Software Developer Salary: How does PayScale understand what I do?

software developer, salary survey, job titles, dental hygienist, salary range, List Project Management Software Developer, Administrator Rights Software Developer, Microsoft Access Software Developers in Portland, Oregon, Software Developer Computer Programmer Job, Software developer salary, Software Developers and Security Training It was great to see a blog post on TechCrunch about PayScale. Even better were the comments: they reminded me of questions we regularly get about the effectiveness of our salary survey.

One common question about our salary survey is some variation of, "My job title is software developer. How does PayScale take into account what I actually do?" Software developer can mean everything from writing Excel macros to automating a spreadsheet (I've been doing too much of that lately), to re-writing the Windows NT kernel for 64 bit computing.

How does PayScale handle this variation of duties and job titles?

50,000 Job Titles in one Salary Survey!

We continually are looking for new job titles. While we have about 6,000 job titles for which we currently can generate salary comparisons, we know there are closer to 50,000 different titles (in English alone) that people use to describe their jobs. We like this richness and are aggressively working to enable more of it in our system.

However, with richness comes fragmentation. There may not be many "AJAX Gurus" in our database yet. This is why we have the "similar job" question at the end of the survey. By looking at people who have related titles, like software developer, even the AJAX Gurus can get a feeling for what the market pay for their job is.

Finding All the Software Developer Salaries

To give you a feeling for the scope of Payscale's challenge, we have data from about 59,000 people who call themselves some variation of software developer.

Looking at the 59,000 software developers, it quickly becomes clear that one company's "List Project Management Software Developer" is another's "Administrator Rights Software Developer." While job title is correlated with pay, it is far from being enough information alone to produce an accurate estimate of what someone should be paid.

Our data administrators look at job descriptions for titles as they are used in the "wild," e.g., on job boards and company sites. We handle spurious variation by associating the job titles. Generally, we only combine different job titles in one report when the common usage makes the two titles synonyms, e.g., "Software Developer" and "Software Developers and Security Training."

Software Developer Computer Programmer Job and....

Even if we perfectly group job titles for our salary survey, variation within a job title still remains. Important characteristics beyond job title determine the salary range:

  • Company/industry: Where the company/job is located, the industry in which it competes, its size and organization, etc., all may affect the pay for a job.
  • Tasks/responsibilities: What the employee does on the job that the employer will value.
  • Education/skills/experience: These are the transferable abilities an employee brings to a job.

To capture these characteristics, we ask more questions. Sometimes, all the important characteristics for a job can be captured in just two questions. For example, PayScale's salary report tells me the following:

  • Job title: Dental Hygienist
  • Location: Chicago
  • Typical pay: is $34.50/hour, with a typical range (middle 50%) of $33 and $37

This is an amazingly precise report: the typical pay range for a dental hygienist varies only 6% from median. This is because the job title "dental hygienist" captures a lot about the employer, job responsibilities and education. Also, after the first couple of years, more experience doesn't lead to higher pay for dental hygienists.

Microsoft Access Software Developers in Portland, Oregon

Compare with the following:

  • Job title: Software Engineer
  • Location: Portland, Oregon
  • Typical pay: is $72,000/year, with a typical salary range of $59,000 and $87,000

Humm... this is not so precise. The typical salary range is more than 3 times as broad (+/-20%)! Worse, the typical answer is very wrong for sub-sets of developers. For example, make the employer a university, and the typical pay drops to $53,000 (26% lower); require 10 years of experience, and pay goes up.

Software developer salary is a function of many of the important characteristics listed above and more. The job title and location just does not capture enough of this information.

That is why we ask developers more questions than we ask dental hygienists. Yes, the questions can be extensive, but this is how we learn what makes you, your job, and your employer, unique. With this knowledge, we can do a better job of matching your information with others like you.

By the way, if you haven't tried our salary survey, give it a try.


Dr. Al Lee


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