Secret Income

The high earnings of doctors and lawyers are well known, and it is expected to see them in luxurious homes. It is a little surprising when one finds a modest businessman of no apparent specialty, intellect, or skill in possession of an impressive estate earned through prolonged scrappiness.

Yet in wealthy areas, there are dozens of communities where the average house costs several million dollars, and yet few in the community are doctors or lawyers. Many are increasingly owned by tech workers with abstract or obscure sounding skills: containerization specialist, senior full stack developer, or machine learning engineer.

Everyone expects tech work to pay decently, and while they may only make $150,000/yr in salary, their stocks and bonus can get them beyond $500,000/yr, which is what you need to be comfortable signing up for payments on a multi-million dollar house.

Tens of thousands of houses worth many millions are owned in every state by people who have steadily built up their wealth and earnings. Entry into the top 1% starts around $500,000/yr, and by definition means that 1 in 100 are beyond that income – most significantly so. Every population of a million has 10,000 such people, as well as those outside the top 1% who may have had an off year making only $400,000 but are still getting by.

It’s not discussed at all, but everyone in those communities has been making good money for many years and has realistic expectations of continuing to do so. Many are looking ahead to when they can buy an even nicer house or a vacation home in another climate.

These incomes and how to achieve them are not discussed. They barely show up on any radar. These people do not brag about their career achievements or explain how others can do similarly, partly because replicating it would take so long as to be irrelevant, and partly because it is best for everyone to figure out for themselves how to develop skills of tremendous value to companies.

We are left blind when trying to understand what is valuable to a company and what skills would be recognized as extraordinary, though rarely do well compensated people come across as impressive. Talent eager to refine itself for maximum value and do better than the currently rewarded ones is left without know what target to aim for.

Great compensation is unlikely to be a mistake repeated year after year and across multiple companies. Companies pay workers $500,000/yr because the company receives many times that value for the work. It is often difficult to understand how companies make money, as the value they generate is not obvious, though we can see many report high profits.

No job listing gives hint of significant compensation, so it is hard to know what skills are considered valuable and should be mastered. Those who find tech skills easily mastered but silly are left looking for signals of what might be well compensated while realizing it is quietly happening all around us, and perchance might be discovered.

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