If you’ve just graduated college or a coding boot camp, and you want to make lot of money as a software engineer at a big tech firm, you might want to avoid IBM.
IBM’s base salaries for associate engineers, the lowest rung of its engineering ladder, average $91,357, according to data compiled by levels.fyi. That’s in addition to an average bonus of $4,214 and stock options worth… $286. That’s far lower than what Google, Apple, and Microsoft pay their starting software engineers:
Apple's ICT2 roles (i.e., the lowest rung of the software engineering ladder) pay an average of $118,810 in base salary, along with annual stock options worth roughly $27,119, and a bonus of $14,619. At Google, new software engineers (e.g., those who’ve just graduated from college) at the L3 level average salaries of $124,009, with annual stock options of $42,660 and a bonus of $21,417. Meanwhile, Microsoft offers engineers at its lowest “SDE” level $105,747 in average annual salary, $28,650 in stock, and a bonus of $21,378.
In addition, IBM's entry-level engineering pay is lower than the average salary in tech, which is $93,244 (according to the most recent Dice Salary Survey). Nor do things get much better when IBM engineers begin climbing the ranks: Staff engineers, the next level up, average $112,400 in base salary, with an average bonus of $2,300 and stock worth $900 per year. Again, this is generous by the standards of most industries (consider that median household income in the United States is just under $60,000 per year), but it lags behind what other big tech firms pay their ascending engineers.
According to Glassdoor, IBM’s entry-level software engineers make $85,362, which is even less than the levels.fyi estimates. Meanwhile, Indeed pegs IBM software engineer salaries at $81,002—remarkably low for the industry (although its sample size is notably small).
However, IBM offers quite a bit of money to those with highly specialized skills. Back in 2017, Tom Eck, the CTO of industry platforms at IBM and a software developer who has been involved in A.I. as far back as the early ’90s, told the audience at the Markets Media’s Summer Trading event in New York that top-tier A.I. researchers “are getting paid the salaries of NFL quarterbacks, which tells you the demand and the perceived value.”
Eck’s insinuation, of course, was that A.I. experts at IBM were earning those kinds of paychecks. And that would certainly make sense, considering how IBM is “all in” on A.I. initiatives such as Watson.
For newbie software engineers without those rare skills, though, IBM might not deliver the most desirable starting salary of the big tech companies. At least Big Blue, like many firms, is more amenable to hiring tech professionals who lack a degree, but have skills and an aptitude to learn.