Salary of a game programmer (artist, designer, or producer)

As a technical director for the SCEA Santa Monica studio I do a lot of interviewing and, to a lesser degree, hiring of programmers for the God of War team. At some point during any hiring process the issue of salary inevitably comes up — as it should. Often that bit is painless and company and candidate will find an offer that makes both parties happy. Occasionally, though, there will be a difference in what someone is asking and what a company is willing to pay. There are several reasons this can happen, but one particular reason I wanted to address through this post: a lack of knowledge of prevailing wages in the industry on behalf of the candidate.

Today, there really is no reason for people to not have a reasonably good idea of prevailing wages in our industry based on the resources out there. Some of them you might know about, but some you might not.

[SCEA job links deleted — all jobs filled!]

Friends and industry forums

When it comes to statistical data there’s two (three?) key things to care about: strength in numbers, and fairness and accuracy in reporting. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, people usually first turn to friends and industry forums for salary information. For example, on The ChaosEngine (an industry-only forum) you can find salaries discussed in the North America Programmer Salary Poll and Salary Amnesty threads. I say “interestingly” because I’m not sure I’d really recommend these sources, certainly not as a single data point. The sampling is limited, you often don’t get an accurate job title posted with the salary data point, there are sampling biases, etc. All these issues compound to make extrapolation from the given data points hard, if not impossible.

Job and salary websites

You can also turn to dedicated job and salary websites for information. Unfortunately, few of these provide effective means of filtering for the games industry. For example, Glassdoor seems of limited value (right now), perhaps unless you’re looking at working for Electronic Arts. At the time of writing they list 73 salaries for Electronic Arts, 10 for Activision, 5 for THQ, 2 for SCEA, 1 for Take-Two, and that seems about it. Salary.com seems completely useless; it doesn’t seem to know any of the terms “games programmer”, “tools programmer”, “graphics programmer” or similar. Better is indeed where you get hits for all three terms along with some suggested salary ranges, based on ranges given in some of the job ads. And speaking of ranges given in the job ads, another place to look is at the various job posting places, like e.g. CreativeHeads.net where you can find ads like this one for a tools programmer in El Segundo for $80-110K, or CyberCoders where you’ll see e.g. a search for graphics programmers return a listing for Boston, MA, in the range $60K-120K. Dice is another site that lists game development jobs, sometimes with salary ranges.

The Game Industry Salary Survey

Quite accurate (based on statistical significance, and match with H-1B data given below) is the Game Industry Salary Survey that is conducted by Game Developer / Gamasutra / CMP Media every year (for several years in a row now). It’s people like you and me who contribute data points to this survey, and the more industry people who contribute the more accurate it gets. A summarized version of the data is released for free online. If you want the full survey you have to pay CMP Media quite a bit of money, sadly.

For 2008, 2007, and 2006, the Game Industry Salary Survey has that programmers, on average, are making this much in salary:

(2008) <3 years 3-6 years >6 years
Programmer/engineer $57,665 $75,070 $94,525
Lead programmer $75,761 $77,418 $103,409
Technical director $80,833 $111,250 $128,676

(2007) <3 years 3-6 years >6 years
Programmer/engineer $57,913 $74,707 $88,841
Lead programmer $73,311 $80,132 $98,152
Technical director N/A $91,944 $119,142

(2006) <3 years 3-6 years >6 years
Programmer/engineer $52,989 $73,618 $90,658
Lead programmer $76,848 $81,591 $100,528
Technical director N/A $107,738 $121,071

If you’re not a programmer, follow the links above and see the salaries listed for other job categories (sorry, but this is a programming blog after all).

The one thing you don’t get with this survey is access to individual data points. You also don’t get a breakdown per region, or any number of other type of reports that could be interesting. (The full report probably has many of these, but who wants to pay lots of money for that? Not me.)

Salary information from the H-1B database

Well, guess what, turns out you can create your own little survey, with data points from the H-1B Data Disclosure website! There anyone can download the “H-1B Efile Data” (or “H-1B Fax Data”) applications for the years 2002-2007. (Before you do, though, a warning: these are massive files and not easy to comb through. I downloaded the 2007 Efile text file, which is 30MB, but uncompresses to a 143MB(!) text file.) The Efile text file contains something like over 90% of all issued H-1B visas for the year, with information about the company applying for the visa, what the position is, how much salary is offered, etc. A gold mine for the statistics buff.

Thanks goes to the blogger at the Casually Hardcore devlog for alerting us to the existence of the H-1B database!

As I said, I downloaded the 2007 data and mined it for game company entries. I’m not sure I got them all, but I got a decent sampling. Specifically, in 2007, across 28 CA games (and film/graphics) companies, I got that the average programmer salary across all applications was $87K. The average for senior programmers was $103K, and for lead programmers $109K. Note how this data matches fairly well with the Game Industry Salary Survey, especially considering that programmers brought in on visas are often of above-average skill (otherwise, why bother).

The table below shows the programmer salary data I extracted. (Note: to compile the data I had to convert some entries giving hourly and weekly salaries to yearly salaries, which I did by multiplying by 37.5*52 and 52, respectively. This will have affected the data somewhat, but likely not significantly).

Employer Work city State Job title Wage
Capcom Entertainment San Mateo CA Engineering Manager $160,000
High Moon Studios Carlsbad CA Technical Director $155,300
SCEA Foster City CA Senior Staff Software Engineer $142,050
LucasArts San Francisco CA Lead Engineer $140,000
SCEA Foster City CA Senior Software Engineer $138,100
Activision Publishing Santa Monica CA Senior Programmer Analyst $130,000
Zipper Interactive Redmond WA Software Manager $130,000
Pixar Emeryville CA Software Engineer (Image Mastering SWEng) $125,008
Midway Amusement Games Chicago IL Senior Software Engineer $125,000
Rockstar San Diego Carlsbad CA Lead Programmer $125,000
SCEA Foster City CA Staff Compiler Engineer $123,900
id Software Mesquite TX Programmer $123,670
Disney Interactive Studios Burbank/Glendale CA Technology Director $121,500
Digital Domain Venice CA Senior Software Engineer $120,000
LucasArts San Francisco CA Senior Core Engineer $120,000
Rockstar San Diego Carlsbad CA Lead Programmer $120,000
Rockstar San Diego Carlsbad CA Lead Programmer $120,000
SCEA Foster City CA Senior Developer Support Engineer $118,400
Backbone Entertainment Newport Beach CA Lead Rendering Programmer $118,359
Sony Online Entertainment San Diego CA Senior Programmer $117,683
Sony Online Entertainment San Diego CA Senior Programmer $117,683
Visual Concepts Entertainment Novato CA Senior Software Engineer $117,495
SCEA Foster City CA Software Engineer $117,450
SCEA Foster City CA Senior Software Engineer $115,800
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $114,275
SCEA Foster City CA Senior Software Engineer $114,000
Crystal Dynamics Redwood City CA Programmer $113,300
Naughty Dog Santa Monica CA Software Research Engineer (Games Software) $113,200
Crystal Dynamics Redwood City CA Senior Programmer $111,200
Visual Concepts Entertainment Novato CA Software Engineer $110,770
Activision Publishing Santa Monica CA Software Engineer - Game Design $110,000
DreamWorks Animation Redwood City CA Senior Software Engineer $110,000
LucasArts San Francisco CA Senior Software Engineer $110,000
LucasArts San Francisco CA Senior Software Engineer $110,000
SCEA San Diego CA Computer Scientist $110,000
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Technical Director $109,054
SCEA Foster City CA Staff Software Engineer $108,846
SCEA Foster City CA Staff Software Engineer $108,846
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Senior Artificial Intelligence Engineer $107,133
Rockstar San Diego Carlsbad CA Lead Programmer $106,000
Rockstar San Diego Carlsbad CA Programmer $106,000
Activision Publishing Santa Monica CA Programmer Analyst $105,000
Factor 5 San Rafael CA Senior Software Engineer $105,000
Vivendi Games Los Angeles CA 11i Development Manager $104,500
Vivendi Games Los Angeles CA 11i Development Manager $104,500
Vivendi Games Los Angeles CA Applications Development Manager $104,500
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Senior Software Engineer $104,247
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $104,247
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $104,247
PDI/DreamWorks Glendale CA Production Engineer $103,430
SCEA Foster City CA Senior Software Engineer $103,050
SCEA Foster City CA Senior Software Engineer $103,000
Midway Studios-Austin Austin TX Lead Gameplay Programmer $102,500
Midway Studios-Austin Austin TX Lead Gameplay Programmer $102,500
NAMCO BANDAI Games America San Jose CA Software Engineer $102,500
Left Field Productions Ventura CA Software Engineer $101,972
Page 44 Studios San Francisco CA Computer Software Engineer $100,420
Page 44 Studios San Francisco CA Computer Software Engineer $100,420
PDI/DreamWorks Redwood City CA Production Engineer $100,000
DreamWorks Animation Glendale CA Senior Software Engineer $100,000
LucasArts San Francisco CA Senior Gameplay Engineer $100,000
NAMCO BANDAI Games America Santa Clara CA Software Engineer $100,000
Naughty Dog Santa Monica CA Senior Programmer $100,000
Obsidian Entertainment Santa Ana CA Computer Software Engineer $100,000
Rockstar San Diego Carlsbad CA Programmer 4 $100,000
SCEA San Diego CA Software Engineer $100,000
THQ Kirkland CA Senior Software Engineer $100,000
Vivendi Games Los Angeles CA Associate Technical Director $100,000
Neversoft Entertainment Woodland Hills CA Senior Artificial Intelligence Programmer $99,144
SCEA Foster City CA Senior Software Engineer $99,000
Activision Publishing Santa Monica CA Programmer Analyst $98,800
SCEA San Diego CA Software Engineer $98,150
Activision Publishing Santa Monica CA Senior Software Engineer $98,000
Midway Amusement Games Chicago IL Programmer $98,000
Sony Online Entertainment San Diego CA Senior Software Engineer $98,000
DreamWorks Animation Glendale CA Senior Software Engineer $97,958
Electronic Arts Emeryville CA Software Engineer $97,906
Electronic Arts Emeryville CA Software Engineer $97,906
Electronic Arts Emeryville CA Software Engineer $97,365
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer (Software Engineer III) $97,365
Z-AXIS Ltd (Activision) Foster City CA Senior Software Engineer $97,365
Retro Studios Austin TX Senior Software Engineer $95,940
Visual Concepts Entertainment Novato CA Software Engineer $95,025
DreamWorks Animation Glendale CA Software Engineer $95,006
DreamWorks Animation Glendale CA Software Engineer $95,000
DreamWorks Animation Redwood City CA Production Engineer $94,500
High Moon Studios Carlsbad CA Senior Programmer $94,500
SCEA Foster City CA Software Engineer $94,400
SCEA San Diego CA Software Engineer $94,400
LucasArts San Francisco CA AI Engineer $93,000
Electronic Arts Chicago CA Software Engineer $92,099
Electronic Arts Chicago CA Software Engineer $92,099
Electronic Arts Chicago CA Software Engineer $92,099
Electronic Arts Chicago CA Software Engineer $92,099
Activision Publishing Middleton CA Software Engineer $92,000
Midway Studios - Los Angeles Moorpark CA Online Game Programmer $92,000
Retro Studios Austin TX Software Engineer $92,000
Neversoft Entertainment Woodland Hills CA Project Programmer $91,584
id Software Mesquite TX Programmer $90,000
LucasArts San Francisco CA Software Engineer $90,000
Naughty Dog Santa Monica CA Senior Programmer $90,000
Page 44 Studios San Francisco CA Computer Software Engineer $90,000
Pixar Emeryville CA Software Engineer (Technical Director) $90,000
Secret Level San Francisco CA Tools Programmer $90,000
THQ Los Angeles CA Senior Programmer $90,000
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Programmer Analyst $88,569
Backbone Entertainment Newport Beach CA Lead Rendering Programmer $88,000
Nintendo of America Redmond WA Senior Programmer/Analyst $88,000
Visual Concepts Entertainment Novato CA Software Engineer $87,975
Apogee Software Campbell CA Software Engineer $87,006
Apogee Software Campbell CA Software Engineer $85,000
LucasArts San Francisco CA Computer Programmer $85,000
LucasArts San Francisco CA Gameplay/Artificial Intelligence Engineer $85,000
Naughty Dog Santa Monica CA Senior Programmer $85,000
NCsoft Corporation Austin TX Tools Engineer $85,000
Retro Studios Austin TX Software Engineer $85,000
SCEA Foster City CA Developer Support Engineer $85,000
SCEA Foster City CA Developer Support Engineer $85,000
The Collective Newport Beach CA Computer Systems Analyst (Sr. Maya Prg) $85,000
THQ Moorpark CA Senior Software Engineer $85,000
Zipper Interactive Redmond WA Software Engineer $85,000
Zipper Interactive Redmond WA Software Engineer $85,000
Pixar Emeryville CA Software Engineer (Technical Director) $84,942
Electronic Arts Tiburon Orlando CA Software Engineer III $84,698
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Programmer/Analyst $84,240
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $84,240
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer (Senior Lead Online Dev) $84,240
SCEA Foster City CA Software Engineer $83,600
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $83,512
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $83,512
Sanzaru Games San Mateo CA Senior Engineer $83,512
Sanzaru Games San Mateo CA Senior Engineer $83,512
WildTangent Redmond WA Senior Software Engineer $83,500
SCEA Foster City CA Software Engineer $83,440
Nintendo of America Redmond WA Senior Bilingual Software Engineer $83,242
Valve Corporation Bellevue WA Software Engineer $83,242
Valve Corporation Bellevue WA Software Engineer $83,242
Activision Publishing Santa Monica CA Software Engineer $82,900
SCEA Foster City CA Software Engineer $82,400
Z-AXIS Ltd (Activision) Foster City CA Senior Software Engineer $81,890
Electronic Arts Orlando CA Software Engineer $81,471
Activision Publishing San Francisco CA Systems Analyst - Product Development $81,000
Electronic Arts Playa Vista CA Software Engineer $80,925
Nintendo Software Tech Corp Redmond WA Engineering Specialist $80,450
Kush Games Camarillo CA Software Engineer $80,000
LucasArts San Francisco CA Gameplay Engineer $80,000
Rockstar San Diego Carlsbad CA Programmer $80,000
SCEA San Diego CA Software Engineer $80,000
Electronic Arts Tiburon Orlando CA Software Engineer $79,404
Sennari Entertainment Cupertino CA Software Engineer - Lead Programmer $79,000
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Senior Software Engineer $78,293
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $78,293
Kush Games Camarillo CA Software Engineer $76,000
Visual Concepts Entertainment Novato CA Software Engineer $75,490
Arete Seven (dba Bungie) Kirkland WA Software Development Engineer $75,000
Arete Seven (dba Bungie) Kirkland WA Software Development Engineer $75,000
DreamWorks Animation Glendale CA Software Engineer $75,000
DreamWorks Animation Glendale CA Software Engineer $75,000
Firaxis Games Hunt Valley MD Software Engineer - Gaming Systems $75,000
Activision Publishing Albany CA Programmer Analyst $74,900
High Impact Games Los Angeles CA Game Programmer $74,000
High Impact Games Los Angeles CA Game Programmer $74,000
Electronic Arts Emeryville CA Software Engineer (Audio Software Engineer) $73,278
Gas Powered Games Corporation Redmond WA Graphics Engineer (PC) $72,500
Red Storm Entertainment Morrisville NC AI Engineer $72,000
Vicarious Visions Menands NY Game Programmer $71,470
Arete Seven (dba Bungie) Kirkland WA AI Programmer $70,000
Arete Seven (dba Bungie) Kirkland WA Artificial Intelligence Programmer $70,000
Idol Minds Louisville CO Senior Games Programmer $70,000
Kush Games Camarillo CA Software Engineer $70,000
LucasArts San Francisco CA UI Interface Engineer $70,000
THQ Carrollton CA Software Engineer $70,000
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $69,700
Electronic Arts Playa Vista CA Software Engineer $69,362
Electronic Arts Playa Vista CA Software Engineer $69,362
Electronic Arts Tiburon Orlando CA Software Engineer $68,543
Pixar Emeryville CA Software Engineer $67,600
Pixar Emeryville CA Software Engineer (Technical Director) $67,600
Activision Publishing Albany CA Software Engineer $66,200
Activision Publishing Santa Monica CA Software Engineer $66,000
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $65,325
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $65,325
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $65,325
Electronic Arts Redwood City CA Software Engineer $65,325
Arete Seven (dba Bungie) Kirkland WA Game Designer $65,000
Blue Heat Games Atlanta GA Lead Programmer $65,000
High Impact Games N Hollywood CA Computer Systems Analyst $65,000
High Moon Studios Carlsbad CA Associate Programmer $65,000
Obsidian Entertainment Santa Ana CA Software Engineer $65,000
Pixar Emeryville CA Software Engineer (Technical Director) $65,000
Sony Online Entertainment San Diego CA Computer Systems Engineer $65,000
High Impact Games N Hollywood CA Computer Systems Analyst $62,000
Nintendo Software Tech Corp Redmond WA Engineering Specialist (Software Engineer) $61,300
Electronic Arts Chicago CA Software Developer $60,606
Midway Amusement Games Chicago IL Software Engineer $60,000
Obsidian Entertainment Santa Ana CA Software Engineer $60,000
Raven Software Solutions Jacksonville FL Software Engineer $60,000
Raven Software Solutions Jacksonville FL Software Engineer $60,000
Ready At Dawn Studios Santa Ana CA Software Engineer $58,000
Ready At Dawn Studios Santa Ana CA Software Engineer $58,000
THQ Los Angeles CA Software Engineer $57,803
Electronic Arts Tiburon Orlando CA Software Engineer $57,701
THQ Kirkland CA Software Engineer $57,000
High Voltage Software Hoffman Estates IL Software Engineer $56,000
Activision Publishing Albany CA Software Engineer $55,000
Kush Games Camarillo CA Software Engineer $55,000
Kush Games Camarillo CA Software Engineer - Games $55,000
Raven Software Solutions Jacksonville FL Software Engineer $55,000
Raven Software Solutions Jacksonville FL Software Engineer $55,000
Visual Concepts Entertainment Novato CA Software Engineer (Game Tools) $55,000
Visual Concepts Entertainment Novato CA Software Programming Engineer $55,000
Realtime Associates El Segundo CA Computer Programmer $53,500
SCEA Austin CA Software Engineer $52,374
Big Fish Games Seattle WA Software Development Engineer in Test $52,250
Electronic Arts Chicago CA Software Engineer $51,071
THQ Moorpark CA Programmer $51,000
Insomniac Games Burbank CA Associate Gameplay Programmer $50,050
Idol Minds Louisville CO Games Programmer $50,000
Kush Games Camarillo CA Computer Programmer $50,000
THQ Los Angeles CA Game Programmer $50,000
Papaya Studio Irvine CA Game Programmer $48,000
Electronic Arts Tiburon Orlando CA Software Engineer $46,839
THQ Los Angeles CA Game Programmer $45,000
THQ Los Angeles CA Software Engineer $45,000
Electronic Arts Bountiful CA Software Engineer $42,588
Papaya Studio Irvine CA Game Programmer $38,000

Again, sorry, the table above is just the programmer data. That said, here’s a zipped Excel file containing all the 2007 H-1B game developer data I was able to mine from the 2007 Efile, including data for artists, designers, producers, programmers, as well as a few other odd professions (e.g. a “supply chain analyst” at Activision). Hourly and weekly salaries have not been converted to yearly salaries in this file. Playing around with Excel on this file could help you answer, say, if people in Northern CA are paid more or less than people in Southern CA, or any other question you’d like to pose.

I was going to do the same for the Efiles for previous years to get a larger pool of data, but ran out of steam. It would be cool if someone actually bothered to do it (and post a link here). To mine the file I basically just “grepped” the text file for known game company names (from a big list of company names) and then manually cleaned up the resulting file.

Summary

I don’t really have much more to add at this point, other than that I hope this information is useful to you. If you have any other good (reliable) sources, please post them in the comments. Oh, actually, sorry to end on a bum note, but do remember that not every programmer is top talent and will command top dollar. Assuming a gaussian distribution (which seems reasonable), roughly half of all programmers are below average. Make sure you’re not one of them before you start demanding a higher salary based on this data!

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21 Comments »

  1. Collection of Links | Programmer's Log said,

    July 17, 2008 @ 4:01 am

    […] Salary of a game programmer (artist, designer, or producer) A very enlightening article about the wages in the games industry. […]

  2. charles said,

    July 17, 2008 @ 11:15 am

    “Oh, actually, sorry to end on a bum note, but do remember that not every programmer is top talent and will command top dollar. Assuming a gaussian distribution (which seems reasonable), roughly half of all programmers are below average. Make sure you’re not one of them before you start demanding a higher salary based on this data!”

    Christer, you’re basing that statement on the ideal that talent is directly proportional to salary (as one would hope). I’ve seen this not be the case many times; too often it’s simply a function of time spent in the industry or even just at a specific company, and in that case simply represents survival skills and good politicking.

  3. 8ball said,

    July 17, 2008 @ 12:52 pm

    I used to work for Papaya, and they actually put higher figures in the H-1B documentation so they wouldn’t have to pay prevailing wage (the minimum wage an employer has to pay an H-1B employee) - if you go through the past years on the H-1B disclosure site, you’ll see that the salaries are magically clamped at a certain value.

  4. Game Industry Salaries « Applied Game Design said,

    July 17, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

    […] on July 17, 2008 by bbrathwaite There’s a must read over on Christer Erikson’s blog, realtimecollisiondetection.net. Scroll down to the section where he mines the H1B Visa tables for programmer salaries. For those […]

  5. fatlimey said,

    July 17, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

    Wow! I can name four of the top 20 from the location and description alone. Quite surprising how much a Frenchman can make if they have good connections. - Robin Green

  6. Keith said,

    July 19, 2008 @ 11:00 am

    Well now I know how much my boss makes way up near the top and he’s probably still underpaid..

    I wonder how much of a fair representation using the H-1B stats is. Are programmers who need an H-1B visa getting paid about average of other programmers at their company? Do they get paid more to entice them to move to the US? Do they get paid less because they’re willing to take it in order to get over here and hopefully eventually wind up with a green card? Are the published stats total lies just to keep immigration happy? (I’ve heard of some immigration applications that could wind up on fiction best-seller lists. Mine however is total 100% truth in case any immigration officers stumble upon this…)

    Regardless, a very resourceful use of available information and a fascinating read.

  7. ishaq said,

    July 21, 2008 @ 3:16 am

    “BTW, speaking of jobs, I’m still looking for top graphics, tools, and online gameplay programmers. If you’re interested and you know you’re pretty good at what you do, shoot me an email or LinkedIn message, I’d like to talk to you!”

    but how can I contact you when linked keeps asking me to upgrade my account and I can’t find your email. :)

  8. christer said,

    July 21, 2008 @ 8:06 am

    Charles, it was more of a comment to remind people that they aren’t necessarily as good as they think they are, than an accurate statistical comment. Personally, I think Sturgeon’s law applies. Always.

    8Ball, your statement doesn’t seem to rhyme with the data from the database.

    Robin, yeah, cross referencing the data vs. e.g. LinkedIn or personal knowledge of people in the industry does make it possible to identify people. I knew this was possible, and I didn’t particularly want to expose individuals, but I still felt there was a value to the whole industry in reporting the data.

    Keith, based on my experience, having been on an H-1B myself as well as having had lots of coworkers and friends on H-1Bs, H-1B salaries (at least in the games industry) are definitely a fair representation. They’re certainly not a means of obtaining “cheap labor” like some clueless retards often accuse the system of, in that the salaries have to match (or exceed) prevailing wages, and theres a shitload of money spent on lawyers fees, relocation, etc. on top of the wages themselves.

    Ishaq, that’s the type of problem solving I’m expecting a good candidate to excel at!

  9. warjo said,

    July 22, 2008 @ 3:56 pm

    Lol, email finding FAIL… this reminds me of http://failblog.org/2008/07/17/trivia-fail/ (sorry to link to the fail blog).

    Christer, aren’t salaries a matter of negotiation? You’ve been looking for programmers for some time now quite openly and consistently so evidently there is demand without supply. I would expect unreasonable figures being mentioned in that situation even if the candidate is aware of the prevailing figures - in fact that would be a trivial problem solving on his part as you put it.

    Very useful post though.

  10. christer said,

    July 23, 2008 @ 12:28 am

    Yordan, I think you’re reading too much specificity into the generic statements I made at the opening and closing of the post. Simplified, I was making two points.

    First, what I was saying is that it happens that e.g. junior programmers ask for senior programmer salaries. If they can negotiate that, power to them, but odds are they’re just wasting their time and that of others unless they’re of truly exceptional skill and experience. Know thyself.

    Second, people should educate themselves about prevailing wages so they e.g. don’t go about accepting a game programmer position for $38K/year at Papaya Studio!

    My post was an attempt to provide solid information to help people with respect to both issues.

  11. Cedrick said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 2:46 pm

    I spared myself from mining the data when I went through similar steps two years ago. I have been using the excellent although quite slow at times http://www.mydanwei.com/ and the salary tab for over two years now :)

    I cross referenced your data and they seem to match for the engineering part.

    Enjoy :)

    fatlimey: Keep in mind that this database lacks all the O1s, J1s, L1s which have been used more and more the last few years.

  12. whoa, haskell people is smizzle « Honest Lee’s Blog said,

    September 24, 2008 @ 8:44 am

    […] whoa, haskell people is smizzle http://realtimecollisiondetection.net/blog/?p=70#more-70 […]

  13. JordanM said,

    September 25, 2008 @ 4:44 pm

    hello, I’m realistic about my capabilities. I’m student looking for more of a “junior programmer” position. I’m still not quite sure what the salary range is for such a position (I live in the Bay Area).

    What I’d like to know is: What is the ballpark salary range for a junior programmer? And what skills do you expect from a student/junior programmer coming in?

    jordan

  14. christer said,

    September 26, 2008 @ 12:07 am

    Jordan, my experience is in hiring strong senior programmers, not junior programmers, so I cannot really tell you. A junior programmer would fall into the “programmer” and “<3 years" category of the Game Industry Salary Survey, for which the table above lists $57,665 as the average salary, but I don't know what variance to expect on that average (it'll depend on lots of things, including location and your skill set).

    As for skills, I would expect them to know their computer science curriculum inside and out as they're likely to have just completed such a degree. And even if they didn't, I still expect them to have equivalent knowledge -- they will just have to learned it all on their own if they took EE, physics, or didn't go to university at all. It's a meritocracy: I'll hire you based on what you know, I don't care how you obtained the knowledge or what school you did or didn't go do; the only thing that matters is that you have the chops.

    As for CS-degree equivalent skills, I will expect you know everything that was presented in classes on data structures and algorithms, computer architecture, and linear algebra. You need to be proficient in C/C++ and at least one other language. Bonus points for everything above that. Brains, enthusiasm, and drive are very important too, of course, and can make up for deficiencies in knowledge areas.

    I’ve meant to write a post about what I think a programmer should know. If you stick around, I might actually even get around to it eventually!

  15. louis said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 11:17 am

    Thanks for posting the data Christer, they are very helpful. How do advanced degrees play in salary negotiation? For example, if one is a fresh PhD from top schools and say the position is R&D, are they considered as junior SW engineers because they lack of industry experiences?

  16. christer said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

    Hi Louis, as far as I’m concerned, degrees, whether advanced or not, are completely irrelevant. As I mentioned in my previous comment to Jordan it’s all a meritocracy. Pay is commensurable to what’s in your brain and how well you’re able to use what’s in your brain. How that information got into your brain, whether by obtaining a “PhD from top schools” or beaten into you in no-rule street fights, I don’t care. You either have the chops or you don’t, and a PhD is no indication either way.

    That said, you clearly stand a much better chance of having the chops by having completed a BSCS, MSCS, or CS PhD, because you have been studying in the area relevant to what I’m looking for in candidates. Nevertheless, I’ve interviewed people from so called “top schools” (MIT, etc.) who have been truly abysmal and I’ve interviewed people without degrees who have been brilliant. (And vice versa.)

    Basically, anyone who hires someone solely based on what school they went to, or what degree they have, is a moron. The only thing that can tell you whether someone is suited for the job is a thorough interview process, or references from people you trust. (A letter of recommendation from a professor is useless, btw.) The information on a resume is merely something that is used to sort the resumes in an estimated priority order as to who to call first.

    So, to finally answer your question: advanced degrees have no direct relevance on salary negotiation as far as I’m concerned. They may have an indirect relevance in that they might have provided you with the knowledge and skills that do affect your salary negotiation.

    Others may have a different view on this.

  17. louis said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:43 pm

    I agree with you that a degree is not the absolute measure of skill or ability to do well.

    But I’d be interested to hear more insights on how you can accurately tell someone is brilliant within say a 20-30 min interview and able to decide their salary without seeing their actual performance. It would seem to me that you can get a general idea of whether someone is an idiot or not within that time, but to decide his/her salary, you’d still have to go back to their prior experience (on resume) or their education.

    I mean the things we do require more than knowing how to implement a data structure or fancy bit operations. I was amused when my friends told me when they were interviewing, they were asked to implement a linked list on paper, or how to use bit operations to divide a number by 2, and my friends are CS PhDs. A more challenging question would be asking how to solve a hair simulation problem when there are 500 characters interacting with each other in the scene and you want it all done in real time with shadow. Would you ask this kind of questions in an interview?

    I guess what I mean to say is a fresh PhD would lack industry experience and possibly some relevant knowledge (such as writing commercial grade software) required for a position comparing with someone who’s been in the industry for a while. But it doesn’t mean the new graduate doesn’t have the potential so do the job well. Their trainings in terms of problem solving and creating new technologies can be an asset to the company in the long term. So to me it’s a question of prior experience vs future potential and how they are valued in terms of $$$. Thanks.

  18. christer said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 10:39 pm

    Louis, seriously, a degree alone is worth nothing, not a thing. A diploma says absolutely nothing about what the person knows or doesn’t know. It says they took some classes and passed them, and wrote a thesis and someone approved it. That’s all. It doesn’t say that they retained a single thing from any of the classes they took.

    The same goes for someone with 20 years of programming experience and a resume thick as a phone book. I’ve seen enough experienced people with impressive resumes have no appreciable skills whatsoever that I know you cannot take resumes at face value.

    Only an interview (or a trusted reference) can tell you that these people have the skills needed for the job!

    Now, there is a reason people ask questions about linked lists and other (seemingly trivial) fundamentals: a large number of people we interview in the industry have no clue! They didn’t retain a single thing from the classes they took. Often they cannot even list what classes were part of their curriculum! And even when they retained something, it is memorized facts and they cannot explain them, argue about them, or even apply them. PhD’s are no different in this aspect from BS or MS students. I see them flunk interviews as well as those with BS degrees or no degree at all; sometimes PhD’s flunk more spectacularly.

    You shouldn’t be amused that PhD’s are asked how to implement a linked list, you should be sad or disgusted. Because that’s how poor some candidates are that we see (PhD’s included). Trust me, we ask some very tricky questions (beyond your hair simulation problem) in interviews, but first we need to make sure they can actually implement simple data structures and describe basic algorithms.

    As for interviews, we don’t do a 20-30 minute interview. We do 60-90 minutes on the phone as a phone screen. If they pass the phone screen we have a whole day interview, consisting of 3-4 hours of in-depth technical questioning, and the remaining time is social screening. And we check references. (And, it goes without saying, I expect candidates to check us out equally thoroughly to make sure we are the right choice for them.)

    Not everyone is this bad of course, but there are sufficiently many who match this bleak picture I’m painting that this is a reality and not something I’m making up.

    I’m curious as to why you seem to think a PhD would be worth more money than a MS, a BS, or someone with no degree at all. Also, what makes you think a PhD has more “future potential” compared to the others? How would you justify your response?

  19. louis said,

    September 28, 2008 @ 12:47 am

    That’s awesome. See, I had no idea how the interview process is going to be like and I have one coming up next week. I better get started on reviewing all these stuff, haha. 3-4 hours of technical questioning sounds quite brutal.

    In response to your questions, I’m not saying every PhD should make more money than someone with a MS or BS, and that’s absolutely not true in reality. It’s just an observation when I compare my colleagues in grad school to my classmates in undergrads, the quality of people are much higher in grad school. Of course, I’m talking about averages in a large pool of samples. There are extremely sharp people in my undergraduate classes as well who never went to grad school and are very successful in what they do.

    Personally, when I decided to go to grad school, I wanted to stay in academia, so getting a PhD was really the only option. Besides I really like what I do, I think there’s also an expectation that when I graduate with an advanced degree, I should earn more money than when I just graduated from college, otherwise it doesn’t really make sense. Of course I don’t expect people to just pay me more because I have an advanced degree, but rather for what I have learned during my time in grad school. But you are right, having a PhD doesn’t really say anything, it’s really what you have to offer should be considered in a job interview.

    And interestingly, I learned much more outside classes than what I learned in classes. I think there’s a big gap between what the computer industry is looking for and the current CS curriculum being taught in schools. Parallel computing was rarely taught when I was an undergrad, and now all the hardware are expected to be used in parallel. Recently I read Stanford is offering an iPhone programming course, I was quite impressed. They have been doing a pretty good job to stay up to date. I want to make a game for iPhone myself, when I find the time to do it I’m sure the market will be flooded.

    Thank you so much for your insights, they are very valuable.

  20. bleubleu said,

    November 16, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

    Wow! That was very interesting.

    Talking about interview and such, can you tell me more about demo reels for programmers (not artists) ? From what i have seen, most programmers seems to show a few seconds of a selected set of projects they worked on.

    What should I put in and NOT put in ? What do you like to see personally ? How long should it last ? Should it have annoying music :-) ? What if we are coming out from school and have no experience on on real games, are school/personal projects worth showing in a reel ?

    Thanks!

    Mat

  21. realtimecollisiondetection.net - the blog » Game developer salaries revisited said,

    February 20, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    […] of the most popular articles I’ve posted on the blog was the one on salaries in the games industry from back in 2008. What made the article extra interesting was that I mined the public H1-B visa […]

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