This story is about how I went from Immigrant(with a Nigerian passport) to 6-figure earner in the year 2016. I’ll be describing events in my life like:
- How I learned to set my rates.
- How a CEO bought me an iPad.
- Why I left San Francisco.
- Where my first ever 6-figure offer came from.
- What non-US Senior Engineers can do to accomplish similar results
When I was attending lectures at San Jose State, I didn’t really feel like there was a lot to living in the US that made it significantly different from living in Nigeria.
Sure, the paved roads were a nice touch. The fact that 16 year olds could drive a car and sometimes owned cars was a bit weird, but not extremely out of the ordinary. Sometimes, I would glance at an empty street in a residential neighborhood and think to myself “Sure, this could be Nigeria”. Some of our buildings and streets look very similar.
You start to notice that the US is a wealthy country by subtle things.
Like every student at my College had a ($200) longboard/cruiser and a significant chunk of them used it as their primary means of commuting to class( don’t worry about me, I eventually got one. I wish I could say it was cheap).
Or, the fact that I could use and support the latest technologies like Spotify, Uber or Tesla (especially because this was 2016). I had gotten rides in Teslas 4 times that year(a friend from school had one). Tesla and Spotify are almost non-existent in Nigeria (in 2021).
A notable dimension of wealth in the US is the salary reports from experienced software engineers. For example, experienced engineers can take home $600 after a day’s work and taxes in the US compared to Nigeria’s $30(similar to India).
In 2016, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that US salaries were different. I didn’t know that California salaries were different. I misread the environment completely and I missed out on thousands of dollars.
2016 begins and I’m living on my friend’s couch in SoMa, San Francisco. He’s going to school for a Masters in Finance or something. he’s also an immigrant.
We had gone to College together a few years prior and we had a lot of fun as drinking buddies. I moved in with him to relive the glory days.
While living with him, he forced me to go on long intense up-hill jogs, drink a lot of Glenfiddich and take Uber-pools with questionable swiss girls. Not exactly the reunion I had in mind.
My friend is at school when I meet some girls from RocketSpace at a local Starbucks. We started talking about siting posture, dating life and developer salaries. RocketSpace is one of those accelerator programs that promises to grow your start-up. I never followed up with them in person, but from what I’ve read on the web, they seem really good.
What the girls said to me went something like this:
“Most developers are afraid to ask for what their worth. A good strategy is to take the hourly rate you have in mind and double it”.
This sounded ridiculous to me. Even with what I’d seen on Glassdoor, I couldn’t picture a scenario where I would pay a developer for that amount. My current rate was $3000 a month and doubling it would mean $6000 a month. I couldn’t picture that scenario, I couldn’t imagine the pains of someone who could. Could I be worth that much?
The girls invite me back to RocketSpace and we get a rocking view of the 9th floor.
I got approached by the CEO himself and we began talks about what a new React Native App could mean for his business. He had a lot of UI/UX ideas and invited me to his home, in downtown SF, to view them.
We had a few more talks, he bought me an Ipad, a Udemy course membership, an Apple developers license and a bunch of office hours at RocketSpace.
At this point, I needed to move out of my friends place and into a house in Santa Cruz. I could always take the train up if I was needed in person. If you haven’t really heard about California(Nor-Cal or the bay area), Santa Cruz is not in San Francisco. It’s a separate city ~80miles away. It’s known for the Hippie movement, California Surf as well as Santa Cruz Skateboards.
Then the topic of pricing came up. I decided to swing for the fences.
“So how much would that cost on a monthly basis”, he said to initiate the negotiation.
“$6000”, I said.
Pause… silence… then he says “okay, let me get my checkbook”.
If you know anything about negotiation, you know this means we’re off to the races.
Making 6 Figures
I worked at Vctry for some time and learned a ton along the way. I was sad to leave that team.
After the engagement, I decided to pack up and leave Nor-Cal. I had been to Santa Barbara for Halloween a few years prior. There was a lot more of a surf culture(Nor-Cal had Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz had shark attacks) and I had met a girl who I started talking to. I also liked the vibe of the place a lot more.
I took a plane to San Diego and planned to make my way up north to Santa Barbara. While in San Diego, I got a 6-figure job offer.
The original offer came through the San Diego sub reddit(where I had posted that I was a new Dev in town). I followed up with the company on Facebook and soon we were having lunch meetings in Gaslamp District.
I felt really lucky to have this job (especially because I knew software developers in the USA that were having a really hard time finding a job). It really was a question of being in the right place at the right time.
Salaries in Nigeria
Quick tangent: My bathroom in Nigeria is actually better than the one I had in San Diego. I don’t have a washing machine here though.
I’ve made a few friends in the Software Engineer community in Nigeria and there’s a consensus. We’re willing to work very hard for very little upside.
Compared to our Silicon Valley counterparts, we’re in it for the craft and not to make a quick buck. In most cases, we don’t even get stock options at all.
It’s a labour of love.
I haven’t been able to work with a California Company in a number of years, Masela’s views are a little bit more current(in terms of equity, bonuses and comparisons to other states in the US as well).
Senior Software Engineers
If you’re a senior engineer in a place like Nigeria and you’re looking to form 6-figure stories of your own, my recommendation for you is to apply for jobs at Fang companies(FAANG stands for Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google). There are other companies that offer 6-figure salaries to international developers like MailChimp, Optimizely, Apptimize, etc. A good tactic to find these companies would be by googling top companies that need software engineers like Big Tech, Big Law, Big Finance etc.
The coding portion of the interview is notoriously difficult for Big Tech. I recommend the book Cracking the Coding Interview(from personal experience, I’ve found that this is what Google uses) and HackRank and TestDom (are being used by Toptal).