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Businesses Programming The Almighty Buck

Is Programming a Lucrative Profession? 844

itwbennett writes "A pamphlet distributed by blogger Cameron Laird's local high school proclaimed that 'Computer Science BS graduates can expect an annual salary from $54,000-$74,000. Starting salaries for MS and PhD graduates can be to up to $100,000' and 'employment of computer scientists is expected to grow by 24 percent from 2010 to 2018.' The pamphlet lists The US Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics as a reference, so how wrong can it be? 'This is so wrong, I don't know where to start,' says Laird. 'There are a lot of ways to look at the figures, but only the most skewed ones come up with starting salaries approaching $60,000 annually, and I see plenty of programmers in the US working for less,' says Laird. At issue, though, isn't so much inaccurate salary information as what is happening to programming as a career: 'Professionalization of programmers nowadays strikes chords more like those familiar to auto mechanics or nurses than the knowledge workers we once thought we were,' writes Laird, 'we're expected to pay for our own tools, we're increasingly bound by legal entanglements, H1B accumulates degrading tales, and hyperspecialization dominates hiring decisions.'"
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Is Programming a Lucrative Profession?

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  • by hibernia ( 35746 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:04AM (#30903510) Homepage
    To quote Wayne Campbell:
    It might happen. Yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:17AM (#30903716)
    Seconded. I don't know anyone skilled making less than $75K programming in MA (ugh), including college grads.
  • by Zarf ( 5735 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:18AM (#30903722) Journal

    At some publishers I think that's an apt analogy. Some places produce real works of literature and others crank out pulp-fiction.

  • by rehtonAesoohC ( 954490 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:19AM (#30903738) Journal
    ...and my salary is $90,000.

    I work in the Washington DC area, and something like only 1% of programmers in this area are employed with no degree, but it can be done, and lack of a degree doesn't have to have an impact on salary. It certainly can, but it all depends on the company you choose to work for.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:21AM (#30903756)

    Hey, better than food service?

    I only make $50k as an in-house software developer and I've been here a couple years. Entry level application developers shouldn't expect to make bank unless they're going to work for a high profile company. I believe most of MS's coders start at 70k.

  • Re:Not so much (Score:3, Informative)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:21AM (#30903764)

    The same way you do in every other technical profession: Volunteering, working for yourself on pet projects, internships and companies willing to hire the inexperienced for very little money.

  • Really? (Score:4, Informative)

    by dangitman ( 862676 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:23AM (#30903788)

    writes Laird, 'we're expected to pay for our own tools,

    I don't think it's actually common for hired programmers to buy their own tools.

  • My pay numbers (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:27AM (#30903850)
    I tell new programmers to take the best job they can get. Then tough it out for 3 years. Change jobs and get a large pay raise. Tough that out 2-3 yrs and then pick where you want to live for a while, find a good job there as a senior programmer and settle down. My programmer/architect salary history: * 2004 22k (Yes out of college I made less than a teacher -.- I like teaching, I maybe should have gone that route.) * 2005 32k * 2006 37k * 2007 44k * 2008 60k * 2009 75k * 2010 75k (stagnant, employer using economy as an excuse to not give raise and is just daring me to find a new job) My specialization is .Net Memory and Processing performance. It is amazing how many people bought into the Microsoft spiel of .Net handling memory automatically. As an example, I gave a 30% performance boost to .Net 1.1 framework used by employer for programs and dropped it's memory footprint 10-20% while closing up memory leaks. Sorry for no breaks in comment, slashdot editor not obeying line breaks and spacing I am specifying. o.O
  • by gatkinso ( 15975 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:40AM (#30904060)

    I could give a shit about "breadth of knowledge."

    I want people working with me who know VHDL and C ***EXTREMELY*** well. The better be good with vi, and not have to rely on a GUI to configure a linux box.

    Other than that, nobody in this building cares.

    I don't give a rat's ass about their (for example) Java experience quite frankly. And why should we?

  • by mythz ( 857024 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:47AM (#30904166)

    In my experience there is always a job for good programmers.

    The salary may not be as lucrative as a doctor, dentist, senior accountant, economist, etc.
    But its always easy to find work (well in UK and Australia anyways), I've been a contractor for the last 8 years and haven't spent more than a week without a contract.

  • by btcoal ( 1693074 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:55AM (#30904306)
    The only thing worse than a statistic is an anecdote. The author has his personal experience- fine. But my personal experience directly contradicts his. And the only statistics on the subject (from NACE and BLS) give a fairly Normal distribution of salaries between 57,000 and 151,000 ( Median annual wages of computer and information scientists were $97,970 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $75,340 and $124,370. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $57,480, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $151,250. Median annual wages of computer and information scientists employed in computer systems design and related services in May 2008 were $99,900.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:55AM (#30904318)

    Hello there!
    Please refer to your opening on job posting site. I, Rajesh Sharma, would like to apply for the job.
    I am working as a freelancer from Pune, India. I have over 7 years of experience in IT Industry with
    exposure to .NET Technologies as well as LAMP. My Key expertise is to develop Web Applications using:
    1. ASP.NET/C# with SQL Server 2005.
    2. PHP/MY SQL.
    I have experience working with distributed teams around the globe. I am self desciplined and self
    motivated who always belives in quality. I have a very good infrastructure with latest Hardware,
    Software, Telephone lines, and Broadband connection for communication.
    My hourly rates are $ 9 USD. If you are looking for freelancers, please reply with a time to
    discuss things over IM.



    -actual reply to a craigslist posting in a major US city, looking for a software developer to work on site - received last week.

    Just so you know, it's $9 an hour without even shopping around, and that's not a joke.

    We all like to pretend this isn't here and it isn't happening, but I would say conservatively half the job market has disappeared in 10 years due to this currency/standard of living imbalance.

  • Re:No. (Score:4, Informative)

    by FileNotFound ( 85933 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @10:58AM (#30904374) Homepage Journal

    They pay programmers better in India relative to other jobs there. Yes they get paid less in India than they do in the US. But your buying power with that income is far greater in India than it is in the US.

    An Indian friend of mine went back to India for that very reason. His standard of living is quite higher now than it was in the US. No more living in a tiny studio apt. He has a house and a car and plenty of money left over.

  • by GottliebPins ( 1113707 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @11:16AM (#30904708)
    Absolutely true. I've stayed at companies for up to 5 years and never received more than a 2 or 3% raise, but every time I've left a company I've gotten between 15 - 25% raises. The only reason I'm staying where I am now is because I'm tired of jumping ship every couple of years. I like the benefits where I am and if the owners of the company somehow manage to avoid destroying what few good reasons there are for staying I'm looking to finish off my career here.
  • by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @11:28AM (#30904868) Homepage Journal

    The report must be on the low side.

    I don't feel comfortable saying exactly what I made, but when I got out of the Marine Corps, with 4 years experience developing software and no degree, I was making more than that report's bottom end. And that was just after the .Com bust in a relatively small mid-west city.

    A developer I worked with while I was in the MC, back in Washington DC was a consultant who's pay rate was $125k a year. Again, this was post .com bust. And most of the other folks I know who are working in DC, LA, or NY are also seeing much higher pay rates. Then again, a crappy apartment in NYC costs more than a nice house in Wisconsin.

    There is money to be made in business software development, but that money is not in "programming". The way to make big money as a developer in the business world is to become a domain expert on what ever it is your users do. Know everything your users do and you'll write software significantly better than the best cowboy coder in world who spends his days hiding from the users.

    Know your users, communicate with them, find out the ins and outs of their jobs. Look for ways that you can help them, more than just software, the full six sigma process improvement cycle. If you can do that, you'll be exceptionally well payed for your services. That's why I prefer the title "Solutions Developer" over "Programmer".


  • by emmons ( 94632 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @11:30AM (#30904906) Homepage

    And then you guys raised taxes quite a bit to pay for reconstructing Eastern Germany - and haven't gotten around to lowering those taxes yet. Absorbing all of that is what killed your economy.

    That's not to say it's bad you guys did it - it was good and necessary to do. I just mean to say that Germany is a special case.

  • Re:Really? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @11:34AM (#30904950) Homepage

    Mechanics generally have to do this. We didn't have to worry about welders and such, but all the "hand tools" I used were bought by me.

    Lemme tell ya, buying (and paying off) ~20k worth of tools before the age of 22 made my credit score look unbelievable.

  • Re:Depends.... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @11:41AM (#30905056)

    In Costa Rica, Computer Science BS graduates can expect an annual salary from $8000 ~ $20.000

  • by Malc ( 1751 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @11:53AM (#30905254)

    Sure there are - try changing the order of the words in a sentence or not using plural endings. It'll soon be more ambiguous or utter nonsense.

    A lot of the grammar rules are derived (or evolved) from the root languages. English isn't as ad hoc (no need to capitalise Latin expressions either) as you suggest.

  • Re:No. (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheKidWho ( 705796 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @11:57AM (#30905314)

    The Bureau of Labor Satistics would disagree with you...

    Median annual wages of computer and information scientists were $97,970 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $75,340 and $124,370. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $57,480, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $151,250. Median annual wages of computer and information scientists employed in computer systems design and related services in May 2008 were $99,900. []

    Mind you, Programming == Computer Scientist as much as Machinist == Mechanical Engineer.

  • by infalliable ( 1239578 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @12:15PM (#30905644)

    In the DC area, you'd expect a starting salary near $60k. For starting salary with a technical Ph.D., $100k is reasonable (although I'm not a programmer and do not know how that compares to other technical fields).

    It completely depends on the field for government pay. For technical staff, the government pays terrible. They tend to value people with technical degrees/professions the same as non-technical ones. The private sector/contractor pay is much better and you can get equal or better benefits with a technical degree, if you look around.

    The government also contracts out a large portion of their IT and computer related needs.

    It will also depend on your motivation and ability. These do not matter one bit in the government, but are very critical to your pay with non-government employers.

  • by RobDude ( 1123541 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @12:24PM (#30905780) Homepage

    I'll just throw out my .02 - not that it means much.

    I went to Northern Il. University - not exactly the best school, not a bad school either though. I was told, by the University, that the average starting salary for their Computer Science graduates was 59k.

    Not to toot my own horn, but I was a big fish in a little pond, if that makes sense. I had internships and Fermi, Hewitt Associates, Volt. I was also the Microsoft Student Ambassador for the University and had a 3.9 GPA in my major.

    I had interviews with every company I spoke to at the job fair, and job offers from all three that I pursued. They were 40k, 43k and 50k (but ~50% travel required). I negotiated the 43k up to 47k.

    I was pissed.

    I felt like a failure after all that - but my roommate who was also Comp Sci ended up taking months to land his first gig at ~30k. Similarly, every one of my friends that was Comp. Sci. - who I knew well enough to find out, ended up making less than 50k out of the gate. Many less than 40k And a few took several months to land a job.

    My girlfriend at the time, was finishing her Masters and even with that, she started at 45k....which pissed her off to no end at the time.

    To this date, none of us, have ever gotten a call from NIU asking us what our starting salary was. Everyone I knew personally, took a position for far less than the 'average'.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @12:36PM (#30905974)

    I started in 1998, and graduated in possibly the worst possible period for new hires in the tech field, spring '02 (tech bust + 9/11 made it nearly impossible to find anyone hiring my senior year, especially in the NYC area. I started around 37k after getting a fortunate (only) offer from a company I had interned at. After getting a raise to 40k for 2003, I moved jobs in October to a financial firm where my salary made what felt like a huge leap to 55k. My total comp (base+bonus) for 2004 was 75, 2005- 100, 2006- 117, 2007- 120, 2008- 108 (step back 3 spaces! financial blowup = pay cut + no bonus). 2009- made a move- 160 total comp.

    There are a few caveats that will make your mileage vary- the biggest being that I work on Wall st in NYC where compensation is higher than anywhere I know of in the US, and so are the living costs ($2000/mo for a small 1 BR in most of Manhattan).
    Second, is that I work on revenue producing applications that directly drive revenue for the firm- if you can MAKE money for your firm directly, I assure you you will be more highly valued and compensated.
    Following on to the previous point, I don't even really think of myself as a technologist anymore. I see myself as more of a finance guy that programs. My job description requires that I don't just take orders from some suit, but that I drive innovation myself. I think this is really the biggest factor in my ample pay increases. You can work on Wall St and make 50k too, if you are in a back office or internal web app role.

    Also, it should be noted that I work hard, and am constantly improving my skills. Instead of just spacing out on the train ride home every night like most commuters, I am increasing either my business or technical knowledge. That hour a day keeps unemployment away and a step ahead of most of my coworkers. Loving what you do helps as well, and I guess it is unrelated, but I feel like I should mention that not only does my boss code, but my boss's boss still does as well, though not very frequently.

  • by parc ( 25467 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @01:25PM (#30906750)

    No, if the median salary was 60K roughly half of them would be making less than that. Roughly half would be making more as well. 3 sample salaries that still result in 60k average are 30K, 75K, and 75K. 1/3 of the sample is less than 60K, but 2/3 is greater than 60K.

    FWIW, my starting salary in 2000 was $65K, but my salary has risen considerably since then.

  • by sneakyimp ( 1161443 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @02:17PM (#30907458)

    Computer Programmers are tracked separately from Computer Software Engineers - Applications or Computer Software Engineers - Systems. And salaries vary by city, state, and industry. You may find these links interesting: [] [] []

    Be sure to hover over the "details" link as it will give you more detail on salary distribution.

    As for the question "is it lucrative?" I think the answer is definitely yes as both salaries and total employment are increasing. Especially when you check out the employment numbers for 'sewing machine operator'. Despite gradually increasing salaries, total employment has shown a rapid decline: []

    Or maybe check out dishwashers salaries: []

    Less than $18k per year and employment is flat.

  • by Sarusa ( 104047 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @02:57PM (#30908100)

    tl;dr version - your worth is your ability to solve problems.

    There a huge specrum we just lump together under the term 'programmer'.

    * Programmer: coder who churns out mostly boilerplate code in the depths of a team. You're basically given 'I need this' and crank out a specific solution. Turn design into code. The lowest form of this is the code pig - you're stuck in your little pen with no context, turning garbage into sludge. The term 'code pig,' while demeaning, is one I've heard used in the industry - one specific example was people working on the Windows Vista team.
    * Engineer: someone who you can give a problem, analyzes it in the context of the complete system, comes up with an optimal solution in light of the tradeoffs, delivers a working solution. Turns problems into solutions. Engineers usually have more interest in continuing education than the code pig - whatever solves the problem easier and faster.

    There are all sorts of shades of this - for instance the skilled IT guy who's not even a 'programmer' but ends up doing a lot of scripting can be effectively doing engineering. And you get people trying to act as engineers who simply should not be. Or someone who's stuck in a code pig job can be a great engineer.

    But in general if you can be easily replaced you're not worth a lot - especially if your boss thinks your job can be outsourced to India and he can get the same result cheaper (even if he's wrong). If you can consistently solve problems you're worth a lot.

    One good way for programmers to make lots of money: specialization. If you're good at COBOL and huge companies desperately need people to maintain or upgrade their millions of lines of outdated but nominally functioning mission critical code, well then you're valuable. If you have the rare skills and engineering skills then you're extra valuable. Another good way to make money if you have little tech skill is contracting. Get in, screw things up, on to the next contract. I am not saying that all contractors are like this - just a subset I've encountered. In this case you're trading your contacts and people skills to make up for lack of technical talent, and it takes a non-trivial amount of con man talent.

  • by SoftwareArtist ( 1472499 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2010 @03:22PM (#30908524)
    Actually, the numbers quoted in the story match up very well with my own experience. At least in the Silicon Valley area, $60,000 would be an absurdly low salary for any programmer but someone straight out of college (and would probably be on the low side even for them). I've never been asked to pay for my own tools, and what on earth is this "hyperspecialization" he's talking about? The most valued programmers are those with a broad range of experience who will be able to handle whatever problems are thrown at them.

    Everyone's experiences are different, and maybe his description is accurate for some people. But it's certainly not the only one, and I'm not convinced it's even a common one.

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