From ROI to ROS: Return on Skills

By Shravan Goli

Twenty years ago, I graduated from the University of Maryland with my Master’s degree in computer science. From my first days as a developer in the 1990s to my steps into management, I’ve always looked at my career as more than a series of steps up a ladder. I’ve viewed my career as a set of puzzle pieces that need to be fitted together.  I’ve focused on building and stitching together skills that would provide my employers and my family with a high return on investment.

Simply put, better skills—coupled with secondary factors such as cultural fit, personality and geography—generally translate into a better compensation package. That turns every tuition dollar you (and sometimes your employer) spend  into an investment in yourself. Just as you should  do with every other investment you make, you must analyze the ROI you’re getting—in this case, your return on skills.

The question, of course, is how to quantify that return?

Here are a few suggestions, based on my own career  and on what I hear from the recruiters, employers and tech pros I meet daily as president of Dice.

1. See yourself in “them.” One way to calculate what your skills are worth is to search job postings on sites like and others in order to get a feel for the levels and salary ranges associated with those jobs. Look for positions that list your current skill sets and for postings the next level up.  Benchmark the salaries for those positions’ titles and skills. We do an annual technology salary survey to ensure up-to-date compensation information is available.

2. Think like a CEO. Every project has a specific value to a company. And every day, the news is full of stories that underscore that value, from the big data project that makes a firm more nimble to the cloud project that opens up new opportunities for collaboration.

Whoever has the expertise to work on the most valuable projects inevitably earns the best ROI on the cost of building those skills. Document the type and scale of value that companies garner from the type of projects you work on. Multiply the benchmark salary by a percentage that you believe is reflective of how much more valuable specific projects are to others.

3. Evaluate Your +1. Visualize how the skills you have today can put you on a path toward the most in-demand skills industrywide. Essentially, that represents your current skills plus one. Let’s say that today your borders end at Java skills. With a little more training, you could garner big data experience and see the salary bump that comes with being on the leading edge of technology.

In Silicon Valley and beyond, premium skills are to bigger projects and better jobs what paint is to art: the component parts necessary to achieve results. What may initially look like a modest stack, when invested well and with vision, can often exponentially multiply what you have in the end.

Shravan Goli is the president of Dice, a respected career site that brings together in-demand technology professionals and tech-powered companies. An internet and media veteran, Goli is responsible for executing the growth strategy for, ClearanceJobs and the Slashdot Media brands. Before joining Dice, he served as CEO of and general manager of  Yahoo! Video and as head of products for Yahoo! Finance.