More Income Questions and Answers

As promised, a little follow-up.

Matt asked in comments: “I’d love to see how this compares to the bay area.”

For the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metro area, the mean annual wage for Computer and Mathematical Science Occupations is $91,440. (The Portland metro area number for that was $74,890).

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara is a separate metro for this report, and the mean annual wage there is a little higher: $109,130.

For more west coast comparison, the Seattle metro comes in at $87,620.

In comments on Hacker News, a couple of people expressed surprise that developers wouldn’t know how their wage compared to the local average. It may seem obvious if you’re already paying attention to this yourself, or work for a company that uses cost of living and prevailing wage to determine compensation, but many developers really aren’t aware of this information. I’ve seen that to be especially true for younger workers, or those who haven’t had a lot of mentoring in their career. It’s very common to assume that what a company offers you is an average amount to be paid for that job, and that other people around you are earning a similar amount. This happens even within individual companies.

Hacker News also had some interesting discussion of whether wage variance from city to city was related to how companies in those places were valued by investors, i.e. if investors penalize a company from being in Portland, that should affect wages, but if companies are getting an equal level of investment, then wages should match other cities. One of the things I’ve been wondering is whether wage variance in Portland is partly related to company revenues: I’ve seen a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that employers that are paying developers less than other local competitors are also doing less well as a business. I don’t really know where to find the data to study either of these issues, though.

Another thing on HN was a discussion of whether a company paying developers in different cities the same amount is fair. Alex from BankSimple says that they decided it was, but other people thought it penalized developers who lived in more expensive places. There’s several issues wrapped up in this: is the market for developer talent local, national, or international? Do developers have sufficient freedom to move or choose where they live that the trade-offs between bigger and smaller (more expensive and more affordable) cities is a fair choice? Much of this depends on the specific company, but given that programming can often be done from anywhere, without requiring the same built resources as other industries, this is worth discussing.

One last thing: I think all of this highlights how useful an annual wage survey for the software industry would be. I’ve been looking at the AIGA survey of design salaries and what they report. They break their data by categories like type of company, location, and whether the company’s client base is local or national or international. It makes it really easy to find out what someone at your job level, working for a similar company, could expect to earn.

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