One of the topics I’ve become interested in through PDX11 and other economic development discussions is the variation in wages for local programmers. Surveys like the one we did last year reveal a wide range of annual incomes for developers, so while software development pays better than the local median, that gain appears to be more significant for some of us than others.
How do we find out what other developers are earning? As Christian Kaylor at the Oregon Employment Department helpfully explained to me, all economic data comes from two sources: taxes and surveys. In the US, individual tax statements are private, but there’s an employer-based tax report called Quarterly Covered Employment & Wages (QCEW) that covers about 95% of legal employment in this country .
QCEW data is split by industry, so programmers could potentially be covered under any number of areas, depending on where they work, but we can pick a likely area to start, like NAICS code 54151 (computer systems design and related services). In 2009, the last full year with data, there were 9,457 people working in this industry category in Oregon . The total covered wages for the year added up to $722,755,908. So we can divide the two and conclude that the average annual wage was about $75.5k.
What if we want to know more about income by job title? For that we need the BLS Occupational Employment Survey. Here’s the May 2009 data for “Computer and Mathematical Science Occupations”: http://bls.gov/oes/current/oes_38900.htm#15-0000
The national median annual wage for this category is $72,900. In the Portland metro area, it’s $74,890. You can see that broken down further. For example, a research programmer averages $102,930 here, and the most popular job area by employment count, “Computer Software Engineers, Applications”, earns $91,300 a year.
The breakout pages that show you more about the data for each job category are pretty interesting, too: http://bls.gov/oes/current/oes151031.htm
You can use that to find out things like which industries hire the most people with this job role, and which metro areas pay the best.
What other ways can we find out about developer wages? Well, last year Eva and I did a survey of the local tech industry that included questions about this. The median annual income  for our survey sample (667 people, but not everyone answered all questions) was $75k. The median for people who described their job role as a software developer of some sort  was $80k. The range, though, was from about $25k on the low end to $200k at the top, which seems pretty significant. 46 respondents were earning less than $65k/year, and 43 earned $100k/year or more.
There’s other kinds of surveys, too. This week a Hacker News discussion  led to someone coding up a little webapp that lets you ask a group of people how much they earn without revealing who entered what. It only displays the results if at least four people submit their info. Christie asked people on IRC and Twitter to fill one out for Portland software developers. So far the responses range from $0-90k, with 15 responses (the lowest non-zero amount is $38.5k). It’s still too small a sample to know how it compares to our other data, but if you’re a local developer you can add your own salary and see the responses here: http://salaryshare.me/5b9f602f99f87ea1492cc056292000ae
You can also get some employee-reported data on wages through a site called Glassdoor. Here’s a search for software workers in Portland: http://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/portland-software-salary-SRCH_IL.0,8_IM700_KO9,17.htm
It lets you see things like the average salary for a Software Engineer at Intel is $85,427, while a Software Developer at Rentrak earns $61,500. Might be useful if you’re trying to decide which job postings to respond to, assuming they have data for the company.
Back to that variation issue: what sorts of questions can we ask about why some developers in Portland earn way more (over twice the annual wages) than others? It seems likely that there are factors including Portland’s local economy and business markets, individual characteristics like skills and education, and the specific technical markets a person is working in.
Possible reasons for higher wages:
- More education or experience
- Working for larger or more profitable companies (including companies with a national or international customer base)
- Good negotiation skills and knowledge of market wage rates
- Working in technology sub-fields where developers are in higher demand (such as iPhone app development)
- Having skills or experience areas that are particularly desirable in the current market
Possible reasons for lower wages:
- Less education or experience
- Working for smaller or less profitable companies
- Poorer negotiation skills or knowledge of market wage rates
- Working in technology areas where compensation tends to be lower (PHP web development, for example)
- Working independently or for a company that is struggling with funding or profitability
- Having skills or experience areas that are fairly common in the current market
So that’s what I have so far. It’s kind of a big data dump. I’m not an expert on this by any means, but if you have any questions about other data, who’s included in which numbers, and so on, let me know and I’ll try to find out and report back.
 The most notable exception is self-employed workers, who aren’t in this report because they’re exempt from unemployment insurance, which is the tax data used.
 Yearly average, based on monthly numbers.
 Software developer, software engineer, programmer, web developer, etc. The count of responses for these job titles with usable income entries was 189.
 If you’ve curious about the potential benefits and disadvantages for workers and companies to disclose salary info, this discussion pretty much has all the points covered.
 Total personal income, rather than wages, so some people may have reported a higher income due to other sources (like investments or a side business) than they would in the government wage data.