The software engineering career path has become exceedingly popular in recent years, not just because there’s a surplus of available jobs and they offer remote-friendly work. With a shortage of qualified software engineering talent in the pool of applicants, companies are also ready to pay top dollar for experienced and capable software engineers.
So how much does a software engineer make? When we talk about software engineering salaries, we tend to look to Big Tech and Silicon Valley as a benchmark of what companies can pay. But these days, companies all over the country — and in all industries — 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 web pages.
The general average salary for software engineers in the United States is around $115,140, but how much you can make as a software engineer depends on a number of factors, including your level of experience and where you live.
The Need for Software Engineers is Growing
Non-tech industries like e-commerce, healthcare — even aerospace defense, like Lockheed Martin — need software developers and engineers. Organizations can’t afford to ignore the importance of reliable tech. However, there aren’t enough software engineers skilled enough to bring these industries into the tech fold.
Luckily, coding bootcamps 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? 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.
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Average Software Engineer Salary by Level
While some major tech companies like Microsoft and Google may have their own specialized career tracks, they’re usually similar to the traditional levels of engineering as one climbs up the ladder. Typically, there are five levels in the software engineering career path.
Level 1: Entry-Level Software Engineer Salary
The average salary for an entry-level software engineer, according to Salary.com, is $76,500. This number can vary, however, 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 Level 1 Software Engineers, with room to move up or be promoted.
On the high end, entry-level software engineers have the potential to make it into the six-figure range, particularly if they live in a city like San Francisco or New York where the cost of living is significantly higher.
Level 1 software engineers typically don’t make many decisions around a company’s product. They usually 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: Mid-Level Software Engineer Salary
Salary.com also notes that Level 2 software engineers net around $96,196.
A mid-level software engineer has a few more years of experience under their belt and a greater competency around programming languages and professional 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: Senior/Staff Software Engineer Salary
In 2023, Salary.com clocks the national average salary for a Level 3 engineer at $120,404. 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 delegating.
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 have significant years of experience and more business acumen than technical savvy. At this level, you’re making decisions that affect the whole organization.
Salary.com nets a Level 4 software engineer salary at $140,606, 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
Salary.com lists an average salary for Level 5 engineers as $166,039, but this can vary greatly. 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.
Average Software Engineer Salary by City
Now that we know what software engineers are making, on average, at each level of their career, let’s look 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.
There are plenty of cities around the country that offer solid job options for software engineers. We’ve expanded our list even more to give you a good idea of what you can expect to earn based on where you choose to live.
Average salary: $102,557
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.
Average salary: $114,643
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 are all planting roots in this hot spot.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Average salary: $107,702
Boeing, Lockheed Martin — the list goes on of cybersecurity and military-tech companies that are hiring 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.
Average salary: $115,534
Ask any millennial in tech where they’d move, and Denver’s likely at the top of that list. The generous average salary reflects the city’s new higher cost of living as tech-centric companies and their new employees move in. Folks looking for a slower pace may want to pass on Denver but consider the aforementioned Colorado Springs.
San Francisco, California
Average salary: $154,771
Seems obvious, but you can’t deny the Bay Area & Silicon Valley’s continuing influence over the entire tech industry. The 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.
San Jose, California
Average salary: $138,976
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 than its 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.
Los Angeles, California
Average salary: $127,537
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.
Average salary: $104,562
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.
New York, New York
Average salary: $142,015
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.
Average salary: $125,891
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 makes it a natural fit for software engineers and their respective tech companies.
Average salary: $133,687
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.
Average salary: $113,210
It’s worth noting Chicago’s burgeoning tech scene, marked by 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).
Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
Average salary: $106,624
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.
Average salary: $105,402
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. Plus, rent costs and home prices are a lot less daunting than its New York City neighbor.
Start on the Path Toward Your First Software Engineering Job with App Academy
Software engineering professionals are in high demand, and if these salaries prove anything, it’s that companies desperately need the talent.
If you haven’t yet started learning to code, we offer App Academy Open. It’s completely free 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 one of our immersive software engineering courses. Not only will you leave with the skills you need to land a job as a software engineer, but you’ll also have a career coach at your disposal who can help negotiate your salary, no matter where you live.
Schedule a call with an App Academy admissions counselor to learn more about our programs. And, if you’re ready to dig in deeper, start exploring our programs to see which one might be a good fit for you!