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Career Advice: Don't Call Yourself a Programmer 422

Ian Lamont writes "Patrick McKenzie has written about the do's and don't's of working as a software engineer, and some solid (and often amusing) advice on how to get ahead. One of the first pieces of advice: 'Don't call yourself a programmer: "Programmer" sounds like "anomalously high-cost peon who types some mumbo-jumbo into some other mumbo-jumbo." If you call yourself a programmer, someone is already working on a way to get you fired.' Although he runs his own company, he is a cold realist about the possibilities for new college grads in the startup world: 'The high-percentage outcome is you work really hard for the next couple of years, fail ingloriously, and then be jobless and looking to get into another startup.'"
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Career Advice: Don't Call Yourself a Programmer

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  • Makes sense (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @12:50PM (#37879772)
    If it's one thing America's taught me [] it's that doing useful work is the worst way to earn money around these parts.
  • Such sage advice... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Living Fractal ( 162153 ) <> on Saturday October 29, 2011 @12:54PM (#37879812) Homepage
    Because, you know, the 1000+ currently open job postings for keyword "programmer" on are just a perfect example of situations where people are already looking to fire you. After all, that's why they created the posting, just so they could waste company resources and fire someone.

  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @01:02PM (#37879856) Homepage

    It doesn't matter if your first job leaves you unemployed and searching again in a few years. It matters that you're working with people who are smarter than you are and learning how to actually program and write software effectively. Job security? Pay? If you end up as an undifferentiated code monkey left to your own devices or, worse, fighting a monstrous legacy code base and bureaucracy that you're powerless to alter *cough*IBM*cough... you can very easily find you've crippled the rest of your career. At best, the work will be a dull slog.

    Go for the startup, if they sound like they have some idea of how to do things right and will offer you meaningful professional development. If you can't take a career risk at this point in your life, when do you think you will be able to? And then for Job #2, you'll have some Skills. You'll be infinitely more employable. You might even be able to look at the monstrous legacy codebase and say, with the authority of experience, that this stinks and there's a better way to do it and yes you will do that refactoring, and you won't hate your job.

  • by etymxris ( 121288 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @01:15PM (#37879962)

    Too many people in IT don't know the first thing about writing code. I think things are changing though. Companies seem to realize you can get by with less people that can do more if your workers can actually program.

    Calling oneself a "programmer" tells us exactly what we want to know when we're looking at candidates. So many people put C, C++, Java, C# or whatever on their resume and can't even write a simple for loop.

    Patrick McKenzie isn't right about how he describes businesses and employees. We see resumes all the time where someone highlights how they saved their last company six, seven, or eight figures. We don't want to hear that. We want to hear that you have the skills needed to do the job we're hiring you for.

    He also isn't right about the language not mattering. It's much easier to go from low level languages to higher level languages than vice versa. If someone was an expert in VB or Python, we would be very hesitant to hire them for a position that required coding in C. And if someone can pick up a language in just a few weeks, then they should do that before they apply to jobs asking for that skill set.

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @01:52PM (#37880286)

    Programming seems easy to you and me, but you would be surprised at how many people just cannot do it no matter how much training you give them.

    Please mod parent up. This is exactly right. All of my experience, both in school and now working as a software developer, confirms this.

  • Re:But ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29, 2011 @03:10PM (#37880876)

    And me too! I used to work for other people, but got tired of the instability in the 'work for hire' work world. They need you for something, you get hired, you solve the problem they have been staring at for 6 months, you attempt to help in other ways once all the fires they throw at you are out, they get nervous about you as 'an outsider' interfering with the business, and the software engineers God intended for the company (the ones who couldn't put out the fires they handed to you) and so suddenly there you are with the collective 'they' handing you your hat, once again unemployed. I've even worked for places where, after you are gone, the regulars still can't handle the fire situation, and within one or two months, they are once again looking for a fireman. So I finally started up my own. Its a lot more work than work-for-hire, and even after things were built and running, the money was less, but it was steady, and growing. Early on, there wasn't enough to put bread on the table, but you keep it going and do work for hire. You start out with 1.25 times the income of straight work-for-hire (and about 1 1/2 times the work). Once it gets to about 1.75 times the income of work-for-hire, its time to bail on work-for-hire, and from that point on, your life belongs to you.

Love may laugh at locksmiths, but he has a profound respect for money bags. -- Sidney Paternoster, "The Folly of the Wise"