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How to make $100,000 in Silicon Valley without an engineering background

August 11, 2015


Answer by Jonathan Brill on Quora.

You can make $100,000 or more right away in Silicon Valley without an engineering background. I know this because I was making more than $100,000 per year in my second job — just out of college with only a couple of years’ worth of work experience — 15 years ago. So it’s not only possible now, but should be expected, especially by someone in Silicon Valley who has used his or her time in high school and college to build a marketable skillset and is intent on doing this.

Also, the pay for programmers and data scientists with equivalent experience was typically not higher than mine, and often was less or much less depending on the kind of company and industry. Contrary to popular belief, it’s typical for programmers fresh out of school to get paid less than $100,000 for their starting jobs, and sometimes for a few years into their mid-20s. Like non-technical jobs, it’s really dependent on their skill level and other factors.

The kind of computer science grads you hear about getting great offers or making a lot of money right away have typically distinguished themselves early in ways a non-technical person might not recognize. Some obvious ways to do this for programmers or data scientists is to build really neat things, win technical competitions or other academic achievements.

But I’d argue that the money possible for a new computer science grad is not more than what’s available to somebody with an MBA or who has achieved comparable distinction with a focus in finance, advertising or design. Traditionally, the money available to people in finance is really high compared to what anybody could get as a new computer science grad, even if they’re coming from an ivy league school, have won some competitions, etc. For MBAs, it’s not crazy to see $150,000 to $200,000 offers right out of the gate. For financial analysts and salespeople on Wall Street, you can get up to the mid-hundreds of thousands after a couple years of building a client base.

I was working in a sales capacity in high school and through college, so by the time I got my first job as a technology salesperson with a publicly traded company, I had a great resume, references, and a short history of exceeding expectations. I took that job and sold during the day and rewrote the playbook on how to attack the market over nights and weekends. I maintained over 250% of quota for two years, and then went to work for a software company — which gave me an impossible client list — but offered a $120,000 base salary. After closing 75% of the company’s revenue, securing its next investor, and getting promoted twice, my career was in hand. I knew with the skills I already had, I’d never have to worry about work again.

Three things a non-technical person can do to maximize earning potential in Silicon Valley right out of school:

  • Find a sales job at a small, consumer startup. The Yelp sale in the early days was about five times harder than it is now when everybody has heard of it. But you’d have made about 100 times more money from its IPO, so probably a good trade. Sure, you can do what I did and go business-to-business (there wasn’t really a consumer Internet industry when I came up), but business-to-business is much more difficult early on. To be really good, you need to learn a lot about technology, business strategy, and generally be able to convince a CIO to trust you personally with a million dollars of budget, and his or her job.


  • Start writing a ton and get into copywriting for a startup that needs fuel for its content marketing strategy. Many companies now would call this a social media strategist, specialist, marketer, or something else, but really what it means is creating mountains of compelling content to help sell the pitch online. I’ve done this. It works, and people who can do it well are worth their weight in gold.


  • Earn your keep as a research analyst. In small companies, someone who can find some data, build some charts out of it, and draw a narrative to quickly and efficiently tell a story with it can move mountains. These are not hard skills to come by. It takes a few weeks to be passable at this, and a long summer to get really good. Once you’re good at this you can try your hand at more complicated surveys, data mining, and creating infographics. But short of that, your ability to do this would be helpful to project teams, sales and marketing, or even founders looking to pull board and pitch slides together.


Overall, the companies that dominate headlines in today’s tech section are top heavy with tech talent, completely dependent on peak technical work, and their compensation reflects that. But take a flight a few hours in any direction to a bank, hedge fund, video game company, or any of the hundred or so other industries, and the breadwinners are the sales people, marketers, and operations whiz kids who figure out how to cut costs while moving everything else up and to the right. That’s been the case for about a few hundred years, and there’s no reason to think it’s changing now.

This question originally appeared on Quora: How quickly can I make $100K in Silicon Valley without an engineering background?

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