Don’t Jump the Gun – Pay your Programmers $200?

Programming is not easy, nor is it free. But does increasing the price you pay essentially increase the quality of the programmer you get?

In a post in a developer blog, I wrote a quite verbose reply on post advocating a $200 per hour salary for programmers.

Programmers are amazing. The mastery of such languages that programmers use to create tools and environments is undoubtedly not a common skill. I know this considering I spent at least four years finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science (sleepless nights, coffee and the search for the syntax error caused by an invisible space). However, looking at the psychology of the situation, there are a lot of repercussions if most organizations offer such amounts to all programmers as a matter of policy.

A serious argument against the blog post is that increasing pay does not correlate to attracting the correct programmer. I see this as a state of wishful thinking in the part of the employer to assume that the best candidate is receiving the enormous salary. In fact, if ‘Grade B’ programmers apply to your job offer, then you are certain that you are not getting your offer’s worth. But of course, there is uncertainty on who will take the offer. The obvious protocol for programmers or any other employee still holds — give salaries based on experience, performance, technicality of the job and your budget.

On a different note, increasing pay, especially to unreasonable amounts, can actually cause the employee (the programmer) to be less intrinsically motivated by the profession. Unless you are a company who consider good programmers expendable, then the sudden salary increase can raise the issue of loyalty of programmers, not to the organization, but for the job. It undermines the credibility of the programmer — are they passionate about what they do, or are they all just there for the money?

The most loyal employees will be the people who need the job — usually the employees with less pay (gratitude for having a job can go a long way). Also, the misnomer that ‘money makes the world go round’ and that cash will translate into loyalty does not take into consideration other aspects of a job like the social environment, the surperior’s leadership style and company ethics. These other aspects can attract able, but cheaper talent or can turn-off even the most capable programmer.

Also, the claim “for the employer, trust is less of a problem when you pay a high rate on contract” is very naive. People will steal when they want to steal and increasing the pay rate does not guarantee that either party will fulfill the contract. This is the reason companies still keep a contract after all — there is no such thing as inherent trust. Also the claim that it is harder to justify firing a lower paid individuals speaks for poor management skills to decide the true value of an employee. The fact that the author does not even consider that large-figure contracts will not meet such problems is foolish.

If an organization wants optimal resource allocation, one should be smart to allocate resources based on the needs of the company. For most, it will be daft to pay programmers 200 per hour, because doing so would compromise other company needs.

For instance, the author does not even consider having an effective marketing/PR campaign (I think Avenger controllers figured how that went for them…), developing robust hiring practice, or expanding with more projects to allocate more money. In the context of the App and game industry, projects are a hit or miss. A stable organization would rather have several simultaneous projects going on (with several OK programmers) rather than having one awesome programmer (and one project).

Finally, extreme pay scales for one type of job will cause chaos in the workplace. One could imagine a lead artist, in an art heavy project, upon knowing what the team is paying for programmers, ask for a raise while threatening

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to leave? I know that the author thinks his job is worth 200 dollars an hour, but do others perceive so? The author has to consider that a socio-political environment in the workplace will still play a role, and an extreme point of view, such as the one presented, might actually have deeper repercussions than one might think.


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