How to Negotiate A Salary For an FPGA Job
How much can you get paid to write VHDL or Verilog?
So, you have an offer! You've written a fantastic resume. You've wowed the company at the interview. And now you're into the negotiating phase. I have been through this process a few times and I personally enjoy it, and I've learned a few things along the way. This article gives some tips to get your new job off to a great start.
If you have a job right now, don't tell them your current salary!
That's the first question Human Resources loves to ask. This gives them the advantage in the negotiation. Never give information about your current salary. There's no benefit to you. Instead just say, "I trust that you'll provide me an offer that takes into account my experience and the overall market conditions." Done! The ball is in their court. I did this trick and I was offered about 20% more than I was making at my current job, and I was still able to counter that offer for another 8%, which means that I got a 28% pay bump by not sharing information about my salary. Do you think the new company would have offered me 28% more if I told them my current salary? No way!
Asking never hurts, ever
Let's say you're thrilled with the first offer. You're going to take it! Woo! You're tired, you just want to be done with this whole process. WAIT. Pause. You should always counter-offer. They will never rescind their original offer. At worst, they will politely tell you that they cannot go that high and say their original offer was their best. At best, they will accept your counter-offer! Always always ask.
How much should I get paid?
This totally depends on where you're going to be working and how much experience you have. Are you in Silicon Valley? Well that will be different than Alabama. The best suggestion that I have is to take a survey of your overall market via glassdoor. Glassdoor has both jobs and reviews of companies as well, so you can get a taste of what you're in for by reading reviews.
In general in the United States at least, a Digital Designer working with FPGAs is a very lucrative career. It would not surprise me at all if after 5 years you're making over $100k per year. Remember that FPGAs are a very niche product, so there's not many people who are good at working with them. Which is why you're valuable!
What is it like to work as an FPGA engineer?
It's great! If you're working with a team of other disciplines like Mechanical, Electrical, and Software engineers, most of them have no clue what you do. You are a magician. You make the 1's and 0's go in the right spot. Most of your day is spent hacking away at RTL, Testbenches, and looking at waveforms. Gotta get those 1's and 0's correct after all.
Personally I like to be very sure that my design works by testing the heck out of it in simulation prior to jumping on hardware. This means that I have a lot of testbench code! So if I'm writing a module, I usually estimate it takes 30% of my time to write the RTL, 50% of my time to write the testbench, and the last 20% of my time debugging on hardware. Test code takes a long time! But that's how your design gets really robust and reliable.
What about working for a Start-Up?
The main difference in working for a small team in a start-up environment is that you'll likely be paid less and work more. But that's OK, because working for a start-up has other benefits. The most obvious one is that you get equity in the company. This means if the start-up becomes very valuable you can make a lot of money. I think that something like 90% of start-ups don't survive in the long term, so I consider this equity like buying a lottery ticket. It might be worth a lot, but probably not. As a side note, one thing you can absolutely negotiate for is more equity. It never hurts to ask! See Tip #2 above.
But there are other benefits to working for a start up. You work more closely with other disciplines, including the CEO, which is a great experience. Learning what others do is very interesting, and people love to talk about what they do all day, so ask them about their jobs! Additionally you have much more control over your own work and environment. You determine a lot of the process and workflow, so you'll enjoy your job more! Plus I assume that the reason you're working for this particular start-up in the first place is because you're passionate about the company and the mission. Waking up in the morning with a sense of purpose is wonderful! Can't put a price on it.