I Make $102,000 & I Left A Job When I Found Out I Was Underpaid

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 26-year-old product manager from Austin, TX. Previously, we spoke to a 28-year old senior social media associate in the aviation industry in Washington D.C., a 30-year old associate director of social media marketing from New York, NY, and a 30-year old CG animator from Los Angeles, CA.
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Job: Product Manager, Technology Industry
Age: 26
Location: Austin, TX
Degree: Bachelor of Business Administration (Marketing/Information Systems Concentration)
First Salary: $51,000
Salary: $102,000
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"For the longest time, I wanted to be a plastic surgeon. I remember seeing a TV special about a surgeon who would travel to Asia to perform reconstructive surgery on orphaned children with cleft palates, so I wanted to do that, too. I thought it would be a great way to help people and travel.
"After doing some research throughout middle school and learning more about myself, I knew I couldn't stay in school for that long, and I needed to be in a role that would allow me to switch things up from time to time. I got the opportunity to shadow a couple of doctors, and I realized I wouldn't be able to spend much time with my family if I went that route. There isn't as much flexibility in that type of work.
"In high school, I shifted to architecture. My parents were friends with a couple of architects, and I also got a chance to shadow them. It seemed to offer the flexibility I was looking for while also giving me a chance to help people. These architects worked on public spaces like parks and recreation centers. I had personally benefitted from having access to such spaces growing up, and I wanted to provide that to others. However, I went to high school during the housing crisis, so the dollars for these kinds of public projects was drying up. The architects I shadowed suggested I look into another path, so I did."
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What did you study in college?
"Since I had to figure out what I wanted to do all over again, I took a variety of classes my first two years. Luckily, I had some credits to spare since I was able to earn some college credit in high school.
"I knew I wanted to make a comfortable amount of money, so I kept business and law opportunities open. I ended up pursuing business after I got the chance to do Google's BOLD Immersion program after my freshman year. Most of the roles had a business component to it, so I felt like I couldn't go wrong if I wanted to be on the corporate side of tech. I ended up graduating with a BBA, with a concentration in Marketing Analytics and Information Systems."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"I chose the university I attended because it had a program that allowed middle class families to take out no more than $20,000 in loans. I ended up right at the $20,000 mark. I'm sure I took out more loans than I actually needed, but I didn't have a great concept of loans or credit. My parents stayed away from them so I didn't really learn how to use them well.
"Luckily, now I know how to use loans and credit effectively. I still have half of the loan left to pay, but the interest rate is 3%. I have a high-interest savings account that is 2%, and my stocks have been averaging 8%+ in annual returns. Since my money is making more in the market, it makes sense to let my money gain from compound interest than pay my student loans down faster."
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Have you been working at this job since you graduated college?
"This is my third full-time role since college. During college, I had three internships; one at Google, one at a non-profit, and one at a large banking institution. Most of my business school peers went into banking or consulting, which generally pays pretty well.
"After college, my friends were making $10,000 more than me, but I was working around 40 hours a week, and they were working around 80 hours a week. It ended up being a pretty good decision. My peers are making around $80,000 now at the same companies while still working 80-hour weeks. My company is very flexible as most of my team has kids. At this point, most of my peers are considering MBAs to move into the six-figure range. I may still pursue an MBA, but my company is willing to pay for it. I plan on staying here, fighting for pay raises, and not taking out any more loans."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"I lay out the strategy for what software development teams — i.e. software engineers, data scientists, business intelligence analysts, and marketing analysts — will build and ensure they execute on that strategy."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"In my first role out of college, I was so excited to have a job, and I got an offer for $51,000, which was around what my parents were making. Because of this, I thought it was more than enough. My university taught us how to interview for jobs, but didn't teach us how to negotiate. I didn't even think I could negotiate.
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"I thought the hiring manager would think I was being greedy if I asked for more. But I regretted not negotiating after I learned that a female peer of mine was making $62,000. When it came time for a raise after two years, my manager told me my new salary would be $53,000.
"I began to look for other roles, mostly because I felt like my career would get stuck if I stayed. I found a role that would help move me in the direction I wanted to go, and I tried to negotiate, but they wouldn't budge past $55,000. I later learned that a male peer was making $69,000, but I kept my head down and worked harder to see if I could get a promotion and raise. After about a year in the role, I got a raise that brought my salary to $64,000. This was around the time that my company did a pay adjustment for women throughout the company, so I'm not sure if the raise was based on merit.
"I started looking at roles at other companies and got two offers after interviewing with three companies. I decided I would not accept anything under $88,000. I got an offer of $95,000, but I mentioned that I was giving up a lot of conveniences from my old role (e.g. free food all day, heavily subsidized health insurance, and a full gym with classes). After calculating what I would spend in a year on those things, I asked for an additional $7,000 more and they accepted.
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"When I told my boss I had accepted another offer, they counter-offered $67,000, which still wouldn't be the $69,000 I knew others were getting paid. So I declined. I loved the company, but I didn't want to be in a space where I would not be able to progress in my career or get paid the same as my peers."
Is your current job your “passion”? If not, what is?
"I came to the realization a couple of years ago that I enjoy having two or three things I'm passionate about. The role I'm in now is, thankfully, one of my passions, but even if I was just content, I'd probably be okay with that. I enjoy having the free time to pursue things that I know might not pay well. I have the opportunity to serve my community, dance, and do random things.
"My passion may change, so I no longer rely on my day job to bring passion to my life. I think a job can be disappointing if I'm using it as a one-stop-shop for everything I'm looking for. I ended up making a list of everything I wanted to experience in the work and hobbies I do, and I pursued volunteer and paid opportunities that brought in the other things I was looking for. It really helped me evaluate every opportunity and make adjustments when needed."
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"There are some college graduate and rotational programs for product management that I wish I would have been able to jump into right after graduating, but I didn't know the role existed until about three years after I graduated. I think the path I've taken so far has been a pretty good one. I like that I was able to experience multiple roles in multiple industries in a five-year span."
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What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"I would tell myself to not be afraid of how others might think of me if I asked for more money or said something that conflicted with their perspective. Even though some companies implicitly encourage pay secrecy, I don't believe in that. I ask everyone their salaries because I think information transparency is important.
"It was inevitable that I would feel resentment when I realized that I was getting paid significantly less for the same work. If someone expects to get my work for a discount, then I will keep it moving. As a Black woman, I know that others may perceive things that I say and do completely differently than others who say and do the same thing. For that reason, I became overly cautious and began going along with decisions I didn't personally believe were the best thing.
"Now, I realize that my perspective is what my company values. I'm still paranoid though, so I document everything or get it in writing to be able to pull out receipts in case something goes down. I think I would be even further in my career had I been less afraid of pushing buttons."
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Are you a woman under 35 with a six-figure salary ($100,000+) and want to tell your story? Submit it here.
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