For years, PCs loaded with Intel processors dominated our computing lives. But nothing in tech remains the same; the rise of mobile and the cloud allowed other chip manufacturers, including Nvidia and AMD, to enter the market with their own, often highly specialized products.
For example, Nvidia has profited immensely by focusing on two burgeoning segments, gaming and automotive (with artificial intelligence mixed in). Even as these firms have seized greater mind- and market-share, Intel has inadvertently helped them out with some massive internal crises, most notably the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities.
Nonetheless, Intel continues to hold much of the market for PC and datacenter processors, so it seems unlikely that it’ll find itself the desperate underdog anytime soon. For software engineers interested in the processor industry—or who just really like working closely with hardware teams—a gig at a place like Intel or Nvidia could prove a dream come true.
But how much does a gig at either Intel or Nvidia pay? Fortunately, we have levels.fyi, which crowdsources salary data from various technology companies. Here’s the comparison of Intel’s “Grade 8” (i.e., a roughly midlevel staff engineer) with Nvidia’s IC4, which levels.fyi places at roughly the same level:
What’s the takeaway here? Nvidia pays generous salaries and stock options, but Intel is big on bonuses. Now let’s look at compensation one level up: Intel’s “Grade 9” (more senior engineers) versus Nvidia’s IC5:
It’s the same pattern here: Nvidia triumphs when it comes to salaries and stock, but Intel is all about those bonuses.
The data presented by levels.fyi is a bit higher than the crowdsourced information over at Glassdoor, which plugs Intel software engineer compensation at $102,044, with an additional $8,157 in bonuses, $7,081 in stock, and (for some employees) roughly $6,860 in profit-sharing.
Meanwhile, Glassdoor estimates Nvidia software engineer base pay at $121,845, with cash bonuses of $10,215, stock bonuses of $6,512, and virtually no profit-sharing. That seems to match the pattern established by levels.fyi: Nvidia pays more, although Intel is bigger on awarding bonuses.
What does this data tell us about the broader tech industry? There are potentially some parallels between Intel and IBM, another old-school tech company that is struggling to adapt to some new paradigms. IBM pays relatively little compared to some of its industry peers, especially when it comes to stock. Big Blue’s staff engineers average $112,400 in base salary, with an average bonus of $2,300 and stock worth $900 per year; this is pretty generous by the standards of most industries (for instance, consider that median household income in the United States is just under $60,000 per year), but it lags behind what other big tech firms pay their ascending engineers.
Why does pay lag for many technologists at some of these legacy firms? That’s an excellent question. Like every corporate entity in the technology industry, they’re willing to shell out big bucks and even bigger stock options in order to attract professionals with highly specialized skills, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (A.I.). Perhaps executives at these firms figure that there will always be software engineers who want to join their ranks, no matter how the pay matches up to rival firms (or startups).