What Do Engineers Earn at Startups?


If you’re a mid-level engineer with a highly specialized skillset, you likely have your pick of jobs. If you’re interested in working for a known brand, or at least having a better work-life balance, you might gravitate toward a well-established tech company. But if you’re addicted to a grinding schedule and potential for big rewards, you might focus more on startup opportunities.

If you decide to go the startup route, take heart: you likely won’t miss out on the solid salaries that engineers pull down at older, larger firms. According to a new survey of 700 startup founders by investment firm First Round, some 55 percent of startups pay mid-level engineers anywhere between $101,000 and $150,000 per year in salary and bonuses; another 7 percent made between $151,000 and $200,000.

Moreover, mid-level engineers at startups tend to receive some level of equity: around 26 percent of startup leaders reported giving out between 0.21 percent and 0.40 percent equity in their firms, while 10 percent gave more than 1.01 percent. While that might not sound like a lot, even a fraction of a percentage can translate into millions of dollars if the startup strikes it big—a remote but tantalizing possibility for employees at startups. (Over at Recode, by the way, there’s an interesting piece about the things a company needs in place before it launches an IPO, including proper governance and predictability.)

Of course, the very term “engineer” encompasses a variety of disciplines, from networking to QA. Earlier this year, an analysis of Dice data broke down the median, mean, and max salaries for various engineering disciplines. Virtually all pay well, which is unsurprising when you consider engineers’ key role in designing, building, and maintaining the core parts of any tech business.

In tech hubs such as Silicon Valley and New York City, experienced engineers with the right mix of skills in “hot” areas such as cloud can expect to be paid a premium. With the tech industry’s unemployment rate well below the national average, employers in high-demand cities are paying out more in salaries and bonuses to ensure they keep top talent—and given the current turnover rate, it’s clear that tech pros unhappy with their jobs are leaving to pursue better opportunities.

3 Responses to “What Do Engineers Earn at Startups?”

  1. Rosemary

    That horrid crash you just heard was my jaw shattering on the floor. I’ve been out of work for a year and a half, and no one is offering me this kind of money. I can’t even get what I earned at my last three jobs. (I have a bachelor of computer science degree, which at my university falls into the engineering faculty.)

    Several startup companies have approached me to work for them, but none of them pay 6 figures. In fact, virtually all of them expect me to work for free, with a vague promise of profit-sharing once products are actually available to sell (years from now). At the latest interview, I was recommended I get a second job to support my household while I “work” (i.e. volunteer) for them. SMH #HireRosemary

  2. Al Hernandez

    It would help if this was broken down by region because I’m going to guess these average salaries are highly skewed due to the six figure salaries paid in Silicon Valley, which is due to the ridiculously high cost of living near there.

    When I graduated I was offered jobs in the San Jose area for 100k+, but after calculating the cost of living, I realized I was better off taking an offer in Chicago for just over half of that.

  3. Sathyaish Chakravarthy

    I’ve been looking for work for the last ten months and have not had that kind of money offered by any start-up. But then I’ve only come across early-stage start-ups that are not cash rich.

    Here’s a round-up of my experience as a freelance software developer. The last ten months have been particularly testing, though I have been freelancing successfully for almost six years now, and my total programming experience is almost twenty years.