Software engineers are so in demand that the mean salary for their role might be attractive enough to most professionals, meaning the centre of the hypothetical Venn diagram could be a comfort zone. For example, specialised sites mention that the annual median salary for software engineers in Germany is €68,000, more than 30% above the country’s average gross salary.
How to earn more money
So, how can software engineers break free from the Venn cross-fade and earn even more for their work?
The answer might be less straightforward than you believe. Even though the most conventional route might involve simply negotiating and bargaining for a raise, there are other ways for software engineers to shake up their bank accounts.
In the end, developing a personal brand and leveraging it to get higher pay might be a very intriguing route. Combined with strategic career decisions like taking on multiple projects or diving into the least-loved languages, you can unlock opportunities to earn a king-sized salary.
So, if you're ready to create a winning personal brand and leverage unconventional strategies to boost your career and earning potential, this article will provide you with the tips and insights you need to succeed in the world of remote software engineering.
1. Establish a personal brand as a remote-first reliable worker
Hollywood and the entertainment industry have certainly cemented the idea that software engineers are shy, surly mavericks — but you can use these preconceptions to your advantage. You can create a personal brand that oozes out the opposite of what software engineers allegedly are. Here’s how.
You must connect with your potential employers and give the impression you’re a reliable, remotely experienced and committed worker. When you communicate over (the ever-declared defunct) e-mail or when you write a cover letter, you need to sound assertive and well-balanced. Don’t let imposter syndrome take over at those times.
Boost your “remote presence” and take care of your video conference game
Your video conference game might be important to get this impression to reach the correct eyes: Employers who’ll meet with you want to see that you are responsible with remote work, have a good setup, are punctual for meetings, and are available within reasonable working hours. So, it might be a good time to invest both in that haircut and in that influencer backlight!
Remotely delivered tasks are a winning move
Highlighting any contracts you fulfilled while working remotely, such as that time you turned in a PDF-converting web application for a client from Hamburg while living in Berlin, can also help, since it distils the impression you’re deadline-driven and can do without water cooler small talk. Furthermore, if you can show how you worked asynchronously and delivered a project for a California-based startup while sweating your brow hours ahead in the European Summer timezone, you’ll start building a strong case.
Remember that these brief stints can be more attractive than just highlighting you know how to work from home because you were forced to dust off and update your Zoom client during the pandemic. Being forced to stay at home and jiggle your mouse is not the same as genuinely working on specific deliverables — and employers know that.
Stop being so withdrawn — at least online.
To develop a brand, you can recur to the ultimate showboating platform of the century: social media. You can build your online presence and establish yourself as an expert in your field by posting engaging content. In any way, according to Forbes, 67% of employers look at candidates' social media profiles before hiring, so make sure your profiles are up-to-date and professional.
70% think companies should screen potential candidates’ social media profiles when considering them for a position
67% already are screening candidates’ social media profiles
57% of employers have found social content that caused them to rule out a candidate
21% of respondents said they would likely rule out a candidate who doesn’t have a social media presence
On the other hand, you don’t need to have a super online profile to leave an impression. Having a tight LinkedIn page with accurate descriptions and a pro-looking headshot is as valuable as regularly posting content.
Mind both parties’ expectations
Moreover, keep track of expectations to protect your time. Many jobs advertised as remote are really remote within the US or EU, so keep that in mind when applying. You’ll most likely won’t upend this (somewhat antiquated) policy, so better go ahead and search for jobs or contracts which don’t take nationality into account.
Respecting the employer’s decision is also part of your brand: If you ever incorrectly assumed you might be able to work remotely only to learn afterwards that not, you can very kindly ask the person on the other side of the screen if they know about genuinely remote jobs you might fit at. If you’re a software engineer looking to get more cash, the power of networking will prove strong.
2. Over employed, or, adding levels of depth to your safety net
The safety net of having a job is cosy and enviable, but it’s still remarkably thin. That’s why, to break out of the median salary and stockpile more of those bills, you might want to consider contract or freelance work. In the end, by forgoing (or complementing — more of that later) the safety net of a company, you tend to earn more by taking on multiple clients and working from project to project.
Glassdoor reports that freelance software engineers usually earn between €40k and €80k a year in Germany. Optimistically, this could mean a 50% increase to your average software engineer salary.
But there’s more to complementing a job than freelance contracts, which are usually considered side gigs. In the last months, with the advent of AI tools, the term “over employed” has ballooned on the internet, with portals even reporting about the exploits of a Subreddit community to earn more cash by stockpiling jobs. Moreover, an old YCombinator forum thread resurfaced in which the user claimed they were holding ten jobs as a software engineer. The post is probably a copypasta meme, but it’s a sign of the times about what software engineers can do if they learn to balance their workload juggling game.
Even though the fastest response is to claim that the ethical and moral grounds command that software engineers hold only one job and don’t moonlight, we should perhaps reflect on the state of remote work and what employers expect from it. Certain Reddit users have claimed that they actually encourage their employees to have multiple jobs. If you ever worked for a company with that mindset, you might consider leaving a review to help out your software engineering peers on their search.
Meanwhile, while deciding on having many full-time jobs, software engineers can combine a full-time job — which involves attending meetings and being ever-present — with smaller-scale freelance projects. Freelancing and contract work can offer increased earning potential compared to traditional full-time positions. It allows you to diversify your income streams and negotiate higher rates. Remember: to stockpile pay cheques, it’s about the stock and flow of your income.
To get started with freelancing, you can create a profile on platforms like Lemon.io or X-teams to find clients and projects. The best way is to tap into your network to find potential clients. Clean up your LinkedIn profile and start reaching out to people. If you've created or worked on a project that could be applied to another company — that's your pitch. If you’re going to hustle, then hustle right.
As you take on freelance projects, remember to maintain a balance between short-term and long-term projects. This will ensure you have a steady income stream while also building a diverse portfolio of work. Moreover, be prepared to manage the business side of freelancing, including handling contracts, invoices, and taxes.
3. Embrace the open-source path 🐧
Open-source software is a great way to gain experience, network, build a portfolio of work, and contribute to a larger community. Many open-source companies are looking for talented people to contribute value — according to the 2021 Open-Source Jobs Report by The Linux Foundation and edX, 99% of companies say open-source software is important to their strategy, and 78% of hiring managers are more likely to hire someone with open-source experience.
Doubling down, 92% of hiring managers report difficulty finding sufficient talent with open-source skills, showing the high and urgent demand for these skills. If you have experience and knowledge of open-source software, it’s your time to shine. And, if you don’t, it's time to start learning.
So, how do you get involved in open source? The first step is to find open-source companies hiring from anywhere globally. A very insightful Twitter user suggested narrowing down your search to open-source companies; you'll find a list of innovative startups built around those values.
Once you've found a few companies that pique your interest, visit their websites and follow through to their GitHub repositories. Take some time to study the code and see if there's anything you can contribute.
But what’s in for anyone following these steps? Is it just prestige? Of course not. A report centred on a tech hub’s wages recently uncovered that almost 40% of companies are willing to pay more to workers focused around open source.
Want more incentives to follow the open-source way? The 2022 Stack Overflow developer survey low-key uncovered that Chef developers are the highest-paid software engineers. In case you forgot, Chef is an open source (yes) systems’ management and cloud infrastructure automation platform. The coolest and most noble path can also be the most rewarding — and we’re talking about being rewarded with money here, folks.
4. Consider equity compensation
When it comes to compensation, salary is not the only thing that matters. Equity compensation, such as stock options or restricted stock units (RSUs), can be a valuable and highly significant addition to your compensation package. While not all companies offer equity compensation, it's worth considering when evaluating job offers.
According to Topstartups.io, a platform that helps employees understand their equity compensation, a US-based startup's average equity compensation for a mid-level engineer is around 1%, which is vested from the get-go, as opposed to RSUs, which are vested piecemeal.
If 1% looks meagre, then head to Wayback Machine and check how much Yahoo! paid for the radio-on-Internet company Broadcast.com before the dot-com bubble went bust. If you still hold 1% of what Broadcast.com was sold for, then don’t access Wayback Machine at all — just buy it.
Considering you might land a job at a company that’s significantly more mature than a startup in shambles, it's also significant to grasp the equity compensation structure of the company you're courting with. How much equity is available, and what percentage of the company does it represent? Is the company snowballing, or is it a more established business?
These are all factors that can impact the value of your equity compensation. Be sure to check out Topstartups.io, a website that lists the world's top startups to work for, all hiring and funded by top investors. The platform allows users to filter the startups by industry, location, and stage, providing information on company valuations, recent funding, and reviews. Moreover, it features a salary and equity data database for thousands of startups, allowing users to see typical startup equity percentages and filter the data by role and location.
Of course, equity compensation comes with risks, too. The value of equity can fluctuate based on various factors, including the company's overall health, market trends, and investor sentiment. It's important to weigh the potential benefits and risks before accepting a job offer with equity compensation.
In addition to equity compensation, there are other ways to increase your overall compensation package. Negotiating a higher salary, for example, or asking for additional benefits such as more vacation time or a flexible work schedule. While you may not be able to collect a six-figure salary, you can increase your earnings through bonds and stocks.
At the end of the day, it's indispensable to consider all aspects of a job offer, including equity compensation, when evaluating potential career moves. Investigating and building relationships with key decision-makers can increase your chances of receiving a compensation package that meets your needs and aligns with your career goals.
5. Embrace the not-so-glamorous programming languages
Moreover, don't shy away from developing expertise in specific tools or technologies that cater to a smaller but dedicated audience. For example, mastering technologies like blockchain, machine learning, or data science can open doors to high-paying gigs — not to mention AI.
Similarly, gaining certifications and training in project management methodologies, such as Agile or Scrum, can make you an attractive candidate for roles that require both technical and managerial skills. By expanding your skills beyond just coding, you demonstrate a well-rounded, adaptable profile that can lead to increased earning potential and better job prospects. If you need additional convincing, certain sites point out that early career Scrum masters can earn around €80,000 per year in the US.
Investing time and effort into mastering multiple programming languages, niche skills, and emerging technologies can significantly enhance your career prospects and set you on the path to a six-figure salary as a software engineer.
6. Slash your overhead costs
No one can escape from death, 404 errors, and taxes. But, in a remote-friendly industry, you can consider slashing your overhead costs of living by relocating to someplace where taxes and other expenditures are less severe. Fortunately, if you live in the DACH region, probably more than 150 countries in the globe meet those conditions, so you have plenty of options for relocating.
Take Thailand. According to data-aggregating websites, rent in Munich is 90.4% pricier than in Bangkok, while overall consumer prices in Munich are 67.6% higher than in the Thai capital city. Similar estimates gauge that any worker spending €5k a month in Munich can get an equally satisfying standard of living for €2,9k in Thailand.
It’s true — none of this is exactly earning more money, but it will prevent your bank account from bleeding out from eating takeout while solving a syntax error. Considering you landed a median salary role in a German company, this move could save you more than 25k a year. Check company reviews to explicitly find out if they’re fine with you moving around the globe — and talk praise about Thai keyboard layouts, which might be friendlier than the French AZERTY arrangement.
7. Switch jobs
It’s an old chestnut that “landing a new job is easier if you have a job,” but the witty truth-sayers forgot about inflation altogether. With price increases slashing net income across many thriving job markets, switching from one job to the other can offer you a solution to improve your pay cheque’s value.
But there’s more than winning against inflation. A report from a specialised site revealed that, in 2023, the average salary increase when changing jobs is 14.8% across any industry in the United States. Likewise, a report from a think tank outlined that nearly one-third of those who switched careers (namely during the pandemic) are now making more than 30% more than they were before.
If you’re going to switch jobs regularly, make sure your resume looks good. AI can help you get there, so make sure you let it scan it before you start sending your CV out.
So, in conclusion…
In conclusion, increasing your salary as a software engineer requires a combination of strategies, including building your personal brand, exploring freelancing opportunities, learning multiple programming languages, obtaining certifications, and being open to relocation and job changes.
As the tech industry continues to grow and evolve, the opportunities for software engineers to increase their salaries are also growing. It's up to you to seize these opportunities and make the most of them — even if they involve cranking out code in AngularJS. So go out there, be persistent, and never stop learning.