Acceptable Rates for PHP Programmers?

I originally posted this to the Atlanta PHP Freelance Advice forum, but I don’t think it’ll get much attention there for a while since we’ve just launched our new boards and they have very little traffic. Thus, I wanted to try it out here to see what the community thinks. This topic came up after an Atlanta PHP meeting a few months ago, and I’ve been asked the same question several times since then. So, what exactly is an acceptable rate for a PHP programmer?

To one person, I answered within the scope of the Java world (since this person has more familiarity with Java programmers). I recommended that PHP programmers receive pay comparable to Java programmers. To another person, I recommended that, as a freelancer, he not accept a job for any less than a specific rate comparable to that of Java programmers.

I want to see PHP programmers paid well for the work they do. Let’s face it: anyone can call themselves a PHP programmer, but not everyone programs in PHP well. You should be paid a competitive rate for your skills as an excellent PHP programmer.

However, the problem with paying a PHP programmer occurs when there is a market full of programmers who will work for peanuts, so everyone hires them. Often these are college students or programmers right out of college, but I know of one Java programmer with no prior experience who was hired right after graduation for $90K a year. What a drastic difference in the market view between PHP and Java programmers!

After all, why pay more when you can pay less, right? Wrong!

If someone is charging a lower-than-standard rate, it’s likely a red flag that they don’t know what they’re doing, and you’ll end up wasting money on an application that is very poorly designed and full of vulnerabilities. It’s best to pay for the better programmer the first time around rather than go through 4 or 5 different programmers to get the job done.

Am I wrong here? What do you think? What is a good pay rate for a PHP programmer?

Feel free to post your comments here or in the Atlanta PHP Forum.