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Engineering salaries and ages

May 27, 2008

Jack Ganssle-May 27, 2008

A recent survey by VDC  reveals some interesting data about embedded developers' ages and salaries.

First the pay scales. In the US the average developer earns $96k, over twice the average annual salary for workers in this country - $41k (see http://www.bls.gov/ncs/ocs/sp/ncbl0910.pdf, though this is 2006 data). It's more even than that earned by the average management worker ($84k, though much less than the $220k the average CEO earns). According to U.S. Census data, compared even to this country's mean household income of $67k, our salaries look pretty attractive.

In Western Europe the numbers are significantly lower, with embedded developers averaging a still respectable $74k. In India the average is $26k though that's biased by a few extreme data points. The $15k median may be more representative. But $15k is nearly six times the country's per capita GDP. Our US salaries are only twice the US per capita GDP.

In India the mean age is 30 with a median of 28, suggesting either that embedded developers are a very new thing in that country, or that they move into another field after acquiring around a decade of experience. The first possibility certainly makes sense, but so does the second.

In other Asian countries I'm told that engineering is considered a stepping-stone to a "real" career; and older engineers are considered failures. However, I have found Indian engineers by and large every bit as excited about their careers and by this field as developers in the U.S.

The data is very different in the United States (which closely mirrors Western Europe). In the US engineers are 43 years old on average (median of 44). That's awfully close to the center of a career that begins around 21 years and ends with retirement at 65.

In fact, it's surprisingly close as one would assume some attrition into management and sales with the advance of years. But the data makes sense if one assumes the normal older drift away from engineering and fewer young people entering the field.

And that seems borne out by the data. 25 Americans indicated they are 25-34 years old, 43 are in the 35-44 category (mislabeled as 55 and over), 35 have coasted into the middle-age 45-54 bracket, and 11 report being over 55. It's a shame we don't have this data for prior years, but I would assume that a decade or so ago the younger engineers would be overrepresented.

This is the inverse of the situation in India where 76% of the respondents are under 34.

It's wise to take every survey with a grain of salt, but like impressionistic paintings that indicate at least the fuzzy outlines of a story. This data aligns well with other data points I've seen. It seems Americans have a declining interest in, at the least, embedded engineering, though the salaries are very attractive.

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at jack@ganssle.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.

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