How happy are people as programmers?


The following was posted on Hacker News the other day: How Happy are you as a Programmer?

Let’s go through some of the most popular comments.

Any time I catch myself complaining about my career I do my best to jolt myself out of it. That’s not to say I have nothing to complain about or that aspects of my career and my job can’t be improved, but my god, is there really any other profession in the world that is as lucrative, open, and challenging as programming? There are no bullshit certifications to go through, the best tools and resources are free and open, and the more technology advances the more important it becomes. In no other field can someone start a company with basically zero capital and have a realistic shot at becoming profitable. I am absolutely addicted to programming and the only real downside is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it.

I agree. For the pay and the hours and the relatively stress-free existence, nothing beats programming. You can learn to program in a couple of years without paying 200K for an advanced degree and spending 3-10 years of your life (think lawyers and doctors) to get that degree. And then you make 6 figures if not immediately, within a couple of years.

I enjoy programming but ‘working as a programmer’ is infuriating.

There are so many interesting product ideas yet ‘me-too’ CRUD app recreations of previously successful incumbents products are highly desired. This is particularly true in the startup ecosystems where kids talk about ‘interesting’ problems and finding ‘purpose’ and yet are blindly following the mantras and motivational speeches of trite capitalists.

I currently work as a freelancer/contractor in London and I am happy as I make enough money to finance my own intellectual and creative interests for months on end. I hope I’ll soon meet other intellectually curious people doing the same thing, and hope we’ll be able to join forces to teach ourselves things or perhaps even work on small projects together.

Of course I feel extremely lucky to be in this position which has nothing to do with wanting a slower pace and everything to do with wanting to exert my whole self. And I can’t say whether it will be good for me or bad for me; I’m certainly learning a lot about myself and the practicalities of doing this.

This was something that surprised me as well. When you’re learning computer science in school, everything is interesting. You’re getting a sample of all the sub-areas of computer science, from systems programming and machine learning to graphics and security.

Then you get into the real world and you wind up building basic CRUD apps for a giant corporation. It pays well, but you only use the algorithms you learned about once every 3 months. Your job becomes dull fast if you’re not good at finding areas to keep yourself interested.

Fortunately, there are always new things to learn, and if you’re creative, it’s easy to add more advanced computer science into your day to day job.

I worked in landscaping and then as a custodian making $7/hr before I started learning to code. Working as a programmer has transformed my life. I’ve got a lot of autonomy in my days, I enjoy solving technical problems, I get to work from home and see my 2yr old grow up.

Yeah it sucks when your manager puts heavy deadlines on your team, or having to do things you don’t necessarily agree with, or navigating corporate politics, but at the end of the day it’s the best. I don’t come home physically exhausted, I don’t make shit money, and if I ever end up in a job I don’t enjoy, I am able to find a new one fairly easily.

I think it’s easy for programmers to hate life sometimes. Most people who are good at this line of work started doing it because they enjoyed it before it was making them money, that’s how it was for me. Sometimes I miss haphazardly stringing code together to make something fun, but at the end of the day being a programmer has made me feel fulfilled.

Again, for the amount of education required, the pay, hours, stress free environment, and interesting work are unbeatable.

It’s also important to remember how employable we are. Even in a down economy, everyone needs a programmer.

6/10. I’m less than 3 years into my career, but I think I’ve worked for some of the best companies with great pay, benefits, environments, etc, including a tech giant and two startups. End of the day though, work is boring. Its always work. Your time and effort is going towards making someone else rich and their priorities are more important than your own.

The only things I really look forward to are vacations and events outside of work. Learning things is always exciting and sometimes its extremely rewarding getting a project (or even a feature) off the ground and seeing a company rise and beat projections. But then a few weeks later, its just back to work and nothings really different. Its a temporary victory at best, then expectations just get higher and more grind.

The best you can possibly hope for is enjoying the people you work with and getting a couple good exits. I’m never married to my work and I would be incredibly depressed if I allowed it to define me as a person. It pays the bills, and generally pretty well.

Even compensation wise, it peaks very early and probably won’t get most rich without a ton of luck. Its depressing to make comparisons, but 99.9% of developers will never make half of what a specialized MD or successful lawyer or someone in finance might make. Granted, the barrier to entry is much lower in CS (sometimes nearly nonexistent depending on the line of work).

edit: Reading some of the other comments made me realize how dissatisfied I am with this line of work. On average, the people really are incredibly boring, especially at large companies. It is true that it is dominated by men and many are socially awkward. Its even worse that I think being on a computer for so many hours a day for years at a time makes everyone a little less socially adept, at least compared to the sales folks who spend most of their days on the phone. I’m literally spending my weekends looking for the most reckless and dangerous things I can do (lately its been surfing 2-3x head high waves, before it was motorcycling through snow/ice storms) to compensate and its completely unhealthy.

The early plateau came as a shock to me as well. If you’re ambitious, I’d almost recommend you stay away from programming. You can make six figures easily, but after that you’ll find yourself stuck.

Technically, I made the most in total compensation when I was a 24 year old working for Google. It’s mildly distressing to think your career peaked when you were 24.

In the top 5% of tech companies, programmers do just fine. At Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft, senior level engineers routinely pull in 200K+. But those companies are mostly limited to the Bay Area, Seattle, and New York City. If you want to live elsewhere, good luck finding those kinds of salaries. The average for most senior engineers in the US is closer to 100K.

Many of the responses to the above commenter made the case that he was being “ungrateful” for having an amazing salary and career. Compared to the median salary in the United States, they’re right.

But there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious and wanting more. It isn’t evil to want to bring in 250 or 300K per year. Unfortunately, you can’t do it in programming easily. Even most engineering managers and directors won’t do as well as a well compensated lawyer or doctor.

True, you have to invest much more in schooling to pursue those careers, but if you work until you’re 75, it might just be worth it.

I’ve been programming for 15 years, since I was 21. It used to be my passion, work, and hobby. Over the last 3 years I’ve gradually shifted from development to managing projects and product development, and recently moved to the team leader/manager.

Right now I really like the product and management side of the work, but the technical / programmer side I am very burned out on. I used to spend my free time consulting, coding, researching, and had dreams of starting my own company. Now I want to go home and relax, work with my hands out in the yard/garden.

I’ve been at the same company for 7 years now, we typically have enough freedom and project variation to learn new skills and keep from being bored. There are simply to many frameworks/languages to keep up with to stay relevant. I don’t see myself finding another development job after this one, at least not without time off/a break. The money is great, and I’ve been fortunate to save well, and we live will below our means.

Honestly, I’m working on a plan to be out of the industry by the time my daughter graduates high school and I’m 45.

There were many threads like this. People were burned out because of the management of software or having to endlessly learn new frameworks and toolsets.

I wonder if our burn out rate would be lower or higher than other careers.

So what is my current level of satisfaction as a programmer?

Overall I’m happy. Every day I’m generally interested in the work I do, and I enjoy coming to the office and solving puzzles. The pay for the hours worked is excellent, and I’ve received a high salary since my early 20s. If I were a lawyer or a doctor, that income wouldn’t start until I was in my early to mid 30s.

I’ve never struggled with management like other programmers complain about. I’ve never had a boss who was holding the whip, forcing us to meet impossible deadlines. I guess I’ve been lucky because all of my bosses used to be programmers themselves.

I do wish there was a beaten path for programmers who want to continue evolving into different roles and/or management. It’s easy to become a technical manager, but if you want to hit VP some day, the path is less clear and more uncertain.

What are your experiences as a programmer?

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