US $145,000: That’s the key number reported in the just-released IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey. It represents the median income for U.S. engineers in 2018, up $6,200 from 2017 and $15,000 from 2014. That figure includes salary, commissions, and bonuses. (When income from all sources is added, including overtime pay and side hustles, the 2018 number jumps to $150,000.) In constant dollars, the gains over the past year are still significant.
However, these income gains weren’t evenly spread among engineers of all specialties, regions, race, gender, or age. The 63-page report is full of fascinating data; here’s what stood out for me.
Smartphone Developers and Machine Learning Engineers Win Big
Given all the attention on artificial intelligence and machine learning, I wasn’t surprised to find that machine learning engineers collect one of the highest median salaries by specialty—$185,000 in 2018. But the real winner, it turns out, are the engineers working with smartphones and watches—their median salary hit $215,771 last year. Communications engineers are also doing well, earning $161,500 in 2018.
At the other end of the scale are engineers working in energy and power engineering, who come in at $130,000; those in robotics and automation, also at $130,000; and engineers in instrumentation and measurement, at $125,000.
The survey took a look at engineering salaries by the type of business the employer is in, irrespective of particular job function. By this measure, the winner is again mobile technology, followed by software, computers, and consumer electronics (I assume smartphone developers popped up in all those categories).
The Salary “Gap” Between Men and Women Is More Like a Chasm
Women’s salaries are far behind men’s, even when broken down by levels of experience, the survey indicated. The overall difference in median income in 2018 was $19,000. That’s $1,000 less compared to 2017, but is still huge. The gap starts out fairly small, but grows quickly with years of experience. Women overall represented only 8.5 percent of the survey respondents who are working full time in their area of expertise.
Large Racial Disparities Persist
The salary gap in engineering between Caucasians and African-Americans, according to the survey, was $20,500 in 2018. The gap between Hispanics and Caucasians was only $3,000 less.
Money Flows West
Income varied significantly with geography, according to the survey. The Pacific region, as usual, had the highest median engineering salaries: $168,708, followed by New England. The East-North-Central and West-North-Central regions brought up the rear at $128,000. Looking at specific states, California came out on top at $180,000, followed by the District of Columbia at $159,000, Massachusetts at $158,000, and Virginia and New Jersey at $156,000.
With Age Comes Extra Bucks—But Only to a Point
The median age of survey respondents was around 50. That, coincidentally, is also the age at which engineering salaries go flat before they start to decline, a phenomenon also picked up in a recent tech salary survey by Hired.
The IEEE-USA Salary survey, conducted online, received 8,813 responses. Most of the data analysis eliminated outliers and focused in on the 6,739 respondents who were engineers employed full-time in their primary area of technical competence.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.