How to make a 6-figure tech salary in London before you're 30
Here is a job offer I received recently.
Replacementr is an early stage tech startup. The CEO is looking for a true partner that can scale the tech side of the business. The engineering team is currently 4 and needs to be 3x/4x that in the next 18 months.
The company is based in Old Street, London.
Salary negotiable (£110k-£125k), options available and other perks.
I’m not going to reply to this offer. In fact, it went straight into spam.
Why would I do that?
And why are recruiters reaching out to me with job offers that most people would give their right arm for?
Well, this is pretty typical of the kind of recuitment message I get these days. Usually I see a handful just like it every single week.
But I have no reason to respond.
My current gig pays well and offers the brilliant combination of wonderful people, good work/life balance and an inspiring mission. It would be hard to beat, frankly.
In order for me to jump ship, an offer would have to come with a substantial lifestyle upgrade such as:
- At least 150% bump in salary
- A chance to build other scalable skills on the job e.g. sales, marketing that can be rolled into a future side business
- A chance to work with top-of-class peers/mentors (no, your average enthusiastic startup peon is not at this level)
- A chance to break into a new industry that offers a substantially higher pay ceiling (no, your average early-stage B2C startup is not one of these)
Now, you might be thinking I’m saying all this to try and impress you. Not so.
I’m saying it to impress upon you that… it’s actually not difficult to make a £100k+ in London these days. AT ALL.
In fact, it’s laughably easy. Practically anyone with their brain screwed on straight can do it. You don’t even really need to be that smart (I’m not that smart and I managed it).
What’s more, you don’t need a university degree or connections. I built my career from scratch and so can anyone else who is motivated.
NOTE: This is not a blog post on how to make “real” money.
“Real” money (£500k/yr+) is much more difficult, at least in the UK, and unless you’re already in finance it almost certainly requires starting your own business. Let’s circle back to that one another time.
But £100k+ is easy.
Here’s how to do it.
Get a scalable skill, preferably in tech. We’ve talked about this before. Examples are:
- Software developer
- UI/UX designer
- Product manager
- Marketing funnel builder
- Paid social media buyer
Whichever one you pick will depend on your natural talents. Naturally visually inclined and got an eye for design? Go UI/UX route.
Good at strategy, synthesis and communication? Product manager.
Good at maths, logical analysis and systems? Software developer.
You should have a pretty clear idea which one you’re good at. If not, think back to when you were 12. What were you interested in? What did you spend your time doing?
I enjoyed computers, reading, writing, and building working toys like R/C boats and model aircraft. So software was a natural choice for me.
Grind on your skill for 2-3 years. You literally need to be doing nothing other than focusing on getting better at your craft. Become completely obsessed with it. Spend 14 hour days working on it. Go to conferences. Read books. Watch YouTube videos from thought leaders in your industry.
In any realm of endeavor there is a mountain of bullshit and a small pile of gold. Your job is to sift through all the bullshit and find the gold.
This takes a lot of hard graft. There is absolutely no way around this step. You cannot go under it. You cannot go over it. You must go through it, so you might as well get the grind over with as quickly as possible.
As they say, if you’re going through hell, better keep on going.
Once you become competent, you’ll start spotting areas that have potential. Niche down into these areas and become expert in them.
Find a small corner of the industry that you can dominate.
In hindsight, I actually spent longer on this step than I needed to.
I spent about 4-5 years here, although I usually use a bit of creativity to inflate that to a barely plausible 8 years on my CV (this is only necessary to penetrate the shields of crusty HR departments - other techies won’t give a hoot how many years of experience you have as long as you can do the job).
I could have done it in 3 if I’d been more efficient.
You can get past this stage in 3 years (2 if you’re really smart and work really hard). After that your graft will be over and then you can coast.
Understand the basics of human psychology.
This is an absolute hard requirement to break 6-figures a year.
Most techies will spend thousands of hours learning the intricacies of how to program a machine and refuse to spend even one hour learning how to program people.
This is a HUGE mistake.
Often it is done is out of naivete (“but my work speaks for itself!”) or low self-esteem (“well I don’t really need any more money…”).
Sorry, punk, but the world doesn’t work that way.
You cannot expect to beaver away in silence and hope that someone will recognise your good work and reward you for it. Ain’t gonna happen, not in a million years.
You need to learn how to step up and communicate to people why your work is great and why you deserve to get paid for it, otherwise you will not make it very far no matter how technically brilliant you are.
I’ll repeat it again because it’s so important.
You MUST learn at least the very basics of sales and persuasion to ever break the £100k barrier.
I recommend the following books for software developers to learn the basics of sales and persuasion:
- “Getting to yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury
- “Never split the difference” by Chris Voss
- “Influence” by Robert Cialdini
- “How I raised myself from failure to success in selling” by Frank Bettger
- “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie (oldie but a goodie)
You don’t have to read all these books but each one you do read will add several thousand pounds onto your yearly paycheck (no joke).
Most techies who read this post won’t even buy one of these books.
This is sad. But that’s also your competition. You’ll breeze past them if you actually do this step.
Get known. This is optional if you already have personal connections. Most people don’t.
This means giving conference talks, writing blog articles, publishing open source libraries, posting videos… whatever you have to do to get your name out there in front of the kind of people that are going to be looking for your kind of skills.
Here are some concrete examples so you can see what I mean:
Example 1: Landing a consulting gig from a conference talk
I gave a talk at CodeSync London in 2018 on using GraphQL in Elixir.
8 months later I was introduced to a company through a mutual friend. Turned out the Head of Product and a couple of devs from the company had watched my talk and been impressed by it. A couple of informal conversations later and I had a job.
No tech tests. No HR screening. Fast track straight to a consulting gig.
You can research conferences happening around your niche and register to talk at them. It doesn’t cost anything.
I cut my teeth doing talks at local meetups, which are a much smaller and more forgiving audience. You can build your public speaking skills this way so when it comes time to speak in front of a large crowd, you’ll be prepared.
Honestly, if you’re a software developer and you are half-decent at public speaking, you will literally never be out of work.
Employers will be so impressed that you have basic social skills AND you can code that they’ll be falling over themselves to hire you. The bar really is that low.
Example 2: Landing a 6-fig remote working contract from an open source contribution
In 2015 I was working on a project that had a problem with concurrent migrations failing.
It turned out to be a bug in Rails, so I dived into the Rails source, wrote a fix and got it merged upstream.
Shortly after, I was in the market for a new job.
I spoke to a few companies and one of the things I mentioned was this open source work I had done recently.
One company in particular (a well-known data provider) was so impressed that they flew me out to L.A. on the company’s dime for a round of interviews.
The interviews were a breeze, because all they wanted to talk about was the migrations bug I fixed in Rails!
I got the job despite the fact I was the only fully remote member and I knew nothing about the company’s business model or distributed systems at the time.
The job was fully remote and paid upwards of $10k a month.
Example 3: landing a senior fully remote gig through conference talk connections
Recently he started a new, fully remote job in a senior position at a US-based company. Last I heard he was billing them over $1,000 per day.
He got this job… you guessed it! From a friend who he met at an afterparty of a conference several years back.
So I hope I’ve convinced you; publicly visible talks and work pays dividends.
Again, most techies reading this will not apply this advice. Here are some common excuses I’ve heard:
“I’m not expert enough to give talks”
Anyone can give a talk - you don’t have to be an expert. If you’re still learning, then talk about how you learned something!
If people wanted dry technical material they’d go to the online documentation. They came to a conference to be entertained.
Make your talk at least marginally entertaining and nobody will notice if there are technical mistakes.
“But I’m introverted and I’m scared of giving conference talks!”
Great! Since you’re introverted, you’ll have plenty of time by yourself to work on your open source portfolio.
“I work a 9-5 and don’t have time to do open source”
Try watching less Netflix.
“My employer has me working 100 hour weeks so I really don’t have time to do open source”
OK. I would encourage you to ask yourself: is this really the most intelligent use of your time?
Be smart. Apply your efforts intelligently. Does burying your head and doubling down on your day work truly bring a comensurate reward?
Or would that time and energy be better spent on promoting yourself instead of making your employer richer?
But it shouldn’t work like that!
You have to play the game as it is, not how you wish it would be.
Talk about work you did in step 2.
Get introduced through mutual contacts you made in step 4.
Skip all the usual HR bullshit.
Get hired for a senior/management position and do some basic negotiation using techniques you learned in step 3.
You’ll clear £100k easily.
That’s it! £0-100k in three years.
100% doable in the London tech scene.