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Ask HN: Who's making $300k to $1m as a cloud engineer?
111 points by sgustard on Mar 7, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments
This article touts a pay range of $300k and up for "cloud computing engineers." Are you making this much consistently (not just from one-time stock pops), and doing what?


"Many of them are the kind of jobs that now pay $300,000 to $1 million a year."

"With five years of experience, $300,000 along with a range of stock or job opportunities..."

"LinkedIn or Facebook can offer an engineer with a few years’ experience a package close to $1 million"

I have a friend who is a cloud architect at a big-4, he is making a little more than $300k in total comp in NY (base is lower, a lot of RSUs etc), but he is more than just an engineer.

He has a friend at another big-4 in NY, also a cloud architect, he is making $400k

I think that the $1 million package is incorrectly calculated. This is perhaps the total package for 2-3 years, including signing bonus (vested over a couple of years) and RSUs (vested over a couple of years)

Annual total compensation for any big-4 Sr software engineer with a lot of experience in SF I assume is around $300k and can get up to $500k if you are really good.

I don't know of anyone who is making $1 million a year, even senior directors at big-4s. Perhaps if you are a Phd who worked at Google cloud / AWS / Azure for 5 years, wrote their software, talk at cloud conferences, wrote "Cloud computing for experts" type of books and published a seminal paper on distributed computing, then perhaps you will get a total compensation nearing that.

If you are just a cloud architect at a big-4 I think the lower part makes sense in total comp, the upper bound sounds completely ridiculous. I have friends who got offers from Amazon and Google for very, very senior cloud positions, way more than "just a cloud engineer", and the total comp is around $300-$400. If the stock goes up though, then the RSUs might be worth much more.

If LinkedIn / Facebook are offering engineers an annual $1 million I'll be very surprised.

I know of 3 SD4/principal engineers at Amazon who are making $1m/year. I believe there are only about 150-200 engineers at this level in the entire company, so it's obviously a hard position to get. Anyone with experience building out cloud infrastructure has been a hot commodity given all of the companies that are entering the market. Remember that you don't just get a great engineer but you also get the years of experience that person has gained actually building out what you yourself want them to build out for you. Some other company paid for all of the mistakes, learnings, etc. No trade secrets or confidential information but just a ton of valuable experience that the new employer benefits from day 1.

I guess people who wrote a seminal paper on cloud computing, who do research on Xen OS and distributed computing, and generate Amazon savings / product offerings that make them billions, then they should definitely ask for more than a million.

We all know that there are actors who make a million dollar per episode, but most of them don't.

I think that unless you are in the "I wrote the Dremel paper for Google" or "I'm Doug Cutting and I wrote Hadoop" or "I invented MapReduce" or "I created the Xen hypervisor" then don't get your hopes up for a 1 million$ package from Google/Amazon/Microsoft.

In any profession you can find top notch people who are making a million dollar annual salary. But usually it's the very top.

If there are 200 engineers at this level at Amazon, let's say there are 200 like this at Google and 200 more at Microsoft Facebook and LinkedIn, e.g. there are ~1000 engineers who make 1 million dollars salaries.

Let's say there are between 1-3 million software engineers in the US (excluding managers) - sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_engineering_demograph..., http://www.infoq.com/news/2014/01/IDC-software-developers

so only 0.03 to 0.1% of Software Engineers make a million dollar salary. e.g. the 99.9 percentile or higher.

Now compare it with doctors, lawyers, brokers, and you'll see that this is nothing to be proud of.

There are about 100 actors who make more than a million dollar a year:


And about 60,000 employed actors in the US


So about 0.166% of Actors make more than a million.

More likely to make a million$ a year as an employed actor than as a software engineer? I don't know, but it's not that different.

The main difference is obviously the width and height of the pyramid...

Bottom line, with even $300K total comp, even in SF, I don't think life is too bad.

But don't get your hopes high for much more than $500K unless you are really going to cost the company a lot if you leave to the competitors, or if you move up high into management.

If you really want to make tons of money, and can sell, then move to sales, (or even presales).

> If you really want to make tons of money, and can sell, then move to sales, (or even presales).

I know someone who is very successful. He was pushed into sales. After he sold his first CAT Scan machine (5% commission), he never looked back.

It all goes back to are you a cost on the balance sheet or bringing revenue in...

Quick question, who are the "Big-4"? I count Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft at a minimum.

I see "Big 4" on r/cscareerquestions a lot. It seems to have been invented by that sub as some kind of mythical club of golden programmer employers.

It came from accounting/consulting where there are four really big consulting giants: (KPMG, Earnst & Young, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and Deloitte). Interestingly enough, the above aren't known for being particularly nice employers.

On the sub the inclusion in the "big four" varies a bit, Google is the only one who's always in it. Others sometimes included are Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Adobe.

I honestly never hear anything about Adobe. MS seems strikingly average and Twitter seems like a place I wouldn't want to work.

Usually when I hear it people are talking about Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon [1], but in the last couple years it seems like Microsoft is getting back in gear.

[1] http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/tech-sanity-check/schmidt-c...

I assumed he was talking about accounting firms: PWC, EY, Deloitte, & KPMG.

Me too - and that was the first hit on wikipedia as well:


However, if we look at the disambiguation, we find at the bottom of the subsection:


"Big Four, the most influential international technology companies Amazon.com, Apple Inc, Facebook and Google".

So I'd say it's pretty ambiguous.

Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft originally (Or Apple instead of MS depends on who you ask) but this usually also included companies that are very competitive and pay a huge salary package, e.g. Apple, LinkedIn, Netflix, even Twitter although it is far from the same market cap as the others in the list. So I mean "top tech companies", sorry for the confusion!


Pricewater Coopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG

The "big 4" consulting giants, Google it.

I'm not sure you can equate "Big 4" compensation (especially at senior level given responsibilities for sales, market offerings, etc) with engineering roles at software / product companies. The comp structure is much different, and there are a lot of differences in expectations.

Interesting downvote. Having worked in software development at a Big 4 I can say there is a great deal of difference between the roles. Senior engineers will either move into direct management of teams and accounts or will have some sort of sales target for their core skills area. At a product company I would expect that while comp is tied to sales number they are not directly responsible for those numbers, and they may or may not be managing teams depending on their role in the company.

Who are the "big-4" that you're referring to?

People seem to be getting confused between salary and total comp.

Making 300k+ in total comp is pretty easy at the big Tech companies. Most level 5 Software Engineers make around that and there are >10 thousand of L5 SWEs at just Google; and I don't think Facebook, Microsoft etc pay any less. This might change if there is a downturn and these companies stop giving out significant annual stock refreshers since the base salary part of the 300k is only about 140-170k. But as of now, the numbers are"normal". To reach the close to 1 million level, you need to be at least a level 7, and there are very few of such.

Now salary is a different matter. A 300k+ salary is very rare, and you probably need to be a director at least to command that. As you rise up the ranks, salary goes up at a much smaller rate than the annual stock grants/bonuses.

The article seems to be using "cloud engineering" to mean what I would call "data engineering" or "distributed systems engineering". If so then the numbers they're throwing around seem high but attainable. I would call myself a "data engineer" (I build ad servers, recommendation engines, etc for clients) and have been getting offers in the low 300s for full time work with about five years of experience.

Interesting. What does your typical day look like? Does it involve a fair bit of ML/algorithms and making them scale horizontally?

Yep, exactly. 70% working with colleagues to design ML algorithms (which is mostly thinking of clever ways to extract features, to be honest), and 30% implementing said algorithms in a way that scales horizontally.

Does the low 300s number include the value of offered equity, benefits etc? Or it is just the base salary?

I don't know what a particular recruiter told a particular reporter, but in general, benefits (including benefits with fairly calculable cash value) are generally not included in numbers in the US but base salary, anticipated bonus, and present value of restricted stock grants in public companies are generally fair things to quote at people.

Does $300k sound reasonably achievable for an infrastructure engineer with a few years experience? Well... yeah, yeah, it does. Literally tens of thousands of engineers at AppAmaGooFaceSoft have that package.

This might help support the argument I've seen you make tons of time. You can use h1b data to show real people who don't need to raise their hand on hacker news and declare their income publicly.

Here's H1b data for Google and Facebook. Lots of people are above the 200k mark. Lots above 300k with options and RSUs etc, I'll wager a bet.



It includes vesting equity, but not benefits; in other words, it's what shows up on my W2. This is usually what recruiters and employees at AmaGooFaceSoft refer to as "total comp".

Thanks for the clarification. Makes sense to call it "total comp" for employees at AmaGoogFaceSoft, since the stock has a liquid market.

What is your background prior to working in this field?

It's a joke.

I can disclose that, in a recent past job as VP in a tech company, I had a very generous package which was a bit above $0.5M, all included (base, bonuses, options and RSUs) - then the stock went down (options became worth nothing, stock lost more than half its value), and the actual annual comp went down by about $70k-80k.

I am sharing this here to benefit the discussion, please do not make a big thing out of it.

I know it's a ton of money, but I'm pretty sure that most purely technical jobs don't surpass 300k-350k. 1M is simply foolish.

Furthermore, if you consider income taxes, and the cost of living in SF, the number is still high but not as nice as it seems at first.

Netflix, however, consistently pays way more than any other company in the valley - and yet, it is still an exception.

which tech company matters.

See Dan Luu's post about working for big corps:


He describes a boundary around $250k at "senior", and to get above it you'd need to become some kind of principal/lead.

Include about 100K worth of stock in that 300K package, which will vest over 4 years. So your annual salary goes down to 200K + 25K (assuming the value of the stock doesn't move at all). 225K per year is slightly above what a 5y standard SWE makes here in the Bay Area working for a big guy. Really nothing exceptional here... By the way, 225K/y after income tax would be about 140-150K net income per year. Where are these $300K? :)

Also, any key hire like a scientist/data analyst/PhD working in a big company would easily get $1 million offers from other big companies.

It's definitely possible, but typically that sort of package will be long-term employees at IPO/buy-out with an incentive-to-stay package (You just got 4MM$ from your options, but we'd like you to stick around for a couple of years, so we'll give you another 4MM package that vests over 5 years).

You won't get that sort of offer at an illiquid startup (except as un-valuable options) - but it's certainly within the ballpark of reason for people hiring experienced engineers at highly profitable companies.

What the heck is a "cloud computing engineer"? Is that some made-up BS like "customer service engineer"?

Total package includes base, stock, bonus. Lower end of that range is attainable for most. Upper-end is also attainable, either joining prior to the IPO and holding on to the stock afterwards, or by delivering outsize impact.

$300k+ in total comp is quite common but usual picture is a much smaller base salary + RSU + bonus + [semi-optional] whatever + [sometimes later maybe] something-else

Could the reporter be extrapolating from a couple of aquihires?

can someone find a job posting with this type of pay scale? I am curious what skills I should develop.

at this point I do not believe this unless you are the lead architect.

for exaple this job posting I cannot see payin more than $165,000 in dc/ny/bay areas... but maybe my previous exposure to the big four has been limited... was anyone able to find a job posting that pays this much?

That payscale isn't for "posted" jobs. That payscale is for "poached" jobs (no negativity implied by "poached", I just don't have a better phrase). When companies need someone who is going to cost them $500k a year, they already know who that person is.

does this mean there is an old boys club of cloud engineers that are being passed around between big companies?

how else could you get an a position to be poached?

This is a fucking joke guys. Programming is not the career job that will get you those kind of figures, if it does it sure as fuck will be more of a management position. Look guys, salaried work will never make you 'rich.' Believing it will is the same belief that a startup will succeed. You need to get out of the salary game and work for yourself or do consultantcy if you want big bucks

There are many people on HN who agree with you on this. It has a certain appeal to it; I know folks whose sense of justice is offended that some programmers make $30k while other programmers make $300k, even programmers living in the same city.

There exist tens of thousands of engineers at AppAmaGooBookSoft who have pay packages which top $300k. There exist thousands whose pay package approaches $1 million. These are facts about the world you live in.

I urge HNers to incorporate these facts about the world you live in into your career plans, including e.g. a pre-commitment to negotiate all job offers consistent with the knowledge that this is what the market is paying.

You need to get out of the salary game and work for yourself or do consultantcy if you want big bucks

It is possible to beat AppAmaGooBookSoft while working for oneself or running a consultancy. It takes a bit of doing, and isn't quite as straightforward as "get job; execute well at core job function; try to get assigned to really good projects."

patio11, I love your articles on salary negotiation and totally jive with what you're trying to do, but seven figure compensation for salaried software engineers is completely inconsistent with any evidence I've ever been able to gather. If you have actual evidence of this I'd love to see it.

I think we keep having the same misunderstanding in these HN comments. patio11 says "pay packages", not salaries. From my understanding there are loads of folks making $150,000 / yr salary with $150,000+ stock/options which means there are in fact people getting $300,000+ pay (read compensation) packages.

While people with outrageous pay packages exist, I seriously doubt they're your everyday resume submitters. The company has to want you to bid you up like that.

Google has hired many industry luminaries that they want on payroll at least as much for their own PR as for the work those people actually perform; it's almost like an athletic sponsorship that way. I'm sure some of those guys make 500K-1000K from their "employers". In that sense, even if you're an employee, you still have to go out there and do something special and noteworthy to raise yourself to the level of a "programmer" that makes 500k+.

I don't think you can demand more than 170K-200K in a moderate COL area (plus or minus as appropriate for COL adjustments) for being a normal salaried programmer, and you'd have to be quite good to get that.

> You need to get out of the salary game and work for yourself or do consultantcy if you want big bucks

This. Trading time for money does not scale. To belabor the analogy, vertical scaling (e.g. getting higher and higher positions in a company, climbing the ladder, high-end office politics) as opposed to horizontal scaling (multiple income streams, multiple revenue-generating disciplines, building your network) gives you no ownership.

If AppAmaGooBookSoft are happy to spend that much on talent, why don't they let it be known, rather than complain about a talent shortage ?

AppAmaGooBookSoft want few things more in life than for their engineers to remain really, really smart at developing distributed databases and really, really stupid at salary negotiation. They want to avoid further repricing of their entire engineering workforces at once, as that costs (literally) billions of dollars. They take substantial measures to avoid this, including (in recent memory) at least two of those companies illegally colluding against their employees to avoid those employees learning accurate facts about market clearing prices for their labor.

This also helps develop cultural norms like e.g. "We're here to organize the world's information. It is Ungoogley to collect a spreadsheet about Googler salaries. That information should never be organized... by you, that is."

That "[employers] want few things more in life than for their engineers to remain really, really smart at developing distributed databases and really, really stupid at salary negotiation" is one of the most valuable career-enhancing lessons a developer could possibly learn. I want to etch it into CS101 classes. Learning it late is better than learning it never, though. Well put, Patrick.

Mmmm... it's not clear how salary inversion would build up, when I assume every single Mountain View Googler gets multiple job opportunities a week in their inbox, presumably with salary ranges. Having said this, I'm looking at this from a distance, so who knows.

I get a ton of recruiter spam about positions which may or may not exist, but they pretty much never specify compensation.

It's not actually all that hard to find out. You apply and if you pass, you get a silly offer. It actually does happen. A year ago, I could have written the dismissive, "individual contributor engineers making that kind of money is a pipe dream" comment myself, but in the meantime I happen to have interviewed at one of the bigs and more than doubled my take-home overnight. And I was reasonably well compensated before.

Maybe not for you ;) The rest of us usually need a few weeks to prepare for these algorithms-heavy interviews. I'd rather know in advance if it's worth the trouble!

It's worth it. Don't worry, it took me weeks too. It really helps if you are the kind of person who actually likes doing the dumb algorithm exercises. I accidentally did something clever by interviewing at a handful of small companies I wasn't very interested in first, so I got to warm up the interview-question region of my brain.

I regularly hear these rumours, but the only actual datapoint I ever found is not that encouraging ... http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:aXboiWp...

Check Glassdoor, Payscale, etc for better data than that.

FWIW, Glassdoor mostly matches the 1 datapoint above (which was £45-65k) https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Salary/Google-London-Salaries-EI...

The averages being, in my area: SDE £61,668 SDE III £64,190 Senior SDE £84,307

The salaries discussed in these comments are only valid for San Francisco / Seattle / New York. London has incredibly bad compensation for programmers, relative to the cost of living.

I spent every weekend for 2 months preparing. Best investment of time I've ever spent in my life.

People might not like your comment and have different opinions, but as person who did exactly what you said and now making around 420k/yr for cyber security consulting, I have to say, you are 100% right.

How did you establish your reputation to the point that companies know it's worth it to pay you that much?

I found critical flaws in systems 4 previous pen test companies didn't find. I found bugs in a security camera DVR platform for a big company, I found critical flaw on numerous custom web portals, I found all these bugs after they went through at least one pentest by another vendor. I usually don't miss bugs in pentest and/or source code analysis. When I analyze malwares, I usually do it quick and I analyze them extensively and write good and detailed reports. I'm 28 but I built my reputation over sometime with quality work. (very sorry if my post have bragging tone, I don't mean to, I just wanted to share)

It's clear that you do have value, and it's easy for you to prove it. But how did you get your foot in the door to even have the chance to prove it?

Were you invited to pen test? Did you offer your initial service for "free" to prove your worth?

First you need to work for established infosec companies. They get pentest projects every day, easily. You can't be like them day 1. So when you work through those companies and do pentest for a client, show yourself. In our team, maybe 10 people were working with me on pentest projects, but if you ask clients now after years, they probably ONLY remember my name, because they know and understand who did what. So after years and years of good reputation, it's super easy to expand your client base, do for yourself, ask for top $, reject offers might be a dream salary for some. But just like everything else, you start slowly and gradually "level-up"

Hours/week for you on average and billing please?

I have around 70-80hrs a week. ~40 hrs for each of my clients. It doesn't have to be exact 40, as long as I do what I'm supposed to do, it's fine. It's not like 9-5 job

are you working for yourself or another company is compensating that?

I have long term contract with two companies, for one of them I do application security review, I analyze source codes and point out vulnerabilities. For the second one, I do penetration testing, forensics, malware analysis, and... One is paying 230k the other one is paying 190k. I have other contacts and other offers too, but these two jobs are taking all my time. I can switch and work with a new client anytime.

thanks for sharing -- I work in network security but I have not had opportunities to work direct with applications and forensics. clearly have some research to do and how to get in.

I am already getting downvoted for putting the truth out there. These fools like the idea that their web development job can turn into a 300k a year salaried job but its a pipedream. I am not saying those jobs don't exist. But they usually are anomalies or due to other things like a PhD.

You're being downvoted because it isn't true. I have seen Staff SWE offers for >$300k with my own eyes—and not just in SF/NY.

I would say even with a PhD you can't make 300k/yr for web or any other development. Top notch developer's salary won't exceed 220k/yr

I am really happy that you make 420k but I guarantee you that there are plenty of developers who make more than 220k. (I make more than that and in my know plenty of folks personally who make that amount) One easy to way more money than this is to work in finance space in NYC.

Indeed, I am 24 year old programmer, 2 years out of a top CS program and I am making $280k (100% cash) slinging C++ for a small quant hedge fund.

I guess working at an hedge fund, HFT, or doing some C++/ASM may be the only way to earn such salary.

Silly question. If you are making that much in NYC, how much are you paying for rent?

I think we should clarify on the definition of 'rich' before making that statement. For example, making $200k/year programming (easy for an unusually good engineer with 5 of experience in Seattle) should be able to save >50% of their income. I know more than one person doing exactly that. Do it for 10 years and you're generating 70k in interest every year along with your salary, which is enough for a person to retire on. That is rich, IMHO.

Saving 50% of the income is definitely not easy

Truth. Ran a dev shop at an F500, salary + bonus I would get $170 in a good year. Learned the game after a few years and struck out on my own (began moonlighting to reduce the risk). 1st year was $150k and fast forward to 2015 - $430k. I soon found that W2 is the absolute worst method to take compensation (topic for another day).

I am far less stressed from the dev shop days, but 80h/w still happens at times when projects go long and another kicks off. I travel 1-2 weeks month (sometimes 3) though that's an unavoidable fact of life no matter which path I take.

> Programming is not the career job that will get you those kind of figures

This is not universally true, but you're correct that merely accepting an advertised programming job expecting to move up to those levels naturally would be naive. One problem to overcome is the proliferation of irrelevant job titles... IIRC John Carmack kept the title of 'programmer' for quite a while.

Very true. Big difference between a "design agency" and a graphic designer. Big difference between a "Solutions Architect" or "Technological Consultant" and "coder"/"programmer." Unfortunately, half the battle is dealing with this contrived bullshit. Which is why I seek to remove myself from this industry.

I don't know what you define as rich but if you can pull down $300k/year, keep your cost of living low, and save in a disciplined way, you will definitely retire with many millions of dollars in the bank. You will get rich slow, rather than get rich quick, which may be what you (and most other people) mean by 'getting rich'.

It also seems possible that getting rich slowly may make you happier than getting rich quickly. There is a lot of evidence that suggests that happiness around money is very relative to your expectations (which are constantly adjusting). So if you get rich slowly you will get to enjoy long periods of relative increases before your expectations adjust to your reality. Unless you are under some kind of financial stress (where jumping as quickly as possibly over that boundary is fairly important) I would expect this to produce more happiness than a quick jump to financial freedom would.

I agree with this.Paul Graham said almost the same in http://paulgraham.com/wealth.html.

Or live below your means, while saving and investing wisely.

^ this.

or underwrite really expensive off-line options contract on paper that entitles investors to an equity that they can buy back at huge discounts, I'm talking 99.99% discount to acquire ridiculous amount of shares that will be worth a ton when they IPO or get bought someone else who thinks the equity is worth more in the future.

I know some people at Google and Netflix that make that range. Really solid technical skills, strong communication skills, consistent productivity, and strong negotiation and you can get to $400k / year. I haven't heard of more than that outside of a couple cases (I know a couple high profile women that earn millions a year, but this is more because there aren't that many publicly visible women in the tech world) unless they're working for a hedgefund or as a sales engineer.

300k is 300000, 300K is 307200, 1m is 0.001, 1M is 1000000

to throw around some figures too.

A few people that get interviewed by a reporter do not make a trend.

I've heard of SALES ENGINEERS making that kind of money, but not technicians.

The moment a programmer is working at home remote making $300K per year, the employer will find some offshore person to do it at 10% of that price.

Reference Disney and the H1B debacle etc.

The only way somebody as a technician is making that much money is the company they work for hasn;t found a way to get rid of them yet and replace them with cheaper options.

They can find themselves out of a job very fast at that price range.

Once you do the initial setup and things are stable(documented), they will kick you to the curb and replace with $50K worker.

It's entirely possible at FB/Google/Apple/etc. They definitely have H1B employees earning that much and I'm sure they are not looking to outsource those jobs. They are looking for quality not the cheapest possible price.

Right up until the time the companies are asked to pay taxes.

Anyone can give out $300K per year jobs when they are global monopolies that pay no income taxes in any jurisdiction.

These are short term anomalies not structural jobs indicate any kind of long term trend.

Companies pay profit tax, not income. Since employee compensation is an expense, the tax rate has nothing to do with it. The employees do pay income tax, quite a lot of it.

You are funny.

Clearly you never owned a company before and had to do taxes and accounting.

You better vote for minimum wage increases too!

Sales engineer chiming in... You can certainly come close, though I've never hit it... depends on the year/etc...

I do a lot of architecting of cloud storage solutions involving flash storage in my role. Lots of work to engineer solutions into existing hardware/environment, some rip and replace... Not sure if that makes me a technician or not...

A real computer technician looks and has the personality of Simpsons Comic Book Guy. That's why they are computer technicians not salespeople.

Nobody that sits and writes code and rarely interacts with other employee's is worth $300K.


The naked guy at night doesn't get $300K. He's just happy to have a job where he can sit naked..

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