Tech Professionals, You’re Working Too Much or Earning Too Little

Tech professionals often don’t consider their hourly income because they’re typically salaried, but a new study suggests you should put a hard cap on your hours worked each week, both for productivity and maximizing your income.

Common wisdom tells us more hours worked means more money, which is always true for hourly workers. Digging through census data, Zippia found it to be mostly true for salaried workers, as well. While higher-paying jobs often demand more from tech professionals, the data shows that, after 55 hours per week, the correlation between earnings and hours worked plateaus.

In fact, after 65 hours per week, the effective rate starts to decrease. Our 2019 Salary Survey found that tech professionals make $93,244 per year, on average. Census data shows professionals who make this rate typically work 50-55 hours weekly. Those who work 65 hours per week typically earn just slightly more than this figure, but folks who work 70 hours or more each week don’t see an uptick in earnings.

In other words, once you hit 55 hours per week, earnings don’t match the hours you’re putting in. Zippia calls this “working just to work,” and it’s a fair moniker. From 35 to 55 hours worked each week, salary rate increases like clockwork; pass that threshold, and you’re just wasting your time (at least in terms of money; you might really love your job).

Zippia also mapped the most efficient earners by profession. First, never work on a derrick; those workers put in upwards of 60 hours each week, and earn about $24 per hour. And it’s pretty dangerous work.

Physicians and surgeons earn the most (about $83 per hour) and work about 55 hours each week (maybe they teach you how to maximize your efficiency in medical school?). Dentists are the most efficient, earning $83 per hour and working just over 40 hours weekly.

Which brings us to software developers: Where do they fall in this chart? Earning an average of $48 per hour, software developers work about 42 hours per week, which puts them in a good position. In effect, those data-points mean software developers should be earning a lot more or staring at their monitor a lot less.

Cross-referencing the hourly earnings from this census data with the Dice Salary Survey, hourly earnings for a software developer working 40 hours per week are $44.82. If we ramp that up to the 42-ish hours per week, hourly earnings dip to $42.69.

If you’re earning the average annual salary for tech professionals ($93,244), you should be at your desk about 37 hours per week to bring in the average hourly earnings for a software developer.

The data isn’t bulletproof, though. It also lists “computer programmer” at $40 per hour, which is a software developer. Database administrators earn $38 per hour, and SysAdmins earn $34. So not all “tech professionals” fit under the “software developer” job title. (And if you’re interested to see where your job title falls on the list, we suggest poking through Zippia’s interactive chart; it’s a bit fussy, but insightful.)

4 Responses to “Tech Professionals, You’re Working Too Much or Earning Too Little”

  1. James Igoe

    Payscale reported something similar, in that people with Bachelors degrees earned more per hour than those with Masters, and the higher salary of the latter was by related to more hours. This was broad, and it likely varies between professions. Along with thoughts about productivity and worth, I often have to consider the value of extra hours, in that it accrues to the company, but not myself.

    If someone is interested, one can compare the hourly wages between degrees via Payscale. This is for Computer Science majors. Sometimes pay increases significantly per hour, as in Data Analysts, but not so much for Software Engineers, although a Masters might qualify and engineer with a graduate degree a higher rank.



  2. Where did they get this data?

    If you’re regularly working 55 hours/week… something’s wrong. Seriously wrong. That’s 11 hrs/day and I’m sure that survey didn’t take into account daily commute times. If you’re getting 8 hours of sleep at night, that only leaves an average of 5 non-working hours/day. Taking one’s commute time out of *that* and I can’t see how someone working 55 hrs/week has *any* work/life balance whatsoever.

    • In my last job, I was putting in 55 hours a week. Mostly, I worked from home, and rather than doing 11 hours five days a week, I’d put in about 10 hours weekend mornings. Was it tough? Yes. Was it doable? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes, I was hourly, so it allowed me to significantly increase my net savings, and made a noticeable impact on my 401(k) since the OT was eligible for the 9% company match.

      The downside was that a lot of non-emergency things piled up so I’ve got to spend more time on those now than I’d like. However, it moved my potential retirement forward by three yeas, so it was a worthwhile trade off.