Programmers should plan for lower pay

" Programmers are paid surprisingly well given how much work it is to become one... we don't really understand why programmers are paid this well, and especially why this has persisted."

@cwebber how much you get paid seems pretty proportional to how much you help US empire

@amsomniac lots of other non-programming jobs that help the US empire more but which don't pay as much (eg serving in army/navy/etc)

@cwebber I guess it depends on what you include-- you can make a lot of money automating union-busting at uber, but that's not US empire, exactly. VCs will fund unprofitable ideas if they think it'll help somehow down the road (or shut down something they dislike now) vs like alduril, which is paying, as far as I can tell, "only" 90k-ish?

@cwebber it's more than I've ever made but you're right that "defense" software engineering jobs don't necessarily pay more than "civilian" ones

@cwebber oh also it's worse than that sfair because that's 2x what most people /with jobs/ make >_>

@cwebber I've danced with this person I think, wild that they make 375k

@cwebber one of the biggest factors that the post doesn't mention is that no one has a way of measuring how skilled a programmer is; everyone calibrates pay grades based on gut feelings rather than data

@technomancy excuse me we have a perfectly tuned system for figuring out your worth as a programmer, kthx

please solve this obscure programming problem in this programming language you don't use live on this whiteboard while I stare at you sweating

I see your whiteboard test, I raise you:

Please create this software suite in this obscure programming framework you've never used and we need to have it by N days according to this terribly done estimate made for (someone with years of experience) in mind.

We also accounted for zero hours of testing and debugging.


@cwebber @technomancy
Also, since you seem to have a hard time with it, we also hired other 2 zero-experience programmers to help you with it, and we need to have it in half the time.

@rick_777 @cwebber @technomancy If you don't do this by this deadline, we wont hire you. :oof: It was a job interview all along.

@cwebber @technomancy Other highlights are:

Now write out a program to do this on paper while I stand behind you looking over your shoulder pointing and criticizing constantly.

Or my personal favorite:

Discuss your experience in writing code in language X over the past 10+ years within various industries and then at the end of it I will smugly inform you that "you do not know how to program in X".

@technomancy it doesn't help that so many people conflate "programming" with "software engineering" in terms of career roles and responsibilities, yet evaluate programming ability as if it were a purely artistic/creative endeavour.

Yes, programming can be either or both technical and creative, but not all programming is software engineering and creativity is not the primary objective in software engineering.


@technomancy @cwebber I mean, I know a guy who was a sysadmin for an old Unix machine that they refused to pay him more to admin. He ended up quitting and now they can't find another admin. Sometimes it's more than just a gut feeling.

@technomancy @cwebber You may have a gut feeling that a programmer/admin is only worth minimum wage.

However, you'll soon find out that's not the case if you were to try and hire one.

@Lofenyy sure; I mean, my point was that the pay is never based on data about the skills of the person being paid.

@cwebber I've been thinking about this for months, ever since my husband started working as an EMT (an actually socially necessary job!) and making 15 an hour.

@darius @cwebber So your thinking is not that EMTs should be paid a lot more? 🤔

@mbybee @cwebber I think EMTs should be paid more and programmers should be paid less. Not sure how you came to your conclusion from what I said.

@darius @cwebber Gotcha, Because the people who make the brakes on your car work, the aircraft stay in the sky, the EKGs work, the mobile phones connect, and allow you to express your opinion to millions of people, they're useless.
People deserve to make a good living wage because we nearly all do important work.

@mbybee I think programmers make significantly more than a good living wage, and I think nobody should make more than a good living wage.

I suspect that your definition of a good living wage and mine are pretty different though, so I don't think we can have a productive conversation without diving into questions of "what is it to live a good life?", which I'm not willing to do right now.

@cwebber Hard disagree. Programming has almost no capital investment, and very good returns on a successful product. Entire industries get downsized from the effects of programming. Enormous sums are made by the VCs and institutional investors. That justifies the pay- along with a competitive job market.

But that doesn't negate the reality that there are structural efforts to reduce compensation and SWEs should manage risk there.

@cwebber In my ten years now working professionally I've seen a massive increase in the complexity of tasks expected for a programmer.

2008, you could still find good FT work just fixing up client's Wordpress site and writing some plugins in PHP and a smattering of Javascript. That was easy entry-level work that has almost completely dried up as people moved on to various SAAS offerings or just rely on a Facebook page.

The feeling to me is that us existing SWE built systems to pull the ladder up behind us. If you weren't on that ladder when it went up you now have a much harder time scaling your skills to the new ground floor everyone is working on -- Javascript SPAs etc.

I'm scared that the next ladder is being built right now, and how do I find it and get on it before I get left behind?

@lordbowlich I think learning fundamentals can keep you more "eternally fresh / malleable". SICP is a good place to start.

Main problem with that route is that you can learn enough to realize how terrible everything is, and become grouchy...

@lordbowlich BTW, interesting subthread over on birdsite about the kinds of things learned by glue vs system programmers (and both have to learn a lot!):

@cwebber Isn't SICP one of those infamous books that everyone has a copy of, but no one has read. 😜

Certainly my copy of Art of Computer Science is occupying that space on my desk right now.

@lordbowlich I've gone through it!

- Maybe go through The Little Schemer First. Not strictly necessary!
- First, read over a section in SICP. Don't spend too long if you get confused, just read it
- Now, watch the lecture
- Now, read the section again and try to enter in some of the exercises

Now you're finally going through SICP! (It took me about 3 years of on / off again to make it through.)

@cwebber Wow. 3 years is some serious dedication. SICP's been on my career reading list for some time, but keeps getting bumped down. I guess I should move it up in priority. Particularly since I haven't really gone through those kind of fundamentals in... 15 years now. I'm sure I'm plenty rusty at it.

@cwebber @lordbowlich
I found it super worthwhile but it helps a lot to have friends to go through it with. I organized a study group in 2018:

Unfortunately, we got out of sync when the holidays arrived (Thanksgiving->NYE) and stalled out towards the end of Chapter 3. One of these days I'll finish it!

Abelsonposting, Sussmanposting, meme history 

@emsenn It is the subject of a massive amount of memes about anime girls holding a certain programming book, as well as the classic "Have you read your SICP today?" and the inspired by Touhou.

@cwebber @lordbowlich

@emsenn @cwebber @lordbowlich The Wizard Book, , one of the best books on programming ever. I was lucky enough to have it as course literature.

In my boxes of books I have Knuth and also… , both of which I'll probably get around to reading once I retire or semi-retire.

@clacke @cwebber @lordbowlich hmmm i have no professional obligations to programming maybe i should give them a read

@cwebber Great... I sense far more security issues in the future.
They're already pushing dev jobs to the Philippines now that India is "too expensive", so take it as read that companies not only don't care about the quality of their products, they actually want them to be even worse.
Nobody improves a product by deciding that they are paying the makers of it too much.

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