2019 Capstone Salary Retrospective

Chris Lee
Chris Lee
Jul 24, 2020 · 5 min read

I finally had some time to pull together Launch School Capstone’s 2019 salaries. The final Fall 2019 cohort salary came in several months ago, but 2020 being what it is, I only had time to reflect on that now.

Let’s get right to the numbers (only includes US Capstone participants).

2019 Avg Salary Decreased (but still leads industry at $115K)

All US Capstone Average Salaries

The first question that everyone asks when they see this is: what caused the decrease? Was it COVID? Is the market saturated? Is it finally the demise of the non-accredited learning model?

I believe there are three main explanations for the decline in our Capstone salary:

  • we’ve taken on far more Capstone students who are based outside of New York City (NYC) and San Francisco/Bay Area (SFBA)

For example, in 2018 about 70% of our US-based Capstone students were either in NYC or SFBA. In 2019, that percentage dropped to 35%. Coinciding with that, only 5% of job seekers in 2018 were remote-first while remote-first participants increased to over 20% for 2019. Both of these trends resulted in a lower overall salary average.

What’s Going On in SFBA?

SFBA Capstone Average Salaries

I mentioned above that our overall US average, which includes many remote-first offers, was at just over $115k. How can it be, then, that SFBA’s average is only slightly higher at $117,500?

Keep in mind that we’re dealing with small sample sizes, so I don’t want to draw major conclusions. But I have noticed small hints that the market is swinging a little towards employers in SFBA. This manifests in many ways:

  • jobs that previously may require 3–5 years of experience are now able to attract applicants with 8+ years

Is this just an anomaly due to our small sample size? If it’s part of a bigger industry wide trend in SFBA, then is it a short-term dip or something that’s here to stay?

If I were to guess, I’d say it’s a bit of both. In the short-term, recently laid off engineers from COVID-impacted businesses need to pay their bills. They don’t have time for prolonged interview processes and search for the best offers around. Over the past few months, there have been a lot of engineers on the market ready to accept first offers, leading to a slight dip in salaries. In the long-term, I think the market will continue to bifurcate: good engineers will continue to command market leading wages while others will struggle to cross that wage chasm. (I spoke at length about this in my webinar How to Navigate a Recession for Software Engineers.)

Is SFBA Still Worth It?

When people see how close SFBA salaries are coming to the US average, the natural question to wonder is: given the high cost of living, is SFBA still worth the trouble? I think that in the long-run, the answer is absolutely yes. Despite all the downside, SFBA is still the place to be for technolgists and software engineers and being in a place like that offers serendipitious collisions and opportunity. For example, one of our Capstone graduates landed a job at Facebook with a total comp of over $250k after gaining initial experience at a different startup in SFBA. And this isn’t uncommon. In the long-run, it can still be a great place to start a rewarding career. (For more context about the aforementioned Facebook example, head on over to our podcast.)

New York City Stays Strong

NYC Capstone Average Salaries

NYC has outperformed SFBA for three years straight and we can no longer call it a coincidence. In the first year, I noted it but thought it had more to do with the fact that we had more graduates relocate there, making them job seek with more urgency. But over the past three years, the NYC market has been hot and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. If the initial set of Capstone NYC salaries I’m seeing in 2020 holds, I expect the year end NYC average to be even higher than our current average of $129k.

All US-based Salaries Outside of NYC/SFBA

All US Outside of NYC/SFBA Capstone Average Salaries

This is probably the statistic I’m most excited about. In 2018, we experimented with a few remote-first and outside of NYC/SFBA participants. The initial salaries looked good, so we decided to ramp that up significantly in 2019, expecting a drop in salaries. Instead, the average increased.

Given the positive signs, we will continue to ramp up remote-first Capstone participants. This aligns well with the post-COVID world where more and more companies are normalizing remote-first environments.

More Capstone Salary Tidbits

Here are a few more tidbits that might be interesting (all information in USD and includes data spanning all years, not only 2019).

  • US Remote-first Average Salary: $101.5k

Going Forward

Capstone will continue to expand participation to US cities outside of NYC and SFBA. We’ll continue to take on remote-first participants. We’re seeing strong enough salaries in remote-first roles that we can take good students almost anywhere in the US.

Capstone will also continue to look at employer-friendly locales outside of the US, like London and Toronto, who sit at the intersection of being a great city for living and also where engineering talent is about 50% cost for employers. There’s a reason big tech are all moving to Toronto and London.

Here’s the cumulative salary chart broken down by the relevant attributes tracked from 2016–2019.

All US Capstone Salaries

I should also take this moment to mention that Launch School’s Capstone program has a 100% job placement rate within 6 months of graduation, with an average accepted job offer of just under 10 weeks. I didn’t mention more about the job hunt duration because it’s been fairly consistent for 3 years — between 9 and 10 weeks on average.

You can find more data at launchschool.com/results.

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