WHY ENGINEER? — Chapter 8 — How Much Does Engineering Pay?

When I started my engineering career, I didn’t know how much engineers were paid. I knew roughly how much my dad was paid, and he was an engineer, but he was way beyond the starting salary level. Nowadays you can go on the web and find numerous sources for pay information, and I assume you have done that.

So, what can I tell you that you don’t already know? You’ve probably noticed that pay varies with specialty, industry, company, and location. And no doubt you assume that it goes up with experience. Well, I would say that experience is tricky. In general, pay eventually goes down with experience!

OK, that does sound strange, and you may not want to worry about that early in your career, but someday it will become an issue. You no doubt can find information about this phenomena on the web if you look hard enough. Here is a quick and simplified explanation.

The good news is that the younger engineers get the best raises. Of course that means the older engineers don’t. If you were to see a graph of salaries of all the engineers at your company versus years out of college you would notice that it climbs, flattens out, and then goes down! It isn’t that the salaries of the older engineers actually go down. It shows up in the graph that way because of salary inflation. The younger employees started out higher, and that starting level loads the curve to the left. Companies actually use that sort of data in mapping out their salary plans.

The shape of the curve also reflects the fact that the older engineers are a captive audience, so to speak. A company holds onto employees by giving the biggest raises to the young and inexperienced. Sorry, but that is the way things are done. Some people try to avoid that by changing jobs in an attempt to get higher pay at the point where the graph starts to flatten. I have never seen data on that, but my impression is that it is by no means a guaranteed strategy. There are things at play here other than salary level. Change has its problems, many of which are personal. Also, change actually does cost money. What you see about changing jobs for money in the news, in TV shows, and in the movies is not representative of average reality.

I changed employers in my mid forties. I didn’t do it for the money. The real reason is complicated. I can’t even explain it to myself. If I had the chance to do it over, I would. The money was better where I was, the job was better, and starting over at that age wasn’t easy — but who knew? One of my first bosses was born and raised in Germany. His favorite quote was, “Ve grow too soon old and too late schmart!” He had an accent.

Some things you are going have to figure out for yourself. Just remember that the way pay looks this year will not be how it looks twenty years from now.

Hey, you won’t be poor.

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