Well that really stinks.
For what it’s worth, I have a relatively similar story. It’s a bit long, but hopefully it will give you a bit of a lift.
In 2009, I found myself working on the phones for a major retailer’s credit division, making $12/hour (US) (about $25k/year). We had a really bad and outdated internal operations guide. We’re talking no search functionality, written in FrontPage 2004, and organized by alphabetical topic.
This which was a huge problem for a couple of reasons. We were required to follow detailed procedures to ensure we adhered to credit law, but had no reliable way of finding these procedures unless we knew exactly where they were in our online operations guide. There were a surprising amount of variables, and although nearly every situation was covered in excruciating detail, the way everything was setup made it impossible to know exactly where something might be.
I had a little experience with HTML and CSS. The computer I used had Notepad and Internet Explorer. In my time between calls (which was usually about 10-30 seconds), I began to build a tool that allowed me to do my job more efficiently by doing things like improving search functionality, linked to common workflows, and generated pre-filled notes for some of the more common situations that I could copy and paste into our customer account management system.
At the time, I was homeless due to stupidly chasing a girl across the country without having a place to live and not being able to make enough to eat and save up for a place in an area of the country with an extreme cost of living. In the evenings, I studied coding, development, and UX concepts in my 1998 Ford Escort parked at the rest stop that became my de-facto home.
The tool grew, though at a crawl, and over the course of a year or so I built a system that covered nearly every feature someone in the call center employee could want. I showed the tool to other reps and even found a way to share access using my computer as the host. I gathered feedback, made modifications, and showed it to my mangers. Everyone liked it, but IT was (understandably) scared poopless of it. I was ordered to stop sharing the tool and stop using it myself.
I stopped sharing the tool, but ignored the order to stop using it.
Over the next two years I was promoted to a series of slightly better paying, off-the-phone positions, but was still making around $35k/year.
The company held a competition to land what amounted to management training position, with the promise to be promoted to the communications, legal, IT, or marketing departments after the training position wrapped up. The competition was based on developing a business plan to present to the C-Level management for a worthwhile project for the company to implement, and of course I knew right away what I was going to present.
Of course I knew what I was going to present. I put together my proposal, and presented it to the C team. The CEO’s response when I wrapped up my presentation was to look at the other members of the team and ask “Why aren’t we doing this already?”
I landed one of the management training positions, with the caveat that I would be moving into IT as soon as possible to implement my solution. The management training position didn’t have a pay bump, but surely working with the title of “Software Engineer” for one of the retail world’s biggest names in a major tech hub would come with a pay bump, so I wasn’t overly concerned.
When I got the assignment to IT, I found out that my pay bump was exactly $0. They wanted to pay me $35/k year to be a software engineer. The average pay in my market is about $95k.
I took the job, and I implemented my system company-wide. By my conservative estimates, my system saved the company at least $700,000 in lost productivity in the first year alone, and converted at least $2 million additional a year in sales. That system has been up and running there for years.
For four years of single handed design, development, testing, and implementation of a system that improved the bottom line drastically, I was paid $120,000 before taxes.
Shortly after implementing the system, I moved to a company that made interactive digital signage (read: giant touch screens) for a wide variety of clients. I continued to study and implement UX principles in my designs, though in a much different environment, eventually becoming a senior sign developer and team lead (also without seeing a pay bump for the job change).
When I left that job to become a full-time UX engineer a couple of years ago, I was finally in a position to ask for what I was worth. I turned down a couple of jobs that weren’t connecting with me on salary requirements before coming to terms on my current gig with Trust Company of America.
I know right now, in this moment, you’re likely disappointed and looking out into the wider job market, wondering what the job world holds for you. It’s probably hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m not going to blow sunshine up your bum and tell you that you’re going to be an overnight success. But I will tell you that have the skills and the drive to be a huge success. Your skills and your value are worth much more than you’re making now.
My advice: take the frustration you’re undoubtedly feeling in this moment, and focus it on making yourself so damn knowledgeable and valuable that someone out there will have no choice to take you at the pay your deserve. Don’t just believe you will be successful, know it.
If I can do anything at all to help you on your way, let me know. I know how hard of a road it can be, and I’m passionate about helping and educating those coming up the same path I walked. I will do everything in my power to make your journey as easy as possible.
I hope that helps a bit. Let me know what I can do to give you a hand.