“The computer was born to solve problems that did not exist before.” — Bill Gates

At their simplest, computers are aides for computation. Humans have utilized manual (then mechanical) tools for computation for hundreds — if not thousands — of years. 

Deep into the internet era, it’s easy to forget that two decades ago our experience with computing was entirely different. Floppy disks were still the norm. Dial up modems were interrupted by phone calls and would download “large” files over days. The story in between then and now is largely due to people who majored in computer science. 

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Fast forward to today, and connectivity is ubiquitous. If there’s not a service capable of managing the logic behind modern transactions or needs within a given field, we assume there will be in a matter of years (if not months). The common phrase “software is eating the world” was coined on the newly developed edge of true 21st century software applications. And even though computing jobs have been a “hot ticket” for decades now, there’s no evidence that demand is slowing. Contrarily, highly qualified graduate computing graduates in some specializations can command salaries rivalling medical doctors. 

That’s if you don’t enact your own idea. Three of the five richest people in the world gained their fortunes through computer science. 

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All of this is to say that if you find yourself drawn to computer science, and also care about a lucrative career, that in many ways the pairing is a match made in heaven. 

In this guide we’ll look at some of the most lucrative careers in computing as well as the degrees that can take you there. Here at degreeQuery, we have years of experience guiding new and non-traditional students to the right degree programs for them. Each student is different, and we approach our research knowing that there are a wide range of programs that may be “right” for a given individual. One crucial component for every student, however, is what they’ll do with their degree when they’re out of school. That’s what this guide is centered around. Helping you discern if you want to study computing, and if so what you may want to focus on to find a high-paying (or in-demand) job in computing. 

What are the highest paying jobs in computing?

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Many types of computing hold a benefit compared to other industries, they don’t require massive infrastructure to make a valuable product. Practically speaking, this means that — at least in some computing disciplines — individuals with a good idea and enough follow through can simply build their own product. While there’s a ton more than simply building you product to building a profitable business, it’s a good start. And many computing graduates have “jumped in” and simply implemented their own (successful) ideas. 

All of this is to say that many of the highest paying jobs in computing are related to creating your own product or service and selling it. Many computing processes and services provide insanely scalable and large additions to value. This means that at the end of the day, the cost of providing a finely crafting computing solution is vastly outstripped by the price it can be sold for. Those who own the rights to sell these products or services can make billions. 

While this isn’t a surefire bet at all, plenty of computing graduates do go on to create their own product or service line. For that reason, we’ll look at the roles related to this process that earn the most. 

To begin this enquiry, let’s look at a few key concepts that relate to making money off of your computing product or service: 

  • Equity is the percentage of an enterprise you own. Within computing enterprises that take funding from external parties, there are relatively set equity amounts you can expect depending on the amount of responsibility you shoulder for bringing a product or service to market. 
  • Funding rounds revolve around the interplay of your organization, your ideas, and potential funding parties. Funding rounds are labelled sequentially. First a “series A” then a “series B” funding round is performed. These interactions typically revolve around a founder and their team “selling” their vision for their product and accepting funding in exchange for a percentage of equity in their business. 
  • Bootstrapping is the process of bringing your product or service to market without the use of funding rounds. In this case you rely on your own time and money to build out your computing solution. This means that you don’t have to give up a stake (or equity) in your idea to being it to life. If you can pull it off, you don’t have to share in the profits of your idea. 

With all of this in mind, lets jump into some of the roles you can assume that have the chance of being exceedingly high earning. 

Chief executive officers of software or computing service firms dealing with funding rounds are typically individuals present from the start, and often the individuals who have the computing idea capable of gaining funding. While the range of compensation for software and computing CEOs varies greatly, a profitable business seldom pays it’s CEO less than $100,000 a year. Most wealth generated from many founders is held in equity in their company which theoretically could be sold in the future. 

Chief technical officers of early stage start-ups are commonly co-founders, meaning they joined up with the CEO (and potentially others) with the primary task of organizing and implementing the tech-aided aspects of the service or product to be sold. Similarly to CEO’s, founding CTO’s commonly gain a large percentage of equity in the company that they helped to found. Once the business is profitable or funded, a salary in the $100,000’s of can often be expected, but the larger share of wealth presented in founding a company is available in the form of equity. 

Founders is a more general term that can encompass CEO’s, CTO’s, and other roles that are present upon the formation of an organization. Typically individuals may refer to themselves as founders in a stage in which they may be responsible for a wider range of responsibilities related to bringing a product or service to market than one single role. Similarly to CEO’s and CTO’s — and often with the same job responsibilities — founders commonly gain a large percentage of equity in the company that they helped to found. Once the business is profitable or funded, a salary in the $100,000’s of can often be expected, but the larger share of wealth presented in founding a company is available in the form of equity. 

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Interesting in pursuing a degree in computer science? Be sure to check out DegreeQuery’s rankings of the best schools related to computer science below:

 

What are the highest paying computing jobs outside of the C-Suite or Ownership?

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Most individuals gaining a computing degree won’t pursue their own idea immediately. Though there are a range of top-notch and applied computing programs out there, most individuals need some experience working on top teams and gaining some guidance to be capable or advancing or creating their own idea. 

Within roles not in the C-suite (or “founder status”) and related to computing, there are a wide range of disciplines that could content for the title of most lucrative. Typically, management positions within computing have the opportunity to make more than applied computing professionals. With this said, many engineers within the most lucrative computing disciplines out-earn their managers. 

To summarize the most lucrative computing disciplines we’ll look at the following:

  • Machine Learning Engineers
  • Data Scientists
  • Artificial Intelligence Engineers
  • Cyber Security Professionals

Machine learning is the process of training artificial intelligence systems to perform a task by providing tons of training data as well as feedback on performance. For example, training an AI system to steer a self-driving car involves “feeding” this system millions of hours of video content so that it can learn to identify pedestrians in the street, obstacles, and when different traffic laws would occur. Machine learning can be a huge value add when brought to features in computing services or products. This makes machine learning engineers in high demand. Nationwide, the average salary for machine learning engineers is presently around $140,000, with certain markets and specialties boosting salaries above $200,000 (or even $300,000). 

Data science has been called the “hottest job” of the 21st century. Collectively, humanity has created more data in the last handful of years than throughout all of history before. Organizations are seeking to utilize this data to make decisions and provide analysis for their processes. This is where data scientists come in. While data science degrees are more of a hybrid between statistics, computing, and business, many individuals also prepare for a data science job with a computing degree that specializes in analytics. The average salary for data scientists in the United States is presently $115,000 a year. 

Artificial intelligence engineers overlap to some extent with machine learning engineers, though may have a focus on another area of AI construction (other than just training or “machine learning”). Engineers who can wrangle the latest AI-building technologies are in high demand in almost every industry as both large enterprise and startups are seeking to discover how AI will fit into the evolving workforce. AI is also already utilized throughout our lives, with doctors relying on AI suggestions, websites regularly catering your experience through AI, and even smart systems built into cars. The average salary for AI engineers in the United States is presently $165,000 a year. 

Cyber security professions are wide ranging and encompass everything from policy analysts to ethical hackers and security architects. Even if you don’t end up in a highly technical role, it’s important for cyber security professionals to understand foundational technical concepts and systems that relate to vulnerabilities. For this reason, many individuals who excel in cyber security hold degrees in computer science. While cyber security holds many positions with a range of salaries, many of the highest earning cyber security specialties (like security architect or penetration tester) can earn close to $200,000 at senior levels. 

Interesting in pursuing a degree in computer science? Be sure to check out DegreeQuery’s rankings of the best schools related to computer science below:

 

 

What degrees lead to lucrative computing jobs?

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One aspect of computing degrees that set them apart is that graduates are in-demand nearly regardless of degree level. This includes bootcamp graduates, associates-degree holders, bachelor’s-degree holders, master’s graduates, and those with their Ph.D.

With this said, many computing positions and employers rely more on assessing your skills than other fields. It is possible to hone your chops outside of academia and land high-paying jobs. But many do find that the structure and instruction available in university settings do help to fast track placement in interesting and lucrative jobs. 

For the highest-earning computing jobs, master’s degrees are a good bet for getting in the door. This is particularly the case for lucrative disciplines including: 

  • Data science
  • Machine learning
  • Cyber security
  • UX/UI design 

The corresponding degrees most likely to help place you in a great role include:

  • Master’s in data science
  • Master’s in Computer Science with a machine learning concentration
  • Master’s in Cyber Security
  • Masters in UX or Masters in human computing interaction

Note that even jobs achievable with associates degrees can be lucrative when compared to the earnings of all jobs. Typically as one advances to higher degree levels in computing school work becomes less applied and more theoretical, until one is likely to be performing wholly original research on new technologies by the Ph.D. level. 

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One of the primary choices that computing students face is choosing which computing discipline they’re most interested in. Besides the tight concentrations listed above, the following more general categories also apply to computing degrees: 

  • Information technology degrees are applied degrees about implementing information technology solutions and maintaining IT systems
  • Informations systems degrees are about utilizing IT and software to achieve organizational goals
  • Computer science degrees are about building software and IT systems
  • Cyber security is about support organizational objectives by preserving data, through new product development, providing a service, or enforcing organizational policies
  • Data science is about supporting business decisions by leveraging big data and statistics

How can we help you find a computer science degree? 

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Computer Science-Related Frequently Asked Questions

 

Fast facts on computer science degrees and careers

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6 of the top 20 routinely ranked “best jobs” are in computing fields. While many of these rankings are somewhat subjective, the frequency with which computing disciplines top a variety of rankings of this type is telling for employer demand as well as quality of life associated with these roles. 

Many programmers report low stress on the job. And many computing employers are progressive, offering perks ranging from health care support, to free meals at the office, to unlimited paid time off. 

Computing businesses have some of the lowest costs to become established. This means that if you have a great idea and you can implement this idea, that raising large amounts of money in advance isn’t nearly as necessary as in other fields. 

Computer science jobs are expected to increase by 16% over the next few years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is much faster than other jobs. And that’s on top of nearly record opening numbers for computing jobs. Collectively, we’re going to need qualified and driven computing professionals in greater numbers than ever before for a long time. 

Programming jobs earn an average salary slightly over double that of the average overall salary for Americans. The average American salary is around $47,000 a year. Many programming roles can command salaries of over $100,000. Interns at some of the largest tech companies can make $60,000-$80,000 while still in school. 

Despite the stereotypes, computer science can be a highly collaborative field and few programmers work alone. Pair programming and collaborative brainstorming are more then norm than the exception to the rule. With that said, introverts out there also report high job satisfaction with many computing roles. 

Computer science is more than math. It’s also a highly creative and analytical (in non-mathematical ways) field. This is an important note for individuals who may be deterred from taking math heavy courses. Computing fields generally have many different degree pathways, some are highly mathematical while others aren’t. If you enjoy building things, even if you aren’t mathematical, you’ll likely enjoy many computer science degree programs. 

Interesting in pursuing a degree in computer science? Be sure to check out DegreeQuery’s rankings of the best schools related to computer science below:

 

 

For Further Reading:

Top 10 Paying Jobs With an Associate’s Degree

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Policy Analyst?

What Degree Do I Need to Be an Intelligence Analyst?