Tech Salaries Explained: How much can you earn? (2022)

April 11, 2022
Working in Tech
David Turnbull

If you’re considering moving to a career in tech then it’s only natural that you’ll want to know: How much money can I make? We'll be answering that today.

Now, money clearly isn’t the only thing to consider when you’re changing careers. When I was making my own move to tech I wanted to find a job that I would enjoy and find intellectually challenging. But I also wanted to earn more. I was fortunate enough to achieve my goal, and with a bit of research and planning, so can you.

So how much can you make? Will it be more than you’re making now?

Like so many good questions, these have an annoying answer – it depends. 

How much can you make? Well, what job will you be doing? Will it be more than you’re making now? Well, that depends on how much you’re making now!

I can’t give you a short, simple answer because there are too many variables that we need to consider. But don’t close your browser tab just yet. What I can do is helpy you learn about these variables, and then give you examples of salaries for popular tech jobs, using real market data. By the end of the post you should have a good idea of how much you’ll be able to earn after moving to a career in tech.

PART ONE: The variables

How much can you earn?

Variable 1: The job 

Now I know this is fairly obvious, but the job you do will be the most important variable in determining how much money you can make. It may not seem fair, but a software engineer is going to make more (on average) than a customer support representative. That doesn’t mean that the developer will be working harder, or that it’s an inherently better job. It’s just a function of supply and demand in the job market.

The highest paying tech jobs will usually require a high level of technical proficiency. By high technical proficiency I mean the jobs that are involved with writing code or manipulating large data sets, which includes roles like software developer or data scientist.

Someone will usually need to provide management and direction to these technical employees and this will usually also require a level of technical skill and professional experience. An example is product manager, and these roles tend to pay towards the higher end of the tech wage scale.

Another group of highly paid employees are those who are working in positions that have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line – like technical sales. Tech sales will usually receive a combination of salary and commission and the actual salary component may not be very high, but the overall compensation can be very good – sometimes the highest in the entire company.

Our next set of well-paid jobs are those that require a specific professional education and experience. This includes roles like in-house legal counsel where you’ll generally have a law degree and some experience working with clients, or corporate development, where you’d probably have a degree in a subject like finance, and experience working in M&A. 

Skilled roles like UX and UI design are next in line. You can’t just jump in and design user interfaces – well, you can try but it won’t work. And since a product’s design is a very important part of its overall quality, and potential success, these roles should pay well.

As we continue we start to reach roles that have less strict technical, educational or experience requirements. By removing restrictions we are increasing the pool of available talent on the supply side, so the pay will generally be lower. This includes many (but not all) roles in departments like marketing or customer support. While you would generally be expected to have a law degree to work in in-house legal, anyone can write blog posts as part of the content marketing team. And when more candidates are available to fill a role then the market is going to pay accordingly, and that means lower salaries. But before I start to sound too negative, remember that all of this is in the context of tech. A lower tech salary will still be higher than what you would find in many “traditional” jobs. 

Variable 2: Seniority 

This one is straightforward: the higher up in the company you are, the more you’ll earn. If you're hired to work as a customer support rep with zero experience then you will make less than the Head of Customer Support who was previously working at Netflix.

Variable 3: The Company

One of the key determinants of how much you earn is the company you work for. Companies that are flush with cash, whether it’s from a large venture funding round or (by some miracle) revenue and profit, will have more money to spend. The FAANG companies Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google), have a reputation for paying some of the highest salaries in the industry. It’s not unheard of for a software developer to graduate college and go straight into a FAANG earning more than $130k per year, and senior employees can make many multiples of that.

Outside of FAANG, companies with strong business models and high margins (like you'll find in enterprise SaaS) can afford to pay well. If a company is working on technically challenging or “trendy” products, like self-driving cars or crypto, they’ll probably be paying towards the top end of the market. But this may be limited to the specific roles that are in high demand, which is usually software engineers and data scientists with experience in the specific industries.

This brings us to the stage in the company’s lifecycle. A newly founded startup will usually offer less than an established company as they will have less money. They may try to make up the difference with stock options, which we’ll cover in more detail shortly. 

Typically, Google will be able to pay their employees more than a bootstrapped ecommerce startup. And you’ll make more writing machine learning code at a self-driving startup than you would in their content marketing team.

Variable 4: Your location

The pandemic certainly accelerated the uptake of remote working, and in-theory your future pay doesn’t need to be linked to where you are located. There is a strong argument that you should be paid based on the value you bring, not where you happen to be sitting as you type (or Zoom). But back in reality you’ll usually find that roles will pay based on location. The highest paying jobs are in the top tech cities in the USA – places like San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Seattle, New York, Austin and Miami. You’ll probably earn less if you work in Europe, and less again if you’re based in Asia or Africa. 

Variable 5: Your negotiation skills

There is another factor that will determine how much you make, and that’s how well you negotiate a job offer. Now, I’m not silly enough to assume that everyone is in an equal position to negotiate an offer – for any number of reasons, some people will have less power or opportunity. But if you can, you may be able to boost your total compensation package by 10-20% or more, and with tech-level salaries that can work out to a significant amount more in your bank account.

PART TWO: There’s more than the salary

We’ve been focused on salary but that’s only part of the equation. Many roles in tech will also come with options, equity, or RSUs as part of the overall package, and they can have a big impact on how much you take home.

Now a quick disclaimer – none of what you are about to read is legal advice. Countries have their own laws and regulations so make sure to check with a financial advisor or similar qualified professional.

Stock Options

Many startups and private tech companies will carve out a section of company equity as an “stock option pool” that they can offer to early employees. When they offer someone a job they’ll also include a number of options taken from this pool – usually the earlier you join and the more senior your job the more options you’ll receive. An option is the right to buy stock in the future date for a predetermined price, known as the strike price. The options are not a gift – they are usually included as a way to offset a lower salary, and to provide an incentive to early employees to stay and grow the company. 

While you may be offered a number of options when you join a company, they will have a vesting schedule attached to them – this means that you need to work for a certain amount of time before you can choose to buy, or exercise, the options. This prevents people from taking a job, getting their options and then quitting. A common vesting schedule is 4 years with a 1 year cliff, which means you need to work for 12 months before you can exercise any of the options.

Now the multi-million dollar question – will your stock options be worth anything?

That is a very tough question! The options will only to be valuable if the company has some sort of exit event, like being acquired or going public through an IPO. Statistically speaking most startups will fail, and the earlier you join the greater the odds of failure. You may be offered more options if you join a Seed stage startup but there is (usually) less chance that they will be worth anything than if you joined a Series D scale-up that was on track for an IPO. But if that seed stage does turn into the next Facebook or Google or Stripe…. 

The whole “take a smaller salary in return for more options” is a startup version of playing the lottery. Like any lottery, the odds of winning the jackpot are very low but some people do win.

If you leave the company before an exit then you may need to exercise your options within a given time period. This can have some pretty big tax implications, especially if you’re in the USA, so definitely check with a lawyer or advisor before you make any decisions.

One final thing to remember – you can pay your rent or mortgage with your salary but you can’t pay with options. There is real value to cash in your bank account. 

Restricted Stock Units (RSU)

If a company is large (eg. valued at $1B or more) or already publicly listed, like Google or Microsoft, then they may offer you restricted stock units, or RSUs, as an added financial incentive. 

An RSU is a method where a company grants shares to its employees. These shares are “restricted” because they come with a vesting schedule, similar to what we saw with stock options. But while stock options are giving you the option to buy stock at a future date, once an RSU has vested then you have the stock – you don’t need to purchase it. 

You can think of RSUs as being kind of like a “stock bonus”, as opposed to a cash bonus, although they will generally be taxed as if they were cash.

If you’re working at a public company and receiving RSUs then you can usually sell them on the stock market once they have vested. This has benefits, but it does also link your compensation quite heavily to the whims of the market, as many people have found out in recent months. 

Other benefits - Health & Lifestyle

You’ll need to consider any other non-cash benefits that the company may be offering, like health insurance. I live in Sweden so I’m not going to pretend to know the intricacies of the American health care system, but if it applies to you then take the time to do your research.

Also take note of the expectations for how many hours you’ll be working and your work/life balance. High growth, live or die startups tend to push harder than the tech companies that have already reached the stratosphere. If you’re used to working a strict 40h week then startup life may be a shock, but if you’re coming from 100 hour weeks as an investment banking analyst then it would probably feel like a holiday. Either way, if you place a value on your time – which you should – then take that into consideration when you’re thinking about how much a job may pay, and where you choose to work.

PART THREE: How much can I earn? Examples with real-world data

It’s time to check out some real world examples of how much you could earn working in tech. I’ve grabbed the salary data from GlassDoor, a site that collects anonymised salary data from real companies. 

Software Developer salary

We’ll start with that classic tech job, the software developer. There is a huge range in software developer salaries based on who you work for and where you’re located. According to Glassdoor, a software developer living in San Francisco should average around $126k per year. If they work for Netflix, which is known to be at the top end of the pay scale, then you’re looking at $256k per year. 

Now, if we head over to London then a software developer working at Google could expect to make around £60k base salary. 

Content Marketer salary

Content marketing requires strong writing and research skills and is a popular role for people coming from fields like journalism, teaching and academia. A content marketer working for a Series A startup based in San Francisco could expect to earn around $89k per year. 

Corporate Development salary

You’re working in banking or finance and looking to make the leap to CorpDev M&A work at one of the mega-tech FAANG companies. How much would you expect to make? Glassdoor shows salaries in the range of $200k per year at a company like Meta. That may be less than some people in banking or finance are used to but it will probably come with an improved work/life balance.

In-house Legal Counsel salary

You’re an experienced corporate lawyer who is tired of client work and wants to move in-house. According to Glassdoor if you managed to get an Associate Corporate Counsel position at Google then you’d be looking at a package of around $239k per year, and if you have a bit more experience and join as a Corporate Counsel that will jump to $285k per year.

Customer Success salary

Customer success takes strong communication and relationship building skills, and it’s a good job for those of you who like working with people but aren’t looking for a straight sales job. So, how much do they earn? According to Glassdoor, a Customer Success Manager in the USA averages $105k per year. 

Business Development salary

Glassdoor shows an average of $117k per year for BizDev, but when we look at leading tech companies like Dropbox, Adobe and Google it’s closer to the $160k per year range. One thing to remember with BizDev is that the job involves building partnerships, but the job title is also by some people trying to recruit for sales jobs.

Technical Sales salary

And last on our list today, but certainly not least, is tech sales. Tech sales is different than the other roles we’ve discussed as you’ll have a relatively normal base salary but the chance to make a significant amount of money through commissions. Glassdoor shows average base salaries of $92k per year, but with a wide range, but I know of people working in technical sales for enterprise SaaS companies who are making many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. 

Next Steps

Hopefully you have a good idea of the kind of money you could expert to earn if you make the move to tech.

If all this talk of money has piqued your interest but you’re still not sure which role is right for you, then you can check out our detailed overview of popular technical and non-technical jobs in tech. We also have a free mini-course that will help you choose the perfect tech career.

David Turnbull
Founder of Metamorphous
Since changing careers to tech in my late 20s I've worked in B2B SaaS growth and was a partner at an ecommerce company that was ultimately acquired.

You can work in tech.
I'll show you how.

Join my free newsletter. Every week I'll send you free resources & actionable advice to help you make the move to a rewarding, highly-paid tech career.