Demand for qualified computer science graduates is high, but investing in a degree may not be cheap. Some budget-savvy students may want to consider computer careers that have high earning potential for entry-level work. Take a look at the degrees that pay the most for employees with zero to four years of experience below, all the way from the associate degree level through master’s level.
Because computer science is an ever-changing industry, there may be opportunity for graduates to evolve within their roles and develop their careers over time. Long-term commitment in computer science can sometimes mean long-term payoff, too. These are the computer science careers and degree levels offer graduates the biggest lifetime earning potential.
|Occupation||Degree||Lifetime Earning Potential||Job Growth through 2024|
|Electronics Engineer||Master’s: Engineering, Electronics Engineering, Computer Engineering||$4,100,000||7 percent|
|Computer and Information Systems Manager||Master’s: Information Technology, Management Information Systems||$4,000,000||12 percent|
|Computer Software Engineer||Master’s: Computer Applications, Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Software Engineering||$3,900,000||24 percent|
|Computer and Information Systems Manager||Bachelor’s: Computer Engineering, Information Technology||$3,700,000||12 percent|
|Computer Software Engineer||Bachelor’s: Computer Engineering, Computer Science and Mathematics, Electronics and Communications||$3,600,000||24 percent|
|Computer Scientist and Systems Analyst||Master’s: Computer Applications, Computer Science, Management Information Systems||$3,500,00||9 percent|
|Electronics Engineer||Bachelor’s: Computer Engineering, Electronics and Communications Engineering||$3,400,000||7 percent|
|Network Systems and Data Communications Analyst||Master’s: Computer Science, Management Information Systems||$3,400,000||9 percent (computer systems analyst)|
|Computer Programmer||Master’s: Computer Applications, Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Management and Information Systems, Software Programming||$3,300,000||-7 percent|
|Network and Computer Systems Administrator||Master’s: Computer Applications, Computer Science, Management Information Systems||$3,000,000||6 percent|
Despite the high earnings they can yield, many computer science positions remain unfilled. For instance, A recent estimate shows there will be 3.5 million unfilled positions in the U.S. in the field of cybersecurity alone by 2021, and as many as six million cybersecurity jobs remain open around the world. Brianna Rooney, software engineer recruiting expert, says that cybersecurity isn’t the only computer science area feeling what she calls “a drought” in incoming grads. “Tech is hurting across the board, not just in one specific area.”
This can be bad news for industries in need of tech-savvy employees, but it puts graduates in excellent positions to leverage their skills. “In computer science, there isn’t much competition,” says Rooney. “In fact, it’s the opposite. Software engineers are in such high demand, most candidates have multiple offers, leaving companies in bidding wars.”
There has been some doubt as to whether the shortages in the computer science industry–and STEM fields in general–are as dire as tech companies make them out to be, with the unemployment rates of recent computer science graduates remaining consistently between seven and nine percent.
The unemployment rate is lower for those with more experience and those with graduate-level degrees. Even though demand for computer science graduates seems high, it’s important to keep in mind that this is for versatile and highly qualified graduates. Rooney says that right now, the payoff for computer science graduates is sweet, but they must be prepared for real-world work in order to reap the benefits.
“I have seen a huge increase of salaries for computer science grads,” she says. “When I started 11 years ago, it was common to receive $60,000 to $85,000 coming out of school, depending on what school you went to and if you already had projects to show. Now, it is far more common to receive $85,000-$120,000 right out of school. But again, you must have the proper prep.”
Rooney’s advice is to look for computer science programs that not only teach fundamentals but also go deep into skills needed for specific career demands.
While getting an advanced degree can certainly help you land a higher-level computer career, focusing on getting into a quality computer science undergraduate program that provides opportunities for their students to connect with the tech community—via internships or volunteer projects–can go far in making graduates truly stand out. Rooney reminds students that getting involved in these real-world projects early is a must.
“Students that are trying to work their way into computer tech jobs need to be active in the tech community. I suggest up-and-coming computer science grads go to hacker challenges, participate on GitHub, go to tech meetups and join groups on Linkedin.”
She also says that simple things, like building your own website, familiarizing yourself with multiple technologies and computer languages and getting in touch with recruiters early can be a huge help to students once they are ready to find a job.
A large paycheck and the ability to grow and learn within a constantly-changing industry has its appeal, but aspiring computer science majors should look at more than just salary potential when choosing a degree or major to pursue. Rooney admits that it takes a certain personality to go into and thrive in computer science, which could account for part of the tech worker shortage. Beyond a passion for computers or technology, here are a few other factors she recommends students consider:
Computer science graduates looking to work at major tech companies should be willing to move to large cities. Rooney notes that this can be a good thing for those who want to live a big city lifestyle.
“Almost all tech companies in prime locations, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Austin, Los Angeles and now Colorado have extremely amazing perks. You’re so needed that you’re treated like a rockstar.”
While these areas generally have high living costs, they typically come with higher salaries to make up for it. However, a large paycheck can’t always reconcile a cultural mismatch. Students should research top tech job locations to determine if the local lifestyle could be appealing.
Many computer science jobs can be obtained with a bachelor’s degree or less, combined with a strong portfolio, but it’s important to understand that some positions require advanced degrees or additional certificates and training. It’s often up to you to monitor industry trends and stay up to date.
Even after landing a computer science job, graduates should expect to stay competitive. “Being in the tech world, you will constantly have the battle of the minds,” says Rooney. Part of the computer science industry’s success comes from co-workers motivating one another and competing amongst each other to innovate.
“One of my candidates, a lead software engineer, called it ‘nerd sparring’. Your lifestyle will consist of learning challenges and the benefit of always being in the know about what tech is coming out next.”
Most computer science careers also require full-time work in an office, and depending on the job, workers may have to put in overtime hours to meet deadlines. Working in teams is also in integral part of many computer science positions.