The range of income for an entry level programmer position is big. There is as much as a $80,000 per year range in the United States. So, it’s worth digging into a bit to explain that.
The Information Gap
Being a young programmer you don’t know what you are worth. Most people in their careers start out with a very small skillset. Also, even less information about its value.
Most people grow in their knowledge and their understanding of the value they provide over time.
So, people end up becoming more valuable and charging more for their time. That is how programmers grow their salary or hourly rate throughout their career.
But, at the beginning you don’t know what you don’t know. That creates a big information gap.
The information gap causes junior developers to take jobs that don’t pay well relative to their market value. I did this starting out.
My First Job
My first job out of college paid $25,000 a year. It was a bad choice.
The job was terrible. I worked 60 hour weeks. My boss was a jerk. It wasn’t fun.
At one point I was responsible for cleaning the toilets and vacuuming the floor at the end of the day. While I didn’t much enjoy any of that, it was a job and I got my foot in the door so to speak.
Being such a terrible job, six months later I was looking for something else. I landed a much better position earning $35,000 a year.
Current Entry Level Programmer Salary Ranges
That was over a decade ago in the Midwest. Salaries have risen quite a bit since then. Competition also has driven salaries up quite a bit.
At that time a starting programmer position could make anywhere from $30,000-$60,000 in my area.
In the Midwest now the range is more like $40,000-$80,000. If you are out on the coasts I would expect it to be more like $60,000-$100,000. In Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area it might be $80,000-$120,000.
The range is interesting because it’s not geography that changes the dollar amount. Most people blame geography and cost of living. Yet, that’s not the biggest driver (even if it is the biggest excuse).
What Determines Starting Programmer Salary
Where you work is the #1 determining factor in how much you get paid. I mean the company you work at, the industry you are in, and whether the company is growing or shrinking.
My first job out of college was working as a web developer in a computer repair shop. They charged $80-300 for computer repairs and say $5,000-$10,000 for a website.
At any given time they’d be running 3-5 website projects and do 10-20 websites a year. So figure there was $50,000-$200,000 running through the web site of the business each year.
$25,000 out of $50,000-$200,000 a year is a pretty big chunk. My boss wasn’t exactly retiring early on that money either.
Compare that to a later job on a project with something like a $1.5 million dollar a year budget and a team of eight. There is a lot more money to go around and even the junior developers got paid better than at my first job.
Instead of $25,000 a year I’m guessing junior developers were making closer to $45,000 a year or higher.
The Best Place To Work And Get Paid
Working at a software company is the best choice if you are a software developer, programmer, software engineer, or software architect.
There are two reasons for this.
One, gross profit margins on software are nearly 100%. It costs almost nothing to distribute software. The raw material is the transmission or copying of bits over the wire.
Two, software developers get the most respect at software companies. Thus, they tend to get paid more.
Combine those two factors and the chances of getting paid at the higher end of the range are better at a software company than an insurance company.
Junior developer salaries at software companies like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook tend to be much higher. Those companies are willing to invest in talent, even young programming talent.
The Big Takeaway
When it comes to starting salaries, especially on your first job, do your research. If you are reading this article, it’s a good start.
Take your research to the next level by studying the Glassdoor estimates of salaries in your area, ask around at meet-ups, and do what you can to get multiple offers to compare.
Right now it is tough for companies to hire talented programmers. So, right now programmers are able to get paid more than they ever have before.
There is a big range in starting salaries for entry level programmers. The more prepared you are the more likely you start on the high end of that range.
Good luck, I believe in you!