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AI / Design / Engineering / Tech jobs

$100K starting salary for ‘emerging’ tech roles? In some cases, the data says yes

Jobs in AI, XR and other forward-looking technologies are in demand. Here’s a look at some 2024 salary trends.

Scenes from the Technical.ly Developers Conference, May 2023. (Technical.ly/Torian Studios)
Future tech jobs — that is, jobs in fields like artificial intelligence, extended reality and blockchain — are in demand, and they’re paying well.

How well? The salary for a machine learning engineer, whose job it is to develop, troubleshoot and maintain generative AI models, is about $170,000 on the low end, and can start as high as $350,000, according to the just-released Aquent 2024 Salary Guide. An augmented or virtual reality engineer’s mid-range salary is about $287,000.

Aquent, a Boston-based global staffing company, has been releasing salary guides annually since 2017. The 2024 guide is based on their data on more than 21,000 salaries by geography, gender and emerging roles, with a focus on marketing, creative and design professionals.

Is pivoting to future tech worth it?

Is it worth upskilling, or in the case of a title like metaverse event manager (which starts at around $100,000), adapting to a new space? Probably. Some of these positions may come and go, but a willingness to evolve and adapt as technology changes will keep you valuable in the industry.

As Aquent points out in the guide, even these so-called “emerging” roles that seem entirely new are based on existing skills, often in the areas of design, engineering and operations.

Some other emerging roles, and their mid-range salaries in 2024, include:

  • Character artist ($100,000)
  • Prototyper ($183,000)
  • Prompt engineer ($145,000)
  • Data engineer ($156,000)
  • Language model product manager ($183,000)
  • UX researcher, immersive ($170,000)

Most of these kinds of jobs are with tech companies, game studios or early adopters in other industries such as General Motors, Live Nation and Major League Baseball, all of which are currently seeking immersive technologists on LinkedIn. But the pool of future tech jobs is likely to get bigger and broader.

What about the gender pay gap?

Aquent also found that the pay gap between women and men still exists. In technology, women on average make 90% of what a man makes in the same position — an improvement on the 30-cent pay gap of the 2010s or the current 17-cent pay gap across all industries.

The most equal roles according to the data?

  • Product designer with more than five years of experience, which saw no gap in 2023 and favored women year over year by .05%
  • Graphic designer with more than five years of experience, which also saw no gap in 2023 and favored women YOY by 1.4%
  • Marketing director, which favored men by just 0.4% in 2023
  • UX designer with less than five years of experience, which showed women earning slightly more in 2022 and 2023

Some of the biggest gender wage gaps, according to the Salary Guide:

  • Creative director, with a wage gap difference of 11.2% YOY
  • Digital designer with more than five years of experience, with a wage gap difference of 11.8% YOY
  • Production artist, with a wage gap difference of 12.7% YOY

The data shows that experience can level the pay field, but the guide cited contributing factors as the “cost of flexibility” that women frequently choose and a hesitancy to negotiate aggressively for starting salaries and pay raises (a factor that is increasingly out of date).

Still, flexibility has become the norm in many workplaces, with 63% of workers being either hybrid (56%) or fully remote (7%) according to a 2023 McKinsey Global survey. Technical.ly’s own Tech Economy Dashboard, which features proprietary data sourced by Lightcast, shows that the number of remote workers is higher in major cities like Washington DC and Denver (with 15.4% remote workers each), Atlanta (13.2%) and Philadelphia (11.7%). Flexible workplace options are frequently cited by women as a solution for work-life balance and a stress reducer, especially if the workplace is less than diverse, according to a 2023 Aspen Institute study.

And salaries, for the most part, continue to grow, for both future tech and non-future tech roles. You can download and check out the trends in your city in the full 39-page Aquent 2024 Salary Guide.

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