When most people think of software engineering, they think of someone who lives a glamorous life with a bottomless pile of cash that allows them to do whatever they want. Although you can be extremely rich as a software engineer, that certainly is not always the case. If you are wondering how to become a rich software engineer, then this article is critical to understanding the things you need to do to truly be financially successful.
When I wrote my article on whether or not the average software engineer is rich, I realized that there are a few key differences that changed a software developer’s overall income. This includes variables such as location, experience, job title, and total income streams.
In this article, I want to outline some of the most critical factors to becoming financially successful as a software engineer despite these differences and a few pitfalls to be aware of to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes most do when working in the industry.
Knowing how to become rich as a programmer starts with shifting your perspective to what is possible and opening your own opportunities.
In this article, we are going to assume you know the basics of financial sustainability. I am not going to mention that you should be saving more than you spend and investing your money. That should be obvious. If you want to have money, you need to save money.
Instead, I am going to focus on the types of things you should be thinking about and career changes you should be making in order to make the money you are worth and increase your total income.
With that said, let’s begin!
1. Know Your Worth, Get A Proper Salary
This is the most important item on this list because it’s the fastest way to make more money. If you are getting underpaid, it’s time to face reality and find a job where you can make more.
In my job search, there were way too many employers looking for a web developer with high qualifications willing to work for terrible salaries. Alternatively, there are tons of companies out there willing to pay big money, with benefits and great work culture in trade for your experience.
Make sure you are working for the latter.
If you know how to code, you are incredibly valuable to a company. Read that sentence again. If your current employer doesn’t see that, it’s time to move on.
Check out this indeed salary finder and see what the average developer is getting paid in your area. Determine what you are worth and find a job that’s willing to compensate you that amount.
Raise Your Wage Within Your Job
Not ready to jump ship? I know there are a lot of people out there that love their job. So alternatively you can always ask your employer for a raise. That being said, I don’t think this is a great solution if you want more money.
I found out the hard way that this is often a nickel and dime game that is not going to work out in your favor. If you are trying to get a raise for $10,000+, you are probably not going to get it from your employer. At this point, you need to decide if the pay raise is worth the switch or not.
Switching jobs and asking for raises can be pretty intimidating for people. Most things in life worth doing usually are.
I have seen too many people stick around the same subpar job for years just because it was convenient. Only to realize years later that their lives could have been much better if they had just taken the leap earlier in their career. This doesn’t just apply to software developers either! If you’re not happy with your job, start figuring out the steps to fix that.
Don’t wait too long to switch jobs. The temporary discomfort is worth the benefits if you aren’t getting what you need out of your work.
Note For Developers In Developing Countries
If you are currently working in a developing country, it could be really beneficial to try and find a contract job in a developed country. Especially if you work on the same time schedule. For example, this becomes a lot easier for a developer working in South America than in India to work in the U.S.
This is especially realistic with the new global remote work environment that has become ingrained within society since the 2020 pandemic. The U.S. is going to pay a lot more than any other country in the world. So try to get a job there if possible!
2. Think Like An Entrepreneur Not Just A Software Engineer
What do Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? Yes, they are all software engineer billionaires, but more importantly, they are entrepreneurs.
It’s easier to make money as an Entrepreneur than you think.
As software developers, we all have key skills that most do not. For starters, we can create literally anything we want with a computer. While most people get hung up on the idea of hiring an expensive software developer (sorry, not sorry), we have the ability to build elaborate and interesting systems on an extremely small budget.
Software engineers are also, usually, extremely good researchers and are able to figure out creative solutions to difficult problems. Putting us at an incredible advantage to build a product and sell it.
So if you want to become rich as a software engineer then start working on side projects. If you want some ideas to get you started, check out this article on making passive income programming.
Please, Don’t Just Build Software Expecting To Sell It
Now, I should make an important caveat. Don’t just start building software and try to sell it after.
As I am sure most readers know, building software is extremely time-consuming. If you don’t have a niche to sell to and are building software on a hunch that people will buy it later, it’s probably not going to happen. Find a problem that needs to be addressed, make sure it exists for a group of people, and fix it.
A Real Life Example
I knew a developer while traveling South America that was building a program to track cars at traffic lights and check their license plate. The idea was to build the software and eventually sell it to the U.S. government.
Hopefully, you saw a ton of red flags with this little story. The U.S. government? How would you even contact them about this? Surely, something like this already exists? Have you even done your research??
The project was cool and somewhat complex, don’t get me wrong. However, this is a common example of a developer getting way too excited about a project, jumping into it, and later realizing that it’s not a feasible way to make money.
When I checked back with him, he had abandoned the project.
I’ve done this many times too and have my own collection of overly ambitious, half-finished projects that never saw the light of day.
If you do go down this path, make a plan and test it to see if it’s something your audience would even want. Is it even feasible to build this project in a realistic amount of time? How would you reach your audience? etc. etc.
I am not going to go into how to build a viable product, there are tons of good resources online that will go much more in-depth. The important part is understanding it’s an option for you and can be incredibly lucrative if you find the right project.
For a good further reading resource, check out: INSPIRED: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love.
3. Value Your Time & Automate Everything
If you want to become rich as a programmer, you need to start valuing your time!
I get it, sometimes you just want to work on a project for the sake of learning something new. You know whats better than learning for the sake of learning? Learning by building something that will also actually benefit you.
Even Linus Torvald, the creator of the Linux kernel, has stated that he has never built something he didn’t need.
Building software that both saves you time and improves your skills is something we should all strive to do. Who knows, maybe it will even give you a new business idea!
I love automating my tasks. Back when I mainly did freelance work, I had created a bash script that would set up all of my new client documents for me so that I didn’t have to do anything manually.
I also found I was spending too much time on dating apps, so I built a bot that would swipe for me on tinder. Not only a great use of time but a great conversation starter at parties. The gift that keeps on giving.
More recently, I found myself frequently checking my google analytics and AdSense earnings for thecodebytes so I created a node application to pull the information I needed from the google api and delivery a report to my mailbox daily. I learned a lot from the process and built something useful.
If you are new to automating tasks and don’t know where to start, I recommend checking out Automate The Boring Stuff With Python: Practical Programming For Total Beginners.
It should give you a very solid basis to start building some really cool automation scripts!
4. Ask For What You Want & Don’t Limit Yourself To Software Development
I know we all became software developers because we love it. At the heart of software development, it is really just an ability and desire to learn, create and solve problems.
Start thinking outside of the box about what you can do and where your career can take you. Ultimately, you are the person in control of where you go.
Let me tell you one last story.
At my current job, we are a close-knit group and the company was having a hard time managing its digital marketing endeavors.
I noticed this as a problem and wanted to learn more about digital marketing. Not to mention I have a B.Comm. in Marketing Management and hadn’t really used it yet. So I went to my manager and told him I wanted to spend some hours part-time to help the sales team.
At the time of writing this, it has been 6 months that I have been helping out and improving their digital marketing. The result is that I learned a new skill, helped make them hundreds of thousands of dollars, drastically increased site traffic and leads, and now make a commission on top of my salary.
Why am I telling you this? It’s not to brag. I am still early in my career and have lots to learn. However, if I never identified that problem and offered to help solve it I would have never been put on the project.
I could now put in my two weeks at my current role, get another developer job and continue doing digital marketing part-time as an additional income stream.
I would never have had that opportunity if I did not ask for it myself.
If you want to be more challenged at work, switch to another area of development, work remote, be put on a new project, or whatever, you need to ask for it.
If your employers are unwilling to give it to you, then you need to look elsewhere or find another solution. Assuming you have good employers, they will do what they can to support you.
So that’s how to become rich as a programmer!
First, find a job that’s willing to pay you what you’re worth. Don’t get stuck working at a job that’s grossly underpaying you and, if needed, teach yourself the skills you need to get promoted to a better job.
Second, continuously look for entrepreneurial opportunities, especially if the opportunities can help you better your development skills. As software developers, we have a lot more opportunities to build products for cheap than most do. Creating side income streams is important to significantly boost your income!
Third, start finding ways to automate the tasks in your life that take too much time. It’s a great way to improve your skills and free up more time for your software side projects.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. If your employer refuses then look for a job or opportunity that will give you what you need.
Becoming rich as a software engineer is incredibly hard work. However, it’s easier than most professions and is totally doable. Being a software engineer opens a world of opportunities that most people simply do not have. You should feel lucky to have this opportunity!
If you are new to web development and want to know all the skills to become a web developer, check out this resource.