When Taking a Pay Cut as a Programmer Might Be the Right Choice

Working as a programmer is great work if you can get it. And there are usually plenty of opportunities out there. So why would someone want to take a pay cut to go to a new job, especially when that is one of the most common ways programmers get raises?

There have been a few times in my career where I took a pay cut to take a new job and was happy to do it. There were other times I would have considered it if the new job fit everything else I needed. And I have had a few friends choose a lower-paying job and their reasons hit home.

When You Want to Build Experience in Something New

Technology changes. There are still Fortran and Cobol developers out there and they get paid well…because no one else wants to write that code. Sometimes it pays to take a pay cut to learn a new technology in the long run. Because eventually Fortran, Cobol, and possibly a technology you work in now will be dead.

I jumped from being a PHP developer to being a front-end developer in React and Angular and took a minor pay cut. But I saw what senior front-end developers were getting paid, and I knew that future looked better.

When It Means a Better Work-Life Balance

I have had a few jobs that demanded a lot of my time. Many times, there were 12-hour days and 60-hour weeks. When I was a junior developer, I didn’t mind that much. I was getting paid twice as much as the job I had before I became a working programmer, and I was just going to grin and bear it. I wasn’t about to question.

I finally quit that job after 6 years and realized that I had waited too long. There are many jobs out there. And some of them let you have a life. I did not know this. Now I do.

When It’s Your Dream Job

It’s not so true anymore, but there was a time I would have taken a pay cut to work in fintech. I wanted to be a quant. I figured software running all day while I did other things would be a great way to make money. I have since changed my mind about that. I see it only as gambling now, where all the success stories suffer from survivorship bias.

But, I do possibly see myself taking a job in the publishing industry when my kids are grown and I wouldn’t mind a pay cut. I enjoy reading, writing, and books.

Programmers have the work they do, but also the industry they work in. When you love both of those things, you will most likely do your best work, love it more, and change the industry.

When the Benefits are Better

Sometimes the benefits can be better than the pay. Maybe it is simply that the job is closer to your house. I took a job recently that paid 20k less than a job that was 50 miles away. That was an easy decision. There was a reason the pay was high. It was in a small town and no one wanted to drive that far.

Your reason could be real benefits, like fully paid insurance for both you and your dependents or a better employer 401K contribution. And there are jobs out there that pay all your insurance. I work at one now.

When You Like the Team

There was one job I left because I felt out-of-place. I wasn’t sure why. I couldn’t list reasons. But when I got to work early, I would listen to music in my car until it was time to go in. This was something I hadn’t done since I worked menial jobs.

So when a friend of mine called and said he had a job and that another friend of mine worked there already, I made the move. And I was a much happier employee two weeks later.

When You Want to Focus on a Side Hustle

You may have a side hustle that is taking off and does not yet pay all the bills. But you want to give it focus and priority. Higher pay usually comes with more responsibility and more work. Taking a pay cut could mean more time for your side hustle.

When You Relocate

This may not apply as much after the pandemic, when many programmers work from home, but I had to take a pay cut when I moved from Phoenix to Kansas City. I wanted to live around my family again and that was more important than money.


A programming job can pay you a lot. But with all the opportunities out there, it can also be flexible. Pay doesn’t have to be your focus. You could look for a better work/life balance, a better culture, or better long-term benefits.

Stephan Miller

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Kansas City Software Engineer and Author

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