Are programmers underpaid?

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#1 AVReidy  Icon User is offline

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Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 19 July 2012 - 02:32 PM

Is it tough to break $100k/yr as a programmer? I hear a lot about how expert programmers are not recognized for their skill, but a lot of companies wouldn't exist without programmers. Do non-tech people see programmers as commodities?

Some brilliant people who are interested in computers and programming study computer science at Harvard, Stanford, or MIT, and end up making $80,000 per year at Google (or so I've heard). (Not that that's a bad thing - I would work for a company like Google in a heartbeat for $30,000 per year right out of college because you can basically live off of their gourmet food and stuff.)

But it seems like being a programmer is kind of a gamble if you're looking for money. It's like your options are:

1. be lucky enough to start a company like facebook or Google with your skills
2. create Microsoft (or even Linux... Linus is fairly well-off, no?)
3. work for some underground or government agency
(note that all involve some serious luck and connections)

Or... make $50-110k/year no matter where you work. Imagine two kids at Harvard, one studying law, and one studying computer science. CS is probably way harder in most respects (especially at an ivy), but the programmer will probably make $200,000 less than the lawyer every year, and he will work his ass off at Google.

But I guess programming is just too fun to give up for such trivial things as money, especially when it's something you love to do and would be doing anyway.

What are your thoughts?

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#2 RudiVisser  Icon User is offline

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:16 PM

Depends what you're doing and how you get there, imo.

As a straight up programmer who would take on no extra responsibilities when asked I wouldn't expect to earn much at all, but if you're willing to spread yourself around several competencies within a company I'm pretty sure you'll get far.

When I was younger there were a few companies with job offers that simply didn't know the value of good programmers within their business, you need to walk away from this. Selling yourself short is something programmers do a lot, on par with underestimates of timescales for projects (which once again leads to undervaluing yourself, if you're charging by time/project!).
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#3 xclite  Icon User is offline

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:55 PM

I have some contention with the idea that being paid less than 100k means a programmer is underpaid.
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#4 Martyr2  Icon User is offline

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 19 July 2012 - 03:55 PM

Depends on your industry and where you are. For instance here in Vancouver only a few of us more talented programmers get paid decently. The city is flush with tech so entry level programmers are a dime a dozen and get paid cheaply. If you were in a city who is in desperate need of programmers, they will pay more. It is all about market forces.

And when I say industry I am talking about being a programmer working for a company in a niche industry. Like I was once a programmer for a travel group. I also did software for an appliance software company. Obviously if you are in a non tech field it can be difficult to explain to your bosses (who are non tech usually) your true value.

I once had a boss that simply didn't know what I did even though I developed half their apps and protected their company online. You can bet I didn't get paid what I was really worth then.

:)
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#5 tlhIn`toq  Icon User is online

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 19 July 2012 - 04:00 PM

View PostAVReidy, on 19 July 2012 - 03:32 PM, said:

Is it tough to break $100k/yr as a programmer?


Oh boy... I bet its been at least a week since someone opened up another thread on this "What should I look forward to, what should I get paid, how do I make a living as a coder?" topic

I've been with this company 8 years. I make half that as the lead programmer. Welcome to a depressed economy.

But money isn't everything. I don't work the 8-5 grind since I work from home. There is a lot to be said for that kind of flexibility. And I have been to so many foreign countries that I had to get more pages added to my passport after 2 years - all on the company expense.

So don't look at pay - look at lifestyle. Money is only used to buy the lifestyle you want and someday you get to semi-retire and work part time or at home, then fully retire. So I'm getting paid to be a full time worker from home, which means I set up my RV where ever I like for a couple months. Lifestyle - not wages.

This post has been edited by tlhIn`toq: 19 July 2012 - 04:29 PM

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#6 AVReidy  Icon User is offline

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 19 July 2012 - 05:26 PM

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Lifestyle - not wages.

Yeah, very true.

Quote

I have some contention with the idea that being paid less than 100k means a programmer is underpaid.

Only in some cases. Surely there are great programmers who are worth way more than even 100k/yr to a company, but get paid less.
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#7 xclite  Icon User is offline

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 19 July 2012 - 05:44 PM

Surely there are, but I think on the list of "underpaid professions" programmers probably don't even make top 30.
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#8 Nikitin  Icon User is offline

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 19 July 2012 - 07:37 PM

Not sure what's the deal with obsession about 100k. In any case, if that's how much you want to be making then working for Google will suffice. You'll be making much more than that actually (yes, even as an entry programmer).

So no, no need to create a company like Facebook or Microsoft. You'd want to do that if you want to be one of the richest men on Earth.
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#9 AVReidy  Icon User is offline

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 19 July 2012 - 11:35 PM

100k is just a nice round number that is around what I think a good programmer should make. But according to the Internet, there aren't many programming jobs where you make much more than that. And there are a ton of easier jobs that aren't as critical to a company but pay way better. Just wondering why there's some sort of expectation that people in skill-based positions, almost no matter how esoteric the skill, are not compensated proportionally.

Sorry if this is a touchy subject. I wouldn't really know.
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#10 baavgai  Icon User is offline

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 20 July 2012 - 06:56 AM

Are programmers underpaid? Yes, of course. So says the programmer... ;)

100k? Ahem, not just starting out, no. Indeed, for a mere "Programmer" I'd be inclined to say never.

A "Programmer" is the lowest rung of the corporate development hierarchy. Like "Private" or "Peon". Many people who work as programmers won't call themselves that. They'll have titles like Developer, Software Designer, Software Engineer, etc. They're like garbage men, ahem, Waste Management Professionals, in this respect.

Now, if you are a Senior or Lead Programmer you might be breaking into six figures, but you're also doing a lot more than simply coding.

Anyway, do NOT look at salaries. You'll always be disappointed. The numbers are provided via surveys and everyone lies. Also, the king's share goes to independent contractors who still have to pay for health insurance, their own retirement, file taxes four times a year, and don't have paid days off. The higher number hopefully compensates for this.

View PostNikitin, on 19 July 2012 - 10:37 PM, said:

then working for Google will suffice. You'll be making much more than that actually (yes, even as an entry programmer).


Cite your sources. See, this is why people get wonky ideas about salary.

Here's my source:

Quote

Google's median starting salary is $82,600, significantly higher than Facebook's $59,100 and Apple's anemic $43,100, according to salary information site Payscale.com. ... Also from the report, Amazon pays $72,200, Intel pays $80,100 and HP offers $55,100.
-- http://www.nbcbayare...-123373858.html


I would have said 50k was closer to starting. However, it's worth noting that to get hired by the big guys, you're going to have to walk on water or something.
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#11 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is offline

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 20 July 2012 - 07:02 AM

View PostAVReidy, on 20 July 2012 - 01:35 AM, said:

100k is just a nice round number that is around what I think a good programmer should make.


Yeah, but it's also a hell of a lot of money. You don't pick economic benchmarks based on how they sound to you, you have to have some basis for them.

Pay rates for programmers vary depending on the region, demand, and skill of the programmer. (read "skill" to include both programming skill and negotiating skill) I think in every market $100K is rather high to serve as a useful benchmark.

To answer your topic question would require a bit of definition - what does it mean to be "underpaid" for some profession? Does it relate to supply and demand questions, or to the investment required in training and tools, or to your personal preferences, or what? If you can justify some benchmark pay rate for some market, then you can ask this question sensibly. Until then, it's purest wankery. Not that this is really a problem - we can still discuss it.

But we'll be discussing, as it were, furiously.
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#12 111027  Icon User is offline

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 20 July 2012 - 07:24 AM

I think most programmers have a really distorted sense of their own value; while most underestimate it, there are those who overinflate their value. This seems to be such a case.

It is not all about how much you want to make; it is about how much you are worth to your employer. A fair number would be: around half of what you make him. Do you make your employer 200,000 dollars a year? If so, you might want to think about opening your own company, as that is a lot of money.

The average programmer does not make nearly as much, nor is he worth that figure. I make a bit over double the average salary in my country, and about 30 percent more than the average programmer (e.g someone who does technical implementation: writes code). But, I don't just write code; I also write documentation, gather demands and do some work on software design. In fact, lately I almost do not write code. Yet I am nowhere near the 100k mark, even in my country's figures. So, if I dropped all those responsibilities and went back to writing code, would I be worth even as much as I am now? I doubt it.

The trick is, in software, the developers are basically assembly line workers - at least, in the eyes of management. If you do want to make a lot of money, it's not going to be as a developer; look for other options, such as architecture, or the business end of things. But, one does not just apply for those positions on a job posting; usually, the people that do that kind of thing get hand - picked.
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#13 modi123_1  Icon User is offline

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 20 July 2012 - 07:29 AM

Quote

I think most programmers have a really distorted sense of their own value; while most underestimate it, there are those who overinflate their value. This seems to be such a case.

I think this applies to most people.. not just programmers. ;)
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#14 DarenR  Icon User is online

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 20 July 2012 - 07:37 AM

Well it depends --- I work for less money then a lot of programmers but I also get almost 20 vacation days (been with company less then 1 year), cheap health insurance and 8-5 m-f no evenings or weekends. To me, making less but having all these ammenities are better then making more and not having any.

This post has been edited by DarenR: 20 July 2012 - 07:37 AM

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#15 tlhIn`toq  Icon User is online

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Re: Are programmers underpaid?

Posted 20 July 2012 - 07:43 AM

View Postxclite, on 19 July 2012 - 06:44 PM, said:

Surely there are, but I think on the list of "underpaid professions" programmers probably don't even make top 30.


Ain't that the truth! We could start with solders, cops and firefighters who risk their lives for the rest of us and get paid less than most Detroit auto workers. How screwed up is that? Or the teachers that we entrust our children to and expect them to educate the next generation getting paid less than trash collectors or ditch diggers. Its no wonder Johnny can't read, get a job or leave home at 30 years old.

American society has done this to ourselves. We used to be a country that manufactured goods. Well now that's China. We used to be a country that lead the way in technology. Not so much now. We outsource everything including tech support phone calls to nations where we can hire people for $5/day. Then wonder why our tech people can't find decent paying jobs. All you have to do is look at vCoder and oDesk contracts for programmers to see it. Companies expect someone to develop entire retail point of sale systems for $300 - AND PEOPLE AGREE TO DO IT, lowering the expectations of the client further, lowering the average acceptable price for all of us.

There is also the inevitable reality that what once was a rarified profession isn't anymore. It used to be a programmer was 1 guy in 100,000 that could code on paper, load his punch cards into a hopper and they would be fed into a computer. Then it was disk drums for mainframes. Computers used to be just for corporations, universities and governments due to the cost of 150,000 each. Fast forward to today and the $300 laptop or eMachine desktop where everyone in America has AT LEAST one computer or device. My house of 2 people has 6 computers, 2 iPads, 2 iPhones. Its not rare technology any more. What used to be a 100,000/year job programming robots is now high school competitive sport.

For lots of people that just need little things written up, students and rookies can get the job done and will do it for free just to pad their portfolio. Simple law of supply and demand. When a high school senior can make an ASP website with shopping cart and eCommerce integration it stops being a $75k/year job.

The baseline is shifting: Its that simple. It used to be any programming job paid high. Now the high paying jobs require 10 times the skill/knowledge level and there are 100 times the applicants for that 1 job.

Programming is quickly going the way of auto repair. Now there are 5 drive way programmers on every block. Everyone is tinkering with it and some have a decent at-home setup and collection of tools (since many tools are cheap or free). Making it harder for a brick and mortar shop to keep customers, keep decent wages, set themselves above the wackers.
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