Glorification of SWE/Tech

I'm relatively new to WSO, and I've found that a lot of people here tend to glorify SWE. They argue that being an entry-level SWE comes with better hours than IB/S&T/ER, equivalent pay to IB/better pay than S&T/ER ($189K all-in entry-level comp at Google, $166K at Facebook, $151K at Amazon), and a more stimulating, less "busywork"-laden work life.

The catch? Just some more glorification:

"You have to be a genius to break into SWE"

While I recognize that there are ample benefits to pursuing a career in software, I don't think it is as simple as the "if you can, then you should" mantra that people on WSO (and at my engineering-heavy) target espouse. As an engineer working in ER after considering tech, here are a few of my insights:

• Software Engineering isn't more "interesting" or "intellectual" than ER:

In ER, you write reports, build models, synthesize economic research, advise clients, and follow markets - it is dynamic, multifaceted, and creative, and piques the interest of the layman and the expert alike. In SWE, the work tends to be more "abstracted" from the tangible - you write and review code that often pertains to a specific feature of a specific product; a process that a popular post here described as "myopic", if not robotic and one-dimensional. What's more, as an entry-level ER, you contribute substantially to the final product, and your impact is realized. In SWE, that's far from the case. I don't know why so much of WSO brushes the question of whether a career is actually enjoyable under the rug.

• Software Engineering does not have long-run growth potential superior to ER:

While comp in ER starts out slightly (but not that substantially) lower than comp for entry-level coders at FAANG, by the time one reaches associate, they're already earning more than their peers in FAANG SWE. Further, exits from ER (HF or LO AM), and even superstar MDs in ER, can easily pull in seven figures, while an L7 engineer at Google (the highest level most engineers can expect to make over the course of their career) maxes out at 608K/year. The exits here - largely startup focused - are much riskier, and not necessarily closed to anyone coming from front-office finance.

• Software engineering is much more firm-dependent than ER:

In ER, as long as you place, you're in great shape - whether you land at a Goldman or Evercore ISI, or a Baird or a Truist, you'll still be clearing ~$125K right out of school, and be brushing up against $200 in a few years. In SWE, if you miss the boat on FAANG, Microsoft, or the big quant shops (D.E. Shaw, Jane Street, Citadel, Optiver) - and most SWEs do, indeed, miss this boat - comp and exits drop off significantly. Hence, if you pursue SWE, you must worry about making it into a handful of small, selective firms. For ER, firm placement probably matters even less than for IB. Too many people on WSO make it seem easy to waltz into one of these top firms; it isn't.

So on the whole, I really don't understand the glorification of SWE. If you love coding, great, but if you don't, I just don't see why it's worth forcing a switch-over.

Comments (25)

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Dec 30, 2021 - 12:04pm

Great post. I don't know anything about this but I've heard that lots of larger startups (Databricks, Stripe, Epic Games) actually pay more than FAANG and are considered much better internships. I don't know how many SWEs these unicorns hire but it seems like that expands the number of good spots significantly

Jan 13, 2022 - 5:56pm

Idk where these numbers are coming from. I know a handful of L7 engineers at Google, and the base offer is ~750k. They've all been there for a few years and are clearing 7 figures (refresh grants, discretionary equity etc.).

This year pushed senior engineer compensation to 4-500k at many places. Amazon has a terrible reputation and had to increase the senior engineer compensation band up to 550k. Faang (believe it or not) pays well, but the smaller shops pay more because they need to attract talent somehow. Levels.fyi has pretty accurate data for those interested (and a report of top paying companies, FAANG was only mentioned at the top levels, mainly because theres so few data points, and is less accurate). It's hard to convince someone getting massages & free meals at Google working 15 hours a week to switch jobs for less money, so they often have to pay substantially more. 

One isn't better than the other... They are very different, and you can make insane money doing both. But for reference, Google has some 40k engineers, Amazon has 50-60k, its not HARD to get into any of these companies, its hard being someone who actually likes writing software. In some ways, its much easier than grinding in highschool to get to a top university grinding to get the right internship grinding to get a return full time offer based off school name and what clubs you're a part of or who your uncle knows. Again, they're just different. 

Side note: Its reallllly hard to make statements like "most SWEs will end up at __ in their career, mainly because most of these companies didn't exist 20 years ago. facebook is younger than everyone on this website. If you're good you can hit senior in 3-4 years, some take 10-15 years. Its not like banking where its pretty standard. 

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Jan 16, 2022 - 11:30pm

Small correction.. contrary to popular belief tech companies are up or out til you hit a "terminal" level - often the "senior IC" title. If that terminal level is the "senior" title then no, you can't take 10-15 years to hit that title. You have to hit it within a set number of years or be shown the door. It's the levels after the terminal level where promotions are more variable or don't even happen at all. Lots of people stall out at terminal without ever climbing up either out of lack of interest (levels higher than "senior" tend to require significantly more leadership / people-facing responsibilities than many would care for) or lack of aptitude to operate at those levels. 

Tech company product development orgs essentially run on a pyramid structure with most core "individual contributors" (at different independence levels - junior, mid and senior) doing the day-to-day work and then everyone above leading domain specific efforts (staff, principal, distinguished ICs) or leading teams / groups / departments (managers, directors, VPs). 

Funniest
Jan 3, 2022 - 12:25am

In ER, you write reports (that no one reads), build models (that buy siders explicitly look for holes to poke at and challenge you on a call), synthesize economic research (that 99% of the time turns out to be wrong because it's guessing laced with story telling), advise clients (that you don't respect but they pay most commissions so you put up with their questions on whether this company can do 22.5% operating margin, or 22.7% for the upcoming quarter), and follow markets (and have to make up reasons why your covered stocks are up or down even when it's random walk). 

Jan 3, 2022 - 3:59am

You failed to mention any positives about a career in SWE, SWE has a much better risk/reward and is not at risk of becoming obsolete (cannot say the same about ER). Sure, most SWEs will top out at L7 (or before) making around 600K-700K but most ER Associates dont make MD and if they do they are probably making similar pay to an L7. Also taking into account the stock appreciation, there are plenty of SWEs making 300K+ in their mid 20s working 40 hours a week with insane perks and optional WFH. 

SWE also gives you a skillset that allows you to build your own products if you choose to pursue the start-up/entrepreneurial route, which is obviously risky, but so is moving to the buyside and becoming a Portfolio Manager.

End of the day, both are great career paths but on average a SWE will out earn most other jobs while maintaining a very comfortable lifestyle which is why it is so gassed up on WSO.

  • Prospect in HF - Other
Jan 19, 2022 - 2:15pm

40 hours / week at Meta or Amazon for the majority of SWE? Obviously you never worked in any of the big five… 

maybe you can do that in Microsoft or Cisco or or Oracle, I guess? 

Jan 4, 2022 - 4:08pm

These arguments over which is better really show a lack self awareness and self reflection - at the end of the day do you enjoy the investing process and markets or coding and building / improving products? They are very different career paths that can both be extremely rewarding, but only if you enjoy what you do. If you're passionate about investing you will make way more money working in ER -> buyside than you would as an SWE because you will naturally gravitate towards it and devote yourself more completely to the craft. Similarly, if you love building things and being a technologist you will do way better in that career than in any investing role where you will always feel like something is missing.

  • VP in ER
Jan 9, 2022 - 8:25pm

Tech is making real money, that is the truth, ER / AM / HF all have been declining for years. On youtube, you easily find a lot of people switching to software developer/programmer from almost every industry, I even saw some former models turned software developers, can you believe that?

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Jan 16, 2022 - 11:05pm

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Most Helpful
Jan 19, 2022 - 2:56pm

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