Do front-end developers get paid well?

The average salary for a front-end developer in the U.S. in 2021 is $108,168. That places it well above the median for all U.S. workers ($49,764)—and means front-end development can be a very lucrative career. However, it's not the highest paying role when compared to other types of software development.

In this article

What is front-end development?

Front-end web development is the practice of converting data to a graphical interface, through the use of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, so that users can view and interact with that data.

Front-end developers might build websites or web applications, and use different combinations of front-end technologies, depending on their role or specialty.

How do front-end salaries compare to other roles?

If you're thinking about getting into front-end development, you can expect to earn a comfortable living from it, wherever you're located.

But maybe you're trying to decide whether to pursue front-end or some other kind of development. Well, if you're interested in maximizing your income, there are other roles that can pay even more.

Based on Indeed's numbers from both user-submitted salary data and job postings, here's how front-end development compares to some other popular technical disciplines:

RoleAverage U.S. salary
Front-End Developer$108,168
Back-End Developer$127,754
Full-Stack Developer$113,021
Data Scientist$122,822
Machine Learning Engineer$140,588

While all of these roles can pay a six-figure salary, if the money was all you cared about, the data suggests it would make more sense for you to focus your attention on back-end development or machine learning.

Of course, in reality there's (hopefully) a lot more you're considering beyond just salary.

Learning the skills for a new technical career is not easy. It's important that you genuinely enjoy the work, otherwise you likely won't have the motivation to stick with it—especially when you've been stuck on the same error for five hours and are beginning to question why you're even attempting this career change.

Personally, I've always fallen somewhere on the spectrum of front-end development in the jobs I've had since I changed career. Could I have made more money by growing my back-end skills? Possibly. But I do front-end work because I enjoy it: the mixture of skills it requires happens to be a good fit for my interests.

Front-end development is a visual and user-focused discipline, so it suits people with an eye for design, as well as technical know-how.

If you want to be heavily involved with the parts of a product that users interact with, front-end development could be the right choice for you too.

Tips for earning the highest front-end salaries

Salaries vary widely by seniority, company, location and skill set—even among roles that would all broadly be considered front-end development.

If you're set on learning front-end development, there are certain skills within the field that are in higher demand, and thus can get you access to above-average front-end salaries.

It's worth knowing what these are, even if you ultimately decide not to focus on them.

Front-end development has changed a lot in recent years. Ten years ago, front-end developers needed to know HTML, CSS and maybe some jQuery.

Today, everything is much more centered around JavaScript. While the core technologies that run in web browsers are still the same, developers rarely write raw HTML and CSS anymore. Instead, they write JavaScript to generate the HTML (and inject CSS styles), with the help of a JavaScript framework.

Much of the application 'business logic' that was once handled by the back end is now done on the front end, to provide users with a faster and more dynamic experience.

What does this mean for salaries?

The 'old school' pure HTML/CSS skill set earns much less than the more modern JavaScript-focused equivalent.

So, to access the higher front-end salaries:

  • Focus on JavaScript: You should still learn HTML and CSS, but developing your JavaScript skills to an advanced level will increase your salary. The average 'JavaScript developer' salary on Indeed is $118,121, which is already $10k higher than that of front-end developers more generally.
  • Specialize in a framework: Companies will often pay more for specialist knowledge in a JavaScript framework they already use, so if you can demonstrate this kind of knowledge, you can charge more for it. React is a very popular choice, but Angular and Vue are also good options.
  • Learn some back end: Full-stack developers can work on both the front and back end of an application. As we saw in the comparison table, they earn $113,021 on average—$5k higher than those focusing on just front end. You don't have to know as much as a pure back-end developer, but adding a server-side language and some database knowledge to your toolbox will pay off.

Benefits to consider beyond salary

In the tech industry, roles generally offer a range of other enviable benefits, both monetary and otherwise. These include:

  • Cash bonuses
  • Equity or stock options
  • 401(k) matching
  • Unlimited PTO
  • Free snacks and meals
  • Flexible hours
  • Work from home policies
  • Commuter benefits

It's important not to forget these things when assessing job offers and compensation packages, and when considering whether front-end developers are well paid in general.

Even just based on salary, the data shows that front-end developers can command six figures—which is already well above the national average. But when you consider the many other perks that go with an in-demand profession like front-end development, it would be hard to argue from any perspective that they're not well paid.

Other resources

  • Glassdoor's Know Your Worth tool can give you a personalized salary estimate for a particular role based on the job market in your area. This can provide a useful benchmark if you're trying to understand your current market value.
  • LinkedIn Salary also estimates the salary for jobs in different locations around the U.S. It shows the median base salary as well as total compensation (benefits, bonuses, etc.) which can be useful for tech jobs where the non-salary benefits often make up a significant part of the package.
  • PayScale’s Cost-of-Living Calculator lets you compare salaries between different locations. Its calculations are based on what you would need to earn in both places to get the same standard of living, rather than absolute numbers. It's important to take cost of living into account if you really want to understand whether a certain salary qualifies as well paid—the results might surprise you!

Sources:

  • Indeed Salary Comparison. https://www.indeed.com/salaries
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Usual Weekly Earnings of Wage and Salary Workers First Quarter 2020." https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/wkyeng.pdf

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