How Much Do Mainframe Developers Make? 2024 Salary Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Mainframe development is a diverse career path that involves coding to help maintain, update, and secure a corporate mainframe. This responsibility comes with a rewarding salary. Learn all about the average mainframe developer salary here.

[Featured Image] Three mainframe developers looking at a digital tablet and talking while standing next to a server in a data center.

In the past, corporations generally relied on mainframes to handle their computing needs. These large, on-premises machines took up a lot of space and were expensive to build. With the emergence of the cloud, the mainframe has become less popular, but some companies still rely on them and put great value on mainframe developers. 

If you want to start a career in this area, you’re likely curious about the average mainframe developer salary. Read on to learn about the average salary, factors that could impact your pay, and more below. 

What is a mainframe developer?

A mainframe developer—sometimes called a COBOL developer—is a specialized career within the software developer career path. As a mainframe developer, you’ll maintain a computer system's mainframe, which are high-performance computers that handle many users in centralized databases. You’ll perform maintenance using programming languages so an organization’s mainframe can store and process a mass amount of data in a short time. You’ll also test code from other developers for bugs and collaborate with other IT professionals to develop new applications for the organization. 

Average mainframe developer salary 

A mainframe developer is a specialized type of software developer, and Lightcast™ states the average annual salary in the US for someone in this career field is $120,993 [1]. Based on several job posting sites, the average mainframe developer salary ranges from $73,744 to $89,457 [2, 3, 4].


Salaries by education

To become a mainframe developer, you usually need at least a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, computer information systems, or a related field. According to Zippia, 75.9 percent of mainframe developers have a bachelor’s degree, 14.4 with a master’s, and 6.5 percent with an associate [5]. Here’s how education can impact the average COBOL developer salary [3]: 

  • Associate degree: $84,352

  • Bachelor’s degree: $93,369

  • Master’s degree: $96,500

  • Doctorate: $98,464

Salary by location

Location is another factor that impacts the average mainframe developer salary. Companies may have to compensate for varying living costs between areas and the local demand. If you live in a location with a high cost of living, you’ll require a higher salary than you would in a location with a lower cost of living to afford the same lifestyle.

Here are the average salaries for mainframe developers in various states, according to Zippia [3]:

LocationAverage salary
5Rhode Island$96,025
6District of Columbia$94,647
10New Jersey$94,231

Salaries according to experience

Like other roles, as you work for years as a mainframe developer, you may gain new skills and talents that make you more efficient at your job. At the same time, doing so can also help you grow your salary. Here’s how your level of experience impacts the average mainframe developer salary [2]:

  • 0–1 years: $79,391

  • 1–3 years: $85,160

  • 4–6 years: $89,729

  • 7–9 years: $92,417

  • 10–14 years: $98,976

  • 15 or more years: $107,140

Salary by industry

Some of the highest-paying industries still employing mainframe developers include [3]: 

  • Insurance: $96,137

  • Automotive: $92,193

  • Finance: $91,751

  • Transportation: $91,246

  • Technology: $86,805

How to become a mainframe developer

To become a mainframe developer, employers require at least a bachelor’s degree in topics like computer science, electrical engineering, and relevant subjects. After graduation, you’ll need about three to four years of experience in an entry-level software development role before transitioning to a more specialized field like mainframe development. Gaining experience allows you to learn about standard industry procedures and new techniques while honing your skills.

While working in a software developer role, you can earn certifications related to mainframe development. Some options include the IBM Certified Administrator - Db2 12 for z/OS and IBM Certified System Programmer - CICS Transaction Server V5.2 for z/OS.

With experience and certifications, you'll be ready to start applying for mainframe developer roles. 

Mainframe developer skills

Mainframe developers require a broad range of technical and workplace skills. Technical skills represent the practical aspects of your role, while workplace skills contribute to how productive you are in a work environment. Refining the following skills can help you advance in your career: 

Technical skills: 


  • Data analysis and integration

  • DB2

  • Digital security

  • Troubleshooting

  • Programming languages

    • Assembler

    • COBOL

    • PL/I

    • C

    • C++

    • Java

    • CLIST

    • REXX™

Workplace skills: 

  • Attention to detail

  • Business operations

  • Capacity management

  • Communication

  • Multitasking

  • Problem-solving

  • Teamwork

  • Desire to learn

Next steps

While mainframes aren’t as popular as they once were, many of the world’s largest corporations still use them and need mainframe developers. If you’re looking for a technical role and enjoy putting your talents toward ensuring computer systems are running at peak performance, a mainframe developer role may be for you. 

You can gain an understanding of this role with the IBM z/OS Mainframe Practitioner Professional Certificate and Getting Started on Mainframe with z/OS Commands and Panels courses on Coursera. Upon completion, gain exclusive access to career resources like resume review, interview prep, and career support.

Article sources


Lightcast™ Analyst. "Occupation Summary for Software Developer." Accessed July 19, 2023.

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