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How computer programming became the worst choice of career

I work as a computer programmer and I am beginning to curse my bad luck and stupidity for having chosen this particular career.

Programming is badly paid, in decline, and takes up all your free time just to stay ahead of the game - let alone to also find a new job. 

I've spent six years as a coder. My salary is £55k ($72k). In two years' time I might be on £70k ($92k). I look at how much people in front office banking jobs are earning and it's hard not to feel that I've made a serious mistake.

The problem is that programming is still a cost centre. And as such, we are being continuously squeezed. It's harder and harder to get a pay rise and more of our work is being centralized and automated, so that at some point soon I suspect that pay may even start to fall.

The real issue with programming jobs, though, is the working hours. It's not just the hours in the job - although these can be long - it's the hours that need to be spent programming outside of your working day. 

If you want to stay employable as a programmer, you need to keep up to speed with new techniques and new languages. And if you want a new job, you need to be highly practicsed at what can be fiendishly difficult tests run by sites like Hackerrank, which you have to pass even to get an interview. There are more and more of these sites, and keeping up to date with all of them is a full time job in itself. 

For this reason, it's very easy to plateau in a programming career. - You get one job and simply don't have the time outside of work to practice all the tests you need to pass in order to get a new one. Personally, I've already spent months doing unpaid work on testing sites, and yet I'm still stuck in the same place. 

This is why I'm fed up. I've spent years of my life investing time in this career, which I fear will come to nothing in the next decade. I like coding, but I don't have all day and all night to devote to this profession.  There must be better options than this. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Jordan James is a pseudonym 

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Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

AUTHORJordan James Insider Comment
  • Co
    16 February 2023

    If someone thinks solving a Rubik's cube can make you a success in web programming or software programming then the person most probably have zero knowledge of programming and is most probably a small time coder who had just crammed some new programming languages, get to know how to tests using testing softwares and think himself as an expert. Programming is something that requires lots of creativity, knowledge of programming languages, great business strategies, complex problem solving, data science and much more. Whereas a Rubik's cube solver is someone who have all the free time in the world, how can he even be capable of all the above mentioned things.. And it's not all about being aware of latest programming languages with some new shortcuts, it's about getting desired results or finding a suitable alternative in suitable time, no matter which programming language you use.. now coming to pay scale, solution is simple we have to stop working for people who don't provide us proper salaries, facilities and most obviously respect (highest respectable job ever if you have practical impressive project which can be seen by others) and rather use your programming for creating e commerce or or for creating something which can earn your living but it can be situationally stupid also, but primary thing is to respect the profession which requires so much intellect and there are so few people who get success in it.. but don't work or respect people who don't understand the complexities and give what web programmers deserve and relate it with stupid professions by different means.

  • fi
    30 January 2023

    i feel ya, im a developer for over 20 yrs, 15 programming languages, and the level of immaturity and disrespect in this industry is not even worth my time. ALL recruiters are too busy trying to get us to waste our time with tests, google just fired thousands of them, i guess they were too busy with having meetings about their meetings about testing for more meetings, recruiters have made this industry one of the most dispised, childesh wastes ever. you would be better served as a garbage man. i have over 2.2 million users of my 160 open source software projects, yet i cannot get a base developer job.

  • jo
    14 November 2022

    If you are young, trust me almost anything one does for a living sucks in comparison to free time. Even rockstars have grueling schedules and have to deal with the media. My advice is to try your damnest to look on the bright side and be grateful for what you do have. Trust me, your career is a blessing and your salary not too bad. You would most likely be miserable working as a banker, it's primarily a sales job. The best advice I see in your comments is that of Slightly Purple Bellend . Read that and then re-read that! Best of luck to you.

  • Pi
    27 September 2022

    Jesus, the UK is really shafting you on pay. I make almost that as a helpdesk engineer

  • Sl
    Slightly Purple Bellend
    19 September 2022

    I have been programming for 35 years. Mostly because I enjoy it. I am now 60 years old and earn between $250k-$350k a year doing around 40 hours a week. I spend 3 months a year in the South of France.
    Here is what I would say to people moaning about not making money etc.
    Programming is hard is you are not a naturally logical person with a great memory. i.e. can you solve the Rubiks cude quite easily? If not then you are always going to be on the back foot and a very average coder.

    To answer the point about having to spend lots of time always catching up with new techniques I would advise people to learn a small bit EVERY DAY. That's right - learn something new every day even if it only a single cool method in a common library. Also, make sure you learn it in your customer's/employee's time and not yours. Another way to learn is when you come across a hole in your knowledge then make a note of what you need to learn and then the next time you grab some of your own time to drink some beers then learn it while you are relaxing.
    To make the most money then go contracting and don't just get employed because your employer will make the money and not you. Also, max out the money by taking two/three contracts and really concentrate on time management so that you don't let your customers down.You may need to work more hours.

    The biggest tip I would give is this:-
    Learn a really in-demand language like Java or Python and learn it really well. Do not try to learn everything else like frontend Javascript or UI/CSS framweorks because you simply will not have the time to be great at all of them. Get really good at something like Java and make sure you know SQL too. Spring Framework is also a must with Java. Learn how to unit test your code.

    Look at all the job sites and make a note of what skills the employers/customer want and then learn the most in demand skills - DO NOT try to learn everything like AWS/GCP/Azure - you will not have the time.
    Employers/Customer are advertising because they already got a a bunch of crappy code that needs fixing and/or updating so they want a competent guy to go in and fix it - not some guy who thinks he knows everything or just knows a bit of everything.

    If you get an interview and you think you are sinking then tell the employee that if you have any gaps in your knowledge(you will because everyone has) then you will catch up in your own time - i.e. sound keen and willing to work hard for them. Do not ask them how many vacation days you can have.

    Finally, take plenty of time away from the screen to do sport, get outside, take your wife for a meal, see your friends. Geeks are not good coders because most customers need to talk to people about their business rules and are put off by smart ass geeks.

    Work hard but be focused that it's only a job.

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