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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

How This Former Hospitality Pro Switched to a Lucrative Tech Career

Courtesy of Shenae Simmons
Courtesy of Shenae Simmons

Everything is negotiable. For Shenae, that’s not an empty sentiment—they’re words to live by. And she’s certainly done so.

After spending 18 years working in the hospitality industry at many famous, big-name restaurants and hotels around the country, Shenae decided it was time for a change. “I was only getting two weeks of paid vacation, no sick days, and no health benefits unless I was a manager,” she says. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’”

Money was another motivator, with Shenae noting that $65,000 seemed to be the ceiling on what she could earn no matter how hard she worked—a number that felt inadequate in exchange for the long hours (not to mention weekends and holidays) she was putting in.

After seeing that other people in the industry were pursuing computer science degrees or certifications while also working as bartenders or servers, she decided it was time to make a change. So, she went to Per Scholas, a nonprofit focused on providing training to underrepresented people in tech, for a boot camp. Once she completed those six weeks, she moved on to General Assembly’s software engineering program.

Quick stats 

  • Job: Technical Support Engineer at a tech company
  • Based in: Eindhoven in the Netherlands
  • Annual income: $205,000 total compensation package ($102,000 salary plus restricted stock units)

Armed with newfound passion and know-how, it was time for a new career in the tech industry. And Shenae knew one thing for certain: She was going to get what she deserved. When she felt like the first offer from her current company was too low, she negotiated and leveraged an offer from another organization. “I was like, ‘Let them play.’ Let them argue for me,” she says.

That strategy increased the starting offer from her current employer from $72,000 up to $85,000 when she began her job in January 2020. And through raises and advancement, she hit the big milestone—six figures—in October of 2022.

She’s not at all embarrassed to admit it was a huge moment for her, particularly as a Black woman working in tech. “I was telling all my friends,” she remembers. “I’m like, ‘I finally made it! My parents got divorced when I was younger, so my mom was always struggling. We were clipping coupons. We were doing everything on sale. We were buying in bulk and freezing. So this is a big thing for me. I never thought I would ever hit six figures.”

And while Shenae is thrilled with her earnings now, that doesn’t mean she’s lost her tenacity for negotiating. She’s still an unapologetically fierce advocate for herself, negotiating her move to the Netherlands (her company paid for her visa, legal fees, and gave her $20,000 for relocation), pay increases, transportation costs, and even better health benefits for her entire company. See? The sentiment rings true: Everything is negotiable.

It’s advice she’s undoubtedly put to good use since originally picking it up from Ladies Get Paid. Now, as a Ladies Get Paid ambassador, she’s thrilled to share that sense of empowerment—not to mention more pay transparency—with other women. “We were taught not to talk about politics, money, or religion at the dinner table,” she concludes. “But really we should just be talking about this all the time.”

In her own words:

What’s your favorite thing about your job? The flexibility of working remotely. I can work as long as I have an internet connection.

If you could test-drive another career for a week, what would you choose? A writer.

Do you have any financial or savings goals this year? I’m saving to get a vacation/retirement home in Spain.

What’s your favorite thing you own that costs $50 or less? I have one of those seasonal affective disorder lamps. It gets dark at 3:30 in the afternoon here, so I turn that thing on so I can make myself feel better.

What’s your number one piece of career advice? Everything is negotiable. Not just your salary, but your benefits too.

Go here to read more about The Path to Six Figures, including stories from other women like Shenae.

Level up to your own six-figure salary by signing up for Ladies Get Paid’s negotiation course. Click here for more info!