Carear Paths To Make Money As A Programmer Part One : The Career Developer

Like a lot of people, one of the first things I do in the morning is clear my inbox and catch up with the latest posts and updates from my usual feed of tech sites that I follow. Today, I saw another article that promised 4 amazing techniques to make me a millionaire as a programmer, I mean who wouldn’t want that right? After reading the first quarter, it was obvious the articles was another one of those typical posts, have a catchy title and the article contained no useful actionable advice.

That got me thinking about what actionable advice I could give to other programmers to help them maximise their earning potential. It’s easy to create some get rich quick headline about some perfect quick fix career path for the general programmer, but, in reality, that’s not the way the world works. The career choices that I made/make in my life are definitely not applicable to everyone. I work for myself as I like the freedom to choose the projects that I work on, however, there is a lot more risk. I have to interview for jobs 2-3 times a year in general. Some developers out there hate interviewing, so what works for me, definitely won’t work for everyone. In today’s article, I’m going to review the most common paths software developers can choose to make money online, while taking time to look at the pros and cons of each.

If you are at the beginning of your programming career, then take this as an overview, and ask yourself which approach does work best with your personality.

What is the most important thing to you?

When you want to try and make money from programming, the main routes to success are probably:

  • Career
  • Contracting
  • Freelance/contract
  • Making Products

This post is the first in a series of 5 posts about the pro’s and con’s for each approach. In today’s article we’re kicking off with:

The Career Developer

Getting a job with a software company that will pay you for your time, is the most common career path for programmers. It’s a pretty safe path at the beginning of your career. You turn-up, work hard, get promoted, climb the ladder and in the process, hopefully, get paid more.

The 9-5 route is the classic life plan of most developers. When I first graduated, this is the path I went down. A job definitely has it’s pro’s and con’s. Working for someone else offers security, you get your taxes paid for you, you can get a pension, you get paid holidays and sick days, every month you know how much money will be in your pay packet and you work the same amount of hours each month.

Having a job is the best route for a lot of people. I’ve known people who have stayed at their jobs for year and it’s understandable. You spend the majority of your life with the people you work with. In a normal week I’ll spend more time with the people at work than I do my friends, girl-friend or family. If you like the company you work for and the people there, lifes good. Life in a normal 9-5 can also be a lot less stressful. In most jobs you learn the majority of things you need in the first year, after that the learning curve gets less steep. The longer you work somewhere, in general, the better job security you have so you don’t need to worry about looking for work.

I think most people know and understand the benefits of a career, but, don’t think there’s as much dissusion on the downsides.

Early on in my career, I used to work at a company who had a security guard to let people in and out of the office. I got in a conversation with this guy one day and it surprised me to find out that he used to be a COBOL developer. He followed this classic path laid out above, he got a job in a company, stayed there for years, got a few promotions and coasted in the jobs. While he was doing this, COBOL died to death and one day the company couldn’t afford to keep him on and let him go. When this happened, COBOL had become an old technology and he couldn’t get a job anymore as his skills were obsolete.

I’ve met a few people over the years now who have similiar stories. For me, this is the first big draw back of a career. It’s easy to get into a rut in any job in IT but the pace is so fast and things change so quickly. If you take the wrong job, after 10 years you can seriously struggle to find employment, if your skills get outdated.

Onto my second issue. Working as a programmer pays a good salary. A career in programming will mean you live a comfortable life. You will be able to buy a house, you can go on a holiday every year, it’s a good career choice. The problem is =, no matter how hard you work your salary will always be limited. The work-place is like a massive career hierarchy. At the top you usually have one head of development, under them you have a few senior people, under them you have some leaders and then you usually have a few juniors. As you progress in your career, the opportunities at the top become harder to find. If you have a normal career and your next position is head of development, then you won’t be able to progress, until the person above you leaves the company. If you are head of development, where do you go from there? You can get to this level by your mid-thirties which means you will effectively be capped for the rest of your career.

My last comment about the career is time. Every week we have 168 hours to make the most of, a normal job is around 40 hours a week, we sleep for roughly 49 hours a week, it takes me an hour each day to get to and from work. Every week I need to clean my flat and do the food shopping . If you add that all up, then that leaves you with about 70 hours a week to do your own thing. After a full day of work, you only have limited time as well.

If you ask anyone who’s followed the normal career path for years, if they had enough money to buy a house outright, save a million in the bank by 40, I can tell you their answer now, it’s not happening for the vast majority of us. If you work in a normal 9-5 you will be working until retirement age and until that point, you will have around 70 hours every week to do what you want in life.

These points aren’t meant to persuade anyone that a career isn’t the right path for them. I think most of us will start off in this route. These points are the things you trade for the good salary, perks, friends and career safety in a normal career.

This is a good career path for you, if:

…you need/want to have a fixed, safe income
…you want a structured day
…you want to work together with others
…you don’t want to take too much responsibilities
…you have no problem with being away from home about 8-12 hours a day
…you don’t like change
…you are uncertain what to ultimately do with your life
…you want to develop your skills and acquire new knowledge

Jon D Jones

Software Architect, Programmer and Technologist Jon Jones is founder and CEO of London-based tech firm Digital Prompt. He has been working in the field for nearly a decade, specializing in new technologies and technical solution research in the web business. A passionate blogger by heart , speaker & consultant from England.. always on the hunt for the next challenge

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