You can earn a lot of money as a technologist, especially if you specialize in a highly sought-after skill set such as machine learning or artificial intelligence (A.I.). But even with skills and experience, how does a technologist’s salary match up against that of a lawyer, doctor, or even someone in finance?
Before we plunge into the data, it’s important to emphasize the extreme variability in salaries for technology, medicine, finance, and the legal profession. A software developer who specializes in autonomous-driving technology at Google will almost certainly make more than a first-year analyst at an investment bank, for example. But that aside, we can still calculate the averages for various professions and draw some conclusions.
In order to obtain those numbers, we first turn to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Based on mid-2019 data, here’s how lawyers, physicians, and surgeons stack up against software and web developers, database administrators and architects, network and systems administrators, and other computer-related occupations:
(One slight caveat here: The BLS excludes certain roles from its surgeon and physician categories; for instance, it breaks out oral surgeons, physical therapists, anesthesiologists, and some other specialized roles. However, the BLS surgeon and physician categories seem to encompass the vast majority of U.S. medical jobs, so we’re confident in just focusing on those.)
Based on this data, it’s clear that lawyers and doctors make more than technologists, at least based on mean hourly and annual salary data. Putting aside the BLS data for a moment, we can also revisit this crowdsourced spreadsheet that drew a lot of attention at the beginning of the year, which shows that folks at top financial firms (such as Goldman Sachs) and consulting firms (such as McKinsey) can earn substantial salaries that match or surpass what even top earners make in medicine and management consulting.
Here’s a chart of that spreadsheet’s data, courtesy of Dice’s sister site eFinancialCareers; it takes debt from schooling into account when it comes to medicine and the law:
But this isn’t the whole picture, of course; technologists with the right experience and skills can earn compensation competitive with anyone in other professions. For example, at Google’s L7 level (i.e., senior staff software engineer), annual salary can top more than half a million per year—$256,059 in salary, coupled with $286,176 in stock options and a bonus of $83,294 (according to levels.fyi). Meanwhile, salaries for some A.I. specialists could drift into the millions of dollars per year.
Bottom line? You can earn quite a bit in a range of professions… but you may need to up-skill in order to get there.