Tech or Finance or Medicine or Law: Which Pays the Most?

Which pays better: tech, banking, consulting, medicine, or the law?

A new and significant discussion point has been added to the perennial debate about which career is best if your principal objective is earning money, and so we are addressing the issue again. Which career will best set you up financially in the first 10 years of your working life (even if you don’t take into account a tech internship with absurd pay)?

mysterious spreadsheet says that, yep, it’s still banking. Circulated on forums such as Wall Street Oasis and Blind just after Christmas, the sheet suggests that, over a 10-year period, working in investment banking (i.e., M&A and equity and debt capital markets roles, not banking tech and quant roles) for a top tier bank you can earn a cumulative $3.7 million. This apparently compares to $1.3 million over the same period in medicine; $3.5 million in software engineering at a FAANG company (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google); $2.3 million in management consulting at a McKinsey, Bain or BCG; and $2.1 million in big law at a Cravath Swaine and Moore or Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

Created by someone who describes himself as a first-year analyst in an investment bank, these figures are for high achievers only. That’s to say, this is purportedly how much you can earn as a top performer at the top firms in each industry, not how much you can earn as a middling employee at a non-elite-household name:

Validation of these stats isn’t easy, in particular for senior roles where variations between individuals can be enormous; but at least in a tech context, we have crowdsourced data from Glassdoor, levels.fyi, and other sites that can give us a good idea of what senior performers earn.

For example, at Google’s L7 level (i.e., senior staff software engineer), annual salary can top $256,059 per year, coupled with $286,176 in stock options and a bonus of $83,294. That’s pretty good, but things get even better for Google Distinguished Engineers, where payouts (according to what little data levels.fyi has received) can top a million dollars annually.

Meanwhile, at Microsoft, engineers who hit level 67 (i.e., principal software development engineer, and roughly equivalent to Google’s L7) are paid roughly $222,714 in salary, along with $226,000 per year in stock options, and a bonus of $73,143. But again, those technologists at Microsoft with lengthy tenures are also positioned to earn quite a bit more. It’s a similar story at the other major tech companies; if you were lucky enough to get in several years back, you probably have equity and bonuses that will majorly boost your salary.

We hasten to add that earnings alone don’t take into consideration the number of hours worked or hourly pay, or equity. With junior bankers still complaining about working weeks of 80 hours+ banking may be seem less lucrative when you factor-in the amount of life sacrificed for the $3.7 million.

A modified version of this article originally appeared on eFinancialCareers.

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