Which Specialized Skills Can Boost Software Developer Salaries the Most?

Can mastering cutting-edge skills such as machine learning lead to higher salaries?

That’s a vital question for pretty much every technologist, since specialized skills take so much time and effort to learn. You wouldn’t want to devote all that energy for no results. Fortunately, an analysis of crowdsourced compensation data from levels.fyi shows that, at least for software engineers, specialization really can pay off.

Although crowdsourcing isn’t always the most scientific method of determining salary, the numbers presented by levels.fyi usually align pretty well with other sources such as Glassdoor; as a result, we’re inclined to trust their ranges. For the breakdowns below, “compensation” incorporates not only salary, but also bonuses and stock:

As you can see from the above, software engineers who’ve specialized in machine learning, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), and blockchain can score sizable compensation—higher than what you might earn by focusing on mobile or web development, for example.

There’s a straightforward reason for this. Highly specialized skills such as machine learning have been mastered by a comparatively smaller group of professionals—not nearly enough to meet demand, in many cases. Rising demand leads to higher salaries. There’s a much larger pool of engineers who’ve specialized in more common elements of the tech stack, such as networking and production; since it’s easier for organizations to find these professionals, they don’t necessarily need to pay as much to land talent.

Other factors go into overall compensation, of course. The size of your company, its location, and your level of experience can all impact the size of your paycheck, bonus, and stock options. If you do decide to pursue a particular specialization, keep in mind that you’ll always need to keep your skills up-to-date; it’s a learning process that never ends, especially in a rapidly evolving field such as machine learning.