The Ultimate Guide to Paying Developers in 2021

Overview of 2021 Developer Salaries

Developers are in high demand and competition between hiring companies is fierce. Tech salaries around the world are being jostled and/or pushed up in an attempt to keep pace. Are you still in the race?

At the end of last year, close to 15,000 developers and tech recruiters took part in our annual CodinGame survey. Thanks to their answers, we were able to extract exclusive salary data and valuable insights, such as:

  • The United States of America is the world’s top-paying country, with an average annual developer salary of $83,082.
  • Close to 1 in 3 developers say that “Salary negotiations” is what annoys them most about the interview process.
  • When asked what matters most to them when considering a job offer, developers placed “a competitive salary” in their top three, along with “technical challenges” and “flexible working hours”.

In this report, you’ll find data relevant to developer salaries across the world. In a nutshell, we’ll bring you the useful nuggets of information you need to answer these questions:

  • What should I pay developers?
  • Do I offer competitive tech salaries? Am I at risk of losing my developers because of salary?
  • How should I approach talking about salary to developers during the hiring process? How should I approach salary negotiations?
  • I’m not able to beat my competitors in terms of salary, so what can I do to remain attractive to developers?

IT salaries across the world: where does your country stand?

As part of our 2021 CodinGame survey, developers from all over the world (over 130 countries) shared their yearly salary with us. After analyzing the results, we were able to create a ranking of the 10 top-paying countries.

The best-paid developers work in the USA

The United States of America is the world’s top-paying country, with an average yearly software engineer gross salary of $83,082. What’s more, as tech startups continue to sprout up across the states, and the Big Five (or FAAMG – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google) continue to grow and invest, the US is set to keep its place at number one for the foreseeable future.

Salary and buying power

Canada, the United Kingdom and The Netherlands are also at the top of the list, with yearly gross salaries of over $60,000. However, it’s important to remember that buying power and quality of life aren’t directly linked to salary.

In the USA, for example, buying power is strongly impacted by the cost of health care, largely owned and operated by private sector organizations. If you recruit for a US company that provides paid-for health care, remember to shine light on this in salary negotiations.

In France, too, programmers are on the hunt for improved quality of life and buying power. Indeed, although the Parisian lifestyle appeals to many, an increasing number of French developers strive to leave the city – and are willing to sacrifice their sky-high developer salaries to do so.

If you recruit for a company based in an easy-going city (in France, or elsewhere) where life is bright and living costs are low, you can afford to lean on the shorter side of salary offers.

“My girlfriend was offered a job transfer to Montpellier and I was more enthusiastic than her to move away from Paris! I started looking for work myself.

I accepted a salary decrease (close to 20%). The salary difference has already been compensated by the difference in flat rent. And, I really enjoy being able to go to work by bicycle under the sun of the South of France – beats the noisy subway any day!”

- Antoine, Full-stack developer in Montpellier, France

IT salaries across the industries: how do professional ecosystems impact salary?

Developers from all kinds of industries took part in our survey.

Developer salaries across the industries

After cross-checking respondents’ industry and salary, we were able to draft a list of average international developer salaries per industry.

We found that the best-paid developers work in the “Security” industry, closely followed by the “Technology” and “Insurance” industries. There’s a difference of roughly $15,000 (annual) between developer salaries in these high-paying industries and developer salaries in lower-paying industries such as “Public administration” or “IT services”.

Insurance companies are upping the stakes

Traditionally an industry with little appetite for innovation, the insurance industry (third place in our ranking) is undergoing major changes. Today, insurance firms have no choice but to invest in and solidify their tech teams to keep up with innovations such as risk-free underwriting, on-the-spot purchasing, activation, and claims processing.

In short, the lack of available and qualified developers, insurance firms’ unattractive image as employers and the rise of new and upcoming “digital-first” competitors means that insurance companies must up the stakes to secure tech talent and keep up with the changing landscape.

The insurance sector is undergoing remarkable changes – but all industries are becoming increasingly tech-driven. Ask yourself: What are the upcoming trends and innovations in your industry? Do you need to anticipate an activity-specific salary increase?

How do CVs and salaries add up?

We believe that developers are much more than a CV. This is why we’re paving the way for skill-based hiring with our technical assessment platform: CodinGame Assessment.

You can’t rely on a CV to tell you whether or not a developer is right for your job opening. However, a CV will generally tell you a thing or two about developer candidates and their potential salary expectations.

Most tech CVs will include the basics: the position they’re applying for, their level of education and their previous experience.

How does this information influence developer salaries? We asked developers from all kinds of different backgrounds (from self-taught developers to those with PhDs, from junior developers to developers with over 20 years of professional experience) to share their salary information with us. Here’s what we found:

Position and salary

Software architects are the world’s best-paid developers, in front of data scientists. Both boast an average annual salary of over $55,000.

Architects (or software architects) 

What they do 

As senior-level software developers, architects translate business needs into complex technical solutions. They generally work with and coordinate a team of programmers and make high-level, structural decisions.

Talented architects have excellent communication, decision-making and project management skills, but they also know how to code. Indeed, they provide quality assurance to the programming team and are often required to develop project elements themselves.

Why they earn big bucks to do it

Software architects are particularly difficult to source.

For starters, there’s no clear academic path you can follow to become a software architect. The profession calls for experience and specific training, rather than a particular university degree. Thus, the position is generally off-limits to post-graduates and much less reachable than a position as a front-end developer, for example.

The software architect position is vital to companies looking to uphold their development standards, and calls for a comprehensive and well-rounded skill set (advanced technical skills and strategic foresight). This results in two things:

  • Competition is fierce to grab these talented and versatile professionals
  • Many candidates don’t feel qualified for the job

Data scientists

What they do 

A data scientist combines technical and analytical skills to explore, spot and solve complex problems and patterns in a company’s data.

Data scientists are curious and thrive when backed into tough problem-solving corners. They strive to remain one step ahead of analytical techniques (such as Machine Learning) in order to collect and transform vast amounts of data into functioning formats to help business objectives.

Why they earn big bucks to do it

Companies have been collecting an increasing amount of data – propelled by the success stories of data-driven organizations and the advancements in technology that have made data collection economical and attainable.

Now what? Companies have realized that they need specialized professionals to make use of the data they’ve been stocking up – and demand has boomed. Today, demand outstrips supply and companies are offering big bucks for rare data specialists. They’re also turning to in-house training.

What’s more, these technical profiles are often called for in high-paying industries such as aviation, healthcare and automobile. This pushes salaries up further.

Experience and salary

After analyzing the results of our 2021 survey, we were able to confirm the strong correlation between salaries and years of experience.

Salary progression appears rather steady, with developers experiencing a pay raise of roughly 5 to 10k each year, for the first 10 years of their career. We found that salaries continue to increase, but at a slightly slower pace, for senior developers with 10+ years of experience.

We consider that “former experience” is one of the most important factors to take into account when considering a developer’s profile: not simply years of experience, but past professional projects, personal ventures, failures, team collaborations, etc.

Digging into developers’ past experiences: one of our favorite questions to ask in a tech interview is, “Tell me about the project you’ve worked on that you’re least proud of. What would you do differently today?”.

Education and salary

Another piece of information you’ll generally find on a CV is a candidate’s level of education.

We’re glad to see that, although developers with high-level qualifications do seem to earn more in general, developers who don’t have a formal qualification are also being valued as professional programmers.

Indeed, we found that developers who don’t have a formal qualification earn just over $41,000 on average. Developers with a three-year degree, for example, earn just over $37,000.

Could skill-based hiring and technical assessment tests have something to do with this? We think so. Automated technical tests provide recruiters with the data they need to make an informed decision – based on actual skills, rather than traditional qualifications.

Why, how and when should you talk about money?

Why?

Some people are uncomfortable talking about money. However, it’s important not to put it off until the last minute or until it’s a surprise written into the proposed contract. Salary is important to you and it’s important to developers.

In fact, a competitive salary is one of the top 3 things developers look for in a job. What does this mean? It means that there’s a decent chance the developer you’re trying to hire (especially if he or she is already working at another company) really only wants to know one thing: how much are we talking?

Wait, wait, wait…I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Yes, salary is important to developers. However, it’s definitely not the only thing that counts – as you’ll see below. We asked developers “What matters most to you, when considering a job offer?”

How?

Two words: short and sweet.

Close to 1 in 3 developers (30%) say that “Salary negotiations” is the one thing that annoys them most about the interview process. So, keep the conversation clear and open. Don’t beat around the bush and don’t waste their time.

We asked developers “What annoys you most about the recruitment process?”

Try to get a feeling for who you’re talking to: if you see them shifting in their seats, struggling to maintain eye contact, crossing their arms… this might be a sign that you’re making them uncomfortable. If this is the case, get straight to the point, then move on to something else.

It’s interesting to note, however, that not all developers approach salary negotiations in the same way. Julien (full-stack developer), for example, sees salary negotiations in a completely different light.

"I think it’s perfectly normal to talk about salary. In fact, I’d rather discuss salary face to face than on the phone. If the interviewer doesn’t bring it up, I’ll use salary negotiations as my “get out of jail free” card when the recruiter asks me if I have any questions. I don’t want to say no, but I don’t want to ask a stupid question either. “Are you open to salary negotiations?” is just perfect."

- Julien, Full-stack developer

When?

We definitely wouldn’t suggest using salary as an icebreaker or an opening line.

However, it’s important to have the salary conversation fairly early on, to avoid disappointment on both sides. In fact, “Salary” is one of the top reasons why developers would decline a job offer.

That being said, last year, in our 2020 CodinGame survey, developers revealed that “Salary” is reason number three, behind “Company culture” and “Role doesn’t match the job description.” So, make time to discuss the role (the technologies, project management methodology, the short and long-term goals, etc.) and general ambience (company values, social perks, team culture, etc.).

"I prefer to address the question of salary after a technical CodinGame test and at the end of the first face-to-face interview.

I see two advantages: on the one hand, I gain a better understanding of the candidate’s qualities and skills, which allows me to adjust my salary proposal accordingly and, on the other hand, the candidate might be ready to lower their expectations if the interview has given them a real desire to join us."

- Frédéric, VP Engineering at CodinGame


We’d suggest you communicate openly on these subjects from the get-go and potentially before touching on salary. You never know: if, in the end, your highest offer is still a little low, non-monetary assets may well sway developers.

Conclusion

While some recruiters have tech salary stuff down to a tee, others see the subject as a potential minefield.

We hope that after reading this report, you will find it easier to contextualize tech salaries and make those all-important hiring decisions.