Many technologists have expressed a desire to work at either Tesla or SpaceX, both run by Elon Musk. Given that general interest, it’s worth exploring how much these companies pay entry-level software engineers.
For an answer, we turn to levels.fyi, which crowdsources its compensation data. As we’ve pointed out before, there are some downsides in relying on crowdsourcing to determine how much people are paid; sample sizes are often small, for instance. However, levels.fyi’s compensation data has often matched what we find via other sources, such as Glassdoor, so we feel comfortable using its numbers as ballpark estimates.
For the purposes of this exercise, we also threw in compensation data from Cruise, a subsidiary of GM focused on autonomous driving. Although Tesla currently dominates the electric-vehicle market, there’s every possibility that companies such as Cruise will become fiercer competitors as the market matures and more people shift their vehicle preferences from gasoline-powered to EV. (We also tried to identify SpaceX competitors, but levels.fyi doesn’t offer solid salary information for Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s spaceflight startup, or Lockheed Martin, one of SpaceX’s primary rivals for U.S. government contracts.)
Here’s the breakdown; again, this is for entry-level software engineers:
What does this data tell us? Elon Musk pays entry-level software engineers well, but not appreciably more than you might find at other companies. Tesla also follows the pattern of other tech giants such as Apple, where engineers with more seniority are given larger and larger chunks of stock; once you reach a certain level, not only is your overall compensation quite large, but a significant portion of it comes from stock as opposed to salary or bonuses.
If you’re interested in working for either Tesla or SpaceX in any kind of engineering role, be prepared for a rigorous interview process. In 2017, Musk himself told the World Government Summit that he asked every job candidate: “Tell me about some of the most difficult problems you worked on and how you solved them.”
Musk added at the time: “The people who really solved the problem, they know exactly how they solved it, they know the little details.” Even if you apply for a job at Tesla or SpaceX and don’t end up interviewed by Musk himself, chances are good that the hiring manager will pursue a similar line of inquiry; make sure you have some narratives ready about how you solved some tricky engineering issues.