6 Unexpected Mistakes That Keep Developers from Getting a Raise

Getting a raise

Good performance is never enough.

Imagine working hard. You have an “above average” track record. You’ve never heard complaints — you even won the coveted “best employee” award last month.

So, your company decides to reward you by…

Demoting you.

Sounds bizarre and untrue, doesn’t it? Who’d be thick enough to punish an employee for doing a great job?

Doing a Great Job Isn’t Enough

AntarcticGorillas, a StackExchange user, shared the story above. He was genuinely frustrated because he did everything he was supposed to do, but ended up getting demoted instead.

Another StackExchange user dishes out some advice.

“Wow sounds like you failed to play the office politics game effectively. Good performance is never enough. You don’t play the game and you lose, 100% of the time if you are in management.”

He takes his bad advice even further.

“Ok now you have to salvage what is left. First, and I know you are going to hate this one, you have to make friends with your new boss. You have to get him to mentor you. You have to help him and not show your resentment. Yeah I know you resent him, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. But this is the time to take the high road. This guy clearly has the office politics down pat, you need to learn from him.”

His advice is partially true. Good performance isn’t enough. It’s the baseline.

His advice to lie and manipulate? That stinks. But it isn’t the worst part. It’s the belief behind it.

I’m a _ Worker, I Deserve a Raise

As employees, we have the tendency to think we “deserve” it.

Developers do a great job. Most of us do everything we’re supposed to do. Still, many are disappointed with the money they’re making.

We know that many employers do their best to underpay. They walk a fine line, giving just enough to keep us on board, without affecting the profit margins they want.

It seems like your boss takes advantage of you.

You’re working your hands to the bone. You’re doing everything you’re asked to do and more. When your company’s in a bind, you deliver. Last minute updates? You get things done. Issues with scope creep? You handle it masterfully.

When you don’t get the raise you deserve, it feels like an insult.

More often than not, the issue has less to do with your work performance and more to do with the intangible details. Behaviors and counterproductive decisions that alienate allies, partners and opportunities. These mistakes make it harder to get the raise we’re hoping for.

Social conditioning leads many to ignore this stuff. “Ugh! Soft skills,” you might say. But these unexpected, common mistakes impact raises every day.

Mistake #1: What I Deserve vs What I Want

There’s a growing problem that’s slowly eroding good will in the developer community.


Open source entitlement is a great example. It goes like this:

  1. Developer needs code to solve a problem
  2. Developer finds open source code. It solves the problem
  3. Code creates problems
  4. Developer becomes angry, demands authors fix now. (For free!)

It’s an oversimplification but it conveys the point. These open source authors aren’t at our beck and call. It’s a terrible idea to demand extensive tech support, then write angry letters when we don’t get our way.

Mattias Petter Johansson over at FunFunFunction dives deeper into “developer entitlement.”

When we feel entitled, we overestimate our abilities and our contributions. We swallow the lie our ego feeds us. “You deserve this. You’re a senior developer after all.” Developers with this mindset are bargaining on the wrong side of the tracks.

Here’s how your boss thinks about raises.

“Holy crap, this is the guy that 10x’d our leads and sales in 18 months. The app he developed turned things around for us. We’re going to need to spend more if we want to keep this guy.”

See the difference?

They’re not operating from an entitled mindset. They’re approaching your raise from a transactional mindset, namely…

What am I getting for my money?

We’re not entitled to a raise. We’re not entitled to a promotion. Yet developers continue to approach salaries and promotions from an entitled mindset. I did a good job this year so, you “owe me.”

They usually make their approach like this.

Which is the part where managers give their blunt and unsatisfying answer.


Mistake #2: Being Right vs Being Respectful

Justin Keller, entrepreneur, developer and founder of San Francisco startup Commando.io wrote an open letter to the mayor. He was upset about the homeless in his community.

He didn’t want to see them on his way to work.

“The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day. I want my parents when they visit to have a great experience, and enjoy this special place.”

Maybe he didn’t mean to convey feelings of contempt and condescension. But, his words were still hurtful and disrespectful.

He had a point.

No one wants to live in a neighborhood filled with homeless people. Homeless people don’t want to live the way they do. We’re human, it’s normal to dislike these things.

Those who can avoid it, do so. Those who can’t, endure it.

The general thrust of his argument is this: He doesn’t want to deal with the problems that homeless people bring. Okay. But that’s not really the problem here.

It’s the othering of a group or type of people he views as beneath him.

That’s the problem.

Developers struggle with the very same issue. As a developer, you’re typically sure about your views. You’re logical and precise. You’re right and you know it, which is part of the problem.

You have a choice to make.

  • Be right. You can show everyone that you are, in fact, correct. That your way is right. This comes at a steep price if it’s handled poorly.
  • Protect the relationship. You can treat others with respect, avoid humiliating them and allow them to save face when they’re wrong.

Developers who focus on being “right” tend to be disrespectful. They burn allies and earn enemies.

Developers who focus on relationships first, discover their influence grows with those around them. They’re viewed as trustworthy, and more people listen when they have something to say. Being right is easy when everyone values your feedback.

Getting that raise or promotion is tough if you’re viewed as a snobby, know-it-all jerk.

Mistake #3: My Career vs My Loyalty

Google has been at the top of Fortune magazine’s list of best companies to work for every year since 2007. The job perks are legendary. For many, a spot at Google is a dream come true.

So why is Google struggling to keep its employees?

A recent report by PayScale states the median employee tenure at Google is a little over one year. Its workforce has grown, but it’s struggling to keep its people.

It’s not because Googlers are unhappy.

84 percent of their 28,500 employees state they have a high level of job satisfaction which, as you’d expect, is one of the highest among the Fortune 500.

Other tech firms aren’t having the same problem. The average tenure at Yahoo! and Microsoft is 2.4 and 4 years respectively.


The problem is loyalty. Loyalty is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

It’s not entirely our fault; We’re given bad advice. The strategy is:”Don’t ask for a raise, get a new job instead.”

It’s a destructive strategy that results in less trust. Employers limit the responsibility they give you because they believe you won’t be here that long anyway…

Work has become this cutthroat environment where we all pretend to look out for the team, when in reality, we’re looking out for ourselves.

If you’re a sophisticated developer, you know.

At many companies, project managers and other developers are all too eager to throw each other under the bus for more money. When an opportunity comes along, these employees will eat each other for the chance to win.

Jumping from job to job only works for so long. Disloyalty catches up with you as your market value drops. There’s no reason an employer should go out of their way to keep a disloyal developer.

Here’s what loyalty looks like to them.

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Source: Sitepoint