By Laurence MacNaughton for Hack Reactor
The average base pay for a software engineer is $89,201 per year, according to an anonymous Glassdoor survey. But actual compensation varies widely from one employer to the next. The amount you'll be paid depends heavily on your experience, your negotiating skills, and your choice of employer.
Experienced software engineers working at the right company can bring home several hundred thousand dollars per year. A handful of senior coders can even command millions.
Whether you're a recent coding bootcamp graduate or a mid-career software engineer, the question is the same: Where should you look for the highest-paid software engineer position?
The answer depends on your level of experience.
What level of software engineer are you?
Every major employer uses some kind of level-based system to rank their software engineers. Google starts its entry-level engineers at Level 3, while at Apple, engineers are divided into five levels ranging from ICT2 up to ICT6.
Microsoft has an entirely different leveling system that starts at Level 59 for software development engineers and tops out at Level 80 for so-called "technical fellows" who lead the field.
Although the exact ranking method differs between employers, the end result is the same. A higher level means more seniority and higher pay. In other words, your level can determine the entire trajectory of your career.
In order to get the highest-paying job possible, you need to know your level. The majority of software engineers fall somewhere between L3 and L5 (or the equivalent).
Where do you fall on the level spectrum? If you're just starting out, use this list of equivalent base levels at some of the biggest software engineer employers:
Amazon: SDE1 (L4)
Cisco: Software Engineer I (Grade 4)
Google: L3 (SWE II)
IBM: Associate Engineer (L6)
Intel: Grade 5
Microsoft: SDE (Level 59)
Salesforce: Associate Software Engineer
Uber: Software Engineer I (L3)
Which employers pay software engineers more than $1 million?
Some top software engineers earn more than $1 million per year. Here are the highest-paid software engineer positions in the world, earning more than $1 million per year, according to Levels.fyi:
Apple: Director 1 and above
Doordash: Level E7 and above
Facebook: Level E7 and above
Google: Level L7 and above
Microsoft: Level 69 and above
Oracle: Level IC5 and above
Snap: Level L7 and above
Uber: Level L6 and above
VMware: Principal Engineer and above
Above the $1 million threshold, compensation escalates rapidly. At Facebook, for example, a Level E7 software engineer might make just over $1 million in total annual compensation, while a Level E8 software engineer earns $3.5 million annually.
Obviously, employers aren't handing out seven-figure salaries to just anyone. These stratospheric compensation packages are awarded only to top-level software engineers who have extensive experience in high-demand specialties.
Also, it's important to remember that crowdsourced information (such as survey data from Glassdoor or Levels.fyi) is inherently self-selecting, and may not be entirely reliable. Those who make the most money are more likely to report their income, which can skew the numbers toward the top end. But even if you're just starting out as a software engineer, the salary numbers are still attractive.
Top 10 highest-paying employers of software engineers
Ultimately, the list of highest-paying employers depends on the job you're looking for, your geographical location, and the skills you learned in a coding bootcamp online or equivalent, which can affect your rank as a software engineer.
Based on anonymous survey data, here are the top 10 highest-paying employers for entry-level, mid-level, and senior-level software engineers. (Bonus: Links to where to apply!)
Entry-level software engineers
Mid-level software engineers
Senior-level software engineers
The crucial difference between salary and compensation
In any income comparison, it's important to keep in mind that there's a difference between salary and compensation. When a software engineer at a large tech company says that they make $200,000 a year, that's not actually a $200,000 salary.
It's a measure of total compensation, which is a combination of the base salary, bonus, equity compensation, and sometimes benefits. It's not a guaranteed amount and may change over time. For that reason, there's rarely a straight apples-to-apples comparison between employers.
For example, if Employer A offers you a base salary of $100,000, while Employer B offers you a smaller $50,000 base salary plus $100,000 in company stock, it sounds like Employer B is offering you 50% more money.
But that company stock may only vest according to a long-term schedule. So if you work for that employer for just a year or two before switching jobs, you may only get a part of that stock—or none at all. Keep that in mind when comparing job offers.
How to find the highest paying employers for a software engineer
As you search for a new software engineer position, take the time to evaluate your level of experience and understand how that impacts the pay you should expect from an employer. Use the above lists to target the highest-paying employers at your career level. Also, know the difference between base salary and total compensation, so you can compare different job offers and choose the right one for you.
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