Underpaid Developers: Is There a Solution?

by Noc Team on November 17, 2010

Here’s a scenario: My grandfather claims that he is an excellent cook. We don’t really have any chefs around for testing, and there is no cooking license anywhere in the world. This makes him lucky, because he is a terrible cook. I always felt as if I was in a mortal danger with the kind of food he cooked and the way we had to gulp it down our throats.  The elders would make an excuse and disappear. And yet, my grandfather considered himself the best chef of the world.

I always thought why? Did he ever taste the food he cooked?

Similarly, in the professional world we come across many developers who consider themselves excellent in their work.  But in reality they don’t really know where exactly they go wrong.

“I have been working for the same company from the past ten years. I am over worked, exhausted and underpaid. What should be my next step?” an XYZ developer.

With ten years of experience this particular developer should have been flying high in terms of salary and position. Instead of asking for advice, he would have been offered excellent salary and excellent position. But being stuck at one particular position and at the same company, there must be problem somewhere there.

There are many IT professionals especially developers and programmers, who claim that they have excellent technical skills but are underpaid in IT Industry. Search for one and there will be thousands out there complaining.  Just sitting at a café during lunch hours one can easily come across many.

You must be thinking what exactly has this situation to do with my grandfather being a terrible cook.

I am not claiming that all the developers are appalling at their work; I am also not suggesting that they are underpaid. I am also not persisting that they are unskilled. But there are many factors which are involved in considering why developers are underpaid and why others lack skills. Like my grandfather, they are unskilled but they don’t realize it, neither do they wish to acknowledge it.

We often come across people who claim to have excellent skills but they always end up providing terrible results, horrific management abilities due to which they are always way past deadlines. They force their incompetency all around and make people believe that they are the best out there. No matter which field they belong to, at the end of the day there is always a difference between a competent and an incompetent person.

I am sure that none of you are aware of Justin Kruger and David Dunning. No, neither do they belong to any of the above category, nor do they claim to be underpaid developers.  But yes, they do explain why people continue to consider themselves as experts in their fields when they are not.

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While browsing through the internet, an article popped out explaining the term ‘unconsciously incompetent’.  According to Maslow, there are four stages of learning:

  • Unconsciously Unskilled: The individual neither understands nor knows how to do something, nor recognizes the deficit, nor has a desire to address it.
  • Consciously Unskilled: Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, without yet addressing it.
  • Consciously Skilled: The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires a great deal of consciousness or concentration.
  • Consciously Unskilled: The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it becomes “second nature” and can be performed easily (often without concentrating too deeply). He or she may or may not be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

Confused? But this might help you in understanding why many developers consider themselves as the best out there when they are not. Why they constantly talk about being underpaid. The problem lies with the fact that they don’t even realize how unskilled they are. So here is a self assessment test for yourself if you are still stuck at one point.

Consider this: My grandfather never asked anyone’s opinion on his cooking. The underpaid developers never tried to asses him due to under confidence, and yet constantly complained of being underpaid. So here is the solution,

  • Ask someone to assess your work

People love to criticize. At one point you will not have to ask anyone to do it for you. As a result of this criticism, either you will pass or fail. Worst case scenario, you will come to know about your short comings and then can begin a productive plan for yourself.

  • Apply and show up for a job interview

The questions asked and the answers given will help you in opening the right kind of doors for you. You will be able to decipher what you have, and where you lack.

  • Ask your boss for a pay rise

If you are really confident of your abilities and your expertise, ask your boss for a pay rise. If he refuses, then you will know there is a problem. But if he comes up with a large sum of bonus, well what can I say, you definitely were underpaid.

  • You’re a developer, so why do you work for someone else?

If you are still underpaid, then leave your job. Go for self-employment, whether you succeed in it or not, at least you will know where you stand, and you might be able to refute Dunning and Kruger.

  • Or just keep guessing that you are the best cook out there…

If you still think that there you are underpaid and refuse to find a solution then there is a problem which I cannot possibly help you with. If there is a problem, be ready to confront it. Because this fast moving world of innovation has no reason to wait for anyone.

By Sara Waqar Khan

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Umair November 19, 2010 at 6:09 AM

Intresting article,

and i mus say .. very enlightening.. i will not divulge what category i belong to but reading this was an interesting insight into my own career and my own work behavior, management skills as well as my shortcomings not to mention my strengths and …. hmmm areas of improvement .. shall we call it. :)

i do agree that a lot of people out there are under skilled and consider themselves skilled. i know for certain that people hate to be judged by others specially when there are no SET STANDARDS in the profession such unlike those that require licensing. but then again wouldn’t certifications help in assessing one’s skills as a programmer and then again MCAD,MCDBA or CCNA isn’t your industry standard.

and i completely agree with your argumnent
no point here.. just trying to get a discussion started…

Kashif Bashir Bhatti November 22, 2010 at 9:56 AM

I thought the same that i am underpaid and then left my job and started self-employment 3 years back, still i am not succeeded to get some good money but now i am very satisfied with my pay and work etc.

SayB November 22, 2010 at 4:11 PM

ah ! … first I set out to write a comment, then it was turning into a blog post … so here is the post inspired by your article :)


Faisal Mq. November 24, 2010 at 3:47 PM

Well, I do agree with much of the content in this post.
I have around 3 to 4 years of experience in software development (not mentioning here just for boasting about myself). I have seen people claiming that they “work” in IT as so called developers. But reality is that they are literally making a fool of themselves only.

They believe or make believe that they are programmers when in fact they are not.
Learning just a programming course from some institute and/or doing some degree from a good college/university does not only prove to be a guarantee being a professional programmer/developer.
In my own opinion, this is a constant cognitive process, a process of ever-changing and dynamic learning, most part of which comes from self learning, not just spending sometime during your office hours but more in your spare hours at your home.

If you do not consider yourself sparing sometime at least on your weekends to study something different, not having the desire to show some interest for new techs/concepts, not enjoying your work/field, then sorry a bit harsh to say, such people are impotent in the world of programming. They are just wanderers.

I wonder why cannot people show some passion on technology that’s immensely and freely available out there on internet, be that in the form of blogs, free/open source software, books, forum discussions on development problems. In reality we should be thankful to the people (be they of any culture/country) who are devoting their precious time on these freely available technologies/concepts relentlessly.

Worst of all, I see people literally just dying to get some management position by IT firms so that they can sit happily around and have the full freedom enjoying Youtube/Facebook unrestrictedly during their office hours.
I see people spreading false misconception “programming can be done only till age of 35”, absolute bull shit!
Man, this is just a world of passion and interest. It demands constant innovation, devotion and most of all self exploration.

I hate to say most people are just running after money and nothing else. They do not realize what they are missing, when its just in some clicks reach.

I pray we all be that passionate and sincere with our profession and its actual requirements that we often overlook.

Faisal Mq. November 24, 2010 at 3:55 PM

By the way, my above comment is in fact more in response of Mr. SayB’s post.


Umair November 24, 2010 at 8:28 PM

SayB you gave me a really goood idea :) …
my blog :) with tones of posts still pending to be published :) .. need another new post :D

do check it out though .. :D


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