Software Engineering seems like the best job one could have

So I've come to a realization about something and let me know what you think.

As an example, I'll compare working a top firm in Tech, IB, Consulting, Law, and Audit. So if someone gets employed at a place like Google, Facebook, etc you're most likely facing the same difficulty if not slightly easier than getting into a job at a BB, MBB or a Biglaw firm. For argumentative purposes, we'll use an example of comparing someone working at Google vs BB vs MBB vs Biglaw vs Big 4

1- Let's compare the work-life balance.

Now the characteristic all these places but Google have in common is that you're expected to not have a life. In IB, you'll work 90-100 at analyst and it'll very slowly decrease to around 65 as an MD. For consultants, at the beginning, you work 65-70 and at Partner, you most likely work 60, not much change. In Biglaw, you're consistently working 65-70 even when you make Partner unless you're a true superstar and have a huge book of clients so that you don't need to show up to work. At the Big 4, you work a 9-5 job for most of the year and then IB hours during Jan-March. When you make Partner, you work around 65 hours. Now if you look at Google, you work 9-5 forever, as you go up, your hours stay the same. Consultant and Audit Partners have an "ok" lifestyle if you compare it to the likes of BB and Biglaw but compared to Google, they're living to work.

2- Next, the long-term aspects.

So, let's pretend that everyone at all these firms are "average" performers and takes a look 10 years into the future. Everyone is gone except for the guy working at Google. To make it to Partner or MD in any of those fields, you have to continuously perform and bring in sales to move up to Partner and even when you're at Partner you could still be fired. At Google, you start out at L3 and expected to move up to L5 (if you could get a job at Google, you could accomplish this) and you could stay there as long as you aren't screwing anything up.

Now if we took someone putting in a lot of effort the outcome in 10 years would be pretty similar. The guys in IB, Law, and Consulting would have a slim chance at making to Partner/MD, the guy in accounting would have an alright chance at making it to Partner and the guy at Google could probably move up from L5 to L6 and have a chance at L7. Moving up at Google takes WAY less luck, and office politics, they base it mostly off your abilities as an engineer and as an added bonus, you don't need to kill yourself to stay at this level.

3-Amenities

The most the Big 4, Biglaw, BB or MBB offer you is a gym, black car services and free takeout if you stay late.

Google, on the other hand, offers free food (even dinner is offered to the engineers that choose to stay past 6), sleeping areas, park areas outside their offices, built-in theatres, golf courses, gyms, music rooms and an overall more bright, colorful feel to their office.

4- Now, the compensation. (These figures may be slightly off but it's in the general area)

BB Analyst: 100-120K
BB MD: 1MM-4MM

MBB Analyst: 95-100K
MBB Partner: 900K-2MM

Biglaw Associate: 180K
Biglaw Partner: 600k-3MM

Big 4 Associate: 65k
Big 4 Partner: 350k-2MM

Google L3: 100-120K
Google L7: 500k-600k

Now, you could obviously go higher than L7 but I'd say that's even harder than making Partner in PE as you're usually required to be on a bunch of big projects which rarely happens to any Google SWE in their lifetime so I'd say L7 is the max you could go if all efforts to succeed in these 5 industries are the same. So, as you could see, from start to finish at your career in Google, your salary doesn't raise by all that much compared to other industries which is normal for any engineering/science occupation.

Though all in all, I'd think that working in a city like L.A, San Jose, Seattle and making 400k-500k while being able to go home at 5-6 to see my wife and kids, not having to work weekends as well as being able to hang out with friends is a lifestyle that anybody would choose. Does potentially making 1MM matter so much that people are willing to work 65+ hours and have worse job security as Partner of some big firm? You may not be able to afford a 8,000+ square foot home and multiple sports cars as a SWE but you're easily living a comfortable lifestyle with no worries about money in mind.

To conclude, I'm in no way insulting anyone in the other 4 careers listed here, I'm just trying to see your point of view for choosing said careers. As well as since this board is made up by many college students trying to break into finance I'd like to ask, why did you choose finance or consulting over other alternatives? If anything, I'd choose being an auditor any day of the week, 9-5 for 9 months of the year, decent money to start out with and the chance of making a lot as Partner without as many hours as other jobs seems nicer than the other options.

Anyways, I'm done talking now what do you guys have to say about my train of thought?

(Note: Are there any jobs I may have missed that are apart of business/finance could be compared here? I hear about Corporate Banking, Asset Management and PWM on this forum a lot but don't know if they are comparable. I left out PE because they're not seen as a long-term career with only around 10% of people getting back in after their MBA and less than 1% making it to Partner afterward. I also left out other exit opps like Corp Fin/Dev/Strat because in general these aren't on the same level as listed jobs as they pay less, less upward mobility, etc.)

Comments (39)

Jun 10, 2018

I agree although I don't think tech will be this lucrative forever. With everyone and their mothers studying computer science the current imbalance demand/supply of quality engineers won't be around for too long.

One point I disagree with is the lack of office politics. Having worked at a consulting firm before Facebook/Google, I can tell you that it takes as much if not more politics to get promoted, especially at the higher levels (Director/L8+).

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Jun 10, 2018

While everyone is studying CS, I feel like coding/software is a field where you need to at least have some interest in the field to excel. Just because everyone is studying CS doesn't mean that can get pass the filter. To break into Google/FB, you can't just bullshit your way in, where you can in finance/consulting. The talented engineer will continue to receive great compensation package, followed with great opportunities. Tech is only going to grow whereas I can't say for sure it is the same for finance, unfortunately.

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Jun 10, 2018

I dont think by any means any of the 5 professions listed above are shrinking. IB and Consulting hiring hasnt shown signs of decreasing or any reasons to as its a client sided business which has no chance of being replaced by computers or for other reasons. Biglaw isn't getting smaller moreover there are more lawyers now.

Audit while some say could be replaced by computers is heavily debated. I personally don't think they'll be anywhere close to replaced 60 or 70 years from now.

Though some jobs are getting smaller specifically jobs like like trading and other non client sided roles.

Jun 10, 2018

Thanks for the response.

I see your point with tech becoming over saturated though for the time being, it seems that your chances at getting into tech aren't getting harderbut they may become more selective with their employees in the future (like what many law firms did) as more people are seeing Google's offices and salaries and making it their dream to work there just for the material reasons and less so for their interest in the actual work.

Though, if you wouldn't mind me asking as you have a history in tech, what rough percentage would you give of engineers who gets hired as a L3 after undergrad and makes it to L7 and above?

Jun 10, 2018

It's hard to say as most people bounce around a lot especially at the 2 year and 4 year marks. G/F does not have an up or out expectation so you can stay at L5 (maybe even 4 now?) forever which a lot of people tend to do. For Engineering, there are two paths you can take as you move up: you can stay as an Individual Contributor or switch to an Engineering Manager. Engineers who hate dealing with people and politics usually pick to IC route, but to make to L7 as an IC you need to be a seriously good engineer. When it comes to comp, I don't think IC's make any less than managers of the same level, in fact I've heard of a couple of cases where IC's were making more than their managers.

Jun 10, 2018
latempo:

I agree although I don't think tech will be this lucrative forever. With everyone and their mothers studying computer science the current imbalance demand/supply of quality engineers won't be around for too long.

One point I disagree with is the lack of office politics. Having worked at a consulting firm before Facebook/Google, I can tell you that it takes as much if not more politics to get promoted, especially at the higher levels (Director/L8+).

That's a misnomer. The amount of people doing CS or any other classically represented major (i.e. Maths/Physics/Engineering) is irrelevant to the amount of people who get good jobs at top companies.

Case in point, there are a shit ton of people doing finance and liberal arts at complete non-targets who will never make it into finance or law or consulting or whatever in any meaningful way. Yet.. people at the top of those fields still make a lot of money and hire new grads every year.

So no, this is the reality for the top end of tech and will always be the reality going forward.

Jun 11, 2018

Google employee here, currently an L3. I'll be leaving for the MBA -> IBD Associate track this summer. A few thoughts...

  • Career progression

On politics vs skill. Getting to L5 (200k-250k) is easy. Some people will go faster or slower than others due to ability and luck, but anyone can do it. L6 is tough, but very possible for a well motivated person who has a pinch of good luck. L7 is very tough. As a manager you'll need to get at least a couple of other managers under you. As an IC you'll need to contribute at an extremely high level, and while most people could feasibly do this, there just aren't many of those projects around for the taking. The politicking really begins when you need to get to 6/7 and you are competing for projects / teams. Then you have 8+ which is an executive level and is 100% political.
- Work-life balance

At the junior-mid level at Google, it's way better. I leave between 5 and 6 every day. At mid to higher levels, it is very possible to maintain this level of balance, but you won't progress that far. If you want to push for the big leagues, you need to put the time in. You will have to be more intrinsically motivated though. No one will call you in on a weekend. If you're sick and you stay home, no one will judge you. You just objectively will produce less work, your perf will be good but not amazing, and it will take you longer to progress. At very senior levels though, you work all the time.

  • Engineering vs business roles

Engineering is a trade. Literally like being a plumber or glass blower. Your primary skill is the ability to translate a design document into a product, nothing more. Again, the politicking will come as you advance, but only as icing on the cake. You will never be respected at a high level without the base technical abilities needed at low levels. Does it sound appealing to you to sit at a computer all day trying to figure out why one button on a website is incorrectly shifted three pixels to the left for 1,000 users in Nepal, but only when it's daylight savings time and the weather is above 60 degrees? What if that took you a week or a month to figure out? Then there's reporting. I've spent countless hours just getting CSVs from here to there to some graph that can be printed out for an exec. Maybe one of those CSVs has an unexpected multi-byte Chinese character in it and that crashes the whole pipeline. The problem is it's 5TB so good luck finding it. Some people live for solving little problems like that. If you can do it, great. Personally, I'd much rather focus on building relationships and pitching to clients. If that's your jam, Big Tech is not for you.

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Jun 11, 2018

Google L5 equivalent (L6 at Amazon, L64+ at Microsoft etc) is definitely 250-400k.

Jun 11, 2018

I think you are wrong. There will only be a larger demand for engineers in the future and a diminishing demand for non-technical people.

Jun 10, 2018

This is a pretty good analysis (and everything I'm going to include in my upcoming "overachievers" careers guide but in more depth).

The fundamental aspect you're missing is the job role of a technical job is completely different to a "corporate-esque" job. One is entirely performance based and skill-based (closer to being a singer or sports person) the other is about navigating the maze that is people and professional relationships. People naturally gravitate to one or the other.

I think a closer comparison would have been that of a product manager (or entrepreneur) vs all the others.

But yes, the crux is you're trading higher potential upside for a more comfortable, stable way to high earners' ville by choosing top tech product focused (PM, SWE, DS, Design etc) roles. Though, I would say if you went down the management path rather than the IC path the upside/economics are probably the same.

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Jun 10, 2018

Thanks for the response, and I think you hit the nail on the head about point that an engineer is hired for his skill in building/hard skills while a banker/lawyer is hired for their skill in selling/soft skills which is why I feel I'm gravitated toward engineering.

I don't feel like I could survive a day as someone who makes pitches to large multi-million dollar companies as a banker, or defend to defend a F500 company as a corporate lawyer but some people are great at that while others not so much.

Also, I'd love to check out your career guide once it's finished, seems like something that many college students on this forum would be interested in when thinking about a career path.

Jun 10, 2018

I have a few friends that work for Google. They all say that making it to a certain level is easy enough, but the big money (eg 500k) is very hard to get. Another issue with tech is your shelf life - experience means very little unless you are a very senior manager so a lot of people have trouble finding jobs after a certain age.

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Jun 10, 2018

Ageism is actually one of the only things I'm worrying about and obviously, it is an issue with many tech companies as they prefer to have a younger workforce, I feel that if someone could attain a certain senior level at Google before their mid-40s, they would most likely be alright. I've talked to a few people at Google who joined in their mid to late 30s so hopefully, it won't be a problem I have to think about for a while.

Though it seems this is more of a problem at companies like Snapchat which cater to a teen or young adult audience whereas working at Google, Microsoft or Apple are most likely safer.

Jun 10, 2018
Question Throwaway:

Though it seems this is more of a problem at companies like Snapchat which cater to a teen or young adult audience whereas working at Google, Microsoft or Apple are most likely safer.

Well, imagine that you lose a political war as a mid level manager at Google and get pushed out at the ripe age of 45. Due to age discrimination your only choices are Apple and Microsoft, while the other shops prefer cheap 25 year olds. I'd say that's a definition of screwed.

Jun 10, 2018

From a simplistic viewpoint, I think just simply thinking about compensation can be a little overrated. I got to be able to wake up in the morning and be motivated enough to get to work without wanting to shoot myself in the foot.

I have had great stories about Google work/life balance. People I know who work there are happy with their choices.

Companies will always, ALWAYS look for fresh meat when hiring time rolls around. Good talented people are well worth the investment to the company. There will never be a shortage in tech/finance in terms of candidates.

@Mostly Random Dude - this is true. You can have 5+ years in engineering, but if you are not bringing ideas to the table or introducing projects to the team then it makes career advancement just as difficult.

No pain no game.

Most Helpful
Jun 12, 2018

If you have a moderate degree of risk tolerance, software engineering is a great way to follow a rinse-and-repeat process of pumping the casino machine lever for a payday.

Everyone acknowledges L5 at Google is easily reached. Once you've done that you will have effectively zero shortage of opportunities to join an early-stage startup as one of the first 10 engineers in the door.

That means you're looking at the standard range of 0.5-1.5% of equity. That's a floor and does not count your ability to negotiate further and get future equity awards if you progress to a managerial role as the team expands in future fundraising rounds.

If your company gets an early acquihire in the mid to high eight-figure range, congrats, you just printed high six to low seven figures. Rinse and repeat; do it all over again at another company.

If you can get into the Y Combinator circle, great, you have a way higher likelihood of landing on either a rocketship or an easy acquisition target. Do this twice (be an early employee at a successful company) and you're now founder material. This bar is actually only once (not twice) if the company was notable enough within the investor community (good founding team, well-regarded funds as investors).

VCs will take meetings with you while you figure out what you want to launch, give generous and honest feedback, and be receptive when you formalize a pitch after testing your idea inexpensively for a few months with your own money.

Now you're playing with house money and you have a very real shot at printing real wealth for yourself.

All of this as opposed to sticking it out for another 6-10 years playing the politics required to progress higher in your FANGA engineering role ... or playing the Game of Thrones required in BigLaw, brand-name banking, or private equity.

The other option is to be incredibly entrepreneurial within finance: taking the search fund route, playing as a fundless sponsor, or otherwise building your track record as a new GP. It's incredibly tough but if you can get a sizable deal or two funded and they perform well, you earn large but lumpy checks over the better part of a decade.

It's the same risk-tolerant approach as the early startup employee path. Find a thing that has a good chance of giving you a healthy payout and try it two or three times. When one of them hits, you get paid well and have unlocked a new plateau from which to pursue a new scale of opportunities.

I've previously posted a number of anecdotal stories about guys I know who took the fundless sponsor path, sucked it up for however many years it took to get their first deal funded, ran it successfully for 3-5 years, and exited to the tune of eight-figure personal income.

At that point there are two options. Do it again but at a bigger scale (you have more of a GP commit to show), or try to raise a vehicle based on the success of the single deal.

I also know guys who used the credibility of the tech giant they had an engineering job at to raise an angel or seed round for their own company, steer it to a modest exit, then use the proceeds to begin angel investing on their own while scouring about for another idea to make a real run at.

Real wealth is never generated by wages. It's generated by ownership. For the entrepreneurially-minded person, it's never a question of "banking vs. tech vs. law vs. consulting". It's a question of which path gets you closest or most quickly to the point you can safely try a thing of your own.

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Jun 12, 2018

What are your thoughts on using one of these typical "insecure overachiever" routes as a ramp from which to build up credibility before jumping ship to entrepreneurship?

I imagine the brand value from a top firm would help alleviate some doubts about one's credibility.

Also, what are the upsides/downsides of going advisor/employee -> investor -> entrepreneur vs advisor/employee -> entrepreneur -> investor?

Jun 17, 2018

The risk of doing the startup shotgun approach is understated in my opinion. You'd essentially be going back against the wall hoping for a moonshot/lottery ticket win while your peers who stayed in the FAANG/Big N game will be steadily and safely bringing in increasingly larger mid-6-figure salaries. This is all as you near your 30s, when most would be thinking of settling down, starting a family, etc.

For some that's the only way to live, for others that's undoable. But I don't think a person will have a hard time choosing one or the other, you either have the personality and desire for that route or you want nothing to do with it.

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Jun 20, 2018

This is why I opened my prior comment with the words "risk tolerance".

Separately, you may be mistaken about comp progression in FANGA roles. Comp is high but has a shallow trajectory. You don't get the steady year-over-year upwards ratchet that someone on 'the path' in finance does [e.g. $175, $200, $225, $275, b-school, $350+ carry, $400+ carry, TBD, etc.] for all-in numbers doing the banking to buyout path. You get $10-25k annual increases and some kind of small (relatively speaking) year-end bonus.

Ultimately, we are in violent agreement. People either have the mental composition to roll the dice for a big payout or they don't.

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Jun 13, 2018

Wonder what the compounding interest on invested income would be over those 10 years for each of those roles. (Likely be a considerable end net worth difference). That combined with personal preferences for law / consulting / banking over writing code could be a big driver.

Jun 13, 2018

lets not forget their stock options.. they really have it good. I wish a movie named Wolf of Silicon Valley came out about the time I was deciding on a major.

What concert costs 45 cents? 50 Cent feat. Nickelback.

Jun 17, 2018

Do you actually know anyone who works in tech? I can't get where this forum thinks that top software engineers raking in 150k first year are working 9-5. At none of the top technology firms in SV is this the norm or the case but rather the facade. The reality is more like 9-8, which yeah is better than finance, but you're not some back office shmo leaving at 5 on the dot everyday. Not to mention these devs often put in considerable work learning their craft and staying on call once they're home.

Jun 17, 2018

Plenty of my mates in top tech companies have chill lives.. Not uncommon to have a 10am-6pm schedule

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Jul 20, 2018

I work in tech. In the American corporate environment, outside of FAANG, you'd be amazed how little some tech people work in the 100-200k compensation range.

I see your name has Canadian in it. American tech workers are paid much more than Canadians, and have access to a greater number of cushy jobs.

Jun 20, 2018

The best job in technology -- is in sales.

Software, SaaS, PaaS, IoT anything in that regard.

You come out make shit money, but that's working 40 hours a week. You start out making 65K first year (if you work IB hours, like 80 hours a week) you will make 100K first year.

Then second year you're looking at 100K-150K (and that's based on a 40 hour work week. If you put in great effort, and work IB like levels you're making 150K-200K in your second at very least third year.

At the third/fourth year. Then you start looking into larger MM (middle market deals) which would be ACV of $50,000 a year or larger. This is when you can make $200K to $400K a year. The top Enterprise guys (after 6 years in Industry) will make about $400K to $600K.

If you put your nose to the grindstone, enjoy sales and get in with a great product --> you can make crazy money.

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller.

"Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL

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Jun 20, 2018

Why not just be an engineer instead? If you work your butt off to get into a top tech company you could be at that $200-400k level in 1-3 years as an engineer.

Jun 20, 2018

Because learning to sell is considerably easier than learning to be a software engineer.

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller.

"Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL

Jul 20, 2018

I work as a software engineer and I would like to move into enterprise sales. I've often heard rumors of high salaries, but can you name specific companies to work for? All I hear is vague rumblings about "cloud..."

Jul 6, 2018

Just wanted to chime in some numbers.

I'm studying a CS master's at an Ivy. From what I see, a typical "good" starting package (Google, Facebook...etc.) would be 105~130k base, 25~50k stock bonus (over 4~5 years), and 10~30k sign on. An average starting package would be 90~105k base, 5k sign on and that's it. There are some "great" ones but those are really rare.

Compensation progression is slow unless you work at places like Google, where you might reach 250k between 28~32. Otherwise you might very well get stuck somewhere between 150~200k

As for the whole "you can start your own company" notion, from what I know, a good number of startups, including the likes of Snapchat and LinkedIn will most likely never be able to find a viable business model. I can't help but wonder how long the startup craze will last....

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Jul 13, 2018

Numbers are pretty off for Google tier companies.

Jul 13, 2018

I realized that I had said "25~50k stock bonus (over 4~5 years)". What I meant was 25k~50k stock bonus each year for 4~5 years.

Apr 16, 2019
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Nov 1, 2019