Are coders worth it?

In today’s world, web developers have it all: money, perks, freedom, respect. But is there value in what we do?

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Relax, you're at work. Photo by Jason Madara/Gallery Stock

Relax, you're at work. Photo by Jason Madara/Gallery Stock

James Somers is a writer and programmer. He is based in New York.

There’s this great moment in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) when the world’s most celebrated sushi chef turns to his son, who is leaving to start his own restaurant, and says: ‘You have no home to come back to.’ Which, when you think about it, isn’t harsh or discouraging but is in fact the very best thing you could say to someone setting out on an adventure.

Last October I quit my job to become a freelance journalist. I had only ever made about $900 from writing, but my latest project, a profile of Douglas Hofstadter, had attracted interest from a couple of big American magazines. I stood to make anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000 from the piece.

My plan was to sell that profile and keep writing others like it. This would be a rambling life of the mind. I would find a subject that I was intensely curious about and I’d live with it until I’d learnt everything there was to know. Then I would sit in a room somewhere and tap out a synthesis of such depth and piquant grace that no writer of non-fiction would think to touch my subject again — because I had nailed it, because I had put it to rest forever.

My new life began on a Monday. I’m a late sleeper, but I read somewhere that writers do their best work in the mornings. So I woke up early, put on some coffee, and cracked open my laptop.

When, in 1958, Ernest Hemingway was asked: ‘What would you consider the best intellectual training for the would-be writer?’, he responded:
Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.

Writing is a mentally difficult thing — it’s hard to know when something’s worth saying; it’s hard to be clear; it’s hard to arrange things in a way that will hold a reader’s attention; it’s hard to sound good; it’s even hard to know whether, when you change something, you’re making it better. It’s all so hard that it’s actually painful, the way a long run is painful. It’s a pain you dread but somehow enjoy.

I worked on my Hofstadter piece until early Thursday afternoon. On Thursday night I got an unexpected email. It was a job offer, and these were the terms: $120,000 in salary, a $10,000 signing bonus, stock options, a free gym membership, excellent health and dental benefits, a new cellphone, and free lunch and dinner every weekday. My working day would start at about 11am. It would end whenever I liked, sometime in the early evening. The work would rarely strain me. I’d have a lot of autonomy and responsibility. My co-workers would be about my age, smart, and fun.

I put my adventure on hold.

In college I sort of aimlessly played. I read what I wanted and tinkered with my computer, I made little websites for my own amusement, I slept late and skipped class, and though sometimes I saw myself as an intellectual-at-large in the style of Will Hunting, I was basically just irresponsible. It’s only because of an exogenous miracle that, when I graduated in 2009 with a 2.9 GPA and entered a famously bad job market, I didn’t end up in privileged limbo — in Brooklyn, say, on my parents’ dime. In fact, I was among the most employable young men in the world.

The exogenous miracle is that playing around with websites suddenly became a lucrative profession.

‘What about somebody in a coal mine — wouldn’t you say he works as hard as you? Why should you get paid so much more than that guy?’

I am a web developer, and there has never been a better time to do what I do. Here’s how crazy it is: I have a friend who decided, part way into his second year of law school, to start coding. Two months later he was enrolled in Hacker School in New York, and three months later he was working as an intern at a consultancy that helps build websites for start-ups. A month into that internship — we’re talking a total of six months here — he was promoted to a full-time position worth $85,000.

I didn’t think finding good work would be this easy. I always figured I would end up like my sister. My sister set academic records in high school and studied at the University of Chicago but the only position matching her qualifications, when she came out of school, was a job translating airline menus. She had an especially bright and sensitive mind, but no technical specialty; and the market did what it's wont to do to people like that.

I remember one time at dinner she had asked my dad, who was something of a corporate bigshot: ‘You always talk about the value of hard work. But what about somebody in a coal mine — wouldn’t you say he works as hard as you? Why should you get paid so much more than that guy?’

I used to think that was an awfully naive question.

In 1999 a dotcom with no revenue could burn $100 million in one year, with $2 million of that going to a Super Bowl ad. Its namesake website could offer a terrible user experience, and still the company could go public. Investors would chase the rising stock price, which would drive up the price further, which in turn drew more investors, feeding a textbook ‘speculative bubble’ that burst the moment everyone realised there wasn’t any there there.

This kind of stuff isn’t happening any more. It’s not that the internet has become less important, or investors less ‘irrationally exuberant’ — it’s that start-ups have gotten cheaper. A web start-up today has almost no fixed capital costs. There’s no need to invest in broadband infrastructure, since it’s already there. There’s no need to buy TV ads to get market share, when you can grow organically via search (Google) and social networks (Facebook). ‘Cloud’ web servers, like nearly all other services a virtual company might need — such as credit-card processing, automated telephone support, mass email delivery — can be paid for on demand, at prices pegged to Moore’s Law.

You can see why I’m in such good shape. In this particular gold rush the shovel is me

Which means that these days the cost of finding out whether a start-up is actually going to succeed isn’t hundreds of millions of dollars — it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s the cost of a couple of laptops and the salary you pay the founders while they try stuff. A $100 million pool of venture capital, instead of seeding five or 10 start-ups, can now seed 1,000 small experiments, most of which will fail, one of which will become worth a billion dollars.

And so there is a frenzy on.

You can see why I’m in such good shape. In this particular gold rush the shovel is me. We web developers are the limiting reagent of every start-up experiment, we’re the sine qua non, because we’re the only ones who know how to reify app ideas as actual working software. In fact, we are so much the essence of these small companies that, in Silicon Valley, a start-up with no revenue is said to be worth exactly the number of developers it has on staff. The rule of thumb is that each one counts for $1 million.

It helps that there aren’t enough of us to go around. I’m told by a friend at Bloomberg that they missed their quarterly tech hiring target in New York by 200 people. I get at least two enquiries a week from headhunters trying to lure me from my current job. If I say that I’m actively looking, I become a kind of local celebrity, my calendar fills with coffees and conversations, reverse-interviews where start-ups try to woo me.

It’s as if the basic structure of this sector of the global economy has been designed for my benefit. Since developers are a start-up’s most important — if not their only — asset, start-ups compete by trying to be a better place for developers to work. Just a few weeks ago, an MTV2 camera crew came into my office to film an episode of a show called Jobs That Don’t Suck. Cash bonuses, raises, stock options and gifts are the norm. I once worked at a place that had a special email address where you’d send requests for free stuff — a $300 keyboard, a $900 chair, organic maple syrup. I have yet to take a job where there wasn’t beer readily at hand. Hours are flexible and time off is plentiful. Fuck-ups are quickly forgiven. Your concerns are given due regard. Your mind is prized. You are, in short, taken care of.

You can imagine what it does to the ego, to be courted and called ‘indispensable’ and in general treated like you’re the one pretty girl for miles. When a lot of your contemporaries don’t even have jobs. When work, for most people, has a Damoclean instability to it, a mortal urgency. To be this highly employable is to feel liquid, easy, as if you can do no wrong. I know that I have a great job guaranteed in any major city. And it’s hard not to give a thing like that moral heft. It validates you is what I mean; it inflates your sense of your own character. I tell myself a story, sometimes, that while other people partied or read for pleasure, I was sitting in a room with my head down, fighting — that I worked hard to learn these minute technical things, and now I’m getting paid for it.

Something prima donna-ish can happen when you start believing stories like that. I look at a lot of inbound résumés at my current job, and I throw away everybody who’s not a programmer. I do this enough times each day that a simple association has formed in my mind: if you’re not technical, you’re not valuable.

We’re the ones with the magic powers. Every programmer knows that code looks cool, that eyes widen when we fill our screens with colourful incantations. ‘The programmer,’ the late Dutch computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra wrote in 1988, ‘has to be able to think in terms of conceptual hierarchies that are much deeper than a single mind ever needed to face before.’ We like that idea. We like to think that because we can code, we have unprecedented leverage over the world. We decide what 15 million people will see when they follow a link. Our laptops literally get hot from the electric action we command.

Nobody tells us we’re wrong for thinking this way. In fact, they reinforce the impulse. They congratulate us on being ahead of the curve.

And when you consider my prospects without code and you consider my prospects with code, the lesson really does seem to be: join me! Try Codecademy in New York, go to Hacker School — pledge yourself, like Michael Bloomberg did in 2012, to learn to code.

But that shouldn’t be the lesson.

I was only 21 when I became the chief technical officer of an American corporation. When that happened, I thought of my dad because he, too, had once been among the country’s youngest corporate executives, a chief financial officer (CFO) by the time he was 28. The only difference is that the company he helped to run in his twenties was Hardee’s, a fast-food restaurant chain with more than 1,000 locations, while the company I helped to run was a web start-up. Just about all we did, in our three years of operation, was spend $350,000 of other people’s money. Dad’s company made hamburgers; mine ate them.

I have a friend who’s a mechanical engineer. He used to build airplane engines for General Electric, and now he’s trying to develop a smarter pill bottle to improve compliance for AIDS and cancer patients. He works out of a start-up ‘incubator’, in an office space shared with dozens of web companies. He doesn’t have a lot of patience for them. ‘I’m fucking sick of it,’ he told me, ‘all they talk about is colours.’

Web start-up companies are like play-companies. They stand in relation to real companies the way those cute little make-believe baking stations stand in relation to kitchens.

Take Doormates, a failed start-up founded in 2011 by two recent graduates from Columbia University whose mission was to allow users ‘to join or create private networks for buildings with access restricted to only building residents’. For that they, too, raised $350,000. You wonder whether anyone asked: ‘Do strangers living in the same building actually want to commune? Might this problem not be better solved by a plate of sandwiches?’ (The founders have since moved on to ‘Mommy Nearest’, an iPhone app that points out mom-friendly locations around New York.)

A lot of the stuff going on just isn’t very ambitious. ‘The thing about the advertising model is that it gets people thinking small, lean,’ wrote Alexis Madrigal in an essay about start-ups in The Atlantic last year. ‘Get four college kids in a room, fuel them with pizza, and see what thing they can crank out that their friends might like. Yay! Great! But you know what? They keep tossing out products that look pretty much like what you’d get if you took a homogenous group of young guys in any other endeavour: Cheap, fun, and about as worldchanging as creating a new variation on beer pong.’

Groupon clones are popular, as are apps that help you find nearby bars and restaurants. There are dozens of dating apps with little twists — like Tinder, an iPhone app where you swipe to the right on a potential match’s picture if you like them, and to the left if you don’t; or Coffee Meets Bagel, which gives you one match per day for a low-stakes, let’s-just-grab-a-coffee date. SideTour, whose tech team is run by a former co-worker, lets you buy small 'experiences' around the city, like dinner with a monk. Just yesterday a developer friend of mine who’d recently gone out on his own shared his latest idea: an app that shows you nearby ATMs.

The most successful start-ups, at least if you go by the numbers — $13.5 million to Snapchat, $30 million to Vine, $1 billion to Instagram (each of these windfalls indirectly underwriting 100 low-rent copycats) — seem to be the ones that offer teenagers new ways to share photos with each other.

When I go to the supermarket I sometimes think of how much infrastructure and ingenuity has gone into converting the problem of finding my own food in the wild to the problem of walking around a room with a basket. So much intelligence and sweat has gone into getting this stuff into my hands. It’s my sustenance: other people’s work literally sustains me. And what do I do in return?

We call ourselves web developers, software engineers, builders, entrepreneurs, innovators. We’re celebrated, we capture a lot of wealth and attention and talent. We’ve become a vortex on a par with Wall Street for precocious college grads. But we’re not making the self-driving car. We’re not making a smarter pill bottle. Most of what we’re doing, in fact, is putting boxes on a page. Users put words and pictures into one box; we store that stuff in a database; and then out it comes into another box.

Web development is more like plumbing than any of us, perched in front of two slick monitors, would care to admit

We fill our days with the humdrum upkeep of these boxes: we change the colours; we add a link to let you edit some text; we track how far you scroll down the page; we allow you to log in with your Twitter account; we improve search results; we fix a bug where uploading a picture would sometimes never finish.

I do most of that work with a tool called Ruby on Rails. Ruby on Rails does for web developers what a toilet-installing robot would do for plumbers. (Web development is more like plumbing than any of us, perched in front of two slick monitors, would care to admit.) It makes tasks that used to take months take hours. And the important thing to understand is that I am merely a user of this thing. I didn’t make it. I just read the instruction manual. In fact, I’m especially coveted in the job market because I read the instruction manual particularly carefully. Because I’m assiduous and patient with instruction manuals in general. But that’s all there is to it.

My friends and I who are building websites — we’re kids! We’re kids playing around with tools given to us by adults. In decreasing order of adultness, and leaving out an awful lot, I’m talking about things such as: the Von Neumann stored program computing architecture; the transistor; high-throughput fibre-optic cables; the Unix operating system; the sci-fi-ish cloud computing platform; the web browser; the iPhone; the open source movement; Ruby on Rails; the Stack Overflow Q&A site for programmers; on and on, all the way down to the code that my slightly-more-adult co-workers write for my benefit.

This cascade of invention is a miracle. But as much as I want to thank the folks who did it all, I also want to warn them: When you make it this easy to write and distribute software, so easy that I can do it, you risk creating a fearsome babel of gimcrack entrepreneurship.

Is there another dotcom bubble on? It’s hard to call it a ‘bubble’ when the Nasdaq’s not running wild, when no one’s going to lose their pension — when all anyone’s going to lose is, in fact, time: time pretending at enterprise; time ‘sharing’ and ‘liking’ in forums of no consequence; time tapping out pedestrian code, extracting easy money.

The only rigorous way to think about value is in terms of dollars, in terms of prices arrived at by free exchange. Numbers like that are hard to dispute. If a price is ‘too low’ or ‘too high’, there’s said to be an opportunity for risk-free moneymaking. People tend to gobble up those opportunities. And so the prices of things tend to level out to just where they’re supposed to be, to just what the market will bear.

Am I paid too much to code? Am I paid too little to write? No: in each case, I’m paid exactly what I should be.

It’s like that question my sister asked dad at dinner. There’s an answer to that question — and this is the one I remember hearing that night — that says that my dad was probably paid more than the coal miner because the skills required to be CFO of a Fortune 500 company are scarcer, and more wanted, than the skills required to be a coal miner. It’s the combination of scarcity and wantedness that drives up a salary.

And that answer seems fair, and fine, it seems to settle the question, but we’re not talking about pork belly futures, we’re talking about real people and what they do all day, and my sister, naive as she sounded, had a point, and that point is that the truly naive thing, the glib and facile thing, might be equating value with a market-clearing price.

The price of a word is being bid to zero. That one magazine story I’ve been working on has been in production for a year and a half now, it’s been a huge part of my life, it’s soaked up so many after-hours, I’ve done complete rewrites for editors — I’ve done, and will continue to do, just about anything they say — and all for free. There’s no venture capital out there for this; there are no recruiters pursuing me; in writer-town I’m an absolute nothing, the average response time on the emails I send is, like, three and a half weeks. I could put the whole of my energy and talent into an article, everything I think and am, and still it could be worth zero dollars.

And so despite my esteem for the high challenge of writing, for the reach of the writerly life, it’s not something anyone actually wants me to do. The American mind has made that very clear, it has said: ‘Be a specialised something — fill your head with the zeitgeist, with the technical — and we’ll write your ticket.’

I don’t have the courage to say no to that. I have failed so far to escape the sweep of this cheap and parochial thing, and it’s because I’m afraid. I am an awfully mediocre programmer — but, still, I have a secure future. More than that, I have a place at the table. In the mornings I wake up knowing that I make something people want. I know this because of all the money they give me.

Correction, June 9, 2013: An earlier version of this essay misstated the terms of the job offer extended to the author in October, 2012. In the previous version, the author stated that he was offered a salary of $150,000. This has been changed to reflect that the offer was for $120,000.

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Comments

  • Gyrus

    I'm a freelance web developer, and I write in the ample spare time that this affords me. So some of this resonates for me. However, I started working on the web in '99, just in time to see the company I'd joined fritter their budget away on advertising, then crash and burn. I was 28 at the time, so I'd already had a good bit of time experiencing the pre-web world "out there". So the fact that web work can appear as an over-valued frivolity isn't such a revelation for me. I kind of take that for granted, while I thank my luck for having a skill that is still in demand.

    I'm also acutely aware of the threats posed by our infrastructure's dependency on cheap oil, not to mention the tremendous shakiness of the global financial system. I think that as evolved, embodied creatures, we sense in our bones that stuff like web development is infinitely more vaporous and lacking in substance than suggested by the substantial real-world effects of the salaries involved.

    I was at a club chatting to a couple once and the girl asked me what I did, and I said I'm a web developer. The guy said, "But that's like saying you're a plumber these days." His girl quickly berated him for being rude, but I was glad I was talking to someone who didn't buy the hype. Actually I thought he was over-rating my work. Plumbers are more essential than web developers, even though they're less valued.

    This schism between actual usefulness and market value certainly stands in stark relief for people who build websites and write. For the coder, of course, it's easy to side with market value, because it's expressed in numbers, and hence is "more rigorous", and hence is "truer" (even if it's essentially abstract and the result of factors that are unfathomably complex). But the writer finds it harder to let go of concrete realities, and valuations not enmeshed in our historically contingent, tottering global financial edifice.

    • http://www.facebook.com/dangribbin Dan Gribbin

      "But the writer finds it harder to let go of concrete realities, and valuations not enmeshed in our historically contingent, tottering global financial edifice."

      You wouldn't do well as a commenter on Engadget.

    • http://www.garry.to/ joel garry

      Have you paid for a plumber lately?

      But the essence of the article is true. The same thing happened when Macs came out and people played with those pretty colors. Where are those people now? That's why I've stayed on the back end databases, it simply seems silly to compete against every high school student with a PC. Shared information is on a higher level of abstraction.

      For the long term, you have to learn the basics and be able to think and adapt. "Here's a nickel, kid, go buy yourself a computer."

      The demand curve is all out of whack. When it normalizes and people go after the next shiny thing, only those who truly love what they do, that happens to be a long-term skill, will keep doing it. The rest will go off on a "journey of self discovery" (read: parents basement) and eventually get some crappy job.

      • Gyrus

        There's a guy in the comments here somewhere here who's a developer who's actually worked as a plumber for a time, which gives some good perspective. But without thinking it through, I've used the term as most people seem to use it - as a stand-in for "essential but undervalued manual worker". But no, as a renter, I don't pay for maintenance directly. I still feel grateful every time I turn the tap on and get hot water.

      • dba7

        A friend of mine was a CS student at a major top tier college in min 1990's. (Gawd, am I that old??) I remember him telling me in 1996 or 97 that he was seeing strange people in his CS labs. These strange people were the business school types, not the nerds. I think the IPO of netscape in 1995 has something to do with it...

        Yes I agree that few will keep doing what they do because they love it. Majority is chasing after the next big thing...

        • http://classicalvalues.com/ TallDave

          They became ERP developers. Good steady work, involves lots of business logic, perfect for raising a family and can pay very well.

    • Rick Coartney

      Gyrus,
      I'm a sales engineer for the ink & coatings industry and have recently had my base salary slashed and gashed and the company implemented a commission only pay structure. I've been in sales over the past few years, but prior to that I was in commercial print operations and have gone thru the darkroom analog film processing methods to computer to plate technology. I adapted to that change and see the prepress department diminish from 30-40 people (3 shifts) down to 6 (2 people per shift) thanks to the advancement of technology and faster coded graphic software.

      I'm approx 3 years older than you with 20 years left to work and want to get back to my 80,000 dollar a year position, I see how certain developers are in demand and my question to you is: If I would like to start learning to code at 45 is it too late? I have some IT background but not much. If you can give me some feedback to secure my future in a industry that I've always had a deep passion for, I would really appreciate it. litho102@aol.com

      • scorpio

        You, and every non-coder interested enough to finish this article are
        asking that question. I mean, that’s the real take-away from this piece,
        isn’t it? ‘To hell with discussions of economic structure, market
        value, essential vs. non-essential labor; give me an idea of what,
        exactly, it would cost me to join this party.’ That’s probably a topic
        worthy of its own article, I’d imagine. I’d give someone money to read that.

        • Alexandre

          Let's pump this bubble up and see what happens. I'm doing this for years. I'm self-taught on web development and I just teach everyone as much as I can. I spend my time at work helping another developers (not only my co-workers, I help people on Facebook as well) and sparingly doing my job well enough to be kept employed. I have a long list of open source contributions, I'm polyglot in both developing and speaking at conferences and most of my code done for money is crap. My real value is in the code I do for fun and teaching. I'm eager to see more bubbles crashing.

      • http://classicalvalues.com/ TallDave

        It's never too late to start coding. But it can be very hard to get hired without experience.

        Typically, the best path into IT is to self-train and move into IT in your organization, where you already have a lot of value (because you know the business).

      • Ashley

        It's not too late. I'd try learning Ruby on Rails as mentioned in this article as demand and salary is high. Look at the resources here and if you try self-learning and it's not too difficult right now for you to do on your own and/or you'd like help getting jobs, try finding a coding bootcamp like Dev Bootcamp, App Academy, Hacker School, Code Academy, etc that will help you learn and then possibly help get you a job.

  • Greg Thompson Jr.

    I'm thoroughly impressed. I'm actually getting started as a programmer (entering the market). Believe it or not, I'm a writer, too -- it just so happens that I haven't been offered $10k for any of my pieces.

    Inspiring work.

    • Roro

      How do you go about getting an offer. You write the article then what ? I'd like to find out how this works..

  • Gabe A.

    Fantastic insight. Thank you for the honesty and candor wrapped in a well written.

  • spudgun

    good for you. consider yourself lucky, and always remember that it will not last forever. I am a web dev, who hates his job, but is stuck with it as i am unemployable without emigrating - why? bnecause the economy here tanked, and there are no jobs - not for programmers, not for anyone. and i have bills to pay, i have a mortgage. i haven't got a raise in years, the time i used to spend programming is now more often spent answering phone calls, or teaching someone how to use wordpress, or trying to find a new client who may keep us going for a few more days. i can't just up and leave like you can. when i see the waste and excess that goes on in tech centers like you describe, i die a little more inside. the whole world is fucked, all in the name of an elite few.

    • JB

      Where do you work? You can always change your job - don't associate your skills and performance with those of the company, which does sound awful. If you have decent skills, where you live isn't even as much of a barrier. You can pick up the work that people are willing to outsource from other companies or countries.

      • Adam

        I have skills but there aren't many jobs in this part of the UK for me. So I'm moving to the south west in pursuit of a job. I'm not going to sit here and expect it to be dropped at my feet, I'm going to chase it. I want it enough to find a way, not an excuse.

      • spudgun

        I don't want this to be about me. My situation sucks, and such is life, but the OP seems to think its like he describes everywhere, which is a dangerous assumption.

        I can't post in public where I work. I am in Ireland, but nowhere near Dublin which is where the only work seems to be these days. You say I can change job, but you are comparing how it works where you live with how it is here. I need to keep this awful job as its the only thing that pays the bills. Every local job I apply for (two jobs in last two years - thats all there have been) ask for all the latest big fads in tech, which I have no experience in at the time (i'm trying to upskill in my own time, but whatever i choose doesn't seem to be whats in demand when the next job comes around). I've tried recruitment firms - two of them sent many CV to my current employer, which obviously didn't go well. The rest kept trying to send me to Java and C++ firms in Dublin and the UK (oh and Australia, wtf?), when I'm a web dev. I've tried freelancer sites, but everything goes to the lowest bidder, which quite simply isn't worth my time as its totally unsustainable. I've applied for many jobs, asking if remote was an option, and got one actual reply saying that it was not. Perhaps the world is rosy where you come from, but in many places it is not. And I'm sure some smart guy will just tell me to sell my house and move to where jobs are, but property prices have dropped 50% here in the last 5 years. If I sell now, I'll still owe a huge amount of money to the bank and be unable to buy another (as they won't give a loan to someone with huge debts).

        • VIC

          I'm sorry mate but that is a load of bollocks what you are saying.

          The digital is on the up in UK and companies are fighting for talents. You either have nothing to show for or your work is mediocre if you are being turned down for jobs. Why am I saying that because on a daily basis we go through tons of cv's of "web developers" who think that putting a page together in WordPress and adding shittones of third party jQuery plugins is enough.

          Unfortunately it isn't enough. Which one of these are you? If you are web developer who codes JavaScript by hand know OO JS, PHP and work with latest technologies use latest development trends like responsive design, MVC for frontend BackboneJS and MVC for backend if you thrive under pressure and love to learn then there is a lot of jobs going on.

          • coagulated

            Eh. He already said he is not from the UK? If anything you just proved his point:

            "you are comparing how it works where you live with how it is here"

            "the OP seems to think its like he describes everywhere, which is a dangerous assumption"

            You may have a great job and loads of prospects but your reading skills need some work :)

          • VIC

            Come on... Ireland is not at the other end of the world.

          • Alex Kashko

            Felt like it when I was there. Pleasant but like sitting outside a bar where the noises suggested a private party and everyone having a lot more fun that you are.

            Nice people though, it just took a long time to settle in.

          • VIC

            While I agree the situation might not be good where he lives and the pay all over UK/Ireland is absolutely nowhere near of what it is in US ($150k I wish) no one said the web development is going to be an easy ride. It took me long hours to learn and to get where I am currently. I work from 8:30am - 6pm I go back home and the first thing I do I sit down in front of my computer and try new things, push myself to understand and know more so I pretty much spend 16h a day doing web dev.

            Crazy you may think well I don't know it gave me a lead developer position within a year of starting my work, some of my development were quoted in online blogs or given as an example of a good ui and ux. If you are driven then you will achieve webdev is easy but to get into it requires hard work and dedication.

          • Bretticus

            I'm in the "mountain west" of the United States. I think $150 might be a "coasts-only" salary. The way it works around here is you move to get the higher paying job (seems to average $50-$90 here) and then, when they trust you and you have shown your value, you can then telecommute.

            Where I live in a a rural area, my plight is similar to spudguns. My home has lost, at least, half it's value since I bought it in late 2007. It may be worth a little more now (but at least we Americans can screw over the banks and short-sell.) My point being, that for me to earn the money I need (because, let's face it, I earn far less than 150k, ) I need to move to a metropolitan area. The "under-water mortgage" situation has been a detriment to my flexibility for several years now. Initially, I tried to find a better paying job locally, but they are very scarce here. I have interviewed (well I think) for the few that have come around in several years, but, where I did not grow up here, they seem to go to less-qualified-but-more-familiar people. Enough said. One perk is that I telecommute from my house. I do have a neighbor that works for a fortune 500 from his house (and I'm sure he earns much more than I) but he had to go through the process I described (he rented out his house for about 6 months and then moved back.) It's hard enough being a dad of a couple of young children and find time for family, etc. I just don't want to complicate my life with property management, etc. But I am resolved that we will have to move to earn the living we need for the future.

            I haven't made any big moves yet. I see at least 2 or 3 jobs every day (all in the metro area, none close to where I live) that I am qualified for. So at least there's opportunity when I decide to move on it. Personally, I'm freaked out that where I'm 20 years out of college, where I can't code 18 hours a day, my job security may be in jeopardy when I get there. For my current small company, I do all the IT and all of the upper-end coding. But we do not do enterprise web applications (no start-up capital for us! Just small business owners.) So we recycle what we can-- but most of the time do a lot of smaller projects. That hasn't allowed me to afford the time to get really good at more specialized and marketable skills (I code PHP 98% of the time.)

            The notion of where you are and how that relates to opportunity in Web development, I think, changes by the province/state/city/region more than just country. Yes, we can do our jobs from anywhere thanks to the Internet. However, most of the jobs I see say nothing of telecommuting. The ones that do are typically for independent contractors (that road just feels like gambling for me with financial obligations.) Therefore, location does matter.

          • Guest

            You may consider yourself to be a mediocre programmer, but you are an amazing writer in my opinion. You have the ability to communicate your personal expression using metaphor and personal experiences that relate to me the viewer ( A programmer ). I like the title "Programmer" because the title "Software Engineer" reminds me of how janitors are sometimes called "Maintenance Engineer". I might add that many software engineers are required to perform maintenance engineering duties! :)

          • Court Kizer

            $150k in the US is pretty reasonable. That's what I make in SF Bay area for years… ($160k) but you have to be really really good.

          • Dryheaves Daily

            How long have you been doing this ?

          • Capaj

            Backbone.JS is shit and so is PHP, futurewise the best languages to learn are JavaScript(Node.js), Java and .Net.

          • http://tracker1.info/ Tracker1

            Backbone has some niceties, so does angular... agreed on server-side platforms.. in the next 5 years, Java, NodeJS and .Net (C#) will be kings. Java and .Net are entrenched, and have a huge learning curve (I've worked mostly in .Net since 2002).

            I love NodeJS, there are some warts, but the community has grown huge and extensive, it's very non-assuming beyond a few fairly easy to grasp conventions. And it works well. IMHO it's probably as active community wise as PHP, and the code output seems to be a lot cleaner, much earlier on. I know a bunch of people who have come out of Ruby and into NodeJS (often CoffeeScript). Having a single language for your full-stack development is really nice.

          • Bretticus

            You guys are insane. I would love to move our company in the direction of node.js or rails. Java has a lot of overhead for Web development. So does .NET (and you have licensing costs and Microsoft.) PHP, however is so ubiquitous that we cannot afford to move away from it. Our graphics guys know it to a degree. It just doesn't make sense to move and retrain when what you have been using for years is getting the job done. Mark my words, PHP will still be king in five years. :)

          • Jim Dawkins

            Even Node.js isn't a must. The .net or java part yes. Even over php. All this talk of ruby makes me chuckle a bit.

          • http://tracker1.info/ Tracker1

            @VIC just one point of contention... I think most of the time JS should take a functional approach, not an OO one. ;-)

            I'm with you on most of the rest... there's work to be found out there if you are looking... there's some low-balling etc.. but if you set yourself up to do work, there's work to be had.

            Beyond this, use one of these frameworks to create a website/tool that people can use... a "personal" website even... through it up on github for people to review... managers and HR weenies aren't going to look at your github codebase, but your technical screener/reviewer probably will.

          • Alex Kashko

            I have been a Java developer for 14 years. Agencies tell me there are often several hundred applications for a single role. And yes, I can code JS by hand (but try to use libraries) and OO and JSP but the chances of a Web dev job are small when they want HTML5 (relatively easy stuff) Node, JQuery, Django.... Usually all for the same job.

            The notion there is a shortage is problematic. Sometimes I am told clients take months waiting for the ideal person for an "urgent" role.

          • Court Kizer

            You" try" to use libraries? This is the attitude that causes you to not get jobs as quick. Ditch the JSP, Django… go with ruby on rails or something. Modern frameworks that do a lot of the application for you. Backbone. Everything else is going by the way side. If you didn't learn 20 new things a day about a javascript framework or learn about one new one a day. Your going obsolete. I'm sorry but it's true.

          • Dryheaves Daily

            Have you ever heard of a zombie job request by headhunters and companies? There arent any jobs but just in case....

          • Court Kizer

            Yeah all the people who just know only simple basic stuff and refused to change their workflows to accommodate new things like backbone are dying out. There's not room for people who don't want to rapidly learn. In fact that's what we are is people who learn rapidly and adapt. That might be why we are in demand. I work with a guy who always refuses to use anything new, he codes slow css, doesn't see reason to check out preprocessors, or use backbone or anything. He sticks to his vanilla PHP that works and refuses. He's obsolete so to speak. We're stuck him in another department until he can get fired :-(

          • Bretticus

            I must say that anyone who professes to be an Information worker and doesn't embrace the the "bleeding edge" must be unhappy in his or her work. The novelty is the thrill of it. But I think your statement is a bit biased and not based in fact. Each time I look at job listings for Web development, I overwhelmingly see postings for PHP developers. You see, people with the dollars can't always afford to be as "progressive" as your company.

          • http://tracker1.info/ Tracker1

            Every time I've been approached for a position with PHP development in mind, it's always half, or less than what I make now... I wouldn't choose it as a career path. Also, I know very few experienced developers that have worked with other web platforms that would actively choose PHP.

            PHP is very common, but most people who throw together PHP apps don't know anything else. Also, being able to do full-stack JavaScript development (one language to rule them all) is very compelling, and a large motivator for NodeJS on the server.

          • Bretticus

            Funny, I see "Senior Web Developer" jobs posted all the time that are geared towards PHP and that are competitive with jobs for other languages. But you make my point for me, it's cheaper for businesses because of a lower entry barrier. I don't advocate that anyone be a "PHP Developer" either. I have written code for projects in C# .NET, perl, python, javascript, BASH, VBA and Legacy ASP (yuck on those latter! That was long ago.) I have dabbled in ruby and others, no doubt, that I have forgotten along the way. My contention is that PHP is not going away (nor jobs for PHP developers.) I will choose PHP (and do) for a project where my coworkers (graphics guys) are not essentially programmers so they may have a chance to do understand what they already know about PHP. When coding PHP, I use PHP frameworks every time (the benefits are similar if not identical.) Blanket remarks like, "...few experienced developers...would actively choose PHP" and "...most people who throw together PHP apps don't know anything else..." are purely elitest and have no base in the reality of economics.

            I think node.js is very cool too (but so is php-fpm.) I do like javascript syntax better than PHP syntax, but that's not (nor ever was) my point.

          • http://www.sushidigital.com.au/ Sushi Digital

            Php is famous to us because this is the back end of most CMS today.

          • Dryheaves Daily

            Remember when Cobol programmers were in such high demand before the date changed to 2,000. Some were making 200 grand. Now, zippo.

        • Alex Kashko

          The recruiter should check before sending your CV out. If they sent it to your employer complain to the agency.

          Did you try Jobserve and Monster for jobs

        • Court Kizer

          So your saying that you're skill set hasn't kept up? Yes that is on you… The only way I mad more money that everyone else is I was always on the latest cutting edge programming language. Always learning. If you can't do modern html/css/javascript and a language other than Java (gag) it's hard to get paid well…

          • http://tracker1.info/ Tracker1

            I think Java and .Net still have a lot of advantages in senior dev. roles in terms of pay... but I've been seeing uptake in NodeJS at the grass-roots level. A lot of the Alt .Net crowd has moved on.. and a lot of the RoR guys I know are moving towards NodeJS.

            As far as keeping up, I spend about 2 hours a day reading on this stuff, and always feel behind.. then I look at a lot of my peers, and feel stagnated. Even in mostly server-side programming, and actually utilizing Dependency Injection or built-in tools for them properly.. or testing/mocking etc. Let alone being able to use modern tools for client-side dev.

            My last three .Net projects that I started were .Net for server-side, but used grunt for building the client side bits (less, bootstrap, jquery, etc). It tends to work better than .Net bundles at run time.

          • Dryheaves Daily

            Bravo. What does well mean in NYC or Silicon Valley when you cant get a one bedroom apartment for less than 2500.

          • Tom

            Holy crap, the amount of condescension in your posts is amazing. How many times have you posted your salary in here? I know fantastic devs making $180k/a. I know fantastic devs making $60k/a. Don't judge a dev by their salary and also don't judge a person for wanting to work 9-5. Not everyone is going to make $150k/a. I'm incredibly happy that my favourite hobby is also my career, but most professionals don't do nearly as much work in their off-hours as you or I do. It's perfectly fine if a dev wants to make $85k/a, working 9-5. I also think employers need to do a better job of training employees. I do not like the trend of hiring college grads, burning them out, then repeating.

    • Olga

      i feel you

  • Patrick

    Wow. Brilliantly honest.
    "The price of a word is being bid to zero." While probably true, there's still value in hammering out thoughtful quality consistently.
    Really like your article.

    • mmer

      //"The price of a word is being bid to zero."//

      This is a microcosm of what is occurring on a larger scale, the "race to the bottom," but we should be talking about costs here, more specifically labor and material costs, not prices. Big business is on constant lookout for cheaper and cheaper sources of labor, until "accidents" occur like what happened most recently in Bangladesh. No worries though! There are plenty of other people to exploit, plenty of other people who will have to sleep next to their sewing machines to produce those 3 dollar H&M gloves. Meanwhile, on the demand side, the people in the importing countries purchasing power has been decreasing with gusto since the 70's, so they are, consciously or not, driving these trends through seeking cheaper and cheaper goods. We have found ourselves in quite a vicious feedback cycle. The most effective means of stopping it would be to have a global minimum wage and advocate for worker's rights in "producing" countries.

  • Petr Skokan

    Nice article :-). I originally studied physics, but it turned out as in your case that it is worth to do programming, so I do it. But have exactly the same feelings sometimes about the "value" as you have.

  • Hilko Blok

    Wow, this exact thing has been on my mind for a while now. I live in very much a hub for 'startups', I guess, and it bothers me tremendously that so much talent (and lack of talent but man-hours nonetheless) is spent on things that don't really matter all that much.

    Now, to be fair, doing 'things that matter' is hard to define, and it's a luxury in itself, but if we have that luxury, I feel it's a responsibility to try and ask ourselves 'what matters'.

    My parents have spent most of their adult life in service of something higher. They call it 'God' but in practice what they do is help people. Psychologically, materially, etc., forfeiting any regular career in the process. In fact, most of their adult life they had to depend on the generosity of others, as they received no salary.

    What they left me with was two realizations: 1) they're the happiest people I know, and they lived (and are living) a full, satisfying life. And 2) much of this is because they do something that 'matters'. And I think much of what matters is found exactly in friendship, family, not working too much, etc. (ask the dying: http://www.marcandangel.com/2013/06/04/5-ways-to-avoid-the-biggest-regrets-of-dying/)

    And this has been an important guiding force in my life pretty much until a few years ago I started web development out of nowhere, with no experience, and now make a decent living doing something that is, in itself, enjoyable, but not always challenging (Rails work too), and it doesn't feel that meaningful. And yet it's so comforting, and so much FUN, to be fair, that it's incredibly seductive to buy into the startup culture beliefs that somehow it DOES matter. Just so I can feel better about myself and quiet this little voice in my head.

    That said, isn't this issue very common, even outside our field? I'm perpetually surprised by the 'charade' of how serious everyone takes their jobs, when really they're just crunching numbers, managing people doing meaningless things, or thinking of the bottom-line of a business that produces nothing significant.

    As Mike Row from Dirty Jobs observed, people most happy doing jobs that have direct results (fix a person, a leak, a machine, clean something, build something, etc.), and I believe much of what we do in our day and age, including web development, does not always satisfy our needs.

    To a large degree it's a luxury to even think that way, yes, but since we have the luxury (for now), and we cannot control how we feel about things, my view is that we should either shut up and find something to dull or satiate our need to some degree (kids, volunteering, buying stuff, watching insane amounts of television), or take a step to use what we have for something more meaningful.

    And perhaps THAT is what sets apart the startup or web development community from other jobs. We have immense power, even with limited talent, to do stuff or build stuff that can make an impact. We're (usually) not stuck in dead-end, meaningless jobs that we hold on to because we have mouths to feed. We can set up a company with a 10 buck domain name, cheap hosting, and some design and development (or, hell, a stock wordpress theme).

    I think it makes perfect sense that some of us feel especially bad wasting all that on restaurant finders or the next social app. Because it's pretty stupid and probably not something we'll be particularly proud of down the line.

    • Court Kizer

      Yup we need to get out there and change the world. I've been working on wikihouse.cc for my own ideas and redesigning how plumbing can be printed 3d. I took a big risk sold my big house (with mortgage) and just bought a completely cash $4,800 mobile home. Added solar and wind. My big garden is just starting to sprout. I'm hoping by this summer I will no longer need groceries. Everyone needs to become independent of the system. So we can build the future. Live in a shed/tent or anything that you can afford to have completely paid off. I'm so excited and peaceful in side now, because I don't have to worry about having a job or money. I'm instead working to solve big problems…

      • Grandpa Jones

        You sound no different than anyone else in the garden center attempting to decompress from a life lived in artificial environments. Your overbearing confidence in the amount of food you are going to grow is evidence of your complete ignorance of reality. Like most of the folks in the garden center, your amateur attempts at farming will result in a micro-scale environmental disaster. Measure your inputs and outputs, time spent and measure the quality of the soil. Don't be too disappointed. You know nothing.

      • Hilko Blok

        Wow, my heartfelt respect for your choices!

  • http://twitter.com/fettemama fettemama

    Sure there's worth in your work, guys. Bringing people to click on pixel cows and ads is a great contribution to our world!

  • Gigi

    To be frank, you are lucky not because you chose this profession, but because you were born in a developed country. There are a lot of web developers in China, India and other countries who would not be making $80,000 in their whole lives if they stayed in this profession. Before anyone gives the old tired argument with the low costs of living, name one single company that sets its prices proportional to the average salary in the area where it sells its products(oil/electronics/food/natural resources/books/media/services).

    I must admit I am lucky myself to live in an European country and to have the opportunity to work in a real software company, but there are outsourcing companies here as well and they are absolutely ridiculous. They charge by the hour, and the longer the project takes, the more money they get. So they do the one thing any money grabber would do in their position: hire a few good developers to make sure the project gets done and a lot of incompetent ones to delay it as long as possible and get more money from whoever is stupid enough to pay.

    Many will say that the code written by Indians and Chinese sucks and they deserve to be low paid. Well of course it sucks, bad code is the outsourcing companies' business model. Maintenance is billed by the hour as well, in case you didn't know. I challenge any American developer to write a web app with 5 randomly picked people from the street as teammates and fixed task allocation(not coding the whole thing yourself) and not having code from that project on TheDailyWTF.

    • Pedro

      Open question: Do you really think code will suck by both the Indians and the Chinese in 20 years time?

      There was a time made in Japan was a symbol of cheap, shoddy made workmanship. Look at what changed. Look at how much South Korea has changed in the last 20 years or so.

      I wouldn't be surprised if, given time, other countries did catch up in the quality stakes in software dev.

      But, maybe not though.

      • Jessica Darko

        Yes, because the industrialization of Japan was about adopting the manufacturing techniques of the USA. All you needed to do was buy the machines and train the people. They also innovated some processes under the direction of W. Edards Demming which made their quailty quite good.

        But, they didn't have to change their culture.

        Japan has been well developed economically and technologically they entire time of the computer revolution--yet there are not a lot of strong japanese developers (at least not like the USA).

        The difference is culture.

        There are many smart and dedicated programmers in india and china, but, so far, they don't have the culture.

        If truth be told, most americans don't have the culture either...

        Collectivist thinking leads to collective work and software cannot be made (at high quality) this way. There's a whole movement against the individual programmer in the USA, so we're going the wrong way.

        The quote about keeping a lot of context in your head is highly relevent here... when a dozen people are touching the same code at the same time, there's no real context. When you divide the code into independent modules that talk to each other and seperate it out among the programmers, you can produce good results.

        Until china and india and japan adopt a culture of individualism, they won't produce as good code as the USA, which has a latent culture of individualism (though of course it is on the attack, so we might descend to their level eventually.)

        Of course, collectivists won't believe this because they lack the perspective, but this is the result of my experience seeing the software industry evolve in the past decades.

        • Stranger

          Jessica, you're an idiot.

        • Adam Labi

          Japan has incredible coders. Have you heard of circuit city? Nintendo? Sony? Fujitsu? Bitcoin was invented by a japanese man as was ruby. Belligerent Xenophobia is not becoming Jessica.

          • kgelner

            Actually code from all those companies supports exactly the argument for individualism being necessary for great coders that Jessica was making, because that is why the succeeded. It doesn't mean the culture as a whole is producing a lot of such people.

            To proclaim that merely observing common traits of a culture is Xenophobia is to pull the Politically Correct "Stop this argument" club out and start beating people instead of talking thoughtfully.

        • http://jeremy-list.drivehq.com/ Jeremy List

          The culture of individualism has been stronger in China since Confucius was alive than it's ever been in America.

        • Alex Kashko

          "There's a whole movement against the individual programmer in the USA"

          There is a movement against individualism in the West ad a whole, if not globally.

          On a large project the programmer cannot do it al themselves, they have to be part of a team, that means communication, which restricts style. In part this is a result of the increasing complexity of projects. Certainly splitting code into modules helps avoid chaos, but the day of the lone warrior is probably over

      • kgelner

        The thing is, to say that code from Indians and Chinese will not suck in twenty years, you would have to show progress as been made to that end.

        Well we've had well over a decade now of code from those regions. Has outsourced code improved at all in that time? Not that I can tell at all.

        There are of course good individual Indian and Chinese developers, I have worked with some. But think of it this way - there's a world of customization to be done with software, and truly good software people are a rarity. Producing good working software will always be in enough demand that it will absorb local talent and leave little left to take over other countries. That is why I'm not worried about a supposed flood of developers from any country drying up jobs in any other.

        • Alex Kashko

          And when developers in other countries create products that lead your company to cancel your project and job?

      • Alex Kashko

        I foresee India and China being the Silicon Valley of Asia eventually.

        • Dryheaves Daily

          Foresee? The America born foreigners have 1 up on Americans because they are bi cultural and support one another. That is a big deal. Over 1/3 of Silicon Valley workers are Indian, Chinese, etc.. ZUckerberg and other tech companies founded a super pac to get the STEM ACT passed to give more foreigners green cards with the excuse being they cant find talented labor. It has been proven to be wrong.. THis is all about money. Interesting how a few years back Bill Gates screamed he cant find enough talented people for MSFT. One year later he laid off 5,000. AMericans in tech are being setup for a fall, IMO.. this video is sickening.....www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCbFEgFajGU&list=PL4C0AEA36274AC1F5

          • Alex Kashko

            It's the same here in the UK. "Indian programmers are better than British" one manager stated, despite the evidence to the contrary. There are some VERY good developers in these countries but a lot of dross compared to the west. And even in the West there are variations. When I was working in Zurich Switzerland with a team of local contractors and a team in the USA one fellow contractor said they were surprised at having to teach the American team both basics and common sense. I recall one US guy telling me I did not need to know the requirements to write tests.

          • Dryheaves Daily

            what I do know is when a project that should take 3 months is now taking 3 weeks, shite will happen. There are many companies that are in the business of insurance, retailing, etc and have c level programmers that are basically worthless, cost too much and arent up to date. Of course they have to be taught. Software will rule the world and there will be kings and serfs and onlookers scratching their heads. Walmart, you would think would roll out an incredible site and social media engagement. It failed. They brought in the experts and now wlamrt is doing very well in the business they are in and in the business they have given to the experts to do.

          • Dryheaves Daily

            you did not need to know the requirements to write tests? wow

    • kim leopold

      I have worked with offshore contractors in China / India daily for several years and I don't find this to be at all true. The ones I use produce great code (in fact we get comments all the time from client devs saying they're impressed with our contractor's code). And why would you pay someone to FIX an error in their own deliverable? This seems like a severely flawed model. I've always gotten a set bid for the work from the specification doc (with an hourly wage set for for add-ons + changes coming from our end, mid-project) , and of course included in the agreement that any/all time spent on "fixes" to their code is not billable. I think perhaps you are just working with a particularity bad group of outsourcing partners. I would shop around a bit.. there are quite a lot of them out there.

    • Bretticus

      My experience with outsourcing to Asia is something like this...

      Very competent coders, but they will leave you midway through a project if something more lucrative pops into view. It almost seems like, they will take that first payment and move on because finishing your project will take them more time than getting another first installment.

      • Court Kizer

        Wow. You need to do better structure on the deal.

        • Bretticus

          Ha, well... I have to confess that my experience is second-hand, so perhaps my very thorough colleague needed to do better. That was his opinion after going that route for several years. He did eventually find some guys he could depend on. But, apparently, it can be a slippery slope when your developers live on the other side of the planet.

      • Cousin Cole

        Way to stereotype an entire continent, thanks.

  • Nico

    Thank you for these words. Although the culture is very different here in Switzerland (start ups are nearly non existent because to secure an investment, people wants to see that your idea works and that you already have paying customers as well as generate some kind of profit), I can relate a little to this "all powerful diva coder".

  • Melissa

    Having also worked in both professions and also lucked out on the web development end, I fear I am seeing web development becoming what writing is now. The "pay your dues" mentality that at the entry level you don't deserve to be paid anything, but you must work the longest hours and get treated like a peon. Or at its worst- that you have to pay for the experience of doing this. I already have met people who are fairly good at things like RoR in unpaid internships or paying for "code training programs" that are basically the same thing. Back when I was probably even below "fairly good" I got paid a very decent salary and had full benefits. This was only a few years ago.

    People at "startup" events used to be hush hush about out-sourcing and now they openly brag about how little they pay their developers in China/Ukraine/etc.

    So no matter how lucky I was, I always felt like it could come crashing down at any moment. Maybe I'm just a worrier, but there is something very temporary about the whole scene.

    • Melissa

      I would also note the growing involvement of veterans from finance/housing/etc. bubbles in the startup scene. Go to any startup event and you are bound to meet the same people that drove those industries to the ground looking for technical "co-founders" or interns.

      Like many in the industry I started out very conservative politically. But the more experience I got, the more I realized that the world I was building my assertions on was not sustainable. I highly recommend Martin Ford's Lights in the Tunnel, which talks about how it's a pipe dream that what we have will continue. You'd think people who work in automation, who replace what was once done by multiple people with code, would realize that. But I find many do not.

  • Chandana

    You speak my mind (almost)! I am not in it just for the money, I feel IT is a tool that empowers a lot of people by information sharing.

    There are a lot of things that we as software engineers can do that matter. The following link is one such idea.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/view_from_chicago/2013/06/new_york_s_bike_share_try_quadratic_vote_buying_to_figure_out_if_people.html

  • Adrien

    Do you actually have a point or is it just to satisfy your ego?

    If so, please excuse me, I didn't see it in the midst of your long presentation of yourself where you buried your point.

    "Dad did this, I did that. I get money for coding and have fun writing articles some people even buy." So what?

    Your overgeneralised title didn't prepare me for a talk about your own particular and personal life of yourself only. I thought this article could actually interest me.

    • http://kout.com/#/arkanciscan Jesse

      He said what so many of us feel but haven't found words for. Writing doesn't always have to have a point. Sometimes it's just so you know you're not alone. The point is still ours to find.

  • http://bucketlistjournal.com/ Yaron Budowski

    What you present as a disadvantage is actually the opposite of that: The fact that it's easier and cheaper to create a startup, means you can focus more on the product/idea than on the nitty-gritty (e.g. scaling, storage, hosting, etc.).
    True, there will be a lot of crappy ideas, but those will fall through (as part of a normal startup "evolution" process).
    Not every idea has to be world-changing - technology usually progresses in small steps.

    • http://www.garry.to/ joel garry

      In case you hadn't noticed, crappy ideas win.

  • Scott D. Sullivan-Reinhart

    I have only seen the irrational exuberance description in one place... unfortunate it isn't credited.

  • steve

    """Web development is more like plumbing than any of us, perched in front of two slick monitors, would care to admit"""

    Yes, it is but as with almost everything else, it isn't the actual work that matters but what it contributes to in the larger scheme of things. To put it another way if you want to take pride in your work as a plumber, build better toilets[1], then you won't have to question whether you deserve the money you earn. If all your programming work so far has been about " continually chasing the software industry equivalent of producing penile enlargement pills instead of cancer research"[2] (read: generating ad revenue instead of using technology as a means to change the world (eg: twitter, google, Ted and of late KhanAcademy and Coursera) ) then yes, your navel gazing is justified but please don't look inwards and then generalize outwards.

    [1] http://www.impatientoptimists.org/en/Posts/2012/08/Inventing-a-Toilet-for-the-21st-Century

    [2] http://lonetwin.net/20120716/rants-and-randomness/on-professional-motivation/

  • Rob Morris

    This is a very well written piece, but it's only covering the frothy tip of a very deep phenomenon. I too am a Rails developer, have been coding professionally for 15 some odd years, and I too find what VCs are chasing nowadays to be mostly time wasting crap. But that's not what software, even web software, is really about right now. It's just the glam side of the game.

    The real folks making real things happen are building tools and technologies that literally could not have existed 10 years ago. In my personal experience, I've built integrated web portals that show real-time electricity usage for factories, saving them 10-50 grand a month by lowering usage during peak hours. I've built sales management tools that allowed a 2 man company to scale to a distributed team of dozens. Online rental advertising systems to cut out costly newspapers. Medical order management systems.

    It's not glamorous, it doesn't get on TechCrunch or Hacker News, but it's real value, delivered by real professionals. And that, more than the stupid photo sharing cruft, is what's really driving developer salaries.

    During the late 90's, the joke/threat was "go away or I will replace you with a very small shell script" - the point being that lots of human work could be automated by a savvy developer. That threat has become a promise, and we (costly) web developers are the ones fulfilling that promise across a huge range of industries.

    • Gyrus

      Rob, you make a good counter to the "not as valuable as a plumber" point, which I supported.

      The problem with this usefulness is that it's happening in the context of a global work culture that can't make good use of labour being saved, tasks being automated, and efficiency being driven up. We're seeing more people unemployed and those in work working longer hours, instead of a more just spread of part-time work. And of course where available work is being spread between people working shorter hours, those looser working arrangements are just being used to undermine worker's rights. There's no sense that more time and less money could be a boon, no vision of how a reduction in working hours - if we can do that - could lead to more prosperity. Not the shallow prosperity of more cash, but the deeper prosperity of more rewarding lives.

      I wonder about the direction of software development. More and more of that will become automated, too. Much of the low- and mid-level coding work will fall into the hands of software rather than people, and those needed at the high end to build and tweak will be higher and higher paid. Concentration of wealth in the hands of the few - fits right in with the spirit of the times I guess.

      • Rob Morris

        That's a fantastic point, and I'll add - it's not just in software. We're seeing manufacturing return to the first world - but it's all automated, robotic manufacturing! The large number of highly paid skilled craftsmen of the post-war era are gone, replaced by a few even more highly paid automation specialists.

        I worry about it too. It's clear that societal redistribution of some form is needed, or we will end up with a technical/capital class that owns everything, and the 95% of the population that doesn't own a company or do non-automatable work will be destitute.

        I make a ridiculous amount of money as a developer. It's clearly (to me, at least) in return for value added. But it's also clear to me that most of the people I know who *aren't* in the tech/capital class are being squeezed. So while the value of a developer is not (again, to me) out of alignment with value delivered generally, I agree that as a whole, society can't function with all the day-to-day work done by software/robots without some kind of major shift in how we distribute wealth.

        • Rob Morris

          Oh, and Amazon et al wiping out large chunks of retail. And 3D printing on-demand set to wipe out even more manufacturing, transportation, and service work. And robotics - how long will "long haul trucker" last as a viable career once Google works the bugs out of automated driving? Taxi driver? Hell, pilots?

          Post-scarcity isn't here by a long shot, but you can see it hovering menacingly on the horizon.

          In theory, freeing up all this labor should allow for new forms of productivity, but I'm not sure that's necessarily going to be the case. Labor management is dreadful, costly, and complex. Anything that can be done by automation will be. And the list of things automation can't solve is not growing, to my view, fast enough to soak up all these people who have been made redundant by the relentless march of progress.

          • Court Kizer

            This is why society needs to not revolve around money. In the future people won't need to work except on something they care deeply about. For now people need to be able to sustain themselves without money. That's the future, and our government isn't going to step up to the plate. Grow everything you need to eat in a garden. Build a house that you can pay for in cash with it's own energy source, own water and power. Live free, only solve problems and make the world a better place on the issue that you care enough about to make a difference.

            I sold my 20 year mortgage huge house 2 months ago, bought a mobile home, and installed solar & wind power. Started a garden. I literally HAVE ZERO bill now. I did this for $4800. Now I'm working on projects that help the future…

          • John Cram

            Where does this mobile home reside? Surely you have a tax bill on the land or some form of rent ;)

          • John Smith

            Wonderful! I would like to do something like that!

          • Christian Genco

            ...how do you get internet and plumbing?

            As a recent college grad with no money, this sounds rather enticing.

          • Cathy Easter

            Very excellent.

          • Zach

            Geez! This is such an excellent and well-written reply. Thanks so much for sharing. This is probably one of those tools that won't be useful or even needed if automation continues to take its progressive and enveloping toll (I built it, but, what does it add to society? http://www.MyTimeInMoney.com )

          • Dryheaves Daily

            Far too many people in many countries including China and America graduating with degrees and no possibilities of getting worthwhile jobs. There comes a point when if you have lost everything then there is nothing else to lose. Scary times. No country is out of the woods. Merkel told the unemployed to move somewhere else. I dont think that went over very well.

        • Gyrus

          "At present machinery competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve man." - Oscar Wilde, 'The Soul of Man under Socialism' (1891)

        • http://tracker1.info/ Tracker1

          I'd say the tech class is being squeezed as well, just not as noticeably. I make about the same today as I did 12 years ago... Taking inflation into account, I make less... The average starting CS grad today makes about the same, or less than a CS grad in 1975 (especially accounting for inflation).

          In some was, the money goes a lot farther, you can buy a lot of toys you couldn't in the early 90's let alone in the 70's or 80's... just the same, essentials (car, fuel, food, rent/mortgage) are much more today.

          We're still being squeezed, just not as much as other working classes.

          • Dryheaves Daily

            The average length of stay in a tech company is 2 years. why? no raises. Salaries in Silicon Valley have gone down 2% since last year. Its turning into a sweat shop. Wait till the STEM ACT comes into play.

        • Court Kizer

          The factory is coming to everyone. We're seeing a revolution in CNC and 3D printing that means that nobody and everybody will own the distribution channels. This is a huge deal. I think many of us need to work with more physical objects and use the computer to help. I don't want large corporations to have control of the future. It's clear they screw it up.

          Check out wikihouse…

          • Cathy Easter

            Crystal clear.

          • John Campbell

            To do this well, you need a 3D modeller that can accurately create 3D models, and understand the mechanics. 3D scanners still get it wrong, and you still need a mechanically minded person to build the 3D model in a software environment. Every time I see a "I can do this too" attitude emerge in the mind of consumers, I get a mental picture of buildings toppling over. As for AI and automation, I believe Google owns one, that only just managed to grasp the visual concept of what a cat is. Personally, I don't believe humans are smart enough to create the level of automation you are talking about. For crying out loud, there isn't even a good WYSIWYG web development tool on the market today. If you say "Dreamweaver", I'm going to puke.

        • http://classicalvalues.com/ TallDave

          It doesn't matter, labor saved becomes a combination of leisure and deflationary gains to consumers.

          People don't realize how powerful this combination has become -- it's the main reason incomes have started to pile up around the bottom of the distribution, Maslow's hierachy is the same for people at all income levels. If you'd told people in 1913 that 100 years later even the lowest income decile would not only be housed, clothed, heated, and fed well enough to be obese but have access to an incomprehensible array of entertainment and communication, much of it free and nearly all of it cheap, they'd have thought you mad.

          • Cousin Cole
          • http://classicalvalues.com/ TallDave

            No, that site is a fantasy. "consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life?" Give me a fucking break, they get enough in food stamps to feed a half-dozen kids, if their parents spend it on crack instead we can't help that short of shoving the fucking food down their mouths ourselves.

            No one goes hungry in America, except through monumental fucking stupidity.

        • Hilko Blok

          This has been very much on my mind lately, and even though it's not directly linked to the issues in this article, it's a crucial 'backdrop' to (web) programmers place in society.

          There was an article on the BBC site (I think, not sure) about the new structuring of 'class society'. It turns out that the middle class can now be subdivided in the IT crowd, and the rest, where the IT crowd has moved more toward the top, as the rich middle class, and the 'rest' is moving down, even into working class. And part of this is directly because of the tech produced by this same IT crowd.

          The situation is perhaps not so different from the change to industrialization. A big chunk of society was suddenly out of work, and the only solution was (re-)educating and finding new types of job. And part of the solution, you could argue, was a welfare system that kept abject poverty as low as possible as this transition was taking place.

          I'm sure I'm greatly oversimplifying, and possible incorrect. By all means correct me, as I've been diving into this topic rather recently.

          I would like to see much of the energy currently 'wasted' on silly startups to be used for more educational purposes, both directly teaching programming, but broader than that. I would like to see a levelling the playing field away from the increasingly elite (and low-quality) environment we have now. I've already seen some great examples of all this (Khan Academy, Codecademy, Duolingo, etc.), but would love to see more, and more active efforts to integrate these things into daily life, both in our affluent 'west', and in poorer nations.

          Not to ensure that 'the west' stays on top, but because in the long run it has a lot of potential to do good, worldwide. And even if it doesn't, it's here to stay so we might as well make try to use it right.

        • Cathy Easter

          Your point of view is appreciated.

      • kgelner

        To say that software is why people are working longer hours, or spread across more people working a very short number of hours, is to totally ignore the regulatory environment of business. It's more and more expensive to hire full time staff, so there is a huge financial pressure to make less people work more. For part time workers there is a huge financial burden if you cross a line in number of hours employed, so what employer can afford to cross it? And so workers get less hours than then need. But it's not software doing any of that.

        I am a developer too, I was an IT developer for a decade before I moved into mobile development. But mostly the end products of our work amplify what people can do, not replace them unless the job was particularly pointless.

        • Gyrus

          To be clear, I didn't say that software was causing this working environment. I said "it's happening in the context" of this environment.

          And I'm all for pointless jobs being made obsolete. The problem is, a huge amount of jobs are pointless, and we have no vision for what to do with time instead of money. Unemployment has to be as tough and demeaning as possible, otherwise employers have little leverage over those working pointless jobs.

    • Chris Cachor

      You da man!!

    • Comradephate

      I think the relevance of all of his commentary about the startups isn't so much that that's where web development exists - it's just a huge part of why web developers are so sought after. Do you think modestly talented web developers would be worth six figures in any major city in the US if thousands of them weren't being stolen away by shitty startups? Absolutely not. The "problem" is that because startups have money to burn and are willing to offer anybody with "PHP" or "Ruby" or "Django" on their resume $100,000, big companies who need web developers have to get at least into that same ballpark if they want any talent.

      That's why the startups are so relevant to the value of web developers.

      • Court Kizer

        They aren't willing to offer anybody those jobs. Startups take the BEST and brightest. That's how the mediocre programmers and designers are able to get day jobs, because the really good people have been taken out of the pool. I have to be completely honest. I'm a much, much more connected better programmer on top of the latest trends that my friends who didn't go to startups. They move slowly, can't change, don't adapt to take advantage of new stuff. They always wonder why I was getting the $160k a year and they were getting $80k for the last 15 years. Startups teach you to adapt to new tech quickly I think. Either way I'm just working for myself now

        • Dryheaves Daily

          And why are you working for yourself? Because you are too old and dont want to sleep under your desk anymore and eat doritos for dinner.

      • danny_livewire

        Developers get high salary because of one major reason only: It's difficult to code. ... If people actually put in work, and study how to code... they too can start making a whole lot more money! ... It's a specialty skill and should be paid according to that skill level. Just like sports. .... Exercise your mind! Exercise your brain! .... Make more money! .... It's the American way really..

        • http://classicalvalues.com/ TallDave

          It's amazing how many people don't make this connection. Valuable skills = more pay.

      • Dryheaves Daily
    • Sydknee

      So you destroy jobs basically. Cool

      • Ryan Brady

        Destroying jobs is a necessary part of the economy. It frees up labor to work on other tasks.

        • Cousin Cole

          Such as....?

          • http://classicalvalues.com/ TallDave

            Hey, if you want to go back to digging ditches by hand, feel free. Just don't expect society to stop building backhoes to save your job, or pay you more than the dollar or two per hour your labor is worth.

    • Dryheaves Daily

      The issue I see more and more of is that as companies compete for business and gave razor thin margins they are getting rid of American coders and going to companies like witpro and the like who are scamming the H1-B visa program. Meanwhile, there is some pretty shitty code out there with very litle documentation that companies have that require the Americans to come in and fix it , maybe because that will give them job security.

    • Dryheaves Daily

      cost;y web developers? Have you seen the ads lately for web developers. You dont even need a degree. I have seen pay in Silicon valley as low as 70k to start. cant live there on that kind of money. Web developers are a dime a dozen. Take a ruby on rails course for 10k for 12 weeks and you too can become a web developer for 100k. BS... Or how about coursera or udacity. Great web developers can name their price and typically work on a consulting basis. But it sure aint the same like it used to be. Yahoo web developers want their titles changed to front end engineers. Why?

  • E__G

    Thanks for your frank article, we need more like it. The thing that stands out to me, which is not pointed out often enough, is what you say here:

    > When I go to the supermarket I sometimes think of how much infrastructure and ingenuity has gone into converting the problem of finding my own food in the wild to the problem of walking around a room with a basket. So much intelligence and sweat has gone into getting this stuff into my hands. It’s my sustenance: other people’s work literally sustains me. And what do I do in return?

    As first world programmers we sit near the top of a global wage hierarchy. Other people's work, much of it invisible and unpaid, we depend upon as surely and concretely as we do the software stacks we work on top of. This hierarchy extends in many cases to our partners and mothers and families who provide the basic training, caring, feeding, and other life-sustaining work that allows us to do the work day in and day out, the long nights, etc.

    Why should this work not be recognized when (a) it is essential for everything we do making websites and widgets and (b) isn't it a little more important to society than making websites and widgets? It's exactly what you say, "the truly naive thing, the glib and facile thing, might be equating value with a market-clearing price."

    At the same time I disagree that programming, even web programming, is a big box of candy in general. I'm not in the bubble you describe, but my experience is it's quite stressful, mentally and even physically, and tends to take over your life if you aren't very careful. Even if you are employed/employable, which as spudgun pointed out is not something any of us can rely on.

  • Jessica Darko

    The reason there are so many BS "startups" these days is not just due to the lower cost of starting a company, it's also due to the rise of the "startup" culture which focuses on getting 20 year olds together and selling them to VCs for big bucks. Y-Combinator is a perfect example of this. They optimize for selling the talent they recruit to VCs rather than for building actual businesses.

    You can have real businesses on the web where people actually pay for a service and that produce real revenue. But this requires experience and experience comes with time--- which means you cant' get 20 year olds to build it.

    VCs and "incubators" run by people who have no clue about business are the cause of this problem.... and this massive bubble in BS "startups".

    I think a "Startup" that is building on an advertising model, is almost always going to be BS. Real businesses make real products / services that real people are willing to pay for. This isn't an absolute rule, but its' a great rule of thumb.

    The silicon valley culture of easy money handed out by idiots (And yes, every VC firm is staffed by idiots- they have no incentive to be anything but, since they are handing out other people's money and get a management fee without regard to their success) ... is creating a "startup" culture where nobody knows how to actually make a business.

    It's astounding how this has continued to perpetuate.

    • Gyrus

      Yep. Makes me think of Doug Rushkoff's 'Get Back in the Box' - essential reading.

    • Thomas C. Mueller

      Excellent article - thank you for writing this, Mr. Somers.

      To Jessica's comments, there is a lot of asshattery happening in the startups world. "I'm in a startup" is the new "I'm in a band." (Apologies to people in bands.)

      I'm not excited by the daily torrent of new ways to share ever smaller pieces of multimedia via social networks. I'd rather see VC going to address social issues like homelessness, the struggles faced by returning veterans, unemployment, and healthcare, specifically managing chronic conditions and expanding delivery of health services to underserved populations. Some entrepreneurs are working on these things, but they don't generate the same media coverage as cat pictures, five-second video clips, or naughty pictures that supposedly vanish after viewing.

      Talking to my 60-ish-year-old Operations Management professor (who worked with W. Edwards Deming) about BMC and the Lean methodology make him chuckle. He told me to read up on SIPOC and pointed me towards a few Deming books, his way of telling me that every generation thinks it discovers TQM/Lean/whatever in their own time. The extent to which we're wallowing in our self-described cleverness this time around is a function of the information age and communications revolution, but alas, we're just posting videos and pictures and tweets about this wonderful new thing we invented. It's round, and it rolls.

      • mmer

        //I'd rather see VC going to address social issues like homelessness, the struggles faced by returning veterans, unemployment, and healthcare, specifically managing chronic conditions and expanding delivery of health services to underserved populations.//

        What's the ROI on addressing social issues, on reducing unemployment? Who's going to finance such operations?

        Think about that question for a second - hopefully you come to the conclusion that the whole notion of VC addressing these "big issues" is antithetical to the way that VC works. VC needs huge proposed returns, invest in 10 companies and one is a home-run, that one being able to absorb all of the losses (and some) of the failed investments. There is no way in hell this model can apply to social issues, nor should we expect capitalists to do so, their goal is maximizing shareholder value. The entrepreneurs that are working on these issues are often a) living on their earlier investments and have said to themselves they don't need more b) are running on grant money c) are non-profits with private donations d) are fresh out of college, have a trust-fund, and are experiencing white-person upper middle class guilt and "want to help" people. This is not a sustainable system that can adequately address social issues, and its solvency sways in the wind along with the larger economy. We can't leave social issues for VC or business to address, maximizing shareholder value will not reduce the suffering in the world, nor should we expect it to.

  • asmedrano

    Great article.

  • Bill

    Enjoy it while it lasts. I kind of fell into a job as a tech writer in the mid-1980's for large technology companies, writing manuals that explained complex devices to the people who bought them.

    I got paid $40/hour, which may not sound like much; however, 2,000 hours at that salary gave me $160,000 per year in terms of today's money (also, the cutoffs for Social Security and FICA were lower). Not bad for a college dropout who, as it happened, had SAT math and verbal scores that were just about even.

    Within ten years, though, those wages had started to decrease, thanks to degree programs that churned out tech writers. Today, tech writers are a dime a dozen.

    So, enjoy it while it lasts.

    • Jim Dawkins

      @Bill I agree. I started in web development in the early days around 97. Back then you could literally create your own position. Many companies were interested in obtaining a web presence, but the concept of a web developer was pretty new. The current IT staff had no clue how to deal with anything "web". It was all about their legacy systems. Over the years, I have seen the market for "web developers" become flooded. Many of the kids coming out of college today have an avid interest in web development, web services etc. The author is either very young or in your typical tech hub bubble location (New York, Silicon Valley etc).

    • Alex Kashko

      Yes as soon as universities start talking about teaching X is time to look for the next big thing they will miss.

  • peter

    I think you're over-simplifying things a bit.

    I feel like I'm watching Jerry Mcguire.

  • amyhoy

    Your dad didn't get paid more than a coal miner because his skills were in demand, but because of the return he presumably generated for the business. Programmers are not highly paid because of demand, but because either they A) return lots of business value, OR B) people (investors, invested-in startups with mad money) *believe* that they will.

    How hard you work -- doesn't matter. How in-demand your skills are -- doesn't matter, not in a business market. Even if there was a shortage of coal miners, and people really needed to mine coal, there are logical limits to how much a coal miner will make… you have to factor in the price of coal the market will bear, and all the ancillary costs to produce that, and go from there.

    That's the reality of a business market, which employment is. (And part of why so many people can't get jobs -- their costs do not exceed the value they deliver.)

    Venture-backed startups are not REALLY a business market, of course. The ROI for a high dev salary is largely imaginary. Most vc-backed startups will have a net return in the high negatives, money spent and never recouped.

    You aren't a golden shovel… you're a horse in a race. Probably your jockey will lose and then the money will dry up, and suddenly it's second-rate pastures and the glue factory.

    • b2theory

      "Programmers are not highly paid because of demand, but because either they A) return lots of business value, OR B) people (investors, invested-in startups with mad money) *believe* that they will."

      You just described demand.

      • foobar

        Not exactly - there are a lot of skillsets that are in huge demand (i.e. that are desperately wanted by business owners), but which no one can afford to pay for because they don't give a ROI.

        Surprisingly often business owners will actually sink the cost of these as a vanity expenditure even though they don't give any return. Quite a bit of aesthetic-design work (as opposed to 'how-it-works' functional design) falls into this.

        • niks

          Exactly right. This is where the author was confused too -- I don't believe "demand" for a good investment follows the rules of production demand. It's artificial, has a concentrated origin, is prone to error, and is very slow to react. Come to think of it, maybe it is just like production demand. :]

      • amyhoy

        There are many places where there are labor shortages, but the prices are constrained by the market. My coal miner metaphor was one, but it was a metaphor. In reality, this is true for nurses. There is a hard ceiling for nursing salaries and yet there is always a shortage of nurses and plenty of people trying to hire them.

        The real world is a lot sloppier than the Wikipedia page on "demand" would have you believe.

        • b2theory

          Again, what you are describing is classic microeconomics. If you set a price ceiling below equilibrium you will get a shortage.

          • amyhoy

            Nobody has "set" the price ceiling for nurses, the complex environment where healthcare is provided has limits. And yet even the rather high salaries (6 figures) currently provided for many types of nursing jobs is not stimulating the creation of sufficient new nurses. How bout that.

          • b2theory

            You just said there was a hard ceiling for nursing salaries. I assumed you were referring to the pricing of medical care by the combination of private insurance and Medicare reimbursements. This is a price ceiling if the reimbursements, when distributed to nurses at what ever ratio they are, result in a salary below equilibrium.

            Also, I wouldn't pick the medical industry as an example of a functioning market. While the same rules will apply, the buyers aren't always who you think they are.

            You seem to think that the complexity of market dynamics renders them invalid. They don't in as much as the inability to find analytical solutions to multi-body orbital systems invalidates orbital mechanics.

    • sudon’t

      Simple rule of thumb in this country is that, the harder you work, the less you get paid. Manual labor, while indispensable, simply isn't valued.
      Look at truck drivers - they have a lot of responsibility in operating an 80k lb. vehicle, the country would shut down without them, (literally everything you own spent time on the back of a truck), they work 12 to 14 hrs. per day and are rarely home, yet they make little money. This is an industry where 100% turnover is the norm, yet they make no concessions to keep experienced drivers. You have to wonder about that.

      • Tom DeMonster

        Manual labor doesn't pay? If you do it right, it does. I know plumbers that make over $200k a year. I got an estimate to have a tree cut down from a tree cutter who put a $100k swimming pool in his backyard. These types of labor get more and more expensive it seems. These guys are the ones really raking it in imo.

  • http://kout.com/#/arkanciscan Jesse

    I always say: programming isn't as much of a skill as it is a tolerance. A tolerance as you said for reading manuals, but also for visualizing abstract concepts. It's a task that's well suited to anti-socials and dreamers because we enjoy being in our own heads. For many people, it would be maddening. Some people wouldn't be strong enough to swing a pickaxe in a coal mine, and not everyone can wrap their head around an OAuth API authorization flow. So lets give ourselves a little credit.

    • Al Spielman

      ...except in the case of reading manuals, it doesn't help that a lot of web development subjects have poor documentation. I hate having to find obscure, outdated solutions by spending three hours searching Google or stackoverflow.

  • http://atlantarofters.blogspot.com The Sanity Inspector

    Rich white liberal guilt is a dangerous malady. Symptoms may include urges to purge one's perceived sin by economically flagellating society in general. Patients may also have feelings that they are responsible for more than their own affairs, while other people are not really responsible for their own affairs. See your doctor if a desire to level incomes via comparable worth metrics lasts longer than four hours.

    • Gyrus

      You can call it "rich white liberal guilt", or you can call it "giving a shit". Either way, without some variant of it, we'd still be whipping slaves.

      • http://atlantarofters.blogspot.com The Sanity Inspector

        Yes, when we "give a shit", everything we do is automatically right--especially if we have no skin in the game when the consequences come down.

        People who want to help the less fortunate would do more good by hiring them.

  • Chris Cachor

    You know, I'm sure some insurance salesman think there's something wrong with their picture too. Or bankers, or day-traders. The fact of the matter is, I think web developers as a whole are tremendously valuable. My job has as much to do with plumbing as the Irish woman managing Apple's off share tax situation does. I've worked at a place that did internet marketing for Auto Dealerships around the country. The average salary there was $50K at the time, but one web developer managed more than $250K per year in contract work. That's a nice return on an employee. That's work that matters a bit more than a startup that's a middle man for lunch catering in large metropolitan areas but, there's a lot of loose money in a system chasing for returns. It's always been that way, though. They expect 100 losers for 2 or 3 winners. And who knows -- that startup may have solved some difficult situation that fits better into another industry.

    If you'd like to compare - there's a lot of people I know that make twice as much as me with twice as less skill. I could write software to automate several hours of daily work of their job. I think that's pretty valuable. But there's also people that make twice as much more than me that I couldn't do their job. I couldn't lie to people about an inferior product I was selling. I don't know how to put braces on teeth -- but after all the shit I have to learn in my day job - I feel pretty confident that I could ace orthodontics. I think what we do is hard. Really hard.

    I was invited to dinner by another business associate to introduce me his buddy who owned an online store selling printer supplies. A multi-million dollar business, but his web developer and him had a falling out. Any future development, any current issues, everything was stalled. Think about how important you are to that company. You enable commerce. You enable communication. You enable connections. It might seem like all you do is move boxes around and fiddle with arrays all day, but in my day to day dealings things become much more complex than that.

  • Evgeniy Demidov

    I am sorry, but it looks more like a crying. There were people who already pointed it, but I will insert my 5 cents anyway.

    US developers: you are located in the USA, you have great amount of opportunities RIGHT THERE. You can choose where to go, you can develop drivers for hardware or build websites, you can choose from many companies where to send your resume, you can go into direction of more important work of any level of importance. Not fast, right - you can not just switch from RoR-websites building to working in NASA or SpaceX. But you CAN.

    And this is why it looks like crying from outside of USA and Western Europe. In the meantime there are many guys on freelance who work 1.5-20 times cheaper. For US employers. And the sweetest thing - they CAN NOT do anything with. Russian town in western part of Russia, 300 000 population. Local options: programming for ERP system (like SAP), web-development (requires some luck, low rates), in very rare cases - work on some enterprise with developing some legacy software written in Delphi (and it requires extreme amount of luck). Freelance options - in theory, anything. In fact - web development and mobile development. You can find some work for desktop as well for sure, but not much (and even less interesting).

    Situation in India is even worse, as can be saw by looking at their rates (top of the top receives near the same amount of money as entry level developer in US who just graduated yesterday).

    People work in web development as their near only programming choice, and I, for example, would be more than glad to get the opportunity to change thigs and to work in more important field or something like this. But it is just not possible at the moment, I have to immigrate somewhere, to USA or Canada (more likely) to be able to do something. And even if I will move to Moscow, I will not have so much opportunities as programmers in US have.

    So I perfectly understand this sir spudgun from Dublin. Complaining in your situation is pretty ridiculous. Screw all the hipsteric kiddish useless "start-ups" with their glance buttons and rounded corners, go find work in serious company, work at serious things and be happy that you are doing something real, what is the problem?

  • Robert Fauver

    Beautiful piece of writing and I'm anxiously awaiting your next.

  • Steven Leggett

    My dad was a plumber who took over the family business that was registered in 1951. At one point, before my dad took over, the company had over 100 workers, a fleet of trucks and business was good. Economies change and so does the value of work that employees deliver. I often think about how factory workers get paid crazy salaries for doing the work that someone who has no experience or education could learn in a couple days. Plumbing isn't one of these industries. You really need to understand physics, math and be smart to do well. My dad started as an apprentice and went to work when he was 18 and retired at 65. He wasn't just a guy installing faucets, he worked on some of the largest homes for the wealthy in one of Canada's largest cities.

    I have never seen someone work so hard. He would leave for work at 6 am and sometimes get home from the city at 9 even 10 pm. I worked with him for a summer, it was the best life experience I had. He was seasoned to doing excellent quality work, right the first time, and he worked fast. I couldn't keep up with him, and I was just his helper.

    At some point along the way I decided that plumbing wasn't for me and I wanted to do something with computers. There are a few different ways to look at developers but there's only one that proves your worth. Many people can change a faucet. Many people can change their own oil. What we're seeing and what this article is really touching on is that people are not really engineers anymore - we don't create oil. We go get some from the Drupal module store and plug it into our CMS. Don't loose sight, you still have to be smart and you can't learn this stuff overnight but as technology progresses things become easier and more automated. This won't replace your job overnight but you need to consider that it might, if you're not positioned well.

    My dad wasn't just a plumber, he was a smart businessman. He knew that changing faucets wasn't enough so he diversified himself, learned about heating and general construction. He understood the entire process, end to end and added more value than most plumbers.

    I've taken this approach in my career as well. I'm not just a PHP developer. I've diversified myself by doing much much more. Server administration, front-end development, I've run multiple businesses, etc.

    People who can really understand and run with something are the ones who will always have a leg up. Don't limit yourself to one thing, explore, try, learn. Diversified plumbers, like developers, aren't going away anytime soon.

    • Gyrus

      Great to hear from a web developer with actual plumbing experience! ;-)

    • kgelner

      Exactly right. If you are using Drupal modules (to borrow your example) why not learn how to make one? Suddenly now you have gained a very real possibility of being able to customize modules that don't quite work the way you want them to.

      In any computer field there is the opportunity to delve deeper into the magical tools that you use, and understand things at levels beyond most people. That is the kind of thing that you build a career around, not just a job.

    • Arturo Álvarez

      "Don't limit yourself to one thing, explore, try, learn."

      Sir, you've just made my day. Thank you!

  • Evgeniy Demidov

    Hey, I spent 20 minutes to write the post, why did you delete it?
    Ok, fast and short version (just interest): you are located in the USA, what are the obstacles which do no allow you to change your working field from startups to something more real and important?

  • moserine

    What a glorious article. Thanks!

  • Guest

    Hi,
    I'm a web developer too, but also write "words" as you say. My question is: does the stuff you write really matter?

    I used to write a lot when I was 17-18 on stuff that didn't matter. Then wrote technical things but was too shy to ask for money and just published it for everyone. I met someone who learned on my articles, but that didn't matter.

    Now, in free time, I travel, and do some research on quite important problems. These things do matter. And my writing does. (Still not a journalist, but this

  • no

    I'm laughing my ass off. Nice article. You're not a half bad writer, even.

  • Rich Remer

    What you describe is a strong middle class economy. This is the appropriate interaction between employers and employees. The fact that some people can't seem to take advantage of it is like farmers who refused to move to the city to work in a factory.

  • Brian Rowdy Hamby

    Entreplumbneurial?
    A Python Plumber!
    Go 1 or 2?
    Help my mind has blown into easy analogy free fall!
    Resulting in jokes only as good as 90% of web startups.
    Yes, my wife agrees, my jokes are not funny.

  • Brett Stubbs

    It really depends how you define value. Sure infrastructure isn't sexy because we use it on a daily basis, but in a way, they are the means that help us achieve that end. You could build a bridge, but what's the purpose of it if it's not going anywhere? What's the purpose of financial systems if not to empower us to do something with those tools. And yes, we like dating, having fun, hanging with friends/family and playing video, because that's the joy we get out of life. We could completely egalitarian about it all, and just be coal miners, because, the world needs coal. But when that guy is done for the day, he wants to see what his brother in another city is up to, if he is going to get a date that night, where he is going to eat, etc. He doesn't think about shoveling coal all day.

    Communication is valuable. So is trade, information, peer validation, relaxation and enjoyment. All of those verticals have been drastically improved with the "web developer". You think you're just moving boxes, and the coal miner thinks he's just shoveling coal. His contribution, though laborious, effects much less people. Mark Zuckerberg, as tired as this may sound, helps literally more than a billion people communicate and share information. It's not just a market value, web development has real human value!!!!

    And when it comes to all the complicated infrastructures that underpin our systems, let's be honest, they are all highly regulated and expensive games to play. Companies like Google, who have by the way made self-driving cars, have struggled making inroads in health care. In their own words, because of the regulations. These are protected industries, protected by billions of dollars worth of lobbying, that the largest programming company can't break open. So I wouldn't lose sleep over what you can't control. Or think you're less important.

    You might just be moving boxes on a screen, but those boxes might be the only mechanism that someone in Turkey, Iran or Egypt has to tell the world that they exist. We are developers, and we make that happen.

  • Ari

    I was a web developer about a decade ago but I moved on to writing services (message brokers, web services etc..). I write the middleware between the databases, external data consumers and internal websites. I massage the data into the format external services require and parse the feedback we get back and display it back to the internal website users.

    I am also dabbling aggregating data on the side as a webservice. The beauty of web services is that you can serve mobile clients as well as web portal clients with the same service. The clients are just responsible for supplying input and parsing/displaying the webservice responses.

    Leave the web stuff to the kids and become a services developer.

    • dba7

      I hear the people who actually got rich from the california gold rush weren't the people who actually found gold but the service providers, like food/housing.

      So yeah, I hear ya.

  • carribeiro

    I wrote something about this a couple years ago. We are living the "combinatorial innovation" age. There's enough money floating in the market to fund every possible idea, in a relentless and exhaustive way. Developers don't realize but they're cannon fodder in this process. They're expensive but still expendable material. As soon as one gets tired about it, there's plenty of others lined up for the job. The scarcity isn't real or sustainable; it's only a matter of balancing the appetite of the available money against the supply of programmers. Yes, there's money chasing people, but it's a very cynic money. It's a recipe for a generation to suicide a few years from now.

  • iiilx

    Like others have said, us developers should enjoy it while it lasts. If it's a fact that the majority of startups fail, then we will be seeing more failures as startups burn through their capital and fail to get further investment. I'm not sure how familiar people in the tech scene are with the current state of economics / monetary policy, but there's been a lot of money printing / money creation over the past 5-6 years after the housing bubble. What we may be seeing is a misallocation of capital in various asset classes, one of which is startups. The rich and wealthy are the primary beneficiaries when money is cheap (artificially low interest rates), and have the money to throw around in various asset classes. Is it not the wealthy who are funding most startups? Not every company will survive, and the demand for developers will decline as loose / inexperienced investors fail to make a return on their investments in the startups they invested in.

    • Nicholas

      "Enjoy while it lasts" don't cut yourself short, I get well north of 150k, have a similar set up (flexible hours), total control of my tech stack, build what I want and my company has over 80k employees. It is not just startups paying well and giving perks. My job is here to stay, the entire division I work under is under served for web/mobile apps, years and years of work just waiting.

  • Daniel R. Luke

    Somers, I think you did a great job with this piece. Will look forward to seeing your article on Hofstadter sometime!

  • mikkel

    It's interesting how many programmers/writers are commenting on this. The creative process behind devising and creating a program makes the phrase "writing code" quite apt.

    The present passion for programmers (and particularly web devs) is flickering more than most care to admit and will easily be snuffed out by the tides of history for all the reasons people mention below. Yet the power of great writing will never diminish because it reveals existential purpose and taps into the essence of humanity.

    That said, the power of programmers is far beyond what the community has accepted. It is not hyperbolic to state that the future of the industrialized world rests in fingers tapping away at keyboards.

    We are on the verge of the consequences of globalized industrial capitalism taking down the whole system, and the only way to mitigate some of the pain is to transition to distributed and resilient systems.This will succeed or fail due to a lot of code and a lot of words.

    It's true that the cost of words have been bid to zero on their own, just as its true that there is an inverse relationship between the true value of a program and its market worth. [Even the examples below of "my programs are valuable" admit that much of the activity of the companies as a whole is pointless, or at the very least, it leads to greater inequality.]

    It's my hope that programmer/writers create value by moving people through their words and then back it up with their skills. The opportunities are there, we just need courageous people to start on it.

  • Saheb Motiani

    I never read such long articles, but you forced me to change. I feel the same and I am going to get into industry soon with some technical skills, but all I want to do is write :)
    Really great piece :) Actually its a masterpiece :)

  • James Somers

    You don't half chat shit. I got bored after say... 3 paragraphs.

  • http://www.twitter.com/sean_oneill Sean O’

    James,

    Think about googling what Michael Lewis, author of 'Moneyball' and a successful writer, has said/written about having had to choose between investment banking and a writing career back when banking was the safe thing.

    From my view, despite making a six-figure living from books and magazine articles, Lewis is probably not making nearly as much money as he could have had he pursued I-banking.

    "he keenest definition of talent is doing only what you're good at." If you didn't do the writing, would someone else fill that space and bring to the world your perspective and your voice otherwise?

    Sure, other "content" will fill the space. But had Michael Lewis not written Moneyball, I doubt anyone else would have in a way that would make the story a part of the lives of millions of people in a memorable way and inspire a lot of people to change how they do things to a more efficient model. But had he become in charge of a high-speed trading program on Wall Street, he might have only helped make the world's stock markets 0.0000000% more efficient. His replacement value is different for each career. The world's better off with him as a writer. Plus, he's probably more satisfied --though you can't re-run history to know for sure, of course.

    Other people in the comments have noted that if it's true that the the price for web development is being bid up because of scarcity, then new entrants to the market in the US and globally will surely enter and the scarcity will vanish. Will this particular type of coding still be as cushy a profession five years from now? I'm skeptical.

    Lastly the real issue isn't "to code or not to code". The question is what projects a coder chooses to work on. Some people will get more satisfaction from coding that contributes to a project that is demonstrated to improve people's lives in some way. I recommend William MacAskill's articles at Quartz and elsewhere about finding projects that have proven impact.

    Anyway, this is an elegant article. My hunch is that it'll be a terrible shame if you give up writing for coding.

  • http://ajwebdesigner.in Ajinkya

    Being a web developer.. doesn't stop. You have to learn and read every day to keep in touch with latest programming languages. You cant just think once you mastered one web programming language you are set for a perfect career. You have to keep on improving ur knowledge. But yes, its adventures and it never stops. Its just keeps getting new every day.

    • Dryheaves Daily

      Interesting how my wife is in public relations and now is thought of as a web developer because she worked with wordpress and came up with a kick ass site. Now people want her to DEVELOP their websites . Laughable.

      • http://ajwebdesigner.in Ajinkya

        WordPress theme development and setting up wordpress theme is totally different thing.

        • Dryheaves Daily

          And.... You think businesses knows that. She picked a theme and went with it and the site came out beautifully. So, the local yokels think of her as a web developer.

          • http://ajwebdesigner.in Ajinkya

            Im just putting my point. yes at the end its all abt making client happy.

  • http://www.dirtydazz.com.au/ DirtyDazz

    what a great read. I'm still just getting my feet wet in writing (blogging for just over a year). One of your statements has described my situation to a T. What is a worthy read, does changing a sentence make it more interesting or confuses the reader.

    I'm finding I have written many blog entries just to lose the vibe or lack a way of explaining something in an interesting, easy to read way. I have at least 20 or so entries just sitting there in my drafts. I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that I should just be me. Individuality is what makes the cyber world so interesting I guess. It'll either make you, or break you.

    Cheers for the great read and inspiration.

  • http://dogpawz.com/ David Ihnen

    I think its worth pointing out that the value of an enabler isn't only in the work he does, but the work he enables. If a man picks up a shovel, he can move 16 tons in a day. If a man operates an excavator, he can move 1600 tons in a day. If a man operates a team of excavating robots, he can move 16 million tons in a day. Its similar with programming work - the value delivered is not solely that of arranging bits - but all of the useful (defined as valuable to somebody's revenue stream) work delivered by it. The multiplication effect of duplicating that code across computers and networks produces an astonishing amount of work for small amounts of work programming.

    So in the end, what is the value of an employee, plumber, miner, excavator? Is it in the time they put in to learn it (education and experience), or the leverage they have over their employer (willingness to change employers or union solidarity), or is it quantifiable as a share of the profit that results from the work they are doing?

    My argument is that the latter option is the TRUE value of a worker - they helped create a value so they should get a share of it. And by that measure, pretty much every single worker is being undervalued - programmers, plumbers, and minors.

  • James

    nteresting
    read, the ending makes me think he's missed a really important lesson.
    yes there's value in 'scarcity and wantedness' when it comes to skills,
    but those things will also and are changing. eventually knowing how to
    code will either be common place or with the advent of better tools
    completely irrelevant.

    you only get one life so do what you
    love, and never do it for money. doing more of what you don't love only
    gets you more of it, and eventually that's all you know how to do.

    this article is a great example of that, someone who wants to be a
    writer but spends most of his time coding for money. what do you get? a
    writer who has written a story that fails to see it's own crux.

  • Norm

    Well, James, I think you've settled one thing: you're most certainly an exceptional writer. Keep this up and I predict it won't be long before your writing will earn more than your coding.

  • Court Kizer

    Excellent article. These type of thoughts having been weighing on my mind for the last few years. Most of us are honestly quite brilliant, but instead of putting that talent to change the world, we use it to change web page graphics. I recently decided to change all this. I sold all my stuff. Bought a used mobile home for $4,800 and started working to solve how homes are built, and what I consider to be a big problem of how energy is collected and distributed. I'm not an electrician or a plumber, but I know how to read and research and I've put my mind to better things. This is the challenge that we all work on things that will better change the world. Each of us needs to reach farther out of our comfort zone and help make the world a better place.

  • ItalianGuy

    I think you are seeing the perspective from a very lucky point of view: i am a web developer, working in italy with a full-time job. I earn about 20'000 $ /yr (so it's VERY far from your amount of money).
    My work in this country is totally under-developed and underestimated: people want enormous softwares with budget as low as 1500$.
    Our job is treated as a common laborer, that ANYONE could do it.
    There is no specialization in anything: we are always seen as the nerds who stay in front of the pc.

    oh, and by the way i'm not speaking about the company i work in.

    You are probably speaking from a privileged and
    enviable position, i don't think that's the common situation, though.

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/101041881026971694523/posts DAVID HORVATH

    Aren't coders just today's web designers?...and the web designers were the Illustrators of yesterday... Photoshop made everybody an artist and now designers in general get paid little to nothing...but back in the day, nobody could do it. Now the rare tiny few with the best ideas get the $.
    With every 1st grader and grandpa learning to code now,
    what happens down the road when coding becomes.... writing.
    How much do writers make per word?

    I know the writers with the best ideas like Dan Brown get paid plenty,
    but I mean most other writers.

  • Tom

    "It’s only because of an exogenous miracle that, when I graduated in 2009 with a 2.9 GPA and entered a famously bad job market, I didn’t end up in privileged limbo — in Brooklyn, say, on my parents’ dime."

    The author is still pretty privileged. The mere fact that he can envision a privileged limbo for himself is evidence of that. Some of us - most of us - stared into that famously bad job market desperate to stay above water. A golden parachute counts for something, even if it goes unused.

  • Dan Baker

    Brilliant piece. A great confessional voice, but also you're saying what we ALL think (i'm also a web developer in a different field). I have questioned the value of my "work" in the same way. Keep up the writing, you've definitely got narrative skills (can't speak for your coding though!).

  • Ravi

    Good article. I think it resonated with many, as you can see the comments are quite thoughtful here. My add to the current spike in programming salaries is that we've essentially had 3 new software development trends hit the market in the last 7 (but really last 2-3 years): Android, iPhone, Javascript as a real thing.

    Companies that don't have these 3 need them desperately right now to stay competitive. And if you don't have them, the customers are going to go with someone that does. The cloud is all about continuity of the user experience, whether I'm at my desk or in a bus on my phone. As a user I will use those products that give me that continuity.

    At some point the ridiculous start-ups will begin to shake out when there is enough competition that can satisfy the continuity of all the "really needed" products.

  • danny_livewire

    No. Code in our culture is highly undervalued... The USA needs to revamp it's education system to teach people how to code. Code is not only the future of communication and language, it is the NOW.... Everyone should know how to code. If you don't know how to code in the future, it's going to be like not knowing 1+1=2...

  • Sarah

    In a self-important culture, it's most important to do what we want to do. But what about the value of service to others?

    I am a software developer and it is easy to work at a desk with 30 other developers around you, get swamped in the every day un-exciting tasks and feel very small.

    To stand back and look from a greater than life view - I am a small part of an important technology revolution that will be part of children's history lessons for centuries to come. My contribution to this industry (as millions others) is still fundamental to our future in technology and as human beings.

    Together we all play a greater than life role.

  • John Ohno

    A web developer is not necessarily a coder. Some web developers are graphic designers with pretensions toward programming proficiency (and, while graphic design is a legitimate skill set, it is even less related to programming than the capacity to construct HTML and CSS is).

    • Dryheaves Daily

      Thats why there is a big issue with the term webdeveloper. Many want to be called front end engineers. Yahoo changed all the front engineer titles to web developers and there was a backlash. Why is that? Yahoo have to change the title back to front end engineer.

  • Tamas Kalman

    What a trip! Great article. You should definitely NOT give up writing. =)

  • NameWitheld

    Nice article James, you are a very good writer so keep it up. Effective communication will never be replaced by a framework or plug-in library. I've been coding for a couple decades now in from C++ to Javascript and can see how the technologies keep improving but the problems to solve are becoming more complex. Understanding architecture, particularly distributed ones and patterns is much more valuable. Anyone can search and peck a solution but to understand complex problems and architect scalable systems requires real world experience.

  • Josh Koenig

    Being the plumbers for a global communication revolution isn't very sexy, but it's undeniably valuable, even if a lot of what you pipe is shit.

    The building trade isn't a bad analogy. Back when we used to build heroic infrastructure in the real world, all of the above could be said for riviters and high-steel workers. They didn't design anything, and a lot of what they built was forgettable; but some of it wasn't, and good work for good pay is nothing to scoff at.

    Or, another way to look at it is rather than saying "we don't deserve what we're getting" you might want to ask why other workers get so little.

  • Josh Koenig

    Also, too, don't put your dreams on hold. They only get harder to chase.

  • cirej2000

    Wow! Your writing skills have not gone to waste. Sort of sums up the quiet insecurities that I'm sure many of us riding the tech wave, often feel regarding our true worth.

    Well done!

  • Ricardo

    Almost shed a tear on this, seriously (also a fellow programmer and writer, in this order)

  • Darrell Allen Caraway

    Worth it for what?

  • Bob

    To author - writing HTML tags isn't coding. My little sister can write HTML and CSS.

    • Dryheaves Daily

      Bravo. A dog with a note in its mouth can program in HTML.

  • gram

    Its simple companies are willing to pay double, triple, quadruple amounts for a programmer that they can trust and know will write good code over buying 4 that may be poor coders for the same amount. It may be sad but 80% of the programmers still use horrible practices and end up spending more of the companies time and money fixing their mistakes and replacing the bad programmers then finding someone who can do it right the first time. Yeah there are plenty of people who code, but the reason why we are valued so much is because the profit we can make the company is great, and they realize the security of having one good one is many times better than taking risks and having a few bad ones. Eventually programmers will evolve their concepts, and solving difficult problems may become more doable for more people, which will make the scale of programmers have less discrepancy. When that comes I am sure companies will be willing to take more risk and hire more for less and divvy up the responsibilities and pay, but as long as the quality consistently effect the success of the project and the outcome of the profits like it currently does I doubt, the salaries will change and I am more than sure there are more programmers than ones who get programming jobs, it just happens that there are also a lot of people in other fields finding out that they are good at it too, sometimes better than many others with big degree's. Education is never a description to entitlement in the job market and some people will find success without it some will not, but at this time its absolutely wrong to say everyone will succeed. I see a lot of people jump right in and succeed for awhile to find out 5-10 years down the road that they made mistakes and it hits them hard later on in their career.

  • http://www.livinginthehereandnow.co.za/ beachcomber

    I took the Code Academy course for a few weeks and was bored out of my skull with the tedious repetitive work. Any coder deserves the money. I have though, produced a few websites using free wysiwig (what you see is what you get) programs - essentially cut 'n paste, and wonder how long the industry will take to render basic coding obsolete.

  • Deep C Gupta

    is this good for nothing magazine worth this, and writer James Somers dont have any comment for celebrities, sports personalities, and other highly paid people too.

    Why Mr James Somers got issue with coders only, if we are not worth it then you mean, we are cheat and making people fool.

    Without us you and your whole automated system will crawl like insect.

  • T Etter

    a coder without an idea or direction is just a monkey on a keyboard ........

  • Sammie Johnson

    Excellent piece. As an Information Systems graduate I can attest that when recruiters hear "IT major" there is an instant buzz in their minds; that you can provide some grand expertise for their company. After reading this it has only encouraged me to further my skill and deepen my passion for this progression. Thank you. Continue to succeed.

    • Sammie Johnson

      Profession*

      • Dryheaves Daily

        And, where did you get your job and for how much? 120k? The instant buzz in their minds is either caffeine or cocaine.

    • Dryheaves Daily

      Recruiters are slime with an average life expectancy of 6 months in the business. You send your resume to a headhunter and he will flood the market with it and you just may be out of a brand spanking new job when the recruiter calls the company and says I sent this guys resume to you 3 months ago. Thats why you see so many claims at the bottom of online apps to companies. Recruiters stay away. Also most recruiters at the top companies are contract workers.

      • Sammie Johnson

        No arguments there; I've encountered (and dismissed) the people you speak of. However, being as that is the case, you-the job seeker-must decipher quality from quantity and refrain from naiveté. The end game is to establish and career and not waste time. It's your responsibility to chose whom to entertain in your job search.

        • Dryheaves Daily

          How about enetertaining /contacting th emanager of the department of the company that you want to work for. Or you havent drilled it that far down, yet?

          • Sammie Johnson

            That goes without saying...which is why I didn't say it. But yes, such a fundamental, yet necessary tactic should always be done.

          • Dryheaves Daily

            Have you don it. Have you callea manger at a solid tech company and gotten the interview and the job? There is a point for me asking this?

          • Sammie Johnson

            With the exception of one, I've done so for every tech position I've interviewed for-hence the blessing of the current position I'm in. No one should fear rejection-especially in this industry. The fact that I didn't get the first tech job compelled me to apply said tactic. Did it always work? No. But I believe in getting right to the point, clarifying completely on what assets, value, and productivity I'll immediately bring to an organization, and making sure that I am taken seriously and not looked at as just a resume.

          • Dryheaves Daily

            How did you get best HR? how did you get the manager's name? How big a company and where is it located. Again. Ther is a reason for may asking

          • Sammie Johnson

            Research, research, research. As with anything, if you desire something strongly enough, you'll find a way to attain it. (And what is your reason?)

          • Dryheaves Daily

            I will answer you if you tell me how big a company you did this with and how did you get around HR.

          • Dryheaves Daily

            Because you are one of the few people who "get it". The rest are resume pushers . If you cant show the hiring manager how you can do the job and increase revenues or decrease costs or increase customer satisfaction then they dont have time to figure you out.. Bravo to you.

          • Dryheaves Daily

            Have you done it? Have you called a manger at a solid tech company and gotten the interview and the job? How did you get to that manager? There is a point for me asking this?

  • steve.scharf

    Coders and Programmers are the new engineers of society. A new world has been created and we are the construction workers building all the inner workings of the city and also challenged with making the city efficient, beautiful and powerful.

    This is evolution at it's finest.

    Great piece, one of the few things I read this afternoon that made me think and also reinforced my career decision.

    Personally I don't fret over how important or unimportant we are in the world, I just thank my stars I am technically inclined and a beast for knowledge.

  • Carl Hartman

    If you are a coder you tend to thing your job is the most important. Its like having a teen in the room; its all about them. I tend to disagree with your really long article. I know what I want in an app or other product. I set the agenda and dictate how it functions. When I worked as an executive for a major tv network, it was (and is still) all about the content. I would put out a call for coders and get hundreds of qualified applicants. To me, just like the rest of the contributors in a project, a coder was/is just as important as the graphic artist, video producer or anyone else on the creative team. And when I build a house, the design/content is more important than the plumber that installs my toilet. Coders are a valued part of the team, but they are not the gods you suggest. - You could say, "Without me, the project would not happen and I would say, without the content I would have no need of you." People don't come to my products because of your coding, but because of my innovative ideas.

  • Fredbird

    I think you might find it a good experience to work at a start-up with a business plan that eventually succeeds. They *are* out there. Look particularly in the enterprise space... They are built with a purpose out of the box and, while consumer tech is sexier, enterprise software is the sector of the market producing the most viable/profitable products.

    You also might consider improving your abilities and giving back to the open source community you depend on rather than just draining the teet. It might help you feel a sense of purpose to know that your work is part of many interesting and successful products even if your start-ups continue to fail...

  • Hardy Citrus

    Great, you just told your boss that you are unskilled and overpaid.

    In any event, save every penny, because someday you'll be 50 and won't be able to get a job.

    • Dryheaves Daily

      50? In tech, without specific up to date skills, maybe 40.

  • Irné Barnard

    It's an old situation. There's always going to be some form of labour which is more highly valued at any one time than any other. It has been thus since the start of recorded history, and probably even before. Scarcity and demand is the basis of this, but not to be confused with ability and requirement. We live in a society of perception, not analysis.

    People value what they perceive to be of use to them personally, not what they need. As needs are met people find that they have less use in meeting those needs: simple analogy would be having a thirst, but once satiated, water is not as valuable any-more.

    The most influential people are those who drive the most perceived demand to the fore. So what we're experiencing is the demand for the perceived wants of the most powerful in society.

    Money seems to be the measure of power at this time due to our mostly capitalist outlook. A feudal society might have found land to be the measure of power. While a fanaticism could see piety, or even just eloquence, as the harbinger. Even a socialism distributes power to those in its governing body. But the same applies to all: no matter what -ism is prevalent, some group is seen as more influential than others. And these are the "fashion parents" of the society, even if they're not the decision makers.

    Now if that can be accepted, we see some further evolution of demand. As some needs are met more efficiently, they become perceived to be less required (especially to those in the group of power recipients). But humans, being what we are, will always want for some other thing. Even if that is not a necessity, it is still a want. And because the most influential demanders are those with the most power, it's always skewed toward the most "affluent" (be that rich, landed, charismatic, or whatever is deemed most notable by society) .

    At present it seems the latest fad is entertainment and communication, definitely not a life-or-death need by a long shot. Certainly not for the average human on this planet. Strangely the preferred conduit for delivery of this seems to be electronic media. That may be due to the latest developments in mobile technology.

    So that sort of explains the demand side of things. What about the supply? A bit of a different ball game: Supply tends to follow the most efficient path. At the moment it is the internet and such concepts as cloud based computing. Making use of those requires some specialised labour. That labour might be building on previous products.

    Same as agriculture would start to bloom after an irrigation system is built, it can be seen that some forms of web development blossom through the use of pre-made libraries and API's. If no such "infrastructure" was available the development would be much more cumbersome and inefficient. What seems to be the case now is that new web development is making use of the infrastructure created during and/or following the previous boom.

    This makes the supply much more efficient through the use of these tools. Much more so than it was during the '90s, when the infrastructure was still only being dreamed of. Thus those knowing how to use the tools are in higher demand than others making use of less efficient tools (or even those who can create the already existing tools). And since not a great many were looking towards a previously "devastated" career path, these web developers are more scarce than more main stream programmers.

    This can't last for long though, two sides are going to bring that "bubble" to breaking point. And it would be nothing to do with rampant bull markets. The demand will dry up as the perceived wants are met - moving to some future new want. At the same time the scarcity will dissipate as more new web developers chase the profitable career path.

    This all is the basic principles behind economic "science". Nothing ever stands still, even if no new developments are made.

  • Darish

    For this very reason I have eschewed the entire office world and gone back to the trades. No automation, no apps, only hands and minds and giving people what they want in person. My future is secure too.

  • simonecas

    I'm a journalist turned digital marketeer. I had to teach myself everything, including how to set up my own website. I think you wrote a very good piece here but it is too long and it feels a bit smug. The point for some people is not how much money you can make but 'can I have a job that is not a chore?' You succeeded there, so there is no point talking about writing, a vocational, badly paid job. If there was no content, what would developers do? They are framing the content and getting paid more money because dealing with code is as tedious as hell for most people.

    If money was my aim, I'd have stayed in banking, where I could make loads more. I chose journalism because writing and editing interested me more and it was more creative (I was doing layouts too, so I learnt graphic design). I now design e-newsletter using a template but have to tap into my html knowledge to fix things now and then.

    Compared to InDesign, there is nothing I have seen so far online that is as reliable as design software. Yes, there is Dreamweaver but I was put off learning it by how tedious it is. Html is tedious too, I'm stuck between a stone and a hard place using a cheap programme where commands don't work and you have to edit code most of the time.

    I'm not being negative against you, just saying that in my view, if you love your job and you make good money, then you have won the lottery.

  • Espen Abusdal

    We are worth all(i'm a Musician/Engineer, like my Dad is a Model Plane Builder.. /Wrencher, like Terje Eltvik and God belongs the best..(raw-analysis Hero Espen)

  • http://www.pocketinfo.net/ Robert Latchford

    Article of the month!

  • Dryheaves Daily

    Interesting how you say web developers make tons of money.

  • Dryheaves Daily

    Median salary for a web developer nationwide is 62 grand. Look it up on glassdoor who vetted this piece.?
    2012 was the first time since the Great Recession that venture capital investment fell year over year."It's the product of lousy returns over the past several years," said Jason Green, a venture investor at Emergence Capital Partners in San Mateo.

    By the way any smart VC knows that options are dumb and what all of you should be asking for is equity, typically in the ..05% to. 025% range. The Instagram model was the right place at the right time. How many startups are in San Fran? A few thousand. How many will actually make it. Maybe a dozen?

    2012 was the first time since the Great Recession that venture capital investment fell year over year.

    "It's
    the product of lousy returns over the past several years," said Jason
    Green, a venture investor at Emergence Capital Partners in San Mateo.

    Those
    poor investment returns have prompted a pullback by the pension funds,
    college endowments and other "limited partners" that give venture firms
    money to pour into startups.

    Eleven of the 17 industry sectors the
    MoneyTree report tracks saw dollars decline in the first quarter.
    Venture capitalists put less money into Internet companies, information
    technology, semiconductors, cleantech and life sciences.

    . Have any of you heard of The Stem Act.. ZUckerberg and many companies have started a superpac and are asking for more immigrants witheh the skill set these companies require to be allowed green cards in the United States. They say there arent enough talented people to fill their open positions. Thats BS. An independent study said we have enough talent here. The real reason, lower pay for all. Unless you have years under your belt in a specific industry as a web developer you arent making 150 at a startup, especially on a few thousand dollars of see money. Wont happen. If you are, better look for another gig. I would love to know where this author works. In most companies web developers arent even thougth as engineers. Yahoo had to change the title for web developer to software engineer but a degree, preferably a masters comes with that title. The last paragraph of this article is pure bunk. I would love to know where he wroks and who vetted his only article for this online paper?

  • StartupBook

    The problem of ambition with startups is frequently documented -- Valley luminaries like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel both believe this is a major issue.

    http://startupbook.co/2013/06/10/the-boy-who-cried-bubble-millenial-coder-has-existential-breakdown-says-startups-are-make-believe-baking-stations/

    To be fair, though, it's not like 'freelance writing' was EVER a lucrative career...even if the value of words is currently being bid to zero, as you correctly assert. Anyone who becomes a writer with dollar signs in their eyes is fooling themselves.

  • Dryheaves Daily

    Why Zuckerberg's Super PAC Won't Speak for Start-ups.

    Facebook's CEO and other tech execs want a Washington lobby group. But the needs of small tech start-ups may not be on their agenda. Is there a hidden agenda? Hard to know, but the group is supposedly working with both Republican- and Democrat-affiliated lobbyist firms, which would indicate an unusually pragmatic approach to addressing problems. Getting anything done by the federal government in the near future will require buy-in from both parties.

    But high tech is not an industry with a single set of players and a unified collection of goals. Is the good for Facebook the good for all? Unlikely. Look at immigration reform, for one. Facebook and some other tech giants want easier access to highly trained workers from overseas. But the program for bringing highly trained workers to the U.S. from other countries has been criticized as actually unnecessary and a mechanism for depressing the wages of domestic workers, which could mean an effective subsidy for large corporations at the expense of small companies that must compete for the same workers but without the extensive legal and operational staff to make the system work for them.

    WARNING: If this StEM ACT goes through, those supposed 150 web developer salaries will be devastated. You can count on that.

  • swampwiz

    Ah, this sounds like something *I* could have written 12-15 years ago (although then it was making Windows apps using the Visual C++/Basic IDE. If there is one lesson I could give the younger folks in the business - enjoy it now and save like hell, 'cause the marketablity of your skillset is like the stability of the Fiddler on the Roof. Once the new "paradigm" comes around, you will be as obsolete & unemployable as the Michael Douglas character in "Falling Down".

    • CommenterWiz

      You wont be obsolete & unemployable if you are able to adapt to the new "paradigm". Only the people that are not willing to learn are the ones that have to worry about change.

      • swampwiz

        And just how is someone supposed to adapt? Employers don't want self learners - they want folks with paid experience in a skill set. So even if someone did decide to learn on his own, he would still be unemployable.

  • Jordan

    Fantastic article. As a fellow mediocre programmer, I share your sentiment completely - walking away from the money and perks is a hard thing to do.

  • John Montagna

    A true artist is someone who practices his art whether he gets paid for it or not. If writing is indeed your passion, you should be doing it full-on regardless of what the "American mind" tells you. (Who is that, BTW?) There are plenty of folks who work harder than you, who make less money than you, who are OLDER than you, and still find the time and energy to pursue their passions to the fullest. So quit whining, enjoy your blessed abundance and write like it's your last day on earth.

  • Jeff

    An inexperienced freelance writer offered 10-20k by "a couple of big American magazines" for profile of a guy who is already plastered all over the net? I smell bulls**t.

    • commenterwiz

      Make up your mind, first you say it is a fantastic article then you bash it.

  • Guest

    I've been creating websites for the last 14 years using PHP, MySQL and Javascript before there were frameworks or Hacker Schools. I taught myself everything I know and still code everything by hand. But I realize this is now an outmoded, "old-fashioned" way to program and build websites.

    In the late 80s I was a graphic designer and an early adopter of desktop publishing software to produce brochures and other materials for clients. To make a long story short, in 1995 I started dabbling with building websites and taught myself HTML. Then I taught myself CSS, then PHP and MySQL a few years later. I can also do some Javascript programming.

    But the fact I can design a website and interface, create all the graphics in Photoshop, code it, connect it to a database and set up e-commerce doesn't seem to make me more employable. In fact, most potential employers I've interviewed with see that as a turn-off because they want someone who can do that one specific thing they are looking for really really well. Being good at many things isn't good enough.

    For this reason, it seems pretty clear I need to pick one aspect of web development and focus on that. Design doesn't seem to be the most lucrative for some reason, even though it does require some talent that can't be taught. So, I believe taking my entry-level, self-taught coding skills to the next level would be wisest, and after reading this article, I'm even more determined this is the right thing to do.

    But what and how? Should I learn Ruby on Rails and become better at Javascript? That seems most logical based on my current skill set. I'd love to do the 3-month Hacker School course, but, just can't devote the full time because I have a job that I can't up and quit. What about CodeAcademy?

    What kind of advice would you give to someone like me?

    • keelyellenmarie

      Just from knowing developers, I'd say learn Ruby on Rails. The level of demand for Ruby developers is, frankly, outrageous.

  • billmoore

    Here's the trajectory of a coder, based on age (and yes, it's almost 100% based on age):

    20-30, high demand. High pay. Very much what the author describes.
    30-35, In demand, but not as much, High pay, but you'd better know your stuff.
    35-40, Not so much in demand 'you're not management yet?'.
    Over 40, Not in demand. Too old to learn. You can code Java at IBM. Maybe.
    Over 50, Non-existant. Ignored. Does not exist.

    I know. I'm an engineering VP over 50 who's done this for 30 years. I do this. I think this. All of us in management do and think this. None of us will ever admit it, but it's fact.

    Enjoy the ride in your 20's because, once you hit 30, it really is all downhill as a pure coder.

    • Engineer

      > Over 50, Non-existant. Ignored. Does not exist.

      Not true. I'm over 50, and work in the semi-conductors industry, and a few months ago a major player (really major!) paid more than half-a-million dollars to acquire me, and gave me the best compensation package of my career.

      • billmoore

        There are always anomalies. You're likely exceptional or in a very niche area or both. Right?
        How many more out there are like this?

  • hatlesspete

    Thank you for this heartfelt and soul-searching confessional on why capitalism needs to be put out to pasture.

  • https://oncletom.io/ Oncle Tom

    Hey funny, I had such a recent conversation with a friend, why not building spaceships instead of websites? It would be more useful.

    Maybe writing Web softwares isn't as difficult as we've learned that since a decade, and we forgot how various and complete abstract skills it requires.

    We have either the choice to let it down and help harvesting bananas in South Africa, spread our knowledge to improve the living of people asking for that.
    Or we could also pursue with our skills, by choosing what we want to be paid for: earning less for a company which wants to improve something or earning loads of money for a company targeting only sales and profit.

  • Jesse Bobeldijk

    @James, I understand that programming gives you (financial) security and satisfaction for giving people what they want. I don't necessarily agree with your observation that writing 'is not something anyone actually wants me to do' though. To get more insight in your career choice motivations, it might be worthwhile to check what's written about the 4 types of jobs in the world according to Lou Adler. These are: Thinkers, Builders, Improvers and Producers. I think programming jobs can have traits of all four types, but based on the not very inspirational coding projects you describe, you might be more of a Producer. Producers, according to mr. Adler, 'execute or maintain a repeatable process' and 'typically require training or advanced skills to be in a position to execute the process'. They are less inclined to build something from scratch (Builders) or to be visionairies (Thinkers). Coming back to your story above, a Producer job has the propensity that you get up every day knowing there is a demand for your work, in the short run anyways. Now let's look at a writer, what type of job does being a writer entail? I think as a writer you have to be both a Thinker and a Builder at the same time; the creativity of the Thinker helps developing the idea, and the builder puts this idea into writing. The writer essentially is an entrepreneur; he doesn't know if there will be demand for his ideas. Back to you: could it be that your natural tendency is to be more of a Producer, that are essential for making the world go round, but that are not responsible for inspiring people through their writings? Your thought provoking piece above might indicate the opposite and prove that you should explore your writings more then you're doing at the moment.
    (PS if you're interested in the 4 types of jobs in the world, check: http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130502173937-15454-there-are-only-four-jobs-in-the-whole-world-are-you-in-the-right-one)

  • Robert Frederick

    I liked your essay. Indeed, the world isn't ever going to offer a writer -- any writer -- much of an opportunity until that writer has actually written. But that seems to me to be the same response of the world to a coder, needing first to show some coding ability, no? It took me a lot longer to become a decent writer than a decent coder, but it was well worth it to make the change. Have courage... and talk more with your sister.

  • akristofcak
  • nateabele

    You make it sound like a bad thing that programming could be compared to plumbing. It could be compared to a lot of different things.

    On the other hand, it's as the saying goes: "All work is organizing."

  • Skyler Magnussen

    Code is poetry. Do you like Indian Poetry? Japanese? American?
    Most likely not, as most people like the product...not the country of origin.

    Simply, a coder's worth is in the hands of the coder himself.
    Write something innovative and new, the world will beat a path to your door.
    Write the same app for the 20th time, you make $250.00...all one needs is a connection, a box, time and effort.

    So, are coders worth it?
    Yes, the right ones are...doing new and awesome things.
    Are artists? Yes they are, but they are only really artists when they create, not regurgitate.

    Are journalists?...not really, an RSS feed can do their job.
    You can get an Indian to code an RSS widget for $30-$50 bucks, most likely.
    They do it all the time...

    • Really?

      Code isn't poetry. Poetry is poetry. The only people who might think that code is poetry are coders.

      RSS feeds aren't journalists. Journalists are journalists. The only people who might think that RSS feeds are journalists are coders too, probably.

  • S K

    very very well written...and reflects my own perception of what i see around me.

  • Dean Lucas

    Parents, teach your kids to code. It will give them an advantage in life no matter what profession they may choose.

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  • http://www.luciovilla.com/ Lucio Villa

    Thank you for posting this. I remember making websites back in high school and studied computer science until I switched over to photojournalism. I still kept some web programming knowledge and now that I am learning new languages I feel like I am going to a very employable person, more than just being a photojournalist.

  • AAS1957

    James---face it. You are a writer. And you didn't have to hang yourself. I loved this piece and thank you.

  • Cathy Easter

    Frankly, found your doubts ring true, clear and refreshing, but still gnashing teeth. Serving society's needs is going extinct. Never, ever, have I been lavished at a job, yet I've given ppl dignity and hope when there was none to be had, dealt with thorny issues no one else wanted to. Unfortunately, in our sick, callous country this is no longer valued. Often it's sneered at,(socialist!) definitely paid for shit, less and less $ each year unless it's "clinical", not appreciated by hierarchical govt and corps drones.Took a lot of years to learn, and now, along with all the other 2013 USA ills and insults, being fifty+ is seriously uncool and disrespected. Increasing segregation by sector, disenfranchising ppl, shit-loads of inequality & injustice have, perhaps irretrievably, trashed, slashed and burned the "United" in States.

  • RickRollington

    This article is troll bait. While it's true that there are many small VC-funded startups that don't make anything useful the author is a lazy sensationalist for implying that's the whole story of web development.

    I invite him to be part of the solution by coming up with a valuable product or service that people need instead of complaining about how cushy he has it.

    The author doesn't seem to realize that he has the power to change what he doesn't like about the industry he's chosen.

  • http://renando.com/blog/ Chad Renando

    Timely and true. Technology is disrupting careers as much as process and consumption... similar to my own thoughts here... http://www.sidewaysthoughts.com/blog/2013/06/the-disruptive-impact-of-the-technology-industry-on-careers-framing-the-opportunity/

  • ArchiesBoy

    The kid's one lucky son of a bitch. He can do something that's fun for him, that is wanted, and do it well enough to get paid the big bucks and the neat perks. Wow. In this economy where desperate families are going hungry and getting evicted? One lucky SOB.

  • http://lucianux.com/ lucian303

    "I look at a lot of inbound résumés at my current job, and I throw away everybody who’s not a programmer. I do this enough times each day that a simple association has formed in my mind: if you’re not technical, you’re not valuable."

    So you pass up candidates more qualified than you because of prejudice. That's stupidity. Wait till the real world hits you and see how you like being a coal miner. That was the only great part of the article. No, you're not the shovel, you're the miner. $150k might sound like a lot, but it isn't if you're in SF/Valley or NYC. It certainly is not a lot if you have a family to support. That's less than $90k take home for a single person with no mortgage. Think that's a lot? How about finding a decent 1 bdrm apt for less than 2k in Manhattan or SF? Good luck.

    One in a thousand startups will become a company valued at a billion plus? Really? We then should have dozens of new billion++ companies formed just in the last 5 years ... Where are they?

    Good thing they're not here because when the bubble hits again, it won't be pretty. And it will be hitting soon.

    Glad you didn't become a writer. The world doesn't need more garbage writing like this.

  • http://www.joncaveman.com/ jcaveman

    I love this article. I constantly think about what *actual* value I am providing with what I do, and how close to the top of the chop list my job would be if it ever came time to eliminate the unessentials (nuclear war, for example). The result is an inspiration to think bigger than web browsers. To try to be a problem solver in general using the digital tools I am good with. I am currently building Node.js powered quadcopters for this exact reason. It probably sounds frivolous and trivial, but my hope is to evolve what I do towards the tangible, and away from the virtual.

  • david pinto

    Well written, thanks. If your heart is in the right please, PLEASE look at ecosquared.info since it suggests financial protocols based on giving. Trouble is, it doesn't fit 'start-up' scale level of innovation, as you mention in the article. A little attention, and some serious engagement would be much appreciated.

  • bentgunnar

    I used to love ruby but eventually I gave up the wrestling eventmachine. Haven't you heard about node.js dude? Straight up it's even better than writing like a champ, pulling off hella run on sentences. And if William Faulkner would have been a ruby developer, Hemingway early adopted node.js, like way before jQuery became a default in the asset pipeline.

  • Ashish Kumar

    very well written article. my favorite line ..."Every programmer knows that code looks cool, that eyes widen when we fill our screens with colourful incantations. "

  • http://lucianux.com/ lucian303

    "I am an awfully mediocre programmer — but, still, I have a secure future."

    I wouldn't be so sure of that. Whomever hired you is probably less talented than you (simply for hiring you) and so on up the chain. This is a sad state of affairs, but in the end, the garbage you create will create work for the rest of us who will indeed be here in the future if our eyeballs don't bleed out reading the shitty code that people like you create.

  • waltschmidt

    Where are these mythical jobs that pay $150k plus free beer in exchange for little work? The article makes it seem as if high paying jobs are being handed out left and right, so long as you have a pulse and can wake up before noon. Is this one of those situations where people working in Silicon Valley or Manhatten have no concept of the real world, or am I unknowingly a step away from a part time job with a huge raise?

  • Sergio Samayoa

    The problem that we developer make more money (for now) that "normal people" (no matter if is doing exiting stuff in startup or doing boring enterprise applications) is just what happened in industrial revolution: Skills demand is unbalanced.

  • kapil verma

    hey , why the fuck is opening this page trying to access 127.0.0.1/admin on my system

  • kapil verma

    hey, where did my comment go ? anyways, opening this url causes a request to be made to 127.0.0.1/admin ... i have no clue why, yet

  • kapil verma

    /admin/wp-content/plugins/wp-email/images/email_famfamfam.png ... why look for that ? or rather, what looks for that

  • http://scottkantner.com Scott Kantner

    And so you've come a long way to learn a very simple fact: The market pays for what it perceives to be valuable. Period.

  • casablanca

    you are one capitalist slave and that's your real problem, and yes, you are scared to do what you really want because you prefer to stay in the comfort zone. It took me five maybe more times to finish your article actually, not the best writing. sorry.

  • ender

    So you say mine workers have worse conditions. Let's have a closer look.
    With my nearing 10 years experience I would have been halfway through my active professional life as a miner, counting remaining 10 years untill retirement, having several trips annually to pick from, enjoying my 13th and 14th salary and additional benefit of coal i could use to heat my house during winter or sell; nobody would care if i came drunk to work, because i could use the shovel anyways. my work would never require me to improve my skills - i might have to operate a 10 button and 2 lever machine with steering wheel from time to time, that's about it.

    if your work was 'putting boxes on the page', you are indeed nothing but a plumber; you have little knowledge about how lack of understanding the craft of programming, the libraries, tools, techniques you utilize to achieve your goal could impact you. you probably never thought why nobody writes operating systems in PHP, or why low level, embedded or drivers development is so difficult. No miner, no janitor or steward could do it. this is a complex problem, and companies that know what software development is about actually do care about the environment. Why?

    Because to write good software and to have picture of what you're doing, you need to maintain flow. going back home for the night or weekend during the session of writing some critical part of software is a disaster, because it requires you to rewind where you've been, but then - damn, you don't really have to go home. It's enough that someone is drilling the walls next to you. or just talking and laughing loud.

    This has got to be the worst comparison I have ever seen. I value the work of every occupation, even the staff cleaning the streets and emptying trash bins, because they care about the city i live in. But making comparisons like that is a total nonsense.

  • http://www.lionleaf.com/ CT Web Design

    Writing is a mentally difficult thing - IT's true!

  • Aaron B.

    Love this blog post! I too experience much of what you have described. I live the shorts and sandals life style, work from home, and if I do ever go the office, I have it pretty sweet there too! Ping pong tables, ski-all, arcades, food, snacks...

    And when I am NOT looking for a job, I get interviews and offers on a weekly basis. If I am looking...well let's just say I am not worried about finding employment.

    I agree, after getting into the entrepreneurial world myself a couple years ago, and launching my own companies, and being part of some that have failed and succeeded...I have met many real entrepreneurs, and many "wantrapreneurs". People who are wanna-be entrepreneurs, who will say that blogging makes them an entrepreneur...or they are all talk, but never execute on anything!

    Anyways, good article, you deserve what you have earned from all those nights of banging your head against a desk while others were out getting wasted. You get what you put in. And the reality is, some skills are simply more valuable than others. Many of us described by this article were fortunate enough to have happened to pick something we enjoyed, and it just so happens to make lots of money.

  • Aaron B.

    Developers are the secret sauce of start ups. But because of this and the "lean startup", many people want to hire developers with promises of fortunes, shares, etc. instead of straight up cash.

    I talk about it here if any of you are interested in reading about hiring a developer for your startup:

    http://www.havefunandprofit.com/2013/06/looking-for-an-apps-developer-8-things-you-need-to-know/

  • http://google.com/profiles/rmontgomery429 Ryan Montgomery

    Spot-on man. Spot-on.

  • Elliot Smith

    Great article, and exactly articulates how I feel about my self and my job. I still think about what it might be like to work as a writer, but realise that, as you eloquently put it, "it’s not something anyone actually wants me to do". Fortunately, I do get to spend most of my time working on engaging stuff, but there are times when I wonder about its ultimate worth.

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    of this topic. It contains several of the strong points which are unique and
    highly increase the value of this article to all its readers.

  • Aaron

    Finally, someone is able to voice what I've been trying to say ever since Samsung took over the Android market.

    I used to be an Android developer. I took a break from it to start college. When I came back, the API was a clutter of all these vendors' "Crap" that I wanted nothing to do with. It began to dawn on me that app development, not just on Android, but on every other platform (iOS, TVs, refrigerators, etc) has become a rat-race. Find something that someone's already done and make a knock-off of it. If you actually have a good idea, hold on to it for dear life.

    I think the tech industry is due for a major change. Apple had its 10-year cash cow in smartphone apps, but now it's become just like a clothing trend: everyone has it, and It's time to find "the new cool."

  • datdude

    How do I become a developer? I want a new career and feel this could be the one.

    • Hilko Blok

      A good start might be codecademy.com. Think of something concrete you want to build (blog? image gallery?) and tackle the obstacles along the way :).

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  • John Denisov

    You did it. You wrote an article which is worth more than 0$.

  • JanetMiller88

    my step-dad recently got a nearly new gold Mazda CX-7 SUV just by some part-time working online with a pc... More Info e­x­i­t­3­5­.­c­o­m

  • seoazhar

    Really hats of you.....

  • Mike

    This is awesome. And it speaks to the heart of why I left software development and moved into something more meaningful despite the massive pay cut. Now, at least, I feel I can do something that has certain meaning instead of pondering in those long moments of silence while the code compiles, what the hell I'm actually doing with my life.

  • tony
  • Marc Bruxman

    Your article is interesting because it is in fact what most people think : Web developpement, is somewhat inferior than building physical things (airplane, cars, ...). And this is where you fail to grasp important things :
    - First, developpers are so in demand because in terms of productivity code can do a lot of things. One engineers work may be used by millions of people. And it may save each people a lot of hours. I remember having worked for a small non profit organization, we just used simple web technology to optimize their process. This was in no way space technology. But in the end, it allowed them to do all the administrative work they had to do for a fraction of the time they once spent. In many of my following works that was the same, most of the time we used very simple technology but it did made a lot of difference in terms of productivity. Now you may tell that the only result of these works were that a lot of people were fired (or not employed) because one geek was employed and well paid to do productivity fixes. Yes that's true.
    - What is true in B2B is true in B2C. Facebook or Instagram may not seem to be of value to you but it had a so huge social impact that it is yet another proof of the profound impact that modern technology has.
    - Because of that a lot of people come to the field including a lot of people who do not have the required level of training. Most people employed as developpers are in fact completeley ignorant : They know nothing about computer science. But the simple plumbing they can do already can make a difference on the market. The problem is that the education system was caught by surprise and does not teach required skills to a sufficient number of peoples.
    - The energy spent by millions of developpers building things without the required knowledge however leads to new tools. You are speaking about Ruby on Rails, this is one of them. Rails make former complicated things easy to do so that the monkey-devs can still be useful. In a few years, the expectations of end users will rise ups and the monkey devs will be unable to cope. This is why people will have the incentive to hire smarter devs to build the next tools of the trade.
    - This is not different than Fordism and Taylorism : Formerly you needed a competent mechanic to build a car and this was expensive. After proper application of Fordism and Taylorism you took a former peasant in his field, teach him for a few days and he (along others) will build cars. This is why everybody could buy cheap cars. But even then, a worker at a Ford factory would end far more than a peasant. Yet sucessufully harvesting crop might have required more skills than screwing the same screw all the day. It is the same with web-dev : You have a lot of monkey devs who are educated people. They do things that are easy to do and earn more than other peoples from other fields do. But nobody has the intelligence to provide the next cutting edge tools. So some people work at managing complexity so that monkey level devs can still write code. The monkey-devs are the blue collar of the 21st century. But as CS gives extraordinary powers they have a lot of advantage over people having no clue of how a computer work. This is why they earn an enormous amount of money without being that gifted by nature.

    And last, as a word of warning, the technological revolution has in my opinion only begun. The discovery by Alan Turing of modern computer science already had great impact on our lives but it has only given let say 10% of it's full potential. Most professions even those far from technology (like lawyers) will get a tsunami of new technology that alters the way of doing things. In most case they'll be rendered redundant. Ask new lawyers in the US, I know that they are now finding it hard to get jobs. Not because of the recession but because of computer automation. Without a lot of political changes in order to adapt society to a world were very few people will do most of the work, we are going to push the gini coefficient to unknown highs.

    Please excuse my English, I'm not native (and not living in an english speaking country).

  • popoxee

    Coders have it all??? Since when?

  • Carl Williams

    This is precisely why I stopped being a web developer and enrolled in Medical School and haven't looked back. The first day on the wards, surrounded by 'real problems' (I don't mean debugging an ajax request), I knew it was a good decision.

  • http://www.michaelbromley.co.uk/ Michael Bromley

    Thanks for a very well-written and thought-provoking read. I'm a developer but I'm also in love with the joy of discovery and invention that I get from writing code. Even if I did something else, I'm sure I'd still code for fun (as I do presently in [some of] my time off).

  • Connor James Leech

    great article

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  • Melissa Elgersma

    As someone who works in a nontechnical field, the core of this article to me was "if you're not technical, your not valuable." This could become the motto of the U.S.economy. There are lots of us doing valuable, essential work that has nothing to do with tech- and making no where near $100,000 salaries plus perks. I work at a nonprofit and often think, "I would be seen as more valuable in this sector if I had gone into the private sector, donated money and was a volunteer." It is frustrating to me that I can work hard with purpose, passion, enthusiasm and skill and that work is undervalued.

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