Editor’s note: As of March 2020, Seen by Indeed is part of Indeed Hire, our full-service recruiting solution.

This summer, new graduates will enter an employment market healthier than any we’ve seen in a long time. Some will find work quickly, while for others the search will take a little longer. Tech grads are fortunate in that the opportunities available to them frequently combine interesting work and high salaries—the dream combination. In addition, their skills are in high demand from employers, who face persistent tech talent shortages. But tech is a complex, multifaceted world and it’s not always easy to decide which is the best career path to follow.

One important factor, of course, is compensation. But identifying how far your salary will get you depends on several factors. The cost of living in an expensive city can reduce the actual value of a salary, while benefits can add to it. And, different careers can have different financial trajectories—some paths may lead to greater fortune down the road.

Here at Indeed we know a few things about this: we’re a tech company ourselves, and our Seen by Indeed service (previously Indeed Prime) functions as a matchmaker joining together highly skilled tech workers with top firms such as Uber, Facebook and Dropbox.

We took a look at Seen salary data for four possible tech career paths to shed some light on how new grads should think about compensation.

[Related: The New Graduate's Guide to Job Search]

After one year, product managers earn the highest salaries

For this short study we looked at the Seen data on four tech jobs: product manager, data scientist, software engineer and UX/UI designer. From this analysis, we can see how much someone employed in each of these roles can expect to make on average after one year, five years, and after ten years.

Seen selects talent for some of the top tech firms in the US, so average salaries are high—but there are still surprises. For instance, although “data scientist” is possibly the most-hyped job in tech today, it is not the highest paid—at least not in the early stages of a career. In fact, as the table below reveals, a product manager makes on average $20,000 more, while the other two jobs lag still further behind. The gap between the highest paid and the lowest paid is a substantial $32,250.

After five years, the gap narrows...

After five years, product manager jobs still looks like the best bet from a financial point of view, but the gap has diminished considerably. In fact, only a few hundred dollars separate this role from that of a software engineer. Data scientists have also gained ground, although UX/UI designer still places last (although $93,000 is hardly a salary to sneeze at):

And at 10 years, software engineers are out-earning their peers

When we look at what these professionals are making after ten years on the job, however, we see that software engineers have overtaken product managers, while data scientists have drawn level. UX/UI designers, although still ranking last, are now very close to the others. The gap between the highest and lowest salary has dropped to $15,000, while the rise in a UX/UI designer’s overall take-home pay has flattened out the overall difference even further.

Where do salaries max out?

However even if a software engineer does end up earning more than a product manager after ten years, the average product manager will have earned more up to that point, meaning product management could still emerge as the most lucrative career path.

There may also be other factors to consider. When we look at the highest salaries possible at firms hiring through Seen, we see that a highly skilled data scientist can make $55,000 more than the best-paid product manager—and a software engineer makes a lot more than either. Now, not everybody is going to hit that level, but for those with ambition and the chops to succeed, the rewards can be higher.

What to expect when you’re expecting (a career in tech)

When it comes to salary then, the fable of the tortoise and the hare may hold true: the first one out the gate is not necessarily the one who finishes first. New graduates assessing the financial rewards of potential career paths should consider their earnings potential over the long term. And this is only one factor to think about: some firms will offer stock options, benefits will vary and of course the cost of living has an impact.

Then again, tech is always changing. It’s quite possible that in the next decade, some of these jobs will transform, or spin off into alternative career paths. And, it’s most important to choose work that inspires you personally. The good news for tech grads is that there’s a lot of inspiring work out there.

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