Recently, I saw a brief story in one of the general news magazines reporting that the actors on the TV sitcom "Friends"—among the most popular shows on the air—were demanding a salary of $1 million per episode. Well, why not?
Certainly they perform a valuable service for society. Each week, they act out different reactions to situations—most of them involving relationships—that many people might find themselves in at one time or another in their lives. They add a bit of levity, and, who knows, may even be role models for others facing similar problems in real life. Society owes them an obscenely large salary for their efforts.
Just as society owes Stone Cold Steve Austin, professional wrestler, the estimated $5,000,000 he earned last year. And why shouldn't he earn that much? Think of the pleasure he gives people (except those in the ring with him).
What's going on here? Is everyone nuts? They're all talented people, but they don't deserve that kind of money for what they do (except you, Steve Austin, and please don't hit me). They don't provide any lasting value to society. They don't improve our health or quality of life.
Okay, enough carping. We all know they command such salaries because of the premium society puts on celebrity and entertainment. They get that money because people are willing to pay to see them. That's capitalism. And they are, of course, exceptions in society as a whole.
So, when you measure the worth society puts on engineers, you have to shove aside the dough celebrities make. When you do that, you'll find that engineers are doing pretty well.
This year's Design News Salary Survey, reported on page 60, shows engineers earning an average base salary of $61,550, which certainly puts them in the top tier of society. And that's where they should be. Maybe, with a few exceptions in every company, they're not great entertainers. But, they do, through the products they design, make our lives fuller, safer, more convenient, more productive, and more comfortable. And, they don't do it primarily for the money.
As our survey shows, money actually is at the bottom of the list of things that keep engineers happy. Tops are the challenges and creativity of the job, the variety, and the freedom. Not many other professions offer that combination.