Anyone learning a new skill with the hope of venturing into a new career is bound to wonder what their salary could look like.
You may have genuine financial needs, or perhaps you would just like to know what most people earn, on average, to have a starting point from which to negotiate in interviews.
Alternatively, you may want to know if it's worth you dedicating your time and even if it can make you rich? And there's nothing wrong with that!
It goes without saying that programming, a highly coveted skill, has a more considerable pay potential than most other professions.
But how lucrative is it? This article will explore the different ways you can make money from coding and the many nuances when tackling such a broad question.
Not only do salaries in coding-related roles differ widely by location, but being rich is going to mean different things to different people. Let's have a good look at this:
Where are you?
Among the most significant factors impacting your salary is where you live. For better or worse, some countries simply have better wages than others.
For example, the average income of a software engineer in the US is estimated to be around $117,437. In contrast, the national average US wage for 2021 was $58,260.
Here's a breakdown of salary estimates from the popular sites Salary Expert and Glassdoor.
Salaries are national averages as of October 2022, using the search term: software engineer. Conversion to US dollars according to exchange rates over October 7, 2022.
|France||70 279 €
|United Arab Emirates||306,031 د.إ
As expected, these estimates differ between sites, although they do provide a rough idea of the average differences between countries.
The difference between first-world and third-world countries, in particular, is clear.
But if you want to maximize your earning potential, the worldwide demand for coders makes it easier to move to one of the higher-payer countries.
Salary difference also plays out in within countries and sometimes in a dramatic way. Let's look at the difference between a handful of US cities according to [Indeed] on 9 Oct 2022.(https://www.indeed.com/career/software-engineer/salaries).
|$129,027||Mountain View, CA|
|$198,753||Menlo Park, CA|
|$137,690||San Francisco, CA|
|$111,764||Salt Lake City, UT|
|$145,069||New York, NY|
Another stark contrast can be found in the UK.
The average full-time salary, in London, for all industries in 2021 was over 39.7 thousand British pounds.
That’s compared to the national average of 31.3 thousand. And worse still, workers in the Northeast of England earn, on average, just 27.5 thousand pounds / per year. [source]
The point here is that when sizing up your earning potential, survey the area where you intend to live and work to gauge your earning potential truly.
Senior Developer vs Junior Developer
We've so far delved into average earnings for software engineers across the globe.
But that doesn't cover earning potential. By earning potential, we mean what you will earn after building experience in the industry and getting promoted.
The answer might surprise you.
According to Glassdoor, as of Oct 2022, a senior software engineer earns on average $138,842 in the United States. $25,068 more than software engineers.
Additionally, Lead Software Engineers earn on average, US$141,947
Don't think of salary solely in terms of what you would earn now, but, what you could and will earn with experience.
Budding investors often speak of compounding interest in their stock investment and saving accounts as the secure way to riches. The same could be said of compounding increases in salary as you build up experience. A 5-7% yearly raise will, over time, handsomely increase your pay!
As well as your spawn point being a factor, so are your default power levels.
Many folks learning to code are career changers, which means they are generally more mature and possess valuable transferable skills companies will value.
Many others are joining the job market as fresh graduates.
I surveyed 15 Bootcamp graduates with existing career experience to ask how their salary changed after successfully transitioning into tech.
|Prior experience||Salary Change|
Unsurprisingly, you may take a salary hit if you've attained a degree of experience in your current industry.
This isn't surprising as you will be joining the tech sector as a junior.
However, this is a temporary hit, as you’ll recover your salary once you reach an equivalent amount of experience. You may even earn substantially more.
This is very far from an exact science and everyone's story is unique.
I chose a few of the graduates from my survey to interview in a more personal manner. You might find their stories resonate with you.
Valentin ManailaFull Stack Engineer
Schneider Electric Sustainability Business
What were you in your previous career?
How did you learn to code?
"Self taught for 3-6 months + full time bootcamp"
How did your salary change after becoming a developer?
"I started on 20k in 2013 as an Architecture graduate and left full time Architecture early 2020 at 40k. My starting salary as a dev is 40K. Now, if I were go straight into coding back then, and have this salary (adjusted for inflation) I would have had a 60% increase in salary (from 20k to 32k) Although I would not have had the experience to negotiate 40k starting salary. As a career switcher, the difference in salary is not massive, for some maybe a step back - but I believe salary will overtake my equivalent Architecture salary in a few years + now I can enjoy the remote working benefits I did not have in Architecture."
Coding is a Broad Profession
To code is one thing, but what you code is a different matter. There are various specializations in the field, some of which are more lucrative than others.
|Front-end Web Developer||Full stack Developer||Data Scientist||Software Engineer||Cyber Security Analysts|
|Front-end development concerns the “client-facing”
side of web development. That is to say that it
generally refers to the portion of the site, app,
or digital product that users will see and interact
with. It's a web app's aesthetic or presentation layer
and front-end developers are responsible for the way
a digital product looks and feels.
|A Full-Stack Developer is someone familiar with both
front- and back-end development. They are generalists,
adept at wearing both hats and are familiar with
every layer of development.
|Data scientists collect and analyze enormous
amounts of data to glean insights and derive
meaning and implications from it. They work
with predictive modeling (a mathematical process),
algorithms, machine learning.
|Software Engineer's create programs for hardware,
operating systems, and networks and compared to
web developers, they have a tendency to work considerably
closer to the hardware.
|Responsibilities include overlooking and examining
for security breaches or threats, checking into and
inspecting cyberattacks and writing various reports.
To summarize, they inhibit and monitor attacks
So, is learning to code the new road to El Dorado?
El Dorado was a legendary lost city of gold that led many an explorer on a trek through the rainforests and mountains of South America to find it. Image generated using AI in Midjourney
A career in Software engineering does offer a comfortable salary.
Not only are starting salaries for programmers generally higher than your national average but experience in this field is well rewarded.
There are some variables in terms of your prior experience and how well you're able to negotiate an offer, but overall, I think you'd agree the signs are really positive.
On a side note, I find it interesting that, according to Glassdoor, software engineers in the US don't earn on average as much as a doctor on $149,423 and a Lawyer on $124,283.
But working a daily grind for an employer isn't the only path to riches.
Programmer Brian Armstrong started his career as a developer at IBM. He's now worth an estimated $3.1 billion as CEO of crypto exchange Coinbase.
Is that rich enough for any of my sceptics still reading this?
The Other Paths to Riches
Start a Business
Setting up your own business is an assured way of removing any ceiling to your earning potential.
You can take an idea you've harbored and make it an actual reality.
That's why coding is a top-tier skill to possess for those who are of an entrepreneurial mind.
Many of the most successful products of the last 20 years have been digital products. This trend will only increase exponentially as we head into Web 3 and ever more technological innovation.
Knowing how to code lets you take charge of your own product development and wield a control outsourcing can't beat.
Getting your product to market quicker than your competitors is often critical for success, and there's no faster way than coding it yourself.
Freelancing is another method that a programmer can use to earn money.
There is an excellent range of freelancing sites where you can exhibit your skills to prospective clients.
Freelancing can prove especially lucrative for those who live in a country where the cost of living is low.
If you can land first-world clients, you can easily sustain a high quality of life with a fraction of the income you would need in the United States, for example.
This has also driven the sometimes controversial trend of tech workers relocating to cheaper countries to work remotely.
There is something to be said about the freedom to travel and explore that freelancing offers. In some ways, it will make you rich, culturally.
Regardless of where you choose to live, freelancing can also be seriously profitable. Some freelancers get to a point where they run small operations and outsource to other freelancers, thereby having increased their capacity to take on more work.
Having built relationships with solid clients and other freelancers, I have old colleagues in the industry earning as much as two to three hundred thousand dollars annually freelancing. Although, I will preface that claim and mention that it does come with a SERIOUS amount of extra responsibility. The income isn't always consistent, and you don't have the same pension and health insurance benefits.
Creating apps and websites to sell is another way many programmers change their lives for the better.
Not for paltry sums, either!
Josh Wardle originally made Wordle for him and his partner to pass the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2021. He later published it on the web, where it became viral. The New York Times Company later purchased the game in January 2022 for an undisclosed seven-figure sum.
Brian Acton and Jan Koum developed WhatsApp in 2009, later selling it to Facebook for $19.3 billion.
Unless you're fortunate, not every app or website you code will make you a billionaire. But I know more than a few folks making a good living creating more superficial apps and websites to sell for anything between $500 and $1 million. Not too shabby.
Learning to code is one way to rise above your current situation; in most scenarios, programming pays better than other jobs.
In an increasingly technologically driven world, demand is omnipresent, and knowing how to capitalize on this vast playing field of opportunity and innovation can be seriously lucrative.
Whether the average programmer's salary is sufficient for them to be regarded as rich is subjective, but they do generally have more money on the sidelines to save and invest. No one can be rich if you squander your salary.
This is particularly true if you start working as a programmer young, as you will profit from compound interest on your assets.
But despite all that - want to know my advice?
If you're starting out, don't focus on the money. Choose a company with a good culture that would train you without making you feel dumb. If you can learn and succeed there with room to grow, the money will always come as a side effect.
You can always change your role once you've developed your skills.