Distributed Systems Engineer — Income and Opportunity

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Before we learn about the money, let’s get this question out of the way:

What Is a Distributed System?

A distributed system is a computer system spread across multiple computing devices connected via a communication network. Each participating device takes over part of the overall work performed by the system. By means of the collaboration of individual units, the system can provide services that each individual system component couldn’t provide on its own.

Some examples of distributed systems are:

  • Ethereum is a distributed system of Ethereum nodes connected via the Internet and a specific communication protocol.
  • Bitcoin is a distributed system of Bitcoin nodes connected via the Internet and a specific communication protocol as defined by the open-source Bitcoin protocol.
  • The World Wide Web is a distributed system of servers connected via IP to provide a coherent web experience via browsers and an HTML-like web experience.
  • A Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) is a distributed system of individuals that collaborate via a system written as a smart contract in a first-layer Blockchain such as Ethereum.
  • A distributed database is a distributed system consisting of multiple database servers that communicate via the Internet (IP or TCP/IP) in order to provide efficient and robust (potentially replicated) data storage to users.
  • Cloud computing is a distributed system of connected hardware devices in one or more datacenters orchestrated in a way so that users perceive it as an infinitely scalable single computing system.

What Does a Distributed Systems Engineer Do?

A distributed systems engineer designs, implements, and debugs distributed systems for data storage, crypto & web3, or analytics. The idea is to design a distributed system that can provide a service to users that couldn’t be provided by a centralized system (e.g., providing a decentralized, censorship-free monetary network).

Here’s a list of activities a distributed systems engineer does on a daily basis, depending on the concrete job description:

  • System design
  • Proof of system behavior
  • Implementation of nodes and node behavior
  • Optimizing communication efficiencies between nodes and distributed processes
  • Analyze system failures
  • Debugging and troubleshooting
  • Thinking through parallel synchronization of multiple processes
  • Increasing scalability of the system to enable participation of an increasing number of nodes
  • Increasing availability of the system to enable responsiveness of the system
  • Increasing robustness and failure tolerance so that the system works even if a defined number of participants fail
  • Providing documentation, research papers, and presentations of the distributed system

Annual Income Distributed Systems Engineer (US)

💬 Question: How much does a Distributed Systems Engineer in the US make per year?

Average Income of a Distributed Systems Engineer in the US by Source.
Figure: Average Income of a Distributed Systems Engineer in the US by Source. [1]

The average annual income of a Distributed Systems Engineer in the United States is between $97,000 and $169,656, with an average of $126,894 and a statistical median of $130,000 per year.

This data is based on our meta-study of seven (7) salary aggregators sources such as Glassdoor, ZipRecruiter, and PayScale.

SourceAverage Income

Table: Average Income of a Distributed Systems Engineer in the US by Source.

This is the most comprehensive salary meta-study of distributed systems engineer income in the world, to the best of my knowledge!

Hourly Rate

Distributed systems engineers are well-paid on freelancing platforms such as Upwork or Fiverr.

If you decide to go the route as a freelance distributed systems engineer, you can expect to make between $50 and $100 per hour on Upwork (source). Assuming an annual workload of 2000 hours, you can expect to make between $100,000 and $200,000 per year.

Note: Do you want to create your own thriving coding business online? Feel free to check out our freelance developer course — the world’s #1 best-selling freelance developer course that specifically shows you how to succeed on Upwork and Fiverr!

Industry Demand

But is there enough demand? Let’s have a look at Google trends to find out how interest evolves over time (source):

Distributed Systems Engineer Skills

What skills does a distributed systems engineer need?

  • Ability to solve problems
  • Curiosity and willingness to learn
  • Understanding Remote Machine Access (e.g., SSH)
  • Understanding ACID Transactions and Consistency (Multiprocessing)
  • Understanding Divide and Conquer concepts (e.g., MapReduce)
  • Distributed Databases such as MongoDB or MariaDB
  • Understanding the basics of sharding
  • Understanding cloud computing (e.g., Amazon Web Services)
  • Consensus protocols such as Paxos or Raft
  • Tools for Distributed Computation
  • Distributed File Systems
  • Remote Procedure Call (RPC)
  • Distributed Messaging Systems
  • Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) and Blockchain
What are the basic skills of a distributed systems engineer?

Learning Path, Skills, and Education Requirements

Do you want to become a Distributed Systems Developer? Here’s a step-by-step learning path I’d propose to get started with Distributed Systems :

You can find many additional computer science courses on the Finxter Computer Science Academy (flatrate model).

But don’t wait too long to acquire practical experience!

Even if you have little skills, it’s best to get started as a freelance developer and learn as you work on real projects for clients — earning income as you learn and gaining motivation through real-world feedback.

🚀 Tip: An excellent start to turbo-charge your freelancing career (earning more in less time) is our Finxter Freelancer Course. The goal of the course is to pay for itself!

Neo4j and GraphDB freelance coders make $65/h on Upwork

You can find more job descriptions for coders, programmers, and computer scientists in our detailed overview guide:

The following statistic shows the self-reported income from 9,649 US-based professional developers (source).

💡 The average annual income of professional developers in the US is between $70,000 and $177,500 for various programming languages.

Question: What is your current total compensation (salary, bonuses, and perks, before taxes and deductions)? Please enter a whole number in the box below, without any punctuation. If you are paid hourly, please estimate an equivalent weekly, monthly, or yearly salary. (source)

The following statistic compares the self-reported income from 46,693 professional programmers as conducted by StackOverflow.

💡 The average annual income of professional developers worldwide (US and non-US) is between $33,000 and $95,000 for various programming languages.

Here’s a screenshot of a more detailed overview of each programming language considered in the report:

Here’s what different database professionals earn:

Here’s an overview of different cloud solutions experts:

Here’s what professionals in web frameworks earn:

There are many other interesting frameworks—that pay well!

Look at those tools:

Okay, but what do you need to do to get there? What are the skill requirements and qualifications to make you become a professional developer in the area you desire?

Let’s find out next!

General Qualifications of Professionals

StackOverflow performs an annual survey asking professionals, coders, developers, researchers, and engineers various questions about their background and job satisfaction on their website.

Interestingly, when aggregating the data of the developers’ educational background, a good three quarters have an academic background.

Here’s the question asked by StackOverflow (source):

Which of the following best describes the highest level of formal education that you’ve completed?

However, if you don’t have a formal degree, don’t fear! Many of the respondents with degrees don’t have a degree in their field—so it may not be of much value for their coding careers anyways.

Also, about one out of four don’t have a formal degree and still succeeds in their field! You certainly don’t need a degree if you’re committed to your own success!

Freelancing vs Employment Status

The percentage of freelance developers increases steadily. The fraction of freelance developers has already reached 11.21%!

This indicates that more and more work will be done in a more flexible work environment—and fewer and fewer companies and clients want to hire inflexible talent.

Here are the stats from the StackOverflow developer survey (source):

Do you want to become a professional freelance developer and earn some money on the side or as your primary source of income?

Resource: Check out our freelance developer course—it’s the best freelance developer course in the world with the highest student success rate in the industry!

Other Programming Languages Used by Professional Developers

The StackOverflow developer survey collected 58000 responses about the following question (source):

Which programming, scripting, and markup languages have you done extensive development work in over the past year, and which do you want to work in over the next year?

These are the languages you want to focus on when starting out as a coder:

And don’t worry—if you feel stuck or struggle with a nasty bug. We all go through it. Here’s what SO survey respondents and professional developers do when they’re stuck:

What do you do when you get stuck on a problem? Select all that apply. (source)

To get started with some of the fundamentals and industry concepts, feel free to check out these articles:

Where to Go From Here?

Enough theory. Let’s get some practice!

Coders get paid six figures and more because they can solve problems more effectively using machine intelligence and automation.

To become more successful in coding, solve more real problems for real people. That’s how you polish the skills you really need in practice. After all, what’s the use of learning theory that nobody ever needs?

You build high-value coding skills by working on practical coding projects!

Do you want to stop learning with toy projects and focus on practical code projects that earn you money and solve real problems for people?

🚀 If your answer is YES!, consider becoming a Python freelance developer! It’s the best way of approaching the task of improving your Python skills—even if you are a complete beginner.

If you just want to learn about the freelancing opportunity, feel free to watch my free webinar “How to Build Your High-Income Skill Python” and learn how I grew my coding business online and how you can, too—from the comfort of your own home.

Join the free webinar now!


[1] The figure was generated using the following code snippet:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import numpy as np
import math

data = [98637,

labels = ['Glassdoor.com',

median = np.median(data)
average = np.average(data)
print(median, average)
n = len(data)

plt.plot(range(n), [median] * n, color='black', label='Median: $' + str(int(median)))
plt.plot(range(n), [average] * n, '--', color='red', label='Average: $' + str(int(average)))
plt.bar(range(len(data)), data)
plt.xticks(range(len(data)), labels, rotation='vertical', position = (0,0.45), color='white', weight='bold')
plt.ylabel('Average Income ($)')
plt.title('Distributed Systems Engineer Annual Income - by Finxter')