Embedded Salary Survey



Special Report

Embedded Salary Survey

Merlina Trevino

For the embedded systems developer, stereotypes abound. The image of young, specialized high-tech workers toiling in a computer-filled lab, sipping Jolt cola late into the night is popular with the media. But the results of ESP's 2000 Salary Survey paint a very different picture of the real embedded workforce and workplace.

This year, for the first time, Embedded Systems Programming asked its readers questions about workplace conditions, salaries, and benefits in the embedded industry. This article presents that data, along with the answers to other relevant questions, so that all embedded programmers can make more informed career choices.

Survey says
ESP has historically surveyed its readers in two very different ways. In an annual Subscriber Study, the magazine's publisher asks randomly selected anonymous subscribers for information about their role in the selection and purchasing process and the hardware, software, and development tools that they use. Data collected from the Subscriber Study is important to the magazine's publisher because it is extremely valuable to advertisers.

Advertisers use information they glean from an individual Subscriber Study or a series of studies over a several year period to plan marketing strategies and target competitors with large shares of the market. It is from these studies that we know that C is still the language of choice for embedded work (it's hovered around 80% for the past few years), that the 8051 remains the most popular 8-bit embedded processor (aggregate of six different manufacturers), and that the merger of Wind River and ISI created a powerhouse with no equal in the RTOS market.

Though useful at times, this information only begins to help the magazine's editors figure out what types of articles and columns would be of most interest and use to its readers. So ESP's editors conduct a separate survey, about every two years. This Editorial Survey focuses on the informational wants and needs of a different group of randomly selected anonymous subscribers. The answers respondents give to a variety of questions about columns, columnists, and past and proposed future article topics help shape the magazine's content for the next few years. Needless to say, both surveys are very important for the magazine and are taken quite seriously.

This year, the questionnaire used in the Editorial Survey was jointly developed by the staff of Embedded Systems Programming and an outside research firm. All other aspects of the survey were conducted by the research firm, including disk programming and design, duplication, printing, mailing, data collection, cross tabulation, and preparation of the final research report. Individual participants were selected via an n-th name sort of the U.S. subscriber list. In the spring, each of the 1,000 selected subscribers received a cover letter, survey diskette, pre-paid return mailer, and a crisp two-dollar bill (as “thanks in advance” for completing their survey and returning it). Of these, 22 mailings were returned by the post office as undeliverable. Of the others, 294 disks were returned valid and complete, and another 12 were damaged or unreadable.

What all of this means is that the survey was conducted blindly and scientifically and that the salary and other data collected is about as good as can be obtained. Of course, the results are limited by the fact that only ESP readers were surveyed. And it's also limited to those ESP readers with enough time to complete the survey and return it. But the impressive response rate (greater than 30%) should mean the latter is not much of a factor. In all, more than one in 200 of your, randomly selected, voices were heard for this, our first ever, Embedded Salary Survey.

Education and training
We don't have to tell you that embedded systems development is no easy job. A high level of educational achievement is generally required to find even an entry-level position. As Figure 1 shows, 88% of respondents have earned at least a bachelor's degree, including an incredible 34% with a master's degree and 5% with a PhD. Of the remaining respondents, about 9% obtained a two-year degree from a community college, while just 3% have managed with a high school diploma alone.

Among those who went to college, it seems more majored in electrical engineering (64%) than any other subject. As multiple responses were allowed, strong showings were also made for both computer science (48%) and computer engineering (37%). Other engineering subjects, mathematics, and physics were also popular concentrations for embedded developers.

Though armed with all of that electrical engineering education, it seems 43% of you work primarily as software developers today. Hardware design isn't nearly as popular a career among ESP 's readers, earning just an 11% response. Those with a little more experience tend to work primarily in engineering management (17%). Taking the road less traveled, the remainder were involved most heavily in either system integration or system architecture (5% each).

Those surveyed spoke from a vast body of programming/engineering experience-an aggregate of about 5,000 years (17 years per respondent, on average). As Figure 2 clearly shows, the highest percentage of responses (25%) came from embedded system developers with a total of 15 to 19 years programming or engineering work already under their belt. Surpassing them, another 18% have 20 to 24 years of experience, while 20% have been in engineering for more than 25 years. The remainder of the respondents have 10 to 14 (18%), five to nine (13%), one to four (4%), or zero years of experience (1%).

However, while most ESP subscribers have quite a few years of overall programming and engineering experience, they haven't been working in the embedded systems field for nearly so long. In fact, the average respondent has spent only 11 of his 17 years developing embedded systems. Figure 2 reveals that the largest group (26%) have only been working on embedded projects for five to nine years. The 10-to-14-year group came in second with 19%. Another 17% have spent 15 to 19 years in the embedded field, and 10% have been doing this kind of work for 20 to 24 years. Those with just one to four years of experience counted for 18%. Bookending the results, 7% of respondents said they have spent 25 years or more developing embedded systems, while 3% are apparently just getting started.

On the job
While 17% of respondents listed industrial controls as their company's primary end product or application, it's no surprise that in this era of connectivity, another 17% are working in the communications/networking sector. The rest of the respondents were split between the computers/peripherals (10%), consumer electronics (9%), aerospace (8%), government/military (7%), automotive/transportation (7%), medical equipment (5%), and electronic instruments/ATE (5%) industries.

Though some respondents are working on embedded projects with millions of lines of code (3%), the vast majority (84%) are involved in projects with fewer than 100,000 lines. And most developers are generally satisfied-though not thrilled-with the tools they're currently using to develop, test, and debug their embedded software. Of course, developing even just a few thousand of lines of software takes appreciable time. So we also wanted to know what kind of hours embedded developers have to work to get the job done. What we found surprised us. It turns out that most of you aren't in the lab late at night after all-at least, not very often. Survey respondents indicated that they worked an average of about 45 hours a week, with only 6% working more than 60 hours a week. In fact, an astonishing 14% indicated they work 40 hours a week or less. The largest group (40%) worked 41 to 45 hours a week with an additional 28% spending 46 to 50 hours at the office in their typical week.

Figure 3 shows the geographic distribution of embedded developers. As expected, the West Coast (CA, HI) won that battle handily at 23%. The Midwest (IA, IN, IL, MI, MN, MO, OH, WI) also made a very strong showing at 19%. The Mid Atlantic (DC, DE, MD, NJ, NY, PA, VA, WV) had more (13%) than the equally matched Southwest (AZ, AR, OK, TX, NM) and Southeast (AL, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN) regions (10% each). The remaining respondents were spread out between the Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT), North Central (CO, KS, MT, ND, NE, NV, SD, UT, WY), and Northwest (AK, OR, WA, ID) sections of the country at 9%, 8%, and 6%, respectively.

Pay day
So how many of you are earning what you thought you'd be earning? The largest percentage (32%) currently earn annual gross salaries (excluding bonuses) in the $50,000 to $74,999 range (see Figure 4). In this free-form answer, the mean and median diverged slightly. The mathematical average of the reported salaries was $80,091, while the median, or midpoint, salary was $75,000 even. It seems about 27% of you earn just slightly more than the median, falling within the $75,000 to $99,999 range. Twelve percent of you earn $100,000 to $149,999 and a lucky 4% earn $150,000 or more. On the lower end of the scale, 7% earn salaries of $25,000 to $49,999 and 3% earn less than $25,000.

But it's all about the benefits, right? In a multiple response question, 85% of embedded developers reported that they received medical coverage, 79% received dental coverage, and 78% have a 401k plan. For the work weary, 84% received at least 10 vacation days a year, and a lucky 5% can also take sabbaticals. For those desiring further educational training (perhaps to boost a below-average salary), 66% of you could take advantage of a tuition reimbursement plan.

Other financial incentives for working include bonuses, which 28% receive regularly, and stock option and profit sharing plans (48% are eligible). For those receiving a bonus within the last 12 months (almost 50% of you), the average bonus was equivalent to about 8% of your salary. But, unfortunately, 60% of all bonuses were limited to 6% or less. Only a lucky 4% received bonuses of 20% or more of their salary in the last year.

Raises, too, can be an important factor for the happiness and financial well-being of engineers. And it seems that embedded developers are currently beating the consumer price index by a long shot. The average raise received in the last 12 months was a whopping 6%. That's one sure way to increase the standard of living of the entire industry.

Now that you've seen what everybody else is earning and what kind of benefits and bonuses your colleagues are receiving, it may be time to ask the question: are you making what you're worth?

Merlina Trevino is the associate editor of Communications Systems Design , also published by CMP Media. Send her e-mail at .

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