The ancient Greek phrase “γνῶθι σεαυτόν,” which means “know thyself” was the first of three axioms inscribed on the outer court of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. For centuries, learned men and women, from ancient Greek philosophers to contemporary authors, have written about the deeper meaning of these words. Although many interpretations exist, various scholars have concluded that a more meaningful translation of this phrase is “know thy measure.”
Being Greek myself gives me great pride and a warm giddy feeling inside to be the latest writer to tackle the meaning of this phrase. But alas, I am no student of philosophy, so I will approach it from a realm that I am familiar with: network engineering.
Philosophical banter aside, if you were asked the question “what is your measure as a network engineer?” would you be able to answer? More specifically, what is the monetary value of your expertise in networking? Unfortunately, it is often difficult to answer, mainly because it is equally detrimental if you overestimate or underestimate yourself by any substantial margin.
This is a question that I have struggled with and still struggle with after over 20 years of experience in the industry. It’s challenging to answer skillfully, but it is vital for your career that you at least value yourself somewhat accurately most of the time.
In this article, we’ll explore how you can more accurately “know thy measure” and the implications of evaluating oneself in such a manner.
When I use “worth,” “measure,” “cost,” “value,” and other words of similar meaning, I am never referring to one’s worth as a human being. These words are being used strictly within the context of deciding how much money is an appropriate amount to charge for your professional services as a network engineer. I am making no connection whatsoever between the amount of money one makes and one’s self-worth.
How do you measure your worth?
What do we mean when we say evaluate your worth? To be blunt, it has to do with money. It has to do with how much money you should be asking for and the work you are prepared to do. Some are paid a yearly salary, others are on contract and are paid on a per-task basis, while others still charge by the hour. Regardless of the payment structure you use, having a clear and realistic picture of what you believe to be fair payment for your services is essential. It’s a matter of dignity and being content with the knowledge that you are being reimbursed fairly for what you have to offer.
Having a clear and realistic picture of what your services are worth will help you when the time comes for you to discuss money with your employer or your clients.
Factors affecting costing
Various factors affect the cost of your services, and these must all be examined carefully. Some are obvious and are stated for completeness, while others are less obvious and should be considered.
- Education and training – The degrees and certifications you possess play a significant role in determining your income, especially early in your career. If you’re fresh out of school with little or no job experience, employers will rely heavily on your diplomas and certificates to determine your remuneration. A master’s degree in a relevant field is more costly than a bachelor’s, and similarly, a Ph.D. is more expensive than a master’s. Likewise, a CCNP is more valuable than a CCNA, while a CCIE is more valuable than a CCNP. The relevancy of the subject matter to the job at hand also plays a vital role in this costing.
- Experience – As your career progresses, certificates and degrees become progressively less important, while experience becomes more of a factor. I would have to say that, as a general guideline, after about 5 to 7 years, the experience begins to outweigh degrees and certificates, but this depends mainly on additional factors, including the philosophy and typical practice of the employer or client.
- Culture and region – These are factors outside of your control. They have to do with the region of the country or the world in which the employer or client resides and the business culture that prevails in the particular company. You must be aware of such nuances and take them into account as the very same job opportunity may have vastly different levels of compensation due to these considerations.
- Publicly available reviews – Many online services today deliver platforms that allow employers and employees, clients and freelancers, to be professionally matched up. These platforms take some guessing work out of cost negotiations as more information is available to estimate what you should charge. More on this shortly, but suffice it to say here that having a record of your past work and the documented evaluation of your past clients plays a vital role in ensuring you get fair payment for your work.
How you approach evaluating the cost of your services depends greatly on the payment structure you are using.
If you are a full-time employee that gets a yearly salary, this value is negotiated at the very beginning of your employment. It is reevaluated at regular intervals, typically yearly, or biyearly. In such a case, getting it right the first time is important, because you’ll be locked into a particular salary until the next evaluation period or until you build up the courage to ask for a raise.
Task or hourly based
Payment structures involving per-task payments or hourly rates are more forgiving even if you sometimes fail to negotiate a satisfactory rate successfully. Typically, you have many more opportunities to negotiate, as you may have multiple clients coming to you with multiple tasks. Each time you meet a new client or begin a new project is an opportunity to renegotiate your rates. This means that you have many more opportunities to make mistakes, but at the same time, many more opportunities to learn from those mistakes. Each time you negotiate a task or hourly rate, you can draw from previous experiences, improving how you evaluate your worth.
Evaluating your fair payment
If you have a yearly salary, find out what others are being paid in similar jobs in your region. It’s not hard to do so, as there are many resources online, such as Glassdoor and Monster, that will give you a good enough picture. Before going to any job interviews, determine the range that you think is appropriate for your skills, education, experience, and training. If you’ve worked before, always aim for a higher salary than your previous job. Use that as a guideline. If you’re asked what you think a fair salary would be, you’ll be in a position to answer. If you’re simply told what your salary will be, you will be in a position to evaluate if it is fair or not.
Task or hourly based
It can get more complicated when it comes to task-based or hourly work. You should still use the same logic of comparing with other professionals with similar job descriptions and education. Still, here, you will typically be comparing your cost with the past version of yourself. You should aim for an increase in income per unit based on what you were making. The factors that will affect this increase include:
- An increase in your personal experience
- A good track record of good quality work
- A series of good reviews from past clients
- Maintaining a solid client base, especially with several long-term clients
This is where freelancing platforms, such as Upwork and Freelancer can play a large catalytic role in this process. These platforms allow you to keep track of your progress, the increase in your rates over time, the feedback of your clients, and a record of the tasks, projects, and hours of work you have completed.
In some cases, some or all of this is visible to anyone browsing for freelancers, allowing them to evaluate you—including your work and your pay rate—before even coming in contact with you. From my extensive experience with Upwork in particular, when a client approaches you, they already know the fees you charge, so they’re ready to pay similar rates more often than not.
Dangers and pitfalls
When evaluating what you are worth, there’s always a danger that you will cost yourself too low or too high. Both can be disastrous or simply detrimental at best.
Most employers worth working for will already have a good idea of how much you should be paid. If you cost yourself too low, in an attempt to deliver a competitive price, they may turn you down simply because a too low cost usually means that the work will also be shoddy. The well-known saying “you get what you pay for” is vital here.
However, if you shoot too high, employers will see that you don’t have a good idea of what you’re capable of, and you have a misinformed image of what you think you can do. So if you say you can do something, whether that’s advanced BGP routing or implementation of IoT security, they probably won’t believe you’re up to snuff.
Getting that “golden mean” that desirable middle sweet spot between two extremes, is an important skill to acquire. By the way, the phrase “golden mean” comes from the second of the Delphic maxims that were inscribed on the outer court of the Temple of Apollo in ancient Greece.
Some things to keep in mind
Some final words of wisdom that will hopefully help you in your path:
- Money can be a difficult thing to talk about. When you do negotiate your fee or salary, if you are well informed, you can ask for what you believe to be fair without hesitating or beating around the bush. Worthy employers and clients appreciate a straightforward and candid discussion on the topic.
- Remember that you are also evaluating the client or employer when discussing remuneration. If they don’t offer you what you believe to be fair, they’re probably not worth working for.
- Don’t be afraid to turn down a job because you’re not being paid what you think is fair. You need to be paid what you think you’re worth, and any employer worth working for knows that. Otherwise, you will not achieve job satisfaction, and you will not perform your duties to the best of your abilities.
As you can see, there is no single clear-cut formula to knowing thy measure. Instead, it’s a matter of experience, sometimes trial and error, and achieving a good perception of the current state of things around you.
What about the third Delphic maxim you may ask? It is “surety brings ruin.” As far as network engineering goes, never come to a point where you are sure about the level you have reached. Never be completely satisfied with your current status, always question whether you can go higher, and strive to be the best you can be.
So yes, “know thy measure” but do whatever you can to increase thy measure, learning new things and opening your horizons even more.