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Poornima Apte

March 11, 2021

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.

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, but you may still be a hero, not just for being the only one who knows UNIX but also for your mastery of a variety of 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 $101,000, according to That's pretty good pay, and in a field that's growing rapidly; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US should add 302,500 software engineer jobs between 2016 and 2026. 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.

Why get a master’s degree?

A master's in software engineering program immerses students in software systems and architecture, and 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. reports that the average software engineer with a bachelor’s in the field earns $77,000, which jumps to $101,000 for a master’s. That's a 30 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 (Salary range: $86,000 to $235,000, average: $154,924)
  • Software Development Manager: These managers oversee the design and development of code. Their reports typically include internal teams and outside developers. (Salary range: $86,000 to $156,000; average: $121,941)
  • Software Architect: Software architects create custom solutions and design the overall direction of software engineering projects. (Salary range: $85,000 to $160,000; average: $121,537)
  • 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 (Salary range: $69,000 to $145,000; average: $104,298)
  • 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. ($73,000-$138,000; average: $101,547)

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 $77,000, a number that increases to $91,000 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 $102,000.

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 Mountain View, San Francisco and San Jose, California, taking three of the top five slots (no surprise given the proliferation of tech companies in the region). Seattle, Washington and New York City occupy the other two.

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. Knowing Python programming language, for example, can raise the average salary to $104,755. Experience and training in project management can add another $10,000 to your base salary.

Software engineers are needed in many fields across the employment spectrum; being able to choose from so many options is one of the advantages of the job. Different sectors compensate engineers differently, though. Securities and commodities exchange, other finance-related fields, and engineering are most lucrative, with average salaries of $123,000. In contrast, work in retail registers a lower (but still impressive) annual salary of $101,219.

Finally, certifications can also boost software engineering pay. The top ones that command high pay include Google-certified professional cloud architect ($139,529); and Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) (both in the $135,000 range).

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 range 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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