March 7, 2023
SINGAPORE – The guys often depicted as gawky geeks in movies got the last laugh in recent years – and probably all the way to the bank.
Competition for tech talent drove up salaries in the sector in Singapore last year, though the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) may reshape the types of skills in demand.
In 2022, salaries of software engineers in Singapore surged 7.6 per cent to an all-time high, according to an annual tech salary report released on Tuesday.
Median base salaries were $5,000 for junior engineers, $8,000 for senior engineers and $13,750 for engineering managers, according to the report by tech talent platform NodeFlair and technology accelerator Iterative.
At the 90th percentile, pay cheques reached $8,500, $12,000 and $19,000, respectively – triple the earnings of those in the bottom 10 per cent.
Other tech jobs that saw significant pay bumps in Singapore in 2022 include mobile engineers, blockchain engineers and data engineers.
Six out of the top 15 most-searched companies – topped by TikTok’s parent company ByteDance – paid employees at least 20 per cent more than the market median, said NodeFlair.
Most of the rest pay at least 10 per cent more, it added.
Mr Ethan Ang, chief executive and co-founder of NodeFlair, said the unprecedented demand for highly skilled tech professionals is “driving up salaries to record highs”.
“As companies across various industries increasingly rely on technology to drive growth, the value of tech talent has never been higher.”
But the “jaw-dropping salary offers” thrown at tech workers in previous years are likely to taper off, said NodeFlair.
Since November, more than 100,000 tech workers have been laid off globally amid concerns about an economic slowdown.
Mr Ang said the tech industry will continue to face challenges in attracting, compensating and retaining top talent.
The hiring landscape is also set to shift, as employers deal with the latest technological disruption of generative AI tools sparked by the public release of ChatGPT in November.
Since ChatGPT’s launch, companies including Tesla, Meta and TikTok have set up high-level AI teams to compete with the Microsoft-linked bot, which can automate tasks from filling spreadsheets to preparing e-mails, itineraries and CEO speeches. It even writes code.
With not enough AI experts to go round, “we will see companies being open to hiring software engineers with an interest in AI, similar to what we observed in previous years during the cryptocurrencies and Web 3.0 boom”, said NodeFlair co-founder Adrian Goh.
Web 3.0, the third iteration of the Internet, was marked by blockchain, decentralisation and tokenisation.
The rise of AI brings in tandem more demand for personalised, seamless omnichannel experiences by customers, said Mr Simon Dale, managing director at Adobe for South-east Asia and Korea.
He expects a rise in demand for workers in customer experience management, customer behaviour analysis and change management.
“With AI transforming customer experience management, the skills required for data analytics are evolving as well,” he said.
Ms Gina Wong, managing director of IT consultancy Kyndryl Singapore, said that as companies focus on scaling up and integrating AI into operations, “the role of AI and machine learning engineers will become mainstream”.
“There is also a need for information technology managers and C-suite executives to lead such teams and advise the business on its digital strategies,” she added.
Ms Aarti Budhrani, director of technology practice at recruitment firm Michael Page, said pharmaceuticals, insurance and healthcare firms have sent out job calls for AI talent.
Many companies have not mapped out how they will tap AI’s abilities, much less the kind of workers or skills needed, but Ms Budhrani said she expects that machine learning, data modelling and Python programming experience will be demanded of such roles.
Mr Bensen Koh from tech policy consultancy Access Partnership said: “While there will always be some demand for ‘hardcore’ coders… generative AI and low-code, no-code platforms will increase productivity and reduce barriers to entry, requiring fewer ‘hardcore’ coders to produce the same amount of code.”
The trends will lead to the rise of workers with a lateral set of skills, such as in sales, marketing or low-code platforms, he said, which ties in with another emerging trend, where companies prioritise modular skills-based certifications and qualifications over traditional degrees.
According to the report, the median salary of Singapore software managers was almost seven times that of their peers in India which, in contrast, had more than double the proportion of higher-ranked “lead” managers than Singapore.
But Singapore is a mature market and an early adopter of new technologies, said Ms Wong, and its constant reach for opportunities goes beyond its tech sector to industries that want to “mirror developments in tech”, such as in areas like software integration and data migration, but fall short in technical skills.
This appetite for the latest solutions and talent needed for them will continue to keep the local talent pool competitive, she said.