Every week, it seems we’re inundated with new stories about tech startup employees making it absurdly rich in the wake of another skyrocketing IPO (although to be fair, those days of ultra-rich “unicorns” might be coming to an end). We also know that software engineers at some of tech’s biggest companies can pull down enormous salaries. But are technologists the highest-paid people in the country?
According to new, crowdsourced data from Glassdoor, the answer is a decisive “no”: the highest-paying job in America is physician, with a median salary of $193,415, followed by pharmacy manager ($144,768), dentist ($142,478), and pharmacist ($126,438).
But that doesn’t mean technologists are hurting when it comes to take-home compensation. Enterprise architects (who frequently must reconcile the needs of a company’s tech stack with its broader management concerns) came in fifth place on Glassdoor’s list, with $122,585; software engineering managers pulled down an average median salary of $114,163. Take a look at the full list (which has multiple pages, by the way; click in the upper-right corner to advance to the second page):
While tech jobs don’t dominate the top of the list, they definitely occupy the middle—solutions architects, data architects, systems architects, and cloud engineers are all represented here. “We see a variety of roles related to the analysis and management of data, including data scientist, data architect and analytics manager,” Glassdoor wrote in a blog post accompanying the data. “Employers know they need to access data, understand it and use it to their advantage, and they’re willing to pay competitive salaries to do so.”
Of course, the above list doesn’t give the full picture of what technologists can potentially earn, provided they have the right mix of tech skills and experience. For example, senior software engineers at some of tech’s biggest companies can earn a healthy multiple over what an “average” physician earns. At Google, those at the L7 (i.e., a senior staff software engineer) level can earn $256,059 per year, coupled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock. At Microsoft, where engineers who hit level 67 (i.e., principal software development engineer, and roughly equivalent to Google’s L7) are paid roughly $222,714 in salary, along with $226,000 per year in stock options, and a bonus of $73,143. (That data comes from levels.fyi, which does a great job of crowdsourcing salary data.)
And for truly in-demand tech skills, there’s virtually no limit. For example, the biggest firms are happily willing to pay millions to those with extensive knowledge of machine learning and artificial intelligence (A.I.). “Right now, A.I. is an elitist sport – there are very few people who know how to practice it,” 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 a New York City event a few years back. “The top-tier A.I. researchers are getting paid the salaries of NFL quarterbacks, which tells you the demand and the perceived value.”
The thirst for A.I. and machine learning experts hasn’t slackened in the interim, especially as companies struggle to make their apps and services “smarter.” For technologists who want to take the next big step in their career, specializing in something tech that's truly cutting-edge is a good pathway to a much larger paycheck.
As Glassdoor’s list shows, you also can’t go wrong with data analytics. If you’re totally new to crunching massive amounts of data for insight, make sure you know the programming languages that drive much of the data-analytics field, including Python and R. It’s also helpful to know the differences between data engineers, data analysts, and data scientists. But keep in mind that, as with other tech fields, the highest-paid data analysts and data scientists are those who specialize in skills that set them apart from a growing field.