Salary advice from early promotion in my career. Junior to Full Technical Artist

Hi there. I was hoping to get some advice on how to enter this conversation. I am a junior technical artist at my company with almost 1 year experience in total. With lady luck at my side I have been given big challenges so far and I have learned a lot. I just was told last week I will not be a junior now and will be promoted which I am happy about that! I will be only tech artist on my team working with one developer and one customer support. I will be leading the team as we are creating mutilple. Tools for different games engines and 3d packages. I am a really excited for this opportunity but, I am not sure how to bring up salary. At my time at the company i have gotten 2 raises already but I started very low and had just earned a decent wage for a junior. Now that I am getting a promotion with higher responsibilities I was expecting a raise with that but, it sounds like they will need convincing. I think it will be tough with my lack of experience and being that I just got hired on a junior tech artist a few months ago. (Was a 3d artist contractor before that)

How should I enter that conversation?

Does it matter what the average wage is?

What should i do if they say no?

Any other advice would be great.

Since this is as a super common question, I’m writing this up in a more general way, though I hope it helps in your particular circumstances.

There’s really two different aspects to this kind of conversation.

Knowing the field

One of the hard problems to solve is just getting data: what do similarly experienced people make in your area? This is a key part of the equation but unfortunately the “real” numbers are usually collected by private research firms and sold to big companies who are interested in knowing where they sit relative to their industry. The big companies – EA, Microsoft, etc – set their salaries relative to the local market: a common internal conversation starts with “we target the Nth percentile for comparable jobs in the region.” This is a pretty good example of what framework at large employers tends to look like from this employer’s point of view. If your company uses this kind of data, the odds are that you compensation is really tied to a job ladder: a series of predefined ranges tied to experience. In a case like that a “promotion” usually brings with it a change in comp but, conversely, it’s hard to make significantly more money without a title change. The “negotiations” end up being all about finding your place on the ladder.

This banded approach has become more common even at smaller companies in the last decade – but smaller companies don’t always have access to the data and they tend to be a lot more impressionistic in terms of salaries. Thus, individual negotiating skills and history matter more at smaller companies .

All of this is a long winded way of saying it’s really useful – but, at a smaller company, really hard – to go into that negotiation with a solid reference number.

It is always useful to know what the general figures in your area are. However, this is a socially awkward conversation for lots of reasons and most of us shy away from it . If you have friends in the local area who are managers or leads who know comp numbers, see if they can help out in a suitably anonymized way: “hey Joe, what would you budget for a junior TA on your team” is a fair question but “what does Jane make?” is not. Remember there are many personal factors there: don’t push people to do things they consider unethical or which they might not legally allowed to talk about.

If you can’t get numbers you trust there are always surveys: We have as little bit of survey data here , here and here. but (as you’ll see if you read the threads) it’s hard to tease out the numbers that apply to a specific market and job level. Glassdoor can be useful in some areas but the quality of the info depends on how active the folks in that area are on the site. Unfortunately the best data is for-pay only and very market specific. US averages don’t tell you much about compensation in the EU, for example, and a US average can easily hide tremendous differences between different markets. Salaries vary a lot by locale: a senior tech artist in Austin, TX makes less money than the same person would make in San Francisco; the same is true for Paris or London vs Warsaw or Belgrade. So use bulk survey data with care.


The second aspect of the conversation is the actual negotiating. Ideally, though, this is invisible and ongoing, not a one-time faceoff. There are people who can go into these kinds of things with the negotiating chops of a high-powered Hollywood agent. Generally those folks know who they are (I know I’m not one) and they tend to be born not made. For us ordinary mortals, the key is not tactics – it’s about making your relationship with the person who handles they pay be as candid and transparent as possible on both sides.

A single meeting that’s all about money is not a great place to start from for either of you. Ideally, compensation talks are part of an ongoing conversation about where you are at and where you are going in your career. The key issue here agreement about where you are currently at: you really don’t want to go into a once-a-year meeting with a bunch of reasons why you deserve a raise only to be told that your work is sub-par or your specialty is not that valuable these days. Conversely your employer doesn’t want an annual review that was supposed to be a victory lap for a successful year to turn into an argument about an extra thousand bucks – or a tense session with an employee who is flailing still has high expectations. If either the employee or the manager is significantly surprised by the outcome of a compensation review somebody has screwed up.

Ideally, instead, you and your manager should be aligned about how well you are doing, where you need to improve, and how the company plans to keep you happy. If you are routinely good about communicating your achievements and also about taking constructive feedback all year long you’ll be in a good place to have positive discussions. Next year’s goals and how they might relate to next year’s job arc – which includes comp – ought to be something you’re talking about all through this year. That’s all easier said than done, of course, but that is supposed to be what management is there for.

This kind of stuff is often much less formal at smaller companies – in a big shop you’ll probably have it as part of a process, in a smaller place it might be a conversation you want to start or to remind people to have on a regular basis. If you and your manager have some pre-existing level of agreement about where you are now and where you want to be going professionally, the money discussions should be mostly about making sure that the numbers reflect that agreement. Money should not be an independent variable here, it should be where the local market numbers and your career trajectory intersect.

You may however have the bad luck to work someplace where money is the only thing that matters: where the psychological interaction between your personality and your manager’s is more important than anything else: the cheapskate boss, the boss who throws money at their friends, and the clueless boss who just doesn’t understand the market value, and the boss who undervalues people because of their background or their looks are all out there. If you become convinced that you are working for one of them, the safest long term plan is to start looking for another job: it’s very hard to turn those things around on your own. In the meantime you can use Bad Boss as a chance to practice the skills that will pay off in a better work place: try to create the relationship you wish you had with them as a way of understanding what to look for someplace else.


You really need to know three, or maybe four things:

  1. Where you are at professionally
  2. Where your manager/boss thinks you are at.
  3. The going rate for people in your area.
  4. If #1 and #2 don’t line up, why?

If you know roughly what’s going on in these terms, the range for traditional used-car-style dickering is pretty narrow: if you’re pretty sure you’re an 8-out-of-10 kind of employee getting paid like a 4-out-of-10 for your area, the key is to figure out if that’s a cluelessness or exploitation. OTOH if you think you’re an 8 and your manager thinks you’re a 4, that’s a different conversation. It is not pleasant but avoiding it is also not going to make things improve.

Obviously in the real world this stuff is murkier than I’m making out here: it’s easy to say “find out what the going rate for folks like you is” but hard to do, particularly if you’re in an area where there are not many points of comparison. It’s also hard to have candid self assessments – a good manager should be able to help you with that but good managers are not a given.

All of the most difficult career conversations I have had (on either side of the negotiating table) have happened when there was significant disagreement about where somebody was at. Usually that happened when from people could not see the difference between expectations and reality. And getting that unblocked takes a lot of work – it’s not going to come out of one single session.


Thank you for giving this advice in a more general sense. It definitely will help not only in this instance for me but, I definitely think it will help me in the future as I progress in my career. I already shared it with a few friends too! Haha

I will hold this advice close as I progress in the future. I definitely have a stronger sense of how to approach this conversation now. I am not sure how this conversation goes but, it will have me more prepared in the future.

I do have one question. When I compare my company to a larger company like EA is their expectation I should be compensated similarly. For example, in my situation, I am just close to hitting one year and this is my first job in the industry so far. When I look at these numbers it hard for me to be sure because on paper it looks like I have more responsibilities (which makes sense at the smaller company) so, how do I bring up I could get paid more for less work?

I would like to add I love my job so far I do not want to leave but, I need to be more realistic when my city has a high cost of living and I am the only income source in my household.

Like always your advice has been priceless to newcomers like me. Thanks again for all the information you have shared in this forumn!


So it all depends on where you live, cost of living, the type of company you are at and if they even have the money for what you want. They may not. But typically here’s my experience with this stuff. You want the title for at least 6 months if not a year because it’ll look good on your resume. If they are already giving you raises, bring it up in your performance reviews if the job doesn’t come with one and say hey, there’s these added responsibilities and expectations but I haven’t seen the compensation increase the same way. It’s not hold their feet to the fire time. Just time to let them know you’re going… was this promotion in the amount of work only?

Once you have this new title under your belt, it’s time to start dating again so to speak. Start talking to other companies, and see what is out there. If they ask you what you make, tell them more than you do, and here’s how much more than that you are looking for. Check Glass Door for an idea of salaries in your area because depending where you live it’s very different and based on what’s a living wage for that area with rent, traffic, etc. Hopefully you get some interviews from that. Try to get as many as possible going, at least for anything that seems worth your time. You look more attractive while working vs unemployed. Then hopefully you get an offer or two. Then it’s time to go back to your employer. If you really want to stay there after your interviews you tell them that you got an offer to go to X studio you are considering. You’d like to stay but it has to be a comparable or better offer (depending on the situation there. Better offer if the situation is just kinda meh. Comparable if you actually want to stay.) If they actually want you and can afford you, you will get a counter offer. If they don’t/can’t, then time to move on and climb that salary ladder and get some new experience somewhere else.


Thank you for your advice!

I will definitely take it into account. What makes it tough is when the promotion came to me. I have only been in the Junior Technical Artist role for a few months now so, it’s hard for me to want to leave when I feel like I have a lot I can still learn here even if I am the only Technical Artist on my team.
But, If I did decide it would be best to learn through another company,
How important is it for portfolio vs. work experience in the technical artist role? Right now I do a lot of tool development and asset management is it enough to show what my company has built and that I was part of the process or do I need to go back to my portfolio and build my own tools? I started off as a very basic 3d contractor and shifted into the tech artist role quickly. This has left my current portfolio kind of useless now as I created it with Character Art at the time of graduation.

It sounds like I need to think more about what happens after I get the position than the position itself if I understand correctly. You gave me a lot to think about. Thanks!

Usually, the big companies pay pretty well: I always hear numbers between around 60th to 75th percentile in the local market for targeting, meaning that they the big folks pay as well or better than2/3 or 3/4s of all companies. However there are also outliers like Valve, who set the local bar pretty high. So the error bar in smaller companies is just a lot wider (and, to be fair, many small companies don’t know much more about the actual market numbers than we do). But generally you can use the big company salaries as a proxy for “better than average pay”

OTOH, small companies really drive the employment market in most places . Part of the small company equation is also that they are less bound by big-time procedures. For example that hypothetical EA job may come with a degree requirement or prior experience you don’t have – smalller shops tend to treat you as an individual where big companies care about the kind of credentials that can be checked by an HR person who has no particular experience in game dev. So part of the small-studio value proposition is a chance to get those all-important first items on your resume – after 2-3 years and one or two shipped titles your options get broader.

One thing you should think about is going into the discussions as a talk about how to grow your career, not your paycheck. The paycheck part should be easier if the career part is on track. If its not – if, for example, they are on a tight budget and they actually want to pay low money for low-value work – you’ll want to find that out and start shopping for a place with more headroom.

As for trying to see how you fit into the numbers – it’s a good time to hook up with other TAs in your local market. That will help you get a better sense of how far along you really are: at 1-2 years, you may need extra context to really see how vital your work really is – swapping stories with other TAs is good for helping you calibrate. It’s also good for finding out about other opportunities if they arise.


That’s good to know, yeah I definitely feel like starting at a smaller company has helped me jump start my career. Not just in position name but, I have been learning a lot as I get bigger challenges.

I definitely agree when you speak about growing my career that really matters more to me at the end of the day and my company knows that but, I guess its hard to know if they are simply choosing me for the position since the know I can do it but, they can under cut how much I make based on my experience.

Meeting other has definitely been tough for me so far in my area. At least with the pandemic in Vancouver all the meet ups I knew about in school aren’t happening and regret waiting until I graduated. Except for the forums or slack do you have any other recommendations on meeting more TAs? If anything having more resource to ask when there isn’t many at my company would help.


-How to enter? Well, first you do your research. You shouldn’t enter salary talks without knowing your value - ie: what you should earn.

-Yes it matters what the average wage is - for the industry, not the company. It’s not YOUR problem if the company is struggling - you are just a TA, not the CFO.
If your salary is low from the get-go then point out that this is harmful to your entire career. It gives you a lower pension, makes it harder to catch up to market rates when switching jobs and it has a direct
negative effect on your performance (it’s pretty basic: people want to feel important, and being underpaid makes it hard to feel important compared to everyone else in the company/industry). Tell them that you are actively
looking for other jobs and that you will leave if a better opportunity arise.

-What if they say no? Look for another job. Simple as that. Companies need TA’s more than we need them - there’s a big demand in the industry for good TA’s. Smart companies know this, and pay their employees accordingly.
Companies that are not-so-smart will suffer with technical debt, realise their mistake 5 years later, and struggle with finding people. (I’ve been thru at least one such company, which thankfully realized - after 4 years - that they need TA’s)

My best advice for you is to know exactly what kind of wage you should have - what’s the number and what are the typical employee benefits in the industry, in your country. Knowledge is power.

What I did when I was in a similar situation was to use to gather data on TA wages (in America). I then used OECD income numbers to convert this to swedish wages (In Sweden you make about 70% of an American wage). +accompany for bonuses, health benefits, pension, etc. I came up with pretty accurate numbers - and made sure to compare it to Artist and Developer wages too +asking Artist and Dev friends what they make. It’s a lot of work and the numbers need to be updated every 6 or 12 months - but if I were in your position I would do this.

You need to know your worth on the market more than anything.

On the portfolio it depends on what type of tech art and what company. Really, it’s down to the people who review this stuff. If your focus is mainly rigging and tech anim, yeah people want to see that stuff. Tools people want to see the functionality at least, if not code when possible. But your resume does speak some to that. It just depends on what companies you worked for and what that list of responsibilities look like, and what that company is looking for. Techart is farilly in demand right now though, so typically anybody that actually looks like a tech artist and not a modeler or animator, they will at least get a phone screening from what I’ve seen. But if you are doing tools and asset management, no, that’s a showcase right there. Because you are building it for a working pipeline for other people. You show what you made on your own when you don’t have that, or when you have some new method you are proposing to the community for feedback.

From there… Well, I can speak to how I do it and how at least some others around me do the interviews. You’re basically looking to hear the right key words. Signals that only people in actual production that have dealt with those problems will say. I can usually learn a lot just from those talks about how you learn, how easily you adapt, how you manage time, how you work with others. If I hear the right combination of those things, but the portfolio or resume is lacking, I’ll try to snatch that person up because I’m pretty sure I can train them up quickly and the troubleshooting mindset is really the more important thing than do you know how to code this right now. If you project has the runway time anyway. And I will say, that’s a trade off. It’s a more Jr. role if that’s the case so I know we can save money but it’s also an investment in making a better tech artist. Sometimes you just need a person that can handle it though, which is typically what Sr and lead roles are for.

But I get the portfolio issue. I started off as an animator, ended up a character artists, went back to animation, was rigging for a bit, ended up doing VFX and lighting and rendering, and then back into Tech Anim stuff. If you are going for tech anim roles, strip off the modeling stuff. A little anim is fine if you have it. But you want to show case the role. If you say your a tech artist and send me a portfolio full of models I might go… I don’t think this guy knows what a tech artist is. But make some low hanging fruit You can always make a password protected version of a video on Vimeo to showcase a rig on the down-low. A lot of people do that. Same with tools. If you don’t have that, maybe make some quick tutorials to show off your knowledge and post them to Youtube. I will say like…80%-90% of new jobs I’ve gotten I’ve had to do some homework for it to show off something they wanted to see. Because you always have to tailor your portfolio and resume for the job you are going for. Like if you are applying to say CodeMasters or Turn 10, they probably don’t care that much about your character rigs. They want to see hard surface rigs. Know you know about optimizing shaders. Can build tools to help build levels, etc. With that in mind, chase what is within reach and don’t spread yourself too thin trying to chase everything there.

And I just wanted to say, tech art team of one to me always says big fish, little pond. Working at small companies is very differently and typically much less complex than what goes on at larger companies. It’s very different managing a team of 20 people vs a team of 200, vs a team of 600. You need 600 people because things are very complex then. And you will learn the most working with other tech artists, picking up whatever trips and tricks they’ve discovered.