Software Developer: Really the ‘Best’ Job in America?

Every year, U.S. News and World Report generates a list of the “best jobs” in America. For 2020, software developer topped that particular list—the only technology-related job to make the Top 10. 

Why did software developer place so highly? A generous median salary (which the magazine estimated at $103,620) combined with a low unemployment rate had a lot to do with it. There’s also a lot of growth potential in the role, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting a 25 percent growth in related jobs between 2018 and 2028. 

In addition to median salary, unemployment, and future growth projections, U.S. News and World Report used a variety of other factors for its methodology, including stress levels and work-life balance. 

Many of the other jobs topping this list were medical: dentist (in second place), physician assistant, orthodontist, nurse practitioner, and so on. These roles obviously come with high salaries and solid job prospects; but it seems a bit of a stretch to describe many medical or technology jobs as “low stress.” Work-life balance also varies from company to company; although more tech firms have focused on making sure their employees are happy with their hours and workloads, things like “crunch time” remain a persistent problem in many parts of the industry. 

In any case, other sources confirm the “generous salaries” part, especially for software developers and engineers who work for larger, well-established companies. Those who manage to build a career can easily pull down six-figure salaries. For example, levels.fyi, which anonymously crowdsources software-engineer compensation from across the tech industry, has a breakdown of what Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and other firms pay out in stock, bonuses, and base salary:  

The key, as with any other job or industry, is specialization. An iOS developer who is skilled in Swift and Objective-C, for example, can find good work building iOS apps, helping companies maintain legacy macOS code, and other functions (and earn a pretty good salary while doing it). Those with the right skills can also negotiate for those benefits that can ensure better work-life balance and less stress—making a developer job truly the best job. 

7 Responses to “Software Developer: Really the ‘Best’ Job in America?”

  1. Its not, by far. Its made out to be some unicorn job that will make you untold amounts of money out of the gate (or even later in your career). In reality its a middle class, middle income job for 90% of the folks out there. On top of that the amount of time and money you have to spend just to keep your head above water and the stress involved makes it not worth it. Then when you hit 40 you are aged out, or have to run yourself ragged just to keep up. Remember, 200k is an ENTRY LEVEL salary in places like SF, NYC, Boston, where the jobs are. Crappy commutes, crowded cities….you really want to live like that? Remote work is only for some folks, its the exception, not the norm. What happens when that remote job where you can live in the middle of the country for 150k goes away? Whoops! Uproot and back to the SF grind!

  2. NotConvinced

    I don’t understand why this job keeps in the top lists. I’ve been doing it over 20 years.

    One thing that’s clear, you get no respect. You’re just a “dev”. You go from junior to senior/lead and hit a dead end.

    If your a web dev, you have to learn new front end languages/frameworks every couple years. That takes its toll on you if you are in your 40s.

    If you went to a vocational college, hardly anything applies once you get in a few years into your career because technology changes so quickly.

    You need to change jobs quickly if you particular dev shop doesn’t keep up with the industry trends, or you risk becoming obsolete.

    Stress can be a huge issue if you are in doing greenfield contract work, or production support.

  3. HappyAsAClam

    Software Engineer for 6 years… Here my 2 cents.
    Those are some cynical posts. I feel most of the complaints from software engineers are because they really don’t know how good they have it.
    I was in sales the first 18 years of my career. That’s a tough job! Insane hours, insane stress, huge losses in pay just because the client’s corporate headquarters went with a new national contract to save money.
    I started in software engineering at the age of 38 and no, I wasn’t phased out by 40, I was treasured as someone who is consistently at my desk 40 hours each week. I work remotely and most of the 20 year olds who start their day at noon DO NOT complete a 40 hour work week in this line of work. However, no one ever says anything to them as long as they push code by the end of the week.
    In sales, it takes YEARS to build your accounts up past a 100k annual salary. 2 years into software engineering, I tripped over that mark accidentally with a huge discretionary year end bonus.
    I pay $0 for an awesome health benefits package, every bank holiday paid, 20 days of vacation per year and the flexibility to work any hours I would like during the week.
    Oh… and the best part… In sales I was juggling 30 tasks per day. The multi-tasking would cause me to grind my teeth at night. I had high blood pressure.
    Now, I work on ONE task at a time. No one EVER calls to pull me off that task or throw another one on my plate. Sure, there are a few times we work over-time to complete a critical sprint (a 3 week time frame to complete certain coding tasks), but it used to be the norm EVERY week in sales.
    My phone would ring with clients during Christmas dinner.
    I hear the complaints from the other devs who are disgruntled because it’s not glamorous work and their compensation package of $200k+ doesn’t go very far in the cities.
    So what if we need to learn new frameworks every 4 years? Try being a physician and keeping up with drugs and medical technology past 40.
    Truth is… It is the best job. I feel like I work for myself. Like I’m living the life of a famous writer. Making my own hours in my own house simply typing away and making REALLY GOOD money for it.
    Try to find a better job than that.
    I hope this balances out the above posts for future readers.
    🙂

    • Amy Gleich

      Hi there! Husband looking to get into software developer at abs 38 – has masters in real estate development that never panned out – what did you do school/training-wise to switch? Thanks for any info!!!

  4. I’ve been doing this job for 15 years. Several of the commenters above clearly don’t do this job. 1) You will ALWAYS be able to find a job working remotely, if that’s what you want. Not everyone will offer jobs remotely, but you can find them. 2) Yes, of course it’s a “middle class job”. It’s the upper end of a middle class job, like an engineer or some medical fields. You don’t get rich doing this, unless, as in most fields, you start your own business or sell a product. 3) No it is not easy for most people to learn. Maybe for Godel or Einstein it’d have been real easy, but for the rest of us, learning is hard work. 4) No, you don’t have to live in San Francisco or NY. That’s silly. There are all sorts of these positions, literally all over the place. That’s like thinking you’ll only find an automotive job in Detroit. Sure it’s easier, but that just is not the way it works. 6) No you DO NOT have to learn new technologies every couple of years, and no, technologies do not become outdated every couple of years. Usually when that’s the case, you’re working for a consulting company, that’s desperately trying to get contracts and will tell their customers they have “experts” in an area, who aren’t. Or developer’s who think they’re “experts” in a programming language or framework, and have been doing it for like 6 months lol. Sorry, they’re not. When people talk about the changing nature of the industry, they’re referring to the hardware, CPU’s, memory, hardware capabilities etc that ARE being upgraded all the time. In other words, go to Monster or Dice, or whatever and search for “COBOL” jobs. 50 years later, there are still COBOL jobs. If you are good in COBOL, you have almost zero chance of being unemployed. Go lookup “Java”, and you’ll see that 25 years later, there’s still TONS of jobs. Go lookup C++ , and 35 or how many years it’s been later, there’s still tons of jobs.
    The key here, is if you’re going to learn the “newest and greatest” frameworks and languages, that do in fact come up all the time, DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Don’t spend a year learning the thing, just because their sales people and their promoters go around convincing a bunch of gullible developer’s that the whole industry is going to be shaken to the core by this newest framework lol. I’ve called BS on that so many times, and never regretted it. The technologies I started using 15 years ago, are still the one’s I use today. Sure, I’ve had to do things in various other frameworks to get a job done, but that isn’t a requirement to have a career in this field. For the jobs that do require it, they’re usually consulting companies, and they usually come and go as quickly as the silly tactics they try to employ to get business.
    Just like w/ any job, you have to be
    In short, it’s a good career if you aren’t gullible, and you work hard at learning it. The “best” seems hard to believe though.

  5. I’m going to add my positive story to these comments. I started my software career in my mid thirties and like the person above, it wasn’t over when I hit my 40s – instead I’ve been on a steady upward trajectory salary and growth-wise. I see nothing but potential in my future and all I had to do was get over always being the oldest person in the room and having people younger than me be my boss. People who are more senior than me are still finding fulfillment in their jobs too, as they can either go the IC route up to Principal/architect or go the managerial route up to an Executive.

    And remote jobs honestly are the norm nowadays, but there were plenty of remote jobs pre-COVID. Also I live in one of those crowded urban areas that someone not so fondly mentioned above, and I love it. To each their own.

    This is a great profession.