(Clockwise, top left) Johnny Ray Austin, Hilliary Turnipseed and Marquet Reid.
(Collage by Technical.ly)
Although he’s long since passed the six-figure mark in annual salary, DC technologist Johnny Ray Austin said that in his first-ever tech role at Lockheed Martin, he had no idea how much he should even ask for.
“Especially out of college, it was still the most money I’d ever made in my life … at like $55,000 a year,” Austin said. “But it felt like a lot more. So I took it, no questions asked.”
Since that first break, Austin has gone on to roles with some of DC’s largest tech teams at firms like edtech company EverFi, mapping software provider Mapbox and digital agency iStrategyLabs. These led to his current position as CTO of rent payment startup Till, a role that he said brings him over $200,000 in salary each year.
While it might have seemed like a mind-boggling number to straight-out-of-college Austin, he said he was able to reach the bracket when he learned to negotiate offers after his first few gigs. Eventually, it paid off big time.
He’s not alone, either. With the District’s well-known high cost of living playing a part in every offer and strong tech industry growth, DC has seen growing competition in its compensation offerings for technologists.
What was once a town known for stable government jobs is now a place where high-growth companies are putting down roots, attracting mega-rounds from big-name investors and getting in the race to build high-performing software teams. It means the region is home to a group of companies looking to attract new talent, and working hard to keep effective team members that are already onboard.
For some technologists, like Austin, the DC frenzy has paid off. By navigating the market, they’re able to attain a new level of wealth, even without founding an uber-successful startup. To find out who’s who and put numbers behind this growth, Technical.ly took a look at who’s making the high-end of salaries in DC — which we deemed over $200,000 in salary alone annually, the threshold required to become an accredited angel investor — and how that’s changed the city during the tech boom of the past 10 years. This is the beginning of a reporting series based on the data. (Check out the methodology on GitHub.)
Stories like Austin’s show how earners across the District are able to reach a level of wealth only known to a small percentage of the population in salary growth alone. According to the Technical.ly data, 2,927 Black earners in DC made over $200,000 in 2019, and tech is able to take some of the credit. But looking at this top tier, white earners still have a huge leg up on any other group, even though the numbers are showing growth among BIPOC professionals making over $200,000.
It means there is opportunity for BIPOC workers to reach new levels of wealth as they grow a career. But for some, achieving true, holistic wealth means looking outside of salary and closer at what’s really being offered beyond the paycheck.
So, what does it really come down to? There’s money to be made in DC. But, for technologists, overall wealth and equity in the workforce means a lot more.
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