What Determines Your Pay the Most?

Hundred Dollar Bills
All Other Things being Equal, More Money is Better

We as humans think a lot about money. Our parents probably tried to steer most of us into a field where there was lots of money to be made. At Dartmouth for example, almost everyone was “Pre Med” as it was seen as a very lucrative field.

In infosec, we are in a well paid field. Law is a well paid field. So are many others. But there are plenty of competent unemployed or underemployed lawyers and certainly many unemployed infosec people.

It’s not the field you choose

The field you choose is not the most important when it comes to how much money you make. There are hot dog vendors making $100,000 plus. And competent starving lawyers.

The best are not paid the most

Being competent is important; hopefully you are more than just “good” at what you do. But most of us work with or know people that are mediocre or worse that make more money than we do.

Being good to (hopefully) great is important but doesn’t affect our pay that much really. You can be awesome and poorly paid.

Let’s look beyond security.

Who is the highest paid rock star? Who is the highest paid hockey player? Who is the highest paid whatever?

It’s not the best, although they are all good. It’s not whoever has the best negotiators, although that may matter. It’s not whoever is the luckiest, although that can matter.

The most famous get paid the most! The Rock Stars!

In other words, Positioning Determines Pay – what people think about you.

Donald Trump charges over 1 million dollars for a speech

  • Is he the best speaker? I’ll bet he’s good, but no way is he the “best.”
  • Is he the smartest guy in business? There are probably plenty of people equally smart. I’d love to see Trump talk, but there are plenty of other business people I’d rather see talk.
  • Trump is the most famous business person out there, hence he gets paid the most!

Bruce Schneier is undoubtedly a rock star in our field

Let’s look at security. Bruce Schneier is undoubtedly a rock star in our field. The dude is super well known. Probably the best known of all.

I have no idea how much people pay Bruce, but I’m sure it’s more than me. He probably gets what he wants. We both keynoted at a conference once. I was paid very well; he was paid better. No surprise.

Now, Bruce is a super smart guy, there is no question. I like Bruce like many others. I’m a fan of Bruce’s like many others.

I’m sure there are plenty of other people equally as smart. Hey, I work with lots of people that are so smart they are scary.

Why is Bruce paid more than equally smart and competent infosec people? Because he is more famous. Because he is a Rock Star! Because of the position Bruce holds in our minds: “World’s Most Famous Security Guy.”

Kevin Mitnick is (in)famous, hence highly paid

Hey, Kevin Mitnick gets about $20,000 for a speech. I get less. Plenty of people have told me that Mitnick is an extremely good speaker, but that I’m better.

Why does Mitnick get more money than me to speak? He is WAY more famous. It’s the Position he holds in people’s minds: “World’s Most Famous Former Hacker.”

So, how do you increase how much money you make? You increase your fame. You improve the position you hold in people’s minds. You became a Rock Star.

And that is what this site is about.

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    • Greg
    • April 30, 2014

    A lot to think about here, but I must say there have always been people not as good as me making more, and people far more talented than me making less.

    • Amanda
    • April 30, 2014

    The example of Bruce Schneier is great – definitely a brilliant man, and no doubt very well remunerated as well. Supposedly he once said he was a “media whore” and never turned down interviews.

    I’m sure there are equally brilliant people in security I’ve never heard of, who prbably are remunerated far less handsomely!


      • Ted Demopoulos
      • April 30, 2014

      Have heard the same, although I hadn’t heard him use the “Media Whore” description.
      He seems absolutely open to interviews – I interviewed him way back for one of my books, and he certainly had never heard of me before.

    • Raj
    • September 19, 2014

    Yup, it’s true!

    I’ve painfully learned this over this years. Hiding in my cube and doing great techie stuff is great, but not enough.

    I accept it: it’s neither good nor bad, but just the way it is.

    • Dan
    • November 19, 2014

    Trump really charges $1,000,000 for a speech! Wow!
    I think I’ll charge the same (and give zero speeches as I’m terrified of public speaking!)

      • Ted Demopoulos
      • November 19, 2014

      Being able to speak effectively in front of groups, whether 5 people or 5000, is a very valuable skill and not that hard either. Toastmasters International is a great group to learn how and get some experience. From Wikipedia, they are “a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills”

    • Ricco
    • September 14, 2015

    I wish this wasn’t true – we all wish merit was the only thing! It is true however, and the better known you become the more (positive) influence you can have – as well as making more money!

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