Mentorship Series Edition 2: When Does Money become a Factor in Your Tech Career
Welcome to the Mentorship Series on Muya’s Blog.
Here, we explore and answer questions that I’ve received from folks who are starting out on their Software Development journeys, and some further into it.
We’ll be sharing my responses to the questions from mentees; as such, the views expressed here are personal, and are not meant to be canonical advice; take what you like, leave what you don’t.
All the questions have been shared with consent from the mentees, and edited for privacy and clarity.
I hope you learn something! Karibu 🙌🏽
In this second edition, we talk about financial progression in your tech career.
Question 1: When Does Money Start Becoming a Major Consideration in Your Tech Career?
At first you are usually told to volunteer, do internships, etc, but when do you start getting real jobs with real pay?
In my opinion, volunteering should be done with a goal of fulfilling a personal need to give back (i.e. serving others, contributing to Open Source, etc).
If you can get paid doing this, even better - you still need money to survive!
As for internships, they can serve as an amazing entry point and start for your career in tech.
Nowadays, there are more and more organisations offering paid internships; in your job applications, target those kinds of organisations.
That said, if there is a specific kind of expertise you’re looking for, e.g. mentorship in a specific organisation, AND you’re able to support yourself through an unpaid internship, take advantage of it, and go for it!
I say internships are amazing entry points, and more-so for organisations with a good engineering culture, because usually they have an Engineering Progression ladder that spans from intern → Associate → different Software Engineer Levels, all the way to principal & architect levels; especially if you’re looking to stay as an individual contributor (IC).
Progression within these different levels is what starts giving you higher pay (e.g. a Senior Software Engineer usually gets paid more than a Software Engineer Level 3, depending on the organisation).
The advantage of targeting organisations with some sort of progression ladder is that your skill level continues to improve as you progress, and what it takes to get to the next level is very clear.
The expectations for the current Engineering level, as well as the next one are well defined, and it’s easy to see if you’re achieving those goals or not.
What is Good Pay?
As with most things, “good pay” is subjective.
Therefore, it’s good to have an idea of what’s enough to sustain a lifestyle that you enjoy, and use that as a marker for what’s your acceptable minimum pay.
Having this in mind makes it much easier to filter out organisations that aren’t matching your needs. It’s okay to bow out of a role if they aren’t meeting your expectations.
Being in tech, we have a slight advantage of it being relatively easier to get a job, because there are more options.
Based on my past experience, international organisations have traditionally paid better than most local companies, and most tend to have more developed engineering practices.
However, more and more local companies are starting to see the value in investing in better career growth for their engineers, and so you may come across a few of these organisations.
What Does This Mean for My Job Search?
Now that you have some criteria for a role, you can start refining your job search accordingly:
- An organization that has a formal engineering progress ladder (formal means that it’s documented and available to everyone in the organisation).
- Salary-wise, you know the minimum you need to get paid in order to support your lifestyle. Therefore, ask the expected pay range in the first interview, and you can decide whether or not to invest more time in the process.
- What are you looking to achieve from the role you’re looking for?
- If you’re volunteering, are you looking to fulfill a personal need?
- If you’re accepting an unpaid internship, are you looking to get a specific kind of mentorship that’s only available in that role?
Having these points in mind (and written down) makes it easier to start planning your job search.
There are some resources that I can recommend for your job search, which contribute partly to the criteria outlined above:
Decode Fintech Newsletter - This is a weekly newsletter by PayStack, and each issue has a “Jobs” section, usually focused on Fintechs in Africa.
Pragmatic Engineer - While this site is more developer-focused, it could also be a great resource for product roles. This one’s interesting because the roles are based on the Pragmatic Test, which is an indicator of engineering culture within organisations. Only organisations that score higher than 10/12 are allowed to list roles there.
For both of these resources, I recommend:
- Going to the Jobs section, and looking at the available roles
- Go a step further and look at the careers page of the organisations you’re interested in
- Explore what other roles are available that might interest you
- Apply explicitly to those roles
I hope you gained some valuable insight that could help you decide how you can progress financially within tech.
This wraps it up for this edition of the Mentorship Series! I hope you learned something.
If you agree / disagree with any of the points, I’m happy to engage in meaningful debate.
Until next time, stay safe, and happy coding!