What do senior developers really earn?

Article on salaries sparks reaction and discussion

When the CEO of a New Zealand IT company said, in an article on Computerworld recently, that senior .Net developers could earn up to $130,000-$140,000 per year, some comments on Computerworld’s website questioned this figure.

“$130,000 -$140,000 for a senior developer – really?”, read one, while another stated: “More like $80,000-$110,000 – $130,000-$140,000 would be insanely out of step with the industry in NZ.”

A glance through developer jobs advertised on Seek and Trade Me Jobs confirms this, with many senior roles offering salaries around or slightly above the $100,000 mark, but a bit short of $130,000 to $140,000.

For example, one ad for a C#/.Net senior developer cited a salary of $110,000, while another, for a Java Developer team lead, offered $105,000-$110,000.

Josh Comrie, managing director of recruitment firm Potentia, says while the figure of $130,000-$140,000 is on the high side for a senior developer, there is a small group of elite developers in the industry who can command such rates.

“Over the past 12 years, there has been a threshold for competent senior developers,” Comrie says.

“The threshold is $100,000, and it has been pretty constant since the late 1990s.”

After reaching that level, the rate dropped to $85,000-$100,000 during the tech-wreck of the early 2000s before rising again during the resurgence of 2005-07, reaching around $110,000, and then slipped again slightly in the recent recession, to about $97,000 today, Comrie says.

While the approximately $100,000 threshold has been largely constant for the past decade, there is small section of the developer community that earns more, he says.

“There’s a class of superior-skilled individuals, of outliers, the top five percent of the industry, who can command $130,000-$140,000 as a developer.

“The top rate I’ve seen is $150,000.”

These are individuals who have been with an organisation for some time and are adding a large amount of value, Comrie says.

Development managers can earn salaries around the $130,000-$140,000 mark, or in some cases more, he says.

“A development manager who manages a team of six to eighteen would command $120,000-$150,000.

“When you get to 20 or more staff, you tend to get different titles, such as director of development, and the rate goes up to $180,000-$200,000.

“That person will also have chief technology officer-type responsibilities.”

With the IT industry showing signs of recovery – Comrie and other IT recruiters spoken to by Computerworld say the beginning of 2011 has been busier than in previous years – this year could be the one when the average may potentially move up to over $100,000, he says.

The most sought-after development skills remain Java and .Net, and, within .Net, relatively new technologies such as SharePoint and Silverlight, he says.

Adam Roi, senior consultant at Robert Half, says the $130,000-$140,000 figure is “achievable”, but only by a minority of senior developers.

“And it would include a bonus as well,” Roi says.

“No employer would offer that as a base salary.”

There are some who would earn in excess of $130,000-$140,000, but it is a small minority, he says.

This year is shaping up to be a busy one for developers, especially .Net ones, Roi says.

“The existing high demand for .Net developers will increase in 2011.

“In terms of development, New Zealand is fairly Microsoft-centric.

“The release of the .Net 3.5 framework in 2008-2009 was a huge success for Microsoft and was a catalyst for the growth in senior .Net developer roles.”

Demand for Java developers was quieter last year, “but we are starting to see an increase in the Java space.”

Two areas in which Java is used extensively are integration development and in development work in the financial services sector, which, as Roi points out, isn’t large in this country.

“New Zealand is fairly Microsoft-centric regarding software development.”

There will be plenty of work for developers upgrading and adding features to legacy systems this year, he says.

“The need to redevelop core functions of such systems is driving the need for software development.”

Another comment on the story on Computerworld’s website claimed that the $130,000-$140,000 rate quoted was “absolutely normal in Sydney, hence the shortage in NZ.”

A look at senior developer jobs advertised on Seek Australia shows that some, though not many, come with that salary; for example, one of Australia’s big four banks advertised earlier this month for a senior C# developer at $120,000-$150,000, and an IT consultancy was seeking Oracle Fusion developers at up to A$140,000.

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