I am 33 years old and earn around S$ 500k a year (in total compensation) through my job. I manage a small (less than 10 person) software engineering team for a FAANG co in Singapore.
I post my career story here not to brag, but to offer a data point for what is possible to achieve through persistence and some luck.
Some background: I am self taught in computer science – I never had a single course in formal CS while in university. I am an immigrant here (I come from a poor south asian country).
I came to Singapore to work after finishing my university studies in engineering. I was an average student throughout school – I never won any awards for academic prowess (or any awards for that matter). I did not qualify for any of the better known universities in my country, and graduated from a very average school.
– Years 1-6:
Worked for one of the local research institutes (think of Astar) as a research associate. The work was hard and there were many late nights, but here is where I “grew up” as an engineer. Sometime in year 4/5, I decided to teach myself CS and software engineering.
My salary was a measly S$ 30k a year! At first I was happy and proud for landing a job like this after school (I was finishing university in my home country, and landing a job in Singapore was an exceptional achievement for me). But as the years went by, I grew sad and frustrated at my pay, and decided to pivot to a software engineering career even though I had earned a Masters degree in engineering from one of the local universities along the way.
– Year 7:
Finally left my research job! Did some startup experiments that all failed. Average pay: S$ 150k a year (though I didn’t work the full year).
At one point, a startup I was working for fired me and as a direct consequence of that I lost rights to live in Singapore. I had to move back to my country in a hurry, and hunting for jobs from there was exceptionally hard.
– Years 8 – 10:
I finally land a corporate job and start making some real money! It was a software engineering role at an international finance firm (think of something like Nomura / AIG / Prudential). Salary: S$ 200k – 240k.
– Year 11:
Landed a tech-lead type of role at another finance firm. I was responsible for leading small (5 – 10) teams of engineers on the technical parts of a product. Salary: S$ 300k – 330k.
– Year 12:
I land my current gig at a big tech co. I have formal management responsibilities for my team, and am responsible for both the people on my team + the tech produced by our team. All-in total compensation is somewhere between S$ 500k – 550k, depending on how bonuses payout and how the company’s stock performs.
Along the way, I interviewed with and rejected (and got rejected by) many, many different firms. Here is a sampling of companies that I turned down (there are many more which turned *me* down as well):
– Other local research institutes.
– “hot” local startups, such as Gojek, Grab etc.
– International finance firms, such as Prudential, Nomura, etc.
– Local finance firms, such as DBS, UOB, etc.
– Local non-tech companies, such as Singtel, Sembcorp, etc.
It was an emotional roller coaster to interview with so many different companies, and even more so to turn down job offers given that I didn’t have such abundant employment prospects in the first few years of my career. But along the way, I got really good at prospecting, interviewing, negotiating and evaluating opportunities.
On a side note, many of the local companies have proved to be absolutely terrible to negotiate with – they tend to be extremely fixated on my previous salary and almost always try to lowball by framing their offer as a percentage of current pay.
I am happy to answer questions or offer my perspective on carving a career for yourself in a follow-up post. Feel free to post on the comments.
Thank you for reading!