Software Engineer Salary by Level, City (Updated 2021)

There are a number of reasons why folks are flocking to software engineering as a career track. 

A surplus of available jobs and remote-friendly work are two reasons. The software engineer salary is another, and it’s arguably the most popular draw. It’s that lack of talent that leads companies to pay top dollar for talented software engineers with acumen in the most popular languages.

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When we talk about software engineering salaries, we tend to look to Big Tech and Silicon Valley as a mark of what companies can pay. However, it’s 2021 — we’re on the other side of a global pandemic that forced people to stay home and move to new places, and companies in all fields all over the country are looking for solutions that require a programmer’s touch, whether it’s building the backend of a mobile app or overhauling the frontend design of webpages.

Microsoft, Google, and Facebook aren’t the only ones with money.

Industries like e-commerce, healthcare — even aerospace defense, like Lockheed Martin — need software developers and engineers. Reliable tech is a cost that organizations can’t afford not to put resources and money into. However, there aren’t enough software engineers skilled enough to bring these industries into the tech fold. 

Luckily, coding bootcamps (like ours) create the fastest track from coding newbie to full-fledged software engineer. With every graduating cohort, the talent gap closes marginally, but the need will continue to grow as new industries find ways to implement tech stacks into their services, products, and offerings.

So what can software engineers expect to earn based on where they live? We use some of the industry’s most accurate salary data to compile average salaries by level and by city, particularly those where software engineer jobs are plentiful (plus a few bonus cities abroad).

Software Engineer Salary by Level in 2021

While companies like Microsoft and Google have their own career track, they’re similar to the traditional levels of engineering as one climbs up the ladder. Typically, there are five levels.

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Level 1: Software Engineer Salary.

The average salary range for an entry-level (or E1) software engineer, according to Glassdoor, is $87,619.  It’s important to note, though, at the E1 level, there is no common software engineer salary.That number can be rather broad depending on experience, like previous coding experience or other soft skills that are useful to an organization. This is especially true in the startup scene.

Most bootcamp graduates and college graduates with computer science degrees start as a Level 1 Software Engineer, with room to move up or be promoted.

On the high end, entry-level software engineers have potential to make into the six-figure range, particularly if they live in a city like San Francisco or New York where cost of living is significantly higher.

Level 1 software engineers typically don’t typically make many decisions around a company’s product. They typically take direction and tasks from more senior engineers on the team to help move projects forward. Luckily, at this stage, expertise isn’t a requirement — good organizations know that junior software engineers are still learning, so they’re typically included in conversations that help them improve their skills and build competency.

Level 2: Senior Engineer Salary.

ZipRecruiter notes that Level 2 software engineers net around $101,974. Some Level 1 engineers in large tech hubs can make this salary, too, where Level 2 engineers in these same cities can earn an average salary of $134,386 on the high end.

A Senior Software Engineer has a few more years of experience under their belt and a greater competency around languages and skills. While still not a project owner, a Level 2 engineer is expected to be a problem solver with little to no guidance.

Level 3: Staff Engineer Salary.

As of June 2021, salary.com clocks the national average salary for a Level 3 engineer at $112,766. Top earners at companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google can potentially break the $200,000 mark with a job title as Staff Engineer.

Typically, staff engineers have 5-6 years of experience under their belt, so they’re managing projects and potentially junior engineers. Where Level 1 engineers are typically handed tasks to do, staff engineers are the ones doing the handing off. 

According to Exponent, “a staff engineer will sometimes help decide on a problem to focus on and sometimes a staff engineer will spend time writing in code, but the primary role of a staff engineer is to ensure the team produces a strong solution for the problem upper management wants to focus on”.

Level 4: Principal Engineer Salary.

Principal Engineers are something of a unicorn in the tech world. There aren’t many of them because this level requires significant years of experience and more business acumen than technical savvy. At this level, you’re making decisions that affect the whole organization.

Glassdoor nets a Level 4 software engineer salary at $141,405, but this becomes harder to gauge because a Principal Engineer means different things to different companies. In some cases, you’re such a decision maker that you are often seen as or exist at the executive level, meaning your average additional cash compensation could be somewhere in the millions.     

Level 5: Distinguished Engineer/Fellow Salary.

An average salary is hard to pinpoint when you’re a Level 5 distinguished engineer. For context, Jeff Dean is a fellow engineer at Google, and he currently leads the Google AI division (making his net worth somewhere in the hundreds of millions).

Not all software engineers will achieve Jeff Dean-stardom, but the level of influence a Fellow has at an organization or throughout an industry can be noted on a global scale. In many cases, Level 5 engineers have made their mark on multiple companies or huge projects. It’s not so much measured in years of experience as it is in other levels.

As a distinguished engineer, you’re making money that cannot be measured in an annual salary.

Software Engineer Salary by City in 2021

Now that we know what engineers are making, on average, at each level of their career, let’s look a little more granularly at salary by city. Many of these are established or flourishing tech hubs, but a post-COVID environment has allowed for greater flexibility in where folks are laying down roots, as most software engineering tasks can be performed on a personal computer from the comforts of home.

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Indeed lists the top 10 cities in 2021 to be a software engineer (and their average base salaries), but we’ve included a few bonus cities for those currently abroad or exploring that option:

Dallas, Texas.

Average salary: $102,352

One flight into DFW and you can understand why Texas’ fourth-largest city hosts Southwest Airlines and Airlines headquarters, but companies like Oculus and Topgolf are also grabbing up available tech talent. 

Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Average salary: $108,253

Boeing, Lockheed Martin — the list goes on (cool it, Denver Airport conspiracy theorists) of cybersecurity and military-tech companies that are hiring up software engineers as fast as possible. Its proximity to Colorado’s other tech hubs, Denver and Boulder, makes it tech-forward without the massive population boom.

San Francisco, California.

Average salary: $154,302

Seems obvious, but you can’t deny the Bay Area & Silicon Valley’s continuing influence over the entire tech industry. Cost of living isn’t cheap, of course, but with opportunities in the FAANG space as well as Twitter, Twitch, and a slew of impressive startups, serious software engineers may need to eventually make the move to San Francisco.

Austin, Texas.

Average salary: $111,045

Newly dubbed “Silicon Hills”, Austin’s tech scene rivals even some of the biggest hubs. Plus, there’s no state income tax, plentiful housing, and companies like Whole Foods, Tesla, Oracle, and Apple all planting roots in this hot spot.

Atlanta, Georgia.

Average salary: $106,552

It just makes sense that the home of Georgia Tech is friendly to software engineers and tech companies all the same. Everything from SaaS to communications to fintech can be found in the Georgia metropolis, so there’s no shortage of opportunities in any industry you’re curious about.

Denver, Colorado.

Average salary: $121,215

Ask any millennial in tech where they’d move, and Denver’s likely at the top of that list (if they don’t already live there). The generous average salary reflects the city’s new higher cost of living as tech-centric companies and their new employees move in. There are other draws to the Mile-High City… of the legalized variety. Folks looking for a slower pace may want to pass on Denver but consider the aforementioned Colorado Springs.

New York, New York.

Average salary: $140,085

If you can handle the big city, New York is *the* place to move up in your software engineering career. In a city dominated by media, fashion, and finance, companies are constantly looking for tech-savvy folks to bring their products and services into the new age. Startups don’t overlook NYC as a place to lay down roots either, as the city boasts a diverse candidate pool.

Boston, Massachusetts.

Average salary: $126,090

Fact: Some of the smartest people in the world live in Boston. It’s a tech hub for that reason alone, but the city’s authority in healthcare and other STEM fields make it a natural fit for software engineers and their respective tech companies. 

San Jose, California.

Average salary: $147,113

Recall our earlier sentiments about the Bay Area and apply them to San Jose, too. The Bay Area has a claim to tech that no other regions can hold a candle to. While slightly more laid back from it’s San Francisco counterpart, San Jose still boasts a relatively high cost of living. Luckily, companies are willing to foot the bill for high-quality engineering talent.

Seattle, Washington.

Average salary: $128,889

Software engineering and coffee go together like Seattle and rain, and while Washington has never stood out as a tech hotspot, major corporations like Nordstrom and Starbucks need to pivot into the tech world with a team of engineers at the helm.

Chicago, Illinois.

Average salary: $105,410

Chicago was missing from Indeed’s Top 10 list, but it’s worth noting the city’s burgeoning tech scene, marked with established companies like Affirm, TransUnion, and Citadel. Plus, the cost of living is, while more expensive than other cities in the country, still relatively average for a city of its size (and commuter friendly for those on the outskirts).

Additional cities worth considering:

Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina.

Average salary: $98,827 

When HatchIt predicts this area will be the second-largest tech hub on the East Coast by 2025, you know something’s going right there. It is — IBM and Cisco have opened offices there, with smaller companies following suit. The price is right, the cost of living is low, and engineering talent is flocking to the temperate Carolinas for some serious opportunities.

Los Angeles, California.

Average salary: $128,839 [BuiltIn]

Another seemingly obvious absence from Indeed’s top 10 list, Los Angeles — Silicon Beach, as it has aptly been named — has its own competitive tech scene that’s drawing engineers in. It’s not all celebrities and Runyon Canyon photos and Erewhon (well, maybe it is), but LA gives tech professionals a lot to work with in terms of jobs and earning potential.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Average salary: $93,263 [Indeed]

Philadelphia may not be the natural first choice when you think of east coast tech cities, but don’t sleep on the City of Brotherly Love; you’ve got Comcast and Misfits Market on either end of the spectrum, yet companies of all sizes in Philly are looking for software engineers. Rent costs and home prices are a lot less daunting than its New York City neighbor.

London, England.

Average salary: £105,000 [levels.fyi]

Other countries need software engineers too, you know. Some of the States’ largest tech companies — Twitter, Facebook, Bumble, and Amazon, to name a few — have their European counterparts in the UK. Germany also hosts some big tech companies.

Conclusion: There are plenty of software engineering jobs (and money) to go around

Software development professionals are in demand, and if these salaries prove anything, it’s that companies desperately need the talent. A quick LinkedIn, Indeed, or AngelList search can confirm that.

If you haven’t yet started your own coding studies, check out App Academy Open. It’s free to all and a great resource to get your feet wet with popular programming and scripting languages. If you find you’re a fan and want to take things to the next level, consider our bootcamp courses. Not only will you leave with the skills needed to become a Level 1 software engineer, you’ll have a career coach at your disposal who can help negotiate your salary, no matter where you live.

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Written by Courtney Grace

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