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Revenge of the Nerds: Starting salaries for Class of 2015 techies top $100K

Apr 20, 201510 mins
IT Training Salaries

The nation’s premier tech colleges are reporting white-hot demand for seniors majoring in computer science and other IT-related fields.

Students who will graduate in May with computer science, software engineering and computer engineering majors are fielding multiple offers, with top students accepting starting salaries over $100,000, career services departments say.

Indeed, tech colleges are reporting standing-room-only job fairs with a feeding frenzy atmosphere, as companies including Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Intel try to recruit the best budding computer scientists.

Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore, Dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)

“We have cases of students with more than 50 offers,’’ says Andrew Moore, Dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). “I was an executive at Google up until a few months ago. I know how much work large companies put in to attract the very best computer scientists in the world, and I also know from CMU’s end the huge demand and excitement when it comes to recruiting our students.’’

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Graduates of CMU’s School of Computer Science have the highest starting salaries of any science or engineering program in the United States, according to the Web site Nerdwallet reported that starting salaries from CMU’s School of Computer Science were $89,832 a year ago, but Moore said the average initial offer this year is $100,000.

“It really is a sign of the amount of competition that is going on, with the companies fighting over the students,’’ Moore says. “For the students, it’s not just about the salary. It’s about making sure that the work environment is pleasant and the meaningfulness, importance and relevance of the jobs.’’

At Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, starting salaries for Computer Science and Software Engineering majors are up more than 40% from 2010, with superior students receiving offers approaching $110,000.

“Demand for our IT graduates is sky high,’’ says Kevin Hewerdine, Director of Career Services and Employee Relations at Rose-Hulman, which is based in Terre Haute, Ind. “We don’t have enough grads to even come close to what industry wants. The demand is driving the starting pay up.’’ U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

job growth 2 SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Even at less selective colleges, demand for tech majors has reached a new high. PayScale reports that starting salaries for undergraduates majoring in computer science, computer engineering and electrical engineering from all U.S. universities have risen 9% in the last five years. 

041515 starting salaries PayScale

“Starting salaries for the IT job family are growing stronger and faster than any other engineering field,’’ says Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale in Seattle. “There is upward pressure on wages because of the higher demand for these positions.’’

Demand for undergraduates majoring in computing-related fields is outpacing all other STEM [Science Technology Engineering Math] fields. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 71% of all newly-created jobs in all STEM fields between 2012 and 2022 will be in computing.

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Ed Lazowska

Prof. Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington

“Both nationally and in our region, the vast majority of all STEM jobs are in computing,’’ says Professor Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. “In Washington State, computer science is one of only four fields with a gap between degrees granted and jobs available at the Baccalaureate level and above. The gap in computer science is greater than the total gap in the other three fields.’’

The gap between available computing jobs and the number of newly minted techies is what’s driving up starting salaries.

At Rose-Hulman – an engineering school that is ranked by PayScale as having among the best return-on-investment ratios in the United States – the highest starting salaries are for Computer Science and Software Engineering majors. Last year, the average accepted offer for Rose-Hulman’s computer science majors was $84,300, while software engineering majors received an average of $75,300. These figures are expected to rise around 5% for the Class of 2015.

Hewerdine says students majoring in these two fields are in demand not only from tech companies, but also General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Honda.

“The automobile companies are looking for individuals who can create software to run the robotics on an assembly line and to support the manufacturing process,’’ he says. “There is enormous demand for people who can write code.’’

Corporate recruiting frenzy

One sign of the rising demand for these students is the level of corporate recruiting on tech campuses. The number of companies recruiting on Rose-Hulman’s rural Indiana campus is up 20% from a year ago, with more than 240 companies attending the October job fair and another 100 companies attending the January job fair aimed at recruiting underclassmen for summer internships.

“Seventy percent of the companies that recruit on campus want to talk to Computer Science and Software Engineering students,’’ Hewerdine says. “The opportunities are plentiful. We have students who if they wanted to could get 20 job offers, but most of them are pretty selective.’’

More than 200 companies attended CMU’s Technical Opportunities Conference, including Dropbox, Facebook and Twitter as well as banks, pharmaceutical companies and local startups like Duolingo.

“There was so much energy in the room and so much urgency for the students to meet the companies and the companies to meet the students,’’ Moore said of the conference, which is the largest job fair on CMU’s campus.

Moore said corporate demand is highest for students specializing in robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. He said corporate recruiters are scouring resumes to find students who have aced particular CMU courses, such as 10-601 Machine Learning and 15-451 Algorithms.

“We have the premier machine learning class in the world. Facebook and Google will be fighting over you if you’ve done well in that class,’’ Moore says.

With many seniors having already accepted job offers, tech companies are targeting underclassmen for summer jobs. Nearly 100 companies attended Stanford University’s Computer Forum Career Fair in January, which is open to Computer Science and Electrical Engineering majors only and is aimed at internships.

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“This is the career fair where we had the most companies ever,’’ says Connie Chan, Executive Director of the forum. “In the past, we had 70 or 80 companies attend.’’

Chan said corporate recruiters are interested in all of Stanford’s Computer Science and Electrical Engineering majors, including undergraduates, masters and PhD candidates. That’s one reason that Computer Science and Electrical Engineering are now the most popular engineering-related majors at Stanford.

“Our students are getting a lot of offers. Most of them have three or four offers in hand,’’ Chan says. “For the class of 2015, 80 percent of them have already accepted full-time offers. They have a job in hand that they will be starting after graduation. Most had at least one full-time offer by December of their senior year.’’

Chan says starting salaries for the Class of 2015 are up 15 percent over last year. “The demand is definitely more on the software side. Starting salaries are a little bit less for those who focused on the hardware side.’’

Demand driving supply

The sky-high salaries for computer science majors are prompting more students to enter the field.

The Computing Research Association said the number of bachelors of science degrees awarded by U.S. computer science departments rose 14 percent between 2013 and 2014.

The so-called Taulbee survey tracks degrees from PhD-granting computer science departments and is a bellwether for the industry. The total number of BS degrees in computer science at these research-oriented universities rose from 12,503 in 2013 to 14,283 in 2014.

The survey “ends up being about a quarter to a third of all U.S. bachelor’s degree recipients,’’ says Elizabeth Bizot, Director of Statistics and Evaluation for the CRA. “But we usually reflect the same trends seen in the larger group.’’ The complete findings of the annual Taulbee survey will be released in May.

At Stanford, the number of computer science majors has doubled in the past 14 years, Chan says. “The enrollment is going up because there are plenty of jobs for them,’’ she added. “If you want a really good job that pays well and allows you to be financially stable, you should consider software.’’

The trickle-down effect can be seen in high schools, where more seniors are applying to top tech colleges.

“What we’re seeing at CMU is that the number of students applying for the School of Computer Science is skyrocketing,’’ Moore says. “It rose another 15% this year. We have spots for 138 students, and 6,500 applied. Now computer science at CMU has reached the same level of selectivity as Harvard is for the humanities.’’

Moore encourages highschoolers to study computer science in college, whether or not they end up majoring in the field.

“I firmly believe that the people who will be running the world in 2040 are going to be computer scientists because of the complexity of the world and the increased use of artificial intelligence and machine learning,’’ Moore says. “If you’re a high school student who loves physics or who loves history, just make sure you have the computer science skills to go with it because every industry needs people who understand algorithms and how the cloud works.’’

At the University of Washington, the number of students applying as Computer Science & Engineering majors more than tripled between 2008 and 2014, from roughly 800 to 2,750. In the same time frame, the number of students from all majors who enrolled in the university’s two introductory computer science courses more than doubled.

“Nationally, demand for computer science is booming – demand for intro courses, demand for the major and demand for upper-division courses by students in other majors,’’ Lazowska says.

He added that more companies that are not in the IT sector are attracting the university’s Computer Science & Engineering majors.

“There was a time, not too long ago, when Nordstrom’s IT was accounts payable, accounts receivable and inventory. As far as I know, we didn’t have a single UW CSE alum working there. Now there is lots of mobile and social,’’ he says. “Ditto Starbucks; there is lots of truly leading-edge work going on in their IT department. So it’s not just that Amazon and Microsoft are booming….It’s broader than that.’’

Tech colleges that are benefitting from this trend see no end in sight to the rising demand – or starting salaries – for computer scientists.

“I am very confident that this trend is going to continue,’’ Moore says. “We’re only glimpsing the impact that AI and robotics are going to have in all aspects of our lives. The growth is going to be incredible. The high salaries are a symptom of all the competition for these skills.’’

Carolyn Duffy Marsan is a Milwaukee-based reporter who covers high-tech business and STEM education.