The demand for software is at an all-time high, and consequently, so is the demand for software engineers. In this article, we will touch upon software engineer salaries and the top paid skills.

As many hopefuls gather their education and experience to jump into the field, it can be a daunting task to know which specific job will be the best fit. After all, you don’t want to invest a decade of your life ascending the pay scale of a position only to find out you could have maximized your income and talents elsewhere. Hopefully, the following article will provide some insight into the roles and skills with the highest earning potential, so you’ll be better equipped to decide which direction to go in when it’s time to take that entry-level position.

Top Paying Skills as a Software Engineer

The following is a list of software engineer skills with the highest earning potential from starting salaries to max-level income that is acquired after experience. The list is based solely on income, and not necessarily the most freedom or flexibility.

  • Mastery of Programming Languages – This one should be obvious, as programming is the foundation of software development. The language you choose–be it C++, Ruby, Java, Python, or HTML5–is less important than your mastery of it. Unless you decide to go with an obscure or obsolete language, there will always be a demand for skilled programmers. Indeed, it can be said that the terms “software engineer” and “computer programmer” have become synonymous, since the programming aspect is such a large part of software development. Mastering multiple languages has the same benefit as being multilingual in terms of spoken languages; it offers the opportunity to spread your skills across a wider range of tasks and become more a more valuable asset.
  • Refactoring – This is defined as “restructuring code without changing its function.” Since software is always derivative of established forms that came before it, many development companies are trying to find more efficient means to complete the same tasks. Refactoring can be coming up with a more elegant version of robust code, a truncated version of a complex procedure, or simply creating methods that take up less memory.
  • Algorithms and Data Structures – Most of the more complex procedures in software engineering will involve high-level math. While it is possible to create working software without algorithms, the “machine learning” aspects present in the most popular applications need more than the typical if-then statements to function.
  • BETA Testing – Every big project needs beta testers. High-income testers understand how to create test cases, create useful reports that inform the development teams, and remain critically objective. It helps to have an extensive understanding of development, both from a communication standpoint and to provide insight in the language of those that must make the corrections.

Best Roles in Software Engineering

Now that you know the best roles in software engineering, we’ll define (thanks to PayScale) the specific roles that are the most lucrative in terms of software engineer salaries:

  • Project Manager – In software engineering, seasoned Project Managers will always be able to find work. The job requires extensive knowledge of lesser roles in order to manage them properly, and a willingness to accept ultimate responsibility for meeting deadlines. This responsibility culminates in much higher pay than the team members and provides the resume’ filling experience that allows Project Managers to name their price for important projects.
    • Project Manager Salary: $96,000 and up.
  • Product Owner–This role sounds like it refers to the customer, but it actually references a role similar to the project manager in Agile methodologies like Scrum. As the role requires understanding, of the stakeholder’s perspective as well as the development side, it is a vital part of the agile process, and thus demands higher income than most roles.
    • Product Owner Salary: $91,000 on average.
  • Scrum Master/Team Lead–In both agile and traditional development, these roles could be considered “middle management” to the hierarchy of a project. They have more say and demand higher pay than team members and are considered viable stepping stones to the more prestigious roles listed above.
    • Certified Scrum Master Salary: $87,000 on average.

Note that the above software engineer salaries reflect a culmination of the different skills provided in the section before. To earn the highest salary as a software engineer, it is advisable to spread your skill set across a range of areas since each of the most lucrative roles require some dexterity. However, skills shouldn’t be spread so thin that you don’t master any of them. There are still plenty of opportunities for those who choose to focus on a specific skill instead of moving up into management.

Have a quick look at the evolution of software engineer salaries