October 11th, 2007
A question that gets asked often by students trying to decide on a technical career is would programming be a good career choice. In recent tech site columns, like this one by Jason Hiner of TechRepublic, Sanity Check: Is IT still a profession worth recommending to the next generation?, and this one on WindowsITPro, Are IT Pros Steering Their Children Away From IT?, many commenters say that they would not recommend it. Let’s examine why this is a common response and the reasons behind it.
The number of jobs in the US for software development have been declining since 2000. Computer programmer employment has fallen from 530,730 in 2000 to 396,020 in 2006 according to the Labor Department. When inflation is factored in, salaries have also declined by about $850 a year since 2000 and continue to fall. H-1B visas and offshoring have contributed to this trend as have other economic factors. The sad truth is that the US software development industry is on the decline. No wonder there has been a decline in technical degrees, there simply isn’t any money in the field.
Then why do tech moguls complain that they can’t find enough programmers, you might ask. What they’re really complaining about is that they can’t find enough cheap programmers. Many older software developers are forced to work short term, temp, contracts to make ends meet. Rampant ageism in IT and the desire to hire the cheapest programmers possible prevents them from landing a perm position even while many well-heeled corporations lobby Congress for more H-1B visas because they can’t find enough (cheap) programmers.
All in all, the prospects for software developers in the US market isn’t good. If you want an IT career with some durability, then you should look a growth areas like network system administration or plan to quickly move from programming into a more lucrative and stable area such as project management or general IT management. If you have a love for programming, you might find it better financially to pursue it outside of work by contributing to an open source project.
However, in spite of all the negatives, there is one major good reason to pursue a programming career if programming is your passion. One of life’s greatest rewards is being able to enjoy your work because it really isn’t work to you. The best programmers I’ve worked with have had this attitude and are willing to continue programming in spite of career instability, crazy management decisions, brain-dead users and other such banes of a programmer’s life.
What do you think? If you already have a programming career would you do it all over again, knowing what you know about it now? If you’re a student, do you think your passion for programming is strong enough to make it in this field? Leave me a comment and let me know what your thoughts are on this issue.
Entry Filed under: Personal Development
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