Engineering

Can a Master’s in Software Engineering Reboot Your Career?

Can a Master’s in Software Engineering Reboot Your Career?
A master's degree in software engineering can significantly boost your salary and qualify you for more (and more lucrative) incentives. Image from Unsplash
Poornima Apte profile
Poornima Apte March 20, 2023

The best-paying jobs in software engineering are also, unsurprisingly, the ones that are most popular; not only do they offer the most attractive compensation, but they are also more interesting and rewarding.

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The velociraptors are at the door, trying to make their way in. The humans can’t hold on much longer. In one of the most iconic scenes in the classic movie Jurassic Park, all hope appears lost until an adolescent hacker, Lex (Ariana Richards), saves the day. She rushes to a computer and exclaims: “It’s a UNIX system! I know this!” She then figures out how to electronically lock all the doors, sparing the audience the sight of Sam Neill and Laura Dern being torn to shreds by dinosaurs.

As a software engineer, you’ll probably never get the opportunity to confront roving dinosaurs. You may still be a hero, however, not just for being the only one who knows UNIX but also for your mastery of various operating and network control systems. And you’ll make good money to boot, especially if you bolster your credentials with a master’s degree.

A computer software engineer salary averages $109,000, according to Indeed. That’s pretty good pay, and in a field that’s growing rapidly; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US should add 411,400 software engineer jobs between 2021 and 2031.

Your salary will ultimately be impacted by several additional factors, including your place of residence, your specialization, additional certifications and previous experience. Those who live in regions with high rates of unmet demand might be able to dictate even better compensation packages with a higher salary.

So, how much can you make with a master’s degree in software engineering? This article covers that question as well as:

  • Why get a master’s degree in software engineering?
  • Factors impacting software engineering salaries
  • Should you get a master’s in software engineering?

Why get a master’s degree in software engineering?

A master’s in software engineering program immerses students in software systems and architecture. It also teaches them how to function in today’s agile software-development universe. Sure, you could teach yourself coding, but for most people a master’s program is the more practical approach.

Programs vary from university to university depending on each institution’s strengths. The University of Southern California, for example, excels in artificial intelligence, and its curriculum reflects that. Most programs take 18 months to two years to complete on a full-time basis.

A master’s degree in software engineering can provide a significant boost in pay when compared to jobs available to those with only a bachelor’s degree. Payscale.com reports that the average software engineer with a bachelor’s in the field earns $86,000, which jumps to $114,000 for a master’s. That’s a 33 percent boost in compensation; in addition, the master’s positions you for better promotions at even better salaries.

The best-paying jobs in the software engineering field are also, unsurprisingly, the ones that are most popular; not only do they offer the most attractive compensation, but they are also more interesting and rewarding.

Top jobs for software engineers include:

  • Chief Technology Officer: This c-level position is the top tech job at any company; the CTO leads the technology teams in daily operations, charts performance goals, monitors hardware needs, and oversees long-term technological planning (average CTO salary: $288,000)
  • Software development manager: These managers oversee the design and development of code. Their reports typically include internal teams and outside developers. (software development manager average salary: $151,000)
  • Software architect: Software architects create custom solutions and design the overall direction of software engineering projects. (average senior software engineer salary: $173,000)
  • Cyber security manager: Preventing hacks and safeguarding the personal and financial information of customers, clients, employees, etc. is critical to the success of any online endeavor. Cyber security managers do this by safeguarding the security and integrity of computer information systems and code (average cyber security manager salary: $145,000 )
  • Senior Software Engineer/Developer/Programmer: People in this managerial role typically lead teams of related professionals to achieve development objectives across a broad range of functions. (average senior software engineer salary: $148,000)
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Factors impacting software engineering salaries

A master’s in software engineering will significantly boost your earnings. Other factors will also have an impact on your ultimate compensation package.

First, experience matters. Computer software engineering salaries at an entry level —with less than five years of experience—average $68,000, a number that increases to $94,000 for mid-career professionals with five to ten years of experience. The bump in software engineering salaries after 10 to 20 years under your belt is also impressive, at $141,000.

Location also affects pay because of both cost-of-living considerations and the availability (or lack thereof) of qualified professionals. Silicon Valley falls in the top bracket for average annual salary, with San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and San Jose, California, taking three of the top five slots (no surprise given the proliferation of tech companies in the region). Seattle, Baltimore, Washington and New York City round out the top seven.

How you specialize during your graduate studies can also significantly influence your earning potential. The average software engineer salary varies depending on skillsets in demand. Demands change regularly, which is why many software engineers continually upgrade their trainings and certifications; this is what makes software engineering a good career choice for people who enjoy lifelong learning. A Python software engineer earns an average income of $175,000 per year ($110,000 in salary and another $65,000 in incentives). Software engineers with project management skills earn an average annual income of $131,000.

Software engineers are needed in many fields across the employment spectrum. Different sectors compensate engineers differently, though. Software engineers in real estate bring home an average of $162,000 per year. In contrast, those in retail and wholesale typically net around $143,000.

Finally, certifications can also boost software engineering pay. The top ones that command high pay include AWS certified solutions architect ($168,000); and certified information security manager ($162,000).

Should you get a master’s in software engineering?

Even if you never encounter a velociraptor, a career as a software engineer will set you up for a challenging and interesting career. You’ll be able to pick from a variety of roles across a broad spectrum of businesses, and to earn an excellent salary in the process. A master’s degree will upgrade your earnings and opportunities significantly, and you should consider it seriously if you are contemplating a long-term career in software engineering.

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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