David N Brooks Designer, Developer, Musician, Artist, and Writer

Hello! I’m David, an interactive designer, musician, artist, and writer living in Georgia.

The Question of Rates

26 March 2015

Months ago, we were over our head in the learning curve that is game development. It wasn’t the “big picture” stuff, but the subtle parts of making a car drive properly that were dragging us down.

I had spent two or three weeks on a car that, while it could drive, it was too eager to roll and flip. (It was as if the tires were made of springs.) Though I have a lot of experience programming on the web, I needed to find someone to help get the nuances figured out in Unity.

So I sent word to a popular job board that I was in search of a Unity developer. It was a short note, but I was clear up front that I wanted to see their work, and I needed to know their rates.

In the dozens of responses, only one person sent both rates and examples of their work in the first email. Most people would send over their resume and ignore that second part.

At first, I just assumed people had overlooked that detail. So, when someone who seemed qualified sent me their resume, I politely asked for their rates.

For whatever reason, that turned out to be the fastest way to remove applicants from the pool. When I asked for their rates, people with whom I had been in conversation about the role would walk away without another word. It was as if I had just asked them to sell their soul. (I wasn’t, I promise.)

But the uneasiness wasn’t always blatant. One person kept me in conversation for well over a day, getting various details about the project. I appreciated his interest in the details, and getting to the bottom of how our relationship would work. But in the end, he misjudged how large our company is and bid the project at over double our company rate. When I looked back at the conversation transcripts, it occurred to me that he too had been stalling to figure out how to answer the question.

Money is Odd

In modern society we need it to survive, and some people even allow it to own them. It’s this awkward transactional thing that lets us feed our families and keep the lights on.

I understand how unnerving it is to talk about rates, too. As a contractor, you know you have to hit the number right on the head to even stay in the running. Bid high and you’re off the project, bid low and you’ll be perceived as inexperienced and unable to take the project.

Believe me, I would much rather not have to deal with the financial side of business. I would do this stuff as a hobby if money weren’t a thing. But part of being a professional is getting past the aversion to talking about what things cost.

You aren’t your hourly rate or your yearly salary. Your skills and time aren’t so easy to match with a value. If that were the case, nobody could ever afford any of us. Somewhere deep down we all know this.

But as someone who has needed to set an hourly rate for a long time now, I can tell you that it does get easier. And perhaps you don’t want to work under an hourly scheme. That’s fine too. But be able to explain your pricing structure to someone who is looking to hire you.

Being unable to answer the question shows a lot more professional immaturity than giving the wrong number. If you bid high (within reason) I can ask you to take a lower number if your skills match. If you’re young and don’t really know what to charge, put a number out there. Make it a realistic number of course. I can’t speak for every “boss”, but I’ll often raise a person’s salary if they’re not asking for enough. In my opinion, a fair wage is on both parties.

So when someone asks you for a number, just give it to them. And don’t apologize for it.

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About Me

I'm David Brooks, an interactive designer, generative artist, and electronic musician from Michigan. During the day I build things for Artletic, a great UX studio in Colorado. At night I create art and write music as Light The Deep and craft applications like Thousand Wires, JavaScript libraries like ArtisanJS, and build interesting things for the amazing clients of Northward Compass.

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