Income Inequality - Getting Yourself on the Right Side of the Equation

When someone makes more money than you. That's a very simple definition of income inequality. But is that a bad thing?

We've been hearing a lot about income inequality this election cycle, from politicians on both sides of the aisle. They talk about how unfair it is that the CEO of the company makes 100 times more than the front line employees or that the minimum wage is not a living wage. They tell you you're a victim and that it isn't your fault. They go on to say that if you vote for them they'll make things better for you.

Do you honestly believe that? What politician has ever made things better for you? I'm not saying they didn't try, but do you really need a politician to make things better for you; 'level the playing field,' as they say? Is the game really rigged or do you just need to learn the rules of the game and play it better than others? The other thing I find interesting is that the politicians who are espousing this victim mentality the most are the ones who are the best proof that the system works. They went out and made it, so why do you believe them when they say that you can't?

When I went to work for Microsoft, I started as an entry-level employee working in a lab. I made less money than most of the people there and the executives at the company were making many times what I was making. Now I could have said, "Oh well, that's just the way it is." I didn't have a college degree or any real experience in tech. Sure I had some management experience, but that was mostly from running fast-food restaurants. How was I going to compete with these guys with their degrees from Harvard or Stanford? It just wasn't fair. That could have been my attitude, but where would that have gotten me?

Instead, I decided I wanted to make the kind of money the executives were making. I knew the company wasn't going to pay me that much for the job I currently had, even though I felt I needed it. In fact, what I needed didn't change what the job was worth. I was a lab rat and I was being paid what lab rats got paid. If I wanted more I had to do more.

So I learned what the company valued and how they rewarded results. I worked hard in the lab and I started doing other jobs as well, like software testing, at night and on the weekends. Soon my hard work paid off and I was offered a position as a software tester. At my first performance review, I received a double-digit percentage raise. While that was a nice raise, the executives were still making way more money than I was. So I wasn't done.

I started doing leadership things. I could have said, "Make me a manager and I'll do a great job," but that wouldn't have worked. I knew that before they would make me a lead I had to be seen as a leader. So I worked hard and put in the hours, and though it took a year or two, I did get promoted to lead. Along the way I received great reviews and nice bonuses and raises.

Over the next few years I continued down this path. I went from lab engineer, to software tester, to test lead, to test manager, to product unit manager, to director of QA, and finally to partner engineering manager. Over that course, my salary increased by a factor of 16 and I was earning more than those executives were making when I started. I did it without a college degree, formal training, or excuses. I did it with hard work that equated to results. I didn't let anybody tell me I was a victim because I was born in the projects of South Philly, or because my family was on welfare, or because neither of my parents got past the eighth grade.

We were all told from the time we could understand that we could grow up to be anything we wanted to be, that we could have whatever we wanted to have if we worked hard. Now for whatever reason we're being told that this is no longer true. I'm here to tell you that it is still true. You can have the things you want but you have to be willing to do the work. And when you hear about income inequality, know that it's a fact; you just need to get yourself on the right side of the equation.