There are many fields in which students have inflated expectations of their post-graduation income, but computer science isn’t one of them. Students in computer science degree programs tend to underestimate their earning potential. One survey conducted by Clever found that salaries in computer science careers tend to outstrip student expectations by $5,000 to $10,000. While the survey examined undergraduate data, it’s not unrealistic to presume that this also holds true for computer science graduate students given the substantial salary-boosting power of the Master of Computer Science. When Forbes ranked graduate degrees by pay increase, computer science master’s degrees offered one of the most significant bumps. Early-career salaries averaged out to about $87,000. In contrast, master’s holders earned closer to $110,000.
Education might not be front of mind when you’re thinking about which computer science job pays the most, but it should be. According to Stack Overflow’s 2021 Developer Survey, more than 20 percent of tech workers and close to 25 percent of developers surveyed have master’s degrees. That speaks to the fact that you will almost certainly need a Master of Science in Computer Science, or MSCS, to advance into any of the top-paying positions in computer science, whether technical or administrative. Enumerating those roles is tough because computer science is a broad field with hundreds of titles. Further muddling matters is that earning a graduate degree can help you negotiate for higher pay in your current role—no title change necessary.
This ambiguity can be frustrating if your goal is to earn as much as possible in a computer science career. Fortunately, there’s no downside to pursuing a graduate degree in computer science such as the online MSCS from Tufts School of Engineering. Whether you want to stay in technical roles, advance into management, or found your own company, a graduate degree from a respected institution like Tufts University will help you earn more in any of the roles below.
Do Computer Science Jobs Pay Well?
Computer science salaries tend to be high across the board, though they vary significantly by title, educational attainment, and employer. For example, an entry level QA specialist with an associate’s degree might earn $64,000—much higher than the typical associate’s degree holder’s average salary—while a software engineer with a master’s can earn $110,000. The median annual wage for computer science bachelor’s degree holders is a respectable $85,000, which is significantly higher than the median household income in the United States. And a front-end developer at Amazon might earn $118,000, while a front-end developer at Netflix can earn more than $280,000.
Pinning down which computer science job pays the most is complicated because there are so many branches in this discipline—and new roles appear whenever there are breakthroughs in the field and new technologies emerge. Computer programmers, software systems administrators, database administrators, information security analysts, web designers, DevOps engineers, and network security engineers working in computer science all do very different work. And while computer science, Silicon Valley, and software engineering are linked in the public consciousness, there are thousands of jobs for computer science professionals in research and fields as diverse as financial management, retail, and aerospace engineering. This abundance of positions reflects just how broad applied computer science is and how demand for efficient and secure digital services transcends industry.
Which Field Is Best in Computer Science?
Your aptitudes and interests will determine the answer to this question, even if you are strongly motivated by salary, because there are high-paying jobs for computer science professionals in most subfields. “One of the greatest things about a computer science degree is that it allows you to work in whatever industry you desire,” says Sam Gavis-Hughson, CEO and founder of Byte by Byte, in an interview with US News & World Report. Retail firms, manufacturing plants, healthcare providers, research laboratories, entertainment companies, and marketing firms have information technology (IT), cybersecurity, software engineering, analytics, computer networking, and automation needs.
Some jobs for computer scientists fit neatly into categories such as app development, cybersecurity, database development, information management, software engineering, or AI engineering. Within each of these and other categories, there are subcategories—each encompassing many different roles. For example, if you find computer architecture fascinating, you might become a computer systems architect earning $116,000 or an applications architect earning $118,000. If you believe in the potential of artificial intelligence to change the world, you can earn $112,000 as an applied machine learning engineer or $128,000 as an AI engineer.
Be aware that the salaries listed above are nationwide averages. In some regions, technology professionals earn more or less, depending on demand and cost of living. Computer science professionals in Boston, for example, earn about $139,000, while people in the same types of roles in Seattle might earn $134,000.
There are Notable Salary Discrepancies
Several factors drive discrepancies in computer science salaries. First, there are numerous branches of computer science and many job titles within each. An MSCS can support careers in specialty areas with very different pay scales. Then there’s the fact that computer science professionals work in industries as diverse as retail, healthcare, and entertainment, not just in tech. Technology firms have a well-deserved reputation for paying skilled developers, engineers, and computer systems analysts top dollar. Still, according to a Hired report on technology workers, tech workers earn more in transportation, education, and communications. Finally, specific skills and specializations tend to command higher pay. For example, cybersecurity and information systems security, technology management, software architecture, and mobile development professionals earn some of the highest salaries in computer science. The takeaway is that predicting how much you’ll earn may pose a challenge, even if you earn a computer science master’s and aim for the computer science jobs that pay the most.
Which Job Has the Highest Salary in Computer Science?
Some of the highest-paying jobs for computer science master’s program graduates include chief technology officer ($163,000), vice president of engineering ($178,000), software engineering director ($152,000), and senior engineering manager ($149,000). Of these, only one is a technical role because the highest-paying computer science jobs tend to involve project oversight and people management, not hands-on work. That doesn’t mean you can’t become a top earner in the field of computer science while still in a technical role. Front-end developers at Netflix, for instance, earn nearly as much as engineering managers. However, you will have to be strategic in your approach to both education and opportunity if your goal is to boost your income in engineering roles.
Getting a master’s in computer science is a crucial step in your journey toward becoming a high earner. Still, it’s only a first step—particularly if you don’t want to transition into management. Knowing the market value of your technical skills and experience is crucial. Look at where—geographically and otherwise—computer and IT professionals with your skills and experience earn the most. A cybersecurity analyst at a Silicon Valley-based technology company may earn more than the vice president of cybersecurity at a retail company in Atlanta. A front-end developer at Facebook may earn twice as much as a front-end developer at Google, but a software engineer III earns almost $50,000 more at Google than at Facebook.
Master’s Degree Holders Earn More Regardless of Title
Do you need a master’s degree to write code or participate in the development process? No. For that, you just need to know one or more programming languages such as Python or Java and understand algorithms. Do you need one to work in computer science as a software architect, network engineer, or mobile application developer? Not necessarily. Will you need one to become a top earner in the field of computer science? Signs point to yes. While salaries are high across the board in computer science careers, salary aggregators such as PayScale and Indeed report the highest salaries in computer science tend to go to MSCS holders.
The Master of Science in Computer Science has this effect on earning potential for several reasons. For instance, it’s easier to land more senior positions with a graduate-level computer science degree on your resume. After graduating from a top-tier MSCS program, you will also have the kinds of advanced computer science skills that command sizable wage premiums—and soft skills such as problem-solving that will give you a competitive edge in an evolving technology marketplace. Finally, computer science master’s programs at elite institutions such as Tufts University prioritize collaboration and network-building in the MSCS curriculum, so you will graduate with greater access to lucrative career opportunities.
So, Which Computer Science Job Pays the Most?
As illustrated above, answering this question is complicated. Salaries in computer science vary widely based on numerous factors, and titles don’t always affect wages in predictable ways. There’s also the fact that the scope of a role may determine salary at one firm, while another firm might link pay to education or years of experience. And because there are more open positions than qualified applicants in some subfields of computer science, highly skilled and qualified employees may have significant bargaining power when it comes to pay.
Consequently, the question ‘Which computer science job pays the most?’ is at best a set of thought-provoking data points and, at worst, a distraction. The employment outlook for computer science jobs is strong—particularly in areas such as software development, information security, and research. A growing technology skills gap could leave more than 4 million computer science and technology jobs unfilled by 2030. You don’t have to set your sights on the top-paying computer science jobs to fulfill your earning potential. You can look instead at master’s degree programs and professional opportunities that align with your passions and aptitudes, secure in the knowledge that nearly all of the jobs in your areas of interest will pay well.