The computing industry has been growing at a remarkable rate—338 percent since 1990—and shows no signs of slowing down. Great computer science jobs exist in practically every industry, including:
Starting computer science salaries are among the highest for all professions. And top jobs—for those with the requisite experience and degrees (many computer scientists hold a master's degree or PhD)—can pay more than $160,000 per year. Still, while education and experience can help you reach the top of the field, they aren't the only factors that impact salary.
Where you live can impact your earnings considerably. Wages in cities are usually higher than those in rural areas, for example. Of course, most locations with increased salaries also have higher living costs, so that's another factor to consider. You may earn more in New York, but you'll also spend more on food, rent, entertainment, and utilities.
So, how much does a computer scientist make? Read on to find out the answer to that question and more about computer scientist salaries in the US. In this article, we discuss:
According to PayScale, the average computer scientist earns over $81,000 per year. That figure varies significantly by location. For instance, the average one in New York City earns closer to $90,000 per year.
Your earning potential increases with additional education and experience—those with a master's earn nearly $17,000 more on average than those with just a bachelor's. Similarly, experience can also have a major impact on what you earn. According to PayScale, the average computer scientist with ten to 19 years of experience earns $104,000 per year, while those with one to four make $76,000.
Broadly speaking, computer scientists are problem solvers who create and improve applications. Computer science professionals are usually fluent in one or more programming language, such as Java, Python, or R, and have a working knowledge of computer systems and advanced mathematics.
That said, individual jobs determine your required skill set. For instance, data warehousing is a more analytics-heavy position than software development, which likely requires better programming skills.
A vast majority of computer science professionals have either a master's degree or PhD. Many of the best jobs require at least a Master of Science in Computer Science. You may also qualify for a top position with a related degree, such as an MS in Computing and Information Science, like the one at Case Western Reserve University, or MS in Information Systems, like the one at Northwestern University. Some schools, such as Tulane University of Louisiana, even offer what's known as a 4+1 program where bachelor's students stay for an extra year to complete their master's degree.
Some skills you may develop in a computer science master's program include:
While master's programs for people with no previous experience do exist, it's better to start early. More K-12 schools than ever are teaching computer science, including Advanced Placement classes. Distressingly, these opportunities are not as widely available to students of color, although government and private foundations have mounted efforts to provide equal access.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the mean annual wage for all computer and mathematical occupations as $93,760. While this doesn't give the whole picture, it's a good starting point.
Those with a bachelor's degree in computer science likely begin earning much less than experienced professionals with advanced degrees and certifications. You'll also likely have a prefix like "junior" or "associate" appended to your job title. According to PayScale, the average early career salary for someone with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science is a little over $70,000.
While a bachelor's degree isn't necessarily a hard requirement for entry-level jobs, many employers look for one. Bachelor's programs frequently cover topics like:
Early career paths, and their (rounded) average salaries, include:
In contrast, top positions for more-experience computer scientists and their salaries, include:
Even though most of the top jobs require a master's degree, you can get far with just a bachelor's.
The computer science industry is still growing, and while it's impossible to say for sure if salaries will increase in 2021, things are promising. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2019 graduates earned over ten percent more than their 2018 counterparts, on average, and those from computer and information science degree programs led the way.
Computer science is one of the safest careers in 2021, given its necessity and demand levels. According to Burtch Works, the closely related field of data science has remained mostly unchanged during the pandemic—some companies have even grown. A majority of those that did suffer have regained their positions. This bodes well for computer scientists entering the field, especially if they have a bachelor's degree and some experience, including internships.
Before revealing ten of the top-paying states for computer science—and if not top-paying, places with the best jobs—a word on data. It's essential to take salary numbers with a grain of salt, even those from reliable sources because different sites prioritize different variables in data collection. This article utilizes numbers from the BLS's designation for computer and mathematical occupations as the primary source of salary information. Which computer science jobs are covered? If you can do it with a master's in computer science, it's included in this article, though naturally, some may be attainable with a bachelor's degree. Additionally, this section relies on background information from job postings.
Computer science may be associated with the tech industry and start-up world, but opportunities aren't limited to the private sector. There are excellent computer science positions in the military, including the Army, Navy, and Air Force. These positions require the same skill set as those in private companies but have different applications. They usually pay roughly the same amount as corporate jobs, though long-term earning potential may not be quite as high.
Additionally, PhD-holders often take jobs as researchers or university professors. A full-time professor of computer science can easily earn over $150,000 per year, if they teach at a high-profile school. Adjuncts earn significantly less. The same is true for researchers—those at major institutions often have heavy funding.
Finally, there is information on the cost of living in each state—remember that states with higher salaries are often more expensive. A state's cost of living index (COLI) is relative to US averages, meaning places with a COLI of 110 are ten percent more expensive than average, and those with a COLI of 90 are ten percent less expensive. Data represent state numbers, meaning that you may work in one area and live in another; it's conceivable that your actual cost of living can be lower than where you work.
The annual mean wage for computer and mathematical occupations in California is $112,220.
California has every computer science job under the bright Pacific sun, including at tech giants like Google and Apple, government agencies like NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD), and Silicon Valley startups. Those interested in research and teaching can find homes at top universities like:
San Jose and San Francisco are the two main cities in Silicon Valley and two of the country's top-paying metropolitan areas for computer and mathematical occupations. Other major California cities for computer scientists include San Diego, Pasadena, and Los Angeles.
The cost of living index in California is 138.5.
The annual mean wage for computer and mathematical occupations in Colorado is $98,240.
Many tech companies have moved to Colorado in recent years. It's a place where people enjoy working remotely and has become even more popular during 2020. Major companies that hire in Colorado include:
The state's biggest tech cities are Denver and Colorado Springs, but given that a main draw of the state is to work remotely, you may not have to live in a city.
The cost of living in Colorado is 105.
The annual mean wage for computer and mathematical occupations in Florida is $81,370.
Though it does have major companies like Disneyland, Florida isn't necessarily a huge draw for private-sector computer science jobs. Instead, there are many positions in the aerospace and defense industry. You may find work at
Depending on where you work, top cities may include:
The cost of living in Florida is 99.
The annual mean wage for computer and mathematical occupations in Georgia is $88,550.
Though maybe not the first state you think of for the tech industry, Georgia has a great mix of established tech companies and startups, including:
Atlanta is the best city in Georgia for computer science, by far. It's a growing start-up market with many great options for activities and entertainment. Atlanta is also one of the most affordable cities in the country.
Georgia is one of the cheapest places to live on this list. The cost of living is 89.4.
The annual mean wage for computer and mathematical occupations in Massachusetts is $100,870.
Massachusetts is one of the best places for computer science education with a slew of highly sought after teaching positions at such schools as:
Companies with offices in Massachusetts include:
The best city for Massachusetts computer science jobs is, without question, Boston, though you may find yourself in one of the many nearby college towns.
The cost of living in Massachusetts is 132.6.
The annual mean wage for computer and mathematical occupations in New Jersey is $103,180.
Top places for Jersey computer scientists to work, including colleges and universities, include:
Top cities in New Jersey include New Brunswick, New Jersey City, and Newark, which is on the rise.
The cost of living in New Jersey is 118.2.
The annual mean wage for computer and mathematical occupations in New York is $100,060.
Great computer science jobs exist at every level in New York, from start-ups (Updater) to major companies (Google and Apple). There are several excellent small and medium-sized companies as well, such as Skillshare. Research and teaching positions exist at:
New York City is one of the best places in the world for computer science. New York State is less desirable, though jobs do exist in cities like Buffalo and Albany. New York City is also one of the most expensive places to live in the world, which inflates the cost of living for the entire state.
The cost of living in New York is 133.7.
The annual mean wage for computer and mathematical occupations in Texas is $91,460.
Some top companies, teaching, and research positions in Texas can be found at:
Texas is another state with a strong military presence—meaning you may live on, or near, a military base. Top cities include Austin, which is known for its strong start-up culture, and Dallas. Austin is the most expensive city in Texas, but it's still less expensive than other major cities like San Francisco, New York, and even Colorado.
The average cost of living in Texas is 92.3.
The annual mean wage for computer and mathematical occupations in Virginia is $103,350.
Virginia has some of the fastest-growing tech companies in the country, including:
Top schools for research and teaching in the Virginia and Washington DC area, including a number of excellent HBCUs, include:
Top computer science cities in Virginia include Charlottesville, Richmond, and Arlington. It's also worth mentioning nearby Washington DC, which is one of the top tech cities in the country, as well as the best one for women in tech.
Many professionals choose to work in Washington and live in Virginia. So, although the cost of living in Washington is 161.1, Virginia is much cheaper at 101.6.
The annual mean wage for computer and mathematical occupations in Washington is $115,770.
Microsoft and Amazon are both headquartered in Washington, but they aren't the only big tech companies in the state. Other companies include:
Additionally, University of Washington - Seattle Campus is a top research university.
Seattle and Redmond, where Microsoft has its headquarters, are the top computer science cities in Washington and two of the country's best computer science cities.
The cost of living in Washington is 111.3.
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