I read an interesting reply by Joel Spolsky to a post on Thinking of leaving the industry (IT) by someone who is thinking about leaving software industry and going for a business degree. Joel reply can be summed up to following points:
- great programmers are not effected by the economic downturn.
- pay is great with starting salary of $75,000 and most earn six figures salary.
- programmers are treated better than people from other occupation.
- most programmers would do programming even if they don’t get paid.
I have been programming for over twenty one years and love programming. For long time, the way I distinguished between great programmers and average programmers was passion and one way to see the passion is to ask them of their side projects. Though, I agree with first and last point and second point is a stretch, but I disagree with the third point. I have worked at ten or more companies as an employee and consultant and like answer to every programming design question: “it depends,” the treatment of programmers also varies.
I have spoken on this topic earlier [ 1 , 2 , 3]. I have found most IT places to be sweatshops, for example, in most companies Taylorism rules and programmers are treated like another dumb workers and managers are responsible for whipping them to get the work done. In fact, death march projects are norm in most places, where managers think setting impossible deadline will motivate people to put a lot of hours and finish the project earlier. Given, that there isn’t any overtime compensation in our industry, there is a little problem with such mentality. Such attitude is common in not only average companies but at top companies like Microsoft and Google where you get your so called 20% time for personal projects after you spend 60+ hours on actual project. Though, computers have added convenience to our life with a 7×24 culture, the cost of such culture is being oncall, which can curtail your social life significantly. Finally, offshoring has also effected job market and though most offshore people can’t compete with local great programmers and I will take 4-5 local great programmers over 100 offshore programmers any day, but it provides a very attractive alternative against average programmers.
So, despite higher salary, I think most programmers (great) work much harder than most other professionals and it can be a stressful job when you continuously have to work with impossible deadlines. Though, during dot com boom I saw plenty of store clerks and script kiddies making six figures in IT but they are long gone. These days, you cannot survive IT industry unless you are a top notch. And if you are not then, you’d better off move to management, which is the trend I have seen in most companies. In conclusion, I agree with the last point of Joel and the only way to survive in IT is passion. For example, most of my earlier colleagues have moved up in management, yet I am spending my holidays building a new website Deal Red Hot or Not! and a new facebook app. I will continue programming until I am mentally and physically unable to do so.