Erik Dietrich, the founder of DaedTech LLC, is a programmer, architect, IT management consultant, blogger, and technologist. We had a chance to pick Erik’s brain about the software development field and hear his thoughts on career paths, salary negotiations, and important skills needed to succeed in this industry.
Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to create DaedTech?
My background, starting with college, was pure tech/computer science. I have BS and MS degrees in computer science and went to work immediately as a programmer while doing the graduate degree game via night school. That got me accustomed to moonlighting, in a sense. When I finished grad school and had a sudden glut of free time, I decided to start a programming blog and create a business entity for freelancing.
At the time, I was working on a home automation project that I had nicknamed “Daedalus” (after the Greek mythology character who built flying apparatuses and mazes — it was my habit to name projects after Greek mythology). The name “DaedTech” came from that.
Since you say on your website that you “walked the standard advancement track for a software developer,” could you elaborate on what that track entailed (for people who aren’t familiar with it)?
I graduated from college at the end of 2001, which had me entering the workforce at the worst imaginable time given my education. The dotcom bubble had just burst. It took me a long time to find work, and my first job was as an SQA Engineer or something like that.
From there, I became a software engineer and then followed the standard track of titular promotions, which included having things like “senior” attached to the base title. Eventually, I started to lead efforts and teams in roles that could loosely be described as “team lead” and “architect.”
Finally, I formally went into management, and people were officially reporting to me. The last salaried job that I held was as a tech executive: Chief Information Officer (CIO). I have since gone into business for myself as a solo consultant, writer, and entrepreneur.
With the benefit of hindsight, what type of education or skill do you wish you had learned sooner that would have made your career advancement easier or smoother?
Given where I wound up (and this feels strange to say as a techie), I wish I’d learned earlier about launching and marketing products and services. I wish I could have gotten started a lot earlier on building my own non-salaried income streams.
It’s always tempting to look longingly at different languages, frameworks, or tech skills, but I’ve picked up a lot of those over the years and could pick up more pretty easily. At some point, that starts to suffer diminishing returns from a career standpoint.
If your sole or primary goal were to maximize your income, how would you have altered your career path?
I’d have stayed in the CIO role. A few years of being a CIO at a small company would have reasonably allowed me to interview for CIO positions at moderately-sized companies before the age of 40. It wouldn’t have been a reach to say that, had I done well in those positions, I could have spent my 50s earning a pretty substantial salary as the CIO of a large organization.
If someone were to say to you, “In order to be successful in the software development industry, you have to move to Silicon Valley,” how would you respond?
I’d diplomatically ask them what led them to believe that.
There’s certainly a lot of activity there, and a lot of money to be made (and you’ll need it, given the cost of living there). But you can make more money working for Wall Street firms if that’s what you’re after, and you can find vibrant tech scenes in a lot of cities. As I commonly hear people say, “software is eating the world” and that requires it to be a whole lot bigger than one tiny geographic region in one state in one country.
When you changed job titles and/or companies, what philosophy or approach did you take when it came to negotiating your salary, benefits, or other job perks?
I was generally willing to concede the standard salary negotiation points in favor of heavily negotiating perks. For instance, if a company offers you $100,000 per year, and you try to negotiate that up to $110,000, you might land at $105,000. That’s the difference between $48 and $50 per hour, which isn’t really that much in the grand scheme of things.
Now, imagine that you were to say, “I’d like $110,000, but since you’re offering me $105,000, I’d like two extra weeks of vacation and for you to waive your non-compete clause.” At the salary you’re talking about, the two extra weeks’ paid time off is actually worth $4,000, taking you almost up to your first ask. Plus, you get the ability to moonlight if you want extra pocket money. Companies always seem to want to play hardball on salary while giving away perks pretty easily.
Now that you’re doing quite a bit of consulting and coaching, what new skills are you having to learn and master?
Running my own show in its entirety has been an education in the other facets of business. I’ve always kept my own books and done my own taxes, so finance wasn’t a big deal. But handling my own sales, operations, and marketing has been interesting – things like writing contracts and proposals, creating offerings, evaluating billable time vs. overhead, having pre-sales meetings, etc. I’ve learned to appreciate a lot more what people in these roles at their various companies do.
Where do you see the future of the software development industry heading, and how will that impact the people who work in it?
The biggest change that I predict in the coming years is that I think large, non-software companies will staff fewer and fewer salaried software developers in favor of contracting with staffing firms and custom app development shops. Thus, I see a lot of movement in software development jobs out of big companies and into smaller, more nimble firms that only do software development.
Large organizations that view IT as a cost center and that optimize for risk management, not getting sued, and not getting hacked cannot possibly keep up with fast-moving, smaller shops. I predict that, more and more, they’ll stop even trying to keep up.
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