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This article is an August, 2000 update of salaries for software testers. It was conducted using the Pencom Systems Incorporated salary guide, Datamation's IT Salary Benchmarks, and Information Week's 1999 National IT Salary Survey combined with current posted job opportunities for software testers in key areas. A prior study was published by STI in 1996.
The information contained herein will be updated in the fall of 2002, using information gathered in the 2002 Software Testing Institute Salary Survey. In the interim, here is a brief overview of the Quality Progress (Published by American Society for Quality, or ASQ) salary survey conducted in December, 2001:
Do you want to know how to fairly compensate a software tester? Perhaps you are more interested in learning how much you can reasonably expect to get paid for your own testing job, or for the one you have your sights on. Whatever your motivation, following is a summary of software tester salary information that will help you on your way.
The Big Picture
The average salary for a tester with 3-6 years of relevant experience is approximately $85,000 per year, with a median of approximately $70,000. A tester with 7+ years of experience, on the other hand, makes an average of $98,000 with a median of approximately $82,000 per year. The highest paid testers in the 7+ experience group are working in the New York computer software industry for an annual salary of $135,000. The lowest paid testers in this experience group are those in the Southeast academia industry who make around $63,000.
The table below shows representative salary ranges which were obtained from the online Pencom guide by selecting the Computer/Sofware Development industry with NT/95/Unix operating system skills, client/server knowledge and some test automation tool experience.
Location, Location, Location
The greater New York metropolitan area reports the highest software tester salaries, with Silicon Valley close behind. Chicago testers make slightly less than those living in Texas, but the cost of living is so much lower in Texas that the difference in expendable income is much more for Texans than the salary comparisons can show. In fact, Texas' lower costs make it bottom-line competitive with New York and San Jose, in addition to Chicago. By comparing salaries using the Homefair Salary Calculator, a $135,000 position in New York, NY is equal to a $54,500 position in Dallas, Texas. In reality the similarly experienced Texan is making about $79,000, a gain of about $25,000. The same Texan tester would realize a gain of about $13,000 over a peer making $104,000 in San Jose, and a whopping $31,000 over his or her counterpart making $74,000 in Chicago.
These results are similar to Information Week's 1999 National IT Salary Survey, except that the west offers the best paying management positions with no specific industry or software testing skills. The best paying industries are computer software and hardware, followed by aerospace, consulting and finance. Government, education and non-profit industries are the least paying. The overall picture is promising, regardless of industry: most positions had an overall salary increase--from 5.3 to 11.1 percent more--between 1998 and 1999.
Industry is Key
Even in the same geographical area, being in the right industry can net as much in salary as several years of experience. In Texas, where the average salary across industries is $76,500, similarly experienced software testers may make anywhere from $68,000 to $83,000 depending solely on the industry they are working in. Testers in academia tip the bottom of the scale at $68,000 while testers in the financial industry can expect to earn around $83,000 plus competitive benefits.
Test Experience Pays Off
Years of experience add up fast for software testers. Most testers start around $50,000 regardless of location or industry. After a few short years they can move to another industry or geographical area and practically double their salary. For example, a software tester with less than 1 year of experience can start work in the New York financial industry today at a salary of $57,000. This beginning tester could expect to earn $5,000 or more each year they stay on the job. After 3 short years, they could trade their $77,000 job for one in the computer/software development industry where their salary can top $100,000.
Specializing in test translates to more income than other software development positions. According to Datamation's IT Salary Benchmarks, persons in California who are involved in software analysis and development projects (without specifying a test specialization) earn about $44,000-$67,000 per year while software testers in the same area earn $52,000-$104,000.
Companies are willing to pay for someone who has just the right mix of skills. Even when a position is posted internally at $80,000, most companies will leave the upper end salary open in order to attract the necessary talent. In Texas, a telecom software tester with management experience can start negotiations for a management job in Austin at around $100,000.
Consulting and Start-Up Opportunities
None of the figures quoted in this article reflect what a software tester consultant or start-up employee can expect to earn as compared to the full-time software tester employee at an already established organization. Consultants typically have more years of experience than the employees they are working with. As with any position, consultants taken on risks to increase their income. By trading long-term security, paid health benefits, and employee stock option plans, consultants can earn approximately 15-25% more than employees. Employee testers drawn to start-up companies accept a lower starting salary and more work hours every week as they gamble for the potential reward of cashing in their stock for millions.
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