When it comes to jobs that can make over a half million dollars a year a person may instantly think of doctors, big shot lawyers, hedge fund managers, and corporate presidents but could you imagine a computer programmer chugging away at code in their basement making over $10,000 a month wearing a hoodie and jeans with a modest car outside?
That is exactly the world we are living in today with many of the top software engineers and start up garage hero’s able to make over $500,000 a year and some even making over $1,000,000 a year after including their stock bonuses. Also as tech stocks go up so do these salaries, and 2015-2020 has been very kind to tech total compensations. I’m personally hoping this trend continues.
Here is some additional data I found on levels.fyi of some of the top software engineer salaries in the United States across different companies for various levels of experience
|Uber||Software Engineer 1||0-2||$163k|
* Total compensation is a sum of base salary/stock grants/and other bonuses. This is subject to stock market fluctations.
** Netflix seems to have one catch all “Senior Software Engineer” title bucket so the salaries vary significantly across the title band
How do I become a software developer that makes a million dollars a year?
Firstly this is extremely difficult to do and requires dedication, passion for coding, and natural ability to solve complicated problems. This is also kind of like having a random kid that is playing basketball at his local playground asking how he can get in the NBA. While both can indeed be done, becoming a high paid software engineer should be easier than making it into professional sports since you aren’t limited by your body keeping up with age. For example a software engineer that got a late start in his career can still keep climbing the corporate ladder in their 30s and 40s toward those 15 years of experience salaries. Most professional athletes are retired by their mid 30s and occasionally even retire without enough savings to last through their golden years.
Now that the gritty details are out of the way here is the more secure way I would follow if I were 18 again to become a millionaire developer. This can also be followed at other ages but ideally right out of high school would be the most optimal. This plan also assumes you are fast tracking your career by pushing yourself to be the best coder and leader you can be. For example I list in this plan that you will get promoted from Senior to Principle in 3 years. This may not be the case and some Senior engineers even settle their career at that level indefinitely or transfer into management. But if your goal is to really focus on earning a million a year as a developer than these timelines are not too far off what can be realistically achieved. I will admit I have not been able to do this myself since I started college late due to some random career misguidance.
College path, assuming a starting age of 18 but reminder it can be whatever!
- Get some kind of engineering degree and follow it up with a masters degree. 5 years to achieve, age of completion 23 years old, salary at the end – 0$/year
- While working on your degree grind coding problems to learn data structures and algorithms better. Also work on some weekend projects and check them into Git. This will help with getting a kick ass internship.
- Get an internship at FAANG while working on your degree programs. This will get your foot in the door and get you a head start for growing your career from knowing their culture and internal tooling to help produce results fast.
- Get hired at FAANG! Using your internship experience this should be easy. Don’t be afraid to work overtime while you are younger and have near infinite energy. Learn as much as you can about your teams software and propose some awesome service or web application that will help your team do things better. 1.5 years at this level, ~$130,000 / year, 24.5 years old
- Get promoted to a mid-level engineer. Find mentors and learn as much as you can from them. Keep growing your own service to help solve problems at an org level. Network with people outside your team at a higher level than you and find out what problems they encounter and how they solve them. 2.5 years, ~$200,000/year, 27 years old
- Get promoted to a senior engineer. Start learning how to solve problems at exclusively an org level and even a company level. Try to propose new large scale services or products that solve very complex problems. 3 year fast track, ~$325,000/year, 30 years old
- Get promoted to a principle engineer. I honestly don’t know the best approach to go from principle to staff but here you need to become a complete specialist in whatever your main passion is. You need to be the guy that has the answers and can propose elegant solutions on the spot. For example this is where someone becomes so good at computer vision, and has enough papers published about the subject that other companies come to you with offers for the next level. ~$500k/yr 4 years, 34 years old
- Get poached by another company at the next title level. If all the cards landed right and you busted your ass this is likely where you can hit your million dollar salary by age 35. Congratulations!
Entrepreneur Path (highly simplified)
- Learn software development well enough from anywhere of your choice to become a knowledge expert in a domain. Have an idea on how to make an app to solve a problem you and MANY other people encounter.
- Create a proof of concept application to solve that problem
- Go to venture capitalists to pitch your idea and get investment funding
- Hire developers to scale your idea and launch a product
- Get tons of users and either have an Initial Public Offering (IPO) for your company or sell it to another company for millions of dollars and retain a leadership position over your product and team
- Earn a yacht load of money from the sale of your company or IPO as well as a million dollar software developer salary
Lucky Developer Path
- Get a job at a startup that has an amazing idea with either a college background or even after graduating a code bootcamp and forming a strong personal brand and network for yourself
- Get a lot of company stock before the company goes public
- Become a millionaire when the company has their Initial Public Offering or when they get bought out and offer you a higher salary!
The above is a dream of many but has been achieved by lots of developers out there, such as the position many developers from AirBnB are in if their stock IPOs later in 2020 or 2021.
What companies pay their software developers over $100,000 starting salary?
Here is a list of 15 companies that start their software developers with six figure salaries according to levels.fyi:
Looking through Levels.fyi this is just a short list of many companies that pay over $100,000 to starting Software Development Engineers. Another thing to be greatly aware of when looking at these salaries is to consider the cost of living of the location. While a $100,000 may sound like a lot, a $100,000 job in Mountain View, California has roughly the same spending power as a $23,000/year salary in Columbus, Ohio. People that live in those areas often live in houses with many roommates to help offset the crazy price of housing in the Bay Area.
Now that we know the potential of software developer engineers salaries and a few plans on how to get them, I hope this can motivate you or someone you know to keep pursuing their tech dreams! Or you can just be mad at how much some basement keyboard mashers can earn. You don’t want to get me started on the top professional gamers that can earn $100,000 in a weekend from winning a tournament. Either way there are a lot of ways to use technology these days to earn money from home coding and I am happy to be living in this tech age, even with the mayhem that 2020 has brought.
And if you’ve liked this blog and are into tech please consider following my blog and YouTube channel that can be found on the right hand side of the article. Thanks and have a great day!
About Stefan Bradstreet
Stefan is a Senior Software Developer at Amazon with 8+ years of experience in tech. He is passionate about helping people become better coders and climbing the ranks in their careers, as well as his own, through continued learning of leadership techniques and software best practices.
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