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Businesses Programming The Almighty Buck

Why Coder Pay Isn't Proportional To Productivity 597

theodp writes "John D. Cook takes a stab at explaining why programmers are not paid in proportion to their productivity. The basic problem, Cook explains, is that extreme programmer productivity may not be obvious. A salesman who sells 10x as much as his peers will be noticed, and compensated accordingly. And if a bricklayer were 10x more productive than his peers, this would be obvious too (it doesn't happen). But the best programmers do not write 10x as many lines of code; nor do they work 10x as many hours. Programmers are most effective when they avoid writing code. An über-programmer, Cook explains, is likely to be someone who stares quietly into space and then says 'Hmm. I think I've seen something like this before.'"
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Why Coder Pay Isn't Proportional To Productivity

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  • by base3 ( 539820 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @03:46PM (#30538100)

    besides that I thought being salary meant I was being paid to do a job, not fill a chair for 40+ hrs a week.

    You're close. Being salary means you're paid to do a job and spend >= 40 hours a week at work.

  • by BrokenHalo ( 565198 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @03:47PM (#30538114)
    In other words, the work of a true programmer is beyond recompense: for citation see The Tao of Programming []
  • by mswhippingboy ( 754599 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @03:56PM (#30538204)
    To me an "uber" programmer is one who does NOT stare quietly into space thinking "I've seen this before", but rather, without pausing to take a breath implements the algorithm as fast as he can type.

    It's as if the solution, no matter how complex, is already assembled in his brain and it's just a matter of spitting it out to a file as quickly as his fingers can move. It's not so much the recollection of a some prior scenario, as it is the seamless integration of numerous previously experienced scenarios as well as novel algorithms into a new cohesive algorithm that sets an "uber" programmer apart from the run of the mill code monkey. In my experience, these type of folks are few a far between.
  • This is 100% true! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @04:42PM (#30538614)

    This is 100% true! In 1973, I was making minumum wage ($1.75). A gallon of gas cost 50 cents. A scoop of ice cream 20 cents. A hamburger 30 cents. Today a gallon of gas costs 2.95, a scoop of ice cream 2.00 and a hamburger $1.00. Also, all of these are taxed more then before. To stay even, the minumum wage would have had to go up by about 10X to $17.50 an hour. Right now it's about half that-which means that the average minimum wage worked has about HALF the buying power that one had in 1973.

  • by DCheesi ( 150068 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @04:45PM (#30538660) Homepage

    You've got a point about big corporations. But some of the worst office politics I've seen has been in very small, privately owned businesses. You get the same empire-building, favoritism and cronyism as in big bureaucracies, plus blatant corruption and things being run on the side to line individual managers' pockets. And compared to larger companies, there aren't nearly as many options for trying to go over or around a troublesome individual.

    If a mega-corporation is like a Communist state, then many small local companies are like third-world dictatorships...

  • Re:People do notice (Score:3, Informative)

    by Arancaytar ( 966377 ) <> on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @04:59PM (#30538808) Homepage

    I've made 6000% profit.

    To be accurate, you have increased profits by $11.80/hour. How much this relatively increases profits is impossible to determine without knowing what the company is making in total. The 6000% figure only applies if the company was so far making an hourly profit of around $0.20, in which case it's amazing they are still able to pay you. ;-)

  • by ahabswhale ( 1189519 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @05:14PM (#30538950)
    I'm not aware of any evidence that makes me believe BG is a particularly impressive programmer and coding for 64k limits is hardly a metric for skill. You're obviously too young but a lot of us were coding to 4k limits or even much less. 64k is downright roomy especially with assembler or procedural languages. When I finally got a Commodore 64, I didn't know what to do with all that memory. It was hard to imagine how to use it all. Shit, I used to write custom databases for the military in Turbo Pascal that compiled to under 8k.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @05:27PM (#30539064)

    It's not just pockets, it's a mass phenomenon. Simply due to the laws of the market: Everyone is looking out for their own, personal goal. Companies want to produce cheaply to maximize profit. People want to buy cheaply to get the most for their money. This works as long as customer and producer are in the same trade circle. If I produce something, I get paid by whoever buys it, thus enabling me to buy something else and so on.

    The system breaks if there is a net cash flow away from a group of people towards another one, as we have now with outsourcing. Wages go to China, while sales are supposed to be done in the US. And that cannot work in the long run. Where should US people take the money from to buy the goods if they get no wages?

    Essentially we're looking at the same problem that created the economy crisis of the 1930s. Production cost being minimized, wages being minimized to the point where nobody could afford anything but the bare essentials and thus eliminating the market for the produced goods. Today we have the same situation, except that wages are not minimized locally but sent abroad altogether. The net outcome is the same, people with no disposable income to buy the goods and keep economy running.

    It's of no use to produce cheaply if there is nobody who could buy it. Whether you can sell for 100 or 150 does not matter if all I have is 10.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @06:47PM (#30539736) Journal

    In 1990, did the average middle-class American have a cell phone?

    Just having more stuff does not indicate a rising standard of living when the stuff is increasingly bought on credit.

    This is the great con of the US "rising standard of living". It makes it seem like everyone is doing better, but really, they're just in a deeper hole.

    Do you realize that the average upper middle-class person of today leaves less wealth proportionally to his heirs than the lower middle-class person did 40 years ago?

    That heavily borrowed standard of living not only puts you in a wealth hole, but also in a freedom hole. You are less likely to change jobs, start a business, or make other positive changes in your life because you've got to make that minimum monthly credit card payment.

    That, plus the concerted effort to bust up unions, has made workers of today actually less mobile than their grandparents.

    Further, it creates a society where there is little upward-mobility in terms of wealth. Did you know that a child born at the low economic strata in Sweden is more likely to move "up the ladder" than the same child in the US? I guess "European-style Socialism" is not as bad as Fox news and the GOP would have us believe.

  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Wednesday December 23, 2009 @06:48PM (#30539744) Journal

    To abuse a Winston Churchill quote about democracy, "Capitalism is the worst economic system there is, except all the others."

    Better you leave Churchill alone and pick up a copy of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine.

    Better to light a candle than curse the darkness, friend.

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...