Salaries Tips

How well-paid do developers feel?

Studying wages and compensation can offer insights into the supply and demand of various skill sets in an employment market. Despite recent layoffs across many technology companies, our data indicate that the number of professional developers across the globe continues to rise. A driving factor in the persistent growth of developers worldwide is that modern enterprises recognise the fact that, as technology becomes increasingly intertwined with society, all companies are or will ultimately become technology companies. 

This means that grocery store chains, online commerce platforms, and car manufacturers alike must all compete against one another to attract developers. Compensation is one of the principal means used to vie for said talent. Understanding the compensation landscape for developers can help companies make informed decisions about salary, bonuses, equity, and other benefits they offer to attract and retain skilled developers. Likewise, studying compensation can aid developers in making decisions about their own careers, including negotiating salaries and benefits. 

In this chapter, we present findings from SlashData’s latest Developer Nation survey – the 24th edition – exploring developers’ compensation patterns. We look at differences across regions and note how developers and companies alike, when negotiating compensation, need to take into account differences in costs of living and expenses. Further, we will examine developers’ self-perceptions regarding their salaries and what factors are associated with believing that they are under or overpaid. 

The compensation landscape for professional developers varies greatly across the globe. In our latest survey, we collected information from developers living in more than 160 countries across the globe. As expected, the distribution of reported annual compensation reflects the diversity of respondents and the myriad of personal situations. 

According to our data, 9% of professional developers earn less than $1,000 per year in total compensation – including base salary, bonuses, stock options, and other perks. This group encapsulates many of the developers working part-time, starting off their careers in internships, or working on commission. As expected, reported annual compensation is significantly correlated with overall experience in software development. Hence, as developers gain experience, they are able to command higher compensation. When we control for the differences across the globe, we find that, on average, for every year of experience a developer gains in software development, they earn nearly $4,000 more each year. 

On the upper end of the spectrum, we find that roughly 6% of professional developers earn more than $200,000 per year. According to the World Inequality Database, in almost every country in the world, workers earning above $200K a year belong to the top 1% of earners in that country. This is one indicator that developers’ average compensation is higher than in other sectors of the economy. Below, we break down the average compensation by region to offer a bit more context to the earnings of developers.

Regional differences

North American professional developers report the highest average annual compensation – more than $100,000. The median compensation in the region, however, is closer to $75,000. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, developers working in South Asia report the lowest average compensation of just under $27,000 and the median compensation is around $5,500 per year. As is frequently the case with compensation, those with higher earnings greatly inflate the average, as is evident when we compare the median vs the average annual compensation. 

Anyone who has travelled outside their hometown recognises that the costs of goods and services can vary depending on where you are in the world. Compensation very often reflects these differences in the cost of living. Should developers and companies wish to compare compensation between two locales, considering these differences is crucial. 

As an example, we examine two countries with large developer populations: the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China. The median compensation of developers in the USA is around $75,000 per year. This is five times greater than the median developer compensation in China of $15,000 per year. However, when we account for differences in costs of living using the purchasing power parity index, we see that the average developer in China earning $15,000 per year can afford similar goods and services as a developer in the USA earning $25,000 a year. In practical terms, this means that developers in the USA still generally enjoy a higher wage compared to Chinese developers, but by a lesser margin (3 times more vs 5 times more) than is apparent when we directly compare compensation. 

Perceptions surrounding compensation

On top of asking developers about their current annual compensation, we also asked them about the compensation they think would be fair for their role. Just over half (51%) believe that the compensation they currently receive is fair for their role. Meanwhile, 39% believe they are underpaid, whereas 11% of developers report that their current compensation was more than what they believe is fair for their role. 

To better understand what factors are associated with developers believing they are over or underpaid, we modelled developers’ sentiments about the compensation in their current role. We find that men are significantly more likely to report feeling underpaid in their current role. More specifically, 16% of men report feeling underpaid compared to 11% of women and 14% of developers who identified as non-binary. Conversely, 7% of women feel overpaid compared to 4% of men and 1% of non-binary individuals.

We additionally see that developers with more experience and those working for larger companies are more likely to report feeling underpaid. For each additional year that a developer gains in experience, we estimate that there is approximately a 7% increase in the odds that the developer will report feeling underpaid compared to fairly compensated. This suggests that companies do not financially value experience to the same degree as developers do amongst themselves. 

However, more experience and working for a larger company are both correlated with being compensated higher. This could indicate that more experienced developers working at larger companies have responsibilities that they feel are not commensurate with their compensation. On the other hand, sentiments of being underpaid could also stem from a perception based on a lack of information, being influenced by larger companies’ generally greater profit margins, or unrealistic thinking from the developer. 

Finally, if a developer has an undergraduate degree in software engineering, they are more likely to report feeling underpaid. The odds of a developer with an undergraduate degree in software engineering feeling underpaid vs paid fairly, are 9% greater when compared to all other developers. This effect disappears, however, once developers have a postgraduate degree; as having a postgraduate degree increases the odds of feeling overpaid by 50% compared to not having a postgraduate degree.

This could indicate that companies place a lesser value on undergraduate education than developers perceive they will; possibly leading to the sentiment of feeling underpaid by those who do not yet hold advanced degrees. Other external factors, such as geographical location, also affect how a developer perceives their compensation, likely due to cost of living differences, as discussed in the previous section. 

Compensation is often considered a difficult topic to discuss and research due to the taboo nature of discussing money in many companies and cultures. Our aim with this chapter is to open up the conversation surrounding developer compensation with our analysis.

Do you like data such as the above?

If you’re a professional or hobbyist developer into Web, Mobile, Desktop, Cloud, Industrial IoT, Consumer Electronics, Embedded Software, AR & VR, Apps/extensions for 3rd-party ecosystems, Games, Machine Learning & AI, and Data science, we would like to hear your voice.


Why do developers switch jobs?

During the 21st edition of our Developer Nation survey we asked professional developers what – if anything – would make them switch jobs. It turns out many developers know their worth. Just one in ten developers say that nothing would make them leave their current employer. You can also share your input and participate in our more recent survey to answer this and other interesting questions.

It looks like the majority of developers are financially motivated, either in the form of higher compensation and/or an improved benefits package. Half of developers would switch employers for higher compensation and a third would switch jobs for an improved benefits package. Nearly two-thirds selected either option. 

However, this means that just over a third of developers have motivations that extend beyond immediate financial reward. When we remove the two-thirds of developers who said that increased compensation or better benefits would incentivise them to move, career advancement and broadening skills take the top two spots. This shows that developers are hungry to learn and to progress – these are also important factors for developers who could be tempted by financial rewards. 

Money talks for half of developers

Around one in five developers state that a better company culture would be a tempting reason to switch employers. However, while you could negotiate better incentives and more perks and benefits, company culture is harder to influence. There are well documented issues with culture in software development. There have been several high profile cases of discriminatory working environments in the last few years, and many software developers are no strangers to long hours, especially as a project nears completion. 

Remote working 

Software development has historically been a pioneering industry for remote working. The pandemic has likely made this especially salient. Not surprisingly, around a quarter could be tempted to move by a remote position. Just over one in eight would move in order to relocate. 

Eastern European developers are the most concerned with compensation

Are you perhaps based in Eastern Europe? Developers there are the most concerned with increasing their salary. Nearly seven in ten say that this would make them switch employers. The close geographical proximity to richer Western European countries likely makes depressed salaries in this region feel particularly unfair. For these underpaid developers in Eastern Europe, an upgraded benefits package won’t cut the mustard; instead other factors are more important:

  • broadening skills (50%), 
  • taking a more challenging role (32%), or
  • relocation (22%). 

It seems that Eastern European developers are taking a longer-term look at their finances and possibly considering uprooting their lives for an increased chance of success.

Developers in North America seem the happiest at their current jobs

14% of devs in N.America said that nothing would make them switch. As with most regions, higher compensation is the most tempting option; half of developers here selected this. These developers are much less likely than average to select career advancement, broadening skills, or taking on a more challenging role as reasons for moving. By and large, North American developers appear to be satisfied with their professional lives. For those who would be tempted to move, higher compensation is mentioned as a reason by three in five. 

Culture also matters in China

For Chinese developers, compensation is also important. Three in five developers here selected this option, the second-highest of any region. In comparison with their Eastern European counterparts, however, Chinese developers were almost twice as likely to say that a better benefits package would tempt them to move. This said, although financial motivations are important for developers in Greater China, they are some of the most likely to select ‘softer’ benefits such as better company culture, working environments, or shorter commutes. Reports of the Chinese government taking steps to reduce the ‘996’ working culture prevalent in many tech organisations in the country may well make these factors less of an issue in the future.

Developers in Greater China are less likely to say that remote or flexible working would tempt them to switch employers. Such flexibility is more highly valued by developers in Eastern Europe or North America. It’s likely that the pandemic’s effect on working culture has affected different regions in different ways. For instance, developers in North America may well be used to working from home after more than a year of doing so, and with Eastern Europe already an established outsourcing destination, remote work is more likely to be salient for developers here. On the other hand, developers in regions that may have limited opportunities to offer are more likely to see remote working as a door opener to the global labour market. More than one in three developers in the Middle East and Africa and 30% of developers in South America, for example, would switch jobs for a remote role.

Eastern European developers feel underpaid

Experienced developers are the most content in their jobs 

Around one in six of those with 16 or more years of experience say that nothing would make them move. This group is also the most financially-motivated, with over half saying that higher compensation may tempt them to move. As developers gain experience, they know better which roles they want to take. With managerial positions often forming an artificial ceiling, some experienced developers will want to stay closer to the code. 

Here is something important to consider: Career advancement and taking on a more challenging role both peak for developers with three to five years under their belts. A well-timed change at this point in a developer’s career can have a large impact on their future earnings and professional success. At three to five years of experience, many developers are beginning to feel established and comfortable in their skills, so a challenging opportunity can often provide a catalyst for future success.    

There are many reasons why a developer may choose to switch jobs, and whilst it’s impossible to ignore the impact of compensation, other factors play an important role, especially as the role of work in our lives continues to evolve. We are capturing these and other interesting facts that make tech giants shift their strategies in our Developer Nation Surveys. Raise your voice and shape the future.

Compensation becomes more important as developers gain experience