Monday, May 23, 2011

Starting Salaries: Red Hot. Old-Hands Salaries: Not So Much

Ed Lazowska, CS Professor at the University of Washington, claims starting salaries for new CS grads are red hot. In another recent article, the Wall Street Journal claims starting salaries are so high that startups can't compete. The claims are that top new grads are getting offers over $100k plus signing bonuses from very profitable social networking companies.

Even if this is only half true, and starting salaries are really "way down" in the $80k range, it means something disturbing. It means that the salary premium for experience, which stood at about 2.5x starting salaries when I started working, is continuing to drop. It has reached about 1.5x in 2011 if these sources can be believed. In this way, programming is becomming like nursing; great pay fresh out of college, but not much headroom. Ten years on, there doesn't seem to be much reward for staying in the field.

Interestingly, both software development and nursing are claimed by employers to have a serious shortage of experienced workers.

Another thing that might be happening is that the industry is stratifying into hot, high-paying jobs that demand insane hours from superstar developers, and a long tail offering rather less spectacular wages for geeks without super-powers, and finally an army of code monkeys churning out add/change/delete screens and login pages for third-world wages, often in third world countries.

Part of the problem is certainly that a great many people entered software development in the late '90's. These people are only arriving at the 10-year level of experience now, and cannot perceive the additional skills old hands possess, because inexperienced people don't have these skills. Part is that APIs and hot programming languages change so fast that 10-year-old skills are no longer in fashion, and not every senior developer bothers to keep up-to-date.

None of this is good news for anyone interested in a career in Computer Science. Employers wonder why they can't find enough experienced people. They wonder why people with a choice tend to leave the field. Maybe there's a reason. Duh!

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