This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Develop in the Cloud, sponsored by AT&T. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Develop in the Cloud site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

The Longevity of the Well-Paid Developer

The best US software engineers may enjoy another decade of high salaries and strong demand.

Software engineers enjoy above-average job growth prospects and excellent pay. How long will the ride last?

Glassdoor.com recently published a survey of salaries for US software engineers. The news is good for people in that profession, especially those at the very top of it: companies can't find enough engineers to fill existing positions, and the bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that growth in the field will outstrip overall job growth for years to come. Salaries nationwide average over $92,000 for software engineers -- exclusive of benefits, 401(k) contributions, stock options, etc. -- and the most generous companies, Google and Facebook, are paying on either side of $125,000 annually.

These numbers inspired TechCrunch columnist Jon Evans to do a bit of deep cogitation about how long conditions could remain so favorable for software engineers.

It's a good question. It's a truism that no salary is safe if the job can be done by someone at the other end of a telecommunications line. The world is a big place, after all, and it's full of people who are eager to do all kinds of work that Americans do, for a fraction of the salary. Computing devices are cheap, online training is often free (as we have discussed), and the software tools of the trade are available in the cloud for cheap or free. And elementary economic theory says that the existence of above-average salaries for software engineering work ought to result in short order in a larger supply of software engineers, putting downward pressure on salaries.

Where are they?
Yet this doesn't seem to be happening. Where are the floods of A-list Indian, Brazilian, and Russian programmers? TechCrunch's Evans walks us through the process as (in theory) hoards of would-be developers hop into the funnel that leads to high software engineering salaries. His supposition is that most of them are dropping out along the way, some hitting their level of "satisficiency," others balking at putting in the thousands of hours of continual challenge and growth required to achieve excellence in this field (or, indeed, in any field). Evans believes that money alone cannot motivate this kind of effort; only passion can. And the possibility of indulging such a passion is still a luxury that is in short supply outside of the developed world.

So high salaries for the best developers may well persist in the US for another decade or longer, until the economic level of more of the world rises out of "developing" status. Software engineers who are not at the top of the technical heap, on the other hand, can look forward to ongoing downward pressure on wages and benefits.

What has your experience been as you have explored the job market over the last few years?