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An inside look at software developer pay in 2015

TechTarget's 2015 salary survey shows developers are mostly optimistic, content and challenged by new technology. Find out why software developer pay could stand to be increased.

Apparently, it's still a great time to be a software developer.

According to TechTarget's Annual IT Salary and Careers Survey, software developers in 2015 were largely happy with their jobs, optimistic about the future and still relatively well-paid. And with a worldwide shortage of software developers not likely to end soon, the future continues to look bright for the profession.

Between June and September of this year, TechTarget conducted an online survey of 1,783 IT professionals, of which 392 described themselves as working in application development and design.

This year, software developer pay averaged $108,738, down slightly from last year's $110,340, and reported a total average compensation package worth $119,783. The reason for the slight decrease in salary: Last year's survey included almost double the number of IT executives than those who responded this year. Overall, 60% said their total compensation improved this year over last year. In that time, 48% got raises -- with an average salary bump of 5.6% -- while 43% received bonuses, which averaged $14,614.

Why'd they get those raises and bonuses? For 58%, it was successfully helping achieve a business goal or outcome. Other measures of success included on-time completion of projects (54%), improved product or service delivery (42%), ensuring reliability of IT services (33%) and meeting productivity goals (30%).

But, clearly, not everyone who took the survey is happy with software developer pay these days. The problem, said survey respondent and developer Shayne Gray, is that nontechnical companies really don't know how to treat -- or pay -- developers. "It is my belief that a lot of developers feel underpaid," Gray said. "For instance, at one point, I applied for a position for a developer job at a company that makes garage doors. 

The problem is that some of these companies that are more conservative do not understand developers. At this previously mentioned garage door company, I was told during the interview that it took management a long time to realize that if a developer was not typing on his keyboard, he was still working, because a lot of the job is mental and thinking. Needless to say, I didn't pursue that opportunity, as I know it would lead to a lot of frustrations with management."

The future of software developer pay

Frustrations aside, survey participants predicted application management, big data and business process management will be the largest areas of focus for the coming year. But cloud, security and mobile were also mentioned as priorities. As COO of healthcare provider system Millennium Collaborative Care in Buffalo, N.Y., administrative director Greg Turner, who was a survey respondent, is experiencing interest in those areas firsthand.

"With telemedicine, we're looking at being able to capture vital stats from smartphones about patients and get real-time measures, so we can continually get a real-time view of our population and a 360 [degree] view of the individual," he said. "The data scientist analytics role is going to be a huge, critical success factor for us." 

Those areas are mission-critical for Turner's company, but what are the reasons other companies are focusing on those specific technologies? New customer acquisition was the most important, with 46% citing it. Other reasons included operational efficiencies (34%), better customer service (30%), new product or service delivery models (30%) and simplified business processes (29%). Just 2% of respondents said it was too early to know for certain.

Software developers mostly like where they are, but are also likely to at least listen to a job offer.

Software developers mostly like where they are, but are also likely to at least listen to a job offer. A full 24% are completely satisfied with their current role, while 43% aren't looking for another job, but would be open to a new opportunity. Only 14% are actively looking for a new job.

They won't have to look too hard. Over the past year, 57% of developers received at least five qualified job offers from recruiters, according to The Harvey Nash Technology Survey 2015. Harvey Nash, which is an international recruitment firm based in London, also found that Web developers, software engineers and software developers were the least likely people to actively look for and apply for jobs, said associate director Bhavin Joshi.

Joshi suggested that means developers -- in demand around the world thanks to the shortage -- don't actually have to go out and look for work. Rather, the jobs will come to them, he said. That's apparently even more true in the U.S.: Joshi's survey showed only 16% of U.S.-based developers were actively job seeking, versus 22% in the U.K., which means American developers are more likely to wait for the phone to ring.

Developer Richard Bober, who was a survey participant, said he's gotten 20 unsolicited offers from headhunters over the last two years. None were sufficiently attractive to tempt him to leave his current position.

"Changing employers is something of an ordeal," he said. "There is a comfort zone that develops with your co-workers and the projects you're assigned to. If you like your co-workers and you like the work, unless there is a big jump in salary offered, the new job isn't as appealing. However, if you don't like the direction of your IT department, or you don't like your manager or co-workers, and you don't feel appreciated, then it doesn't take much to convince someone to make a move."

Innovation leads to better morale

With so many developers not actively looking for work, it might be tempting to think the overall IT mood is optimistic, but the reality might be best described as neutral. For example, 41% of developers surveyed said the mood in their IT department was "neither optimistic nor pessimistic," while 38% said it was optimistic. Why are the optimists happy? The No. 1 reason was because innovation is encouraged (55%), followed by improving business conditions (42%) and strong management (41%).

However, the naysayers agreed with Bober's analysis: 56% blamed ineffective management. But that wasn't all: 36% pointed to continuing IT budget cuts, 35% said career advancement was limited and 25% put the blame on job outsourcing.

More than one-third of respondents said their budgets and their head counts were larger this year than last year -- 33% in both cases -- and 37% said their departments are fully staffed.

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How do you feel about software developer pay?
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There's a lot of variation in salaries in my area of the mid-western U.S. The pay (in all industries) tends to be lower than other areas of the country, but software development is still a great career choice here. 
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Sad. Depending on where you work it's sad to think an entry lever programmer may make the same as the guy cooking your fries at a fast food joint whose min wage may be $15/hr. It's a fun career and offers lots of career paths. I have worked in a few states and the jump in pay for a 40 min drive may make you consider a position. I would not move because of the higher cost of living. But you have to weigh all the pros/cons of any job.

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It varies a lot by locality, and some companies make their living by being cheaper which puts downward pressure on them.

Sometimes I wonder if the we (customers) gets short changed because of it.
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Mostly awful though the degree of awfulness varies by locale. Still, we're in an odd time when the lowest possible number always wins. It seems very few are willing to pay for expertise and experience, let alone pay a fair wage to everyone else.  
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Since people don't eat money, don't build houses of money, and so on, I'm not that concerned about the pay itself.
I'm concerned about costs of living that outpace the pay.
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I agree with the cost of living factor. When healthcare goes up as well as utilities and other expenses by double digits, and your pay may go up a small 2-4%, you are going to keep falling behind the economy.  Multiply this by a 10 -20 year career and you are heading for the poor house.
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Mr. Gray hit the nail on the head. My company still seems reluctant to consider itself a technology company, even though every thing that we do is build on top of technology. 

If companies like this don't compensate developers and other IT professionals well, they can easily leave and go elsewhere. It makes it difficult to keep good people.
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One thing that always bothers me about these surveys is they often do not account for region and locality.  100K out in Silicon Family might not be enough to keep up with your mortgage, but out in West Virginia where I used to live that's a pretty hefty salary.
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