Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our annual Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
As of a couple of years ago — 2018 to be exact — the annual salary shelled out to Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbón y Grecia, a.k.a. the King of Spain, was €242,769, or about $284,000. So, as they say, it’s good to be the King. Also in 2018, the personal fortune of Tesla CEO Elon Musk grew by $2.3 billion, so it’s even better to be a top-tier tech executive.
Yes, smart guy, we know that Elon Musk doesn’t get a salary from Tesla, or at least not in the traditional sense of drawing a paycheck or receiving some other form of executive compensation such as bonuses or equity. (It’s complicated.) The point is not to get all discursive about prominent individuals and what their salaries are; we’re just reasserting the long-lived truth that being at the top of the pecking order has its rewards.
Every business has its own pecking order, ofttimes more commonly referred to as an “org chart,” and everyone involved in a given business knows at least approximately where they stand. (Some businesses are more specific about such things than others.) Wherever a given individual ranks, it’s a good bet that the people below them earn less, the people at their level earn about the same, and the people above them earn more.
Each year when we fire up the Salary Survey, we ask a number of questions that help us get a sense of who, exactly, is responding to us. One of the basic ones asks survey participants to pick a title that roughly corresponds to where they stand on whatever the org chart looks like where they work. More succinctly, the question might be expressed as “What’s your employment tier?”
This week, we’re looking at data from the 2021 Salary Survey to draw out a number that corresponds to each of those employment tiers. What could a relatively seasoned certified IT professional — roughly 80 percent of our 2021 survey respondents have worked in IT for at least a full decade — expect to earn at each of these respective tiers?
The list below contains only certified IT professionals who live in the United States. We’ll circle back to this topic in a week or three to consider our non-U.S. respondents. Here’s what we learned:
Employment Tier: Average Salary of 2021 Survey Respondents at This Tier (Percentage of All Respondents at This Tier)
Executive: $148,840 (4.1 percent)
Director: $152,170 (10.8 percent)
Senior Manager: $140,390 (8.4 percent)
Manager: $122,560 (15.3 percent)
Senior Specialist: $124,090 (36.3 percent)
Specialist: $89,740 (15.1 percent)
Employee: $84,220 (10 percent)
As you can see, almost exactly two-thirds of 2021 Salary Survey respondents fall into three different tiers: specialist, senior specialist, and manager. Interestingly, we don’t tend to hear from very many people who are rank-and-file sorts: Just 10 percent of survey respondents check in from the “employee” tier, roughly the same number who are at the “director” level.
It’s notable that managers tend to make a bit less than senior specialists, while the number for executives falls a bit below the earnings of directors. Other than that, the progression is more or less what you’d expect. One key takeaway is that you don’t have to be in a position where you supervise the work of others to notch a six-figure salary. The average “senior specialist” is comfortably above that baseline.