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Staying a Developer

Posted by Marty Haught on Thursday, March 08, 2012

Do you need to leave programming to advance your career?

This question came up recently in two places. First, during the Ruby Rogues episode 44, which I was a guest on, James Edward Gray opened the discussion with a related statement. He said that ultimately most developers will want to transition into a content provider (railscasts, peepcode, etc.) and asked me to prove him wrong. Second, tenderlove asked on twitter the other day about career options for developers. The premise of both of these questions is if it’s viable to remain a developer for your entire career and that you must transition to something else. Must you leave programming to advance your career?

While I think many do leave programming to further their careers, I do not think this needs to be the case. So let’s break this down in more detail.

First, I love to program. I love to build software and solve programs. Though I might get tired of solving the same problem over and over again, I’m not concerned that there won’t be something down the round that I won’t enjoy solving. From this standpoint, I can see a happy life of writing software for 15-30 years. Thus it is not given that I will outgrow building software. I think many others share this sentiment.

Second, demand. This falls into the obvious category but the demand for programming isn’t going to decrease any time soon. More and more aspects of our lives involve software and someone’s going to have to write and maintain these programs. Right now there are endless opportunities for software to disrupt status quo businesses and old ways of doing things. We seem to be in a boom for startups and they need skilled programmers to bring their ideas to market. There are plenty of entrepreneurs taking their shot at this and plenty of investors giving them money. Thus I think the supply of developer jobs at all levels is ensured for the foreseeable future.

Coming back to our question, I believe a viable career is hinging more on either money and/or happiness. Let’s start with happiness briefly.

Happiness is relative and based on your expectations. I think it’s fair to say that you’d hope your life improves steadily over your career. Much of this could simply be that you have more control and options in your choices. That’s fair. I think it could simply boil down to where you can live the life you’ve always wanted. Definitely don’t place your happiness on some dollar amount. That is not the way to happiness. Depending on what you’re shooting for, this is definitely obtainable as a software developer. I know many of my fellow programmers that have more than enough money, have flexible schedules and have adapted their lifestyles to what they want — all while continuing to be a developer. Expanding more on happiness is its own post so I’ll leave it at that.

Now let’s return to the money angle, where I believe most of the focus is on. Salary ranges are fairly large for software developers and I’m seeing lots of incredible offers for top notch talent. While junior and mid-level devs won’t see a huge payout, I do believe that with dedication and hard work you can get to the high levels in the software world and easily get comfortable 6 figure salaries. More importantly, you’ll get your choice of offers which can include many perks as well as a supportive culture.

It wasn’t long ago that many developer jobs capped out at a mid level and if you wanted to ‘get ahead’ you had to go into management. This was pretty much de facto in corporate world. While I know some startups in the 90s bucked this trend I still saw the mentality of paying your devs the typical salary and possibly enticing with options. Now I’m seeing better offers than they used to be as well as real interest in creating an attractive work environment and culture. It’s like they realized what matters most to devs and really catered to that. This is plain smart.

More over, the demand is so high right now that I see devs in the driver’s seat. That’s probably the biggest difference I’m seeing now compared to even 2-3 years ago.

All of this can be yours while staying dedicated as a software developer. I will follow-up this post with advice on how to get to the higher levels of software industry. Look for that in the near future. Additionally, there’s more to the picture in terms of options for software developers and their career so I will follow this post up shortly with the rest of the story. Consider that this and the upcoming posts as an extension to what was covered in the Ruby Rogues podcast. It’s just that big of a topic and hate to leave somethings unsaid. Thanks for reading and by all means, leave your thoughts on the subject as a comment below.

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