SpaceX Software Engineer Salaries: What You Need to Know
In this post we explore the lucrative world of SpaceX Software Engineering. We discuss salary ranges, career progression, work-life balance and more.
7 min read
26 Apr, 2023
The exciting space transportation and aerospace industry is on its way to reaching $1 trillion in annual revenue by 2040. That's why aerospace companies constantly look for ambitious individuals who are up for "impacting life beyond the stars."
If you have the skills and experience required and have a positive attitude, you could join Elon Musk and his crew as a software engineer.
So what could a SpaceX software engineer expect? You'll learn everything you need to know about being a software engineer at SpaceX, including how other companies’ salaries compare and what career advancement looks like.
Let's dive in.
What’s the Verdict on SpaceX Software Engineer Salaries?
The average SpaceX software engineer’s total salary is $168.11K. And that includes $118,970 base pay, $4,629 annual stock (or share performance) compensation, and a $2.85K bonus.
SpaceX pays an entry-level software engineer $54,377 more than the national U.S. average. Currently, the average salary across all industries is $113,733 per year. According to recent Glassdoor reports, a software engineer across all IT industry levels gets an approximate annual salary of $112.964. In contrast, SEs in Telecommunications and Real Estate industries receive $96,123 and $129,053, respectively.
Factors that Influence SpaceX Software Engineer Salaries
Like many other highly specialized or technical roles, entry-level requirements include an undergraduate degree. SpaceX will consider people with a bachelor's degree in computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, or physics. If you have a master's degree or Ph.D. in any of these areas, even better, as this is their preference.
Skills and Experience
You'll need a wide set of skills and experience to become a SpaceX software engineer including:
- Education: A Bachelor's or Master's degree in Computer Science, Engineering, or a related field.
- Data Structures and Algorithms: Strong understanding of data structures, algorithms, and computer science fundamentals.
- Software Development: Experience with software development methodologies like Agile or Scrum, version control systems (e.g., Git), and continuous integration and deployment tools.
- Operating Systems: Knowledge of Linux and other Unix-based operating systems, as well as Windows.
- Networking: Understanding of network protocols, network architecture, and network security.
- Embedded Systems: Experience with embedded systems and real-time operating systems, particularly for roles related to avionics or other mission-critical systems.
- Aerospace Knowledge: Familiarity with aerospace systems, control algorithms, and navigation systems is a plus.
- Simulation and Modeling: Experience with simulation tools, modeling, and analysis of complex systems.
- Testing and Validation: Knowledge of testing methodologies and experience with software validation, particularly for safety-critical systems.
- Cybersecurity: Awareness of cybersecurity best practices and secure coding techniques.
- Problem-solving: Strong analytical and problem-solving skills to tackle complex challenges.
- Communication: Excellent written and verbal communication skills to work effectively within a team.
- Adaptability: Ability to adapt and learn new technologies, programming languages, and tools quickly.
- Teamwork: Experience working in cross-functional teams, including collaboration with hardware engineers, systems engineers, and other software engineers.
- Passion for Space: A genuine interest in space exploration and the mission of SpaceX.
What if you don't have C++ programming experience?
SpaceX chooses C++ for much of it's software development but if you have experience in another low level programming language (e.g. C, Rust, Go) and can tick several of the other preferred skills and experience boxes, you may be applicable for the role.
Of course, SpaceX can be pretty strict on their software development programming language requirements, and C++ means C++. Therefore, before applying, consider taking a C++ course and try building a side project with C++.
Would you like a 4 day work week?
Salary negotiation is one of the most impactful soft skills you could have. To secure a higher starting salary, negotiate politely and demonstrate your worth. Talking about money doesn't need to be stressful. Here are a few pointers on confidently negotiating benefits during the interview stages.
- Do your salary research. Visit job sites like levels.fyi, PayScale, Glassdoor, to see what that average market rate is for someone with your experience, knowledge, and skillset. If you find that other space transportation and aerospace companies are paying software engineers more than SpaceX, feel free to negotiate.
- Negotiation should be like a regular conversation. Once you know how much you should be paid, approach it like a friendly discussion. Consider asking the hiring manager's pay expectations for the role. For example, a question like: "what has the company budgeted for this position?" would work.
- Embrace silence. Many people feel awkward during silences and try to break them by speaking. Allow pauses for thinking time and for a mutually beneficial result.
- Consider other benefits to compensate. If SpaceX can't offer you what you're looking for, ask whether any other bonus or additional health cover, for example, can be introduced to make up the difference.
Remember, if you're happy to walk away and find your desired salary elsewhere, then do so. In the end, you need to be happy to thrive. Alternatively, you could also accept the offer in order to gain experience with the company and try out for a raise after six months to a year.
What Do Software Engineers Say About Working at SpaceX?
Based on current and former software engineers across multiple SpaceX sites, the consensus is the work environment is excellent and fast-paced. Positive comments included the opportunity to work with "really talented coworkers you can learn a lot from," and some described SpaceX as a "great starting point for engineers."
However, many people also felt that there is no work/life balance with long working hours. One engineer commented "expect to work some 17+ hour days". Other comments included, "a great way to accelerate your career at the expense of your work-life balance."
SpaceX Total Compensation
In addition to your base salary, SpaceX's total compensation package offers a variety of perks and discounts including:
- Eligibility for long-term incentives like discounted stock options, company stock, and long-term cash awards
- Access to comprehensive vision, medical, and dental coverage
- 401(k) retirement plan
- Life insurance, long and short-term disability insurance, paid parental leave
- Paid holidays and paid sick leave allowance each year
SpaceX Software Engineering Salaries by Levels
Here are Levels.fyi estimated SpaceX salaries across the standard software engineering career levels.
As seen in the table, as an entry level software engineer, you can expect to start on a base salary of $118k (total comp: $168k) rising to a base salary of $216k (total comp: $360k) as a principal software engineer at SpaceX.
Here is how your salary could expect to change over the years as your progress through your SpaceX career.
Software engineer to senior engineer
Salary increase: ~$43k
You must prove your competence across many tools and problems to progress to the senior engineer level. Therefore, use your time as a software engineer to practice and learn as much as possible. Learn about solving unfamiliar problems and new programs, practice independent problem-solving, and generally try to get out of your comfort zone.
Senior software engineers require 5 – 7+ years of software development experience. However, with demonstrable competence and negotiation, you may be able to progress to the senior level more quickly. While the scope is relatively the same as an entry-level engineer, the expectations are higher. For example, you'll be expected to complete a project without supervision, and you may be expected to guide junior engineers.
Senior engineer to staff engineer
Salary increase: ~$112k
Advancing to a staff engineer requires people and technical skills, as well as experience. You'll officially be entering management territory. You will be required to take a genuine interest in staff and understand how systems come together in app development to support the short and long-term goals of SpaceX.
You'll likely give junior engineers solutions to work on and act as the middle-person between higher management and engineers. Sometimes you'll assist in deciding which solutions to focus on, and other times you'll write code. Overall, you'll be responsible for delivering high-quality solutions based on the focus.
Becoming a staff engineer can be challenging, and getting there requires innovation and a consistent and exceptional track record of project ownership.
Staff engineer to principal engineer
Salary increase: ~$36k
The principal engineer position is rare; many engineers do not progress to this level. A combination of a long track record of proven success and over 10 years of engineering experience is required. As a principal engineer, you'll be expected to focus on SpaceX as a whole. Instead of problem-solving, you'll determine what the problems are with far less focus on code.
If you want to be involved in the company's direction and manage teams, working your way up to the principal engineer position is worth considering.
How Do Software Engineering Salaries Vary in Other Companies?
Based on 24th February 2023 Levels.fyi reports, the approximate entry-level software engineer salaries paid by other aerospace companies are as follows:
|Compared to SpaceX
|The Aerospace Corporation
Maxar Technologies, The Aerospace Corporation, and SpaceX are among the highest-paying aerospace companies. In many cases, companies with more revenue generally pay better.
How Do SpaceX Salaries Differ between Different Engineer Positions?
Let's compare a Software Engineer's salary vs other roles at SpaceX. Here are the roles we will compare a SE with:
- Quality Engineer: sets and manages the quality and reliability of EEE (electrical, electronic, and electromechanical) components.
- Aerospace Engineer: works on all aspects of spacecraft and aircraft design, including aerodynamics, propulsion and engines, and production techniques.
- System Engineer: some responsibilities include managing interdisciplinary teams to design, build, start, and maintain fluids.
- Mechanical Engineer: supports SpaceX's Starship spacecraft development through tasks such as balancing the operational needs across the vehicle systems and enhancing design criteria where necessary.
Here are the estimated salaries for these roles:
As can be seen, being a Software Engineer at SpaceX pays more than most roles (at $118k base).
Looking for a better work-life balance?
It's pretty well known that all of Elon Musk's companies offer a poor work-life balance. You can expect to regularly work long shifts.
So if you're looking for a software engineering job with a better work-life balance why not consider getting a job which has a 4 day work week?