Cracking the Code: Why Software Engineers Make Six Figures

STEM jobs are some of the most high-paying jobs in the United States.

It’s because they require immense knowledge in science, mathematics, and technological domains, and the educational path toward such can be challenging and full of sacrifices.

List after list of the top-earning STEM careers put engineering jobs at the top.

Of those, software engineers are some of the most predominant six-figure earners — according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they make an average of 124,200 per year.

Take note: the top 10% best-paid ones earn more than $198,100 annually!

I hired many programmers, and some of them make even more than that.

Software engineers, also known as software programmers and software developers, make so much as they are indispensable to businesses that rely heavily on technology to revolutionize their productivity and stay ahead of the competition.

In the race toward operational excellence, software engineers are critical role players.

Adding to why they get compensated remarkably well include:

  • The constant need for innovative software solutions
  • The software engineering field and its applications are always changing
  • Remote work intensifies the need to secure the most skilled software engineers
software engineer

Reverse-Engineering the Path to Becoming a Software Engineer

There’s one thing that software engineers have in common: making lots of money.

However, they took different paths to be where they are currently, and that’s at the top of the list of some of the most important authorities in the digital age and best-paid professionals.

Yes, there are different avenues toward becoming a software engineer.

Which route is the best for you will depend on various factors, such as your career goal and available assets, including time, money, and even your most recent educational credential.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular paths toward a software engineering career:

Attending Bootcamps

Over 44,200 people attend online coding bootcamps.

In the North American region alone, around 25,000 individuals graduate from bootcamps, a substantial increase from the 18,000 reported average in earlier years.

Software engineering bootcamps last anywhere from three to six weeks.

According to Forbes, the average cost of an online bootcamp (based on 65 surveyed bootcamps) costs $10,825 — some can cost as low as $100, while others can cost as high as $20,000.

An online software engineering bootcamp is cheaper and faster than a four-year degree.

However, it doesn’t come without a downside: because a bootcamp has a substantially limited scope, a credential from it can severely limit your career opportunities and earning potential.

Going to College

Still, the most popular route toward a career in software engineering is getting a college degree.

According to a survey consisting of 65,000 professionals in the industry worldwide, approximately 75% have a bachelor’s degree or a higher academic credential under their belt.

A bachelor’s degree in software engineering program is not the only key to a software engineering career — you may opt for a related program that can lead to the same professional goal.

Some of your options include:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Computer engineering
  • Computer science
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data science
  • Game design
  • Information systems
  • Information technology
  • Network administration
  • Web development

Which undergraduate degree program suits you will depend on which software engineering area you like.

Yes, there are different areas to choose from, such as:

  • Applications development
  • Cloud architecture
  • Front-end engineering
  • Game development
  • Mobile development
  • Programming
  • QA engineering
  • Security engineering
  • Software development
  • Software testing

Besides a bachelor’s degree in software engineering or a related one that takes around four years to complete, you may also go for an associate degree that usually takes two years only.

However, you might end up with very limited entry-level jobs to choose from after graduation.

Besides, most of those who work on an associate degree in software engineering or something similar eventually pursue a higher credential, such as a bachelor’s degree or even higher, to widen their career prospects.

According to US News, these schools offer the most exceptional undergraduate software engineering programs:

#1Carnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburgh, PA
#2University of Illinois Urbana-ChampaignChampaign, IL
#3Georgia Institute of TechnologyAtlanta, GA
#4Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridge, MA
#4Stanford UniversityStanford, CA
#4University of California, BerkeleyBerkeley, CA
#7University of WashingtonSeattle, WA
#8Purdue UniversityWest Lafayette, IN
#9University of California, IrvineIrvine, CA
#9University of California, Los AngelesLos Angeles, CA
#11Cornell UniversityIthaca, NY
#11North Carolina State UniversityRaleigh, NC

computer programmer

Start Your Engines: Software Engineers’ Race to the Top of the Salary Scale

Software engineers, as mentioned, are some of the most handsomely paid professionals in the US.

However, some of them make more than others.

How much you will make in the software engineering realm depends on crucial factors such as your credentials, job position, previous work experience, location, and the particular industry you’re in.

The following are some of the highest-earning software engineering jobs in the land:

Job TitleAverage Annual Salary
Software engineering manager$213,570
Chief technology officer$198,463
Principal software engineer$180,392
AR/VR Software Engineer$180,262
Software architect$143,117
DevOps engineer$134,331
Full-stack engineer$126,634
Big data engineer$126,398
Machine learning engineer$126,219
Site reliability engineer$125,673
Software automation engineer$121,948
Cybersecurity engineer$119,258
Back-end engineer$117,478
Natural language processing (NLP) engineer$115,892
Cloud engineer$113,923
Game programmer$105,408
Quality assurance engineer$100,632
Game developer$90,619
Mobile applications developer$89,529

Making More Money as a Software Engineer

The average hourly salary of software engineers in the US is $59.71.

Given that the average hourly wage for all occupations in the private sector is only $34.55, you will be making more than most other employees by roughly 73% per hour as a part of the software engineering industry.

Software engineers can make even more than what they are currently making.

Let’s explore the ways on how you can increase your earning potential as a software engineer:

  • Wait for a salary increase. It’s not uncommon for companies to give employees a raise after a year or so, which means that you can use the saying “patience is a virtue” as your guide.
  • Keep giving it your best shot. One way to increase your salary without asking for it is to impress your employer — show that your above-average output is worthy of an above-average salary.
  • Obtain additional skills and qualifications. You can easily get your hands on online courses and certifications if you want to take on additional tasks or have a more specialized role on the team or in the workplace.
  • Get a master’s degree. A master’s degree in a related field allows you to qualify for managerial software engineering roles — CNBC says it can give you a salary boost of up to 87% or more.

You may also carefully choose which area in software engineering to work in because some of them tend to pay software engineers better than others, on average.

According to the BLS, here are some of the best-paying industries for software engineers:

IndustryAverage Annual Salary
Software publishers$134,430
Finance and insurance$128,960
Management of companies and enterprises$127,880
Computer systems design and related services$112,510

In many instances, it’s also a good idea to be willing to fly to work somewhere.

The following are the top-paying states for software engineers:

StateAverage Annual Salary
Rhode Island$147,030
New York$141,130

Read Also: Why are Dental Hygienists Paid So Much?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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