The Dawn of 2020 Was a Boom Time for Tech Salaries

Illustration of hands over a piggybank protecting it from a symbol of COVID-19.
Illustration: iStockphoto

By: Tekla S. Perry

Tech salaries grew in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom in 2019, with the U.S. average up to US $146,000 (an 8 percent increase over 2018) and the average of all three regions up to $130,000 (a less than 1 percent increase).

That’s the takeaway from Hired’s 2020 State of Salaries report. Or it would be, had things not changed so much between the close of 2019 and now. Normally, Hired’s report indicated, the information contained in its pages should be looked upon as a trendline that will progress into the year ahead. But what it means right now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, is anyone’s guess.

“Tech HQ’s are closed, work from home is the new normal, Amazon and Netflix usage is soaring, well known tech unicorns like UberLyft, and Airbnb are laying off thousands,” the report states. Meanwhile, Facebook is looking to adjust salaries up or down based on cost of living in exchange for the freedom to work remotely. Whether things will return to the old normal is unclear.

Still, it’s worth looking at the gains made in 2019, because we’ll certainly be referring to these numbers as we monitor the engineering jobs marketplace during and after the pandemic.

According to Hired’s analysis of 425,000 interview requests and job offers made to tech professionals in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., tech workers in Austin and Toronto saw the biggest increase in salary offers, both up 10 percent over 2018.

Still, in terms of raw numbers, average tech salaries in the San Francisco Bay Area stayed on top, averaging $155,000 (up 7 percent) in 2019. When salaries are adjusted for the cost of living, though, many regions are well ahead of the San Francisco Bay Area: Austin’s $137,000 annual 2019 salary, for example, is equivalent to pay of $224,000 in the Bay Area. However, recent discussions by large tech companies about adjusting salaries based on the cost of living when employees relocate may change that picture in a few years.

In terms of specific tech roles, project managers continue to command higher salaries than software, data science, and design engineers. In the U.S., data science salaries recovered after a dip last year; in the United Kingdom, they remained relatively flat, while product management salaries continued a steep climb.

That’s the picture for 2019. To predict changes in 2020, Hired surveyed 2300 tech professionals in the U.S., Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. The mixed results show just how unpredictable things are right now. More than half of the respondents indicated that they expect to receive a raise of as much as 20 percent in the next six months, while 42 percent are concerned that layoffs may be on the horizon.

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 16 June 2020.