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Here's how much money I made as a software engineer at Meta, Apple, and Oracle

Robin Madell   

Here's how much money I made as a software engineer at Meta, Apple, and Oracle
  • Sandeep Rao is a software engineer who has worked at Meta, Apple, and Oracle.
  • When he first started his career as a new graduate, his compensation was only $15,000.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Sandeep Rao, a 32-year-old software engineer based in San Jose, California. Business Insider has verified his income with documentation. This essay has been edited for length and clarity.

My salary journey in Big Tech has seen my total compensation — which includes base salary, bonuses, and stocks — increase from $15,000 in 2012 to $685,000 in 2024.

I'm a staff software engineer and have worked at three different tech companies, moving from Oracle to Apple to Meta. Over my career, I've led the development of successful software apps and features from scratch that are used every day by millions of people across the world.

While I have made my career moves primarily based on which areas of software engineering I'd get to work on, compensation is also important to me, so I've been strategic and negotiated for higher salaries with each move.

Tech companies use tools like additional equity to retain high-performing employees. In my experience, if you're consistently a top performer at your organization, it's certainly possible to keep your pay at or above market level and have a rewarding career within your company.

I took a low-paying job to get my foot in the door

While I got my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, I realized midway through college that software engineering was my passion and pivoted to pursue a career in software instead.

My first job was as a software developer at Oracle in India. While Oracle isn't generally low-paying in the tech industry, my salary of 850,000 rupees, or $15,000, was low compared to what new grads were making at that time in competing Big Tech companies like Microsoft or Amazon because it was a "take it or leave it" new grad offer.

The work was unappealing to me because it didn't align with my career interests — I didn't want to continue building expertise in that specific area of software engineering — but I took it to get my foot in the door of a Big Tech company and build credibility.

I knew I eventually wanted to end up where all the action is — Silicon Valley. I worked at Oracle from 2012 to 2014, and during this time, I applied to graduate schools in the US because I felt a formal computer science degree would help me compete with the talented people in the Valley.

I got accepted into a graduate program in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. I left behind my family and friends in India and moved to the US with nothing but a suitcase and $65,000 in student debt.

Grad school was hard, but the doors it opened for me made the struggle worth it.

I was ecstatic to get a job at Apple

I finished grad school and got a job as a software engineer at Apple in Cupertino, California, where my base salary was $115,000.

I was ecstatic to work at one of the best companies in the world and felt my dreams were coming true. But I realized I wanted to work on more direct user-facing applications rather than on technology that ran under the hood.

Initially, I considered looking for new opportunities within Apple, but between high taxes, the high cost of living, and my student loans, I felt more compelled to switch companies, given that I'd likely receive a significant salary bump.

I had gotten a very small cost-of-living raise on my base salary at Apple, but it wasn't significant; not getting a bigger raise wasn't a big motivator in my decision to change companies, but it certainly made my choice easier.

My negotiation skills helped me get a 10% salary increase

At the end of 2017, I moved to Meta (then Facebook) in Menlo Park, California. I wanted to experience the culture of younger internet-based companies whose products are used by billions of people.

When I received my offer, I did my research to get a clear understanding of what my market value was and what salary I wanted to land on. I also learned what parts of my total compensation are negotiable, such as stocks and the sign-on bonus, and what is non-negotiable, like base salary and annual bonuses.

I was prepared to negotiate and walked away with an offer of $140,000, which was 10% more than their original offer.

In 2021, I landed a large-scale project at Meta that added a lot of value to the Messenger app and worked with several cross-functional teams across engineering, design, data science, and legal.

My accomplishments, such as this one, and high performance at work got me the promotions, visibility, and leverage to negotiate for higher pay and a successful salary journey.

Every year between 2018 to 2023, my base salary increased — as did my total compensation — through a combination of performance-based yearly stock refreshers, additional boosts from promotions, and stock market appreciation.

Compensation in a tech career usually gets more and more equity-heavy than salary-heavy, so base salaries don't increase as quickly as equity, but my salary and total annual compensation steadily rose:


  • 2012-2014: $15,000 total compensation

Grad School

  • 2014-2016: $0 total compensation

  • Student loan debt: $65,000


  • 2016: $130,000 total compensation

  • 2017: $165,000 total compensation


  • 2018: $230,000 total compensation

  • 2019: $240,000 total compensation

  • 2020: $350,000 total compensation (promotion)

  • 2021: $510,000 total compensation

  • 2022: $375,000 total compensation (promotion, but total compensation dropped due to stock price drop)

  • 2023: $545,000 total compensation

In 2024, I'm projected to make $685,000 through a combination of base salary, bonuses, and stock.

Five strategies for increasing my compensation package

Over the years, I learned five salary strategies that helped me grow my salary and overall compensation:

1. Always do your homework about market rates for your role, level, and location — especially when you switch jobs.

Switching jobs is a good way to increase your income.

Even if money may not be the primary motivator for a job switch, I always make sure to be conscious and strategic about my compensation by doing salary research to avoid leaving any money on the table.

When I started doing salary research during my switch to Meta, I found out my market value was much higher than what I was making at Apple at that time. This helped me start my negotiations with Meta at the market rate rather than the salary I was making.

I used, Blind, and Glassdoor to find salary information and clearly understand my market value. Keep yourself updated on these benchmarks even if you don't plan on a job change anytime soon, so you know you're on par with the market, and any salary difference is offset by other factors such as better work-life balance.

2. Never let your bad salary "baggage" carry over to your new job.

If your salary isn't up to market standards right now, don't let it affect your pay at the next job. Otherwise, it'll lead to a cycle where you'll be underpaid for the rest of your career.

Employers and recruiters could use your salary history to give you only a modest raise, while your actual market value could easily be double or triple your most recent salary.

In California, labor laws make it illegal for employers to ask you about your current salary and salary history. You're also allowed to ask potential employers for the pay range for the position you're applying for.

If your state has similar protections, just being aware of this law can help you make any corrections to your pay during negotiations. This helped me start offer negotiations from my market value instead of my current pay.

3. Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith to make that 10x impact on your career.

That could involve switching from a non-tech job to a tech job or taking a short-term hit for long-term gain. For example, I picked Oracle for my first job despite the low pay and unappealing work so I could build credibility to get into a Tier 1 grad school.

I also took a loan of about $65,000 to pay for Carnegie Mellon, even though I could have chosen to go to a cheaper public university.

Deciding to work at Oracle and attend Carnegie Mellon cost me a few years and a lot of debt, but doing so opened doors unlike anything else, and I haven't looked back ever since.

4. Negotiate to keep your base salary from falling behind

It's inevitable for your salary to fall behind as you stay longer at a company, especially in tech due to restricted stock unit (RSU) "cliffs."

Most RSU packages offered to new employees in the tech industry have a two- to four-year vesting period. Unless the employer offers a significant pay bump along the way, total compensation usually takes a drop after this vesting period. Many companies also offer annual performance-based stock refreshers to lower this salary gap, but they're usually not as large as the initial grant.

If you love working at your company and feel forced to move just to get a raise, you can ask your senior leadership to make a "correction." After all, it's much more expensive and time-consuming for employers to hire new people than to retain good employees.

Most Big Tech companies have employee retention programs like additional or discretionary equity. Additional equity programs are mainly used to retain high-performing employees, so they're usually highly selective.

This is how I was able to keep my compensation at or above market level despite spending six years at Meta. When I was reaching the end of my vesting period in my fourth year, I had a conversation with my senior leadership to see if there was any room for a pay correction so I could go back to focusing on my work 100% without worrying about salary.

Being prepared with my predicted compensation drop and market data greatly helped me build a cogent narrative going in. If you're consistently a top performer at your organization, it's certainly possible to keep your pay at or above market level and have a rewarding career within your company.

5. Don't assume people will reward your work or anticipate your needs — ask.

Always ask for what you want, whether it's a raise or that interesting project that just came in. The worst that will happen is you'll get a "no." If you don't ask, nobody will know, or even worse, people may assume that you're happy with what you have and move on.

I used this strategy when I heard of a new company initiative and asked to be a founding engineer because I was looking to create more impact in my role. Despite the high risk and ambiguity involved, I successfully delivered on the projects, which eventually led to a promotion. None of this would've been possible if I hadn't asked.

At the end of the day, you're your biggest advocate when it comes to your salary and career journey. There's no substitute for hard work, but being strategic about how you achieve your goals can go a long way. Sometimes, you have to take big risks and step out of your comfort zone to get that high-paying dream job.

If you want to share your career progression and salary journey, email Jane Zhang at