I awoke to tweets from my brother using #talkpay. And added my voice to the chorus of people talking about their pay. Before I go any further, plenty of people don’t feel comfortable sharing their pay publicly on Twitter. I am one of those people. I’ve shared past numbers, but not my current salary.
Don’t want to share publicly?
For that, I’ve used Glassdoor. There, you can add an anonymous salary and review of your current or former companies. Share the numbers there even if you are sharing them publicly. By tomorrow, your hashtagged tweets will be lost in a 140 character ocean. But Glassdoor is forever.
A little background on the movement and why today can be summed up by The Guardian: #talkpay: can America’s wage inequality be solved by sharing our salaries online? | US news | The Guardian
I am going to share my story. But first, I am going to preface it with a warning. This is my story and my story only. I am not saying this is the right way to do things or you will find success if you emulate it. This is my story. This is not Truth™ nor is it Gospel. This is what I did and how it turned out for me. The salaries are to the best of my hazy memory.
I went to college in 2000. I studied Creative Advertising at VCU. I spent three years working at the Production Chief for The Commonwealth Times. I handled all the print production layout for the twice-a-week newspaper. My job expanded to covering putting the paper online once we started a web site. While I was there, I was paid for 20 hours per week, a cap on what student workers could do. Even though I would routinely spend 25-30 hours putting the paper together and getting it to the printer before I was done for the day.
I only worked two days a week, our production days, and those were hellaciously long days waiting for reporters to turn in stories and photographers to return with their assignments. I don’t recall what I made but I think I made about $150/week and was paid weekly, so that was nice.
First job out of college
After college, I failed to find any sort of work in my industry and thankfully saw an ad for tech support at a local government agency. So when I graduated, I started working as a temp worker for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. There, I worked on a 6-month contract which extended to a full year once it was clear our project would not be completed in 6 months.
For the year I did nothing but unbox, image, setup and troubleshoot software and hardware for the agency. They were moving from Windows NT to Windows XP at their offices in Richmond, VA and their various sites around the state. I don’t remember what I Was paid. Somewhere in the range of $10-12/hour. Good enough money for a college grad with thankfully no student loans (Thanks Mom and Dad!)
After the year was up, I went to work for AlphaGraphics as an Electronic Printing Manager. Don’t let the fancy name fool you. It was a company of 8 people and we were all managers of something. I ran DocuTech and DocuColor machines all day. I ran prints for our clients and performed simple bindery tasks. I’ve got a family history in the quick printing business so ink is in my blood. But that job wasn’t going to last forever. I don’t remember what I was paid there, but it wasn’t a huge leap from what I was making at DEQ. After a year and a half there, I was done.
The start to a life in Tech Support
My next job was part best decision of my life and part work decision I’d made to date. I was working full-time for Unisys where I was a Dell Contractor working in a Honeywell manufacturing plant in Hopewell, VA. I made $12/hour to drive 45 minutes to work each way on a good day. My job was Desktop Support to the Honeywell plant.
I was the lone technician on-site and that meant I handled anything technical that went wrong. I serviced computers and racked servers and had a small role in getting them setup. But mostly it was my job to make sure the plant kept functioning. I stayed there 10 months, partly buoyed by my part-time work the VCU, where I was updating the web site for The Commonwealth Times and starting to work on web presences for the radio station and student magazines.
It was $20/hour for up to 20 hours a week. So that is most of what kept me going while working at Honeywell. Once that gig ended, I knew I had to get out of Honeywell since I couldn’t afford it. I needed to find work closer to home since even though gas was cheaper back then, I was still filling my tank once or twice a week.
That new job was a contractor at a GE call center making $17/hour. I was a desktop technician supporting a GE Lighting and Industrial call center. I worked with another technician who I quickly learned I would not be able to work with for long. It’s the only time I’ve ever left a job because of a co-worker. I only lasted there 5 months and told the contracting company (which was also out-of-state) the reason I was leaving is I was doing my job and his job and I couldn’t do it anymore. When you’re working with a PC Tech who asks things like “Where is the Windows folder?” and doesn’t understand the concept that “C” and “D” are different drives it got to be too much. Half of my day was spent undoing what he fixed. I also vowed after that to never work for a company out-of-state again.
I left GE to work for as a contractor for the City of Richmond’s Help Desk. My second job in government, this time at a local level. There, I made $21/hour and thought I had hit it big. I worked the help desk serving the entire city plus its residents. I got calls about everything from pot holes, downed power lines and limits on pornography in public libraries. I worked a day when the building had no power but we were on a generator in the basement so I could tell people they couldn’t access anything because the servers were shutdown since we had no cooling.
It was an interesting look into how a city government was run but it didn’t last long. I started in March and was let go in October, a victim of a round of budget cuts. After 8 months, I was out looking for work again. I had to train the guy who was taking my place (and worked on the same contract I did). I did receive a call from my former manager there months later when that guy didn’t work out. But I had already moved.
This started the longest period of unemployment I’ve had to endure and I consider myself extremely lucky it was as short as it was.
Let go in October, I had November off and applied for anything I could to pay my bills while I collected unemployment. Eventually, I landed an interview at Wachovia Securities for a 6-month contract there. The interview was a breeze and I was hired.
Financial Industry Flirtation
Dec 1st I started with Wachovia Securities as a contractor on the help desk for $19/hour. What I didn’t know was due to how the time periods ran, I would not see my first pay check until January 1st. So I was off unemployment and not making any money for another month. It was rough, but I made it.
It was a job and I hated it. I left in February and moved to Washington, D.C.
I needed to get out of Richmond. The job market was imploding and there wasn’t enough work to go around. I had also started dating a lovely woman and wanted to be closer to her.
To The North
So in February 2009 I left Richmond for Washington, D.C. Technically, Alexandria since that’s where I could find an apartment on short notice. So I moved, paying 6 months of rent to my apartment in Richmond since I couldn’t sublease it and paying for the smallest “1 bedroom” apartment I’ve ever seen.
I started working for The Atlantic Media Company for $40,000/year. My first real salaried position and not a contract work. They are the parent company for The Atlantic Magazine, National Journal, Government Executive and (after I left) Quartz. It was a great job with a lot of brilliant, interesting people. I made one of my best friends working there. I worked in the Watergate Building and that alone was an interesting experience.
But all good things come to an end, and after 2.5 years I left to, once again, work closer to home.
I went to work for Terpsys as a contractor for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. I took and offer of $50,000/year and made the move.
While I was there, I worked for the National Cancer Institute. I like to think I’ve had a small hand in helping those seeking cures for cancer. I worked in research labs for the scientists and researchers. It was always challenging and enlightening. It’s not often that I’ve worked in a field where I am clearly underqualified to even understand most of the work being done.
It was a great job and close to home which is a major bonus in the DC area. But Terpsys lost the contract to another company two years later. Instead of waiting around to see what was going to happen, I took my fate into my own hands and made another move.
October 2013 I accepted an offer from Knight Point Systems to be a contractor the US Department of Labor working as a WebEx Support tech for $70,000/year.
That’s where I am now. The contract I work on changed hands again in December. But it’s the same work, new place and I got a nice raise out of it. Today, I make $78,000/year.
Like I said in the beginning of this post. This is purely my experience. Don’t take it as gospel. This is what I’ve done and what worked for me.
What I wish I learned in college
Stand up for yourself.
The only person looking out for you is you. Keep yourself in your own best interest. Companies go out of business. Layoffs happen. Do the best thing for you. I’ve been laid off from a job where it had nothing to do with my performance. I’ve worked on contracts that changed hands. Nothing is certain forever.
Negotiate your salary/benefits.
The first offer you’re made is not the last offer. Ask for more money. How about another 5K/year. If they won’t budge on money, go for benefits. Ask for another week off or telework days. Some companies will be more willing to negotiate on benefits as opposed to salary. When I was young, I accepted the first offer made because I needed the work. Now that I’m older, I realize I can have a say in the process. Here’s a great, long piece on salary negotiating.
When you’re contracting, the way to get a raise is to change jobs. I went from $12/hour to $21/hour by making changes.
Always be looking for the next thing.
Especially in a field like tech support, all work is essentially the same. You’re a cog in a computer-fixing machine. Keep an eye out the next place to move. The next salary bump. The shorter commute. Work to make your life a little better each time.
Change rarely happens when you want it to. Wait for the right move. Don’t just move for the sake of moving.
Don’t follow any of my advice if it doesn’t make sense to you.
Everyone’s situation is going to be different. I have friends who have worked for one company for their entire professional lives and others who job hop every few years. Do what works for you.
I owe much of my new-found self-confidence to my wife. She has been an unending source of support and love and encouragement.