Can Engineers Make $500k in a Technical Role?

Can engineers make $500k? You bet, but it’s pretty rare. Also, that $500k is a total compensation package, not just a base salary.

The $500,000 is a mix of like:

  • Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)
  • Healthcare, dental, and vision
  • Retirement (401k)
  • Bonuses
  • Overtime

I’m going to dive into 4 engineering gigs that offer this sweet pay. Just remember, we’re talking about engineer roles, not founders or managers.

  1. Government
  2. FAANG / high tech
  3. Consulting
  4. Fintech

Important Note: I’m focusing on California since that’s where I live.

Keep in mind, though, $500k in California doesn’t go as far as you’d think. With the high cost of living, a typical home in San Jose sets you back $1.27 million, according to Zillow.

#1 Government engineering positions

can engineers make 500k

High-paying government engineering jobs are usually in traditional fields like civil, structural, mechanical, and power engineering.

These engineers keep our cities running smoothly, working on things like water treatment plants or road maintenance.

Check out the table below for total compensation packages of California state engineers, taken from Transparent California. The “other pay” column includes stuff like stipends, car allowances, bonus pay, etc.

Worth noting, these aren’t purely technical engineering roles. They’ve got some managerial aspects too, which you can’t escape at this pay level in the state.

Job Title Base Salary Other PayTotal PayBenefitsTotal Pay & Benefits
Senior Transportation Engineer$432,833.51 $32,913.75$465,747.26$129,533.04$595,280.30
Managing Water Utility Engineer$295,425.60$39,584.27$335,009.87$159,458.62$494,468.49
Departmental Engineer$186,594.00$235,007.77$421,601.77$69,071.08$490,672.85
Managing Water Utility Engineer$295,425.60$39,432.74$334,858.34$155,623.62$490,481.96

As you can see, you can score big as a state worker if you play your cards right. But remember, it’s the exception, not the rule. Plus, these big earners usually have 30+ years of experience.

Feeling the government job vibe? If so, explore what government jobs for engineers are like.

#2 High-tech engineering positions

When you think big bucks in tech, FAANG companies come to mind. That’s the powerhouse group of:

  • Facebook
  • Apple
  • Amazon
  • Netflix
  • Google

These insanely profitable companies shower their engineers with cash. With sky-high margins, they’ve got money to burn.

The table below shows the top compensation packages from FAANG companies, verified by, who checked W2s, offer letters, and personal identities.

Remember, though, most of these eye-popping salaries are reserved for 10x engineers – those rare individuals who bring in a whopping $10 million annually for their company. No wonder they’re paid over a million bucks!

DateLocationPosition LevelTotal CompensationTotal Experience
July 2nd, 2019Menlo Park, CASecurity (E8)$1,800,00031 years
March 12th, 2021Menlo Park, CASoftware Engineer (E9)$2,990,00012 years
March 15th, 2021Menlo Park, CASoftware Engineer (E9)$3,900,00021 years
March 25th, 2021Cupertino, CAStaff Engineer (ICT5)$628,00014 years
January 20th, 2020San Jose, CAiOS (ICT6)$776,00030 years
February 2nd, 2020Cupertino, CASoftware Engineer (ICT6)$828,00017 years
October 8th, 2020San Francisco, CADistributed Systems (L7)$747,00012 years
September 6th, 2020San Francisco, CADistributed Systems (L7)$761,00015 years
January 22nd, 2021Sunnyvale, CADistributed Systems (L7)$835,00012 years
March 9th, 2021Los Gatos, CASenior Software Engineer$641,0009 years
March 21st, 2021Los Gatos, CASenior Software Engineer$693,00018 years
January 29th, 2021Los Angeles, CAWeb Development$715,0009 years
March 2nd, 2021San Francisco, CADistributed Systems (L9)$1,000,00015 years
February 3rd, 2021Mountain View, CAML/AI (L8)$1,218,00014 years
February 27th, 2019Mountain View, CASecurity (L9)$1,750,00022 years

But wait, there’s more! These payouts aren’t just for FAANG folks. The next table shows compensation packages from other internet companies:

Date LocationPosition levelTotal CompensationTotal Experience
March 11th, 2021San Francisco, CAStaff Software Engineer$613,00015 years
March 8th, 2021San Francisco, CAStaff Software Engineer$900,00010 years
March 16th, 2020San Francisco, CADistributed Systems$955,00012 years
February 15th, 2020Sunnyvale, CADistributed Systems$735,00020 years
March 2nd, 2021Sunnyvale, CADistributed Systems$780,00028 years
December 3rd, 2020Sunnyvale, CAPrincipal Staff Engineer$1,445,00022 years
August 13th, 2020San Francisco, CADistributed Systems (L6)$540,00010 years
March 1st, 2021San Francisco, CAData (L6)$720,0008 years
January 2nd, 2021San Francisco, CAFull Stack (T6)$775,00010 years
October 31st, 2019San Francisco, CAFull Stack (IC5) $580,00010 years
November 26th, 2018San Francisco, CAML/AI (IC5)$620,00010 years
February 17th, 2020San Francisco, CAML/AI (Staff SWE)$775,0009 years
February 9th, 2021San Francisco, CAML/AI (Staff SWE)$604,0009 years
March 12th, 2021San Francisco, CADistributed Systems (Staff SWE)$670,00010 years
March 23rd, 2021San Francisco, CAML/AI (Staff SWE)$700,0006 years

Important Note: Most of these packages are heavy on RSUs. FAANG stocks have been valuable in the past, but remember, companies like Facebook and Google can take a hit with a slow ad market or strict privacy regulations. So, that $1,000,000 might shrink to $300k in a flash.

Also, don’t forget that stock options vest over time in chunks. Say you’re granted 1000 shares, and your options vest 25% per year over four years. In the first year, you can buy 250 shares (25%).

Techie outliers

Aside from your typical FAANG software engineers, there are other wild outliers. In Silicon Valley, AI experts can command mind-boggling salaries too – sometimes over $1 million!

There just aren’t many engineers with this level of AI expertise. Plus, these engineers bring a lot more to the table than just their unworldly skills. As Mr. Nicholson from the startup Skymind said,

“When you hire a star, you are not just hiring a star. You are hiring everyone they attract. And you are paying for all the publicity they will attract.”

When you’re this good and influential, companies will bend over backwards to keep you. After all, getting paid more isn’t about doing more – it’s about making a bigger impact.

Important Note: Compensation packages can skyrocket for engineers at unicorn startups. Many engineers jump in early with a company, hoping for a successful IPO.

One Facebook engineer claimed they had the right to sell around 325,000 shares post-IPO. Considering a $40 share price at the time, that’s a cool $13 million.

#3 Consulting agency engineers in specialized niches

white cyborg finger about touch human finger

If you’ve got a highly sought-after skill in a niche with low supply, you can make some serious bank.

It’s all about having a unique skill in a hot technology or something so advanced that few engineers possess it.

Take power engineering, for example. Many people can handle low-voltage commercial lighting design, but not many can do high-voltage substation design from scratch.

I’ve written an article on the construction staging I designed for retrofitting an existing high-voltage substation. Give it a read to get a sense of what a niche within power engineering looks like.

The brilliant Principal Engineer

In some coastal California cities, I’ve stumbled upon the jaw-dropping billing rates of Principal Engineers, with the highest being a whopping $655/hour! These engineering maestros spearhead groundbreaking, attention-grabbing projects – the ones that make headlines and TV appearances.

The $655/hour Principal Engineer I met is a renewable energy expert with a treasure trove of hands-on experience. He’s part of a small firm that’s always inundated with business.

Time for some number crunching! Based on a 40-hour workweek and 52 weeks a year, a full-time employee works 2,080 hours. So, that’s 2,080 hours x $655 = $1,362,400.

In consulting, engineers usually take home anywhere from 33% to 50% of their billing rate. That means this engineer’s annual earnings from his firm would be between $449,592 and $681,200!

If you run your own one-person consulting engineering firm, you could pocket an even bigger chunk of that sum. Let’s have some fun with numbers, shall we? Pretend you’re a workaholic with an overflowing workload, clocking in 80 hours per week while crushing it. Your gross earnings would be $1,362,400 x 2 = $2,724,800!

#4 Financial technology engineering positions

Financial technology (FinTech) is the innovative fusion of technology and the finance sector. While some FinTech companies are banks, not all banks are FinTechs. Mainly, FinTech includes hedge funds, HFT firms, and prop shops, although overlaps do exist.

These firms typically hire quants and algorithm-focused software engineers. Below are the total compensation packages from for Citadel:

DateLocation Position LevelTotal CompensationTotal Experience
March 30th, 2020New York, NYDistributed Systems$750,0007
December 20th, 2019Chicago, ILDistributed Systems$725,00011
December 18th, 2020New York, NYDistributed Systems$600,00014
January 3rd, 2021Chicago, ILDistributed Systems$510,00016

I’ve heard of highly skilled quants raking in over $1 million, but unfortunately, I don’t have a solid data source to back that up. So, allow me to paint you a picture with a hypothetical scenario.

Assuming market liquidity and leverage, a single trading tactic might have a cap of $500 million. We’ll use Tiger Global’s impressive return rate of 22.4% in a year for our example. That means $500,000,000 x 0.224 = $112,000,000 profit for a single trading tactic.

Hedge funds typically take a 20% cut of the profits as their fee. So, $112,000,000 x 0.20 = $22,400,000. Sure, there are plenty of overhead costs like data and infrastructure, but it’s easy to see how a superstar quant in this scenario could make over $1 million annually.

“Can Engineers Make $500k?” wrap up

The financial success showcased in this article represents only a select few within the engineering world. These high-earning engineers possess a unique blend of attributes, including:

  • Unstoppable determination
  • Years of priceless experience
  • Highly specialized and honed skillsets
  • An innovative and creative mindset

Moreover, they seize opportunities to work on crucial projects that allow them to truly showcase their talents. And, let’s not forget that a dash of good fortune plays its part as well. I like to draw parallels between these engineers and professional athletes.

Think about it – how many people stand 6’8″ tall, have a 40″ vertical leap, and boast lightning-fast speed? Not many. That’s why superstars like LeBron James command jaw-dropping salaries in the millions.

But fear not! Even if you don’t possess a natural-born genius, you can still climb the ranks and boost your earnings. To help you do that, check out my following articles designed to help you level up:

How many engineers do you know earning a whopping $500k a year? What do you think is a solid engineering salary in your neck of the woods?


Get daily articles and news delivered to your email inbox

Leave a Comment