The name of Christopher Fry is the flavor of the month, and is currently held in reverence among wannabe engineers. For the uninitiated, he is a senior vice president at Twitter, which released the company’s paycheck-related information to the world ahead of its IPO. Everyone is now privy to the information that he was paid $10.3 million last year; an amount which is just $1.2 million short of the CEO’s paycheck! Though he may not come close to the $24.4 million raked in by Facebook’s VP of Engineering, Mike Schroepfer, it must be remembered that Twitter is a much smaller company when compared to Facebook.
I was reminded of the time when the dotcom bust (or Internet bubble) shot down all IT stocks and many IT companies went bankrupt. At that time, someone called me to enquire if concentrating his educational focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and/or Mathematics (STEM) would make any sense in such a scenario and sought my advice on whether opting for a STEM major would still ensure the light at the end of the tunnel – namely, a career! So, if any student today is looking for similar advice, these engineers can be held up as a shining example of outstanding possibilities for success in this world as the demand for engineering skills is shooting through the roof!
The numbers back this up. In the first decade of this century, growth in U.S. STEM jobs (7.9 percent) was three times as fast as employment growth in non-STEM jobs (2.6 percent. In 2010, there were 7.6 million STEM workers in the nation, equating to about one in 18 workers. Each day, the world becomes increasingly technology-dependent, and STEM competencies are needed in virtually every occupation.
Recently, I have read much about whether the shortage of STEM workers will reach crisis levels in the coming years, or whether these projections are being issued by alarmists. Time will tell. However, what we do know is that the size of the paychecks being offered today would indicate that there is a talent crunch in the STEM fields. We all learned in Economics 101 that as demand increases, wages rise. Of course, very few will ever be compensated $10 million annually for their STEM skills, but people within occupations that use STEM competencies most intensely are earning significantly more than those who are not. Employers today offer many freebies, like free food, laundry, vehicle leases to attract as well as retain the talent they desperately need in the technology space.
I would go a step further and make the claim that the truly coveted perk in the field would be the freedom to choose your assignments and work at your own pace and – be your own master! Thanks to its awareness and acceptance of this phenomenon, today Google allows its engineers to devote 20% of their time to personal projects, and finds the accommodation worthwhile as the arrangement and its results meet the needs of both sides. Of course, few companies are inclined to make a similar offer. To give free reign to their entrepreneurial spirit, the more commonplace approach for technically qualified persons seeking variety in their assignments and work environments is to become technology consultants. But of course, that is a path open only to someone who is enterprising, open to a challenge and genuinely capable. Many quickly find that a career as a technology consultant satisfies the desire for diversity but requires the consultant to invest a disproportionate amount of time and effort seeking their next assignment and dealing with the administrative burden of self-employment.
Serving as an agency contractor may provide the best balance. Staffing agencies will place STEM professionals in interesting and challenging limited term assignments. The individuals are W-2 employees of the staffing agency, eliminating the effort required to comply with government requirements placed on 1099 status. Depending on the level of proficiency and criticality of the required skill, companies will pay significantly higher rates for contingent workers than for permanent employees.
As you attempt to “write your own ticket”, consider the options that can provide the desired freedom, intellectual challenge and financial compensation with the lowest levels of administrative headache, distraction and risk.
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