This engineer realized she was underpaid thanks to transparency with coworkers. Now, her tech salary survey aims to help others.

Taylor Poindexter, senior backend engineer and cofounder of Black Code Collective

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Shortly after Taylor Poindexter began a job as a tech consultant at a small firm in 2016, she had a pivotal conversation that shaped the way she now thinks about salary and compensation transparency. 

During drinks with coworkers who were hired around the same time at the same level, one person divulged that he, a white male, had received a $10,000 signing bonus. Poindexter had not, so she decided to ask her manager about it.

Not only did management say she would not receive a bonus, but warned her not to discuss compensation with her coworkers again. (Even though talking about wages is a legally protected activity, employers often try to discourage it).

This was the first time that Poindexter would confront stark pay inequity as a Black woman in tech, but certainly not the last. At her next job, she and a white male coworker shared their salaries and discovered he was making significantly more despite having the same level of experience.

Inequalities in tech industry wages are well-documented and widespread. Job search marketplace Hired conducted a survey in 2020 that found that job applicants who identified as Black or Hispanic continued to both anticipate and accept lower pay offers than their white and Asian counterparts for the fourth year in a row.

One of the first steps to closing the pay gap is pay transparency, experts say.

“From a worker’s perspective, without accurate information about peer compensation, they may not know when they’re being underpaid,” economics professor Emiliano Huet-Vaughn recently told the New York Times. “Without knowing what other workers’ salaries look like, it naturally becomes harder to make the case that one is suffering a form of pay discrimination.”

That’s one of the reasons Poindexter, who is the cofounder of Black Code Collective and was most recently a senior backend engineer at a stealth civic tech startup, created a tech salary transparency document that she shared with her thousands of followers on Twitter in September 2020

The most valuable aspect of having pay transparency, Poindexter said, is that it makes it harder for companies to treat people unfairly. 

“By being transparent, you cut that bull crap outright at the root,” she said. “Granted you may not be able to get the money from that company, but at least you know [comparable salaries] so that you can hopefully go somewhere else where you can get your true value.” 

Almost 2,200 people have taken part in Poindexter’s survey so far, which asks questions about respondents’ job title, job location, company size, industry, salary, experience, and bonuses. 

Although the survey does not include information about race, Poindexter said that she hopes that both minority tech workers and white allies will use it to share their compensation.

“Quite a few Black and brown women have sent me messages either on Twitter or other communities I’m in through Slack and told me that since viewing the document they’ve been brushing off the resumes and getting ready to go somewhere else,” she said, “Because while they thought that they were well paid, they now realize that they are by far underpaid.”

The data from this survey has been aggregated by Cody Braun on GitHub — you can read some of its takeaways below.

Poindexter is not the first to create a way to share tech industry salaries. While an engineer at Square in 2018, Jackie Luo collected salary information from tech workers on Twitter and published her findings. Erica Baker shared on the “Re/code Decode” podcast in 2015 that while she was at Google, thousands of her coworkers contributed to her salary transparency spreadsheet (though said her managers withheld the “peer bonuses” she was awarded for creating it).

Poindexter’s advice for advocating for increased workplace transparency is to create bonds on your team: Through mutual trust and clarity, all workers can benefit. Armed with peer salary information, it’s easier to have compensation conversations with your employer.

The salary doc has helped Poindexter set her own expectations

Poindexter recently found herself at the center of a Twitter fracas when she tweeted her salary expectations for her next job. The tweet received all kinds of responses: Many people sent her links to job openings but others blasted her with criticisms that her minimum salary was too high. 

But because the number she tweeted was based on concrete data, Poindexter brushed off critiques about her salary bar: She feels confident in her own worth in the market. 

“My main take on the trolls is the fact that they’re either people that think I can’t do something simply because they can’t or they’re turned off by a Black woman having the nerve to be so direct about her worth,” Poindexter said about the backlash. “Either way, they’re irrelevant to my overall trajectory and I fully anticipate they’ll continue to belittle me as I reach greater heights.”

Takeaways from the survey so far 

Developer Cody Braun aggregated the data from Poindexter’s survey on GitHub, organizing by annual salaries based on respondents’ specialty, location, and years of experience.

The data showed that full-stack developers made an average annual salary of around $75,000 while an engineer with ten years of experience makes around $200,000 annually. 

Annual salaries in San Francisco tended to average between $150,000 and $200,000, according to the data, while the average salary in Atlanta was between $80,000 and $100,000.

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This histogram based on the location of respondents shows that a tech role located in San Francisco makes $150,000 to $200,000 a year on average.

This experience scatter plot shows that, despite the experience, each role tends to stay around or below a $200,000 annual salary.

This chart shows that large (>5000) companies tend to make the highest salaries, with smaller organizations (0-10) making the least.

This chart shows that large and mid-size organizations have the highest rate of remote work at the time of the survey.

This graph shows the distribution of salary where most respondents are making around $100,000 or less.

These graphs show the survey results distributed by speciality, with management and leadership roles making the most, and quality assurance making the least.

This pie chart shows that most respondents identify as general engineering, with the next largest sector being management and leadership.

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