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Ask HN: Does really every software engineer in the US earn ~100000?
45 points by elephant0xffff on June 3, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments
Hey HN,

I am a software engineer in Europe and I would guess the average software engineer makes ~40000 (around ~28000 net) euro a year (~47000 in $) if (s)he does "average" software dev (so between junior and senior).

Now obviously you can negotiate salary (which I recommend) and exceptional senior devs do make around ~80000 here in Europe I guess, but here on HN I always read that most devs make around 100K (even if not a team leader or just fresh from the university or even self-taught), but if I would propose that kind of compensation to some company I am sure that it won't work out. I know that Google & Co do pay decent salary here in Europe, but other (software) companies would roll their eyes if I would demand a salary in this category.

Of course it is not that easy to compare as you are automatically insured in Europe (I don't know how that works in the US, I often read about some 401-thingy) which I highly appreciate but I don't think that you guys pay 50000 for taxes and social benefits/year?

So is my view biased as I hang out on HN too much, or is salary in the US really that much higher?

Or is it implied that you just make your 50 - 60 hours a week (at least in my area most people that do full-time are <=45 hours a week)?

Thank you for your comments.

//edit: Obviously not everybody, but let's say the 50% percentile.

Just FYI, I can share how things stand in Shanghai, China now.

An average IT graduate can expect to earn around net RMB150k/year, which is about US$23k. This is about twice the median for junior workers. Shanghai is one of the most expensive cities in China to rent, with average rents at 140-150% of median income, topped only by Beijing. Of course, with the largest subway system in the world, with prices starting from $0.3 per journey, everybody lives on the outskirts where the rent is cheaper, and commute a very manageable (though quite tight) 40-60 minutes to the downtown or numerous IT parks within the city.

The average programmer stays around there with the salary for years, the experience is not that important. But good and exceptional programmers command salaries that are much higher. I'd say from interview experience, 1-3% percent are good or have potential.

IT hubs in the country are centered around Hangzhou (Alibaba), Shenzhen (Tencent, hardware), Shanghai (many Western companies, esp. gaming), and Beijing. In well-financed Chinese IT unicorns, a good engineer can easily get net RMB700k/year (US$105k), and this is the country where you pay $3 for doctor consultation, $20 for tomography, and $15 to rent a car for a day.

In hot industries, it can be even higher. Just a few days ago we interviewed a talented candidate for blockchain startup CTO-level position, and the ask was net RMB2m/year (US$300k), villa-level housing allowance, and a personal driver. We didn't take it, but surely some unicorn will.

Thank you, that's very interesting. The spread seems to be so much larger than in Europe.

Software engineers in the US make slightly above median income (EDIT: for a college graduate) wherever the job is located. In a second-tier city with national-median home prices, that could be $50k. In the Bay Area, where the Hacker News community is centered, $115k is the median household income and also the starting salary for new graduate software engineers at several big-name companies.

There's too much diversity of cost of living for an absolute dollar figure to be useful. I would look at percentile, fraction of median home price, lifestyle, etc. instead.

The key factor is work for a company where software is the product, not a cost center. Silicon Valley is full of those: startups, and big companies. Europe not so much.

Using older terms: IT doesn't pay, SWE does.

I have also done some math to compare US and Europe pay, and if you max out at $150K, which seems a lot by European standards, you actually are very similar to European compensation. Why? College for your average two kids, plus retirement. In Europe, it's included. In the US, you save for it from your high salary.

Location is the biggest factor in the US. Living in a large city can often require your salary to double for it to be livable. It also really depends on what software you're working on. Embedded developers are generally "in the trenches" with all the mechanical and electrical engineers, the latter of which has a salary that usually caps out at around $80k; consequently, this is usually where embedded devs end up, too. Legacy stuff (COBOL, MUMPS, mainframe programming, etc.) usually seems to end up around $80k-$100k, but it doesn't seem to go much further past that. Modern CRUD and web dev is where you see people going well past the $100k mark. Tack on a management responsibilities for a solid increase, but this is highly dependent on where you're working. All of this is pretty rough, can't accommodate for location, the particular employer, etc. and gauged from people I know working in those fields, so your mileage may vary.

The median pay for software developers in 2017 was $103,560 based on government collected data[1]. So it's safe to say that a bit more than half of software developers in the US make $100,000 or more.

[1] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/...

It's worth reading more into the details on other tabs than just going by the median figure. The Pay[0] tab, Similar Occupations tab[1], and State/Area Data tab[2] provide better insights.

Also worth noting when looking at the data is what the BLS considers to be a "software engineer", what the industry breakdowns are, and where they are located.

[0] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/... [1] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/... [2] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/...

Big public tech companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter, Dropbox...) all pay over 100k total compensation for new grads.

However, they all are headquartered in the bay area or seattle so cost of living makes those numbers not quite as eye dropping as it seems but still very good. I have worked for these companies since I graduated and have saved about $90,000 in a little over 2 years including 401k (No debt from college which really helps).

While not everyone can work for these companies, the first 5 I listed have 10's of thousands of developers each so it isn't too hard to get into at least 1 of them if you are willing to make the jump and move (you can also always try and move back later to a satellite office which is my plan).

I’m in a similar boat (Savings, company, and age wise) and have come to realize that kids are where people get really hit with the COL. Two incomes only go so far when you’re paying 2k/kid/month for day care and bought a house at a premium in a good school district. Kids I’ve come to believe are the only change where we’ll really have to start thinking about finances again (Right now our COL is just way lower than our salary).

Oh totally. I cannot imagine raising kids in the bay area with the insane housing which gets you a tiny house, mediocre schools, and insane commutes. Add on the additional costs of kids and I do not plan to move/live there when I start having kids. Hence, why I hoping I can get into one of the satellite office once I get married.

I'll add that while COL is high (i pay $2,500 a month in rent alone), I have still been able to save up that $90,000 out of college in 2 years so it is a pretty good place to bootstrap your financial savings if you don't have kids/need a house.

I don't know about software engineers specifically (and I know that this title is abused by applying it to other positions), but I can tell you that both general pay-scales and the cost of living vary quite a bit in the United States, as well as with the type of organization one works for (finance and pharmaceuticals pay above average, nonprofits unsurprisingly pay below average).

Also, the general pay level and cost of living tend to be highly correlated. Those people you've heard about who make truckloads of money in San Francisco? They also pay twice (or more) what people in other American locales do for housing!

In Zurich, Geneva, Oslo and Rejkavik, you can also get a job that pays that much at a software/financial company/startup (and healthcare it's much cheaper/included in taxes).

In the US, that kind of salary it's common only in the Silicon Valley and NY.

> In the US, that kind of salary it's common only in the Silicon Valley and NY.

I don't agree with that statement. The title relates to six figure incomes, which are certainly quite common in all the tech hubs: Seattle, Austin, Denver, San Diego, etc.

You certainly have to be in a major city, and ideally one with large software companies.

I know more than a couple of good front-end developers that work remotely from rural locales for big-city companies laying down 135k-140k USD salaries.

I also know directors in other companies in said big cities making only 10k more than that, on-site.

I'd say you can read a lot from the general trends, but there are plenty of cases in either position or negative direction.

I’m in Austin, Texas. I’m 26, graduated with a BA in Sociology, and make $140,000 as an AWS Engineer.

There’s tons of money in engineering in the United States, but I would say it has come with a cost. The only reason so much money has been able to be plowed into software and hardware was because of financial products developed by Wall Street since the 1970’s. Obviously we’ve seen great results in software and hardware, but all the recent financial busts have shown there is no free lunch...

Financial products? Fintech is but a small portion of the overall software industry. Neither Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, nor Amazon specialize in fintech, and the big 5 are as much a driver of high salaries as anything else. We get paid highly because, while software is expensive to build, it's basically free to distribute and so you have huge economies of scale where sometimes as few as 50 employees can make a multi-billion dollar product. And also, because software is hard to do well and there is so much platform explosion.

“Financial Products” as in online trading, convertible stock, debt securities, etc that made it easier for investors to invest in things like Google, Apple, etc.

Perhaps the biggest example is the 401k, which shifted huge funds towards Wall Street. It’s not fintech, but just an example of a new type of product.

I hope that explains better than my original post.

Reykjavik, really?

How come a city in a country of 300,000 people pay as much as $100k USD for a SWE?

Do you have any data to back it up? I did a quick look at Glassdoor and it's far from that.

According to data it's only $80k for a software engineer.


I was thinking the same. Oslo also seemed incredibly low when I did some research. In both cities you can easily spend $30 on one dish in a regular restaurant.

Chicago has tons of jobs above that salary mark.

I’ve seen jobs listed above that routinely in Indianapolis, Minneapolis & Columbus. Talked to a recruiter the other day for a job in Nashville that paid above 100k.

These are all front line Midwest towns. Get into the sunbelt and you’ll see even more cities where those wages are common.

How hard is it to do this if I only speak English?

I have family in Norway and attended part of a Master's program in Switzerland, but left because the job prospects in Zurich did not look good without German fluency. This was not in technology, though.

I live in Switzerland and was working as a SWE at a Swiss company only speaking English. It's actually quite common - especially in Zürich.

Location is a huge variable. The cost of living is what you’d be looking for. In the US alone a same software engineer would make $200k in SF versus $100k in a lot of other cities within the same state (California). Of course, anyone living in another state would have a complete different salary and set of rules.

Now, connect the ocean in between the US and Europe and it makes it even harder to relate to your $100k/y as a reference. In europe alone you have different countries, rules, etc. I would say that the general rule is that your buying power within society remains fairly equivalent no matter what location you’re in.

This, definitely. The highest job offers I've had in the southern-mid-west have been 80k-90k/yr, while out west, toward SF they've been closer to 150k/yr (sometimes more). If I were to go out west, pay would double, but rent would at least triple.

You really can't compare the wages without taking the location and health/social insurance into account. Cost of living is a huge factor. For example here in Slovakia making 3000 month netto (after paying all the taxes, health and social insurance) will get you a great life. You can afford a nice flat or house. You would have to make 3-4x that money to live at least on the same standard in the US in California.

the best way to increase your salary in tech is to change jobs, keep learning new skills, and market yourself locally and globally.

in 2016 I was an over-worked web developer making $50k. Now I am an under-worked software engineer making double that. I have changed jobs 4 times since then (3 layoffs, 1 resignation from a dead end role, several other offers i turned down) and learned multiple new technologies. i also go to meetups and keep my network growing.

Here in US we pay about 30% in taxes and insurance. I try to keep some savings around in case of layoffs or to give me the flexibility to walk away from a role

No. California should be considered a separate country with their own exchange rate. Like you're visiting Japan and you buy a cup coffee. And it's 200 Yen. And you freak out for minute then remember that's really just $2. Divide California numbers by 3 or 4 to get something more reasonable.

IMPORTANT INFO re US income tax:

A rough rule of thumb is that if you are making $50,000 per year gross salary in the USA, you'll be taking home roughly $3000 per month in net pay.

This number changes a bit if you are married, have kids, have an expensive house, and so on.

If you are making $100,000 gross per year, especially in NY or San Fran, you realistically might have a take home net monthly pay of $5700 or even a bit less as a non-married human.

Realistically, mandatory expenses like rent and commuting (unless you are sleeping under your desk in the office!!!) will be about $1,000 to $3,000 per month, most people around $2,000 in those cities.

And yeah, lifestyle creep is totally a thing in the USA. There are people making $5700 a month who are spending $5700 per month, certainly.

Also, minimum wage is $1600 per month full time post tax at places like burger king and mcdonalds.

Like many others said it highly depends on where you work and for whom you work. Speaking from experience in NYC greater area, you can expect starting slighlty above $100K as a junior, which is really not much for the location. Seniors often go between $200 and $250K. The finance industry tops these with 50% to 100% bonuses. Large attractive companies like GOOG or FB top these with other form of bonuses. Also speaking from experience I would equate a $100K salary in greater NYC with a €25K salary in a average town like Lyon or Grenoble in France.

The absolute number is really meaningless. I remember a Ph.D prep talk about salary expectation in grad school in France mentioning $105K in the US, and I remember thinking “wow!”. What they don’t tell you is that a third of this will go to taxes, half of the reminder will go to housing, and because of the outrageous deductible and out-of-pocket caps of most corporate medical insurances you can be hit anytime with a $2K or $3K medical bill, which can be quite common if you have kids.

Yes, I pay half my us salery for tax and benefits, since you have to include putting significant money away for retirement (10 percent gross minimum ) since we don't have significant pension systems.

If you are interested in a less technical role that makes more money, check out being an Enterprise software sales engineer. These are the people who help customers with real problems architecting systems, have a poor quality of life because there is always a new project starting, but make more than engineers or sales people these days. It can be interesting work if you like variety, but can't be done the first few years out of school because experience with various architectures needs to be cultivated.

You are wrong about the average wages. If, as a software developer of middling experience levels (~3-5 years) and educational background (trashy uni or good trade-equivalent school), you do not make ~36k euro per year or more you are being swindled by your employer. That is already 42k USD. If you get to senior positions I have seen it get as high as you mentioned (and also much, much higher for select examples).

The amount you mentioned is what someone straight out of (middle) school with 0 experience would make in the field, and they could expect to have that increase to the mentioned middling wage after ~3 years of real work. That would put them at that wage at around 20-21 years old.

One thing you don’t see very much in the comments is the amount of time that you dedicate while working for a startup. Yes the salaries are high, but so is your time you put into working for a startup. From what I have seen and read, 60 Hrs a week is the average.

Startups in the bay area don't really provide the highest salaries, they compensate employees with potential future equity. The established tech leaders (FANG) and high growth mid-size tech companies are where the large salaries are found (base salary + bonus + RSU's). If you get into one of these companies and are a high performer, it is not difficult to begin making $200-300K per year after a few years once multiple RSU grants begin to kick in.

The issue is that this type of compensation is highly dependent on the stock market. Both the bull market in general and companies getting rewarded by the market for growth rather than earnings. You should be thinking about other types of investments (e.g. real estate, etc) that are not as tech/stock market dependent to funnel some of this cash flow into. Nobody knows how long this level of compensation will last.

Software developers in the bottom 20-25 percentile of their local area make roughly half of the local median in most places in the US.

A lot of people seem to think you have it automatically made in the shade if you're a software engineer. But it doesn't guarantee a good income, not even in the US. Cue delusional managers seeking $15/hr full-stack web developers. Or the infamous "do everything with computers" one-man IT job that gives you no benefits or no strong future with the company.

There are a lot of people in this field that still struggle financially, even though they are not buying expensive luxuries.

If you're open to contracting, you can get 100k euros per year even in Poland, and much more in Western Europe or UK. Of course, you have to be in demand.

Yes. Europe is contracting land. Forget those pointless permanent jobs. ;)

What's funny is that being a contractor seems to be a disadvantage when applying to some US companies. I sometimes had the impression that interviewers were thinking "What's wrong with you, can't you get a real job?"

Your salary is not that important. What is important is your buying power. What and how much you can actually buy with what is left over from tax. So be very careful concluding anything based on income alone.

I'd like more context on this. Is there anyway to hit a 200k euro salary as a top 5% software dev?

If I moved to Europe, and offered a 200k salary, would I be able to attract bay area level software devs? What about a 100k salary?

Contract software developers in Toronto Canada routinely make $100+/hour for 40 hours/week but it usually means working for a large enterprise like a bank, telco or insurance company.

The pay is industry dependent as well. If you work in Investment Banking IT the wages are typically higher.

I make way more money in the US but my quality of life was much better in Netherlands

I wish

No, Most software developers in US don't make anywhere close to over $100k a year. I reckon half probably make around $40-$60k a year.

This is objectively not true based on reliable data from the BLS[1]. The median pay for software developers in the US in 2017 was $103k.

[1] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/...

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