Prior to gaining my first job as a junior web developer, I often wondered how much I could expect to earn.
Whilst at university, during 2001-2005, I heard a lot about the average salary for a university graduate being around £18,000 a year (regardless of profession) – whether this was an accurate figure or not, it felt realistic and achievable to me.
Note: this post was written in 2007 and applies to salaries in the north west of England, UK. Therefore, it may not be relevant to your job search in the current year and/or outside of this geographical area.
One week after the presentation/practical demonstration which signalled the completion of my degree, I started work, as a junior web developer, for a very well established UK high street retailer, at what I considered to be a very low salary – £14,500*.
* I recognise that a lot of people in the UK earn much less than £14,500 a year and manage to support families and may consider this to be a very good salary, but I consider this to be a very poor salary for a university graduate junior web developer.
When I applied for the job**, I had no idea what the salary was and when I accepted the job, I was very disheartened to learn how low the salary was to be, but I was told that it would be increased to around £18,000 after a 3 month trial – so I took the job. However, after countless months of being told a pay rise was on the way, I was finally told one day (over a year after starting) that my salary would definitely… possibly… increase to £16,500 the following month, provided, one of the more senior members of the board agreed to that figure. That same day, I started looking for a new job.
** Technically, I didn’t actually apply for the job – but that’s another story for another day.
Note: The low salary wouldn’t have been as painful if I wasn’t spending £200 a month on petrol.
What a junior web developer will do for their salary
Lots of companies advertising for junior web developers, are looking for a bargain – essentially someone who will do a lot for as little money as possible – my first job was no different. As soon as I started it became apparent that, I was the only person in the whole organisation who understood web design/development – I was a junior with no senior/middleweight web developer above me to learn from.
My job description covered lots of areas including:
- domain names: registration/renewal
- making sure the numerous 3rd party web agencies weren’t ripping us off – they were
- fixing the mistakes of said web agencies to stop the website haemorrhaging sales
- teaching the web designer (who had no experience) how to design websites
- SEO/SEM and shopping comparison engine campaigns including meeting with 3rd parties, running campaigns myself and dealing with Google reps.
- monitoring web analytics and looking for correlations in sales patterns
- general office IT help
- and many other tasks***
*** I was also a human spellchecker for my boss.
This job was tremendous experience and had the salary been higher, I might well have stayed for longer than I did. It’s true, that although junior web developer salaries can be very low, the next job on the web development career ladder is often much better paid because of the wide ranging experience gained as a junior developer.
Getting ripped off by an employer, is an important lesson which is best learnt early on in a career. It is then out of the way and in future job interviews it becomes easier to not accept low offers and/or recognise danger signs about prospective employers.
But is such a low salary typical?
I believe that for a lot of junior web developers, that salary is, sadly, very typical – especially at web agencies. I expect this is down to 2 reasons:
- A lack of experience can prove very limiting in a job that can often demand very high levels of responsibility
- A large amount of competition for relatively few entry level positions
Due to these reasons, it can be a very high risk strategy to employ web developers with little or no experience. If a web developer has more experience, it should mean that, the web developer in question has seen and conquered more problems and consequently they can either avoid these problems completely or deal with them swiftly.
How can these low paying jobs be avoided?
The biggest warning sign, that a job will be poorly paid, will be a job description which, either has no mention of salary or describes the salary as ‘competitive‘. However, these jobs aren’t necessarily best avoided – in an industry with healthy competition for employment, bad experience can sometimes be even more valuable than good experience. Let me explain: If you work for an employer who is incompetent/uncomplimentary/generally not great and you can see their mistakes and learn from them – you will have the potential to be a much better employee/entrepreneur/person then someone who has had nothing but fantastic experiences in their career.
A friend of mine, recently found himself out of work when his employer suddenly went bust. One day, 2 weeks before payday and 4 weeks before xmas he got a phone call telling him not to bother going into work the following day. Bummer. In the short-term, this was a horrible position for my friend to be in, but, in the long-term, my friend may be quicker to notice any warning signs from an employer which may signal a similar scenario. If he chooses to start his own business, he may be more careful to avoid the traps he saw his hapless boss fall into.
What should a junior web developer be paid (in an ideal world)?
In my opinion, anything less than a salary of £16,500 for a web developer in the UK is poor, unless the employee has come straight from high school/sixth form and has no training/experience/knowledge whatsoever. Providing a person has the initiative required to perform the role of a junior web developer, then I think a figure of around £18,000 a year is fair.
If you are offered a job with a salary lower than £16,500, then I would think long and hard before accepting the offer – and decide what is right for you – it may be that you can see past the low salary in order to gain relevant experience – I certainly did.
There will be people, who started their careers as web developers at much higher salaries than I did. I’m not so foolish, as to believe that my experiences will be shared by all, but I do think that a fair number of web developers will have started on salaries which did not accurately reflect their skills and qualifications.
A great piece of advice my dad gave me, was never to tell colleagues (or even friends for that matter) how much you earn – because as soon as you do, it creates numerous emotions amongst current and ex-colleagues which are best avoided in order to stay friendly. Therefore, those hoping to learn what I currently earn, will be disappointed that I won’t be revealing my current salary nor the salary at which I left my previous job, but I do think that revealing the salary of my 1st job may be helpful to some people which is why I’ve done it.