Photo by Ahmed Sinan

Aside from the previously discussed culprit (time), disagreements over relatively small compensation issues are the biggest deal killers in the Ruby on Rails community. I can’t tell you how many deals we’ve seen fall apart over 10k, 5k, or less.

This is a shame, because Rails companies are typically looking for a personality and skill set match and have found both if an offer has been presented. (Contrast this to a larger ‘enterprisey’ institution looking to fill cubes where personality isn’t as big of a deal.) Why do deals fall apart over such small numbers?

Oftentimes, it’s what’s not said between employer and developer that is more important than what is. For developers, here are some reasons we’ve seen that the extra 5-10k mean so much:

  • "I made X at my last job so I need to make X + Y at my next gig."
  • "My friend makes X and I’m at least as good."
  • "I don’t want to make less than my significant other."
  • "I just really want to make [an arbitrary amount that holds significance]."

Our advice: once you’re at the offer stage, you’ve already agreed that the opportunity and salary range are exciting. Don’t let the last mile confuse things. 5k after taxes is 3k, which is less than $9 a day. Do you really want to pass up an opportunity you’re excited about for that little? Rails jobs are by and large at startups. The reward ceiling is high. Nobody is going to get rich (or poor) off a typical startup’s developer salary. So don’t compromise your chance to be part of something special that you believe in for a few cups of coffee per day.

Employers have similar reasons for not acquiescing to a developer’s desire for a small bump in initial compensation. What we’ve seen:

  • "I’m paying another employee at that level Y, so I can’t possibly offer anything different."
  • "I can’t pay more than someone more senior is making."
  • "But that’s more than I make."
  • "Our investors won’t let us."

Our advice: treat building a startup team like building a professional sports team. Players join at different times, under varying circumstances. As such, their salaries differ (sometimes wildly) based on where the team is and what the market conditions are at the time.

Keep your eye one the ball, and don’t let a key employee escape over short money.