IT Jobs With the Best (and Worst) ROI

Many IT jobs come with rigorous academic requirements, but not all of those jobs offer high starting salaries and explosive growth potential. Which ones offer the best (and worst) return on investment (ROI)?

IT Jobs With the Best ROI


Entry-level salary: $59,000
Average salary: $102,446

Although 60 percent of DBAs have a bachelor’s degree, 16 percent have an associate’s degree and 20 percent have some college, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. Demand exceeds supply, with U.S. News & World Report ranking the DBA profession as the fifth-best IT job and the twelfth overall best professional job in America. If you’re looking for more reasons to throw your hat in the ring, consider that the average salary for DBA’s topped $100,000 in Dice’s annual survey.

Check out the latest DBA jobs.

Associate Software Engineer

Entry-level salary: $59,252
Average salary: $81,951

Software engineers are in high demand and often command six-figure salaries, but it may take more than four years (and potentially a lot of money) to complete the rigorous coursework. A less-costly two-year degree is a viable alternative. The average pay for a mid-career associate software engineer is over $81,000, according to PayScale. If you do get an associate’s degree, you can pick up additional experience on the job and move into a higher-level position.

Check out the latest associate software engineer jobs.


Entry-level salary: $49,975
Average salary: $82,206

You can become a programmer either with an associate’s degree, or by mastering the fundamentals on your own and earning one or two key certifications. It’s possible to command an even bigger paycheck if you learn a red-hot programming language. Only about 50 percent of programmers hold a bachelor’s degree and another 20 percent have taken some college courses.

Check out the latest programmer jobs.

Web Developer

Entry-level salary: $49,000
Average salary: $76,774

Web developer was called one of the hardest tech jobs to recruit for in North America by Wanted Analytics; the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts continued growth through 2022. Your initial outlay could be very, very low if you have a creative eye and are adept at self-study. Around 43 percent of Web developers have a four-year degree, while 20 percent have an associate’s degree; many are self-trained.

Check out the latest Web developer jobs. 

Software Developer

Entry-level salary: $61,000
Average salary: $90,000+

Although the average salary for newbie software developers comes in at around $61,000 per year, overall cash earnings for entry-level software developers range from $41,000 on the low end to near $89,000 at the top, according to PayScale. The heftiest packages can include bonuses and profit-sharing, which means you could potentially recoup your educational costs in just a few years. Although 50 percent of software developers have a bachelor’s degree, 8.5 percent have some college, and 5.1 percent have an associate’s degree.

Check out the latest software developer jobs.

IT Jobs With the Worst ROI

Graphic Designer

Entry-level salary: $37,559
Average salary: $52,448

A whopping 81 percent of graphic designers hold a bachelor’s degree, yet the average pay is just $52,000 per year. These jobs not only require artistic talent and knowledge of numerous creative software platforms, but also experience with SQL, HTML, and JavaScript. Plus, many graphic designers are self-employed freelancers, so they have to foot the entire bill for their benefits and payroll taxes.

Check out the latest graphic designer jobs.

Software QA Tester

Entry-level salary: $51,322
Average salary: $51,322

No, that’s not a misprint. Experience has a modest effect on income for professionals in the software-testing field, where 64 percent hold a bachelor’s degree, 14 percent have an associate’s degree and 9 percent have a master’s degree. It’s probably best to view a role in software testing as a stepping-stone to greater things.

Check out the latest QA jobs.

Systems Administrator

Entry-level salary: $50,689
Average salary: $73,690

You usually need a bachelor’s degree in computer science or engineering, along with several certifications, to work as a systems administrator. And while the pay isn’t bad, it’s near the bottom of the stack when compared to other IT jobs with similar educational requirements.

Check out the latest systems administrator jobs.

Help Desk

Entry-level salary: $38,710
Average salary: $43,210

Any way you slice it, most technical support positions offer limited growth, low entry-level salaries and a poor ROI. Roughly 29 percent of help desk specialists have a bachelor’s degree, 18 percent have an associate’s degree and 22 percent have some college but no degree. Collectively, that represents a substantial investment in education for a very low return.

Check out the latest help desk jobs.

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9 Responses to “IT Jobs With the Best (and Worst) ROI”

    • Exactly, I was already wondering why the “good” jobs were DBA, and various different names for “coder”…

      Granted, something as broad as “software engineer” can mean something other than “programmer” as well; after all, it also covers software architects, and any other role that plays a part in the development cycle.

  1. Bumfuzzled McGee

    Huh? Return on whose investment? I came here thinking employers ROI, but now I’m thinking you meant worker’s ROI. And how do you define ROI? Education expense only? Do you add in relocation expenses because of the geographic distribution of the job in question vs the schools that offer degrees in that field or population distribution? This ‘article’ raises more questions than it answers. Makes me think the ROI on a journalism degree is rather low.

  2. OnTheDL

    Gotta love this ever increasing false distinction between a Programmer and a Developer, though obviously calling ones self a developer nets more money, so….why not I suppose? Pure semantics all said and done. “Back in the day'” you had Programmers and Programmer analysts – Programmer Analysts defined the requirements and a Programmer ‘programed’ [developed] based on those requirements. Currently these two functions are generally handled by Business Analyst and Software developers, however the Programer Analyst title lives on at a lower rate for some reason with no clear cut distinction between them and a Developer, though there are numerous opinions on the subject online. Personally I don’t care what they call me, as long as it’s a Software Developer Programmer Business Systems Analyst which is often how too many job descriptions read these days. Good times.


  3. rheaghen

    I’ve been working as a Developer/Programmer/Coder/Tester in the Midwest since 2003. I would expect my region of the country to pay less, as the cost of living here is really very good. That said, all of your dollar figures seem completely wrong to me, and they are very low, from what I have witnessed. I would expect these numbers possibly in a foreign country, but certainly not in the USofA.

  4. romain

    in San Francisco/Silicon Valley I’ve seen a lot of entry level software engineers earning 110k/year, and most mid level (5 years xp) earn at least 140 a year.

    • That’s because San Fran/Silicon Valley are in Cali. which the cost of living is a lot higher. Cali would be the exception as well as a few other east coast states. The rest of the states would be avg. with each other.

  5. Charisse

    I find it interesting and sad that helpdesk/desktop support is considered “low level” continuing to further the commoditized dehumanizing aspects of that job and the perception that it is a crappy job with “no future,” only serving to fill a void with a body. And likely leading to the mass outsourcing of those jobs to even lower wage incompetent sources in other countries and to IT consulting companies claiming cost savings.

    I do desktop/helpdesk support and I am passionate about the job and the quality of work I produce. Very often, as the person at the other end of the phone or that shows up at the deskside I am the sole voice and face of IT. If it is going to be done correctly and effectively, it requires a professional, skilled at not just resolving technical issues, especially when two (or more) frantic end users need help at precisely the same time But also people skills to interact with end users, in a way that is non intimidating so that users feel comfortable and communicate information they do not even know they have useful in resolving their issues with technology.

    The job is not unlike that of a police officer, combining both a beat cop and a detective. The desktop specialist is the first line of defense in enforcing corporate policy with regard to the use of technology, investigate (with skill, experience and intuition) network intrusions or abuse of technology resources, spearhead the issue in front of users and management, and possibly respond to court orders, secure data evidence, establish a chain of custody and even testify in court. The only difference is we do not carry weapons and shields.

    Denigrating the profession serves no one, except possibly those trying to advance a personal agenda

    • smoovejazz1

      I agree with you. Also to piggyback on that topic it’s like they think that someone in helpdesk is lesser than those whom have a higher “job title” label. Without helpdesk who would they go to? I have seen lately such job titles as desktop tech/network admin. It’s like they’re combing two roles but paying you based on the lesser role.