, participate in contests and jams, train on sites like codewars or leetcode. Watching a video or reading is not enough: you need to appropriate the skills.

Work

This might be the hardest part. At first, you’ll feel overwhelmed. You won’t know what to focus on, how to estimate tasks, how to split a feature nor how and when to say no. You’ll have to discover the company’s software and coding style, as well as probably dozens of libraries and read through thousands of lines of code. You’ll have to fight through the impostor syndrome. It won’t be easy.

But I have a good news for you: as a junior, you’re usually expected to struggle. The company knows that you don’t know everything; ans as a newcomer, you’ll have time and onboardings to get your foot on the ladder. This is the time to grow, and you should do your best to be productive, every day. Start by one task, one bug, at least one ticket a day. And work your way up from there.

It does get better, with experience and knowledge. The first weeks will be exhausting, they were for me at least, but once you know enough to be able to tackle epic tasks, you’ll know you made it.

Communicate

You’re hired as a developer for your technical skills and ability to code, sure. But what will separate you from the rest are usually not the technical skills, but your soft skills. Your ability to express yourself, to be eloquent and precise, yet not overly using jargon so everyone can understand. Share at the coffee machine, and try to relate to other business units: you’ll learn from them, and if you empathise, they will remember you.

Once you know enough about the product and feel confident, you should start advertising for yourself. State what you do, alert if a task is taking more time, claim when you finished your ticket early. Talk to your manager if you see any bumps on the roadmap, or if you’re stuck and need a hand. Share the praises and the successes, and keep the blame for yourself. Show that you not only know how to code, but that you can convey information and be relied upon: if there is good, you’ll share it and bring people up, and if you’re in difficulty, they’ll know you’ll alert early enough it won’t be a problem.

Aim higher

Now, with this you’ll be a successful developer. But you won’t necessarily increase your earnings. To earn more, you need to be ready to negotiate and to move. If you like your workplace, you should start by negotiating with your manager. State what you bring to the company, what you could bring if they were ready to give you this promotion. Share how much you grew since you arrived, what you’ve learned, both within and outside the company. Remind them about all the processes that rely on you, how difficult it is to hire a capable and motivated developer, and the time they would loose.

I managed to get a 12% pay raise by using this tactic, after only 6 months at the company. But you also need to be ready to hear ‘no’, and to find a better opportunity.

I won’t explain how to find a job here, but you need to have your criteria set: what’s the minimum pay you’re willing to take, the location, the time of company (small, medium, big) and the industry. Once you found your upgrade, quit and don’t look back; but don’t burn bridges, tech is still a small world, especially if you stay in the same city.

Man signing contract
Credits: https://www.challenges.fr/

Conclusion

I shared what I used and did myself for the last 4 years; and I went from a junior salary of €32k/y, an acceptable salary for Paris as a junior dev with no formal education, to signing for over €62k/y in the same city, as a lead software developer. These tactics work, as long as you’re focused on your goals, and are willing to rinse-and-repeat. I’ve learned so much through this journey already, and I know this is only the beginning. I can’t wait for what’s next.

Thanks for reading me

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