Walmart Labs vs. Amazon: Which Pays Software Engineers More?

Amazon and Walmart are locked in a battle for the future of retail. Although Amazon has grown its brick-and-mortar footprint in recent years (especially with the acquisition of Whole Foods), it’s still very much a web-based company. Meanwhile, Walmart, the box-store giant, is doing its best to expand into e-commerce as rapidly as it can.

The front-line troops in this particular fight are software engineers, who build the apps (and maintain the backend infrastructure) that allow both companies to achieve their online strategies. How much are Amazon and Walmart actually paying those software engineers? And what does that tell us about their respective approaches to their technology stacks?

Fortunately, we have levels.fyi, which does a heroic job of crowdsourcing salary data from various technology companies. Let’s start with entry-level software engineers. At Amazon, those engineers at the SDE 2 ranking (who generally have a degree and a few years’ experience) can expect to make an average of $141,860 in base salary, along with stock worth roughly $56,208 per year, and a bonus of $14,701.

Compare that to Walmart Labs, the retail monolith’s tech incubator, where those at the Software Engineer 3 level (roughly equivalent to Amazon’s SDE 2) can expect to make $137,250 per year in base salary, along with $11,250 in stock and a bonus of $18,250.

From there, salaries between the two companies move somewhat in parallel. Check out this chart for Amazon:

Now here’s one for Walmart:

While both Amazon and Walmart have higher rankings of engineers (such as Amazon’s senior principal SDE and distinguished engineer, and Walmart Labs’ principal software engineer and distinguished software engineer), levels.fyi respondents haven’t provided enough salary data for those roles. That makes sense, since the number of people in those roles is comparatively few; and in any case, focusing on these “mid-tier” software engineering positions gives us a pretty good idea of generalized engineer-related compensation at both these companies.

According to Glassdoor, which also crowd-sources its salary data, Walmart software engineers average $80,202 in base salary, along with cash bonuses of $16,163 and stock bonuses of $3,552. Meanwhile, Glassdoor plugs the average Amazon software engineer’s base pay at $114,762 (based off 479 responses), with an average bonus of $20,959 and a stock bonus of $30,634. That’s a bigger discrepancy, and it reveals the inherent dangers of relying on self-reported, crowdsourced data; it sometimes doesn’t provide a wholly accurate snapshot.

Walmart vs. Amazon: Money Is Good, Talent Is Better

That aside, what does all this data tell us about the brewing battle between Amazon and Walmart? For starters, Walmart isn’t skimping on salaries (and nor can it afford to; with tech-industry unemployment at record lows, the best talent has their pick of positions), which would suggest its seriousness about conquering e-commerce and refining its tech stack. In addition to hiring software engineers, Walmart has also made some very big online bets, including its 2016 purchase of Jet.com for $3.3 billion. As it struggles to catch up with Amazon, Walmart—despite its reputation as a relatively frugal and profit-centric company—has also committed itself to a startup-like cash burn in certain areas.   

But in a war like this, it’s not just about money (although that always helps). A core of smart, creative software engineers can often mean the difference between success and failure, especially when it comes to creating apps and online services that work smoothly for the customer. Walmart’s intent is in the right place, but Amazon has spent decades developing a solid bench of technologists, and such leads are difficult to overcome, even with tons of cash.

Meanwhile, both companies pay salaries that roughly match the rest of the tech industry. For example, according to levels.fyi, Apple’s ICT2 roles (i.e., the lowest rung of the software engineering ladder) pay an average of $118,810 in base salary, along with annual stock options worth roughly $27,119, and a bonus of $14,619. At Google, new software engineers (e.g., those who’ve just graduated from college) at the L3 level average salaries of $124,009, with annual stock options of $42,660 and a bonus of $21,417. 

Microsoft offers engineers at its lowest “SDE” level $105,747 in average annual salary, $28,650 in stock, and a bonus of $21,378. IBM’s base salaries for associate engineers, the lowest rung of its engineering ladder, average $91,357, in addition to an average bonus of $4,214 and stock options worth all of $286.