How much did the salary bubble for programmers get?
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Photo: zacktionman


  • Ordinary programmers in top IT-companies now earn $ 300-400 thousand per year.
  • This is largely due to the high share price.
  • Other career paths seem “harder” and are not adequately paid for.
  • Can it last forever?

I quit Google back in 2012 and started my startup. Of course, prestige and the desire to do what you love have played a role, but the main reason is money. I dreamed of getting rich and never working again.

Ironically, if I had stayed at Google, I would have won materially. I left right at the beginning of the wave. In January 2012, the price of Google shares was $ 300. Now it exceeds $ 1000 and even reached $ 1200. Other IT companies have a similar situation, which has inflated the salaries of ordinary engineers to an unprecedented level.

For the uninitiated: it looks like this (the figures are conservative, since I live in Colorado, where the IT market is not as hot as in Silicon Valley): you are a senor with 5-10 years of experience, and Google offers you $ 215,000 dollars. This offer consists of a base salary of $ 120,000- $ 150,000, a bonus of 5-10%, and the rest is an option. Your initial shareholding may cost $ 200,000 dollars (at current valuation). Dividing into four years, it turns out about $ 50,000 per year.

So, you are happy and agree to work at Google. Offers from other companies are much lower. They can be compared with the salary of Google, taking into account the bonus, but not nearly stood at full income, given the stock. Most of them did not even offer options. Obvious exceptions are companies of the same class as Google: Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft.

So, you start to work, but the real high comes in two to four years. Refresher grants are offered to good employees. Suppose you get an option in half the original each year. Again, each of them is valid for four years, so by the fourth year you have one option for $ 200,000 plus three options for $ 100,000. Now your total compensation is $ 125,000 a year, and the total income including salary and bonuses is about $ 315,000.

If you don’t believe these numbers, just ask around. Ask your friends on Facebook or Google, or look at the Glassdoor statistics. Most of my friends in such places earn from $ 300 to $ 400 thousand per year. And this is in Colorado, where most seniors are happy to receive $ 130 thousand. I think that in the Silicon Valley the market is even more overheated.

I LOVE giant salaries in those companies. Even without working in the top companies FAANG , my salary is constantly rising due to the pressure that Google with friends exerts on the market of programmers.

I just wonder how long it will last.

Usually, when I tell people about this phenomenon, they think that they have to pay for such a salary. They say that unfortunate programmers work 80 hours a week or do disgusting work.

From my experience, nothing like that.

First, on the chart: yes, I worked at Google in long shifts, but was the exception rather than the rule. The only reason I worked so hard was because I love working. Nobody forced me. I was at the office when the cleaning ladies came and usually left one of the last. All the others went home at 4-6 pm, depending on what time they arrived in the morning.

Secondly, about tasks: working at Google is like corporate programming anywhere. You serve a lot of legacy code, you have a lot of refactoring and various integrations. From time to time you start working on something truly new and exciting. Assuming you like programming, that's fine with me. I just love programming; what I program is basically irrelevant.

So, this brings me to the main point: I have many friends in other industries, and they do not earn as much as we do. At the same time, they usually work a lot more and strain more than I have ever strained in life.

Let's compare with some other professions: doctors and lawyers.

To become a doctor, you have to study at a medical school for four years, and then from three to four years of residency. Now after residency usually 1-3 years of fellowship, depending on the specialty. At the very least, you can earn during the residency and fellowship, but the salary is about $ 50-70,000 per year. And given the number of working hours, it is close to the minimum wage or less. All my medical friends usually pull an 80-hour week or more. After all this, you can count on $ 200,000-600,000 a year until the end of your career. The final salary is fantastic, but at what price? You spent 10 years of your life, gave a lot of money to medical school, and probably worked twice as much as most programmers.

I don’t have so many familiar lawyers, but it seems their path is something like this: you struggle to get into the best law school you can find, and you spend and spend money on education for three years. Fortunately, in three years you “finished”. If you find a job in a crowded legal market, then you enter into a desperate struggle to become a partner: for this you need to plow 5-10 years from morning to night. If you achieve a partnership, you will get a sweet life, earning a minimum of $ 150,000 - 300,000 per year, with a reasonable schedule.

Keep in mind that there are always exceptions. There are star surgeons who receive $ 1 million per year or more, as well as stellar attorneys. But I am interested in the average case, not the exception.

As for other professions: my friends in other industries seem to earn no more than $ 100,000 a year. I mentioned doctors and lawyers only because they seem to be the only ones that can compare in terms of income with programmers of top companies.

This brings me back to the main question: how much did the salary bubble for programmers get? Many other careers seem much more complicated, and yet programmers get more. Of course, the “complexity” of work is a bad measure for salary, but this is also important. Usually one of the easiest ways to succeed is to do what others do not want to do, which means a lot of work, a lot of stress and a lot of difficulties: few will endure it, so you will get decent compensation.

But in programming, the medal seems to have no reverse. We have a low level of stress, we work for relatively few hours, but still enjoy a high salary.

Don't get me wrong, it is difficult to be a “good” programmer, you need to constantly acquire new knowledge, so this way is not without problems.

But I still sometimes think that this is some kind of bubble. Perhaps, given the increased importance of software for the economy, this is a new norm. But this situation has developed only in the last 5-10 years, which makes me ask the question: will it continue forever? Much also depends on the high stock price. If the stock market falls, many of these numbers will decrease significantly.

I should also note that the bubble is observed * only * in the top companies, which makes it even stranger. As I said, my salary has also grown thanks to Google, but I don’t see this happening everywhere. If programmers were so valuable, then the benefits for them would have spread everywhere, but it seems that this is not happening, at least for now.

I hope that other programmers will also be able to count on such salaries in 10 or 20 years. But at the same time I am ready for a situation when these numbers will no longer be the norm.

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