James Somers, a Web developer in his mid-twenties, planned to quit the field and become a freelance writer.
He had a sweet first assignment lined-up too. He was going to write a profile about Douglas Hofstadter, and magazines were already lining up to pay him $10,000 to $20,000 to publish it.
But then he got a job offer to go back into Web development.
These were the terms:
“$150,000 in salary, a $10,000 signing bonus, stock options, a free gym membership, excellent health and dental benefits, a new mobile phone, and free lunch and dinner every weekday. My working day would start at about 11am. It would end whenever I liked, sometime in the early evening. The work would rarely strain me. I’d have a lot of autonomy and responsibility. My co-workers would be about my age, smart, and fun.”
Somers took the job.
In an article for Aeon, Somers reflects on his own experiences and explains why people like him get paid so much.
These days the cost of finding out whether a start-up is actually going to succeed isn’t hundreds of millions of dollars — it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s the cost of a couple of laptops and the salary you pay the founders while they try stuff. A $100 million pool of venture capital, instead of seeding five or 10 start-ups, can now seed 1,000 small experiments, most of which will fail, one of which will become worth a billion dollars.
And so there is a frenzy on.
You can see why I’m in such good shape. In this particular gold rush the shovel is me. We web developers are the limiting reagent of every start-up experiment, we’re the sine qua non, because we’re the only ones who know how to reify app ideas as actual working software. In fact, we are so much the essence of these small companies that, in Silicon Valley, a start-up with no revenue is said to be worth exactly the number of developers it has on staff. The rule of thumb is that each one counts for $1 million.
It helps that there aren’t enough of us to go around. I’m told by a friend at Bloomberg that they missed their quarterly tech hiring target in New York by 200 people. I get at least two enquiries a week from headhunters trying to lure me from my current job. If I say that I’m actively looking, I become a kind of local celebrity, my calendar fills with coffees and conversations, reverse-interviews where start-ups try to woo me.
It’s as if the basic structure of this sector of the global economy has been designed for my benefit.
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