In the general interest of pay transparency, here’s a table showing how much I made at Apple (a Big Company that’s nonetheless not known for particularly high compensation in the tech industry), vs Signal (a nonprofit that nonetheless understands that it has to be in Tech Salary Range to be competitive).

(Why “#TalkPay”? It’s a Twitter hashtag that seems to have originally come from 2013’s conversation around the gender wage gap…but I first heard it in the context of openly sharing your name, location, role, and salary, so that others in similar positions could check if they were being paid a fair amount. Lauren Voswinkel, who put out the original call for action in 2015, has a good rundown.)

Year Base Salary W-2 Gross W-2 Post-tax Event
2012 $105,000 1 1 Joined Apple
2013 $115,0002 $137,000 $90,000 First full year at Apple
2018 $185,0003 $400,000 $270,000 Last full year at Apple
2021 $160,000 $266,000 $200,000 First full year at Signal

Some notes:

  • I live in the SF Bay Area, known for its high cost of living that’s absolutely derived from the tech industry and its compensation for software developers. (More on that below.)

  • Before joining Apple, I had interned there multiple times, making me less of an unknown hire. I don’t know if that meant I got hired in at a higher level or not. I also negotiated up to $105,000 (from, I believe, $95,000) by mentioning that I had another offer as well (not a lie); that one back-and-forth was all I had energy for as a kid, but consider doing more if you can.

  • Some of Apple’s compensation was in the form of stock. Apple stock hasn’t always gone up, and I haven’t held on to it the entire time, but it is much higher now than it was in 2012, or even, say, 2016. Selling the stock counts as additional income, though, based on the amount it’s gone up since you bought it, so I actually have both higher income (and higher taxes) than these numbers show.

    There’s also two ways in which stock can be compensation: grants/“RSUs” that the company gives you as a bonus, and the “Employee Stock Purchase Plan”, where you trade some of your salary for discounted stock (which you can then sell for full price). Both of those get factored into the W-2 before-tax number and the automatic withholdings.

    As a nonprofit, Signal doesn’t have stock, but leadership has decided that that can translate to higher bonuses, though the exact bonus structure has varied from quarter to quarter.

    Bonuses can be a lot of your income depending on how the company is feeling.

  • I also haven’t adjusted these numbers for inflation. 2012’s $105,000 is apparently about $135,000 now.

  • How can I talk about “years of experience”? I’ve been programming since I was five, wrote freeware apps as a teenager, and, as noted above, interned at Apple multiple times while at college. But I say I worked seven years at Apple, and that I have about ten years of “industry experience”. And of course all this is tied up in privilege.

From a market perspective, I’m probably “underpaid”, in that I could go somewhere else and use my same skills for more money (though likely on less ethical projects). This is the same perspective that says baseball players deserve million-dollar salaries, because the company gets more than a million dollars from owning a successful team with star players. But from a more “labor” perspective…well. Rather than focus on software developers being overpaid in general, I’ll say that plenty of other fields are underpaid. Minimum wage should be above $15 by now to follow inflation, and many, many jobs that are above minimum wage should earn far more money than they do, whether it’s nurses or teachers or pretty much anything. There are a lot of economic problems in this country, but not valuing and fairly compensating work that’s critical to the functioning of society—“essential workers”, if you will—is definitely up there.

So in conclusion, while you should definitely negotiate your offers…fellow software developers, especially those who are white men like me, I expect you to be donating a portion of your salaries to charity and/or mutual aid funds, to be tipping well at restaurants regardless of what service you get, to support unions and strikes, and to not complain about the cost of living when the people all around us are living paycheck to paycheck…and maybe even work for a future where that’s no longer true.

  1. I joined in the middle of the year, so the number that shows up on my taxes for these years isn’t accurate. ↩︎ ↩︎2

  2. Looking at the files I kept from Apple, I got two raises this year, so the salary at the start was $105,000 and at the end was $125,000. (Your base salary is only an important number for negotiation purposes; the IRS doesn’t care, and so I didn’t pay close attention.) I don’t think the double raise was usual; I think it was at least partly making up for my initial hire date being right after a performance review, and my manager looking out for me. ↩︎

  3. I’m not 100% sure when this raise happened; it may have been well into 2018 already. But I don’t think I got any further raises, only bonuses, before leaving in 2019. ↩︎