This week I will give a presentation at a local high school on what it is like to work as a programmer. I am volunteering (through the organization Transfer) to come to schools and talk about what I work with. This school will have a technology theme day this week, and would like to hear what working in the technology sector is like. Since I develop software, that’s what I will talk about. One section will be on why I think a career in software development is great. The main reasons are:
1 Creative. If you ask people to name creative jobs, chances are they will say things like writer, musician or painter. But few people know that software development is also very creative. It is almost by definition creative, since you create new functionality that didn’t exist before. The solutions can be expressed in many ways, both structurally and in the details. Often there are trade-offs to make (for example speed versus memory consumption). And of course the solution has to be correct. All this requires creativity.
2 Collaborative. Another myth is that programmers sit alone at their computers and code all day. But software development is in fact almost always a team effort. You discuss programming problems and solutions with your colleagues, and discuss requirements and other issues with product managers, testers and customers. It is also telling that pair-programming (two developers programming together on one computer) is a popular practice.
3 In demand. More and more in the world is using software, or as Marc Andreessen put it: “Software is Eating the World“. Even as there are more programmers (in Stockholm, programmer is now the most common occupation), demand is still outpacing supply. Software companies report that one of their greatest challenges is finding good developers. I regularly get contacted by recruiters trying to get me to change jobs. I don’t know of many other professions where employers compete for you like that.
4 Pays well. Developing software can create a lot of value. There is no marginal cost to selling one extra copy of software you have already developed. This combined with the high demand for developers means that pay is quite good. There are of course occupations where you make more money, but compared to the general population, I think software developers are paid quite well.
5 Future proof. Many jobs disappear, often because they can be replaced by computers and software. But all those new programs still need to be developed and maintained, so the outlook for programmers is quite good.
What about outsourcing? Won’t all software development be outsourced to countries where the salaries are much lower? This is an example of an idea that is better in theory than in practice (much like the waterfall development methodology). Software development is a discovery activity as much as a design activity. It benefits greatly from intense collaboration. Furthermore, especially when the main product is software, the knowledge gained when developing it is a competitive advantage. The easier that knowledge is shared within the whole company, the better it is.
Another way to look at it is this. Outsourcing of software development has existed for quite a while now. Yet there is still high demand for local developers. So companies see benefits of hiring local developers that outweigh the higher costs.
How to Win
There are many reasons why I think developing software is enjoyable (see also Why I Love Coding). But it is not for everybody. Fortunately it is quite easy to try programming out. There are innumerable resources on the web for learning to program. For example, both Coursera and Udacity have introductory courses. If you have never programmed, try one of the free courses or tutorials to get a feel for it.
Finding something you really enjoy to do for a living has at least two benefits. First, since you do it every day, work will be much more fun than if you simply do something to make money. Second, if you really like it, you have a much better chance of getting good at it. I like the Venn diagram below (by @eskimon) on what constitutes a great job. Since programming pays relatively well, I think that if you like it, you have a good chance of ending up in the center of the diagram!