Senior Developer Mindset

How To Get To 100k As A Developer In 3 Years Or Less (Europe Edition)

Are you a software developer dreaming about the magic number?

Earning a 100k salary.

Maybe you want to retire early to an exotic island. Have a family without worrying about money. Or you simply want more from life. 

I am here to tell you that you are not crazy. 

Getting to a 100k salary as a software developer is doable. 

You don’t have to be a great coder or have tens of years of experience, and you don’t have to be lucky, though luck can help. 

You must focus on the right things, stay consistent, and work hard. And you will get there faster than you think. 

In this article, I will give you a step-by-step roadmap for cracking the code to a 100k job as a developer in the European market. Let me know if you want a highly-paid developer job in the US market. I am preparing a follow-up article about that.

Who am I to give you advice on this? 

My name is Dragos. In the last four years, I have helped over 250+ Software Developers upgrade their skills, fast-track to Senior level, and get the recognition and pay they deserve.

I am not a guru or a tech influencer. And I don't aim to be one. 

But, I've been in the trenches during my time writing code as a self-taught developer and now helping dozens other developers to level up.

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First Things First

To understand how to get a 100k+ salary as a developer, we must first understand what determines your salary.

Is it the kind of framework you work with? The company you work for? Or is it your technical level? Maybe the way you sell yourself? Whether you negotiated or not? Your years of experience?

The short answer is that ALL of those variables matter. 

This is why you don’t see every developer earning a 100ks+ salary. 

What Determines Your Developer Salary

The main factors deciding your salary are the location you work for and the technology you specialize in. Frontend, Backend, and DevOps engineers have different salaries.

A software engineer based in Palo Alto will earn more than the same software engineer based in Rio de Janeiro. While remote work has changed things, tech hiring is still local in nature.

We will talk about why that happens later in this article. And while you can’t snap your fingers and learn a whole new tech stack, you can learn new skills. 

Market: Being A Small Fish In A Big Pond 

Every developer market is different. The frontend market is very different from the backend market, and the mobile development market is very different from the DevOps market. 

When picking a technology and framework, remember that the more developers you compete with offering you skills, the lower the salary you can demand. It doesn't matter if what you do is hard or easy.

If many other developers are willing to do it, your salary will decrease.

This is why lately, many developers are trying to branch out from the Frontend to other more niche fields like mobile development. They think less competition means more money. 

But they forgot one thing.

Sometimes, markets are small because demand is small. A smaller market means a smaller salary (not always) and a small growth potential.

A big market might be busier, but it might also pay better because it means demand is high. A big market means bigger development teams with higher levels (and salaries).

Remember, you cannot control the market itself. 

But you can choose the market you want to join. So, when picking a programming language or framework, pick a big market.

Languages like JavaScript, Python, and Java will give you access to the biggest development markets. Afterward, you can consider adding some more niche programming languages like GoLang or Rust to differentiate yourself even more.

But, for your first 5 to 10 years of writing code, pick one language or platform and dive as deep as you can into it. Technical mastery will translate to you growing much faster and, of course, making a lot more money. 

In 2024, JavaScript is an excellent choice.

It has a huge ecosystem with plenty of jobs. Many Java and PHP applications are being migrated to JavaScript-powered applications.

Knowing JavaScript and its frameworks will also open the door for you to branch into full-stack or the backend, leveraging the Node.js platform.

If you are more interested in data, bet on good old SQL and Python. Despite the AI hype, these technologies will be relevant for years to come. 

Senior Dev Tip: Don’t overthink this decision, as you can change it later. Many developers obsess about which framework to learn when it doesn’t matter much. What matters most is how well you learn it. Mastering one framework will make it very easy to learn another, given that you also learn the mental models behind it, not just its implementation.

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Location: 100k In Amsterdam Is Not 100k In New York.

Just like in real estate, location matters when picking a developer job. Different places pay differently, and it matters a lot. Particularly if you are looking for a high salary. The cost of living is also different, so account for that.

Generally, the more developed the country you are in, the bigger the city you work and the more “techie” the local economy, the more you will earn. 

So the first tip of this article is…

Move to a big city that is also a tech hub. 

In Europe, that’s usually the capital city in most countries. If you can, switch countries. You will have to leave some things behind, but the experience you will get by working in one of the world’s top tech hubs is definitely worth it. 

Keep in mind that the number of 100k jobs in any given market is not that big, particularly in Europe. A bigger country and city means more opportunities to earn such a salary. 

Senior Dev Tip: Personally, I switched countries in my early twenties, from Madrid, Spain, to Berlin, Germany, for the exact same reason. As an ambitious developer looking to build an international career, I must be in one of Europe's top tech hubs.

What if you work remotely?

Some say that remote work has changed that game and that location doesn’t matter.

In my experience, it depends. It turns out that companies prefer to hire local developers and some are obsessed with people being in the office.

Many developers dream of working remotely in a highly paid six-figure job in New York from a lower-income country, like Mexico or Brazil. Then, they can enjoy as many pina coladas as they like without caring about their bank account.

The reality is remote jobs are insanely competitive.

Most companies are reluctant to hire 100% remote employees and will demand some office presence. Another incentive for companies to hire remotely is lower salaries. 

So don’t always expect to make the same salary as a developer in their local market might ask for. They are going to the remote market to get a better price.

The quantity of highly paying remote jobs is not that high, while competition for those jobs is very intense. Be prepared for some very tough technical interviews.

Beyond Technologies, Frameworks And Location

Once the salary and location are taken care of, you might want to maximize two other variables directly impacting your salary. Those are…

Reality and perception.

The good news is that while you can’t directly control the market itself, you can control both of those things. Let’s examine both of those components.

For starters, reality is how productive you are. I am talking about impact as revenue generated, not hours worked or lines of code written. 

Perception is how productive people think you are, including your team and your boss.

In a perfect world where we could accurately measure a developer’s output, reality would be the same as the perception. Your salary would be the 100% equivalent of your productivity. 

In reality, your output and its perception by your company are very different. 

And it won’t change anytime soon.

That is because developer output is almost impossible to measure. Writing code doesn’t always have direct and tangible results.

If you were a salesperson selling houses, performance would be easy to measure. For example, how many houses you sold per month or respect to your peers.

Sure, you could try to measure developer productivity by counting lines of code. But that would be a disaster, partly because developers who write a lot of code are usually less productive. 

Ask any Senior dev, the best code is no code. 

On the other hand, most software developers work in teams. 

Teams of QAs, designers, product managers and much more. It is hard to determine who was responsible for the success of the product, because in most cases, everyone was. 

Developer productivity is so incredibly hard to measure that the second part of this equation, perception, is as important as productivity in determining one's salary.

Here is a hard pill for many developers to swallow.

You can be great at writing code, but if you don’t know how to sell yourself, you won’t make much out of your coding skills.

What’s worse, in many cases, you will see other developers whose skills are worse than yours taking merit for your work. Unfair, but it happens all the time. 

On the contrary, if you are great at selling yourself but have poor technical skills, well, you don’t have much to sell. You might get around, but you will suffer from Impostor Syndrome and be pushed to more management/political roles.

If being a politician is your thing, then go for it.

But if you are still reading, I assume you are ambitious and hard-working, two must-haves if you want to join the “100ks developer club.”

The key to getting a high salary as a developer is playing with both reality and perception. 

Great skills and knowing how to sell yourself are essential. Neglect one side of the equation, and you will find yourself stuck. This is something to keep in mind throughout your whole developer career.

Senior Dev Hint: Yes, your company might pay you per hour if you are a contractor. Or per month if you are hired as an employee. They do so because it simplifies the almost impossible task of really quantifying the impact of a developer’s work.

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Company: Not Everyone Can Pay 100k for a Software Developer.

No matter how good you are, some companies will never be able to pay you because they don’t have the cash. You can’t pay money you don’t have. 

Premium companies pay premium salaries.

Asking a small company to pay you 100k when they don’t have that kind of budget is like asking an average earner to buy a Bentley. 

This doesn’t mean you should only target FAANGS-level companies. But, it does mean looking for companies with lots of cash in their bank accounts. 

Cash depends on the sector.

For example, the financial industry, healthcare, and government companies usually have tons of cash to spare (and tons of legacy code).

Banks, because that’s where the money is. Healthcare because, no matter how little money you have, if you are sick you pay whatever to get healthy. And the government because they are the ones printing money in the first place and collecting all those taxes.

There are exceptions to these sectors, but when looking for 100k jobs, look in those places first.

What Companies Look For When Paying High Salaries To Software Engineers

Now that you have optimized your location, your tech stack and the kind of companies you will apply to, you have to understand these are the traits that software companies are willing to pay for the most when hiring developers.

What opens their wallet, and what they don’t care about.

The #1 thing companies look for in software development is predictability.

Software projects are difficult to build because they are complex. Often, that complexity runs out of hand as technical decisions prove wrong down the road.

Stuff needs to be refactored, which leads to delays. Delays lead to profit loss.

One skill you will want to get insanely good at if you want to make six figures and beyond. It is not React, not TypeScript, or any fancy Cloud technology (a.k.a. Kubernetes).

It is getting things done. Whatever that means.

Deliver value-adding features to the user, and deliver them fast. Highly paid developers strike the perfect balance between best practices and time to market.

The #2 nd thing companies look for is speed.

Technology evolves very fast. Every single day, new software products are released to the market. It is not only about building the right thing. It is about building it fast. You are either first to market or last.

Investors and companies know this very well, which is why they are obsessed with speed and willing to pay good money for developers who can deliver on time. 

Speed comes from reducing complexity.

You achieve both of those things by mastering your tech stack. Only then you will be able to come up with technical solutions that maximize speed and minimize complexity.

Despite what you’ve been taught, you get paid for making hard things sound easy—easy to implement and easy to understand. The developer who gets the higher paycheck is the one that management and the product can understand and get along with. 

Keep this in mind during your next technical interview.

You have to be so good at these things and so far ahead of the average coder that people think you are playing on a field of your own.

If they can’t compare you, they can’t lowball you.

If a system or application will save a company 10 million a year and is mission critical, they will be more than willing to pay 100k+ to the developer building it. And if you are leading the team or designing the architecture, even more.

Senior Dev Tip: Maximize development speed and minimize complexity by mastering your tech stack, that’s how you get to 100ks.

Now that we’ve covered the key aspects that will determine your salary let’s see what a roadmap to a 100k salary as a developer would look like.

Starting with your first year coding and getting your first developer job…

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Year 1. Your First Developer Job (35ks To 45ks). 

Getting your first developer job is one of the hardest things you will do during your entire developer career. It is twice as hard if you are self-taught and don’t have the degree of a prestigious CS university or internship experience. 

With nothing to show and little knowledge about the market, the deck is stacked against you. You will be competing with dozens more experienced developers.

But wait, it gets even worse. 

It is 2024, and no Junior Developer jobs are left out there.

This is why your most significant obstacle and source of rejection will be that “you don’t have enough experience.” You will want to address this first.

Companies will not even give you a chance to interview. And if you can’t get that first interview, you won’t even get a chance to showcase your talent. 

You must do whatever it takes to get experience, even if you have none. I’ve written a whole article about how to get more developer experience here. Check it out here.

After that, you should have a decent CV and start getting technical interviews. Do expect to fail the first interviews you get. Keep going regardless of how many rejections you get.

You can survive this stage by staying consistent.

Sooner or later, after enough interviews, your performance will improve and some companies will decide to extend you an offer.

Regarding salary, in the European market, aim for anything between 35 to 45 ks.

It doesn’t sound like much, I know. But it doesn’t matter. The point here is to get paid for writing code and to get into the game as soon as possible.

One of Junior Developers' biggest mistakes here is they don’t negotiate their first job.

They are desperate to get more experience and willing to settle for whatever. But even a 5k bump at this stage will mean tons down the road. Even if you don’t have another offer, make sure you negotiate.

By the end of this year, you should aim to be at around 50k already. You will do this by switching jobs. Six months into our first job, you should either negotiate a pay raise 

Year 2. Switch Jobs (55ks To 65ks)

By this time, you should have at least one year of experience and have worked on a few software projects. You should be familiar with how a software development team works and have some degree of proficiency in your tech stack.

It might sound early, but this is the perfect time for you to switch jobs again. Why? It is your opportunity to leave the “Junior” title behind.

The company that hired you as a Junior will likely see you as a junior for a long time. Once people make a first impression of you, it is almost impossible to change their mind.

Maybe you made an effort and improved your skills very fast.

Maybe you are way beyond a Junior now. You can deliver at mid-level without issues. It doesn’t matter. For them, you are still a Junior Developer. 

A new company, in exchange, will see you with fresh eyes.

They will be hiring a more experienced developer with a track record of delivery. This allows you to negotiate on totally new terms and get far better conditions and a salary.

So why don’t most developers do this?

Because, at this point, most developers are doing okay. They are comfortable.

Which is stopping them from doing great.

Once you reach the 50s to 60s, in most European cities, you will have enough to get by.

You can pay rent, buy some nice clothes and a nice phone, and even eat out in the city a few days a week. This “good enough” level can make you forget about your goal or even change goals.

Many developers stop learning and stop getting better. They might pick up a new hobby and put their attention elsewhere. 

Here’s some counterintuitive advice to make sure you don’t get comfortable.

Money should never be your primary focus if you want to get past 100k.

Your primary focus should be achieving your full potential as a developer. To find what you are capable of and give your best to society and the world in the process.

Getting to 100ks is only a means to an end. 

You might end up going freelance or building your own business as a tech co-founder afterward. Regardless, hitting that number will build your confidence and your skills.

Keep this in mind, and let’s proceed with the next step…

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Year 3. Switch Jobs Again (Aim For 75 To 85 ks). 

At this stage you are approaching the salary limit where more companies will consider you a proper Senior Developer. Interviews are going to become more demanding. Being able to deliver in the sprint will not get you far.

You will need to prove you can work independently, make sound technical decisions, and follow software development best practices.

The only way you can do this is by narrowing down your focus to a few things and mastering them to a level that most developers in the market have not. 

This is how you will easily stand out in interviews. Even if you have a baby face.

Year 4 to 5. Magic Number 100ks.

At this point, I assume you can deliver features on the full stack without any external help. You can make technical decisions and provide technical leadership to the team.

To go for 100k, you have to find companies willing to pay such a salary or more for software developers. You would probably have to aim for the top 20% of companies in your market. 

Everything above 100k is Principal/Staff Engineering level of pay.

Or, in some cases, Staff Engineer/Principal pay.

You should expect to be tested on your technical skills, both architectural and hands-on development skills. And expect to be challenged on your communication skills.

Expect your CV to be challenged. By the way, aim for 2 to 3 pages. Show clear, quantifiable achievements in every area and a very relevant tech stack.

The other thing companies will look for when handing you such a paycheck is technical leadership.

Saying you like to mentor Junior developers is not enough (everyone says that). You want to show that you can take charge of the situation when things go wrong and that you can lead the team technically to success.

The deciding factors here will be the System Design and culture fit interviews.

The System Design because companies can go as deep and wide as they want to assess you.

In this kind of interview, you want to consider the implications of your technical choices on the business and the team, not only on the tech stack.

The culture fit matters because the people at the top (and you will be at the top) influence the people at the bottom. Your influence on the other developers around you will be huge, so they want someone with good influence.

A strong mix of technical and communication skills makes for a killer candidate. Both are hard to teach, and both will be necessary for you to pass the 100k threshold. 

Year 5+: Beyond 100ks.

Here, you want to consider going remote and working for higher-paying markets. In this case, the USA and Switzerland are both great options. Some USA-based companies are actively hiring remotely in Europe.

They make it very easy for you to join, as they already have the legal structure in place to hire you. Many offer salaries of 120k+.

If you stay technical, you will aim for the positions of Principal Engineer, Staff Engineer, or Software Architect. If the position involves leading other developers, some companies will call it Tech Lead.

At this point, you should keep growing your knowledge about software architecture, particularly the Cloud and the backend, where systems scale the most.

You might also want to change your employment status from employee to freelancer.

This will allow you to write off many of your expenses, save on taxes, and increase your pay (contractors earn quite a bit more than employees as they also take more risk).

From this point on, you will be playing your own game.

You can stay a developer and keep cashing in your skills, go freelance, start your own software company, or switch to Management by becoming an Engineering Manager.

All of those options have pros and cons.

Which one should you pick? That’s for another article.

For now, if you get to this stage, I would like to say “Congratulations!”. You are now in the top 10% of software engineers worldwide. And the top 1% earners world wide.

Keep up the good work, and remember to give back by helping other Junior developers reach the kind of success you reached.

Until the next one,


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