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2012 Salary Survey of Embedded Developers

The latest data is for 2014 and is here. In both 2006 and 2009 I did salary surveys of embedded engineers. You can find 2006 here and 2009 here.

In 2012 readers of The Embedded Muse and Embedded.com participated in a short survey whose results are summarized in this document.

Suggestion: Subscribe to my free newsletter which often covers prospects in the embedded systems industry.

This is not a scientific survey! No tests were performed to insure the accuracy of the data, and one would be wise to understand that participants may have confused local currency with US dollars, or to make other mistakes. Still, the data is interesting and paints at least a broad picture.

To try and get some insight I divided the world into several camps. "Americas" means North and South America except the USA and Canada. More than half of the respondents were from the USA, and here's the distribution:

Geographical Distribution

Age and Experience

We continue to age. The following graph shows that the upper age bins are filling as years go by.

Age

Age and experience correlate, of course. Note, in the following graph, the marked increase in years of experience in Asia, India and "other" (non-Western) locations. I have to attribute that to statistical variations. The experience in the USA mirrors the three elapsed years since the last survey. Unsurprisingly the Western world has significantly more experience that other locations, but as the boomers retire that difference will shrink.

Experience

Salary

Unsurprisingly, salaries vary widely around the world. The following graphs show experience in years versus salary in US dollars for a number of regions. But the data for Asia, the Americas (excluding the USA and Canada) and "other" were wildly all over the place and showed no significance. For instance, in Asia data points ranged from $2200/year to $90,000 (with plenty of points at the low and high end, so tossing outliers was impossible). Perhaps currency mixups were to blame. But I have not included graphs for those regions as they would be meaningless.

Starting with the USA, there has been consistent growth over the last six (at least) years. The horizontal axis is years of experience and the vertical is US dollars:

Salary - USA

The average salary for those doing firmware development only is $100,560, for those in hardware development only is $111,730, for managers $128,633, and $98,149 for those lucky enough to be involved in both hardware and firmware engineering.

In Europe things are less rosy. This year salaries are down. Is this the result of the economic crash? Unfortunately I did not acquire data on a by-country basis, which could have illustrated micro-trends. The data is US dollars versus experience in years.

Salary - Europe

 

Salary - Canada

Salary - India

 

Benefits

This year I asked about benefits. The USA scores highly, perhaps because health care is a fairly standard benefit, while in many other countries that is provided for by the government.

Benefits

But the USA lags in paid vacation days per year. Only Asia trails, and not by much.

Only 6% of European respondents reported less than 20 days per year.

Vacation days

Happiness and the Future

Perhaps attempting to measure happiness is a fool's quest, but as a middle-aged gent who has seen too many colleagues burn out from despair and overwork I'm convinced we must pursue happiness first and salary second. In the survey respondents rated their happiness with their career on an enumerated scale of [love it, reasonably happy, somewhat unhappy, hate it]. I rated the factors from 3 (love it) to 0 (hate it). Those results were normalized to the number of responses in each category. One fascinating tidbit is that over the years Indian engineers seem to be growing less enchanted with their careers. 2009 was an off-year for most, probably in the wake of the economic mess.

Happiness

I asked how people felt about the future of engineering, giving four possible responses:

  • Expect a strong demand for engineers
  • About the same
  • Demand likely to diminish
  • It's likely to be offshored
  • I'm hoping it's offshored to us!

We remain strongly optimistic. The fear of offshoring is down significantly from 2009's results, as is the hope that work will be offshored to a region.

future

10.7% reported being consultants. 34% of those reported business as "busy", 17% "Great!", 13% "Lousy" and the rest "reasonable."

 

Comments

A lot of people left comments; some are listed here:

Unemployed 9 months now, after a reorg, was making 120K, worked 11 years for last company

This job used to be fun - now its mostly just a grind. The company restructured payscales and grandfathered me in ABOVE the top of the pay grade they put me in. Unfortunately that means I haven't gotten a salary increase in 4 years, and the criteria for moving up a grade is ridiculously unrealistic (must be an *internationally recognized* authority in some specialty, chair major conferences, etc.)

This is a great field to be in, the global economic slowdown only helped remove the incompetent people from the field. It is better than ever to have this line of work!

There's always a talk about embedded engineer shortage, yet I've seldom been contacted by headhunters and I don't see a lot of job offers, I'm not saying the job market is bad, rather it seems to be stuck in a decade-old balance. I think the engineer shortage is a self-serving myth to encourage young people to go into engineering and drive wages down (or at least lower the increase).

The overall trend I see is the US continuing to slowly lose its competitiveness to more agile and less politically-correct neighbors. I am originally from the Soviet Union, and I see some trends between the state of that country in the 1970s-1980s and the USA in the 2010s. Manufacturing has already left the country, and R&D is slowly leaving, going to where stuff is actually produced. With the above is somewhat negative, it is my opinion that the US will remain the innovation leader for some time to come. There are simply no alternatives. It seems that our (USA) global competitors are focused on finding profitable solutions to today's problems while mostly ignoring future ones. Additionally, I don't see demand for engineers, or respect for engineers, to significantly change in the US. Smart kids will still go to medical or professional schools. Because the manufacturing base left, and foreign colleges are now able to compete with the US in terms of prestige, foreign companies will slowly start innovating, and keep the domestic need for new STEM grads at a reasonable level.

The only reason still employed is that I now do regulatory (safety,emc,environmental), am also the test engineer, am a machinist and carpenter and plumber. Oh yeah, also write some code. Get used to this people, this mode will remain until they kill off the boomer engineers.

I am to the point I will probably go back into management due to in the year 2012 companies still CAN NOT MANAGE there way out of a bag!! Much less a software product.

The company I work for does not demand much from engineers and does not reward much either. If one wants a comfy life this is the place to be. However, I have realized that being here, I have degraded, rusted, stagnated and close to being beyond redemption. In spite of this, the pace at which I am taking corrective action is pathetic. May be I am already beyond redemption!

As far as Embedded Systems Development for a career, it's looking brighter and brighter every year. I believe it will be a strong field for years to come. Even so, I'm not sure that Embedded System Software Engineers will ever get the respect they are due...

Consulting has been solid for 10+ years with last year the best yet.

Part time consultant, maybe 25%. Trying to do more manufacturing, building what we design. Hired a full time assembly technician and business really picked up last year. We may have to hire another later this year.

Out here in Singapore, the career growth for Firmware Engineers are becoming very sluggish, both in terms of salary and in terms of career growth. I get a feeling that smart people in the coming generations won't get into this career after seeing the examples. But still, there will be people who would go on to defy all judgment. Out of these, most will advise their kids not to make a career in Electronics/Software industry in Singapore. A very few of them will just be at content, and get closer to god. And a handful will bend or break the rules to set new standards, I 'll be one of them. Hell yeah!

Off-shoring continues to concern me, but I take at least a little comfort in the fact that embedded development is somewhat more difficult to off-shore than pure software. I do still have a job and so does every other software/firmware engineer I know of but I wonder if that will continue to be the case over the next 15 years or so until I retire. And I am even more concerned about the next generation (I have a son in college pursuing engineering and a daughter who shows similar interests).

New grads seem to be totally focused on "The Web" and there are very few graduate engineers that understand the hardware enough to make good embedded code designers. With the increasing amount of firmware required in just about everything, I fully expect experienced embedded designers to be in increasing demand (of course it will happen right after I retire!)

My salary has felt virtually stagnant for the past 5 years with raises 1%-3%/year. It's tough to be excited for the future when the pay doesn't exceed inflation. That said, I couldn't imagine being anything but an Engineer.

Management doesn't want to spend time or money designing the product right. Design it, build it and ship it fast. Nothing else matters.

I've been out of work for about 3 months now. (Salary and benefits based on last job). It seems to be getting harder and take longer to land a new job. The requirements listed for jobs keeps getting longer and more specific - keeping up with the latest technology is quite challenging.

It is extremely difficult to find U.S. engineers. Often we need to rely on overseas engineers that moved to the U.S. to go to school and are staying here. There simply are not enough new grads in the U.S. to keep up with demand. There is lots of talk about companies off shoring development to lower costs, but it also may be simply so they can find people!

It *requires* life-long learning for an Engineer to remain competitive, and hopefully, employed. But that's true to some extent in most professions; why should Engineering be any different?

Getting firmware people with good knowledge of hardware is very difficult in India.

In our area the companies still treat personnel as if it is high recession, meaning not trying to retain people as there are many people around that will jump ate any opportunity to work. We have been losing experienced people across the board, they are replaced by people that barely have the minimum skill set.

I'm hoping I get to finish my career in engineering, but it's not a sure thing. Between offshoring, age discrimination, evolving technologies, market pressures, I am not 100% confident I can both stay relevant and competitive. But I am satisfied with my current job, the work I do, the setting, the people, so I remain cautiously optimistic.

I, and most of my engineer friends, would never recommend engineering as a career.

I work in the Basque Country, Spain. Although unemployment here (10%) is not as high as in the rest of Spain (22%), there are a lot of young engineers unemployed. Despite of that, my company has serious difficulties in finding qualified people to hire, specially for the power electronics department, which is expected to be the one that will grow the most inside our company in the near future.

I think software consulting will be a lot like HVAC installation. Today, every company needs some. Many have enough in-house expertise to maintain their systems. But most will want to have the ability to pick up the phone and quickly get someone who can come in, fix a problem, and leave until the next time they are needed. Their needs will range from large companies that give the consultants their own offices, to places that say "We need a Web site.

I think there will be an upsurge in the coming years where consultants will become MUCH more valuable (and necessary) due to large retirement populations on the horizon. This will be multiplied by large corporations on the US mainland thinking they can survive by outsourcing design work (for which there will be lots of future options) but need an in house, system-level architect. The specialized consultants will be able to make a crapton of money.

I love this profession because I am free to apply so many different strategies to create solutions and I learn something new every day. The one thing I didn't expect was how much the people you work with affect the quality of your day. A good company and a good team make all the difference.

I love my engineering career and it shows to my kids. My middle son will be heading off to college to pursue an Engineering degree of some kind next year. My youngest is very Math & Science smart as well and hopefully he will pursue some type of Engineering degree.

I am a university prof. working on embedded and real-time systems. I have been seeing interest in this area diminish in the recent years. Students apparently do not want to work with the details and intricacies of programming embedded systems any more. They much prefer simulations and other soft approaches where details are hidden.

I am a "graybeard" into my fifth decade of Engineering (70s to 'teens). Since moving back to my home state in 2007, I have experienced 3 layoffs as the economy has gone from tenuous to bad to wretched.

Currently, I am partners with another engineer, trying to start our own company. We both see it as the only way to be successful and not subject to the whims of employers who place no value in engineers. Trying to start a business in the worst economy in 80 years? Probably not very smart. But it is virtually impossible for someone my age to get a job. I even had a woman at Unemployment tell me that.

Here in Brazil, at this time enginners are on really good position, even because Brazil is showing your self to the world, World Cup, Olympics Game, Petrobras, Agriculture, etc... For me, I think I'm having a good oportunity to make something really cool over here, we are developing products for agriculture, so we expect to growing together with Brazil.

Even earthquakes can't stop us coding!

Business treats software decisions like a "lowest bidder for an ambulance ride" problem. They have the greatest sense of urgency, want to pay as little as possible and if it doesn't work, their economic life might depend on it. A large part of this is due to the infantile way developers approach software. To call much of it "software engineering" is to be completely disrespectful of the engineering disciplines when ad hoc horse manure is what business often is buying whether they realize it or not. Since business isn't completely dumb (ignorance not included), they realize that they spend a wad on software that doesn't work. Rather than coming after the core of the problem, they approach it from a cost-cutting perspective, which drives more work off-shore and wages lower in the USA. The software doesn't get better. They simply get the same horse manure at a cheaper price... and then have no respect for software as a result.

Being an embedded systems engineer in Mexico is right now a big thing. There's a lot of positions opening up and in several places in Mexico. Thing that most concerns me is the amount of engineers with embedded systems knowledge coming out of schools. It seems many people are focusing on other careers with less "complexity" with respect to their possible salaries.

A great place to be. I think that this is one area where people will be in demand, though more because of lack of engineering graduates, than more job openings