In Europe as a Digital Nomad

It was my privilege and honor to live and work in Europe as a digital nomad this past spring 2022. From the bustling expanse of London to the luxurious leisure of Montenegro, these experiences have molded me, teaching me so much.

I share with you some general takeaways – comment if you would like to see a more detailed breakdown of the locations that hosted me for months in 2022!

Be a Good Student

The first thing I needed to do for my travels was be a good student, if no a better student than I have been in years.

For you, learn from others who travel for weeks and months at a time. What where their challenges, what have they learned, how did they deal with situations fine and foul.

The grief and generosity of others online, in videos, and on forums is invaluable. Google search “digital nomadism” along with the features of where you want to go (and check out my #travel tag).

Headed to Europe? Which country or countries? What is the local currency? Tipping culture? Language and medical system? Et. al. There will be no end to the questions, but it is up to you to do the groundwork before your trip.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

If you are working remotely, work remotely. There is virtually no reason to tell your workplace where you are working from, so long as there is a place to collect mail, an internet connection, and your time is managed.

Asked about where you might be – unless the boss or coworker is buying you a plane ticket for business – a simple “I am visiting folks” or “I am in a different time zone for now” is both true and vague enough that they ought leave it there. You are under no obligation to specify when it is no-one else’s business!

Time to Talk About Time

Speaking of time management, the easiest way to pull DADT is to adjust your working hours to the time zone of your workplace. If you are clocking in at the same time, any questions or talk of where you are are no matter.

As for adjusting to times abroad, unless they are on the same side of the planet as home, this can be a hard adjustment. What worked for me was:

  • Eat little in transit. That way, when you arrive, you can either have a big meal to start the new day or go straight to bed if it’s nighttime. That leads to:
  • Do as the locals do. Eat meals at the local time, start walking to destinations, take cold morning showers and hot evening ones, get groceries the first day, and get the right amount of light throughout the day.
  • Avoid light at night. This is quality life advice – you will be ready for sleep sooner the sooner you cut out evening artificial light. And, if you feel the need to nudge yourself to bed, taking 1-3 mg of melatonin is extra effective (light hampers melatonin use)!
  • Save your health. Take naps in transit (bring a hat or eye mask for light, earplugs for the plane noise), pop sprays or tablets of zinc every hour or so, wear a face mask, wash your d@mn hands. These measures help ensure you are going to enjoy the trip!

Pack So Much Less

Skip the roller bag – instead, go for a backpack, maybe two.

You think there isn’t enough room? Let’s talk about that:

You are going to be carrying everything you have for weeks and months. Most places in the world are likely to be cheaper than where you are now (looking at you, U$A), so purchasing any necessities will be a breeze. Dragging a bag makes it hard to move fast either through airports or across towns and tags you as an easy-mark tourist. And your human bias says to handle any possibility, when 20% of what you want to take will handle 80% or more of your trip.

To help you pack, a rule of thumb I came across was to pack your bags, then remove half of what you packed, taking the rest.

Another is a rule of 3 or 4, meaning only 3-4 shirts, undies, socks, jackets and pants, etc.

Ultimately, here is my packing list before I shipped off to London, all contained in 1 30-/35-liter computer backpack, a drawstring bag, or worn through airports:

  • 6x shirts (all buttoned sans 2 for workout), undies, socks
    • A useful number, since I have since lost wear to wear (holes and such). Still could have bought replacements!
  • 1x pair of jeans, shorts, swimwear (look like shorts)
  • 1x loafers, running shoes, flipflops
  • 1x sweater
  • 2x local power converter (and maybe a power strip, too!)
  • Toiletries (day and night moisturizers, non-greasy sunscreen, clippers and tweezer, disposable razor, travel lotion, toothbrush and paste, sampler cologne)
  • Electronics w/ chargers (work laptop, personal laptop, cell, watch, headphones, earbuds, Brio Beardscape trimmer)
    • I highly suggest learning to cut and trim your own hair – it is empowering!
  • Passport, vax card, scratch notebook, journal, wallet, local-currency cash (~400 was more than enough for more than a month).
  • Snack food (2-3 high-quality protein bars, electrolyte mixes)

Things I ended up buying over 3 months:

  • SIM cards for data and local calls in the country or area.
  • New jeans because the brought pair ripped.
  • Another journal, some pens.
  • 1:1 replacement toiletries.
  • Groceries and hair conditioner.
  • Supplement vitamins.

That’s it πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ

Apps to Save Your Bacon

A shortlist of apps to check out that made my stays a breeze (none of which I get kickbacks for):

  • Airbnb – turns out that even in the US many places will have cheaper stays than paying apartment rent (let alone hotels!). The price, safety, and flexibility of Airbnb is unparalleled.
  • Hoopla (or other media app) – through my local library, I get 20 free pieces of media to check out a month.
  • NordVPN (or other VPN) – safety is important. I have my VPN on literally at all times – it secures my digital presence so I didn’t have my financial or personal information stolen abroad.
  • Skype – I bought a phone number and a US-calling plan for less than my regular phone service. Using data, I could call any US number for free and receive free texts (send for 11c). Great when I needed to give a US number for others to call.
  • Traveling Mailbox – Get your mail sent to a US address. Dozens of cities to choose from, pretty affordable, and I haven’t hit the max mail received or opened for many months!
  • WhatsApp (and perhaps Telegram) – a standard for any international traveler. Be able to text, call, and send pics to folks on WhatsApp who have your phone number. It uses data instead of cell service, so you can stay in touch even when you don’t have your old phone number.
  • Wise – international banking and conversions for better rates than your bank. Also can use any ATM twice a month without incurring fees from Wise (though the ATM may have its own). A must-use for getting cash when your bank doesn’t operate where you are!

All this fails to mention your flight provider’s app, social apps to share the adventure, banking apps, payment apps like Venmo, and ride and delivery apps local to your new area. Get what you need before you need it!

Explore New Places and Palettes

Get out. First day, if possible. Get out and keep getting out.

Go to the places that don’t speak your language. Eat the foods you can’t 100% identify. Enjoy the famous locations, sights, dishes, and events your trip’s location is known for. Yet, schedule in days of rest every 3 or 4 days or so – you need to recover to fully enjoy things!

It is so easy to take an area for granted if you are there for a long time. “It’ll be there tomorrow” you might say – don’t believe it. Before you know it, it’ll be time to move on!

That said, meander. Take your time to experience things, especially the casual atmosphere of being a local. If you are going out, think of one or two things to do that day, and linger on those things. Again, the time will be over before you know it, so be present for it. If there is anything left over at trip’s end, all the more reason to come back πŸ™‚

Bring a Friend

Sometimes you need an excuse to get out, sometimes you may feel safer having someone watch your back. While not required, I encourage you to try nomadism with a friend.

Yet, a partner your friend must be. This means they are on your wavelength – they are the same socioeconomic class, have outgoing energy, have your endurance, have similar interests, are OK spending time on their own and with you, and are companionable without a negative mindset.

Without any of the above (a nonexclusive list), cracks will form over time, making the travel a bit more bitter. Try not to resent each other, communicate, and get after it ~

Set a Date to Leave Without Return

Go. Do it now. Within the next 3 months, within your means, buy the ticket, even if it departs later on. Commit. Any plans you make are less valuable than hot air without some action towards it.

Have your departure ticket? Great! You can start making other plans (tourism, housing, etc.), but don’t buy a return ticket just yet.

Again, stay in your location for awhile, at least a month (you can get the biggest discounts this way). A lot happens in thirty days, though, so hold off on returning home.

Perhaps you will want to visit a neighboring country, visit friends in your nation of residence, have to show up to jury duty, get an injury or sickness, lose or gain a job, who knows. Try not to close out your adventure before it even begins ~

Now Go Forth!

You have all of mine that comes to mind. A one-stop-shop to begin the rest of your life.

Being a digital nomad has been transformative for me. Going to Europe for the first time (and for 3 months!) was amazing. Great for my health, great for my finances, great for my productivity, great for me.

Long-term working travel will be great for you too. All you need to do is take action to make it so.

More questions? Take action here to let me know! I am happy to share finances or on-the-ground insights – heck, might write more posts here regardless πŸ™‚

When you get to Europe as a digital nomad or anywhere else, let me know! Your experience will embolden my next trip out. Cheers to us both!

Work for Pay, Not Free

The zeitgeist regarding labor is smarter now than it was just 10 years ago as it comes to work, pay, et al. As with all things, it could be better.

One of the ways thoughts on employment could be improved is to work for pay, not for free.

Here are points on how:

Experience

Experience is garbage. The person offering “experience” in exchange for cold, hard cash cannot go choke on that “experience.” Why? Because it holds no tangible value.

I.e. experience is “free.” Do not work for “free.”

Denied a Raise?

Say a coworker is earning more for the same (or even less!) output than you, or a new employee is offered higher compensation. You attempt to negotiate a raise but are denied.

What now?

Either:

  1. Quit (but only if you have another job lined up, are financially set to take a well-deserved break, or do not require the wage-slave benefits like health insurance)
  2. Get cut by cutting back the day-to-day effort (collecting that sweet, sweet unemployment insurance)

Do not wait! Act now for your own benefit. Check out some other options and help on cutting back:

Get a Pay Cut?

First, what counts as a pay cut? A few things:

  • Meeting or exceeding performance expectations, not getting a raise despite that.
  • Not getting at least a cost-of-living increase in wage (as of May 2022, that is North of 8.3% – anything less is wage theft by the employer).
  • Demands by work to work more.
  • Org or team changes that decrease the quality-of-life at work.

If any of the above or similar occur, it is time to cut back in proportion to how the employer has cut back on you. A few ways to do that:

  • You can always quit if able (see above).
  • You Earn Commission
    • Raise your rates, especially for this employer.
    • Retain control of your work (e.g. a photographer keeps the unwatermarked originals, an artist holds Photoshop files, programmers source code local to themselves).
    • Aim to drop the employer (if 80% of pain comes from 20% of clients, drop that 20% sooner than later).
  • You Are Hourly
    • Clock out on time.
    • Do 0 (zero!) extra.
    • Take your breaks on time and use your paid leave regardless of business needs.
    • Reread your job description; when told to do something outside of that agreement, decline to do it (unless the employer is ready to immediately renegotiate the agreement, with an immediate pay-bump for you πŸ˜‰)
  • You Earn Salary
    • Over-estimate the time it will take to do things, making sure your work takes up that extra time. (I find an extra 30-40% is a useful tool if previous performance has not been recognized.)
    • Again, do nothing extra – it is not in your job description to organize events, work on other products or projects, or in your incentive to work on anything that hasn’t been agreed on with management for how you will be judged (i.e. Objective Key Results – OKRs – used to define pay performance).

What Else?

Work advocates like the hustle-hustle-hustle icon Gary V speak to “getting in” for time vs. any other compensation, even experience.

E.g. serve coffee and run packages for the CEO for free – that may work for a select handful with a decent safety net, but that willful enslavement is not something I can ethically get behind.

And if an employer ever offers or suggests working for free, they have done you a great favor: the employer has shown you they cannot be trusted to act fairly or honestly for you. You might still do business, but you will be fighting everything the employer says because everything they say will come at a cost to you.

So if you have other ways to recognize employer exploitation or how to maximize your earnings under subpar conditions, share them! Your work has value, so work for pay, not free.

The Real Values of Your Job

You get a wage, yet that is not all. What are the real values of your job? Or any job offer?

Base Pay

The hourly or salary numbers of the job.

This is a guarantee of value. Out of virtually all other values, this is the most fundamental because it is not a hypothetical. You will be paid this by law, otherwise the law is broken.

Additionally for hourly, though a person could expect HOURLY RATE x 40 HOURS, that may not be the case. Adjust accordingly, in that it may be 35 hours instead, or there is overtime pay on the regular – talk with your coworkers about these expectations.

Stock

AKA Options (more volatile for gains or losses) and RSUs (more guarantee, less risk). This is flexible value in an employer offers at a discount or pre-set rate.

For many in, say, the tech industry, this is the bread-and-butter of employment, the real value of their compensation. For pennies on the dollar, you can gain stock then sell it at a steep profit.

Be warned: Stock is fickle in that it can fall nearly as easily as it can rise (at least in recent years). What you may have banked as the cornerstone of your finances can become so much bitter ash.

Time Off

Sick days, vacation days, holidays. Each day is worth about .4% of Base Salary (1 8-hour day in 2000 annual working hours).

Not something to sniff at. These values can add a significant proportion to the overall value to a job, but be careful if anything is “unlimited” – these days have no value if not taken or are allowed to be taken (these instead have negative value as a lie from the employer).

Matches

Talking about the big one here – 401K matching. The employer will match dollar-for-dollar a 401K contribution.

Free money here. A very important value, though it is not offered everywhere and only works if you are able to. Keep an eye out on this!

Bonus

Annual performance, sales, commission – these can be substantial, or trivial. They can happen often, once a year, or not at all.

Whatever bonus gets offered (if any), take note and negotiate on this too!

Misc.

Largely subjective, include any other items you feel might be of value to you in your work. This bucket is mainly for values of a few hundred dollars, but could be worth a lot more.

Examples:

  • Commute Time (less is more! 0 is best)
  • Special Health Insurance Benefits (specifically of benefit to your upcoming year or lifestyle; you ought be getting basic health insurance regardless!)
  • Snacks
  • Gym Memberships
  • et al.

As with everything, a lot of these offerings only have value if you reap the value from them. If not using anything of benefit, it has no value to you and should not be included in the value of the job.

Experience?

You can’t even choke on experience, so it is of virtually no value here.

Can you gain training, networking, and exposure while on another’s dime? Sure, yet there still needs to be that “dime.”

Are some employers worth it? Perhaps. Big names, such as Google, Facebook, or Apple are all great names in virtually any field, while some banks or law firms would be great in their fields. Yet these employers are tiny compared to the vast swath of the broad market, where you are likely to be employed.

Experience is nice, but again, it cannot feed you.

Putting It All Together

Job Value = Base Pay + Stock* + Time Off + Matches + Bonus + Misc.**

*Stock is the number of shares given in a year multiplied by (market right now – rate given in the offering).
** Money is time – the more money you keep, the more time you will be giving your future self, so do not discount time savings as being worth a lot!

This will give you a dollar amount, the real value from the real values of your job.

You Are a Slave to Your Work

No argument: You are a slave to the work you need to do. Let you and I jump into why any other mode of thought is a delusion:

Getting Terms Straight

From the Cambridge Dictionary:

Slave – “a person who is legally owned by someone else and has to work for that person […] and has no personal freedom.”

Slavery – “the condition of being legally owned by someone else and forced to work for or obey them […] the system in which some people are owned by others.”

Free – “not having something that is unwanted or unpleasant.”

Work – “to do a job, especially the job you do to earn money […] to make a person or animal do a job.”

Job – “the regular work that a person does to earn money.” And, “a crime in which money or goods are stolen, or an action or activity that is dishonest or unpleasant.”

Money – “used to buy things, or the total amount of these that someone has.”

Reasoning

Making a leap in assuming you can connect the dots here, you need money to buy the things that make life survivable: Foods, clean water, clothing, shelter, medical treatment, etc.

All the above – at least in the United States – costs more than the means of production, and is actively denied a person without money. Without food, a person starves and suffers; without water, a person becomes sick and suffers; without clothing and shelter, a person is exposed and suffers; without medical treatment, a person suffers and dies.

(All this needs to be addressed further, so we go without mention of what makes life livable, e.g. means for recreation, time for rest.)

If prevention of suffering is one of if not the only fundamental Good in the world, then a person is obliged to have these things for themselves and those who depend on them. “Enslaved,” as the physical requirements of life are non-negotiable.

What Is Required, What Is Optional

Working in some way to cover the costs of merely existing is the obligation, the enslavement a living creature must carry out for the privilege of being alive.

This is a required enslavement, or experienced as a suffering (if the work be unpleasant) to prevent and reduce a greater suffering.

To care for others who are not able to provide for their existence – regardless of cause – is what a moral and just society is. Though not a total definition of a civilization ought be, without this care, “moral and just” must be left out of the society’s description.

Care for others is optional enslavement – we only have the morals we can afford.

Yet care for oneself, let alone others, is endangered when optional enslavement is required to earn the money to buy goods to sustain life.

What is that optional enslavement, not caring for others?

That enslavement is the excess beyond the cost of initiative, time, and material used to create the good, to exchange for the service. That is the money that funnels to one entity from many individuals. That is profit.

And profit is the name of the game in the United States – and by extension from the US’s economic and cultural global dominance, the world.

Treatment for This Condition

I am no financial planner, analyst, expert. This is not advice, because I do not know beyond a reasonable doubt the validity of the following. It seems to work out on the back of an envelope, though it is uncertain how it would apply to the facts of the world at large.

It is at least a start.

First, a definition of Profit – “money that a business [or person] earns above what it costs to produce and sell goods and services.”

Second, should there be profit? Yes – Communism tried to remove that incentive, and it led to a lot of suffering for entire populations. Profit can be the incentive to have taken the risk to do something that could fail. Yet, excess profit is excess optional enslavement to a job and thereby excess optional suffering for the unpleasantry of it.

Some thoughts:

  • Capped Percentage of Profit per Good or Service Rendered
    • No one action will be more than an X percentage of the cost to create and provide the good or service, X being greater than the profit that might be rendered through other investments – say, stock – within a standard deviation or three. This leaves room for living well while also having cushion to make prices competitive by lowering them from the profit margin.
  • Progressive Tax of Profit Based on Market
    • The bigger a single business gets, the less profitable by-percentage it gets, though the net amount continues to increase. It slows the formation of monopolies, allowing other companies to adjust and catch up, thereby encouraging competition. Further, production-cost-cutting is encouraged, as additional profit can be gained for a larger market share, benefiting the consumers while forcing innovation from the business and its competitors. Lastly, public funds are increased that can be reapplied where needed from the taxes, as is part of the responsibility of a society’s government (I forego chatting about such ideas here).

Compelled to Industry

Compel – “to force someone to do something.”

Industry – “the quality of regularly working hard […] in the production of goods for sale […] and makes a lot of money.”

You are compelled to industry, and therefor not free.

You are only as free by that which you can do without. Everyone is enslaved in some degree by the fact of being alive. Beyond those costs, and the costs of reasonable enjoyment in life, everything else is optional enslavement.

Yet the option is not yours.

By either or both through the means of your work or the profit for required goods and services, you are a slave to your work. This is the way of things, though it does not need to be so.

Rule #1: Play the Game

In your work, your society, your life, the first and #1 rule is this: Play the game.

What does that mean?

I mean, play the game. The “game” being the set of rules and expectations set before you. Cases in point:

In a job, the system is that the employee does X kind of work for about Y hours over a Z amount of time. The employer provides A, B, and C in exchange for and to facilitate that work. Skimp on any piece of this, or try to add more in on one side, and the job is no longer tenable for either the employer or the employed.

In diet, obey the rules of fewer calories, better calories, and physical use of the body. Anything else is at best a lie, at worst a waste of time. By the rules of the game of biochemistry, doing X gives X results, doing Y gives Y results, and cheating or failing to grasp what is happening at any point can be the difference between health and heart attack.

In language, not following writing, grammar, spelling, or pronunciation ‘rules of the game’ will quickly get you ostracized from it, i.e. no one will attempt or welcome exchanging with you because you have failed the winning condition: to concisely and efficiently convey useful information in communication.

Get on with it.

In short, you have a part to play in a great, grand game. Your responsibility is to know the rules and execute them the best way you deem fit.

Yet, which rules a person follows is variable. There are a base set of rules, these being fundamentals of the universe. Chemistry, physics, math. 2+2=4.

But there are other rules too. Genetics, weather, et al. of the ‘natural’ world – these add a layer. Culture, history, society – another layer. Family ties, daily life outside oneself – yet another.

Your biochemistry, your experiences, your obligations.

What you had for lunch yesterday, the clothes chosen today, the cushion of where you now sit.

Your hopes, your dreams, your fears and anxieties.

Layers, layers, layers. All your responsibility to know, work on mastering, and to execute in whatever the ‘game’ is.

What is the game?

Read again the above paragraphs: It is everything.

Perhaps it could be described as ‘society,’ but this does injustice to simplicity. Society does not dictate how a person learns about burning a hand on a hot oven.

Maybe we describe the game’s systems as physics, yet how much more must be known than only physics to understand why a rainbow is beautiful to a majority of folks, while others gain no pleasure from the aesthetics?

At first glance, nothing appears to be an easy answer. The “game,” as game-entertainment is systematic, may be best defined along terms of value. Perhaps, “the game is a multi-player-specified systematic approach to determining value, value being that which is wanted by any other player.”

Is that definition hardened against critique? Not yet, but just as ignorance of solar fusion does not stop plants from growing under the sun, a partial definition (e.g. plants grow in sunlight) is better than none (seeds unplanted in the dark).

Why do I need to “play the game” again?

If you do not play the game, you will be buried by it. You will become more of a tool for use by others than if sitting at the table to participate.

The game is active, as in it will actively punish nonparticipation.

On second thought, the game of *waves hands at everything* does not “punish” – that is a moralistic term, and morals are both subjective and only able to be afforded in relation to present context.

Instead, the game repurposes any and every part of, well, everything. If a player does not want to play, it will be a piece. If a piece becomes inconvenient, it is crushed into the pillar the game is played on – a pawn turned to dust and ash of buried history to support the present.

How could so cruel a thing ever be justified!?

“Cruel” is a poor term – the Hippocratic Oath handles aspects of cruelty much better than will be discussed here.

The Oath is a useful tool that has lasted thousands of years because it understands something about the game of everything. The game is not more fair or unfair – it just is, existing and churning and doing as it will.

Gravity will drop a cliffside rock, waves will wear rock to sand, sand will settle in an oyster, an oyster will make a pearl, a diver will adore the pearl’s luster, a thief will take the bauble by force, a hungry bird will eat what is left behind, and onward and onward and onward.

None of the above is “fair” or “cruel” or any such thing. These events, these things are, and that is enough for the game.

But to the question of justification: There are ‘outs’ other than being consigned to oblivion. Those either be 1) benefit from the game rules-as-written, taking advantage where possible at least personal cost, or 2) advocate to other players to change and how to change the rules.

Remember, “the game is a multi-player-specified systematic approach to determining value.” Players determine the values the game’s systems work towards. Whether the player-determination system is democratic, representative, monarchical, authoritarian, plutocratic, oligarchic, theocratic, or otherwise, that is the way the game is set at the moment.

There yet may be hope for the game to change, but only if a player advocates for it.

That is not enough reason to play the game.

Improving your situation so as to suffer less? That is not enough?

Then think of others: Change the rules to benefit as many as possible. Raise up the “pieces” you will come across to be “players” in their own lives again. Render your excess unto the less fortunate, or dedicate your play at life to the better positioning of another player of your choice, whatever the whim.

Or, just get out from underfoot. Care less about being a pawn. Seek to be less inconvenient for those attempting to make something grand of the game. It will be better for you and everyone else if done, for the game will seek to crush nonparticipants regardless – getting out of the way saves time and effort for everyone else.

Rule #1: Play the Game

Play it well. Find out and know the rules. Be the best player you can be.

Everything else is optional.

Advocate for yourself. Advocate for others.

Change the rules, yet only after understanding what can or ought be changed.

And if you can’t? Serve others following Rule #1 and get out of the way.

#PaidMe2021

Remember the #PaidMe threads in the summer 2020?

It is fine if you don’t – they seem to have died out as fast as they blazed on to the Twitter scene.

To say that a lot happened in 2020 would be to understate and understatement. Now the situation in the US is beginning to stabilize (go get your sticks, folks πŸ’‰πŸ’‰) with an accompanying boom in hiring.

But if people are getting hired again, are they getting paid enough?

With wages required to “live comfortably” rising, it is as important as ever to openly discuss compensation and DO YOUR RESEARCH.

I follow off of my own #PaidMe post from last year here in the possibly vain hope you won’t devalue your own worth (but who knows – this post may be showing me caught with my pants down).

Just as Adam Ruins Everything, without further to do,

The Data 2021

THP – Take Home Pay (assuming only income taxes without contributions apply)
Inf – Inflation (not used for this year, ’21)
CoL – normalized to national Cost of Living (compare this)

#TechPaidMe #GameDevPaidMe
Senior Software Engineer
Base: $123,000
THP: $92,967
CoL: $90,259.22
MZ, owned by AppLovin
Las Vegas, NV

Let’s talk about this.

Takeaways

I believe these are high numbers (if interviews with Las Vegas-based businesses are to be believed). This does not include bonuses, stock options, WFH, or other benefits (rough estimate would increase base pay 130% for that value).

The term “Golden Handcuffs” comes to mind, but that’s another post.

What also comes to mind is that companies can afford to pay you much, much more than they currently are.

And why aren’t they?

I’ve written on negotiating your compensation before and have linked articles all throughout this post. The resources are out there to both evaluate what you ought to be earning and how to muster the courage to politely demand more.

Use ’em.

You ever want to discuss numbers? Let’s talk – 20 minutes is all we’ll need.

In the meantime, go earn your freedom! Don’t work too hard getting that bread. Drink water, take rest. Cheers ~

The Value of Being a Professional

Hey there! Before going on, know that I’m hardly a professional. Knowing what a professional’s value is, however, is invaluable.

This post is for you that need to double-check if you are being valued; for you looking for work so you know what’s acceptable to ask for and what an employer ought to be offering. For simplicity, I’ll be using my own profession of software development as the example to be used.

I’ve participated in the #PaidMe movement and laid out the tools I use to put together what my work is worth before. Now, to help you not devalue yourself or others, here are those tools applied!

Note: Having a pen-and-paper handy along with a calculator to figure out the value of your own work while you read may save your time.

Inflation

From 2019 to 2021 (now), inflation has been 2.88%. (This will be important as we’ll be getting some salaries from 2019.)

Because some of the following numbers will be multiplied by hundredths-of-a-percent, there is going to be some inevitable rounding. If the values are off by a few dollars, no sweat – you should be rounding up anyway πŸ˜‰

Bureau of Labor Statistics

In the Spring of 2021, BLS has data from 2019 for the United States as it comes to compensation. In 2019, software folks (QA and dev) were most often paid $107,510 a year.

With a trusty map of 2019 pay for techies, we can take the national value and inflate it, leaving us an estimated $110,606.29 per year median.

The hypothetical $111K is contradicted by Salary.com’s reported $115,430 per year average. Since this is private company is only a statistically insignificant ~4% different, we’ll ignore Salary.com for now in favor of the official numbers (inflation and BLS).

Cost of Living

How much money one needs in different parts of the country changes drastically, even from suburb to suburb. Where your zip code is has a heavy factor in what you should be earning.

A few example metros / locales follow. I received two different CoL calculations in my recent research – Best Places in general had higher values while PayScale was more conservative. Naturally, I went with the former (what a shame to be underpaid):

WhereCoL vs NationalEst. Min. SalaryEst. +10% Salary
Las Vegas111.6%$123,436.62$135,780.28
Redmond185.1%$204,732.24$225,205.46
Seattle172.3%$190,574.63$209,632.10
Austin119.3%$131,953.30$145,148.63
Washington152.1%$168,232.16$185,055.38
Boston162.4%$179,624.61$197,587.07
New York City187.2%$207,054.97$227,760.47
San Francisco269.3%$297,862.73$327,649.01
San Jose214.5%$237,250.49$260,975.54
CoL Applied to BLS Median Pay

You, sharp reader, will have noticed that the numbers estimated above do not match up quite with the BLS values previously. That is because BLS does not always include bonuses, stock options, the size of the company a person is employed at, or what has been the best few years for software companies ever.

More on that in the next section.

Remember: Always round up to at least the nearest thousand thereabouts. Exact numbers shown here to allow you to make your own decisions on how comfortable you are with rounding.

Also remember that odd numbers (123.45 vs 120) psychologically seem “more official” and “legitimate.” If you can round up while keeping some of this oddness when you go into negotiating your value, it’ll help you greatly!

Expected Salary Range

Not every company has or likes to have the cash on hand to pay huge base salaries. Though cold, hard cash is almost always preferred, you can leave it up to a company to make up the difference in your value.

Base salary is usually less than the CoL and BLS calculations above, yet this does not take away from your value. You can accept this lower pay by expecting the company to exchange cash bonuses, equity, PTO, or other subjective boons.

A cash bonus usually is a lump-sum payment delivered every six-months or a year. Usually about 10% of your base salary, you can negotiate this percentage higher to make up the total value difference. If the bonus is variable, say, based on performance, only calculate for the “you did no more and no less than your job” value.

Equity is some investment in the company. My personal rule aside is to only accept equity at a 2:3 rate, where for every $2 of base pay being forgone, $3 comes in equity. Why? Equity is variable with the market and often delayed in being granted to you. There is no timely guarantee for your work to be properly compensated, nor is the opportunity cost for not having cash-in-pocket slight, so as equity literally costs the company nothing to give you, asking for more is always a safe bet.

PTO (paid time off) is a common benefit working at most companies. PTO comes as paid vacation, sick time (if separate from vacation), and holidays. Each PTO day is 8 hours but the value of the whole day is your daily salary rate, i.e. base salary divided by 250 days. Daily rate multiplied by the number of days is PTO’s value.

Finally, there are other boons that the company can give. Maybe it’s better healthcare, a shorter commute, a better title, work-life separation, etc. Tangible (physical, material) or intangible (time, feeling), only you know what’s more important than cash-in-the-bank. Always keep in mind that any boon you accept in replacement of direct pay is doing the other party a favor.

Glassdoor Et Al.

Every company changes in what they may offer potential new-hires. Glassdoor, Levels.fyi, and other websites have oodles of employee-reported data on pay, among other things.

If you are looking at a company that has a presence on one of these sites, use the site. Compare the ranges of base salary and other payment options to your BLS and CoL numbers. This gives you not only an idea of what other compensation to negotiate for with the company, but also a second set of values that may be higher than BLS + CoL (needless to say, increase any site-found value by at least 10% since site values do not account for CoL increases or inflation).

Tip: I always salary search using a Google Chrome Incognito window to do my browsing. Sites like Glassdoor track your usage, preventing further use if you navigate to a different page. Incognito gets around this:

      1. Arrive at a blocked page.
      2. Copy the website URL.
      3. Close all of the Incognito tabs / windows.
      4. Open a new Incognito window.
      5. Paste the copied URL.
      6. Tada! Unblocked. Continue researching your value.

Putting It All Together

You now know what you should be compensated based off of your research into the company, role, BLS, and CoL.

When the talk of money comes up, here is the handy equation to keep on hand:

Total Compensation = Base + Bonus + Equity + PTO

If you have other boons you are looking for, convey to the other party that you are taking these for granted, increasing your base or bonus or equity if the other party wants to take these boons away. Never Split the Difference is an astounding book (read it at least four-to-six times so far) that goes into more depth in how to handle leveraging boons that may not have an impressive dollar value.

Now, that total compensation ought to be a range, something like the fair value you found through research of median or average pay (whichever is higher), and at least 10% more than that. Propose the larger numbers and have the other party justify why they ought to be offering you less, giving a sense of disbelief the entire time (much more in Never Split the Difference).

Barring the most dire circumstances of survival, never, ever accept below the median or average pay for the role in the place you are bidding for. It is anti-social and masochistic and despicably weak. Don’t do it.

On the plus-side, if the other party counters above your expected compensation range, smile! Then let them know that’s a good base-pay starting point. “Now let’s talk about bonuses and equity.” Using the simple trick of adding 10% more to acceptable figures, you enable yourself to maximize your worth to the other party and to yourself.

Having gotten through this article, how are you doing? Are you making out like Robin Hood, maximizing your value above par? Are you being taken for granted, paid pennies on the dollar?

If you need to be valued more, talk with those that pay you about increasing your compensation 10% if you are being underpaid by 10% or less. However, should the compensation be undervalued by more than 10%, you can still have a conversation with the payor, but it is also time to look at other companies since you have been clearly disrespected and taken for a ride 😐

Enough talk! Check your numbers, go get your value, and be confident that you are in the right (heck, you at least have the United States government backing you up). All the best to your endeavors going forward – cheers!

2021: Looking Forward

As I compose my end-of-year review, I can’t help but to imagine with great anticipation what will happen in 2021!

Vegas

After spending most of 2020 away from Sin City, I’m headed back and look forward to this warm place of adventure and activity! The plan is to hike for now, and even that socially distanced, though how long may that last?

Vaccine

Social distancing will last as long as there are those unvaccinated against COVID-19. It’s our duty to do so. Luckily, there are recent breakthroughs and the inoculation distribution and protection of the populace may begin as soon as January 20th…

Presidency

The 20th! When the new administration is sworn in! It bears repeating again that the current administration as this is written has at best abandoned any responsibility towards the American people. Might feel strange to get back to a society-uplifting president!

Writing

Hopefully won’t feel too strange getting back to my writing (and publishing!). I’m working on a “Truths” collection right now, though I ache to pen sci fi and horror again πŸ‘»

Voice Acting

I’m urging myself to have a paid voice acting gig in 2021. I have the material, the equipment, the study. Time to put all that to work to prove it 😎 That, and I like the sound of my own dramatic voices πŸ˜‚

Gaming

Play. More. Games. Ever since university I’ve played few games (analog and virtual) and felt good about doing it even fewer times. Part of my self care in 2021 is to add a salve to that workaholic anxiety by making it a task to take care of myself ~

FI

Of course, there’s financial independence, my highest goal at this time in my life. However, I will be much more =chill= about it than I have been. 2021 is the time to live a little and take life less for granted. (Crossing fingers for a stock market breakthrough, either up or down!)

And those are a few things I look forward to. I dare not hope for travel just yet, though increased sociability after the vaccine and while I begin working on software tools for games again. Regardless, I promise myself and I promise you that I’ll “cut loose” a little more (COVID safe) 😊

What are you looking forward to in 2021? Hopes and dreams and expectations of the world and yourself? I anticipate you too are taking less for granted! Cheers to your end of year ~

Devaluing Your Worth

As I approach a new year with a new company, let’s look at common nasty bits of the flip-side of how to value your worth: devaluing it πŸ’©

First Off: Not Knowing Your Value

You would do yourself a better favor ignoring any new paid work if you haven’t done the bare minimum of any interview process.

That bare minimum? Doing the research, ie:

Know where the money is πŸ’²

Figure out how much a title pays nationally. Know what that role pays in the region and industry (though industry is less and less relevant). Glassdoor the salaries paid at the company. Normalize everything to the cost-of-living (CoL) of the town you live in and where the company is headquartered.

Of those numbers, get the median. Get the average. Pick the highest value.Β At least multiply that number by 110%, if not 110% to 125%.

Then what do you have? Value. Or, more precisely, an appropriate range (high average or 110% to 110% or 125%) of value you must ask for with the role with the company in the city. Anything less is at best worthless, if not going to be a sticking point for you later.

Second: Anchoring Low

A common negotiation tactic is to anchor the talks on a low value.

You are not low value.

When the company goes low, you go high. Heck, if the company goes OK, you go high. If they go high, you goΒ higherΒ πŸ”₯

They mention a range lower than yours or doesn’t intersect the top of your range? You sigh, you flinch, you gasp, and you quote them your researched range. (Apply emphasis that your skills warrant the top of the range no-doubt.)

You are cornered or feel compelled to mention a range? That 110% to 125% is looking awfully fine right now πŸ˜‰

If you feel uncomfortable asking for this kind of cash, just know other companies across the nation are paying at or above your quoted. So why do you deserve any less? (If you have an answer to this rhetorical question, there are some confidence and self-esteem issues you need to figure out ASAP.)

No, seriously, if you don’t think you doing a role is worth the nationally determined compensation for the title, stop reading this article. I wish I had something of mine to link here, but I don’t – go get help!

Side note: If you ever find yourself being in the very rare and unusual position of the company offering more than the top of your not-yet-quoted range, tell the company the both of you are close, but you were looking for approximately-10%-over-the-company’s-value. That way you leave nothing on the table that the company was not already planning on giving you!

Third Up: Not Shutting Up

After you have spoken, cease speaking 😢

Simple, ya? No. Human nature wants to justify ourselves and our expectations of others to others. To do that, we’ll lace our speech with weak words and bury our hopes in our own babble.

When you’ve stated your range, when you’ve told the company they need to have a better offer, when you’ve asked for that bonus, shush.

As many professional negotiators put it (see this post’s Further Learning section):

They who breaks silence first loses.

This in part applies to:

Fourth, Your Greatest Enemy: Yourself

What I mean is you will negotiate against your own self interests.

There are many ways to hamstring your efforts:

      • Quoting a dollar range first.
      • Agreeing to additional responsibility without additional compensation.
      • Settling for splitting the difference.
      • Generally being too agreeable πŸ˜‡

The root of your self-harm is fearing the discomfort of disagreeableness.

Be conscientious of your value, be kind to those you negotiate with, but be brave enough to be disagreeable when a benefit to you and your future selves is on the line.

What have you done in negotiating down your value? I’ve done all of the above and more – which have you? Share your experiences for others and myself to watch out for.

COVID is still very bad – While you Zoom safely from home, may you earn your worth and more 😁 Cheers~

What Is Your Work Worth?

I’ve been around the block a few times as it comes to employment and figuring out my work’s value.

In figuring that worth out, a few excellent tools have made themselves invaluable time and time again.

I don’t use these tools until I have an interview lined up or a change in job title or I’ve been employed at the same place for 9 to 12 months. However, when used appropriately, they’ve put the leverage on my side when negotiating a salary or raise. For the cost of an hour looking up values, I’ve netted tens-of-thousands of dollars in value added.

That, and the tools have let me know if I’m walking into a proposal as being underpaid – as an advocate for the worker, never be underpaid 😐

Here, I’m opening-up my personal toolbox for your use. May it be a starting point on your next job offer, a stepping stone to ask for a raise, or merely another reference for your own methods to calculating your work’s worth πŸ™ƒ

TLDR

(Really, you should read on. But, if pressed for attention, do the following.)

  1. Get the job title for the new job / your current job.
  2. Next, get the city for the job’s cost of living (CoL; google “cost of living theCityName“).
  3. Go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, searching for the job title, and recording the median salary.
    1. Example for Software Developers.
  4. If the median salary is not in your current year, search “inflation calculator”, using what you find to turn the salary into your current year’s dollars.
  5. Multiply the median salary by the CoL percentage (111% CoL = 1.11).
  6. Take the multiplied result, round up to the nearest tens-of-thousands (this is the Minimum Salary you should consider for the job).
  7. Multiply the result again by either 110% (this is the Expected Salary you should quote to anyone who asks).
    1. If your Minimum Salary is less than $100,000 and you’re feeling fierce, multiply the Minimum by 125% instead of 110%.
  8. Aim for the Expected Salary or more (negotiate!). Accept nothing less than the Minimum Salary.

If you want more detail, you’ll have to read on 😁

Variables

So what’s important in determining worth? Well, simply put… everything.

That’s hardly helpful, so here are some base values needed for the figuring:

  • Job Title (Title)
  • Company
  • City
  • Base Salary (Salary)
  • Potential Bonuses (Bonus)
    • Performance Awards
    • Signing Bonus
    • Stock Discounts
    • 401K Matches
    • PTO
    • Gym Memberships
    • Commute
    • etc. (Don’t worry too much on this.)
  • Cost of Living (CoL)

Titles can be important, and bonuses lucrative, but unless you have some special arrangement to fully leverage non-salaried bonuses like stocks or commission, nothing will be cash in the bank at the end of the day.

If the salary can’t be increased, multiply the difference of what you want vs. what is offered by 2 (“2” for the number of years a person typically works in a position). Negotiate for bonuses equivalent to that number.

Sites for Values

To get values for the variables, Sperling’s Best Places, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Glassdoor, Salary, Salary Expert, and the job post itself will be your best friends.

(If any of the salary sites have bonuses, record those too).

  • Sperling’s Best Places
  • BLS
    • Search for the job title for the median salary and national area data.
      • Example of a Software Developer. (The “State and Area Data” tab has county information that gives you another salary value when you hover the mouse over the maps.)
    • If the salary medians are from a past year, use Google to find an inflation calculator to turn those old salaries into today’s dollars.
  • Glassdoor
    • Search both the job title salary globally and the company itself for salary information for similar work.
  • Salary
    • Enter some basic information to get the job’s salary.
  • Salary Expert
    • Get more salaries for the job title at the location of the job.
  • The Job
    •  Here is where you get the job title, company name, and city.

If your industry has compensation reports (eg Software and Stack Overflow, Video Games and the GDC Game Developers Survey), include those here too! More data, more power!

Formulas Go Brrrr

You’ve been good so far. Now, do this:

  1. Get one salary out of the reported salaries.
    1. If there’s a national salary (eg BLS, Glassdoor), multiply that salary by the CoL of the city the job is in to get the salary to use.
      1. Eg $100,000 national salary * 1.10% CoL = $110,000
    2. Calculate the Median and the Average for all salaries collected from every source.
      1. Google Sheets is a great tool for this.
    3. Whichever of the calculated Median and Average is higher, keep that and discard the other.
    4. Do this for the bonuses too.
  2. Round the calculated salary up to the nearest tens-of-thousands place. This is your Minimum Salary.
  3. Round the bonus up to the highest place (eg $102=$200, $1799=$2000, etc).
  4. Multiply the Minimum Salary by 110% to 125%. This is your Expected Salary.
    1. Why “110% to 125%”? Well, it depends. The higher the percentage, the more difficult it gets to defend during negotiations asking for the Expected Salary. Use judgement and self confidence in this – regardless of what gets asked for, a salary will always need defending, so preparing a longer argument of why the salary is warranted comes with negotiating πŸ™‚

Tada! You now have a Minimum Salary, an Expected Salary, and Bonus values, aka your work’s worth. That said, let’s put them to work 😎

Using Your Worth

Here’s where the negotiation comes in. Negotiation is a topic unto itself and is better covered by cleverer folks than I, so I’ll leave you with these bullet points to keep in mind:

  1. Ask for more than you think you’ll get. That’s why asking for Expected Salary is the least you can do for yourself if pressed to give an expected value.
  2. If given an offer more than the Expected Salary and the Expected Salary hasn’t been told to the person making the offer, counter with at least the offer’s salary and the Bonus calculated earlier, if not asking for an increase in the offer’s salary by 10%.
  3. If given an offer less than the Expected Salary, work with the offer to see about raising the salary to the Expected (*cough* negotiate *cough*). Should the offer salary not be raised, do mental math to calculate twice the difference of the offer and the Expected Salary – negotiate for that value in Bonuses (signing bonus, PTO, etc.).
  4. Don’t accept less than the Minimum Salary. The greatest power is to the person who’ll walk away first.
    1. That, and accepting less than what’s literally fair (the median and average) hurts you, your peers, your industry, and your country. Don’t do it.

These values you’ve calculated are the bare minimum acceptable to not hurt yourself (Minimum Salary) and a reasonable request for the work to be done (Expected Salary) with wiggle-room (Bonus).

Remember, you are asking for compensation for the work to be done first, your history and experience second. Be aggressively fair for future, but only use the past as a lens instead of an anchor keeping you from accepting reasonable work.

Further Learning

What do you think? What do you use in your own work worth calculations? I’d really like to know!

If you’d like a spreadsheet with some of these formulas filled out, let me know.

Lastly, a reminder about our relationship to work and money:

Your pay is not a judgement on your value. It should only be a fair estimation of your work’s worth.

Good luck, y’all, on your next negotiation, job or raise. Cheers ~