Say supportive and positive things at meetings
A big reason you earn less than you should is that you seem to genuinely believe that meetings are something to do with managing projects and planning future work. Serious decisions aren’t made at meetings; the bigger they are the less likely anything will come out. Instead this is done in clusters of two or three, and you’re not invited because you’re like me when I was 30. Along with most techies I saw meetings as chances to score points off others and a waste of time. I’ve gradually built the skill of asking questions that help the speaker sound good, enough that I get notes thanking me for my contribution. You don’t, do you ?
When you thank someone publicly you help build allies, look like a good team player and associate yourself subliminally with success – but you don’t do that either, do you? That’s at least 10 per cent of your income you’ve squandered. Your mother told you manners were important, and she was right.
As techies (I’m a C++ developer as well, live with it), our work focuses on solving problems and this has led to a culture where pessimism and black humour over major screw-ups is seen as cool. At one bank where I was managing a project, a member of the board decided to sit in on a meeting as it was really important. He had no experience of IT people and so took me aside afterwards because he was worried that two of the developers would "self-harm". It was a bank so he didn’t care about them much as people, but he worried about my attitude that this was just normal programmer pessimism. Later at a status meeting one of my development managers said (and I quote) “... the server will die and we will be hunted down and killed like dogs”. Given that we were betting the firm on this system, it probably doesn’t shock you that the board member demanded I demote him.
Yes I know this all sounds like I want BOFHs to sound like MBAs, but there is a reason my MBAs earn on average rather more. You want to spread gloom, fine, you want to live in a house as big as mine, smile a bit more.
You have to find out how the pay cycle works at your outfit. Demanding more money two weeks after the decisions have been made just annoys your boss and since you don’t quit because you don’t get the money he can’t give you, this gravely reduces his fear that you might quit.
Visible Productivity 2.0
How do people know if what you’ve achieved is great? Even if you work for Capita, you occasionally actually finish something useful so you must let people know. The logic is simple: if you invite a bunch of people for a quick beer to celebrate the completion of the data ingest module, then it must be good. The fact that it’s a VBA macro to import CSV files into Excel is not the issue, the message is that it’s working great. Each victory over the formless hell of Oracle is worthy of you picking up a box of chocolates from the supermarket and sharing them with people passing your desk. The £10 cost pays back very well as you build up an aura as “someone who gets things done”.
Finally, an Industry Standard Lie
“You’ll be taken care of,” when the next pay round comes along. It’s not provably wrong. In one large firm this year, every single IT headcount got exactly the same percentage pay rise. Note the word “headcount”; employees were cells on the spreadsheet of an accountant, the kind of person who so admires techies. Maybe a few thousand people performed exactly as well as each other, but realistically there are two lies here.
I flatly refuse to believe they all got the same raise – even though I was told this in good faith. I believe that people whom they really wanted to keep got more money and knew to keep it quiet. Try applying what I’ve shared here; the test for success is being sworn to secrecy. ®
Dominic Connor is a City headhunter at QF Search with a sideline in teaching C++ to bankers.