Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
My Biggest Regret as a Programmer (thecodist.com)
1296 points by doppp on Apr 6, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 618 comments

Sounds like the typical success anxiety everyone suffers from today. You could have been everything, successful, rich, famous, but you chose what you wanted and that's ok, it's for the best, that's true success, don't run after the carrot.

Every programmer I meet dream of being CEO, having their own company, making more money. Yet over 90% of them don't enjoy any of their current profit.

Literally, with my programmer's salary, I can do everything I want in the world. There's nothing Bill Gates can do I can't, sure, maybe some of the things when he does them they're bigger, or fancier, but they're the same things. There's no better film for him to see, there's no better waterfront for him to sit, there's no better food, etc. I can afford the best of all.

I think we need to stop with the regrets, the illusions, etc. If you ain't driven to be tech leader, don't force it, just accept you're not and enjoy life.

Success is not related with money. For me success is being a person who can inspire people with thoughts. Money is just a metric for our society which deemed as ultimate result of success. If you are rich, people start to listen you and have inspiration from you. I would be a person who can change people's life in a good way, a person my ancestors would be proud of my actions. Difference with Bill Gates and regular people like me or you is not the way living our lifes, it is the number of people listen when we talk.

You start by saying "success is not related with money" and finish by implying that more people listen to Bill Gates because of his money than his other accomplishments. There are plenty of super wealthy people out there we don't listen to much at all (for example, I don't think I've ever heard someone quote one of the Waltons...) but Bill Gates has done a tremendous amount with his wealth - and even more importantly - his time, which is what I listen to him about.

I think it is not about what you can do now, but what about when you are 30 years in this job (I assume you are less).

I am also still relatively young and am probably doing OK if I look only at the present day (I am a developer). But what about in 10 years? In 20? When I think of it I get really really uneasy (although it is probably me as person this way - I guess I would be uneasy whatever role I had).

Honestly all this 'company' stuff is still like trying to fit in too hard. I think the best situation is one where I have enough 'money' that I can just not have to fit in for 3-4 years, and do coding as I would philosophy: for the process, without expectation of an 'artifact' or product to give people in the end, not seeking validation; giving without expectation of return, an expression of the self.

Just work on something myself, my own way, without 'deadlines' and other unnecessarily worldly requirements, projects as side-effects of doing what you feel. I really really am into coding just as a way of writing philosophy, and just as philosophical ideas are never 'done' and 'released' and books just written as a product of musing, so are code pieces.

When authors are celebrated for the beauty of their work by people that understand them: imagine a music festival where people go literally just to see the artist perform live. When programming becomes almost a performance art, and we are able to embody the omnipotent creator ideal of these little universes we create on our computer; that's the dream.

There is at least something you can do that Bill Gates can't, and that is, using an iPhone in public.

Success anxiety is a great way to put it. As I've started my career in tech I've noticed that everyone seems to be looking somewhere else. Mid stage engineers look at early engineers thinking if only. Early engineers look at founders thinking if only. Founders look at other founders thinking if only. etc etc. No one is happy with where they currently are.

How much do you make? I don't think what you say is true for an average salary.

I think this is a great comment, if you already have enough money to really enjoy life (well, perhaps except a private jet), then even more money might not make things better, but being able to solve interesting problems might.

Don't believe the above post. Its a trick to brain wash and keep the technical guys to not enter the management. Just look at any blog post by Bill Gates(has animation in most of the posts), so much work is went in to creating animation, how is that possible? money. Having enough money gives a lot of freedom, don't fool your self or any one saying you can do whatever Bill can do. Also its good for other programmers if programmers left their safety net and went in to management.

Do you own a personal jet or a personal yacht? Bill Gates does (or definitely can).

What experience does that enable that you can't get on a normal airline? The food is fancier. You fly directly into smaller airports. It's more comfortable. But you can still get to all those same places without a private jet. You can go sailing on a relatively small budget. No, you can't own a huge personal yacht, but owning a yacht is not much of an experience.

> owning a yacht is not much of an experience

Who remembers Tom Vu? And his yacht? http://youtu.be/c5OOHotxAYk

Owning a yacht is not as glamorous as it seems. You have to pay for parking, cleaning, gas, etc. A yacht is not like a car. Its 10 times more work to upkeep. The grass is always greener on the other side.

Right, but the point was that someone with Bill Gates' money can pay to transfer all those problems to someone else.

Yes, and I am saying that when you do get to Bill Gate's money, you will have other problems to deal with.

Never being able to go anywhere spontaneous without your security guards. Everyone looking to take your money. Having to watch your words in everything you say because you are being filmed by strangers 24/7. Can't walk into a coffee shop without being recognized and hassled for a selfie cause some vain dude/girl wants to show off to his friends and get social network "likes". Etc.

The only way to get away from all those problems is probably to buy a private island, build a big house, and trap yourself inside. Which a lot of wealthy people kind of do in one way or another.

Yeah, but does he get to dock it perfectly every time himself?


Space tourism?

Unfortunately this person certainly wouldn't fit in at any organisation I ever worked for :


"The more people you have in any project the more communications you need, the more management you need, the slower information is disbursed and problems reported. You have to have more process to ensure that anything will be accomplished. Of course this all costs more money and time and often you have to do less just to get something shipped. It’s easy for everyone responsible for all these people to worry about unknown problems biting them in the ass so every decision becomes very conservative and cautious.This of course makes shipping difficult, expensive and often drags things out for a long time. Add to that memories of previous projects that had the same issues and things get even more cautious and slow."

The main function of management at any medium or large company is to manage people, keep the peace and keep things chugging along. This person makes the huge mistake of wanting to be manager ... to do something other than manage people. Wanting to be a manager to use "the power" for good (ha!, having done both let me tell you this: managers have less power than individual contributors. Yes you have "power" to choose, what you say goes to an extent, but only insofar that you keep making "the right" choices. Think of a manager as a 14 year old going to a party and getting told by his parents that he "has the choice" to do drugs. I assume there are levels of management that have more freedom, but middle management does not provide anyone with the power to change things. Forget about that. It can provide you with an easy job, maybe even with significantly more money (after X years), but that's it).

It doesn't even matter what the other thing is he wants to accomplish. This way of thinking will destroy any large company team. Working at large companies, you constantly see this truth reinforced: there are people who can manage "large" projects by themselves, and take ownership. They just make sure that a certain function is available and works. They usually produce software to help them with this, but while it covers 99%, it doesn't cover 100%. I work at a well-known company that people idolize here and yet I can name 5 times that an individual that in some cases was a bad programmer in terms of code style or even understanding of syntax outperformed teams of a dozen software engineers due to the fact that the individual's understanding of the problem far exceeded the programmers/developers/TLs/... understanding of the problem. Here, like everywhere else, they get punished for that. The users of that software revere them, but everyone else (especially the team that was supposed to fulfill the function they took upon themselves) well ... "does not see them as a team player", and absurd rationalizations are made (what if the "owner" gets hit by a bus ? does not satisfy bus-factor. Reality: large teams that build software, then "move on" and abandon it or go unresponsive pretty much fail the bus factor without involvement of any accident at all), but one of the main "real" concerns is that people are afraid of the power this individual gets because of this ownership (even though they're rarely aware of it, and if they are they use it for things like code style, almost never for amassing power in the company like any of those managers would do).

And any manager is always going to do the same : they're going with the choice that keeps the team together. The choice that doesn't rock the boat. They would have chosen against the author of this article at 10 different junctions, because he is divisive, direct, and worst of all : probably he is right and unwilling to compromise except for good, technical reasons.

I totally agree with this philosophy, I am also a developer, many times my relatives asked my why I don't start my own company. Your words totally relate why I don't (yet?), I am good being a programmer, I can travel, eat at restaurant, hangout with my friends, I do something I like on a daily basis. I like it that way.

For me, software has been nothing more than a tool to get myself the lifestyle I want. I enjoy the creativity associated with writing solid software of course but it's not a hobby, it's certainly not a religion for me, it's a tool, nothing more. I enjoy the creativity associated with developing a solution that people use and pay me for, but at the end of the day, I am a business-guy who uses software to get what I want, unlike a lot of programmers who are techies who happen to be in business. The difference in these two attitudes are night/day.

I feel the writer is looking at his past as though he was somehow entitled to succeed since he could develop software when the industry was young, and many fortunes were made by the industry pioneers. This is a dangerous attitude as the world really doesn't care about anyone. Anyone is replaceable.

Around 1990, I started a business selling a Clipper-based (anyone remember that?) real estate program where I sold it to about 300 firms at $299 a pop. I couldn't believe the leverage and excitement of selling a product of my own mind to others. Sold yearly upgrades for $199 which worked out to around $60K annually sitting in my bedroom. Had to pinch myself. Got into telephony when the deregulation happened, created switching software for dumb switches (Dialogic, Redcom) for long distance resellers and at one time had 120 exchanges using my software to switch calls. Sold the IP for around $0.5M. 10 years later, created software for the mortgage industry and sold that company for 7 digits in 2010. Must say that I failed more times than I succeeded but that doesn't matter (for example, developing Call-Me functionality for web-sites when the industry was just too young - should have stuck with it). Last/this year, I'm working on software for the another industry which I feel is unserviced wrt software.

My reason for writing all this is that I never thought of software as a career. I saw the businesses that I could create using software as the career. I think the article writer labelled himself as a programmer early-on and never really understood what that role meant to him.

I agree with you whole heartedly. A lot of programmers are artists. Like artists, they work not for profit, but expression and self fulfilment through their craft.

Some people are not artists, they are utilitarians. They create not for admiring the work, but for fullfilling menial needs, for addressing life's struggles, and for profiting.

Utilitarians would have created a business even if programming did not exist. A hundred years ago, they'd be running a milling company, or figuring the best way to get rails installed, etc.

Some utilitarians are programmers, and simply leverage it as a tool to a mean.

It sounds like the OP was an artist. The problem today, and almost always has been that artist often don't get socially recognised, paid, etc. So at your retirement, it's easy to feel like all that beauty you poured your soul in went unoticed, and didn't change a thing for you.

> A hundred years ago, they'd be running a milling company, or figuring the best way to get rails installed, etc.

Programmers today are also figuring out the best way to get Rails installed! :)

at least artists in other realms get to enjoy some permanence, very little in software get's preserved, more so now, but still, I don't expect anyone to be putting my stuff in a gallery any time soon...

One could argue that the impermanence makes it even more of an art form as the work of art only exists for a brief moment in the grand scheme of things, and so the artist must be one true to the art as they could not be working for the everlasting glory of fame...

...Or that could be taking the analogy a bit too far.

> Or that could be taking the analogy a bit too far.

No way! Totally agree. ImTalking's story above proves it. He has those stories for life, and those who knew him or read this will have them too. That is art and something to be proud of even if it is only a few paragraphs. It says a lot about what someone felt was important in their life. And if you don't feel it is important to express your thoughts and desires to others that's fine but some people do find it useful.

my art is my life is my art is my life...

Interesting.. What are some industries unserviced by software today?

Sorry, should have said under-serviced. I looked at an industry which has undergone significant changes over the past few years (although probably all industries match that these days!) and looked at the ISVs and their platforms. The industry changes allowed many more entrants than before and the current ISV platforms are very complicated and pricey platforms which, in my view, would be too costly for these new SME entrants. So, the theory at least, is to create a lower-cost platform.

> I simply didn’t realize how little room you have to advance as just a programmer

I think this is one thing that has changed dramatically (and for the better) in the last ~10 years.

I started as a developer in the 90s. The only way to advance was to go into management. I was pretty conflicted, as I was promoted from developer to manager. Quit, went to be a developer at a new job, and got prompted to manager again. Quit again & later was promoted to manager again. Did it a forth time & then have been in management ever since.

I really loved coding, but coming from lower income family, was terrified of poverty and thus very motivated to climb whatever ladder someone put in front of me.

I'm an engineering manager today at Google and really happy to see there's now a world where engineers can excel without having to be a manager.

Over the years, I've had a lot of good career talks with people about if they wanted to do people management (or at least try it).

A little bit of a tangent, but it's interesting the myriad of ways those conversations go. Sometimes people who would be clearly great at it, don't want to try it for less-than-good reasons. (E.g., not feeling worthy, would the team respect them having been a peer).

Sometimes people who would be terrible at it, really want it for bad reasons as well. (E.g, manager = power (ha!), manager is the only way to advance or be respected (not true!).)

Of course, they sometimes want/don't want for very good reasons too. (E.g., "I like helping people grow" or "I would have to talk to people and I hate that", respectively.)

Companies know we want it, and have gotten better at talking the talk (e.g. technical career tracks.) But look into how that actually works. For most people it's much harder, if it happens at all.

I speak as a guy at the end of the technical track, on my second consecutive job of "look, you make as much as we'll pay just-a-programmer, even an architect, here."

Many managers are now convinced things are better. I never talk to anybody high-up on that track who thinks so. Of course, most companies don't have anybody high up on a technical career ladder, but are convinced it's going to be fixed any year here.

Fundamentally, as long as it's even 20% easier to get promoted as a manager, people are going to intentionally pick that track. In practice, it's usually 2x-5x easier to get promoted as a manager.

I don't think that's fixable. At some point, executives have to decide who to promote. Executives, like the rest of us, prefer people who have skills like theirs - I bias in favor of programming skills for the same reason.

But executive bias toward their own skills mean people managers get promoted.

I've never worked at Google. But I know a lot of Googlers. I don't think I'm wrong. Also, there's another comment from a Googler disagreeing with you in response to this very comment.

It's not a Google-specific problem. But it's a big one.

"look, you make as much as we'll pay just-a-programmer, even an architect, here."

Sorry but this line is almost always complete BS. Anyone that I know who has heard this line, gone out and gotten a (much better) offer somewhere else, and the original company instantly matched. Like, without even having to consult anyone, their manager said they'd match. You can't trust this line.

I don't trust the line. But I spent months trying to get this much to get to this company.

Perhaps you work in a different part of Google than I do, but I've been here for four years and I see many good engineers getting pushed into management roles to advance their careers. Their job title is still that of an engineer, but they end up with reports, schedules full of meetings and use Google Docs as their primary editor.

It seems that the ability to have an impact while writing code is quite limited in the industry, and the way to expand it is to take on leadership and management roles, even if you aren't technically moving onto the management ladder.

> I see many good engineers getting pushed into management roles to advance their careers.

A lot of people whom I see in this category are people who fall more under the "engineer" banner than the "developer" banner - they tend to look for hard problems to solve, and are still happy solving logistical and financial problems.

>>I think this is one thing that has changed dramatically

I don't think it has changed all that much. How many engineers that report to you are near your age or older than you?

> I'm an engineering manager today at Google and really happy to see there's now a world where engineers can excel without having to be a manager.

This is really interesting and relieving. Have you been able to see this happen in other companies?

Is this propaganda? Not to sound negative, but is what we are viewing here an example of influence on the internet?

Ouch, that was a sad post. "Yes, and actually we have two ladders of advancement here - you can deepen your technical expertise and go up the technical ladder if that is your thing", an enthusiastic recruiter tells you. But when you reach the bifurcation point, the management path seems fairly clear - just try and get more people under you and you will be ok, but the technical path is murky as hell. I'd argue that this third path (becoming a genuine world-class expert as opposed to staying "just" a programmer or going into management) is the hardest. Not in the least part because at most places real technical challenges are scarce (and management challenges are in abundance). I would love to hear some thoughts on how to pull it off.

I imagine that a core skill is the ability to communicate clearly and prolifically about technical topics to a mix of technical and nontechnical audiences.

I agree that programming is a dead end job. It's popular and relatively easy. It doesn't require any special skills. Anyone with an average IQ can learn it. There's low cost and barrier of entry to getting started. It's fun and addicting when you're a kid. Then you get trapped and it becomes monotonous.

There's only so good you can get at programming. Beyond that, most of your time is spent on debugging trivial issues or trying to keep your knowledge of the overwhelming amount of tools and platforms up-to-date. If you're a really great programmer you might be able to get 3x as much done as an average programmer, but you won't be able to get 10x as much done to warrant 10x higher pay.

Programming is just one step above working on an assembly belt. There's plenty of competition for your position including from cheap foreign workers from the 3rd world and, since your job can be done remotely, you're even more expendable.

That technology is a luxury, makes your position nonessential. You will be worthless if Western civilization ever fails and drops out of the Technological Age.

When you stare into computers all day you aren't developing social skills or really any skills that would be applicable to most other jobs. If you don't want to be a programmer forever, the sooner you stop wasting your time staring into computers, likely, the better.

If you want to be highly valuable, you need to have skills that are rare and desirable, that make oodles of money or change the world. Such skills are usually of a social, political, or otherwise creative nature - things that can't be learned from a textbook by anyone capable of logical thinking.

Programming is simply grunt work. It's the grunt work of dealing with the disarray of present day technology. As we advance and become more organized and cohesive, the need for programmers will be reduced.

As everything is being digitized slowly, we truly are moving to an information economy.

Programming is the ability to manipulate that information for a purpose. You can be a programmer and make money if you combine that ability with specialized domain knowledge.

But the ability to program alone makes you interchangeable in the business. Just look at the hundreds of gigantic (5000+ employees) consulting firms selling expertise. The only people who make big bucks are the ones with domain knowledge.

I do think that programmers are at the forefront of the future of employment. Every other sector is afraid of automation, concerned about their algorithmic skills and routine tasks being done by machine and uncertain about how they will fit in a future where their skills are useless.

Programmers feel like that every few years (or months if you're a JS programmer ;-)) or on every new major project in a different domain.

But we get distracted by the fact that we spend so much time keeping up with the new tech that we confuse it for valuable knowledge. The new framework/language/api/etc. is only a tool to extend our ability and without domain knowledge in a sector (finance, healthcare, retail etc.), we have as little value as a paralegal or a doctor who can diagnose and treat but cannot invent a cure.

Unlike any of those professions, they are not 100% digitized. Programmers are forced to accept the limits of their intelligence and their capacity to learn new domains very early on. Nothing is preventing you from writing something truly amazing on your computer.

This community often gets it twisted. Let's face it, if you could innovate instead of repackage, you wouldn't need marketing or sales to communicate the value of your work. However exponential improvements and radical innovation are difficult, everyone settles for incremental improvements and have to spend their time marketing to persuade people that their product is better. (most likely by only a small margin from the competition. a margin most people wouldn't give a fuck about if they really understood the product)

Great comment. Echoes a lot of the sentiment I've been feeling since graduating college. Started out at a web startup where everyone was focused on learning the next new framework and applying clever language quirks and idioms, and heralding that knowledge as if it made them more valuable. And then applying it to a company whose product was stale and completely reproducible and non-innovative. I switched into embedded software after less than a year there and I've made a point to focus less on languages, or programming for the sake of programming, and more on learning hardware and Linux kernel internals because it's a domain toward which to apply the programming knowledge that, as you and GP pointed out, is relatively non-novel on its own.

I believe Carmack has a quote about how programming is just a mundane manner in which to solve more interesting underlying problems. I would imagine the world, or more specifically the economy, will eventually see it that way as well.

You've described exactly how I feel. I've only be at this game for 4 years and I'm already looking for a way out. Programming is fun in the way that doing drugs is fun; it's addicting and provides a quick high, but at the cost of staring into a computer screen for weeks on end with little to no interaction with other people aside from meetings (which only exist so that your superiors can tell you which widget to crank out next).

I consider myself to be very introverted yet programming is still too extreme on the asocial end. A career in programming will gradually cause your social skills to atrophy. It's pretty obvious that if you spend 40+ hours a week talking to a computer that eventually you'll start to feel and act more robotic than your peers who regularly interact with real people in the real world.

Working as a programmer doesn't provide real human experiences. Everything that you do and learn as a programmer is extremely abstract (and usually convoluted). You won't have interesting stories and wise aphorisms to share your children and grandchildren, because everything you did was inside a virtual world.

Everything you build as a developer is extremely temporary. You will work extremely hard to build something over a period of months or even years, only for that software to be immediately discarded when the business pivots and decides to pursue a totally different path. If you work for a startup, you're hard work will be absolutely worthless if the business goes belly up. If you decide to contribute to open source software and build the next generation of frameworks, tools, and languages, prepare for that to work to go out of fashion within just a couple years. A construction worker can go back to a building he built 50 years ago and it will still be standing. A doctor or lawyer with 20+ years experience will be well respected, but as a developer your experience will be disregarded unless you're an expert in whatever framework/language is the flavor of the month.

Programming pays well and is a cushy office job. It doesn't provide much else.

EDIT: I fully expect people to reply with the usual "well that's just your opinion, man!". Yes. I know. This is a personal rant and not a master's thesis. If you love this career more power to you. I'm just sharing my opinion because I know other developers feel like I do, and feel trapped in a well paying but otherwise unfulfilling career.

The 'everything you build as a developer is extremely temporary' was something I had to learn over the years. I used to make video games, and I grew up being able to play my old games no problem, but now nothing is physical, everything is sandboxed in an app store (or intrinsically glued into a website) and disappears the instant the company disappears, or moves on to a new project, unless you work on a major title.

And even if that weren't the problem, there's such a firehose of games getting released constantly that people no longer value them, and move on to the next game after barely spending any time with the existing one, unless you intentionally manipulate their psychology with some free to play garbage.

That's part of the reason why I now feel so drawn to board games, as they at least still have physical boxes that can last for decades.

It sounds like we're in similar positions. Programming is indeed a very cushy job. I almost got sucked in and became lazy and dependent on it (and maybe will yet, but hopefully not). It's a dangerous game.

I don't want to end up like my older professional peers in 10, 20, or 30 years. Most of them are very smart people, but in a way pathetic at the same time.

On the positive side, we should be able to leverage the cushiness for our own benefit. I'm planning to travel and work part time this summer while continuing to work my regular job remotely. I've enjoyed the little farm and construction work I've done in the past and would like to do more. Not only do I feel healthier when I spend more time away from technology, but it's much more enriching.

I find software can actually be pretty social as you ask your peers for code reviews, go have lunch with each other, ask each other about their opinions about things, have planning meetings, just chat randomly about stuff at the water cooler, make jokes on company chat and so on.

Sometimes it goes overboard and you don't have a contiguous 4 hours to just focus on coding.

I do agree quite a lot with your argument. However, as a former researcher, I would say that you can be creative a lot if you have margin for that.

But if you only work for enterprises, I agree it is mostly grunt work. I should know, as I've just quit working 8 months for a startup doing backend web dev and got bored and depressed as hell. Now I'm back at my own projects and doing freelance to get the money rolling until one of my projects hits the jackpot, if ever.

My opinion, maybe similar to yours, is that professional developers should see programming not as an end on itself but just as a mean. Focus on other areas (engineer, medicine, sports, whatever.) and try to apply your technical skills to fix a problem. Basically, it is what we do when we work for some company, but we should be conscious of that and maybe try to focus on IT + another area instead of just knonwing how to program a computer..

TL-DR: Domain knowledge is a must!

I'm sure that you are not getting a lot of upvotes for that comment, but you hit the nail on the head regarding programming being the translation layer between entropy of the real world and automated efficiency of computers. That is a very valuable service, but there are implications as to how this profession evolves long-term.

My most fulfilling and interesting career stories were about listening to people and reading their needs between the lines, un-kinking silly workflow knots, finding non-tech solutions to seemingly technical problems. Not constructing pristine castles of code (that ended up not even being used, ultimately).

This is also why I have tried very hard to define my identity around my general values and mission as a human being rather a specific career choice I serendipitously rolled into when I was 15. It has been very gratifying and liberating as a change of worldview.

It's popular and relatively easy. It doesn't require any special skills. Anyone with an average IQ can learn it. There's low cost and barrier of entry to getting started.

If all of those things were true, then the field would be saturated and it wouldn't pay nearly as well as it does. I would claim that while you don't need an exceptionally high IQ, you do need a systematic way of thinking that is relatively uncommon.

You will be worthless if Western civilization ever fails and drops out of the Technological Age.

Sure, as would most white-collar workers.

As we advance and become more organized and cohesive, the need for programmers will be reduced.

The need for all types of workers will be reduced. The demand for programmers will remain higher than for many other professions; somebody actually has to implement the automation.

Found the manager!

So programming is not creative in your opinion?

It's barely creative. You have a small amount of room to work within someone's requirements.

You can be the guy creating the requirements, but then you're better off specializing in that and letting someone else do the grunt work.

I think this statement is very extreme case scenario. I never really saw programming job without freedom to create requirement at least on technical front.

It's not creative in many cases because the technical solution already exists, invented and optimized decades ago. Just because developers are ignorant of known CS, prefer their ego (NIH), or chose to use the brand new shiny thing with no ecosystem to solve the business problems in front of them, doesn't mean they're engaging in effective creativity. How many times has the wheel been re-invented, do you think?

>You will be worthless if Western civilization ever fails and drops out of the Technological Age.

Who cares?

If this is true, why did the salary spreadsheet on HN last month show that some programmers are earning 3x, 4x, or even 5x others?

Non managers are pulling over 400k at companies just as engineers. Do you think this is untrue?

You should try something new. Try a startup or perhaps just something smaller where you have to wear a lot of hats and be included in decision making and such. I can't relate to your experience at all

I will always be a programmer, no matter what. My regret is only about not being richer, that's all.

I don't want another kind of job; I want a shitload of money, so I can code whatever I want all day long, until I drop dead at the TTY prompt.

Plus do a ton of cycling, running, guitar playing and such.

Regret over not having tried this job or that seems misplaced to me. If the job you're missing out on could be done as a hobby, do it as a hobby. If you think management looks like fun, then you can volunteer in some non-profit or volunteer organization; you will then have something to manage. If that doesn't cure the regret over not having tried management, then you have to be honest with yourself: it's really about the money.

I love that last paragraph, and the idea of management-as-a-hobby. That's a great way to think about it.

You can make plenty of money as a programmer. Plenty, as in, I have enough to enjoy my job and my family, be relatively independent, and succeed at life.

That's right; many people do something they don't really like (or even completely hate) for a living.

Even if you don't like the kind of programming you're doing (or perhaps just the lack of having total control over the requirements), it still has a lot in common with programming that you do like.

"it's really about the money." - There's nothing wrong with that. Plenty of jobs exist that have to be done, that no one would like to do.

People treat money as if it dirty.

There are many more jobs as programmer than as CTO/CIO/VP. Furthermore, what makes you think that you would be as good at politics as you are at coding? People in management positions are often in competition with each other on a kill or be killed basis. OK, not that extreme but you get the idea. Politics is important in that game.

There was also an interesting post on HN a few days ago about the hurdles of management: https://medium.com/the-year-of-the-looking-glass/unintuitive...

Number one point from that post: "Imagine you spend a full day in back-to-back 1:1s talking to people. Does that sound awful or awesome?" If the answer is not and "long for the days when you were able to manipulate something directly — pixels, words, lines of code, bars of music — quietly and with headphones on", management is not for you and your management career will suffer.

Another way to look at it: Do you hate those one or two hour-long meetings that management puts on your calendar and insists you go to? Now imagine your entire day from 8AM to 6PM chopped into these hour long meetings, 5 days a week. If you think that would drive you crazy, don't get into management!

If you have 1000 jobs that pay $100/hr each and 100 jobs that pay $1000/hr each, and you qualify for both (the former more easily than the latter), which would you rather try for?

And there are 999 people competing for a $100/hr job, and 1000 people competing for a $1000/hr job

Obviously this is a very personal matter - i.e. if you don't enjoy managing people and prefer to tinker with, learn, and build things, pursuing a management career is the worst choice you can make from a happiness standpoint.

It's also not generally true that managers (even those with fancy titles) are more financially successful than engineers. By definition, there are far fewer VP/Director level positions than there are engineer positions, so everything else equal, as an engineer you have a lot more opportunities to pick and choose where you want to work, and that can be very financially rewarding.

I personally joined Twitter over a year before its IPO, and the financial reward there transformed my family's life. I am also incredibly proud of the products I've built over the years, whereas most work done by Directors/VPs at smaller companies wouldn't even come close to the reach and visibility of the work me and my fellow colleagues have done. (Take a look at my resume for added color: http://linkedin.com/in/arturadib).

One could easily imagine an opposite article written by someone who was a VP at several not-so-successful companies and never had anything to show.

Above all, choose what makes you happy. And if you're so fortunate as to have several equally fulfilling choices, and if financial reward matters to you, pick a company that is high-growth, hopefully pre-IPO, and negotiate at least a market-average stock compensation (glassdoor.com is your friend here).

<3, -A.

Above all, observe the #1 Rule of Business, similar to the #1 Rule of Dating: Always Be Successful. Then his choice would have worked out well no matter which path he would have taken.

Even being in California? Salaries I've seen have been not that great considering the cost of living. If I can get 6 figures in the southern states, why would I go out to Twitter/FB/Google etc?

I don't know if the parent will reply, but I've heard of twitter giving out million dollar stock grants to senior engineers _after_ the IPO. I can only imagine that pre-IPO stocks would have been even more.

My biggest regret is not shipping more.

Sometimes the cause of that is management, and I long to be on that side defining the missing specs, building out the absent project plans, speaking to customers, allocating resource, championing it all and pushing it forward. At those times I despise being a programmer because being a programmer isn't enough to get product shipped.

Other times (but it feels less frequently) the cause is the programmer. And we all know well enough how frustrating it can be to watch someone not do what you think is easy, and how quickly we want to stop managing, stop designing, stop everything and just code our way out of whatever mess a project is in. A sole programmer is not usually enough though, and I stray back into wanting to manage so that we can ship.

Either way, just having that desire to ship, to make a difference, I feel has kept me in a limbo where I straddle both and am frustrated and hampered by both, and never quite shining at either.

Still I regret not shipping more, and rush into the areas that I hope will help product be shipped.

My greatest career joy was running my own company. I know I failed at the sales and marketing, but we did ship. We shipped a lot, and made a lot of people happy. A massive achievement in a short amount of time, and a good mix of both management and programming. A joyful time even though it was hard work for little pay.

It's a shame positions that really blend these skills seem quite thin on the ground or that they don't really value those who can move from one to the other.

So true. I think a lot of programmers (myself included) fall into the pit of wanting to perfect their code too much. As you look back on your career, you realize ten shipped projects with decent code would've been better than three shipped projects with perfect code. (This is probably true of more than just programmers and code too).

Seventeen years ago a programmer much senior to me told me: "Don't let the best be the enemy of the good." It's probably the best programming advice I ever got, and I should look him up and thank him.

More formally: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_is_the_enemy_of_good

I think this discontent stems from wanting to fix the problems that you see on the other side, and you make a good point. If you're a programmer, you look at the bad manager and say "I could fix this if I were in his shoes". If you're the manager, you look at the bad programmer and say the same.

Maybe there is a way to just fix problems where you see them?

I take the constructive approach, I really only care about the problems that are holding up shipping, that impact critical path... however you want to define that.

It's the set of problems on the "other side" that are causing delays that are the ones I care about. The ones that don't cause delay I don't mind.

It's only constructive to focus on that which holds us up, slows us down. Then I want to fix those.

The frustrations stem really from the wedge that we collectively seem to shove between engineering and other parts of a company, including middle-management (or worse, that we destroy middle-management and lack well-seasoned processes that actually help).

The walls we've built within companies, between skill sets, leads to a powerlessness to get things done faster, better.

Wow, this was a tough read because it hits very close to home. I'm in the same boat as the author financially and career-satisfaction-wise. I truly empathize with the author, and I think people here are being too critical of him. It is difficult to go through life full of regret of your career choices, full of bitterness of the bad luck you encountered, and having the good fortune of others rubbed in your face every day. Commuting two hours past nice neighborhoods knowing that the only thing that separates you from them is that they rolled the dice and picked Netscape for a career back in the 90s and you rolled the dice and picked LayoffTech, and then IncompetentManagmentSoft.

Look on the positive side though. It could be worse. You could have decided to be a factory worker or a cab driver or someone else whose livelihoods are being deliberately and systematically hollowed out. People should be grateful to be in tech no matter how frustrating the lottery-like nature of your career is.

"I can still feel the regret of not seeking the challenge of just leadership." He's right. Programmers need to get into leadership, because they have a chance of knowing what "just leadership" might look like. When non-technical people lead technical people, the chance of getting into a good flow is less (though by no means impossible).

The problem is that many technical people are not "people" persons. Part of that may be personality, some of it is background, but a lot of it is study and thinking too.

My brother builds huge buildings. He's very proud of them. He often (gently) gives out about the marketing people and their mad notions and lack of technical understanding. But, as I point out to him, if they don't sell the apartments, he doesn't get to build the buildings in the first place.

Ultimately, therefore, if you're going to put your skills into a corporate enterprise (of any size), you need to accept that it all originates with selling. "Business is simple", says Alexandre Dumas, "it's other people's money."

Progammers should either accept that they love playing in the intellectual sandbox of coding and that the material rewards will be variable. OR they should seek leadership.

This is pretty ridiculous.

Lawyers, Bankers, and Doctors get to play in intellectual sandboxes, and they get paid really handsomely for it, even if they are completely anti-social people.

The reason we get paid less is that we don't have any of their safeguards:

- Lawyers aim to become partner. It's very socialist-y this way. The goal working in a firm is to become an owner of the firm and share in its successes.

- Doctors have a guild. They keep their bottom end tight by regulating who becomes a doctor, keeps them always in demand.

- Bankers know how much things are worth. That's their business. They know how much they generate, even if they are far from the point of sale. They also aren't squeamish about asking how much their co-workers make, and negotiate aggressively.

Programmers should start realizing that the main reason we make little is that we undercut each other a lot, and are outright hostile to many tools that other professions use to safeguard their position.

I think Lawyers and Doctors I think are much similar to programmers than you think.

Regular front line grunt work employees work long hours and get paid decent professional wage. As you said they can get promoted to Partner, a partner is a part owner of the business, they don't do much technical work, they do a lot of management. There are similar opportunities for Software people to start small companies and make money too. its not quite the same as there aren't the big company partnerships, but big startups with employee stock are close.

The biggest difference is the half life of knowledge in Software is much shorter.

Both lawyers and doctors have powerful associations that control and regulate the labor supply via a certification process. Technology doesn't have this. In fact, technology has the opposite: a H1B program that brings in more and more labor supply to keep wages low.

People also seem to value experienced Doctors and Lawyers. They just see the front of a web application, and if it looks OK they assume that it has been put together well.

You could go further regarding lawyers: they're a government jobs program. On balance a beneficial one, but a government jobs program nonetheless. If there were no government there would still be doctors and programmers (albeit probably fewer), but there wouldn't be any lawyers.

You are the first person who ever described the lawyers' dog-eat-dog up-or-out competition for parter as "socialism" -- unless you meant it as a sarcastic analogy to Chinese Communist Party

Yep, this leads me to my biggest regret as a programmer: going into engineering instead of medicine. I really should have become a doctor or some other kind of hospital worker instead: the money would have been at least as good, and I would have gotten to work in a place with lots of women.

You would also have had to go to school for several more years, incur massive debt in the process, and work insane hours for virtually no pay as a resident.

Yeah, but the long-term rewards definitely seem worth it. Also, they cut back on the residency requirements a while back because sleep-deprived residents were making fatal mistakes.

Oh yeah, I forgot another huge point: you don't have to worry much about being laid off when you work in medicine.

'Leadership' is not a job description. I hate it when people act like it is. Even if your job is making decisions; leadership isn't making decisions, it's making them in such a way that those under you feel empowered by them, rather than powerless in the face of them, and that you take responsibility for any fallout from those decisions rather than letting that shit role down hill.

Everyone I know who has wanted to 'bring leadership' in their role, and nothing else, has been a complete waste of space, at best useless, at worst an obstacle. I have never been glad to have such a person working with me.

I think this guy may actually just be dumb. Yes, C-Suite positions make more money, and get to make more decisions. If he wanted to do that, it sounds like he could have at any time. Of course just being a programmer would earn you less.

> Being a programmer for nearly 35 years...

> I doubt I will ever be able to really retire.

How do you have a good paying job like being a programmer/the other high level gigs he mentioned for 35 YEARS and still not have the assets to retire? How do you manage your money that poorly?

Did you buy a house that was way too big? Some brand new cars you have a nice, several hundred dollar monthly payment on? Did you not save 30-50% of what was probably a very fat paycheck?

It's one thing for someone working minimum wage their whole life to not be able to, but barring some crazy expense like medical bills, people with white collar jobs don't really have much of an excuse.

Unfortunately, it seems like he dropped the ball in some major ways. So Apple started to take off a few years after you left? Then taking your fucking amazing technical and leadership skills to Apple! The post-startup is blowing it in terms of product development and the competition is eating their lunch? Then join the fucking competition.

Programmers/engineers can change some important things. For example, our employers. If you're a strong engineer in a shitty situation, then find something better. It might even help you retire (like joining Apple in the late 90s).

I agree changing employers is one thing to do.

What do you do if you're not a strong engineer but in a shitty situation?

Well, become a better one or just deal with the current situation? In my opinion, you can't just expect good things to happen.

Not sure it's fair to judge without knowing the whole story. Maybe he has other costly obligations that you don't know about. Maybe an expensive health condition. Stock market went down. Debts, whatever. Or, he just encountered a string of bad luck (left Apple in the late 90's--oops!). Without those facts, blanket statements like "how do you manage your money that poorly" are unfair.

True - it's impossible to know every detail of his situation. That's why I put the disclaimer about his health. Regardless of those things though, for most people making a decent salary, they can put themselves in a good position for most scenarios by:

- Saving as much as they can of what they're earning. Ideally at least 50%

- Avoiding debt

- Investing their money in low cost index funds

I may sound like an old fart, I am one too, but you sound like a very young one. Peeked at your profile and I see I'm right. May you grow up without troublesome times in your life.

May I add to the list of 'excuses':

- Getting hit by a bursting tech-bubble (as I was, we're talking a significant hit in terms of employment as well as retirement accounts, stock market and having to drain existing reserves)

- Living in a region where rising rents exceed salary increases without changing jobs (I saw the light only 3 years ago when I left NYC for NJ after 20 years). Living in PA, I think you may lack some perspective on the latter.

- Having a child didn't just cost $$$ (as others have mentioned) but made me realize that traveling 50% of the time for 30% more money just wasn't worth it to me. It's something else entirely to be responsible just for yourself (I love peanut-butter sandwiches!) and the resulting 'pressure' one may feel to provide a stable, but not salary-maximized, situation for your family. Don't forget health insurance needs. It also makes you more risk-averse.

All of this hampers your career/salary. Sure, they're all personal choices, but not easy ones.

Glad I made mine though. Soon enough the kid will be gone forever.

I appreciate any perspective from people who are much older. I see having a family someday as one of the larger financial variables for me in the coming decades, so I try to prepare for that as best I can.

In defense of my age (and implied lack of life experience), I've unfortunately had significant medical issues in my twenties, which in turn led to some decent sized bills I've had to take care of, so I know a bit about troublesome times.

Be prepared for the family thing to cost a whole lot more than you think. I was living on about 10K/year back in the day. I assumed at worst my future (at the time) family of 4 would live on 40K/year, with "economy of scale" reducing it to the mid 30's. Ha! Sure I was fine living in cramped quarters, spaghetti every night, one new $5 shirt / year. Doesn't really work that way with kids. Essentially expect after about three years to wonder where all your previous three years' income has gone. (I'm only 3 years in, so I'm not sure what comes next--I assume it's "make a budget", which I did diligently in my 20's, but it's much more difficult to find time to make a (now, negotiated!) budget with munchkins fighting for attention 24/7).

As a corollary, be prepared to worry about money way more than you had anticipated back when you were 30 and diligently following Mr. Moustache to an early retirement.

As far as career advice, it's tough to say. I've had a good career but feel I'm in a difficult spot now. The last five years I've been independent but 95% of my work has been as the lone dev for one startup, whose best days suddenly seem to be in the rear-view. It's been great work and the job has been wonderfly flexible, but now I'm left to wonder, if they die who wants to hire a 40 year old developer (a really good one IMO but who's to say) with just kind of a miscellany of experience and hasn't worked with a team in five years (especially in small-town Michigan). Who knows, maybe lots of people. But I think the moral of the story is "don't paint yourself into a corner". Do good work, work with lots of people (my mistake), make them respect you, and you should be alright in the end.

Much easier said than done, especially when you have children.

Or student loans, or alimony obligations, or sick parents to house and take care of, or any number of legitimate reasons why normal people don't tend to save 50% of their income.

My guess is the "ISO Standard Ideal Saver" whose entire income is disposable, has perfect health, no dependents, no hobbies, no debt or other obligations, etc. is the exception, not the rule.

Obviously you may not always be in a position to follow this exactly, but regardless of who you are it's a solid plan to aspire to.

Even if you can only save $100 a month. Or if you can avoid using a credit card to buy things you don't really need, like a new tv to replace your old one that works fine.

The average person who is not currently dealing with a significant life crisis could follow some of this, but often chooses not to, either due to not knowing any better or lack of self control.

My assumption would be that he means this a bit less than literally. I'm 40 now, have always lived frugally, and could reasonably retire now. But when retirement starts to look like a real thing in front of you, all you can think about is the "what ifs". Medical bills, kids college tuition in 15 years, stock market crashes, living to 120. And looking back, if I had the opportunity to make 10x, that's such a huge difference not in the amount of "stuff" I'd buy, but the amount of security I'd feel making the jump to retirement.

Mr Money Mustache was a programmer and retired in something near 10 yrs of work. http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/01/13/the-shockingly-sim...

Based Mr. Money Mustache. Finding that blog completely changed how I view money.

I agree that materialistic thinking and living certainly contributes to lack of savings/retirement assets. But so does simply having a family, especially as a single parent or when the spouse doesn't work.

You might say "well, the spouse can go work," but it's rarely that simple considering the costs of child care and how it may weigh on the spouse's potential salary. Then factor in if the spouse can even get a higher paying job to offset said costs. Then add in the trouble with the spouse even obtaining a job due to not having a bachelor degree.

Everything feeds into everything else. No one situation can easily have the same resolution as another situation.

I agree that there is no excuse to not trying. But there may be reasons for not succeeding.

In America at least, the median salary for a Programmer is more than enough that with properly managed funds, you can have a spouse who doesn't work and still live quite well.

Remember- the median income here is $52k. I'm in Boise, ID, one of the cheapest cost of living areas in America, and our junior developers start above that.

I live in a place with a slightly higher COL and make about that with no benefits. I also have about 4 years experience. Some people just make shitty career choices or don't get lucky/unlucky.

Then keep looking? The market favors the developer right now.

Oh I do. But I hear this a lot more than I see it, especially in the Midwest without a degree.

You're describing how my career started! Hahahah. Yeah, it can definitely be difficult, but the jobs are definitely out there.

The easiest ways to find a job you don't hate that pays what it should is paying attention to the right technologies. Sadly, the percentage of crap jobs that are using older technologies like PHP, Java, and C# is much higher than those working with Ruby, JS, or Golang. This isn't to say it's impossible of course- but it can help narrow things down. So I'd say, try to find a technology you like most in your spare time, and look in that area.

The second thing, is give remote work a shot. Sites like weworkremotely.com almost guarantee better conditions, because often the companies hiring are both better-informed and located somewhere that a 10-20k salary bump is barely noticeable, and even if it was, they know who butters their bread.

I make nearly 3x the median income of my area but my expenses are far from being in a state of luxury living. Housing is one of the highest in the state here due to price inflation by retirees (cash buyers drive prices up which is counterintuitive to me) as well as the sheer lack of housing inventory let alone ones affordable to the service worker caste. Then comes my spouse not working in a lucrative field while medical expenses keep accruing for various maladies that years ago would have been as alley percentage of income. Furthermore, my parents are aging and will likely need support in time or capital as well as my spouse's which can preclude me from taking opportunities that require a lot of continuous time dedication or are intolerant of random, non-negotiable interruptions. Constantly moving for my household to try to find living situations that can balance both our careers is extremely difficult (not so difficult if both are fine wine metro areas but then living costs go up once again quickly).

But beyond that, if you can't practice appropriate fiscal frugality to meet your long term goals (really common I've found) you're looking at increased expenses on luxuries like island vacations, eating out frequently, discretionary travel in general, and so forth.

It's really hard to explain to those that are typical American consumers how you could earn $180k+ / year but are trying to live like you earn $60k.

My first job was working for Micron in Boise, ID, and I lived like royalty on their college-hire engineer salary. Loved the town, wasn't into the work.

I'd move back to Boise in a heartbeat.

It's really great, and I've found a wonderful job here with the best coworkers I've ever had. Also get to experiment with cool technologies quite often.

My spouse doesn't work. I'm nearly 25 and on/above target on my 401k savings and am slowly gaining money in regular savings accounts too. I made some bad decisions with debt a few years ago or I'd be even farther ahead.

I live in Missouri though, which has pretty low cost of living.

I appreciate your intention, but I don't think you can really lecture anyone on retirement savings when you're in your 20s. I'm in my 20s myself and wouldn't do it. Check back in 30 years -- maybe you'll have gotten lucky and not had any major financial drains, or maybe you won't've.

People in my family had hundreds of ks saved up for retirement and have lost it all in their 50s. Now they're in their 60s and have no foreseeable path to retirement. Unexpected events happen.

Just out of curiosity, what happened to them? Besides significant medical or legal expenses, it's hard for me to picture.

My parents also lost all of their funds in their 50s due to the stock market crash, but they were getting close to retirement and shouldn't have had their funds in high risk.

Exactly my feelings after reading the article. He's either not making smart investments or not investing for retirement at all.

Im of the belief that technical people and managers should really be at the same level financially and otherwise quite honestly. That's really the only way I can see the whole manager/programmer thing can work out for the benefit of everyone. When you have non-technical managers or technical-managers who's skills are out of date making decisions on behalf of the programmers you end up with a mess. That is often the case. The people who you hired as experts are the ones the management should be listening to... not necessarily managers who really only function as a way to grease the communication channels.

I know at a lot of places I've worked managers only function is to keep programmers out of meetings so they can do the real work. Management is really a bad title. I think the mgmt structure needs flattening and the current system pits management against programmers... I think this has to change....as well as the whole management track vs technical track. The technical people are what you need to build the products. No amount of managers is going to get you a product without a programmer to build the products.

Companies are so obsessed with hierarchy that they lose themselves in the politics of it all. I think companies and people need to embrace the idea that programmers and communication people are at the same level in terms of financial benefits and in terms of treatment at a company and that technical experts should be making decisions not necessarily managers.

Ironically, the only way to fix this is for conscientious programmers to go into management, where they will have the power to actually change things.

The issue though is that many (most?) developers/engineers avoid management like the plague since it involves having to actually deal with people

Not just dealing with people but it's a waste, why become sometimes at best a mediocre manager when you are already a decent developer.

You can't be all things to all people. I realize businesses want the perceived efficiency but it's a trade-off not a productivity gain. You it's hard to be great a two jobs at the same time. Programming and Management require work "at work" and outside of work.

My apologies if I wasn't clear. By "go into management", I meant that the programmer reduces their programming activity from "active participant" to "observer". They use their intimate knowledge of programming to make well-informed decisions for those that they manage. I did not mean to imply that the programmer does two full-time jobs.

Eh, dealing with people is harder than dealing with code. Code does what it's told, has no emotions, is debuggable, doesn't need motivation, etc.

If people you are "managing" are the product and not building the product then I would say maybe you have a point. Additionally, management doesn't bear the brunt of the fallout most of the time when they are bad managers or unable to make good technical decisions. So of course programmers given these factors should be paid the same as management.

I'm curious what the path is to move from developer into a CTO/VP/Product Lead type role, for anyone here who has made the jump from nuts and bolts. How did you go about it? Did it just happen, or did you actively need to push for it? Would love to hear more from someone experienced, because from where I sit, it's hard to figure out how to jump that divide.

Similar to rheesyb. I'll speak mostly towards CTO/VP as I think Product Lead is fundamentally different path and I have no personal insight to offer there.

Work your way through direct technical leadership positions within squad/team/mod/whatever structure your company uses. Team lead is generally easy for technical folks as you can mostly fall back on technical expertise. Then try a multiple team leadership role, where you start to exercise more management, social, and coordination muscles. This will probably feel harder, and if it doesn't, check to ensure that you're actually doing it and not just leading from a pure technical point of view.

This should also give you exposure to budgeting, more experience hiring/promoting/coaching/firing and a clue of how much you like it and how much the employees working for you appreciate your style. If you leave drained of all energy more than a couple days a month, maybe it's not for you and you might want to stay at the team/squad or tribe level leadership roles.

Of course, all of this is in the context of "join a growing company, as that's where opportunities internally are constantly being created." It's much harder to be hired in from the outside into a leadership role if you've never led. The path to people leadership involves internal promotions along the way, IME.

One possible path is to push for a senior developer role and then afterwards a tech lead (or similar) role (perhaps not at the same firm). That will then open up CTO or dev manager roles in startups. It won't "just happen" - it will require a whole load of work on your behalf (you'll need to learn your way around a broad selection of technologies rather than focussing on mastering one language and one platform, as well as learn a number of managerial skills including effective communication, negotiation etc.). Good luck! Disclaimer: I'm not a CTO but have been offered a number of CTO and dev manager roles at startups and small companies.

Short TED-like version: do not follow, be followed. Easier said than done :) I know what it is like to transition from an intern to sort of Product Lead in a small shop.

Such role will not be simply handed down, though the opportunities will. Collect worthiness points. Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Some possible general opportunities I see (not everything applies in every company):

1. Assess whatever is important to your direct management and be reliable. The idea is to have more or less consistent performance. 1.1. e.g. Say they think feature A takes 100 hours, feature B takes 50. You know they both take 75. Do A first -> spend 25h on B -> release A -> finish B. 2. Make others happy. This is important to reduce resistance for growth. 2.1. If you have options to make solution elegant and easy for others to use/integrate with, take the latter. Code has to be maintainable, but if you are the sole maintainer, others will judge public API, not the internals. 2.2. Be helpful. Do not help with every struggle everyone faces, you have your own tasks (and to maintain worthiness points), but if you personally can do this task in an hour while it would take the one assigned much more take the responsibility. Maybe their solution is suboptimal or they lack knowledge/expertise. 2.3. Make yourself authoritative source. Do not give advice/answer where someone else could give better one, but rather direct the question to someone who could actually answer that. Unless it is an opinionated matter, e.g. git vs hg. 3. Increase you scope. 3.1. If you see a better solution or problems down the road - communicate those. Might be an oversight or might be judged unimportant by management. Show that you can assess the situation and that you care. 3.2. If you see an opportunity to work on broader issues - take it. This might mean jumping to a smaller project, but taking [small] managerial and architect-like responsibilities. 4. As a new hire you have a unique possibility to grow really quick: instead of doing what you were hired to, you can attempt to prove being able to take "higher" role. Most probably this would mean taking more responsibilities for the same pay. 5. Collect trophies. 5.1. Finish projects. Then you can say "I've done that" instead of "Worked in a company doing that". 5.2. Jump ships if the company/product is going to fail, but assess. Even if Tesla would have failed, engineers working there would still be valuable for creating awesome product. There is a difference between product failing because of being flawed/suboptimal/unsuitable for the purpose and failing because of poor marketing, sales or other market reasons. Git quite possibly would have failed as a commercial product.

If you can't retire comfortably as a programmer where was all your salary going? I enjoy programming, but also realize I'm limited in how much I will make. I'm ok with knowing I won't own a 5000 square foot house or buy the newest laptop every two years because I'm putting money away for retirement.

Not everyone works in SV. In southern Europe I can live comfortably on a programmer salary, but can't save huge amounts.

Honest [tough] question: Why don't you work for clients that pay more? Just because you're in Southern Europe doesn't mean the person paying the invoices has to be.

I have friends who save ungodly amounts (in the 40k/year range) and their employers/clients still think they're damn cheap.

Income arbitrage. Look it up :)

I work for a international company, mainly based in the US. I get paid what a local developer gets paid, our chinese employees get paid what the local norm is there etc. Do other companies just outright decide salary based on where the company HQ is?

Call me cynical, but I'm a bit skeptical that a company would pay more than they had to.

Note: Assuming of course your role is not super vital for the whole company or some such.

If you are as valuable as a local developer, then they will pay you as such. It's a business. They pay for value.

And no, your salary/rate isn't defined by where the company HQ is. That part defines their price tolerance. The price is defined primarily by how much you ask for and what you can offer in return.

> The price is defined primarily by how much you ask for and what you can offer in return.

I couldn't agree more. I know a lot of developers that have the mentality to just accept what they are offered without negotiating. It's up to you to get a good price for the value you bring to the company. Negotiation is the best way to significantly increase your salary, regardless of your technical skills.

Patio said it best: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2012/01/23/salary-negotiation/

Its set by supply and demand. You need competitive markets to reach your value.

If you have no other opportunities and no one is offering anything better than you have to accept that. Than they capture the rest of the value.

I doubt this, if there's a chance other local devs might then ask for more.

> Call me cynical, but I'm a bit skeptical that a company would pay more than they had to.

I think it also depends on the type of company and what they are after -- are they looking to save money by outsourcing or are they looking to expand their talent pool? If they are looking to expand their talent pool, it is more likely to get closer to what the company HQ is, minus some "remote work" discount.

After all, if I'm the manager of some San Francisco tech. company and I can get a great programmer (even by San Francisco standards) for a 20% discount to local talent, which I know is a 20-30% rate above what they programmer will be paid in their community in a fly over state -- it's win-win for everyone involved and they are much less likely to leave.

> Call me cynical, but I'm a bit skeptical that a company would pay more than they had to.

Companies will not pay more than they have to, but if you demonstrate your worth they will be happy to pay it.

I make high six figures and am completely location independent.

High six figures as in close to seven figures? As a programmer?

No, more like the >$200k range.

Mind me asking where most of their clients are located as well as themselves?

Exactly what ddorian43 said.

My particular friends (and me of old) are located in Slovenia, clients are in San Francisco. You can have a decent life in Slovenia for $20k/year. You can easily get a gig in San Francisco for $60k/year. Probably even easier for $100k/year because of the whole signaling thing.

I wasn't able to save as much as my friends are because of lifestyle inflation, but I sure had a lot of fun. My margin isn't as high now that I live in San Francisco, but my glass ceiling is higher. Tradeoffs :)

PS: as you can infer from above, you can also always move. Nobody says you have to stay in a bad economy.

Thanks for the reply and the info provided. My personal opinion regarding the ability to move from a bad economy is that this is not always as easy as it looks. Even if you are european with an EU passport you are very likely to come up against some high language barriers etc. Although that could be a challenge some people might jump at.

For example I know that the UK (and mostly London) is extremely tolerant of non native English speakers. However from experience I know this will count against you when people are looking to hire (I was on the hiring side at one point so know how my managers perceived this.)

Germany is again another example where unless you speak really good German you will have some pretty tough challenges. I had a friend who grew up speaking German as a second language, who completed his masters in Germany, be told by his boss to go for German writing classes if he wants to get anywhere in their company.

Europe might be one big open job market but Language honestly makes it far more difficult than it seems at first. This also goes for settling into your new country even if you are working for US or UK companies as your day job.

> you are very likely to come up against some high language barriers etc.

This is not a problem I personally experienced for English speaking countries. Started learning when I was in kindergarten, always immersed in the culture via TV and internet, did English and English writing as a hobby pretty much since starting high school. Until they hear my accent, most people assume I'm a native speaker.

So I lucked out on that front.

The hard part for me was the visa. But that is also a solvable problem.

> The hard part for me was the visa. But that is also a solvable problem.

That is something I did not even want to mention due to the challenges it brings. It is not insurmountable but does sometimes come at a high cost of both money, time and stress.

$48k/y gig for US client converts in less than 2000 eur/month net with some creative book-keeping.

Rent and utilities in Ljubljana cost us about 800 eur. What is left is maybe enough for one person, who will never own any property.

$20k/y is close to a welfare level in Slovenia, except maybe in countryside.

These are specifics and probably not interesting to the rest of HN.

BUT, you can open a sole proprietorship, fill out some forms, and voila: you pay 4% taxes. After all the healthcare and stuff, you end up with 1068 euro net on a $20k (17k eur) yearly revenue.

At $48k/year, you get 3040 euro/month net. Now you're getting paid almost as much as the president. Your taxes will go up a bit next year, so save up, but for the first year you have plenty of extra money in the bank that you can leverage for making even more money.

And if you target San Francisco, you're competing with people who are asking for $130k+/year.


That is REALLY interesting! Quite a useful and nice way to work with tax. What does the percentage increase to in the following year?

It is a shame that the UK does not have anything like this. The best you can hope for is to contract and that give an average tax of around 26% to 30% depending on how creative your bookkeeper is.

Germany as my alternative example is quite a different story, there being freelance is very difficult due to the cost of healthcare that you HAVE to pay and their tax law is extremely complicated, you pay loads more tax than the UK for example. I know some friends who too permanent employment in Germany as it was more beneficial than being freelance.

> less than 2000 eur/month

Sure, you'll always be renting, but this is still significantly better than working for most local companies.

The GDP per capita of slovenia is about 20k. So pretty much everyone needs welfare? I don't believe that.

Invoicing 1500 eur/month as a company, minus operation costs, minus taxes, gives 800-850 eur/month, which is barely livable. Lawful minimum is about 750 eur.

Swizec is right, there are ways to incorporate to pay less tax, but not everyone can go that way.

Example you work for NewYork/SanFrancisco/etc company and live in Italy. You make $80K and save half of that. Depending on how good you are as a developer + finding better clients you can live in a cheaper country, say Bulgaria/Albania/etc and make more than 80K+(ex Salvatore Sanfilipo though he's special). Usually the more you get paid by the clients, the better they treat you as a human/professional. The clients who will pay you the most, are the ones that pay the most local-salaries, which is Sf,Ny,Washington etc, major us-cities. Maybe London a little too, but probably not (I don't know london having 150K salaries locally?).

Thank you very much for the reply. Yes if you move to (or live) in an area in europe that is cheaper than say London, Paris or the other big cities (and most places in Scandinavian :) ) then this is an option.

At the moment really good developers in London can hit £80k+ per year in full-time salary but living costs locally are insane. If you are contracting in London you can make good money but you are still hindered by the high living costs. One big drawback is that I have seen very little remote work opportunities for London companies to anyone not living locally. This gets more pronounced the closer you move to the Data Science / Business Intelligence space, but even for Web Dev etc it looks to be not that common. So as you say it might have to be the big cities in the US as it seems the US are much further in accepting remote work than where I currently am.

Could be any number of things. An expensive health condition, personal obligations (alimony, child support, etc.) putting kids through school, an expensive mortgage, student loans, on and on. I've been working for close to 20 years and I'm pretty terrified when I look at how little I've actually been able to save.

Plus, with 3-9 month contracting gigs, part time freelancing, and remote work, we have more semi-retirement options than any other career field I can think of.

Buying the newest laptop every two years is what like $2000 every two years? That's only $1000 per year, hardly a dent in a programmer's salary.

When you factor in kids, mortgage, pension, car, travel costs etc, it probably ends up being a bigger dent than you'd think for a lot of programmers.

This just means you have different priorities. Nothing wrong with that but if you really want that laptop then you can afford it.

That's almost a month's salary for a junior/mid-level programmer in this corner of Western Europe.

Assuming the programmer doesn't sell the current laptop that he's currently using.

Western europe realy thats less than than a minimum wage job in the UK

what corner of Western Europe is that?

UK probably.

Developers get paid dick all here.

Same timezone, but better weather :)

Portugal! :)

I suppose that depends on the definition of a financial 'dent' and the market in which the programmer operates.1000$ is over two percents of my yearly net income (situated in northern Europe).

I'm still doing my home development on a $500 PC I bought in 2010.

Even in SV, we should remember that programmer salaries have roughly almost doubled in recent years.

I remember my school stats being that CS new grads made an average of about $70k or so out of school. Pretty sure that number is way up at a top program.

As a working software developer at age 55 I appreciate some of what the author is saying. Your salary peaks. Your upward mobility peaks. People who move into leadership positions quickly pass you in terms of material assets. All true. When has it ever not been true? There's something else that is true: not everyone is suited to be a leader, and there are relatively fewer positions for leaders compared to followers. Ultimately you have try to be happy doing something to put food on the table. Perhaps if the author was a leader he would not have passed up those opportunities. Something inside would have nudged him in that direction, rather than in the safe direction of practicing what he already knew how to do. Ultimately, the piece just reads like the regret of a mature person looking backward at the choices he's made. I've made some I regret as well, and if I can learn from them that's great. But pining after a re-do is not the path to a happy existence, at least for me.

I don't like the assertion that manager == leader, while developer == follower. Some people got into software development for the engineering aspect, not to deal with bureaucracy. I write software, that's what I enjoy doing. It's not fair to pretend that developers who don't want to be managers aren't leaders in their field.

My biggest regret as a programmer: not sitting in correct posture for 30 years :/

On the bright side: I'm correcting this now, and I really feel like a different person.

Reads this and becomes painfully aware of current slumped position...

It didn't take me 30 years, only 15, but I did develop problems - RSI in my arms. Luckily, it recovered, but it took a lot of effort: http://henrikwarne.com/2012/02/18/how-i-beat-rsi/

As a 30yo dev, I started getting pains in my wrist, and numbness on one side of my hands (the pinky and finger-next-to-it).

I switched to a ball-mouse at work, and no longer get this. I believe the large amount of time using a mouse had compressed and damaged my nerves somehow.

I'd recommend the switch for anyone spending hours with a mouse.

Just for your info - that numbeness is your ulnar nerve flaring up. There are three main nerves in your arms, the radial, median and ulnar. If you start having those issues again, there may be an issue in your ulnar tunnel, aka where your funny bone is in your elbow.

Typically, if the issue is worse when your arm is bent, you know it's that. Just wanted to save you some trouble googling things if it happens to comes back.

Do you know of a resource that explains all of the causes of various RSI symptoms and how to avoid them? Like how did you learn about the ulnar issue?

I've found that there isn't an RSI doctor you can go to easily or look up on yelp, and when you go to doctors they can be pretty useless in this category.

Oh man, do I feel you on that. Doctors are fairly worthless in my opinion for these issues. I say this having dealt with various RSI/nerve pain issues for over 6 years, and tens of thousands of dollars in out of pocket medical bills. They'll pretty much always be like "just take an Aleve", or "I don't know, do some physical therapy or wait and see if it gets better. Next patient please!". Your health and getting better will be on your shoulders.

With that in mind, I'd like to preface all of the following by saying: I am not a doctor. This information is for educational purposes only, and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice.


Here is a long, varied guide on everything I've learned and things that have helped. Most of my knowledge has come from trial and error, and reading books and medical papers.

I have had tingling, burning pain throughout my arms and hands for many years. I also had several bouts of nerve pain in my legs. RSI and nerve pain stuff seem to go hand in hand. A lot of this advice ties into reducing nerve pain as well. I've had three surgeries total to move my ulnar nerves out of their ulnar tunnel so they would stop snapping over the bone and causing me pain. This wasn't the only cause of my issues though.

A lot of pain in your arms actually originates in your neck/shoulder area. There is an issue called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome that is suspected to be the cause of most of this kind of arm/hand pain. Chances are, you have bad posture.

Things that helped:

- Using a macbook pro for all computer use. Using a mouse or raised keyboard is awful for your hands. The trackpad placement with the keyboard, and the fact you can set the trackpad to register a touch (without pushing down) as a click are very helpful. Make sure you're not bending your wrists to the left or right when typing. It's a hard habit to break, and you're probably doing it now, but ideally you want your hands to be straight in line with your arm. Wrong - https://ehs.okstate.edu/modules/ergo/hand4.gif. Right - https://ehs.okstate.edu/modules/ergo/hand3.gif. Also, don't raise up your hands when typing or using a mouse, it stresses out your forearm muscles.

- No keyboard or mousepad wrist pads, they just constrict the nerve pathways in your wrists.

- You want to make sure your posture is good. When working at a desk, you actually should be sitting back against the seat, with your arms supported by the arm rests. You shouldn't be sitting straight up 90 degrees, but leaning back a little, with your back supported against the chair. This picture kind of shows it - http://cdn.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/computer... - though I would say you should be a bit less far back than the 135, maybe like 110.

- General posture stuff: when walking make sure your hips aren't tilted forward or backwards, make sure your shoulders are slouched forward, make sure your head isn't tilted forward (99% chance you do this one and don't even realize). Make sure your shoes' soles aren't worn down - if you see they look uneven buy new shoes.

- TMS (Tension Mytostis Syndrome) - basically is stress and anxiety making your brain subconsciously cause your body pain. Really helpful with me way after my surgeries in getting from 3-4 pain level to 0-1. I read this one - http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0446675156/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_d....

- The Trigger point therapy workbook - http://www.amazon.com/Trigger-Point-Therapy-Workbook-Self-Tr.... Your muscles get tight and get these things called trigger points. This causes them to tense up and pull on other muscles, starting a bad chain reaction causing pain all over. This will teach you not only how to do trigger point self massage, but how groups of muscles can affect other parts of the body far away from them. You’ll also want to pick up a pair of lacrosse balls, they’re super helpful for self massage.

- OTC pain pills – this I discovered recently – NSAID’s like Aleve work by reducing inflammation, while Tylenol works more on your Central Nervous System by increasing your pain threshold so it takes higher levels of pain before you can feel them. Also way gentler on your stomach than Aleve. Aleve can also cause some damage to your digestive system, making it harder to absorb…

- B12 vitamins – a deficiency of b vitamins, especially 12 can cause neuropathy (nerve pain). This b vitamin combo is really good, has all the best options for each one inside of it - http://www.swansonvitamins.com/swanson-ultra-high-potency-ac...

- Sleep – I find that if I get less than 8 hours of sleep over a period of a few days my nerves start to light up a bit (not sure how else to describe it). Sleep is super important, it’s when your body does most of its repairing and healing.

- Anti anxiety meds – klonopin, xanax, etc - if you can get prescribed these, I’ve found them more helpful than painkillers sometimes, they definitely take the edge off. From what I've read they can be very addictive though, so watch out for that.

- Actual nerve pain medicine – I learned about this reading Wolf of Wall Street. Turned out he had terrible, chronic nerve/back pain that drove him to do all those drugs. He was at the end of his rope, multiple surgeries and still a lot of pain. His doctor ends up prescribing him Lamictal, which at the time was a medicine for seizures, and it’s like a switch was flipped and he wasn’t in pain anymore. There are better options these days for that though, Lyrica is a popular, as is Neurontin. They can have some side effects, but apparently can be very effective (I’ve never tried them myself, was able to get my pain down to a manageable level for the most part, though I do have them in my mind as a back up if it gets really bad again) - http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peripheral-neu...

If you would like to do more research on top of what I described above:

- If you want to go to a doctor, try a neurologist or a good physical therapist. Most doctors are infuriatingly ignorant and incompetent when it comes to these kinds of issues.

- Read about the nerves in the arm, and thoracic outlet syndrome

Good luck, and try not to lose hope, I know how being in pain every day can wear someone out. Remember that there’s a good chance you won’t be in pain or at least it will be manageable at some point in the future, even if that may be a while out. If you want to ask me any questions, I'd be happy to help.

Wow thank you! I'm not at that level of pain myself, but I've started to notice symptoms that started to worry me, one of them being that numbness you originally described. I want to prevent a disaster before it happens, since my livelihood depends on it.

No problem, hope it helps!

I used to get the same thing playing ultimate (frisbee).

when I caught the disk, the edge would snam into my wrist. I hear volleyball players get the same thing. I made a wrist-protector from tap and bandages. Eventually though, the numbness still came, maybe even worse due to the false protection from the protector (like how boxing gloves actually harm boxers more in the long run by allowing fights to go on longer).

I have been using a trackball for many years (logitech marble mouse) because of the issues I was starting to have in my wrist. That, and typing correctly helped avoid wrist pains for me. It is something I haven't thought about in years.

I never learned to touch type, and type pretty erratically.

I sometimes wonder if the inefficiency of movement is actually better wrt spreading the load. If the closest digit always presses the same key, there maybe a bias towards the same, repetitive movements which are often bad.

Do you mind me asking, at what times did you feel the pain?

I've been having something similar but always during the night, so I had not made an association with RSI.

Usually after using the mouse or my hands for a couple of hours or so while. If it started happening, anything that compressed my wrist (or something) could begin to set it off.

Do you have anything on or around you arms when you sleep (or lie on them?).

Ah, I see. Thanks.

Yeah, I'm probably sleeping in a weird position. I have a history of doing that.

PS: if you want to correct your posture, here is a good link to get started:


(usual disclaimers apply)

I've been a programmer since 1985, so 31 years. In the last 10 years I've been more in the lead/architect role, but in relation to this article, still just a programmer. I too am good at delivering, so I make pretty good cake as a consultant in Chicago.

Even so, it's true you rarely have a voice in changing things. On the plus-side, you generally don't get involved in office politics as a consultant. On the minus-side, this leaves you with nearly zero power.

I've gone through cycles of looking for ways out and I found one outlet that may or may not pan out, but it keeps my skills fresh.

I'm a serial entrepreneur (currently without a success) that works on my own ideas with my own money working with people I like and respect. My first start-up was in ed-tech and although every (and I mean everyone) loved my idea, I couldn't get it off the ground.

My second is a work in progress, I have a partner, and our app should release this summer. It will be interesting to go through that process.

Even so, I still love coding and being around coders. I was at a design agency a couple of years ago and a young guy, early twenties, out of the blue said, "Dude, you're awesome."

I had no idea what he meant and then he added (I'm paraphrasing), "You've been writing code for 30 years and you still love it. I just started two years ago and I love it and I've always wondered if I could do it as a career...if I would still be passionate when I get old. You're living proof that I can. You're awesome dude."

The OP was kind of talking about money and stability and effecting change, but there are also responsibilities on that side of things some of us programmers just aren't cut out for...so I say be passionate programmer and be happy you have a marketable skill.

Without one or both, the world gets a lot darker.

Having gone this route - 8 years software engineer enterprise software - 8 years management enterprise software - downturn - back to software engineer mobile - now back to running an engineering team, there are trade offs.

First, what I realized going back to writing code in my early 40s, after 8 years in management, is how rewarding each day was when I was coding. You could get to the end of the day, point at what you did, and realize that you actually accomplished something.

In management, I have rarely felt like that. There is nothing to point to. It's all soft and mushy. Has anyone yelled at you today? Did any of your team get pissed at you? No? Ok, maybe you had a good day.

It's not all about the money or the 'career path'. Sometimes it's about contentment every day.

The grass is always greener on the other side. I have another story... I started off as Unix admin, a programmer, about 15 years ago became a technical manager, director, vp and so on.

Frankly, looking back at it, I wish I never made that choice and stayed software developer or admin. Trust me, its much more fun.Unfortunately it is a one way street. Paperwork, schmoozing to get funding for your team and sitting in various meetings all day, not so much...

What makes you think it's a one-way street? I fully expect that the early part of my "retirement" may well look like taking an individual contributor role in software again.

What does the "non-programmer"'s job look like on a day-to-day basis?

I like coding because there's relatively little time management. It's not super chaotic except the few instances where there's a deadline. You just have to think and code, preferably in the zone for as long as possible.

Being a CTO or CEO sounds a lot more painful to manage. Lots of deadlines, people to manage, people demanding things on time from you.

His other post about his view of the downside of being a programmer is also relevant here.. http://thecodist.com/article/programming_is_a_dead_end_job

> all I will be until I croak is what I am now

Aw, this is a sad story. I'm sure there are more positive things in life this guy could look back upon. Starting his own company sounds cool to me and he is obviously a caring brother.

> So yes I regret not taking that choice and seeing where it would have led me, yet I would have missed all the fun of writing code and the soul-draining jobs that often come with it where you can’t really fix anything.

I believe there will more often be good jobs than soul-draining ones for programmers in the future. Tech people will become better leaders and create better positions for young programmers. Even janitors are sometimes very happy in their positions. It depends on management and your state of mind.

I have a little bio myself on the subject of being "just a programmer" [1]. Everyone makes mistakes and wonders how life would've been different. The trick is to not dwell on them. Stay curious, take breaks, read some self help books, seek out new friends and activities, etc. It's not easy but a little hard work to get out of some bad habits can feel great.

[1] http://robhawkins.info/

As a programmer, this kind of reads like a sore lottery loser. I as well didnt score big working at one of these companies, nor did I engage in leadership roles, but thats the way the ball bounces.

Also, I know programmers making 50k, more than those making over 100k, but I live in the midwest.

Cant save much, but I can take care of my family and that is what is important to me.

The frustrating fact in technology is that your career is pretty much a lottery. I know people I went to undergrad with who lucked into the right company and are now independently wealthy. Most of the rest of us are still slogging away, having worked for a string of non-rocketships. Nobody at that time (late 90s) knew which company would mean early retirement, and which ones would go bust. It was a total crap shoot.

Try browsing the "Who's hiring" threads here. If you're looking to join a start-up, 99% of them are companies you've never heard of. One of them will be the next Facebook, and if you go work for it, you'll end up set for life--but there's no way to know and chances are you're going to pick one of the many who will go bust or just sputter around without making money for a few years.

Its more about autonomy: after the basics are taken care of, how do I avoid depressing things caused by other people affecting me?

In my opinion all the article is about how he is NOT a "sore lottery loser".

IMHO he is trying to explain how being just a programmer, didn't let him change (in better) the faith of the companies he used to work for.

Awesome post. Being in the ditches often allows you to see easy ways to fix problems. Being a leader makes it hard to see what's going on in the ditches. There aren't many leaders that listen to the people in the ditches. Unfortunately, most corporations and people in general don't value leaders who listen. They value leaders with charisma. They value leaders that project confidence even if they don't know what the hell they are talking about. It's up to us as programmers to start taking those leadership opportunities and take the road less travelled.

A good friend and I both started out as software engineers. Dunning Kruger or not, I am a very good software engineer and so is/was he. He also has an insatiable craving for status and cares immensely about how successful he's perceived as being by others. I don't, at all. So for the past 20 years, I stayed a mere developer and strongly resist any attempts to promote me into management. I will actually start looking for another job if I am promoted over my ardent objections. I cannot stand being a manager or tech lead of any kind. I just want to be a programmer despite the popular advice here not to do so.

My friend has gone from engineer to product manager, marketing manager and in "business development" now. He has tried to explain to me what the latter two jobs entail (I understand product manager), but I just do not get what it is he does all day. He hates his job, but really really gets off on how successful society says he is (between management title and salary) such that it seems to compensate for the daily misery.

I am, however, waiting for the day he becomes a CEO and I can be his admin assistant or some other low-key, lower-stress helper (we are still good friends). Beyond a good salary, I really don't care about status or title. I think I would be happier as a janitor if it paid 120K+.

TLDR: Different strokes for different folks.

IMHO, the OP is missing a big, huge point: He is really in the best position. So, here is what he should do:

Step 1: Create a small business. For this, he should pick a product or service that can be that of a significant business, e.g., the one he would like to manage as as technical CEO and where initially he can develop the product or service mostly just by programming on his own. Then from that product or service, get revenue.

Step 2: Be the CEO of the business, still just a one person startup except with as much outsourced as possible -- e.g., rented offices, bookkeeping, accounting, taxes, benefits, business insurance, legal, colocation or cloud for the server farm, consultants for specialized technical topics he is not already good at, etc.

Then as the first hire, hire an office manager later to grow to one of an administrative assistant, chief of staff, head of HR, or COO. Hire the product development staff and then the CIO to manage that staff. Hire a CFO, CMO, etc.

Then for this business, be the leader he wished he'd been in the past.

His abilities as a programmer let him do well in Step 1 and also be good at the technical parts of management in Step 2.

Step 3: Profit?

(Seriously, it is easier said than done. Do you know how many small businesses failed?)

Depends on how you define success and failure. I've had 7 failed startups (#8 is in the process of failing at the moment). I consider them all failures because I didn't end up with FU money. Funny thing is startup 6 & 7 really got me close.

Although, even if I won a billion dollar lottery, I'd still move on to startup #9. Half the fun is in the building anyway :-)

Agree that fun is in building the companies. But how long can you afford keep doing it (assuming you have family/commitment)? Success is what i call, you can keep doing what you like, not dependent on money, etc - iow, financial independence.

BTW, would be interesting to know the geographies of people who comment in this thread - say SF Bay Area, TX, MA, etc. That really adds new perspective to this discussion. My 2c.

I live in Oklahoma currently. I have done 5 of the startups in OK, one in CA (SF) and one in Texas.

You make choices in life and there are tradeoffs. I don't have kids nor do I anticipate having any. If they come, so be it. I partially left the Bay Area because I couldn't see even raising a hypothetical family there. That, the sticker shock never completely wore off and I never donned my rose colored glasses either :-)

I can afford to do it until the day I die. I've set myself up rather nicely in that regard. I'd be retired already if it weren't for my startups & first marriage. But being retired in your mid 30s sounds boring as well (I'm in my 40s now). However, I waffle on that position, so take it with a grain of salt.

tl;dr: guy craves status and money, chooses engineering instead of management, feels unhappy.

Well, yes. If you want status, go into a profession built around status (a manager, a politician). If you want big money, go become an entrepreneur or again a manager.

If you're ok with mere six figures of salary, but crave certain other things, you can consider engineering. (If you can withstand five figures but have even stronger craving for these certain other things, maybe you're hardened enough to go to science.)

This piece has nothing to do with programming. The problem is simply with jobs, and a common career mentality, which goes something like this: "If you do good work, your career will take care of you. If you weren't taken care of, then it's the career's fault."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are two things that boost careers. The first is the employer. Your employer determines your success through their success, and so your fate truly is in their hands as long as you are just doing work that is provided. Hence successful companies produce successful employees with successful careers. But to be good at this, you need to be a visionary employee. You must be able to tell apart the good entrepreneurs from the idiots. You need to become a good follower, not worker.

The second is overreaching your job's boundaries and overachieving. This is what catches a lot of people, because it's being non-complacent when that's all that is being asked of you. It's the ability to demarginalize yourself because jobs are maginalizing, not people. If you fit a better job, your career will take you there. Either a good employer will recognize your worth, or you will recognize the worthlessness of your employer and move on.

I have this extremely strong hunch that we all rise to our potential. And when I see someone complaining of how little they've accomplished, in more cases than not, they will make excuses, talk of regrets, and list all the bad luck and negative circumstances that surrounded their demise. Rarely do I hear them admit how bad they sucked, or how bad they compromised, or how they let it happen because they didn't act otherwise.

"I am still just a programmer."

That's you marginalizing yourself. Mark Zuckerberg was just a programmer. But you become more not by fitting tighter into that cast. You become more by breaking it. Eventually people will stop calling you just a programmer. And if that's your employer, you either just got promoted, or fired.

I faced this same decision (for very similar reasons) about 15 years ago, and decided to go the management track (I'd been a back-seat manager before that too). I enjoyed helping "underlings" succeed, was well-respected (not always popular) by those people I managed, had some good mentors, and had some good success moving up the ladder. I was reluctantly getting used to the fact that I spent most of my time in meetings, and made no direct contribution to the bottom line of the company.

After 3 years a programming job came up from a company that was an early adopter of telecommuting and had (organically) adopted many business concepts since popularized by 37Signals (i.e. better job by eliminating the crap). The company I was at was asphyxiating due to 2008 crash, so I took the leap. Coincidentally I had read 4 Hour Week around that time. I knew it was a potential "step back", but it seemed like a better way to work (I could be a programmer, and strongly influence the direction of the company, and have a much better work-life balance).

Best choice I ever made. I have since changed jobs twice (first company got bought out by a bigger public company, who ruined the fun with bureaucracy), but what I look for now is a company that is structured in a way that front-line technical people (and Support people, and Sales people) can meaningfully influence the success and direction of the company, and the executive management spends most of their time with sleeves rolled up, coding or closing deals, and very little time as overlords. Those companies are out there, more now than before.

Many people who I have worked with in the past are now in executive positions. They often try to persuade me to move into management (so far, unsuccessfully). Some of them make more money than I do (that, fortunately has also changed in the last 10 years). All of them spend their days doing things that I would enjoy less than what I get to do, the things I would have been doing if I'd stayed on the executive track. The pay/asset difference would not make up for the work and life I enjoy now.


How do you recognize these types of good companies?

The companies are probably small, it'd be rare for a large company to be able to pull it off. They probably have most people telecommuting (telecommuting tends to level out executive vs front-line). They necessarily have a higher mix of "senior" people (people who can manage themselves without much management).

The executives do things that directly make money (e.g CTO still codes, CEO still closes deals), even as the company grows (and tend to outsource/offload things that would normally give them more power, but don't contribute to the bottom line). Coders probably work directly with Support and Sales staff and sometimes customers to understand customer problems. On the higher end of revenue/employee and productivity/employee ratio. Company is probably frugal, spending money on things that actually make the company successful, not just look/feel successful.

The company will behave like its small even as it gets bigger. More focused on getting to profitability without raising more money, than on "higher" rounds of funding. Will probably live by "something decent that works now is better than perfect in the future". They will probably be using a boring technology stack because they can't afforce to waste time proving out newfangled stuff (that customers usually don't care about anyways, and certainly won't pay for).

If you think you've found such a company, compare them to the characteristics in "Getting Real" by 37Signals[1], it captures a lot of things that I've seen in these companies. If they even get close to hitting 1/2 of those, good chance it's such a company.

[1] https://gettingreal.37signals.com/

While I appreciate the OP's point of view, I have to say that in my experience once you start making more than you really need your job becomes taking care of that extra money, and the drive to do what took you there in the first place diminishes.

One (like myself) must have a sense of need or urgency to feel compelled to do things such as development. Once the need is gone, so is the will, and I could argue, the thrill.

I keep hearing stories of non-technical managers making elementary mistakes when it comes to technical decisions.

Many of the things are so widely established, they can be learned by spending a little time reading a few books, talking to a few people. So I have to wonder what the obstacles are here.

An aversion to reading? Inflexible management dogma? Distractible lifestyles? Poor critical thinking in general?

In many cases a non-technical manager will report to a chain of other managers who are also non-technical. It should not be surprising that the criteria on which they are judged do not include technical decision making.

Instead, important metrics may include size of team, number of hires per year, revenue of business unit, number of customer-reported defects, etc. I worked at a place where bugs reported internally were not eligible for the highest levels of severity, because after all no customer had noticed (yet). So mistakes reported by customers counted against managers, but ones caught by developers did not, regardless of how much effort was required to fix them.

> It should not be surprising that the criteria on which they are judged do not include technical decision making.

Absolutely. Even individual technical contributors are judged on vague criteria. I'd argue that 'being liked by your manager' is more important than being technically excellent.

> So mistakes reported by customers counted against managers, but ones caught by developers did not, regardless of how much effort was required to fix them.

Exactly. Also, I've never seen technical debt (myopic technical decision-making) affect evaluation of management.

Reflexively, I keep hearing stories (and seeing some firsthand) where technical managers are making elementary mistakes when it comes to people matters.

Many of these things are so widely established....

It's a problem in both directions. In my view, the non-technical managers need to learn to take more counsel from the technical experts working for them, since most technical matters can be openly discussed. People matters, at least some of the sticky ones, can't be openly discussed with a panel of experts.

Those things that we don't know that we don't know. If the managers don't have have appreciation for that what their underlings do require some skills then they won't bother to try to learn.


So you're an IC suffering under "incompetent management". Yeah sometimes you just can't work around this, but often times you can learn to sell your ideas better to those specific people. Maybe they don't jive with your delivery. Change it.

If you speak the language of revenue, you can rationalize almost anything that will grow it responsibly.

If the language of revenue and various delivery tactics still don't convince your management, then it's time to leave.

I too struggle with focusing on the negative sometimes, so I constantly encourage myself (and the author and others who are feeling similarly) to redouble efforts to optimistically communicate in the language of revenue.

My office mate (both programmers) put it this way: Your title walks into the room before you.

In an initial meeting with external customers / partners, the invitees may not know anything about you or your actual role . They see the titles on other people on say a meeting invite- "Senior Architect" or "Director of Engineering" and have much more interest in those guys and ask them the questions. Despite those guys often being so far removed from the actual technology they (in our experience) knew nothing and just said "yes" to everything... or just asked us later.

It's stupid, and it's petty... but it happens, just like this guy tells it.

This reminds me of a story when I was a headhunter in 2009 before I became a programmer. It was that time of the year again and bonuses were being given out. I talked to a candidate about his bonus for that year and he said he got promoted instead be the leaders. Then I ask how many got promoted, and he said the entire team. Finally, I asked, so what difference has his job been since getting the promotion - None.

Once you deal with FOMO (the fear of missing out) you are then free to deal with all the rest of your fears, leading to much higher life satisfaction.

Stoicism, eastern philosophy (esp. ZhuangZi), travel and experience of other cultures, all help a lot.

Wow! It's great knowing some person have been in the art for so long and have accomplished so much. I've had a laptop computer for about a year now and I've not done anything really good with it. It came with Windows and some programs (Office, Mavis Beacon, a CAD software, etc) installed and I've found my passion for breaking things increase since then. After learning how to type on the keyboard (with the Mavis Beacon software), I got annoyed at the OS pestering me to enter an activation key (it wasn't activated) and I got it activated. I dealt with little inconveniences, tried to fix things that weren't broken (just out of curiosity), broke more things in the process (viruses helped me do this too), crashed my hard disk, got a bad LCD screen, lost precious files and had some other misfortunes (all in less than one year). Now I've found myself in a strange relationship with Linux (so addicted I test distros for fun). I'm thinking of installing Slackware for no valid reason than 'I just like it'. I tried my hands on web development, read some books, did a few pages for fun and soon found myself visiting and leaving languages like a tourist, without knowing anyone well. All in about one year. I tried taking Harvard's CS50 on edX and I couldn't complete because of freshman college work and here I am now, back at web design. I seem to have no skill; just curiosity and impatience. But I'll learn. And for the nostalgia I feel about the things I've broken, I'll build more.

The best time to start a project was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

That's the same thing they say about investing in the stock market.

> Trying to be both leader and programmer was simply too much.

I learned you cannot lead and do work at the same time while running my Christmas light installation company. With a team of 4 people, the less I worked the more got done - by a large margin.

This is because the labor of the other 4 people was leveraged much more efficiently when I was observing, supervising, and coordinating.

Caveat: You have to do a little of the work, otherwise you won't have the understanding to make good decisions.

I made a the choice to go into leadership. (note I still avoiding the word "manager" as that makes me feel like a PHB ..but I'm getting over it).

The epiphany:

A VP I respect a lot was is still a crazy tinkerer with a strong technical background. He once made an automated dog watering bowl - it was stupid and brilliant and gained him a special kind of respect among engineers (myself included). I felt especially good because he asked me for advice on how to code bits of it[0].

This was the example I needed to realize I can still be a developer and a leader who writes code - achem - tinkers - for fun, bragging rights etc. I love telling my engineers that I hacked together some stupid thing (twillio api irc bot haha) while being careful not to pretend its the kind of pro-work they do day in and day out.

[0] I'm not sure if he realized it - but that was an act of motivational leadership. The vp asking his 2-level-down report for some pretty detailed advice - then coming back to show the results. It may seem obvious to some, but this was a major epiphany for me, and I've since seen this quality in all of my favorite bosses & mentors.

Zuckerberg just did something similar, with his home AI project.

Management has always politics involved. And politics get ugly fast, strange personalities fighting over small stuff with minimal importance.

Now exchange "Management" in the first sentence with "Programming in a team" ;)

Right, but as the article points out - you get compensated (10x) better for it in the management track. There are outliers of course, but they are just that - outliers.

It is biased. Middle management makes usually less that senior programmers. His perspective is biased, he compare senior developer to VP/CTO roles. It way more difficult to become someone high in management structure. Since manager ratio is 5-10 to one manager, and high level manager is for every 50-100 employees you need to very lucky, in right place and time.

Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose is what we all want. Bad leaders are getting in the way of his Autonomy so he feels like he lost his Purpose. Hence the longing for an objective metric like money. It's a poor substitute.

Just a quick comment for content creators. On your personal websites, please make yourself prevalent. Most of the time, I like to get to know the author before reading their blog post. Having that background helps to frame the article(post), so I don't have to jump to conclusions about your experience.

In this case, I only have the author's name because of the copyright line at the end of the page. There are quite a few entries in the archive posts, but quickly skimming through them, I don't see an obvious introduction post. The first few posts look well written, but jump right into the subject; again, without giving any background on the author. And, it appears that the articles are out of order (possibly because the earliest articles have been updated).

Google search brings up a few people with the author's name. Researching an author, without a wikipedia article or some other published article, feels more like stalking.

In conclusion, please have an 'about' section. It doesn't have to be your entire CV, but, please, give some basic info about yourself.

I would have this dilemma too.The choice of whether to take up a Technical Management role to remain in coding is something every hacker will face.I say hacker because I consider a hacker different coder on the basis that a hacker loves what he is doing.What you need to realise is that context matters a lot: For example,from the OP's link "When I pointed this out the manager said [...] Eventually I gave up and left. This change could be brought about without being a VP/CTO too.It would involve taking up more responsibility than what your current job description dictates.If you as an employer care enough to bring about change and be considered responsible for such changes ,then you will be able to bring about the change you wanted. The OP also says "(I knew several people) but they were afraid to make any changes".This shows that those people were not ready to take up the responsibility for the matters discussed.I feel that the difference between a programmer and the rest of the professions that the OP mentions is the difference between "People Management" and "Code Management".Something which commonly intersects in the role of a "Technical Lead".

Also keep in mind that it commonly happens that one of the first few programmers become a CTO? .That is not only because of the requirement of such a position but also a genuine care for the product which leads to him shouldering responsibility for the same.

So now if you were doing this responsibility shouldering and people management for 10 years,you cannot expect yourself to up-to-date and be tech savvy forever. Some people move to that position to also ensure relevancy. -It is much harder to remain relevant as a programmer in comparison to being in a managerial position.

TLDR;It all depends on how much you like to code in comparison to see through a finished product which sells.Both are symbiotic fields which need specialists in each area.

I think the right path is to be both a manager and a programmer. Starting business is getting easier and one person can manage both.

Starting a business is fairly easy, especially one that is service-based with low initial capital requirements. Maintaining a business for the long term is an entirely different beast.

This post resonated with me. I've realized that, more often than not, technical individual contributors have very very little influence over the general direction of a product, let alone a business, and have a very well-understood (and, in my opinion, low) salary cap. Job hopping helps with ensuring that your compensation doesn't stray too far off from market rate, but this only brings you closer to the proverbial glass ceiling. I've also worked in organizations with technical management that were barely technical and happened to get into those positions for other reasons, yet they somehow made more in bonuses and raw salary than ICs.

These two things have made me want to focus on getting into management as soon as possible. (I'm 28.) I might hate the additional responsibility, or I might not, but I feel like going this direction will give me some more upside than I currently have now.

That's one of the reasons I got out of programming, was the salary ceiling. Sure, your first job hop as a programmer will probably get you a 20% or so increase! That gets your hopes up. Then your next one will be only 10% or so, and by the time you're 20 years into your career, you're barely getting any pay raises by changing company.

And if you think that changes by just being a different kind of individual contributor, you're probably wrong. You will still hit a salary cap even if you go into project management or product management--often at a lower $$$ figure than as a programmer. Maybe that changes when you get into people management--I don't know.

If you want to break through that ceiling, you need to have a position that includes a path to significant ownership. That's why bankers and lawyers have a path to becoming partners in the firm, and doctors have a path to private practice. A handful of worthless stock options at a startup doesn't count.

Anecdotal, but I am not exagerrating when I say about a quarter of the developers I'm friends with (i.e. hang out with outside of work) make substantially more than a new partner at a big firm.

Source: They discussed their negotiations with me so I know their compensation, and I used to work as a CPA at one of the big 4

Given that total partner compensation is usually $1MM/year+ (on the low-end), those developer are HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE outliers (or are mostly comp'ed in stock options, and we know how that goes)

At the big 4 firm I was at, I can say positively that total partner compensation did not start out anywhere close to 1 million/year

Oh, wow. I thought it did. My bad!

The thing, though, is that making the leap into management often puts you on that pathway to ownership since you have more visibility and exposure to the business and the projects you take on are usually bigger/higher-risk.

There are places where technical leadership runs in parallel to people leadership, but I feel like those are in the minority...

Don't we just love these such discussions and don't such fork roads in life go back to the core philosophy of an individual's values of her or his life.

I know friends who have always loved programming and will continue till last breath living happily in their world of programming (which is huge these days).

I also know dear friends who have got the most advanced degree's irrelevant to computer science and yet are dreaming to be a programmer.

All said, what can one conclude from Mr Andrew Wulf's judgement of his life? I'm thinking about the answer as I'm writing this... hmm what does this tell me... perhaps not much else that there exist another person who regret his past decision, true or false, the chances are that it is applicable to anyone including me is as much as how much Mr Andrew Wulf's complexity of life and his state of mind are similar to others reading it.

I can only speak for myself, but I found it instructive. There is significant complexity to ones life experience, but I found myself echoing many of his statements and situations, and find myself at a similar crossroads (IC vs Manager).

The fact that our long term desire (to impact positive change) is aligned, and he found himself unable to accomplish that to a sufficient degree as an IC, certainly weights my so-to-say bayesian prior in this decision.

I am indeed in the same situation as you and him. But I struggle to conclude anything valuable from his story. Should I get encourage to go for management because another person who maybe different side of the coin compare to me has regretted it in his senior age?

Just curious, how did his story change your view on making decision for your fork road?

For me, the combination of the experiences of the people I've met/heard from firsthand which I feel enough subjective similarity to does provide a contributing weight to my decision making process, alongside a really shifting number of personal judgments and extrapolations. In this instance, this has made me more willing to seek out/accept a management position to see if I can address similar feelings of powerlessness that he expressed.

(To respond to the child since the respond window isn't up yet and I'm about to go heads down on some stuff, it certainly is a matter of "this is a push", that's what I mean when I say I weight it alongside other things, it tipped the balance meaningfully. As to why I give it this weight, it's another entirely subjective judgement that as I said earlier enough statements he makes echoing with me)

A lot is exactly same for me as you described, but my point is that, what factor(s) makes you to exclude Mr Andrew Wulf's personality, sets of skill and life complexity's difference to you from the equation that you ended up concluding more towards his point (going towards management)?

Could it be the fact that you were already thinking of doing such move and this story was just a push?

P.S let's see what reddit guys say about this: https://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/4dle5m/the_cod...

This post makes me sad. Where we should be encouraging others to join this field, this does the opposite. These are the golden years of computing where we mere humans can still make worthy software (before AI writes our software for us). I find it to be a privilege to work in this industry and actually be paid for what I do. Yes I consider writing software to be a form of art and I pity others who don't have the same job as us. I think that the author's career path has more to do with is adversity to risk than the decision not to go into senior management. Leaving apple when it was shaky, leaving startups when there were problems. If I was lucky enough to work for a startup or any business that had a sound business model but was suffering from managerial incompetence I would leave and compete.

While I agree that it might be harder for full-time developers to have a lot of material assets (but still make a decent living), that simply is not the case when it comes to impact: just check all the open source projects that are integral to everyone's life these days.

Not everyone wants to contribute to open source projects. I can see two reasons:

1) Major open source projects are usually sponsored by a corporate parent that employs full-time programmers on the projects. The company steers the project. Independent contributors tend to be young people trying to fill up their GitHub profile because a blog told them that's how you do a résumé these days.

2) Small open source projects are often dominated by young people trying to fill up their GitHub profile because a blog told them that's how you do a résumé these days. Experienced programmers may not want to get involved in that.

Start your own project.

If the goal is to gain leverage on the day job and financial security, statistically speaking that is a poor advice.

If the goal is to learn about public projects and write something one needs and feels important, then, sure, that's awesome.

Either nobody will use it, or you have to be good in marketing. Speaking of which, you'd earn a ton of money being a good programmer with good marketing skills. These can be good consultants.

My biggest regret as a programmer is having to work for businesses who neither value nor understand the software development process. Who simply aim to milk, milk, milk and milk some more till you ate burnt out and sapped.

Programming itself, I will never give up on.

Ohhh... man. This is a bit tough to read.

After 20 years in programming I've recently started looking into going back for a CS degree (masters or undergrad). But this guy makes me wonder if I should reconsider the MBA option.

If you've been programming for 20 years, unless you're hoping to work in IC or processors, CS isn't really going to help you all that much.

He would have been unhappy with the other choice as well, because then it is the programming side he would be missing out on. I would advise everyone to read The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost.


You chose one option out of many, and the others may no longer be a possibility. However, the writer's unhappiness does not spawn from his inability to be successful at what he does, but what the never-manifest possibility of what could have been. Maybe he would have been terrible at that kind of work. That doesn't matter, because in his head, he had the skills but made a bad decision. Instead of looking at what he has achieved in his life and career as a programmer, he is pondering what could have been in a reality that is not, never was and never will be.

This kind of thinking leads one astray.

>My sister started as a programmer 30 years ago but jumped into management [...] My sister has 10X the assets I have.

I just have to say this: So typically american.

> I just have to say this: So typically american.

The attitude presented in the article is indeed typically American -- but not for the reason I think you intended.

The quintessential American quality is the belief that every person has the right to control their own destiny. Fuck, it's right there in the first sentence of the first document declaring this country's independence.

Americans are often seen as greedy relative to our European counterparts. But you have to remember that there's a different social contract over in the USA -- if you fall, you're on your own. Therefore, money is seen primarily as a means to self-determination.

Now, this all gets fucked when you throw in consumer culture on top of it, but the desire to accumulate large sums of money is not uniquely American -- but we're damn good at it because the cultural message we get sent early on is that once you're an adult, you're on your own. If you want to control your destiny, you'd better learn how to make money.

But notice that the author's main complaint wasn't about money -- it was about all the wasted opportunities where if he had more power (in the form of a management role) he could have had more influence on the outcome of situations he was involved with. The loss of self-determination is the big gripe -- and the entire reason I hit the eject button from engineering early in my career.

It's a very interesting dynamic. Humanistic psychology focuses extensively on ideas of locus of control (Rotter) and self-actualization (Maslow). The perspective has its shortcomings, but I think it manages to hit on a point that many of the others either miss or place little emphasis on. People in general tend to underestimate just how significant that can be.

For example, I've always found the argument that certain voters (commonly poor white working-class) who vote for small-government are voting against their own economic interests to be rather interesting from a psych perspective. I'm a libertarian so I don't put much faith in the idea, but I think that issue could be traced back to the concept of locus of control. Voting for larger social spending might benefit them financially, but it also means accepting the belief that control over their life is externalized.

The alternative--that control is internalized or even just the perception that it's internalized--is likely more palatable psychologically as a core self-evaluation, with a more beneficial influence on other CSEs (neuroticism, generalized self-efficacy, and self-esteem). That leads to better life satisfaction, and can contribute to later economic success according to the research.

Reality is a lot more nuanced than that, but perception is absolutely fundamental in terms of how it can affect personality.

Interesting point. The idea of a meritocracy is pretty ingrained into the tech world, and that means control over life is internal, not external.

But tech is not a meritocracy. [1] [2]

Accepting that you have less control over your life may change some of your outcomes, but I doubt it would completely crush one's spirit.

I've accepted that I'll never flap my arms unaided and fly like a bird. I'm not depressed because of that realization. It's a known limitation of my life, and I can live with it, and I won't spend my weekends practicing my flapping and running skills. It actually helps me focus on areas I can affect change... such as building a jetpack.

Knowing which things are outside of your control should help you realize what is and is not within your ability to change, and then you can figure out how to make the most success given which variables are mutable or immutable.

You mention research about one's perception can affect later economic success; I'd be very interested in a reference.

[1] http://istechameritocracy.com [2] http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2014/02/06/272...

But tech is not a meritocracy

But it should be, and the issues laid out in your links detail failures to reach that ideal.

We can do better. That does not mean we stop trying or abandon the ideal that you should be known for your works above all else.

Nor did I suggest to stop striving for the ideal.

But just like any other institutional problem (racism, sexism, etc), it does no good to simply ignore it while it negatively impacts you. Instead, acknowledging your current situation, and working to make it better, is key.

> But tech is not a meritocracy.

Some people say it is, others say it isn't. Neither use a lot of data in their arguments.

Some people say it is, until you ask them if tech interviewing is sane. We can't even find a tech interview process that correlates well with performance and that's just who we let in the door before they even get to rise up as their value merits.

Then you add questions of if who is chosen for promotion is sane, if what products a company chooses to focus on is sane, if what products the market chooses to make popular is sane. None of those are optimal in the sense that the "best" thing wins out. Marketing (of a product or self-promotion) and being in the right place at the right time dominate each of those steps.

So how on earth would you take that and get a meritocracy out the other end?

The fact that the people who perform best in interviews aren't also the people who perform best on the job doesn't invalidate meritocracy; it simply means that interview environment/tasks are a poor approximation of job environment/tasks. Non-meritocracy would mean that you don't choose the people who interview the best, but instead choose people you (1) like most, or (2) have a particular skin color, or (3) have perticular interests, etc.

The second part of your comment is less relevant, as I think most "tech" people would say that e.g. promotions (management), product development (marketing) and the general market dynamics are highly "non-tech". But in many of these areas, people do try to choose the best - at least as far as marketing is concerned, companies dislike wasting money and choose to promote those people/products that they expect will produce the most profit. Companies' "profit", of course, doesn't correspond to a person's "merit" ("profitcracy"?), but the basic mechanism is the same.

1. I think tech interviews are sane and screen for very specific skills - ability to master topic (everyone asks the same algo questions - there is no excuse not to master them even if you do not use knowledge day to day. It's no different from learning any other domain), ability to perform under pressure and ability to feign enthusiasm (it really suck to work with smb who visibly hates his job). Lack of those skills make person less productive in corporate environment. There is some randomness but overall process works very well.

2. Being good at self-promotion is a merit. Some have it and some not. You could not define merit as just technical skills.

> There is some randomness but overall process works very well.

Not many here would agree with you, on both sides of the table. Whiteboarding skills often do not translate into ability at a job.

> Being good at self-promotion is a merit. Some have it and some not. You could not define merit as just technical skills

Sure, but you're starting to beg the question. All systems are meritocracies if merit is defined at being successful within that system.

It's ironic to me the reputation for American pragmatism when compared to attitudes in many areas, particularly in the area healthcare. For better theoretical independence from government, we suffer for reduced practical independence due to healthcare costs, and lack of sick leave & vacations, etc.

While Europeans seem to have come to the opposite balance of concerns on independence.

sorry for late response, but thanks for this. locus of control is always a false story we tell ourselves, right? let's ask the archetypal solitary mountain man about his ability to control his environment. You've identified for me two of the basic hustles of the usa's right wing :

- providing the illusion of locus of control

- disassociating people/society from nature

   - homesteader mauled by a bear = heroics!

   - getting mugged in the city = decadence
thank you

Like you, I don't think the author of the blog post wanted money or power for their own sake. Relevant to your final paragraph: People Want Power Because They Want Autonomy [1].

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11340137

Yes. In post-industrial society, we seem to have lost the true sense of independence. Almost all of us now depend on the good graces of an employer to be able to pay for our needs. That is not independence, it is fiefdom. Meanwhile, true independence is derided as families who provide for their own and are able to pass an inheritance on that grants their children and their grandchildren a degree of autonomy are mocked, which honestly can only really be attributed to jealousy.

I hope that I am able to pass a sizable estate to my children and grandchildren, so that they will not be dependent on banks, universities, and employers that will charge them outrageous fees in time and money just so that they may have a hope at a normal middle-class lifestyle. True independence for ourselves and our posterity should be the goal for all of us. For most of human history, it has been; these days, we are confused and pretend that being enslaved to usurers is the ideal.

If I have a skill that a large number of people are willing to pay for them that in itself represents independence. Earning potential is far more valuable than money. And guess what, if your children decide not to use those banks and universities, and don't get jobs then they may be "independent, but they are also dead weights. If they don't have skills that contribute to society, they are irrelevant. I agree that people should have access to enough money to realize their potential, but not more than that.

>If I have a skill that a large number of people are willing to pay for them that in itself represents independence.

No. Having an in-demand skill is a tool to obtain and keep independence. It's not independence itself. There are many people out there with high-demand skills who still find themselves unhappily slaving away in a job where they must do someone else's bidding for 40%+ of their waking day. Once they have the property and assets to make that an optional activity that they can leave at any time, they are independent. Having the ability to go find a new master if you get fed up enough with your current one is good, but it's not really independence. Independence is the freedom to control how you spend your days, and unless you're debt-free, own your living space outright, and have a consistent, sustainable source of food, you don't have the option to not work.

> If they don't have skills that contribute to society, they are irrelevant.

Define "contribute to society". I think you're being way too exclusive here. There are ways to contribute to society without being part of the industrial workforce. Just ask the big bosses, who, incidentally, are the ones pushing this narrative that life is meaningless without their patronage. You don't have to be a professional to make a meaningful contribution. In fact, I would argue that being a good parent has a far greater positive social effect than being a good professional.

>And guess what, if your children decide not to use those banks and universities, and don't get jobs then they may be "independent, but they are also dead weights.

A bank provides people with very little actual value, so I'm not sure why you included it. I will be immensely pleased if my children can go their whole adult lives without having to pay a cent of usury. It's a massive hidden tax on the middle class, making every major purchase cost about 2-3x its sticker price.

If you think about it, you'll see that much of our industrial culture is based on guaranteeing this effortless income to usurers, and I want to break that cycle for my children. This is also a large part of why the media wants to promote negative images of independent wealth; they're trying to protect their dirty income streams and reinforce their position as a hidden cost that people just accept as an implicit requirement.

Of course the children of independent people should be taught to do something useful with their time and lives. I think that by and large, they are. You don't hear about that because it doesn't please the massive indentured population to hear about it on TV, but if you look around, you'll see that it's generally true.

And in the age of welfare, you don't have to be independently wealthy to be a layabout or a loiterer. It's no longer an exclusive privilege, so providing a decent estate that will allow your posterity to have its freedom and control its own destiny is not really any more dangerous to individual productivity than not doing so.

>I agree that people should have access to enough money to realize their potential, but not more than that.

I absolutely do agree that too much money in the wrong hands is a recipe for disaster.

I agree with you on most of these points but I do want to clarify a few things. Banks circulate money, they don't just hold on to it, and that is good for the economy. Don't get me wrong Banking as a reality is among the scummiest parts of the modern economy, but as a concept they provide invaluable services.

To respond to your point about contributing to society, I totally agree that parenting is among the most important contributions you can make to society. But I don't think that you can be a very effective parent without the wold view provided by interaction with both people and knowledge. And this interaction is very difficult to find outside of the university and workplace setting. As a parent you should absorb as much knowledge and experience as possible so that you can pass that on, and your children can build on that rather than wasting time re-learning it.

Finally, you are right that welfare allows people without money to live while making basically no contributions to anything. But is not a comfortable life. Anyway my point was less that you shouldn't give your children money because it will make them Deadbeats, and more that you should try to get as much value from each dollar as possible and I don't personally believe that giving all of your money to your children is likely to be the best way to achieve that.

I apologize for my formatting. Writing this on a phone.

But gaining power means losing autonomy. It means more interdependence to lay off risk.

True autonomy is its own discipline.

The problem with gaining power is that you now have to steer into the maelstrom of human foibles for a living. "The Turks pay me a golden treasure, yet I am poor! Because I am a river to my people! " - Auda abu Tayi in "Lawrence of Arabia".

No, people pursue power for status, not for autonomy.

Right. If you get a lot of money it doesn't mean you have to go buy a bunch of crap you don't really want. Rather it can give you influence. You can invest in charities or companies you believe in to shape the future. For example http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/26/us/tangelo-park-orlando-fl...

The only amount of money people really need for autonomy is the amount of money it takes to supply their immediate needs and some reasonable wants; the amount of money necessary to provide for a normal middle-class lifestyle. I would ballpark this around $80k/yr. It's not enough to make big donations to candidates, companies, or charities, and it won't buy the most expensive stuff out there, but it's plenty to keep your life running reasonably comfortably.

Big money is a different ballpark and I don't think that's what most people want. I think they just want to be comfortable in doing what they want to do.

Incidentally, isn't $80k around the point where happiness from income levels off?

The advantage of big money isn't just charities and companies - it's having your time back, since you're not tied to getting an income from it.

I feel like $80k must be an outdated number. My wife and I pull in just under $100k together, and we can't even (comfortably) afford a home.

Between rent, student loan payments, health insurance, bills, and car loans, and food, I think we maybe have $500 left to throw around each month. If we were paying against a mortgage, that would basically be zero.

It's definitely outdated, or at least location dependent. The average rent in Manhattan in 2/16 was $3,850. Landlords won't rent to you unless you earn 40x the monthly rent which is $154k. In Brooklyn, the average is $2,716 which ends up being $108,640. (http://www.mns.com/brooklyn_rental_market_report)

Most people don't live in Manhattan or Brooklyn. If you live in a high COL area, adjust accordingly. I suggested using an approximate 2.3x multiplier elsewhere.

The most financially effective way to be a programmer is to work remotely for someone who pays SF or NYC salaries and live in a moderate COL area.

I've always seen the rental income requirement you stated phrased as "monthly income must be at least 3x monthly rent", in case the 40x thing threw anyone else off (40/12=3.33).

> Landlords won't rent to you unless you earn 40x the monthly rent

I've recently seen 45x monthly in Manhattan and LIC (Queens).

The loophole is a sublet where the person subletting (this is probably illegally) assumes the financial and personal risk.

Mortgages are usually cheaper than rents on comparable units. The issue is that they require a big upfront chunk of cash to get into.

And, as a sibling comment stated, it depends on location. I think $80k is right for most areas of the country. If you live in NYC, SF, LA, or another place with really high cost of living, adjust accordingly (which is probably like 2.3x).

There are whole communities of people dedicated to answering this question [1] and most of them seem to think that they'd be content with $40k/year in passive income.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/financialindependence/

>My wife and I pull in just under $100k together, and we can't even (comfortably) afford a home.

You may not be able to afford a house in the area you want, but you can certainly afford a home. Here's one with a mortgage for $89/mo.


Did you choose this example randomly, or in homage to our HN moderator?

Location is everything. You can live like a prince in Tennessee or Kentucky on $80k/yr -- not so much in the really prosperous parts of the country.

Where do you live? If you are coming so close to what you make why do you have car loans?

Two people can easily live on $40-50k in most areas. Eliminate all the unnecessary expenses like $150+/m in phone payments, $50+/m for cable, etc.

I assume you're referring to: http://www.pnas.org/content/107/38/16489.abstract

for the $80k number.

In case you haven't seen it, there's another paper that argues the opposite: more money does make you happier (but only if you know how to use it). http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/danielgilbert/files/if-mone...

I make more than $80k and I can certainly say that I was less stressed before I took a huge pay cut. On the other hand, I like my job more so I guess I might actually still be happier. All else being equal though, if I made more I imagine I would be much less stressed..

You are mixing up the amount of money required to not be worried about money and the amount of money required to just let you do whatever you want. Yes, an 80k salary means you aren't worried about how you will survive, but it still has you tied to a job that will limit your autonomy quite a bit. To achieve the level of autonomy being discussed here, you would need the 80k/yr without any obligations.

I think you have defined autonomy in a very specific way. That is not everyone's goal (what they want control over, or to feel like they are accomplishing).

I think the OP wanted control over building/shipping/creating products. Not life comforts, house, food on the table, free time. His goals would not be helped by a middle-class income, but more control over the products he was building.

Just read the articles on that. It's one of those things that sounds reasonable, but comes from a study that's based on things like online surveys and playing games with college students. I'm not going to take that one too seriously just yet.

> Therefore, money is seen primarily as a means to self-determination.

And even deeper down, it's a means of survival. The safety net here has pretty much disintegrated since it began to be dismantled in the '80s. A lot of people in the US haven't saved enough for retirement considering this new reality... they haven't even saved enough to get them through a few months of unemployment. There's a loss of hope in rural America now in places where it can be very tough to find decent paying work. It's starting so show up in a decrease in lifespan and in many ways it's very similar to what happened in Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed. The drug of choice there was/is alcohol. Here it seems to be prescription opiates (in addition to alcohol).

> The drug of choice there was/is alcohol. Here it seems to be prescription opiates (in addition to alcohol).

These situations are not even remotely comparable.

The fraction of Americans who abuse opiates is tiny compared to the percentage of Russians who abuse alcohol.

As a rough approximation, about 2.5 million Americans have an opiate abuse issue in 2016[1], out of a population of 319 million. This is about 0.8% of the population.

Statistics from the Soviet Union are hard to find due to the government's indifference to the problem, but even official news sources -- which routinely greatly underreported the true magnitude of social problems -- put alcohol abuse rates at 19% of the population.[2] Also note that the amount of drinking you have to do to be considered "abusing" alcohol is far, far greater in Russia than in the US.

[1] http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addi... [2] http://alcalc.oxfordjournals.org/content/34/6/824

Jefferson anticipated this, and thought the only way for rural life to work out was for this to be a nation of small freeholders.

People just don't have enough to do otherwise.

I think that opiate abuse has more to do with increased availability then a loss of hope.

"The quintessential American quality is the belief that every person has the right to control their own destiny."

So you don't think you have this right? I believe you have the right of opportunity, but not of outcome.

I learned what this guy learned pretty early on: If you are an employee (developer or not), you will be paid to do things you are against and people less intelligent and experienced than you will be making decisions for you at some point...and you can't do anything about it.

This is the sole reason I started my own company. I was sick of being forced to go down a path of failure..after every attempt to do otherwise was ignored.

After our failure, management never wanted to look bad, so they almost always picked someone to blame. Sometimes it was me or my team, sometimes someone else. Speaking up about it meant you weren't a 'team player' and you would probably be on the chopping block during the next round of layoffs.

I was able to survive most layoffs because I learned how to play politics, but at the cost of never feeling satisfied with my job.

I've had my own company for 5 years and I don't regret a thing. It was the best decision I ever made.

"I just have to say this: So typically american"

Really? I was thinking it was typically Chinese. My wife's family is from China and they pretty much all try to one up/compare each other in terms of assets, money, or jobs.

"If you want to control your destiny, you'd better learn how to make money."

This message is pretty truthful. The more you rely on someone to support you (the government, friends, family, job), the less control you have over your life. Money gives you the ultimate power and freedom to do what you want.

Regardless of your culture, this doesn't change. If you have more more money, you will always have more options/freedom.

> So you don't think you have this right? I believe you have the right of opportunity, but not of outcome.

I do think I have this right; as an American it is the #1 thing that makes me an American. It's why we ignore the rules we don't like. It's why we lust for power and for money, lest some other person beat us to the punch and have power over us.

And while no rational person thinks they can control every factor that goes into their own outcome, we at least want to have some influence. If you're an engineer and your company goes belly-up because your marketing guy was a moron and you didn't have the power to make him listen to your ideas... that's the position many Americans strive to avoid.

> Really? I was thinking it was typically Chinese. My wife's family is from China and they pretty much all try to one up/compare each other in terms of assets, money, or jobs.

I feel that this no longer an American trait. 30 years ago, yeah, but with the whole backlash against the 1% and the hipster movement where bankers making $500k/yr dress like homeless musicians... it's not as cool to flaunt money anymore (unless you're a musician; then it's just part of the whole consumer culture thing because you're selling a life of luxury to poor people...) My household income last year was over seven figures, but I live in a house worth less than half of that and drive a 5 year old base model Subaru. Once money buys you autonomy, it's not really worth much (and that's a modern American perspective that's backed up by research).

> Regardless of your culture, this doesn't change. If you have more more money, you will always have more options/freedom.

I absolutely agree. But the single most important value that America was founded on is self-determination: the idea that each person is in control of their own destiny. Outside forces may get in your way, but it's your obligation to figure out how to get around them. American business culture is the same way: if you want to limit your chances of being fired through no fault of your own, you should probably get more power so you're higher up on the decision making chain.

> I believe you have the right of opportunity, but not of outcome.

I may be assuming too much, but in most don't really believe this.

For example, I'd wager you firmly believe you have the right to a safe and secure society such that you are relatively confident you will no be randomly murdered in your sleep with no consequences for the murderer.

This is exactly a right to the outcome of a minimum level of security in your person and property.

If you do hold this belief then you believe in right of outcome in society. Though you may not agree with others what outcomes we should be guaranteed.

You have a right to not have violence initiated against you (e.g. to not be murdered in your sleep). In order to keep this right, you just can't initiate force against someone else.

Do you have a right to a "safe and secure society"? I'm not really sure precisely what that is or how it is achieved, but that sounds an awful lot like a privilege.

For example, you most certainly do not have the right to be guarded in your sleep by armed guards. Nor do we all possess the right to be guarded in our sleep by armed guards.

> You have a right to not have violence initiated against you

This is a right of outcome. The outcome of not having violence committed against your person or property.

Rights of outcome vs rights of opportunity are a false dichotomy. All rights are a right for some specific outcome and are considered violated when that outcome does not occur.

Shhh ... You are supposed to buy into the deep anti-American bias and pretend that only Americans want money and property or some such nonsense. :)

My big problem with what the writer says is that he assumes power comes from position. Most power, and the most useful power, is soft power. In those cases he cites, such as the startup store, where he thinks he could have made a difference as a leader - sorry, but he could have made a difference as a peon if he built credibility and stuck to his guns. Clearly he didn't have that kind of personality, or has too narrow a view of his job.

I can't help but think of Sisyphus, or how a drop of water makes a mark on a stone. Yes, he could. But it sounds like a 100 times more work.

Tried and found difficult or thought difficult and left untried?

Building up soft power is something anyone should do if they care about their work. Building big things means collaborating, and collaborating means persuading other people when you're right and recognizing when you're wrong. Do that and you become a leader, regardless of your position on the org chart.

Stuck to his guns? This is very naive and is really not a good criticism whatsoever. On some level, putting yourself into a position where you have to be, as another commenter wrote, Sisyphus, is probably something to regret in itself late in your career.

He didn't realize the other guy hadn't committed code in two years? He simply didn't care enough to do a good job.

My guess is that this fellow felt like his having set aside his leadership position in a role should simultaneously have given him instant authority and at the same time allowed him to shrug and ignore problems he saw but wash"the directly responsible for.

I'd like to see a concrete defense of the position that going into management gives you greater influence on the outcome of situations. I'm inclined to believe in this quote from "Days of Thunder" (1990):

Control is an illusion, you infantile egomaniac. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099371/quotes)

Agreed in a lot of circumstances. How many bad managers think that yelling to get things done is actually accomplishing something on their part? Good managers have the ability to shepherd their people and resources in a way that gives them a better chance of success and minimizes the potential stumbling blocks. It still requires good people, clear goals, and lots of other things that may or may not be 100% under your control, but even with those caveats, you can generally assume that you'll have a bit more control in management, though parts are more indirect (you're not involved in writing the actual code as much if at all depending on the company, etc.).

But it's really easy to over-estimate that control and your ability to wield it. If the Peter principle is accurate, and people are promoted to their level of incompetence, then it also indicates that people assume their level of competence is higher than it actually is. And then you get project failures, screaming managers, and lots of lost money.

OTOH people I know with a lot of money have serious relationship issues. Money distorts your social connections. It's really not worth it. At the end of the game, the king and the pawn go back into the same box (old Sicilian proverb).

You may be right, but I only ever hear my fellow working class people espousing that view...

You may sit at a desk, but if you don't fire people for a living, you're working class.

"Power is only given to those who are prepared to lower themselves to pick it up" - Ragnar Lodbrok, "Vikings".

> The quintessential American quality is the belief that every person has the right to control their own destiny. Fuck, it's right there in the first sentence of the first document declaring this country's independence.

... and then took nearly a century to getting around to the idea of not owning people. There are a lot of caveats to that American belief.

I'm still coding after almost 20 years in the job, and have no intention of stopping. I tried some other options - teacher, artist, entrepreneur. None of them give me the thrill that I get from programming. I still get locked into a flow where time shifts, and before I know it hours have passed.

The only other activity that does that is Civ, and no-one is going to pay me to play that ;)

If 10x assets is what drives you, more power to you. For me, being happy right now is more important that any imagined future happiness that a fat bank account could provide. And let's be honest, you can still make a pretty decent salary as a developer.

You might be dead tomorrow; you might as well enjoy today.

I'm in my late forties and have been a professional developer for 25+ years. I agree with what you said in your comment, but this stood out:

"You might be dead tomorrow; you might as well enjoy today."

This is not a bad way to live, but as I get older I am increasingly aware that there will be a day when I'm dead tomorrow. And for that reason I'm increasingly less interested in spending time in the state where "time shifts, and before I know it hours have passed." Instead I want to fill those hours with real-time concious, experienced enjoyment. Because I can't live them again.

Being in the zone and cranking out great code still feels good, but only at the time. Which I guess makes me conflicted or something.

Thank you for making me think about this.

I'm only in my late 30s, but have also been thinking a lot about this. I see older people and wonder what they are thinking. Are they happy with the choices they made, the memories they have? What will I think when I'm 50, 60, 70?

Then I remember how lucky I am. I started with next to nothing, worked through college, and now basically get paid to play with computers all day (something I would have done for free anyways). I get to travel and have other amazing experiences. Biggie said it best, "when I was dead broke man, I couldn't picture this".

One of the reasons I think programmers always end up in this existential plight is that we are successful enough to have time to think about it. When I was young and worried about eating or having enough money to put gas in the car so I could get to work or school (or even having a car) I never thought about these things.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

I'm about the same age as you. The passage of time is shockingly fast unless I do things to slow it down.

I remember moments from my college days that I can pinpoint to the year they happened. That thing that happened sophomore year? I know it happened sophomore year because I did it with my roommate at the time.

But nowadays I'll watch a movie on Netflix thinking it came out just in the past year or two, only to discover it came out in, say, 2007 or worse 1997.

A close friend of mine's daughter just turned 16. I remember her birth like it was yesterday. But the intervening years... not so much.

I think having kids, which I have not done, might slow time down a bit. Travel helps too.

“As your perspective of the world increases not only is the pain it inflicts on you less but also its meaning. Understanding the world requires you to take a certain distance from it.

Things that are too small to see with the naked eye, such as molecules and atoms, we magnify. Things that are too large, such as cloud formations, river deltas, constellations, we reduce. At length we bring it within the scope of our senses and we stabilize it with fixer.

When it has been fixed we call it knowledge. Throughout our childhood and teenage years, we strive to attain the correct distance to objects and phenomena. We read, we learn, we experience, we make adjustments. Then one day we reach the point where all the necessary distances have been set, all the necessary systems have been put in place.

That is when time begins to pick up speed. It no longer meets any obstacles, everything is set, time races through our lives, the days pass by in a flash and before we know that is happening we are forty, fifty, sixty...

Meaning requires content, content requires time, time requires resistance. Knowledge is distance, knowledge is stasis and the enemy of meaning. My picture of my father on that evening in 1976 is, in other words, twofold: on the one hand I see him as I saw him at that time, through the eyes of an eight-year-old: unpredictable and frightening; on the other hand, I see him as a peer through whose life time is blowing and unremittingly sweeping large chunks of meaning along with it.”

― Karl Ove Knausgård, Min kamp 1

> I think having kids, which I have not done, might slow time down a bit.

It's a paradox best expressed by the old adage: the days are long, but the years are short.

I agree with that. My days are dense, long, tiring and slow, but I can't believe a full year has passed already.

Before having my daughter, days were fast, weeks were faster, and years slipped through my fingers. Time goes faster when you daily routine is always more less the same, and that is more difficult with a child.

Random waiting-for-a-build thoughts:

I find that if you hang around long enough and pay attention, you start to see the shape and patterns of your life. Not an original or profound observation, but it can be surprisingly easy for many of us to defer thinking about such things. What you gain from this you pay for with time, though.

In a similar experience to yours, I watched The Matrix with my son recently and was shocked to discover that it was released in 1999 - but I think of it as a recent thing. Holding my niece when she was a newborn baby and showing her Christmas tree lights, and now she's making an independent life in a big city.

In my experience, and as others have commented, having children doesn't slow time down. You're so busy with them for so long, and they rush towards their future so fast.

I'm reminded of a phrase that Sam Altman used: The days are long but the decades are short [1].

[1] http://blog.samaltman.com/the-days-are-long-but-the-decades-...

> I think having kids, which I have not done, might slow time down a bit.

Speaking from firsthand experience, it seems to do just the opposite.

As a father of 3 I agree. Children in my experience just makes you more aware of how quickly time is passing. My oldest is now in junior high, but it seems like just yesterday she was a baby.

I think, if we have enough leisure time, to an extent we get bored, results in us feeling time passes slowly. I used to get that feeling during summer vacations in school/college days. Not so much now.

So I also struggle with this exact same problem, i.e. some thing which I feel is recent is actually 5/10 years back. I am trying to work on it, so far not so successfully.

Having kids speeds it up... Totally worth it though.

> I think having kids, which I have not done, might slow time down a bit. Travel helps too.

Nope. Makes it go even faster, and you remember even less.

Glad...or sad...to hear that I'm not the only one who feels this way. 25 to 35 seems to have gone twice as fast as high school graduation to college graduation. The only way I'm able to slow time down is by travelling on the weekends or vacation. Otherwise I blink and the seasons have changed and another birthday candle is blow out.

I'm about to turn 30 in just over a month. I got my first programming job at 20 and am seriously wondering where my twenties went? Honestly it terrifies me how quickly they went. All of my twenties went about as fast as tenth grade. I blame the time shift of programming. I hear about all the adventures my wife had before we met and just think "well I was busy programming". Since getting married in September I have spent much less of my home time programming. I've gone from initially resentful to grateful more recently. Time seems to have slowed.

Great realization. I'm in a similar boat. On the upside, 30 is still quite young, there's lots of time to do other stuff and slow things down ever more.

The grandparents were telling us the 40's are your best years. You have the money to do things and your body still cooperates most of the time.

I can't say I had exactly the same experience. My 20s seemed to drag, my 30s? My 30s are flying by. Between moving continents, establishing myself in a new market, getting married, buy a house, having kids. I feel like I've blinked and I'm in my mid 30s.

The days are long the years are short.

QUESTION for people like you: +20 YEARS OF PROGRAMMING EXPERIENCE that like to be in the zone, cranking code and building, releasing stuff to the world and then enjoy the impact of that when people use it.

Have you noticed that now more than never before there is plethora of amazing libraries, frameworks, language, tools, platforms, clouds, etc. that are easily available to use and if you like to build stuff WHY NOT CREATE YOUR OWN THING and come up with your own ideas and build them instead of continuing working for one company probably using the same software stack? Why limit yourself? have you entertained a regret like this?

I ask this, because I'm in the same boat as you and this is my small regret though I'm working on the side, slowly, to build my own thing in the free time that family and my day job allows it.


Thanks for brining this up. 'Flow' seems such a great state when I am in it, but I sometimes wonder if I'm missing out by not trying to create memorable experiences instead...

I think people who are picking up on the 10x assets thing are missing the point... Money can help you feel better about things when things in general aren't going well.

What he says about missed opportunities, and working for idiotic management, that's the big thing here. You work your ass off, the management does dumb things, so the thing you're working on never really pays off, in money or fun.

The fact that his sister has 10x the assets is kind of an insult after injury kind of thing.

I think the disconnect between management and the developers is worth discussing.

Its important for management to understand the difficulties and decisions made by a development team to properly create a roadmap for the business. I think the author is expressing that the lack of respect for the programmers opinions can be detrimental.

It's more that in a business (which is a power structure optimized for efficiency - meaning hierarchical power structure) the programmers are at the bottom of the pyramid. Involving their input would take far too many layers of overhead; so the decisions get made further up where there are fewer people to consult (and hence more efficient).

IMO it is essential in today's world to have competent engineering management in the room whenever any major product decisions are made.

This is probably why there is so much poor software about.

That sounds like the underlying problem at heart and is why I started down the path of being more customer facing (combined with getting quickly tired of all the nerd stereotype personalities as my immediate coworkers). The reward for incompetence and the perception-driven careers that is so common with professional managers is a slap in the face to everyone that not only are under them but to those that have to live with the consequences of their negligence. There are some that get kicked down, but typically they'll just find another sucker and continue on and on with self delusion that they've actually brought any value besides some vague association with some rich people to the company.

The problem that really bugs me as well as a lot of others is perhaps more deep-seated - that the popular kids from high school really do win anyway and become your bosses, and stories like Steve Wozniak or Bill Gates where smart, technical people can get ahead of the incompetent but very personable charlatans are becoming less and less common. That confidence / arrogance really are enough to succeed (many do work hard but so do the majority of technical workers too with almost none of the rewards) in the eyes of US society is a lingering thought.

The work itself has to be worth it, or it's not worth it. External motivation has a low multiplier.

It is so oddly ironic for the idea of wanting assets and property to be so anathema on HN.

Same here, but it is a big fight to convince the others why you want to stay that way. Right now I get the feeling that long term, going consulting might be the only option left as regular companies tend to only keep juniors coding.

> You might be dead tomorrow; you might as well enjoy today.

Just for this remark I wish I could have upvoted you more than once.

This is something that those that live for the job, without paying attention to family and friends seem to forget.

Likewise here. I'm 47, been programming since I'm 12. I'm very good at it. I also know I'd be a bad manager, unless I work with /very/ good people.

And yes, Ican relate to the article; I've seen (I still see) junior managers who can barely tie their shoes make more money than excellent engineers with 25y experience, but that's the way the world is...

Basically 'engineer'/'programmer' is a calling for some; it is for me. People for whom this is not a calling will never be /really/ good at it (for one thing, they don't spend their spare time doing it!) and eventually gravitate out of it.

But the ones for whom it is a calling, well, sod the money, give me some nice project/people to work on/with and I'm happy.

Or, do that but also get the money by going consulting. That's what I do for the last few years. It's quite exciting being a 'mercenary' in a way, and you can dissociate yourself from the companies/products and focus on the engineering.

I'll be 57 in 3 months. I've been coding professionally for 35 years.

Noob, 58 and 40 years under my belt! I have been down the VP route, started my own successful company (at someone made a lot of money from it, not me). But I choose to program, I sleep well at night, I feel great about what I do (usually, every once in awhile I hit some problem that is incredibly frustrating). And I love to create things! I worked as an electrical engineer for a few years, but the turn-around time on my creations was weeks if not months. With software ware its hours or days. What is it about flo? That your life goes by so quickly, but you feel so good about it?

> What is it about flo? That your life goes by so quickly...

The past is just a memory, the present moment is so fleeting that it cannot be grasped, and the future hasn't happened yet:) I think being in a flow state is about living with this fact, in the moment, as it is, without all the mental overhead that is past and future. You're not 58, you are brand new, right now, just as you are.

I started working at 17. So that's 30 years for me! Darn, I should have some sort of celebration ;-)

My very first paid project was designing the PA audio system in the Lille (france) metro. It was a fancy Mac SE/30 with a IEEE GPIO card. That was driving two big Revox Tape machines, and was playing one, rewinding the other etc. Occasionally it would also play a digital audio file (w000t!).

It was all in Pascal at the time, and I had a whooping 4MB of ram. System ran for well over 10 years!

My first program was written in Dartmouth Basic. The original version of Basic. In college, for the first 2 years I used punched cards. Then after college I programmed a jet fighter. Then realtime embedded avioinics stuff. I got tired of working with custom hardware which was challenging distinguishing between hardware and software bugs. After 20 years of Windows programming, I re-invented myself as a HTML, CSS, CoffeeScript, Javascript, LUA, PHP, Angular, Ember and iOS developer.

Thanks guys, you all make me feel better about turning 31 in a month and a half and have been coding since 15.

I stated coding when I was 11. I turned 19 a couple months ago. I guess that makes me one of those junior developers everyone talks about.

Coding as a child often makes you a better junior developer. It very rarely makes you anything but a junior developer, your first few years full time at it.

This is very true. I had my first full time internship last summer and although I wouldn't say I was unprepared, it opened my eyes to all the things I don't know. Code reviews take some getting used to when you're coming from a purely academic world. From reading hacker news I knew there would be blindspots in my education. It felt good filling in some of the blanks.

I started coding at the age of 10 with Timex Basic, Z80 and everything evolve from there.

On my first internship after high school while waiting for university applications to come out was done in Clipper and Access/Visual Basic. Also starting OS/400 backup jobs.

Not the set of languages that I already enjoyed most, but it kept myself busy during the Summer.

I'm 58 too. First program: HP25 assembly (calculator) in 1975; second: Dartmouth BASIC (horrible) in 1976. After a degree in zoology, I went back for a MS in CS part time. I've been programming in various forms of R&D since.

I can't imagine having done anything else. Sure, many other careers sound appealing. But software has been stimulating and sustainable while affording me a managable level of stress and downtime as needed. (Try doing that as a physician or veterinarian, both careers that I once considered).

That said, I sympathize with the OP's frustrations. Software jobs usually imply a rather flat hierarchy, with little opportunity for advancement other than leads or principals. Any further rise in responsibility requires that you leave tech behind and spend your days in meetings. Not for me.

However if you work in R&D without a PhD, I've found a severe glass ceiling (especially at larger companies). In general, no advancement beyond lead staff for you. If I'd known that 10-20 years ago, I would have handled that differently (get a PhD, work at smaller firms, or leave R&D). The road not taken, I guess...

I'm about to write my first Hello World and I already dislike it.

Stick with it - it really pays returns down the line. Specifically, do some real soul-crushing busy work for a while (Excel is a good place to start) and then realize that you can automate large chucks of that in just a few minutes. It'll take days/hours at first, but eventually hours/minutes.

It's hard to beat the feeling of having a computer make your life easier. There's a triumph in it.

don't worry you could end up as the lucky one the author talks about :)

"I've seen (I still see) junior managers who can barely tie their shoes make more money than excellent engineers with 25y experience, but that's the way the world is.."

Screw that. I'd never work for a place like that.

This attitude works out if your extremely good in your Spezialisation. I had kept track of my own ROI for the companies I worked for, granted them a bit of that and the rest should be for me. It worked because I always had the digits at hand. Basically "I need a raise, I have 3 jobs offers lined up, your making this of me and I demand x% of that otherwise you loose y over the course of z. Deal?"

Funny, I specialize in RF/Microwave circuit design, and did just the same. Had a good job offer, and used that to leverage promotion and raise.

So true!

I've been programming professionally for 25 years, still love it! http://henrikwarne.com/2012/06/02/why-i-love-coding/

Also, it's easy to forget that being a SW developer today has a lot going for it - especially the demand. At least here in Stockholm, if you are good at what you do, you can pick and chose where to work. So no reason to stay at a place where you are not happy. http://henrikwarne.com/2014/12/08/5-reasons-why-software-dev...

there is also 'you might become too sick to work, but not sick enough to die tomorrow' which is what makes me more and more worried as I get older and society provides less and less safety nets

To me the 'my sister has 10x the assets' is like saying 'my sister is going to be ok in her retirement years, while I hope I'll be able to keep working for as long as I need to', but maybe I am reading that through the lens of my concerns/fears

It's less the 10x assets (although yes, I want 10x assets!) as it is the chance to really influence something and drive your vision more.

The thing is, you "tried some other options - teacher, artist, entrepreneur". I think "trying" is the key. It helps you be more satisfied with the road you are on when you've been on the other roads (at least a for a little bit).

The author states that he won't be able to retire. I find that hard to believe; programming is fairly lucrative.

I like the cut of your jib.

At the risk of being "that guy", this actually misses the point of the poem.


"Though as for that the passing there/Had worn them really about the same/And both that morning equally lay"

The poem states that the two roads are basically the same.

Further points of interest...

"I shall be telling this with a sigh/Somewhere ages and ages hence:/Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference."

The author knows his own folly: that he'll look back and say it was an important choice, that he picked the path that was more special. When of course in fact he did no such thing. It's a poem about how people self-aggrandise and think their choices more important and better than they are.

Of course, no-one ever actually reads anything other than the last two lines, so the point of the poem ends up being missed. Which is ironic, given the actual message.

Fun fact: the poem was written with Edward Thomas, a good friend of Frost's, in mind. Frost said of Thomas:

"No matter which road you take, you'll always sigh, and wish you'd taken another."

Thomas was invariably lamenting how he should have taken the other option in any case where there were two things to choose. Which sheds a little light on the humour in the poem.

> He would have been unhappy with the other choice as well

> "No matter which road you take, you'll always sigh, and wish you'd taken another."

There's no disagreement here. It's the same interpretation of the poem.

To clarify, the part I was referring to more was that the roads are basically the same. This is different, as there's a manifest difference between being a programmer and being a manager. Should have made it clearer that's the bit I was referencing, whereas the rest is more a divergent note about the poem more generally.

Take the path that lets you spend more good time with your family and friends. Those experiences add to the fabric of life more than money does.

Money buys time and freedom and security.

Actually it doesn't buy time or freedom, usually.

In my experience, most (not all, but most) of the people who have a lots of money acquire it by working long days and having little free time. They also have little freedom because they are so tied to their job.

Again, everyone with lots of money doesn't have this problem, but in my experience most of them do.

This is one of my favorite things about Frost and his poems. The same thing happens with "Mending Wall" where people only remember "Good fences make good neighbors".

Yeah, except, while that may be the intention of the poem doesn't make it true. Sometimes a poem becomes something more than what the poet intended.

Reality is, some choices really do effect our lives and don't lead to the same place.

You dont know for sure unless you can live twice a la groundhog day.

I took a management path at first, thinking it was a natural progression upon obtaining over a decade and a half of experience and being enouraged by my peers over the years. I was never unhappier. I gave it everything I could. My team loved me and I shielded them from mountains of pain and frustration. I got sick from stress and mildly depressed from lack of a technically creative outlet. It took me over a year to recover physically and now I am fully back in the game developing as a technical lead. I still manage, obviously, but within a different context.

From my standpoint, I do not regret anything. I learned from these experiences because I love to explore and am not afraid to fail along the way.

I see so many that seek advice when they have the power to take action themselves. So much time wasted really.

I get the impression that it's always "easy" to move into management, so there's no need to rush into a management role.

In contrast, I fear that once I try management, it will be hard to move back to being a developer.

How easy / hard was it for you to return to being a developer?

I think it's a function of time and effort. Every day you're not in a dedicated developer role, you will lose a tiny bit of "free" updating about what developers do, use, love, hate, etc. You can offset this somewhat by your own efforts, but they will be limited because the process of working with other developers bringing something to production is its own thing, separate from just keeping tech skills sharp.

I've always been quite active with side projects and moved back into development after about 5 years being in management. It went OK. Everyone was younger than me, stuff had obviously changed and I was out of my comfort zone for sure, but it was a successful transition. If I'd not been so into development on the side (i.e. constantly writing tools and apps with new technologies), I feel it would have been pretty difficult to switch back.

I agree. In my mind, I felt a lot of self-doubt at first, but after digging in, that fear helped propelled me. I suppose if it wasn't for that fear of not being good enough and side projects, I would not have transitioned easily. I also underestimated my ability to adapt quickly.

Today I am very much hands on and I make it known that writing code and designing is my passion.

I secretly stayed active during that role. It takes dedication. Some of this comes from work ethic. I had that drilled into me with the family biz growing up. My tolerance for abuse and failure is high. I focus on looking at myself as a business entity even if I work full time somewhere. Sometimes it isn't enough, but I think going through a tough upbringing had pulled me through. I always find myself asking the question, "Do I want to just want for the rest of my life or do?"... I also still dream and dreaming is key to driving forward. My wife fills the entrpreneurial role right now with escessive travel trying to build something in a new market. I help where I can...so this is me trying something new again ;) We never know where life will lead us so best to take it by the horns and find out :)

I think it would depend in large part with how active you keep your programming skills and how up to date you stay on industry changes. Sure, your initial reaction to reading this is that you would stay sharp as ever, but management is a different kind of grind, and it tends to wear on your soul. Perks are good, trade offs not so good.

Personally, I'm glad I got our of management and back into the nuts and bolts side of the house.

I was the same. Its great you shielded all the crap from the team, but it didn't turn out very well. Next time I'm going to try and shield but also delegate lots of crap guilt free!

I understand the authors frustration, and it's not really about money as some here believe. In my 6 jobs as a programmer I've also seen so many incompetent managers, so much time wasted, so much bullshit, so much backstabbing and narcissists galore. But the problem is not really about THEM managers, but about ME and my maladaptive cognitive schemas (commonly known to everybody as lack of social skills, subjugation to authority, procrastination, lack of discipline and so on). The bitterness results from the fact that even if you're a great programmer, most companies will try to stamp you into a predictable, replaceable and interchangeable little cog and will use you as it sees fit. If you're not happy with that, if you think you posses great insight and you can do better, you either develop your own product or you take on some sort of leadership role.

Spot on.

The problem is being able to influence things in a creative way.


I'd rather be the captain of my small pirate ship than a cog in giant battleship. But I'm in my mid 30s now, maybe that will change when I get to 40.

I am in my early 40s, and I thought 40s would be different as I will have less home pressures, and more time to myself. Also, I will be mature to take on challenges.

Doesn't work that way. Please start today.. don't hope for a things changing in 40s as it will come to your very very fast.

Another option: caption of your own pirate ship, inside a giant battleship.

This is probably why Jony Ive's title is a three letter acronym starting with "C".

Only way to make sure his creative decisions are actually implemented.

I was a programmer, and then spent a year and a half as a games producer, and could have kept going down that path, but decided to go back in programming.

Half the time I spent as a producer I was worried about the fact that I wasn't doing any programming, and my skills were atrophying.

Production had some real perks in comparison, being able to meet a lot of people I admired, going on business trips, etc, but I got frustrated with only trying to cajole developers to add certain features that I thought would make the game better, instead of being able to dive into the code and add the feature myself, and iterate until all the kinks came out of it.

You'd be surprised how many times you can say "this game is too hard, you have to make it easier" or "the text in this UI is too small, you need to make it easier to read" and developers still won't do it, or will only tweak it marginally to say they did it, instead of sitting down and actually trying to make the game easier.

And then the game comes out, and it gets blasted by critics for being "too damn hard".

If I were in that position today I'd be a lot more specific, but I can only iterate when they give me a new build, which usually takes days. I can't change a variable and rebuild it in 30 seconds like I could as a developer.

Unfortunately, in the vast majority of places, you can't have both. You're either making the decisions about content or you're implementing other people's decisions. In my experience, very few companies have engineering roles where you get to say, "This is best for the product" AND go off and implement it.

> If I were in that position today I'd be a lot more specific

That isn't the job of a producer or manager. Maybe quality assurance or testing? It sounds like you were micromanaging them.

If I were in that position I would try to educate them about what makes a game hard and how hard games should be. I would educate them about typography. I would not tell them what to do. They must find the solution themselves.

Hm, I'm violating my own advice with the paragraph above. :)

As a developer, I hate it when somebody gives me too vague problems "game is too hard" or too detailed assignments like "make the font size bigger". I need an accurate problem description with all requirements. If it isn't accurate, my solution will probably miss the point. If I haven't all requirements I will probably violate some of the unspoken rules.

Essentially when I said I'd be more specific, I would provide requirements. But this is a game, not a business app, and writing up the requirements for 'fun' and a 'good experience for the gamer' is not exactly easy.

We were a bit more specific than 'make it easier', I just have a vague memory exactly what we said because it was 8 years ago and a lot has happened since then.

And we were a super small company. I had to wear many hats; overseeing QA was one of them.

Micro-managing is an extreme term, and I don't think we were. We weren't telling each developer what their tasks were for the day, we were communicating with their project manager and saying which bugs or features had what priority, and by the way we played the build and we think the font looks too small, could you please increase the size, it's okay if the UI takes more space, please remember not everyone will be playing this on HD tvs, thank you.

And I was playing each build to do some internal verification that the bugs they say they fixed did get fixed, yes. Personally I think it's better the publisher knows what's going on with their own game (keep in mind, the developer didn't pitch the game, they were hired) than blindly trust that everything is going the right direction, until it's time for a milestone payment and "holy shit, that's nothing like what we asked for! you don't get paid until it's fixed!"

> The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

TL:DR: There was no road less traveled by they were equally the same, but he fooled himself into think he made a special choice.

Just some poetry discussion. "The Road Not Taken" is considered the most misunderstood and misinterpreted poem. (It was great to make freshmen tackle this poem in freshmen Theology Class. Then we went on to most misinterpreted scripture verse :)

So, in the end, while he was very clear in the present that the two roads were identical with no real reason to take one over the other, later in life he knew he’d once again fool himself, this time successfully, by instead remembering that one road was “less traveled by” and that this influenced his decision, when in fact he really decided on a whim. http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/09/robert-frost...

Out of curiosity, what did your instructor consider the most misinterpreted scripture verse?

Well I got to be the instructor for that day's class :)

My favorite is short example:

In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. Matt. 5:45 (NLT)

Rain in a semi-arid agriculture area was a good thing. People read it and think God sends bad things to also. So when something bad happens people will quote this verse.

I also like the Prodigal Son (It really is the Parable of the Older Brother). People miss the main point and think it is about bad children coming back to the Father (Its a side point) The main point is the Older Brother was mad that the Father was nice to the bad son.

Tangential, but the most misquoted text is 1 Timothy 6:10 "For the love of money is the root of all evil". Most people elide "the love of" which totally changes the application.

He could of gone into management/leadership, and failed miserably. The cherry-picked success stories don't mean success is more likely.

If he had gone into leadership, he might now be looking at examples such a notch, who got rich from dev work without becoming a 'manager' - at the same time indie dev startups are very competitive.

I guess you have to balance risk and reward. If you focus on the best examples of an option, you have to also compare it to the risk (how many fail).

> If he had gone into leadership, he might now be looking at examples such a notch, who got rich from dev work without becoming a 'manager'

A well-paid manager saying, "But I could have made more developing Minecraft!" might as well complain, "But I could have made more if I won the lottery!"

If high compensation is the goal, being a manager is simply a much more straightforward and reliable path than being a programmer.

The highest paid jobs, without disproportionate barriers/gatekeepers/high-bars are jobs that become desired; demand = X, but where supply is low; supply <~ X.

Which means job that used to be either low-demand, low-paid, or (usually) both. Otherwise demand has to keep rising, because without barriers, an increase in pay will cause a delayed increase in supply (as people are attracted to the field) which then meets the demand, or at least evens it out, reducing pay in turn, unless demand keeps increasing.

My own 2$ ameteur micro-economic theory there :-)

Anyway, the point is this; Is hard to predict which jobs will pay well when you start on that path. well paid jobs now might be lower paid by the time you and every other chaser-of-the-dollar goes into the same field, increasing supply, pushing down pay. The opposite can happen too.

Builder/labourer might not be seen as too lucrative in the past, yet in some times it certainly has been. And I wonder how many BAs actually fail to get high paying jobs?...

That's a great theory, but in the real world, certain professions and job roles have categorically enjoyed much higher compensation than average over long stretches of time. Upper management is an obvious example; it's been well compensated for as long as the concept of upper management has existed, and as much as we might fantasize about it, there are no signs that managers around the world will suddenly be paid less than their subordinates.

Yes, there may be micro-fluctuations where every company is suddenly scrambling to hire the latest flavor of the month (e.g. data analyst is now data scientist). These are hard to predict. But you know who will reliably earn more than the data scientist in three years? The data scientist's boss.

Ah, but there's a lot of politics and personal-influence-opportunity in management, that's the barrier.

> But you know who will reliably earn more than the data scientist in three years? The data scientist's boss.

I'm not 100% sure of this. There will be a boss in the chain that earns more, but actually I suspect that this isn't always true, given one assumption - the boss, as a job requirement, has to have a good knowledge of DS (maybe an ex/senior DS?), in which case this barrier ensures management will get higher pay - otherwise they'd just stay/go into in DS.

While that's entirely possible I don't think one can conclude it with certainty from his post. You say he'd be missing the programming side if he went the other direction but the only reason he listed for choosing programming was because he considered it easier. Looking at what he has achieved in his life and career as a programmer doesn't do much if those achievements aren't aligned with his values.

Picking the wrong career path is entirely possible. Some people absolutely love technical problem solving, he doesn't mention it at all. For all we know it's worthless to him and just something he has to do to earn a cheque.

I do think you might be on to something with

>Maybe he would have been terrible at that kind of work.

though. He makes it sound like in 1994 he signed a document stating that assassins should murder him if he ever tries to manage anyone. I find it hard to believe that if he was good at managing people and influencing decisions that he would have went the rest of his career unable to break back in to management. Convincing people to give him the job is part of the needed skill set!

> Convincing people to give him the job is part of the needed skill set!

My experience is that companies (many, perhaps most) are falling all over themselves to give senior programmers a shot at managing people.

10X the assets => retire 10 times sooner => program when you're retired => no missing out

That's stupid. I am not willing to suffer for 20 years to then enjoy the remaining 30-40 whatever there will be. You don't know how long you will live, and what is your old days worth if you broken in your youth trying to be safe when you are 50? I'd rather work, as some do, 3-4 hours every single day for the rest of my life, than 12 hour days for 10 years and then compensate my lost youth, health and relationships with yachts or whatever money could buy.

That is what socialism->communism was about in my country. We have to suffer just a little more and then we'll get there. Guess what. We never got there.

To be honest, this is a first world problem. Most people on Earth (and honestly, at least the in US, the majority of people http://money.cnn.com/2010/01/05/news/economy/job_satisfactio...) work at a job they hate because they feel they have to for whatever reason be it survival or their kids or their bills, etc.

My job is easy (for me), requires little from me and very occasionally is worth getting out of bed for. I'm probably one of the lowest paid people here. But, I take lunch when I want, I wear what I want, I have a situation that is somewhat flexible (not because the employer wants it to be and actively dissuades it, but because my co-worker and I will mutually look out for and cover for each other). The benefits are bad. Treatment by management ranges from indifference to overtly hostile for the most part.

I'm not a programmer and would put myself somewhere in the middle satisfaction wise. The money sucks but I've had worse jobs and the time off (2 months a year), while unpaid, is great.

$.02, my ultimate point was not worrying where your next meal is coming from is a luxury most people don't have - so worrying that you're not doing something fulfilling becomes a secondary concern at best.

>>You don't know how long you will live

Going by the trends you will likely live long.

>>and what is your old days worth if you broken in your youth trying to be safe when you are 50?

Far more worth than being 50, out of cash or very little of it, competing with a impossibly competitive new generation. Living in perennial fear of layoffs, making ends meet and having a roof above your head. All the while watching your peers who made sound investments already retire and having a gala time now.

>>I'd rather work, as some do, 3-4 hours every single day for the rest of my life, than 12 hour days for 10 years and then compensate my lost youth, health and relationships with yachts or whatever money could buy.

Retirement has rarely meant turning into a vegetable these days. Retirement only means financial freedom to do what you want. Imagine how valuable your relationships will be when you spend quality time with your friends and family, instead of running into old age expecting help from everyone starting from family, friends to government.

>>That is what socialism->communism was about in my country. We have to suffer just a little more and then we'll get there. Guess what. We never got there.

As a Indian who lived through socialism I can tell scores of people 'got there'.

Well, I'm sure you make some "enjoy the present" vs. "enjoy the future" tradeoffs (e.g. safe sex, hopefully). This trade-off will simply be different for each person. In any case, the author wasn't very clear on this, but it's not necessary that his sister (a manager) actually worked more; plenty of programmers work a lot as well (overnight support, weekend work, "we have a deadline next month" sprints, ...).

"I am not willing to suffer for 20 years to then enjoy the remaining 30-40 whatever there will be."

I know people who suffered for many years, retired and then died within a couple of years. Don't be so sure you will live 30-40 years after retirement. You can never tell.

Retiring at 6 years old?

Retire after 10x shorter career..

My dad never really retired, but lets just say he got extremely picky about the contracts he picked up and the people he would work with. Being able to do what you want, rather than what you need to do to survive, is pretty nice.

Kudos to your dad. That's what I try to do, but my skills to say no are not very polished yet..

When one retires, there are lots of more interesting things to do with your life than spending the remaining days of your life in front of a computer screen.

Like what? The more I know about things outside programming, the more I see how interesting it is and how much boring, repeating stuff you have to go through to have fun in other parts of life.

And you never have to do anything boring or repetitive as a programmer. Sure we can automate a lot of things away once we know how to do them. But the task of staying up to date or learning in the first place involves a ton of repetition. And then there's the repeated task of learning when you get to a new project with a new language and new hardware.

Of course, you could just be repeatedly implementing the same thing with slight variations for years so minimal repetition in learning but maximal repetition in doing.

Designing board games. But the pay is nowhere near as good as programming.


Everybody gets to decide for him or her self what is considered interesting.

your first inference is incorrect.

Lifetime earning potential is almost never linear.

>My sister started as a programmer 30 years ago but jumped into management [...] My sister has 10X the assets I have.

It's so hilarious that he calls himself a "programmer". With 30+ years of experience, you're a software engineer, an architect, and best of all, a consultant.

Then you charge 5x the normal rate of a salaried engineer, work normal hours, and start accumulating real assets.

He needed to put down the technical books, read a book about personal branding and then he could have had his cake and eaten it too.

Gag me with an entire place setting.

Might as well add "Rock Star" to the list of meaningless drivel.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with describing yourself as a "programmer" when that is indeed what you've been doing for the last 30 years.

The world needs less people spewing streams of hype to describe their own self importance, not more.

If someone has been developing for 30+ years, learning to best describe their track record, position their skill set, and demand a premium for the time isn't hype. It's merely capitalizing on their legacy.

There is an issue with calling yourself a "programmer" when one of his main complaints is the lack of monetary return on his career. Don't choose a commodity title if you want a higher than average return on your time.

I never said "demanding a premium for their time" was hype. I said having to call yourself a "Software Engineer" or "Architect" instead of a programmer was hype, and I still think it is.

I'd personally rather have someone show me the real work they've done to convince me that they knew what they were doing, rather than giving themselves a meaningless title to convince me how good they are.

There are plenty of "Software Engineers" and "Architects" out there that couldn't program their way out of a wet paper sack.

Fundamentally our disagreement is on the importance of the title. Yes, I will concede that there are some people who will be impressed by it, and maybe even be a bit more likely to hire you because of it.

I just don't think that's a good thing.

I know too many people who have been burned by others who used such language, who actually didn't know what they were doing, and as a consequence others who did know what they were doing lost their jobs, and the company spent millions to try to recover, or just plain went out of business.

We're actually on the same page. Proof of performance is a definite must while interviewing.

The title does the initial framing of expectations, that's it.

There's always going to be idiot consultants. And anyone who doesn't properly vet any candidate is likely to get their expectations crushed.

I'm talking more about the title and language that frames the career.

There's a big difference between "I'm a programmer with 30+ years experience. My last project was a rewrite of my employers checkout API."


"I'm a consultant specializing in Ruby on Rails. For my last client, I rewrote the entire checkout process that supports $400 dollars in transactions. I decreased the time it took to process the initial check out by two seconds. With that increase in checkout speed, I provided an additional 10% lift in revenues."

Both could be describing the same process, but with the latter much more in line with the prospective client's goals.

I think we are mostly on the same page.

My point is that the title should not frame the expectations at all, because so many people plaster "Software Engineer" or "Software Architect" on their resumes that the terms have become mostly meaningless (assuming that they ever had any real meaning in the first place), and in many cases are an indication that the person thinks more highly of themselves than they should.

I also think that describing the term "programmer" as a "commodity title" gives it an unnecessarily negative connotation. Despite what marketing people think, it is a perfectly valid description of what many of us do, and does not at all necessitate thinking of a person's skills as "run-of-the-mill".

>>Then you charge 5x the normal rate of a salaried engineer, work normal hours, and start accumulating real assets.

This is dream which happens only when you are asleep. In real life an older person is less energetic, less enthusiastic, can't do weekends, has health issues, has responsibilities, has family commitments etc etc.

Young people work insane hours, they do that for cheap, they show up on weekends and are more flexible in general.

In most cases. Like in everyday cases experience doesn't pay well as you think. Even in professions like medicine and law that is true.

The assumption that experienced people get paid well applies for a minority few people who for nearly all practical purposes are an exception to the whole rule.

> This is dream which happens only when you are asleep. In real life an older person is less energetic, less enthusiastic, can't do weekends, has health issues, has responsibilities, has family commitments etc etc.

This is complete nonsense. The best and most productive engineers I know are in middle age or beyond. In addition to raw technical ability--which does not decline in my experience--they have a level-headedness about making decisions that is rare to find in younger people. It's a critical success factor, especially for complex projects.

>This is dream which happens only when you are asleep. In real >life an older person is less energetic, less enthusiastic, >can't do weekends, has health issues, has responsibilities, >has family commitments etc etc.

>Young people work insane hours, they do that for cheap, they >show up on weekends and are more flexible in general.

Your assumption that income is directly related to your output is wrong. Making better, more qualified decisions is one way to differentiate yourself as you get older. Another is to quantify your output; maybe you do less programming but the pieces you do write can provide the company with a million+ lift in revenue?

Or you position yourself as writing a cleaner implementation, without having to rewrite 3 or 4 times to get it correct (ehem, those "energetic" youngins).

Company's pay for experience all of the time; and when it can be tied directly to increases in profits/revenues, you're way ahead of the game (especially ahead of any Jr. programmer that just blindly pumps out code).

Well put, you have a way of gently articulating something I can barely say coherently.

The term "personal branding" is an oxymoron.

> I just have to say this: So typically american.

That's funny. I'm from the US and when I got to that line, I found myself assuming the author was an immigrant or foreigner.

Talking publicly about financial success isn't something I associate with people natively from the US. Certainly, among the people I grew up around, it would be considered unconscionably tasteless to do so.

"because then it is the programming side he would be missing out on"

Look on the bright side. I can do all the programming I want at night and on weekends, in fact I technically have more time away from work to do it, than at work, and most employers consider "learn at home" to be mandatory, but your average nuclear engineer, infectious disease researcher, forensic accountant, or organic chemist is pretty much screwed in that regard.

For decades I've been expecting capitalization to freeze out home computer users by making everything too expensive for hobbyists yet cheap for a company to afford (think of the example of CNC milling machines, or electronics), and the cloud comes close to ruining hobbyists, but you can still pretty much keep up with the bleeding edge at home in programming, if you want.

This is a bad case of "the grass is greener on the other side...".

I learned long ago never to chase the money. Do what you enjoy and you will never work a day in your life. Obviously, life is never quite this simple and in any job you will have periods when you do not enjoy some aspects, but the point is, do what makes you happy, follow your bliss.

Of course there is another point to this the author does not seem to be considering, just because you go into management, does not mean necessarily you will be good at it, or be prepared to do the things that might be needed to get ahead. For example can you fire a friend just because it is what is best for the company? You get good managers and you get bad managers. Good managers can make a lot of money but there is no guarantee he would have made a good manager.

Well, the author seems to feel like he wanted to make a difference on the product side, and in that way the roads are not at all the same.

If your goal is to build software products, how do you make the biggest impact?

This feels like the question the author is answering with his observation that, as a programmer, you rarely have the clout to make the decisions necessary to drive the best product (or any at all) to market, outside of intentionally writing back code.

>My sister started as a programmer 30 years ago but jumped into management [...] My sister has 10X the assets I have.

This also has SO much to do with OPs lifestyle / propensity to save. "The millionaire next door" goes a long way in explaining how even lower income households can accumulate much more wealth than many high income earners with simple lifestyle differences.

This is one of the most widely misunderstood poems around. It doesn't actually mean what most people think it means: http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/09/11/the-most-misre...

The link doesn't actually make a good argument on why people don't think what it means

I recommend also reading "The Most Misread Poem in America":

  Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant
  self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning
  of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation.
  The poem’s speaker … has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay /
  In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So
  the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled.
  The two roads are interchangeable.

OP referenced the poem at the end.

> I came to a fork in the road and took the one less traveled. Perhaps now I realize why.

He seems to disagree with Frost that the road less traveled is the one worth taking, judging from the title and overall tone of the post.

The roads are equally travelled; Frost says that at the beginning of the poem. Life is a process of narrowing possibilities, and looking back at a particular decision doesn't have a lot of meaning.

But everyone get it wrong: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10071717

I guess we all have our own takeaways. What in your view is meant by the last lines?

> I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

It's a statement about memory, and the narrative we weave about our lives. The full stanza for the last line:

  I shall be telling this with a sigh
  Somewhere ages and ages hence:
  Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
  I took the one less traveled by,
  And that has made all the difference.
He is imagining that he will say the last sentence in the future, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

He is imagining this despite the first three stanzas being about how similar the two roads are, how equally traveled, and how he regrets that he'll only be able to take one. He knows he's making the choice at random, and knows that in the future he will remember otherwise.

It might help the HN crowd if you say it's a sarcastic poem about survivorship bias ;)

There's a contingent of people who believe that Robert Frost was lamenting the fact that he took the road less traveled by, and had a worse experience. There's a good reason why certain roads are more traveled, and by not going the common path, his life was much harder.

I took it to be a satirical comment on the way everyone expresses their individuality the same way.

Very much the in the same theme as the Monty Python gag:

    CROWD: We are all Individuals!

    GUY AT BACK: I'm not.

Haha. That's a good one.

Yep, I made the same realization as the OP in that changing things to any large extent required being part of the management. I got my break 10 years ago then 6 months after that I quit to go and work overseas to be with my wife & family.

Turns out being a programmer is a very portable skill, and good ones get paid well. Life isn't so bad.

I imagine if I'd spent the last 10 years in management I probably wouldn't have changed jobs and be just as frustrated, just in a different way.

But let's not get carried away here, the OP (and I) might have been pretty poor management material after all.

> I just have to say this: So typically american.

This remark would be considered highly offensive and racist if it were uttered about most nationalities.

Would you say that to appraise the sentiments of, for example, a Jew? Of course not. Everyone would rightly condemn you for it.

I dunno, I'm Jewish and I wouldn't mind this particular remark, and a sister comment claimed it seemed typically Chinese just as much and claimed to be Chinese themselves.

One point here is that it's seemingly OK if it's not derogatory plus one is talking about one's own group. Another point is there's a continuum between nationality and culture, and it ought to be OK to point out that something is specific to a culture, and American specifically is very likely to be used to label a culture and not the people as in a bunch of guys and gals with specific genes. This is not to say that one ought to agree with grandparent's views on American culture, just that those views probably aren't racist.

BTW I personally try not to say this sort of thing since people might be offended all too easily, so I guess I agree with you in that way.

I think referencing Frost is a little dismissive here. The writer has some pretty clear reasons and description of his regret that probably many should pay attention to.

There are no guarantees that any path you take will be the right path for you by any metric, financial or otherwise.

>My sister has 10X the assets I have.

That gave me pause as well. Work 10x as hard for 10 assets? Not worth it for everyone.

Do you think his sister worked 10x the hours? So say a 400 hour week?

Working harder doesn't always mean working more hours. After 8 hours sitting at a desk programming, sometimes I realize how lucky I am to not have to hand-load semis all day in a blistering hot distribution center. And then sometimes, after a particularly grueling programming session working on the same bug for 8 hours, I yearn for a day of work where I can shut my brain off and chuck some boxes.

'Harder' is subjective.

I have programmed, and I have worked in factories, such as a door factory.

Programming is 100% beyond a doubt harder. My brain is mush at the end of a good day of programming.

Making doors? Physically tired but mentally fine.. and I find the physical side was easier to recover from.

So I get the door making -> programming is "harder" and I make about 10x the money.. but I would not say it was 10x harder, maybe 1.3x harder.. so clearly programming is a better job for me than door making.

>I have programmed, and I have worked in factories

So have I, and I come to the opposite conclusion. Does my anecdote trump yours?

Having chucked boxes in my youth, and currently a programmer, I can relate. As my skills have improved over the years it doesn't happen as much, but there are still those moments where standing in the back of a 52' trailer, calling off tags, and making tidy stacks of electronics doesn't sound so bad.

As mindless as work like that tends to be, there is a kind of zen quality to it. I think the trick now is to find a hobby that lets me turn off the left side of by brain for a while to do something so simple, yet satisfying.

I have an alternate point of view: my desire to remain engaged in an interesting and problem is high so that anything resembling monotony quickly bores and frustrates me. I question what I had done wrong in a previous life to be condemned to a latter day Sysiphian punishment. This is primarily why I rail hard against processes - they appear as manifestly unjust punishment.

In my opinion, our brains have a way of painting the bad old days in a nostalgic light. I would posit that if you were forced by circumstances to chuck boxes for 8 hours a day with company-specified arrival and departure times plus company-specified breaks, you would not relish it. But that's just my opinion.

> So typically American [sic].

That's one reason why Frost's poem is misinterpreted, due to American belief in destiny.

He quotes Frost in his post. Pretty sure he gets your point. In fact, he was making it.

he quotes Frost, but I don't see why he thinks "remaining a programmer" is "the road less taken". In most hierarchical promotion systems, one is chosen to lead many... leadership is always the road less taken, even if it is the road most desired.

aka grass is greener on the other side

Regarding this...

I got sick at a similar time as the big IT death. I took time off to study organic chemistry and biochemistry. The subject really bored me in high school, but it really interested me after reading a pile of books.

I always felt a lack because I never studied something related to reality, just about abstract symbols. That I got a chance to go back to uni to study a second subject, real science, makes me feel grateful.

(And regarding 10X assets -- it was probably one of the worst decisions in my life if you consider only money. :-) )

Lol, that poem. That poem is meant to be taken literally, the poet wrote it for his friend who wouldn't shut up about nature hikes.

You had a much better saying at your disposal "The grass is always greener on the other side". Alas, you chose not to use it and now we don't know how your comment would have turned out, had it made sense.

I agree this guy is way too whiny and jealous of materials. However, you're still the asshole here.

Why does anyone need to be "the asshole"? Neither of them seem like assholes. No one is doing anything wrong... One guy is saying "What if?" and the other is saying "Perhaps that wouldn't happen like you imagine it?".

These are both perfectly valid ideas and thoughts and I don't see why anyone has to be wrong.

>I just have to say this: So typically american.

And without this attitude we wouldn't have the things we have today. Trust me, Gates, Jobs, and a slew of others who built our modern world didn't do what they did for fun. They did it for (mostly) money. The same way the successful people in revolutionary fields today are doing so for money.

We can't have progress if we sit back and just judge everyone as "greedy" and expect good things to happen. Without these attitudes we wouldnt have the internet, the mobile revolution, commercialization of space, or the upcoming robotics/AI revolution. Maybe this guy should have migrated to management. Lots of people do and they're happier there. Not everyone is cut out to be some salty bad-ass coder until retirement. For most people this stuff is just a job, not a religion, and as people get older their social skills, wisdom, etc increase and many of them simply find being a manager or a mentor to be a more fulfilling use of their time. Society recognizes this and pays accordingly.

There's nothing wrong with the profit incentive as a motivator. In fact, competing in a capitalist technological market is one of life's few meritocracies and has paid humanity back in so many ways, its probably impossible to understand how vast the changes its brought us truly are. This conversation and everything you take for granted in your life right now would have been impossible without it. So maybe layoff with the holier-than-thou attitude?

Steve Jobs had plenty of character failings, but to say that he did what he did "for money" is a gross misunderstanding of what really drove him (a yearn for exceptional design, often at the expense of user choice).

I think he said in his youth to Woz that he wanted to 'one of the important people' - owning and running a multibillion company allowed him to achieve that.

This is very personal. I couldn't sit with the suits talking high level about the future company directions, new improvement and efficiency processes bla bla.

My first job was at a crapy webshop with all juniors. Worst code I've ever seen (except offshore code). Last years I have had projects with developers all >10yrs experience. It is very rewarding!

I like programming, I like technical discussions, and I like to tell management they are wrong (which they very often are). You can have a lot of impact being someone who actually knows what he talks about.

Your biggest regret should be including pointless google translate and twitter integration to a perfectly good website that would otherwise load within less than 500ms instead of two seconds.

I've been both the programmer and the entrepreneur. With multiple exits, I've been choosing my projects for years.

Software is more deterministic that humans. When businesses fail, it usually comes down to the other business partners/clients making and enforcing the wrong call - often in unpredictable ways. If you have to choose, manage the software, control the company.

IMHO, it always works out better for yourself when you own & control everything. If you have partners, have the veto.

Make and keep the gold I say :)

I started coding $LONGYEARS ago, and then took the management path cause I wanted to y'know, get paid. After five years as a CTO I finally realised I was coding maybe once or twice a week and gave it up, went contracting and while I know "leadership" basically is needed if you are going to have more effect than just your efforts, I only want to do that now for my own product company - not someone else's.

So contracting till I finally make the full time leap.

In short: you can go back.

So, TLDR: "my biggest regret as a programmer: having been a programmer"

This is a depressing OP and comments section but it is not all doom and gloom. The tech industry is slowly getting better at reward/valuing/promoting the individual contributor. Keep in mind corporations are, by nature, hierarchal so higher up the chain = higher pay & more respect is the natural thing to do. A trend of the larger tech companies have been emphasizing individual contributor roles within org particular in innovation and strategic roles. They often have different name (Distinguished Engineer, Engineer Fellow, CTO office, Innovation Office, Program Manager). I would seek out out companies that have such a program if your desire is to stay technical and an IC while still being promoted. Next to zero chance getting this at a super small startup or non-tech.

If your goal is to be a technical manager/CTO, the Product Manager role is a good path. For me, I transitioned to a Sales role (Sales Engineer), which is another route to the CTO path.

> I could have been almost anything

Also, he could have tried it and lost it all. You can regret not trying, but you can't regret not winning!!

A great read for this author would be "Don't Call Yourself a Programmer" by patio11:


Over the years I’ve seen how little ability you have as a programmer, no matter how good you are, at making a difference or changing things that are broken. I simply didn’t realize how little room you have to advance as just a programmer (or even architect or the like); the power to change exists at a level not available to you as a mere delivery device.

Not only will you not have the ability to change much (either about your environment, or in what direction your company takes as a whole) -- you'll frequently find your fate decided by people who have even less general business knowledge than you do, and little or no experience actually managing people.

If only life was so linear and predictable You could have remained at Apple and Steve Jobs would have never returned and several other possibilities and cumulative possibilities based on the combinations of all those other possibilities.

I have been working as a programmer for 8 years. I agree with him. It is exciting to learn new things and implement elegant code but if the bottomline is money, my experience is that you have to get into leadership roles.

I'm a programmer in my 30s. I've always said (only half-jokingly) that my career goal is to avoid management for as long as possible.

I decided to be an IT professional because I like spending most of my working day programming. If I wanted to spend most of my day talking, meeting, leading, and selling, I could have gone into politics. Or, if I really wanted to make truckloads of money, I could have become an investment banker.

I really don't picture myself ever feeling the regret that the author talks about. The more time spent coding stuff, and the less time spent doing management, the better.

I made a similar choice, now at 45 years, have not been unhappy at all. My last few jobs i've actually removed experience from my resume, and applied for jobs that pay less than what my experience could demand (i don't NEED six figures) and it's worked out very well. I still enjoy programming and working with new technology, less responsibility, more time for the things i enjoy working on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjvazX03EOU

> The CIO at the same place never believed anything his employees told him but believed everything vendors told him. Of course we knew he was taking kickbacks as we kept buying things we had no use for and he kept writing articles for them relating how wonderful their products were for us. Yet we used almost none of it. Some time after I left he was fired and perp-walked out of the company yet immediately got another similar CIO position.

That is galling, but it seems to happen with some frequency. I can't quite figure it out to be honest.

Follow the money. The companies he buys products from have a vested interest in him getting a new job, so they start telling all their customers "Bill is a great CIO, he just left his current spot and is looking for a new job, you should definitely hire him as your CIO". And the cycle repeats. Also the people above the CIO will have a vested interest in covering up his transgressions, because it would reflect poorly on them. It's good work if you don't have a conscience.

My biggest regret as a programmer: starting when I was 25 instead of 15.

He wrote the same stuff two yrs ago (look at his blog entries). That he now gets to the first page of HN shows how many more people resonate with his feelings. More evidence that capitalism neglects humanity. Though it is so far the best model for quantifying human interaction, the code of capitalism needs to be revised to adjust the quantities transacted. Long term value needs to be added into the calculation of price. Perhaps deep learning and big data (big learning?) can provide these adjustments.

My biggest regret is, I could have been a lawyer or doctor easily but i choosed to be a "programmer". I worked at New York(appnexus) and SF (yahoo, ebay). Now I work as Director of Software development for a very large org.

Programming is hard. really hard. I hope we can all agree on this. It is not easy to develop proper software. There are always changes along the way, hence we choose to be "agile". But still there is always something missing. I guess this is the nature of it.

I remember DeltaGraph!

I'm also at the same crossroads- 44, have some money, want to push FP and TDD and the languages Elixir/Erlang more, maybe just do it by starting a new company? Encountering too much current trying to push for it in existing orgs as a "mere" programmer. Figure if I think I'm on to something, I should just start a development consultancy or programming shop specializing in the things I think will matter down the road, now.

Interesting to see similarities between this and Camille Fournier's post on the same topic 11/2015: http://www.camilletalk.com/whilefalse/2015/11/truth-and-cons...

The common message is you often have less influence if you don't go the management track.

What is more depressing than OP is the HN crowd agreeing or saying how "programming is a dead job" and "it's easy" (see @okyup's comment).

These are what you call script kiddies who create CRUD apps and pretty UIs. I'll probably get downvoted by the hoards of script kiddies. I mean c'mon, these are the same kids ranting about how their world coming to an end with the whole left-pad fiasco.

They say that making money is easy but only so if it is the only thing in your life.

If you are willing and able to make tradeoffs that help you to focus on what is financially lucrative, then it's probably easy to find the highest paying path available. Factor in the rest of what's in your life and what you want to do; not so easy and usually it is "the money, and..." that people want.

Hindsight. Could have become VP or stayed with apple and gotten hit by a bus the next year. So many paths that could have played out as a lowly "programmer" and this person is just looking at his/her sister as if it's as simple as option A or option B and if only he/she picked the other. That's not life. I'm not down with this post.

Meh most people in management suffer from imposter syndrome either consciously or unconsciously.

Management is meeting + politics aka waste of time + drama.

Dev for life!

It gets frustrating when you have to work for basically junior level developers who have managed to get a management position, and they think they can code.

"Just do it this way"

The word 'just' always signaled that it hadn't been thought through.

I worked at a company that hired a developer who was slightly consumed by his regret at being an early employee and then getting out of Groupon pre-IPO. We'd be at a bar and the conversation would die down and he'd look sort of glum and say, "I should be on a yacht right now...". I felt bad for him.

Two things:

Not everyone can be a manager, or move up the management chain; even if you're good, there's not that much room, and you might not be able to cut it. Not saying don't try, but there are more programmer jobs than management jobs.

> being a programmer means you have to be happy with the opportunity to build cool things.

I can live with that.

Management types are simply pimping someone else's talent. In reality they should only get a small financial cut from doing that rather than the oversized influence and share of the decision making they do get from doing such things....that's how the entertainment industry handles "management".

The limiting factor in whether someone becomes a manager or stays a coder is that there aren't very many manager roles available relative to programmer positions. Almost perversely because these roles are scarce, they pay more, but are managers really harder to find than programmers?

So is there a way to do both? I've gone down the manager trail for the last 7 years, but I'm not sure I want to do it anymore. But after 7 years, I feel like I am behind all the engineers that have that many years of technical experience under their belt.

After reading this I get the understanding that in my life if I am to start a company and being a programmer that I will inevitably have to let go of being a programmer and focus on being solely a leader. This never is a thought that I never even fathomed.

I've always had the fear that I would be forced into management and wouldn't get to program anymore. This is a much scarier prospect to me. It seems a lot of programmers are eventually pushed into management roles.

Is there any good advice on how to set yourself on the path to being a manager? Not merely how to manage well (I've read plenty of those), but on how to get yourself in a position where you do manage.

Not only programming: all salaried jobs end in tears if the employee realises there is more than a paycheck in life but, that said, he/she can't afford to try and startup as an entrepreneur.

I think about this often. Chasing a big salaried job is like being the tallest midget. I think if you want to really play the big money/status game then entrepreneurship is going to be the bigger prize. Getting an MBA is the risk-averse option and probably won't get you that big salary you're dreaming of. There are just too many externalities here. His cites his sister, but was she promoted often to get up gender quotas, that he as a man, would not qualify for? Is she better connected than him? More attractive? Better natural social and empathic skills? How much did just luck play in her success?

I think you probably have a better chance of starting a successful business than fight your way to a C-level job.

I've made a similar decision in the last 12 months and I disagree with almost every bit of logic deployed in this article.

This time last year I was a CTO of a 10-20 headcount firm which was turning over about $10m/year in revenue.

A few years before that I helped build a company from me and the CEO and got it to about 20 headcount and a $15m pre-money valuation.

I am now a senior developer/tech lead in a 150+ headcount firm. There are two layers of management above me to CTO.

Why? It's quite simple. I wasn't happy in my role, because like the author I felt stressed and I wasn't doing anything particularly effectively.

So I sat down one Sunday morning and feeling the dread of Monday morning coming closer I wrote down a list of things that happened on bad days hoping to identify things I could eradicate, and a list of things that happened on good days with the view to do more of that.

It doesn't matter what was on the list of bad things, the list of good things was quite short: get to work on code/infrastructure; solve problems in a hands-on way; work in a great team as a peer, not as a manager.

It's a joke of mine that in very small startups CTOs have to write code, and in much larger startups CTOs don't have time to write code, but in 10-20 headcount size startups the CTO has to write code but doesn't have time to.

That meant in my previous roles I was still quite hands-on. Other CTOs I met told me I was not a "proper" CTO. One was amazed I knew how to code. Fuck 'em. I started as a dev, enjoyed being a dev, I would dive into dev when I could.

In the end, I realised I enjoyed coding. It wasn't the easiest thing in my job, it was the most satisfying.

So I quit, and put out a developer resume. Everybody told me I couldn't go back. I disagreed. I took a substantial pay cut to work somewhere else, and immediately within a week felt happier.

I realised that I could have empathy with tech management and use my own experience to talk in their language to influence decisions, but ultimately I wanted to write code as much as possible.

I'm fortunate that I work in a firm where engineers are given a fair amount of autonomy over tech decisions, taking input from product owners on priorities from the business. We have a voice, we have influence, we can change things. That means the traps are not as deep, the despair is not as entrenched.

Sure, things fuck up. Sure, we disagree sometimes. But that happened when I was CTO as well. There were huge arguments with CEOs at times. There were disagreements with VCs about tech strategy. There was crap bubbling up all the time that got on my scope. The fact I was the guy making the final call on this stuff didn't mean suddenly everything was fine because I was good, it meant my stress levels increased because the cost of getting it wrong was a couple of dozen families not being able to pay the mortgage next month.

That doesn't mean if you want to CTO, you can't. You can and you should, if that's what you want.

What I would argue is that you have to optimise for energy and happiness. Get energy and happiness right, you can do anything else you want. It all starts with those two.

You shouldn't choose the "easy" option, you should choose the option where you get to look forward to Monday morning, the option where you go home and feel satisfied with the contribution you made that day. For some, that's writing code. For some, that's automating CD pipelines. For some, that's figuring out how to save the company $x/year by moving services around from one vendor to another.

I expect I'll go back to smaller startups one day. I like the idea of trying to be an indie dev or getting paid to work on open source on my own terms to some extent, but right now I'm happy having the stability of where I am, and I get to write code, and I work with great people.

Man this is great. And very true. There are almost no programmers good enough to write their own rules at a large company.

The article would be the same if the author was an engineer, or an accountant, a scientist, lawyer, etc.

I'm into my third year working full time programming. Thanks for the heads up. Will retire sooner.

I really enjoyed this honest article. The zen is programming is a tool and not a goal itself.

You can avoid waking up at the end of your path if you keep an eye on road while traveling.

As a Product Manager - my biggest regret was not learning to code.

Programmers should compete with other programmers, not managers;

IOW: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.

Not sure if still holds true nowadays.

It's becoming harder and harder to move from programmer -> VP/CTO/CIO/CPO.

X years of experience? Nice, but did you go to HBS?

Author is not Scott Adams.

I double checked.

35 years of programming and not enough money to retire? Should have saved more money...

I regret sitting down.

Can not agree more.

Money != Success

Regrets as a programmer: 1. Every piece of unpolished, unfinished code that management decided should ship to the customers regardless 2. Ever using node and npm. 3. Seeing and living through the train wreck of J2EE and the XML horrors that ensued. 4. Not seeing the beauty in simple functions early on. Not everything needs to be a class or module. 5. Most business problems are political/social - regret every time we were called in to try and provide a "technical" band aid to those same problems. 6. Again, any project with node and npm.

Granted, in a decade, if you'll still be in this profession, you'll remember J2EE and XML and Node and npm and pip and git and Golang and JavaScript and code polish and functions-vs-methods debate as tiny specks on what actually constitutes you career. The author of the linked article tries analyzing his entire life from a standpoint of being a programmer, and your comment analyzes last few years of your life staring at /r/programming.

Can't believe this comment made it to the top.

I agree completely with you. I think the answer is you can't help some people. It's just sort of a myopic view. Could you imagine in 50 years someone asks you what regret you had about your career and you said "that I ever used node that one week in 2015"? I mean, wow.

If you spent a couple years building everything you could on top of Node and then realized you completely disagreed with some of its basic design then that would be a memorable experience.

This may be hard to understand if you are still in love with Javascript.

I don't know, I see disliking my old work as a good sign of engineering growth, and hating old decisions as personal / professional work...

Or, it could be an indication that they've had a pretty good career with only trivial regrets. That's how I read it.

>1. Every piece of unpolished, unfinished code that management decided should ship to the customers regardless

Looking back, I view this as a pro. You get to work on more projects that way. I spent five years working with an "ideal" manager that trusted coders to make the deadlines. When I look back on that, while it was the only time I've ever gotten to code things to "perfection", it was also a big black hole of working on a single project for way longer than it really needed.

Of course there's a limit beyond which the lack of polish and finish makes everyone less happy.

That is a very reckless attitude - people will use that software, and lose much more time on the problems than it would've taken for the programmers to fix them. And then we go and criticise Apple and other upstream vendors for doing the same thing…

I'm currently in this situation. My manager(s) and colleagues have been angels and incredibly patient with me rewriting the same library several times. I just need to get this out of my system and they seem to have understood. But you're right, it's not always best to set your own limits.

>5. Most business problems are political/social

Very insightful. Wondering why it is not discussed more often with so many snake oilers selling their silver bullets.

It's a lot simpler to throw money at technology than actually face policy / culture problems.

This is so true. It also explains the revolving door of CIO/CTOs at many places. Every 3-5 years, a new one comes in, makes minor changes and avoids the elephant in the room. On and on we go.

Politics at every level is nowhere close to being a solved problem.

Most business training still seems to rely on parables and cool stories, larded with huge doses of Standard Business Vocabulary to make it convincing (win, compete, achieve, aspire, excel, lead, inspire, and on and on.)

If people really knew what they were doing there would be a lot less noise and a lot more quiet wise action.

I'd like to tip my hat off to this contemporary masterpiece of fine trolling. A truly exquisite feat of engineering.

> 5. Most business problems are political/social - regret every time we were called in to try and provide a "technical" band aid to those same problems.

Why? Social and political problems are really hard to solve. If you can use technology to sidestep them, that's exactly the right way to do it.

OP must be very young. In corporate environments there is no sidestepping.

Say there's 20 pounds of work for 10 pounds of (recently downsized) people across multiple departments. The way you'd like to see technology work is turn 20 pound of work into 10 or less pounds of work for the entire company. The way technology is actually used in the real corporate world is your boss has you automate procedures and policies such that you push work out of your department and onto even more overloaded competing departments. That's how the strongest competitors are determined for promotion and bonus.

To some extent its a startup vs old company problem. Trust me, if technology could be applied to solve the whole company wide problem, grandpa would have already done it with punchcards decades ago, the only innovation that happens in old companies is pushing work and blame onto other departments. Hey, I have a number that proves we're now better, and that's all that matters.

The other way it works is as a weapon / scapegoat. They don't wanna work with us and I don't want to force them, or can't make them. But I can tell my programmer to change the bounds checking on that input field and they'll be forced to cooperate or shut down. If it works and they cooperate with us, I'll take the credit, if it fails, I'll blame and fire the programmer. Or if you don't want them to work with us (as in dump work on us) the programmer can sabotage their system, and again you can guess the different pathways for reward and punishment.

Oh, I've worked in big companies. I was just trying to be an optimist here.

As an example where my optimism is warranted: broken builds. You can either make it a `people problem' and tell people to be super careful; or you go for the technical solution and automate the whole thing, so that only commits that build and pass tests get merged into master.

Of course, there's no office politics in my example; so this was easy.

The humble spreadsheet liberated white collar workers to do automate simple (and not so simple) calculation tasks themselves. No begging the computer folks necessary any more, who can hold your department `hostage' at will.

You can bet that from the point of view of spreadsheet adopters, they sidestepped a whole host of political problems.

I've been in many situations where people thought that the solution lay in something technical, whereas the actual issue was social/cultural. In the worst case, time and energy is spent on the technical thing, which then simply fails when it hits the 'market' (so to speak). In the best case, the technical solution papers over a few cracks and merely kicks the can down the road.

I think GP was suggesting that technical bandaids were being placed on compound fracture type injuries, rather than addressing the root issue.

If you sidestep the problems entirely, sure, but I think that's the minority of cases where a genuinely hard social/political problem exists, a technical approach attempted, and the outcomes measured. We can all readily recall Uber as an example in the positive direction. What we are worse at is seeing or recalling the hundreds of times humans struggled with a technical solution that hacked away at the visible leaves while the root remained unaddressed.

That's the problem, you can't solve people problems with technology, god knows I've seen enough people try ...

It's a great way to feel like you've accomplished something while actually making the real problem harder to discover and diagnose.

could you elaborate more about using node and npm

I used to hate npm with the burning heat of a thousand supernovas. I think maybe they changed the way it works because now it tends to work instead of assaulting you viciously with a massive cascade of dependency errors every time you try to install a package.

Until recently it was quite the absolute worst experience of software ever for me and I used DOS and Windows 1.0.

Every time I realized I had to use npm I would be filled with deep dread and the knowledge that I was about to have my time burned in a bonfire of errors, confusion and complexity.

Someone needs to make a sincere apology for npm.

Why has it not bothered me lately? Either it has been improved or I am using it differently somehow.

When I learned of this concept in college, I suddenly realized why it was so hard to convince Windows people to go Mac. ;)

Were the issues way back in 2012/2013?

Javascript was designed so that clown on your website moves when you click on it.

I just don't understand all the JavaScript hate. I've used languages like java and python, basic and pascal, c, c++, assembly, and for the past 15 years JavaScript... I can say without hesitation, that it is my favorite language... I have a hard time explaining exactly why that is... sort of like trying to explain why chocolate is my favorite desert, I mean I like all kinds of ice cream, but chocolate is my favorite.

Java, Basic, Pascal, C++ -- you're not exactly listing very good platforms in the first place. Python's a bit better but still seems antiquated, like Go.

Try Haskell or an ML. Heck, even C# isn't that bad these days.

JavaScript's just a minefield of pitfalls. To be fair, it was designed in 10 days, and progress on it has been slow to say the least. (Hence the silly crap like having a "left-pad" thing as a 3rd party "module" instead of part of a proper stdlib.)

Other stuff like using "function" as the lambda identifier just make me shake my head. Or not having integers. Just poor decisions all around.

Same here. I've been a professional developer for 20 years. I love JavaScript. To me, programming is mostly just about functions and simple data structures. The hard part isn't getting the machine to work, or having easy access to powerful programming constructs. The hard part is finding the simplest model that will get the data where it needs to go, and that requires not programming language features but good design practices.

Generally, unless you're doing systems or realtime programming, or you are writing a serious fast path for a lot of data, the only reason you'd need more than the very basic features present in every programming language is that you're trying to do something more complicated than you should be.

Many programmers seem willing to take on almost any amount of complexity in their toolchain if it will allow them to express an idea in a slightly more concise way. I would prefer to stay much closer to the basics and just take the time to make really beautiful and powerful functions, rather than rely on a rickety stack of concepts that, if not confusing to me, will be confusing to many of the people who end up interacting with my code.

JavaScript is actually an incredibly flexible and effective language.

> JavaScript is actually an incredibly flexible and effective language.

== vs ===

No integers.

Assignment is declaration.


Curly brackets & semicolons.

Semicolon insertion.

It may be flexible (in the sense that an Alfa Romeo driven into a telephone pole at 120 mph is flexible), but it sure as heck ain't effective. JavaScript is the great shame of the computing industry: that it exists, and that it is used, and that it is used in more than just the browser, is an indictment of our entire profession.

JavaScript: take off and nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

JavaScript: you'll envy the dead.

JavaScript: a mistake, carried out past the point of absurdity.

No amount of cute phrases will change the fact that it is being spread by people who actually understand its flexibility instead of focusing on something that rubs them the wrong way (which, most of the time is the result of working with other, often shiver enterprisey language(s) and thinking that that's how it's done) quite effectively and there's no sign of stopping for its growth.

And that is good.

With things like rust and go backing us up in places where more verbose and static code is beneficial (for performance?) we are finally entering new age which leaves closed corp-controlled "enterprise" things (java, net - looking at you) behind.

My litmus test for whether an argument for JS is valid is replacing "JS" with "PHP" in my head and seeing if it reads the same. PHP did all the same things, but that doesn't make it a good language, it just makes it a language that's easy enough to learn for it to get popular.

JS is popular for one reason - browser support.

Indeed. It's the best (shittiest) way to deploy code on as many people's desktops as possible.

Ecactly the environment JavaScript exists in (the open web) is so accessible and awesome, which is why it's popular, and that awesomeness rubs off IMO

There is another - unique async nature from the start. That's why it made its way into node.

It is not popular the same way PHP is popular in any capacity. It really is a unique useful efficient language.

So what's your excuse for the popularity of Java, C++ etc?

I think the main reason for the popularity of object-oriented languages is that the design corresponds more closely to the physical world, which makes it easier to reason about the architecture of the software.

In my experience Go is a better choice than Node for reliability and stability reasons, rather than performance most of the time.

> No integers.

Fair enough.

> Assignment is declaration.

Not exactly. You can declare variables separately, if you want. In fact, a "var x = 42" statement will actually be split into "var x;" at the top of the scope and "x = 42" wherever you actually wrote it by the interpreter. The specified behaviour is a little weird and non-obvious, but once you know it, you know it.

> Prototypes.

That's a matter of taste (plus the problem of optimisation at the VM level, admittedly). Besides which, you can basically use prototypes to do classes, if that's your bag, and of course we have class syntax now anyway.

> Curly brackets & semicolons.

Semicolons are optional, which however you complain about below. So are some curly braces. The only alternative to having some kind of block delimiter would be significant whitespace, which is a perfectly legitimate preference but has its own warts.

> Semicolon insertion.

Around which the rules are fairly simple to understand. It's possible there's just a better way to do it (I know Go has ASI, for instance, but have never heard anyone complain).


I find this a most peculiar list of JS warts (what, not even a shout out for ==, bizarre implicit type coercions, etc?) There's no doubt it is a deeply flawed language, a big part of learning it is learning about the various spike-pits lying in wait for you, and the extra tooling required to mitigate its flaws comes with its own set of costs.

At the end of the day, though, you can write pleasant, readable and - yes - effective code in JS. There are worse languages to be stuck with, as long as you watch out for the spike-pits.

> You can declare variables separately, if you want.

The issue is that 'fop = 1' is not an error (outside of strict mode), even when I mean 'foo = 1.' Automatically creating variables makes what could be compile-time errors run-time instead.

> Besides which, you can basically use prototypes to do classes, if that's your bag, and of course we have class syntax now anyway.

Which I also find to be a mistake. Generic functions are the right way to do OO.

> The only alternative to having some kind of block delimiter would be significant whitespace

The block delimiter I prefer is () grin

> It's possible there's just a better way to do it (I know Go has ASI, for instance, but have never heard anyone complain).

Yes, whereas good practice on JavaScript is to always use semicolons (because its semicolon insertion is wrong), good practice in Go is to never use them (because its semicolon insertion is correct).

> not even a shout out for ==

That was my very first point …

> That was my very first point …

Bizarrely, I misread it as an overcomplicated ASCII art divider. Looks like I've got a JS VM in my head...

The fop typo - while I acknowledge that there are plenty of gotchas of this kind in javascript, a gotcha that will be caught by strict mode barely even counts in the grand scheme of things. Strict mode then gives you slightly better protection than in many otherwise more robust languages (Python and Ruby, for example).

On the ASI side, I don't see how it can be 'incorrect' - it's a well specified behaviour obeyed consistently, so far as I can tell, across the vast bulk of implementations. It may be a bad design, but that's a different thing. Go's version is certainly easier to explain in a paragraph or less.

I'm assuming by generic functions you're talking about eg. Clojure protocols or Haskell typeclass functions or stuff like that, which I also prefer (I also like round parens). But at this point, you're just criticising JS for not being $LANGUAGE_I_LIKE, which it isn't, obviously, but does not count as a terrible sin in and of itself.

I return to my main point - no, JS is not a great piece of language design, but it's hardly 'nuke from orbit' bad. There are certainly things I'd rather be working with, but equally there are worse fates that we could have been stuck with after the browser wars. "Life — the way it really is — is a battle not between good and bad, but between bad and worse".

> Bizarrely, I misread it as an overcomplicated ASCII art divider.

No worries!

> Strict mode then gives you slightly better protection than in many otherwise more robust languages (Python and Ruby, for example).

I really dislike that aspect of Python; IMHO it's a pretty bad flaw.

> On the ASI side, I don't see how it can be 'incorrect'

I think it's incorrect in the sense that it's such a bad design that the Right Thing to do is to always use semicolons manually (with the corollary that if the design is such that one never uses them — as with Go — then it must be correct).

> I'm assuming by generic functions you're talking about eg. Clojure protocols or Haskell typeclass functions or stuff like that

I'm thinking Lisp's multimethods. Behaviour doesn't really belong to one object or another, an uniquely privileging the first argument is just weird.

> I return to my main point - no, JS is not a great piece of language design, but it's hardly 'nuke from orbit' bad.

If it weren't for the installed base, I think JavaScript would be only two steps ahead of INTERCAL …

I think with the "No integers" part that isn't entirely true JavaScript has typed arrays now. So you could get an array of ints that way. I'm not familiar with them and whether they behave in a similar way as an int in a typed language like Java or C++, but from my reading it seems the integer view behaves (output wise) in much the same way as other typed languages integers.


> and of course we have class syntax now anyway

Even using Class syntax you're still locked into prototypical inheritance model. There is no classical inheritance in JS. (Probably a backward step in UX to call it "Class")

Yes, but you're locked into the subset of prototypal inheritance that basically is class inheritance. A class is, fundamentally, just a prototype of a particular kind.

The flexibility of JS is not how the language is designed, it is the hole that the language is filling.

The fact that using JS you can write a browser based app, a mobile app, backend software, configuration files and flat data files (JSON) without switching gears is the flexibility.

I would also argue that if you really don't like JS, you are using the wrong tool for whatever job you are trying to do.

That'd be fine, if there was any other tool that worked in a browser. Sure, you can transpile from some other real language, but it's still javascript when you finish up, with all the foibles and warts that haven't been fixed in twenty years.

Unfortunately, instead of going back and fixing core deficiencies in the language standard, it looks like ES6 & 7 are thick cakings of lipstick on the pig.

> "Unfortunately, instead of going back and fixing core deficiencies in the language standard, it looks like ES6 & 7 are thick cakings of lipstick on the pig."

The fix isn't ES6/7, it's WebAssembly:


The only truly terrible part of JavaScript is all the implicit coercions around equality checking. It would actually be a decent language if it reported type errors instead.

There are a few other smaller issues that are nuisances, like not being able to actually check if a value is a number, but I think coercions cause the most headaches for discoverability and debugging.

| It would actually be a decent language if it reported type errors instead.

The Web would also probably stop working and be much more of a pain to code if JS acted that way: http://i.imgur.com/76Wtthy.jpg

It would stop working if you did it NOW. That's irrelevant to the point that that's how JS should have worked from the beginning. Also, they can add these semantics to JS now too with a new type of strict mode without breaking anything.

As for how painful it would be, your claim is a total fabrication. Other dynamically typed languages are a pleasure to program in without implicit coercions everywhere. JS is widely considered a pain. Coincidence it is not.

|JS is widely considered a pain.

I find that is widely enjoyed by the "silent majority" and decried as a pain by a very vocal subset of developers. It's a little surprising that 1 + '1' is '11', until you spend a little time and learn the rules instead of fighting them - then you start doing your work in a way that uses that to save time. It's not great for everyone, but I like it - and I know a lot of other good devs who prefer the answer '11' (when you understand the fairly simple rules) to 'OMFGNOIQUIT'. I find "Number beats bool, string beats number" for implicit coercions covers 95% of cases where it would actually matter. For the other 5%, just type it in the console.

Because I like it that way, doesn't mean you have to as well - but it also doesn't mean that because you don't like (or even most of the commenters on HN) it it is "widely considered a pain".

> It's a little surprising that 1 + '1' is '11', until you spend a little time and learn the rules instead of fighting them - then you start doing your work in a way that uses that to save time.

You are omcpletely underestimating the complexity of JS's implicit coercions. If you haven't already seen it, watch the Wat talk [1].

Finally, the fact that you need the console to even understand the meaning of a code fragment is a perfect example of language failure.

[1] https://www.destroyallsoftware.com/talks/wat

> Finally, the fact that you need the console to even understand the meaning of a code fragment is a perfect example of language failure.

Isn't that the case for every language with polymorphism? Even C, once you add function pointers to the mix.

I've certainly heard polymorphism and OOP criticized on these grounds, but unless you're a hardcore kernel or embedded developer, that ship sailed about 25 years ago. Everybody uses debuggers and log statements these days. Expecting to be able to look at a code sample in isolation and know what it does is unrealistic for any large-scale system.

> Expecting to be able to look at a code sample in isolation and know what it does is unrealistic for any large-scale system.

My number one favorite thing about Go: you can look at a code sample in isolation in a large-scale system and know what it does.

Why? Every identifier is either lexically scoped or lives in a module. There are about 6 control structures and they all do what they look like they do. Operators are all defined over a small set of well-defined primitives, they can't be overridden. Closures, callbacks, and non-linear control flow are rare and obvious. There is no way for code to be skipped by exceptional control flow apart from the single escape hatch called panic().

It's really like no other language I've ever coded in. You can work in large codebases that are as clear as your average Go code, if you have strong guidance about what kinds of code complexity are acceptable and you are ever-vigilant about avoiding language pitfalls, but nothing is quite as freeing as knowing for a fact you will be able to parse someone else's code because there wasn't any way for them to write something you can't understand.

You still have interfaces. When you invoke a method on an interface, you don't know exactly which code will be called. It could do anything from crash to format your hard drive. In theory, the semantics of the interface should be well-specified and any implementation that doesn't conform to them is a bug, and Go culture holds pretty strictly to this, but there's nothing in the compiler that imposes solid restrictions on what the implementation of an interface can do.

If you're disciplined, you can write solid, easy-to-understand code in any language, Javascript included. I've worked on million+ line Javascript codebases and been productive (as a developer new to the codebase) within 3 days. But this imposes trade-offs in verbosity and flexibility that are often not worth it for most (non-Google-scale) JS codebases.

> Expecting to be able to look at a code sample in isolation and know what it does is unrealistic for any large-scale system.

I don't know why you'd think that. In a typed language, you simply look at the types and you know exactly the intended meaning of a code fragment ie. what inputs are needed, what outputs are produced, etc. That's not remotely the case for JavaScript due to its implicit conversions.

No? Also, there's more than one kind of polymorphism.

I'm with you except for wanting type errors. I like ducktyping and in coffeescript -- I know, I'm not cool -- you get the existential operator `?` which makes ducktyping really nice.

I really think the problem with javascript really boils down to the fact that it's still in beta and will never have the breaking changes necessary to move it to a 1.0 language (i.e . the ECMA committees commitment to not breaking the web). But, it's easy enough to get around that in new projects by using linters that get rid of the bad parts.

> I'm with you except for wanting type errors.

Duck typing for methods and such is fine if that's what you're into, but if you're checking for equality, you want type errors, period. Only like equals like. Doesn't matter if your language is statically typed or dynamically typed, equality means something very specific and it's very surprising when those expectations are violated.

Thank you for this post. We have a really bad habit of chasing "cutting edge" fads as an industry. It must come from the tendency of programmers to burn out and bow out, which exacerbates the tendency of young bucks to lack any respect for their elders. Software dev is still a very immature industry.

I respect Brendan Eich a great deal and I truly appreciate what he did for NetScape in 1995 by introducing JavaScript. What I don't appreciate is that we decided to extrapolate that madly-rushed, designed-and-implemented-in-less-than-a-week-of-all-nighters language not only into the default client side language for the web for the last 2 decades, but we have also allowed very badly informed people to start using it for server-side applications.

There has to be a way to bring order to this chaos. Any ideas?

I can't say that Javascript is the most fun language to use, but I think that's because given the way it's positioned, it has a bit of a hoarding problem. It's picked up the millenial issue that the stupid things you said in your teens are never ever going away, because they are permanently spread through the internet. Fun.

The amount of "Bad Things" does make stumbling hazards, which is why I'm completely convinced that if you can, you should use a saner language, but there's no <script type="python"> (yet?). In those cases, we need to fence off the trash, put up warning signs on the exposed wiring, tape a post it note to "v instanceof Array" and try to write the sanest javascript we can.

Such hate. By far not as bad as you portray. Have you attempted the 8th level of hell that is PHP?

PHP7 is ok. They rewrote the parser to use a real AST which fixed a lot of the weirdness and inconsistency, threw out a ton of deprecated stuff, and made error situations saner by replacing errors by throwables. I like also that php is gradually getting strict typing as an option. Function signatures are strictly typed now, with class properties getting it soon. Plus, PSR guidelines have made the popular libraries object-oriented, namespaced and consistent. My main complaint with php these days is that it's starting to look too much like java with dollar signs.

Back in the day when I was just learning to program, I wrote a BBcode library in JavaScript. Not knowing any better, I made very liberal use of globals throughout my code.

I later went to go port my code to PHP 4 (that was current at the time). To my surprise I was getting all these errors about how crappy of a programmer I was (both from globals and from misspellings and related problems).

I'm honestly not sure how people hate PHP so hard and yet don't mind JavaScript.

For me it was things like "function_returning_array()[0]" working in JS but not PHP and other unexpected parsing weirdness like that. (Though I don't really mind PHP, just much of the code written in it :-) )

prototypes are actually a really good way to deal with inheritance.

Single inheritance is awfully limiting which is what Javascript's prototypes provide. And structurally copying multiple prototypes into a single object to achieve multiple inheritance is an awful hack.

Not having inheritance is also a pretty good way to deal with inheritance.

> JavaScript is actually an incredibly flexible and effective language.

My problem with people who say such things is that they almost always have been saying the same thing for many years, while the language itself did several 180° turns and backflips.

"Classes are stupid, we don't need them!" "Look, we have fake classes in ES6!" "Asynchronous code is awesome!" "Asynchronous code is horrible!" "Prototype mutation is awesome and powerful!" "Everything should be functional and immutable!"

If someone considers the current direction of JavaScript good, then they should have considered several previous directions absolutely idiotic. If, however, they are simply oblivious to the incessant flip-flopping of the "mainstream" JavaScript, their opinion about quality of any language is worth very little.

I feel the contradictions in JavaScript and it's community is actually a reflection of the background of any one who uses JavaScript coming from other languages. Those people bring their paradigms to JavaScript. I like that about it. Though I know many other languages JavaScript is my favorite language and I use it at work. It's the first language that I took a deep dive into programming with.

Or maybe they are focusing on other things altogether?

JavaScript was supposed to be a sane language (Scheme), but it is what it is because Netscape's management decided (twice) they need to be competitive with (first) Java and (later) Microsoft right fucking now.

Assembler is actually an incredibly flexible and effective language.

When I worked at DEC as an MIT intern many years ago, we wrote the PDP-10 OS in Assembly Language (MACRO-10); I wrote the spooler. Look at some things from http://pdp-10.trailing-edge.com/ - you can see how we did it: a lot of appropriate abstration, and great in-program documentation, built around a sound system architecture.

My question: IF we all (mostly) don't like JS, why don't we simply take Webkit or something and build-in our own (presumably) better language? Call it the "Hacker News Language for the Web" or something; the goal being to replace JS inside the browser. Naturally, we'd need a JS-to-HNL converter; but done properly, both front-end and back-end could be the same, and could be built on the 'natural' structures of The Web, 2020-style (and beyond!) (Maybe HNL is [a descendent of] ARC? Just riffing here...)

One more idea: If browsers would permit batches of signed and authenticated code to be made part of the browser semi-permanently (e.g. node.js, other JS/HNL libraries), then that would save the download time, speeding up sites. In fact, if the code were truly trusted, it could even be in assembly language(!!!! tie in, above) for some totally kick-ass performance. Assumes security issues properly solved.

> flexible

Flexibility is good for frameworks, not for languages.

I read once a list of good and bad adjectives applied to paintings by Chinese painter Shi Tao. In the same vein here is my list for our topic.

Good computer languages are:

- Expressive, readable, memorisable, deterministic, stiff, simple, obvious, clear, concise, precise, sharp, smooth, pedestrian, regular, parsable.

Bad computer languages are:

- Obscure, arduous, terse, stark, viscous, flexible, lumpy, bumpy, redundant, verbose, restrictive, poetic, foolish, extravagant, awkward.

(This is not to be take too seriously, but just this: all built-in "flexibility" in languages leads to nightmares)

I get that convenience beats quality everytime but why do we pretend that `convenience == quality` is true?

I believe that's cognitive coercion in action.

Obviously none of us truly believes that `convenience === quality`.

Yes sir!

I am not node developer, but I don't think it solves the problems it is supposed to.

Serving pages rendered with node via webserver (nginx, apache) is not the most pleasant experience compared to e.g. python + wsgi

npm packages are not packages. It is simply a dependency definition + repository. Pull in package from npm and it is nowhere near usable until you figure out where it actually puts the files you care. You only know it's somewhere in `node_pacakges/`. Compare to e.g. gulp or python pip. You just pull in a package and it's usable.

You are right, you're not a node developer.

> Pull in package from npm and it is nowhere near usable until you figure out where it actually puts the files you care. You only know it's somewhere in `node_pacakges/`.

Not usable for what? All you need to do is `npm install package` then in your project `const package = require('package')` and it's usable. Also, it's `node_modules`, and gulp itself is a task runner for... Node, so I don't understand your point there.

> ever using node and npm

so you regret writing anything modern for the web?

Oh shit boy, these other comments schooled you!

We've banned this account for repeatedly violating the HN guidelines. If you don't want it to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com.

Does he regret not buying a lottery ticket when he sees that someone else won? He may very well (especially if the winner was someone who intersected in their lives, making it seem more proximal), but that's essentially the argument given that there is absolutely no guarantee that they would have seen any success in the technical management space. It's presumptive and egotistic to assume it would have been a successful pursuit.

And while the leadership path has very high highs, it is also the route to career death for many people who went that route. When companies do cutbacks, "middle management" is virtually always the first target. These are the people who often have the hardest time justifying their value.

Definitely good advice. Corporations are often not structured for you to have an impact outside your tunnel: they're too top-down. (Of course, many workers internalized that during school, which was much the same, so they seem happy with the arrangement.)

Yishan Wong talks about this here http://algeri-wong.com/yishan/engineering-management.html

It is also my Bible. Yet to find a place that runs like that.

Wow. This good stuff. Thanks for sharing.

Here's the software he seems to have been the owner for :


Certainly looks like it had potential. Of course he was going up against microsoft at that time. Certainly wouldn't have been easy.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2018

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact