I'm 21 & My First Job Out Of College Pays $270,000

In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck, women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making six-figures — when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the U.S. Census with the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Today, we chat with a 21-year old software engineer from Berkeley, CA. Previously, we spoke with a 29-year old law associate from San Diego, CA and a 29-year old video editor from Los Angeles, CA.
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Job: Software Engineer
Age: 21
Location: Berkeley, CA
Degree: Computer Science, minors in Film and Psychology
Salary: $270,000 ($135,000 base plus $60,000 starting bonus and $75,000 yearly stock grant)
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a kid, I don't know that I had a singular idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I really liked art, music, and math.
What did you study in school/college/university?
I started college with the intention of studying math while pursuing minors in film and psychology. However, the college I attended was extremely big on computer science, and I felt like I needed to at least try a course since we were so well known for it. I immediately loved the problem-solving nature of the field, and the really cool people I got to work with, and eventually ended up taking more classes and majoring in it (still got my minors in film and psych though!)
Did you have to take out student loans? If so, how much were they for and how long did it take you to pay them off?
Actually, my parents were just extremely generous and had the means to pay for my college. To show them my appreciation, I worked really hard in school and was able to wrap up my studies in three years instead of four, so they're sitting on a good chunk of change from that fourth year.
Have you been working at this job since you graduated college? If not, what internships and/or other jobs have you had before this one?
This is my first job since I graduated college! I did several internships while I was in school at some bigger companies (Google, Instagram) but this is my first full-time job. My base salary is $135,000, I was paid a starting bonus of $60,000, and my yearly stock grant is $75,000. So this first year, I'll get $270,000 but since this bonus was just for starting, my regular salary going forward will be about $210,000.
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Did you negotiate your salary? (If yes, how did you know what to ask for?)
Yes, I did negotiate my salary. I didn't how much more to ask for but always went into negotiations with the mindset that a company's first offer was never their best offer. On average I asked for about 10% more than what I was offered, and that strategy always yielded me a better offer in some form, either an increased base salary or more equity.
What do you do all day at your job?
A lot of my job consists of figuring out how to build, debug, and design new features for our product. For example, if we decide that we need a new tool the first step in that process is that I have to do research about how to build it and write up a design document about it. This document then gets circulated around to the rest of the team so that they can leave feedback on my ideas and potentially suggest a better way to do something. Once that's done most of my days are spent working with other engineers coding to build this feature according to the design document. Along the way, or after the project, we also spend time debugging, which means chasing down a problem to find the root cause and fixing it up.
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
There's nothing I regret yet. I'm really glad I chose the company I did, even though it's smaller than the past few places I've worked. I feel like the work I do makes much more of an impact. I believe in the product, and the people I work with are all kind and really great at teaching me new things.
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Is your current job your “passion?” If not, what is?
I don't really believe in your work being your passion. I know for some it is, and that's great, but for me as long as I enjoy my job and the people I work with, then I'm good. I'd say my actual passions are cooking, baking, and traveling. I also really love spending time with my family and friends, but I don't think you can really qualify that as a passion.
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
I would say to learn and explore as much as you can in college, because it’s one of the only periods in your life where your only job is to learn and absorb as much as possible. Even if the classes you want don't fulfill a requirement or are directly related to your major, take them! You'll probably end up learning more than you thought you would. I'd also say to keep learning once you leave college, whether it be through education of mind, body, or soul. It’s so important to keep your mind alert and sharp instead of just falling into life's mindless routines.
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Are you a woman under 35 with a six-figure salary and want to tell your story? Submit it here.
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