Tesla Software Engineers: Solid Pay. But How’s the Stress?

Depending on your tolerance for super-tight deadlines, extreme pressure, and, er, “unconventional” CEOs (“What’s he saying on Twitter this time?!”), electric-auto manufacturer Tesla seems like either the best or worst place for a software engineer to work.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is determined to break the automobile industry’s reliance on carbon-based fuels, but he has a long way to go. Tesla produced just over 87,000 electric vehicles in Q2 2019, a fraction of the cars that a major automaker such as Ford rolls off its production lines during the same timeframe. However, the buzz around Tesla has led other car companies to explore their own electric-vehicle lines—and this imitation, over the long term, might accelerate a global transition from gas-powered engines to lithium batteries.

From a software-engineering perspective, Tesla vehicles are as much software platform as conventional vehicle. A large screen dominates the cockpit of the mass-market Model 3 (it even plays games), allowing passengers to control pretty much every aspect of the driving experience. As a company, Tesla is betting everything on autonomous driving, with Musk claiming that the cars will reach near-perfect “Level 5” autonomy by 2020.   

As Tesla tries to push into these cutting-edge areas, though, it has undergone a fair amount of chaos. Musk constantly rallies his employees to work harder than ever, and frames every challenge as existential. Turnover among the executive ranks is high. The company’s fans argue that starting a car company from scratch is difficult, and hiccups in production and distribution are inevitable; but the grinding schedule has led to reported cases of employee burnout.

If you’re a relatively new software engineer (i.e., you just graduated, or you have 2-3 years of engineering experience under your belt), what kind of salary can you land at Tesla? It seems that the company’s salary, bonus, and stock options are competitive with what you find at other major tech firms, which is probably a good thing considering the reports of grinding schedules.

This data is from levels.fyi, which crowdsources its compensation data. One thing to note: Although Tesla is generous with salary and bonuses, it’s not nearly as bountiful as the other tech giants when it comes to stock options.

For instance, Facebook pays its newbies an average base salary of $111,250, a bonus of $67,000, and stock options worth $116,875; entry-level Amazon recruits, meanwhile, pull down an average salary of $108,000, combined with a bonus of $51,142 and stock options of $70,000. Google pays entry-level engineers an average of $115,000, combined with a $44,000 signing bonus, stock options worth $139,000, and an annual bonus of $22,000. Employees at those companies can profit enormously if the stock jumps; but at Tesla, not so much.

According to Glassdoor, the typical software engineer salary at Tesla is $122,019, and can drift as high as $160,000, which aligns with the levels.fyi data. That’s pretty good compensation for helping change how people travel from point A to B—provided you can handle the stress.

2 Responses to “Tesla Software Engineers: Solid Pay. But How’s the Stress?”

  1. Michael Hutcheson

    STRESS. I’m a 35-year computer professional, mostly software, who retired very comfortably at age 50 in Hawaii, overlooking Pearl Harbor with a view from Diamond Head to the West Coast.
    Sure there’s stress, but this is a leading-edge marquee company, with a real, world-changing mission. They will have no problem getting very high-quality people. There’ll be turnover, but with far more waiting for their chance.

    • Brian Cavanagh

      Well said, Michael. When people do personally meaningful work, that motivates them. This article sounds like it could have been written by gas & diesel automotive manufacturing recruiters discouraging people from working for Tesla as those same companies try to recruit staff to transition their design & manufacturing over to electric vehicles. $1 Trillion dollars a year of global automotive-related sales and a lot of money in the stock market trying to keep the value of their combustion engine vehicle – related investments up even though they will likely decline as they lose profit and market share due to having to focus on capital expenditures to transition.