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There are definitely amazing, luxurious aspects of programming. Something came into view for me recently though, that I never realized before:

When I graduated from high school, I started my own little (tutoring) company, and did software from after that, so I never had the experience of a "normal", hourly job, like retail or coal mining or whatever.

Recently I had an opportunity to do a job like that and the mood struck me to try it out for like a month. I realized something huge about our jobs versus a lot of other jobs:

I make more than $100/hr sitting in my pajamas, and I'm totally blessed. But I work my fucking ass off. My brain is fully engaged, and when I charge you $125 for an hour of my time, you got more than that value, because I was working, firing on all cylinders.

What I realized in this other job was that even though I worked like 10 hours, it felt like I didn't do much because... I didn't. My coworkers and I, we did some stuff, chatted, laughed a bit, did another bit or piece, took lunch, etc. We spent a lot of time just socializing, having down time, not thinking too hard.

I also noticed that there wasn't really room to do "better". The nature of the job sort of set a cap on how productive you could be during a given time period, so the culture just grew around that. Think of a gas station attendant sitting around watching TV most of the day, the night audit at the hotel, or the guy flipping burgers when it's not lunch time.

That's when I really got the distinction between $10-20/hr work and $100+ -- we, collectively do difficult, mentally taxing work that requires long hours of intense focus, and a dedication to craftmanship that most other jobs just don't require. And we do that job under mostly under unreasonably tight deadlines, often for employers that don't understand what we're doing and therefore undermine us in many ways.

Yes, it's luxury in many ways. But it's also a coal mine of its own sort.




Hmm, so you took one job and feel like that is enough of a basis for making conclusions?

- Have you tried being a commercial dishwasher? I have. That's 8 straight hours of monotonous, yet highly demanding work attention-wise. $9/hr.

- Have you been a line cook? I have. That's 8 straight hours of monotonous, physical work plus a pretty painful burn at least once a day. $10/hr.

Okay, fine I take your point that programming requires heavy dedication to skill. Have you ever worked in accounting? My fiancee works as an accountant and is constantly pushed to work over 70 hrs per week and her job is extremely demanding. (She's the only one at her company that can figure out certain processes, hence the long hours and pressure. She currently is doing the work of 4 people.) $20/ hr.

I'm sorry, but calling your $100/hr occupation as a programmer a "coal mine of its own sort" is beyond absurd, and downright foolish.


I think you're contrasting hourly payments for a freelancer (unless OP is getting $100/hr for 40 hours/week, 48 weeks/year) and the accountant getting paid regardless of workload in a full-time role. And in a very particular environment (overworked, etc).

A freelancer, especially if they're working out of a shared office space, has overheads - rent, utilities, etc. What I bill and what I take home are very different, and even more so for my employee.

A couple of those jobs you listed would have the employees heading home and free to unwind. I run a small business and I am never free of it. The calls and the emails and the pressure and the queue of issues never stops. I envy those that go home and can throw away an evening watching a movie or TV guilt-free.

At one point while travelling, I worked as a barman in the UK earning under $10/hr. I could do one hour of freelance work in the morning and make more then than in the 10-12 hour shift I did that afternoon. But I had never been a barman before, had about 10 minutes of training before I started, and didn't really do anything particularly taxing. It was draining being on your feet all day, but it was very simple work. Almost anyone could do it and thus the wage on offer was low.


He is a programmer at $100/hr who has to tax his brain a lot in near-total isolation. The aspects of how this is bad for you may be different from those of a dishwasher or a line cook. Some therapists charge more than $100/hr for just listening to people's mental problems for an hour and suggesting new ways of thinking about stuff. But we don't see said therapists telling each other, "Oh, our jobs are so cushy and luxurious. Try being a line cook!"

Programming is monotonous, socially isolating, and probably leads to a higher risk of things like heart disease and diabetes from all the time we spend sitting around. These aspects of it shouldn't be neglected because a dishwasher or a line cook makes less money for more immediate physical risk.

"Okay, fine I take your point that programming requires heavy dedication to skill. Have you ever worked in accounting? My fiancee works as an accountant and is constantly pushed to work over 70 hrs per week and her job is extremely demanding. (She's the only one at her company that can figure out certain processes, hence the long hours and pressure. She currently is doing the work of 4 people.) $20/ hr."

This is replying to an anecdote with yet another anecdote, which I don't think is terribly helpful. As a sincere suggestion, has she tried negotiating for a raise? Seems like their reliance on her as a single point of failure should make for a good negotiating position.


> But we don't see said therapists telling each other, "Oh, our jobs are so cushy and luxurious. Try being a line cook!"

First of all : you don't know that.

Second of all : there are rigors to therapy, and every profession, that aren't obvious from the outside. The same holds true for programming.


> This is replying to an anecdote with yet another anecdote, which I don't think is terribly helpful.

Yes I do think this is illustrative that there are many highly skilled and heavily demanding jobs that make considerably less.

> Programming is monotonous, socially isolating, and probably leads to a higher risk of things like heart disease and diabetes from all the time we spend sitting around.

And how is this unique to programming? Sounds a lot like a call center position I once held. $12 an hour.

Seriously, nobody is arguing that programming isn't grueling, but a little perspective and respect for people who are MUCH worse off seems warranted.


The concept of 'works X hours on job Y so deserves Z' is totally bogus. You have to reveal how much Y is in demand, what kind of risks are involved and what kind of predictability exists in in the results doing Y.

An accountant working 70 hrs a week at $20/hr will take $1400 a week. A start up guy will take $0 if it things go sour. That is the difference. Do you wish to settle for $1400/week without risks or take a risk and make $100 million working 3-4 years? Note if things go bad for the entrepreneur(and that's the most common case) the accountant is still significantly richer than the start up guy.

If you look at it that, way the accountant is having it way easier than the start up guy. A lot of predictability in results, measurable productivity, guaranteed pay etc.

Apply that definition and you see why programming is actually "coal mine of its own sort".


You're confusing "start-up programming" with "programming," I probably that seems to be endemic on Hacker News.


He's pointing out the risk factor, a severely (and deliberately?) overlooked aspect of the "income inequality" rhetoric. Consistency of income has it's own significant non-monetary value. There's more to benefits of a job than just the paycheck, such as not worrying month-to-month whether you're going to make your mortgage/rent payment vs getting evicted. Many lower-paying jobs remain consistent regardless of whether you're sweating hard for 8 hours or watching TV for hours waiting for a customer to show up & need you for 10 seconds; that vs higher-paying jobs which are deeply connected to the actual value of every second of productivity ... everyone would like the profitability of the latter, but the assurance of income of the former can make it the better choice (given common circumstances).


Sure, but he implies that the "start-up guy" reflects "programmers" in general, and it really doesn't. There are a lot of programming careers that are as reliable as anything is in this day and age. The kind of programmer who moves to San Francisco to work 90-hour weeks for peanuts in hopes of becoming a billionaire at 25 is wildly overrepresented on Hacker News. He really doesn't represent the average code monkey just trying to put in his 40 hours and get home to his family.


I worked as a dish washer and then line cook for several years. It is true, that is way 'harder' work than programming. It was actually money (or, lack of money) and a work related injury that made me make myself a hirable coder. It's hard to say if my world view changed or if it's normal for people who do this work to become this way, but that first year was so hard that it fucked with me. Brain is different. I guess the trade off is ok though so it's cool ( not poor, homeless, in prison, or hungry :D ).

Oh and by the way, if you think working 8 hours a day as a cook or dishwasher is a lot LOL don't move anywhere where there is any job competition at all you will be instantly fired.


> Yes, it's luxury in many ways. But it's also a coal mine of its own sort.

Except you won't die from sitting home in your pajamas.

You will, however, be very to die for a multitude of reasons in a coal mine.

I'm a programmer. Yes, my brain is engaged constantly. But that's fun to me. It's not like I rue the day I became a programmer and I had to perform the terrible labor of sitting around with friends/acquaintances, sip free coffee, and make web apps. However, if you're in a sweatshop, forced to work many hours a day and likely suffer a variety injuries, you aren't doing as well.


Many of my friends and family are coal miners. I worked at one for a summer. There are fatalities, but the frequency with which they happen is so small that driving to the mine is more dangerous than the actual job. With heavy machinery doing 95% of work in modern mines, and having worked in one, I can tell you that the constant grind of producing code is much harder than sitting in haul truck or laying explosives. On top of that, most programmers don't stop working when they go home. With the constant flood of new technology and best practices, it takes a lot of effort to even stay relevant. Coal miners don't go home and read about creating cheaper explosives or more efficient haul trucks (ok maybe some do, not many). Mining outside of US, is certainly a different story.


Sedentary jobs have sedentary risks: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/even-with-e...

I own a GeekDesk and swear by it. Standing sometimes while coding makes a difference!


I was interested in these, but, zomg, it's hard to take the company seriously with that faux-hawk dude on the front page.


It's hard to take them seriously when they appear to be selling a block of press board on a couple of metal stands for $1000.

To be fair, it seems all standing desks are insanely priced.


For what it's worth, it's a well-made desk, although I too was a little miffed that I had to drill directly into the pressboard wood during assembly.

You could always put your own desktop on the frame. (It's a very good frame.)


I don't see a faux hawk dude on the front page. I'm getting a professional woman in a pantsuit. If I refresh, I see who you're talking about when it loads another picture. I think it's meant to illustrate that they're not just professional desks, they can be great for (college folks/rockstar ninja startup founders/punk-rock songwriters).


Actually in the developed world mining deaths are a lot lower than they used to be - fishermen have some of the most dangerous jobs

And at a supervisory/professional level in the UK, coal mining deputy's can earn £80-£100k PA (twice what the average dev in London gets paid)- the going rate for a single 12 hour shift at the weekend is £2k

I was one a course (on TUPE a really acne bit of uk employment law) and 3 of the other attendees where from the mining industry and shared some figures with us.


> Except you won't die from sitting home in your pajamas.

Not sure this is true. Working alone from home in a sedentary job probably raises his risk for diabetes, heart disease, and depression and related diseases; and contributes to an earlier death.

I don't have any data as to whether the average life expectancy of a programmer is less than the average life expectancy of a coal miner. Do you?


I don't have any of that data either, but to suggest that the life as a programmer working from home is as dangerous as the life of a career coal miner seems a bit absurd to me.

edit: Certainly no one's making the claim that a sedentary lifestyle doesn't have its own risks - but being a programmer working from home doesn't insist you live a sedentary lifestyle, however, the risks involved with being a coal miner aren't optional.


> to suggest that the life as a programmer working from home is as dangerous as the life of a career coal miner seems a bit absurd to me.

As it does to me. But the idea that coal-mining jobs are dangerous is probably due to stuff you read, or the recent media coverage of trapped miners in Chile (well, a few years ago). Anecdotally, I also hear of a lot of people in desk jobs just dropping dead of heart attacks at relatively young ages (mid-60s), so I'm trying not to be influenced by that either.

I'm trying to keep a completely open mind. I do not know for sure what the risks of my job are, but I shouldn't assume that it's definitely in the low-risk region, because doing so would be unscientific. It could be that being a programmer is one of the jobs that leads to higher life expectancies, and if that were proven statistically, that would be great.

Also, you have to distinguish between a job being dangerous, and leading to a lower life expectancy. It could be true that the average miner needs to be on guard against life threatening situations 100% of the time, but could have a higher life expectancy than the average programmer who sits around all day and doesn't have any immediate dangers, but often dies earlier due to a myocardial infarction from all the Cheetos, soda, and pizza he consumed.


I think the major difference, which I mention in my edit, is the risks that we're suggesting are dangerous to a programmer aren't a direct result of the occupation. In the general case, I don't believe that anything about being a programmer stops someone from exercising on a regular basis (edit: or maintaining a healthy diet).


There have been articles and studies relatively recently about the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle, and how that in some ways can not simply be "cancelled out" by a reasonable diet and exercise regime. In other words, even though you might exercise a lot, it might not negate all the health risks of sitting on your ass for around 8 hours a day. The exercise is beneficial, but you can not use it to "make up for" being inactive a lot.

The fixes might be simple; maybe stand up and walk for three minutes every three hours. Maybe use a standing desk standing up for a couple of hours a day. Not that both of these may be necessary, but not sufficient by themselves.

These may be simple habits to adopt but then the problem is, will your employer accept that you get a BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ'ing standing desk, or that you go up to "get a glass of water" very frequently (of course really to move about some)? I don't know, but it might be more of a social problem than a habit/technical one.


>Except you won't die from sitting home in your pajamas.

I won't argue that it's not far safer than a lot of other jobs, but there are definitely health risks to having a sedentary job if you don't work on mitigating them on your off hours. Also, stress.


"hours of intense focus"? really? Most software developers I know - highly paid ones - rarely put in more than 4 hours at stretch ever. The 'pomodoro' technique popular a few years ago focused on getting people to work for 25 minutes at a stretch.

I'm not saying the work is not sometimes mentally taxing - it is. But so are other jobs. CPAs trying to juggle way too much info days before tax day - and tax day doesn't move - you can't push that back - the pressure mounts and there's nothing you can do about it. MANY software projects get pushed back days/weeks just because of any number of factors (some big, some trivial).

And... it's not mentally taxing to some people. There are things I sweat in development that other people do with their eyes closed. And vice versa - I've cleaned up projects in a few days that a small team of people "fired on all cylinders" to get done (and failed).

As I replied elsewhere effort and value are pretty disconnected.


What kind of job was it, retail? Even that job is probably a luxury compared to, say, manufacturing. I don't think you'd have that much down time if you were working in a factory. You wouldn't be thinking a lot, since it's repetitive manual labor, but I'm sure you'd be pretty tired at the end of the day (physically, not mentally).


It depends very much on the job. I'm currently working from home and loving it, but I know far too much about jobs that suck. Factory work can look very much like Lucy from I Love Lucy working at the chocolate factory, for example. It may not be very mentally engaging, but 12 hours (or more) of that are enough to wear down anybody, especially when you get busy seasons with no weekends.


That's what I was thinking. Mentally taxing work is usually more rewarding at the end of the day than physically taxing work.


Austin used to be such a chill place, now we've got these bros...

Comparing coal mining to working in your pajamas for $125/hr. Jesus.


"Think of a gas station attendant sitting around watching TV most of the day, the night audit at the hotel, or the guy flipping burgers when it's not lunch time."

I've been thinking about this a bit lately... What can we build to help people make the most of these spare cycles? Duolingo is perfect for this. What else could people produce/learn in spare time on their phone?


There are a million things they could do. Gamify things and help science - http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23635094

Or set up a course and learn math etc.

Sadly, many bosses don't want this. They want a body at work and to look like they're working even if there's nothing to do.


"But it's also a coal mine of its own sort."

Go work a physically taxing job for a couple weeks then come back and say that.


"...of its own sort."

i.e., not making a direct comparison about the physicality of the work...

I remember reading about a guy who gave up the freelance web game to become a lumberjack and loved it. Physically hard, but easy to switch off and relax at the end of the day. I think it was on HN a few years back when I first joined.


"and when I charge you $125 for an hour of my time, you got more than that value, because I was working, firing on all cylinders."

No, I don't. I might. But what you value your time at is different from the value I can derive from using your time.


Unless pmichaud is contracting for you, you don't seem to fall into the precondition of "when I charge you $125 for an hour of my time."

He presumably sells to people who value his time that highly and doesn't sell do people who think his price is unworkable, so it is almost tautologically true.


"presumably" - didn't really come across in his post.

He(?) seems to justify the $125 "because I was working, firing on all cylinders".

I don't care what your effort is. I don't particularly care if it takes you all your effort, or if you can do it in your sleep. The justification is the value delivered, not the effort expended.

He probably does sell to those sorts of people, but again, I doubt they care what effort he's putting in to it. And again, the written justification was "I'm firing on all cylinders". Some people firing on all cylinders manage to pull in $10/hr. Others pull in $10k/day firing on all cylinders. Your effort doesn't matter to someone - what value they can derive from your deliverable is all that matters.


You're right. If he's doing his job right, you should be getting MORE than ($125 * # hrs) in value in return.


See my post above. But it's really only partially his(?) job. I can 'do my job' right, but if the other party fails to derive value from what I deliver (incompetence, whatever), then it wasn't worth it to them, regardless of how well I did or how much effort I put in. PART (a big part) of my job is to qualify people up front to make sure I'm as unlikely as possible to be wasting each party's time.


Try cheffing. Up to 16 hours a day at a high-end place with only a 5 minute breakfast break, 5 minute supper break. Mind's constantly working. Certainly not solving world hunger, but creativity and concentration are required all the time. Shit job if you don't really care much about food, and even if you do, the job itself is still not that great.


It is interesting that in some places there are mandatory break times, where I grew up you had to have a half hour break per 8 hour shift or something like that, even with these laws, those working conditions still persist. Some employers might not even be aware of them. I worked for one that was super not-breaking-the-law type and one that was who-the-hell-has-time-to-research-that-shit? type. Both in food prep and service.


Don't confound price with value!

Software programmers and Engineers work an inmense amount to build things that are commercially unsuccessful. In fact, most projects are botched completely, let alone those that run at a loss, before you get the big wins.

There is a definite disproportion of price/value across all professions, and programmers are today in the spectrum where the expectations are rather low. 20 years from now, we could have so many engineers that there wont be much advantage in comparison with accountants, operations managers, sales or retail etc.

It is a priviledged position, albeit not as priviledged as lawyers or bankers (whose salary can vastly outpace their value). Classical service jobs dont have that luxury: you serve x burguers, u sell x products, you build y chairs.


I don't really see us getting many more IT/CS engineers anytime soon. The amount of businesses that actually need a programmer / tech person on staff keeps increasing while the amount of engineers out there stays relatively the same. That's why we can charge so much for our hours. It's a seller's market. Even if the country decided to make programming part of the elementary school curriculum it wouldn't necessarily translate into more engineers because computer science & IT people tend to be nerds/geeks who like to tinker in their free time and as a percentage of the population they stay relatively the same from year to year. If anything the kind of programming curriculum that most programmers dream of might actually create more of a demand for them because finally everyone who's not a programmer will realize the potential value of having a good programmer on staff.

The amount of office drones I see messing around with giant Excel sheets for hours doing the same task day in day out that could easily be automated by a simple application is astounding.


>computer science & IT people tend to be nerds/geeks who like to tinker in their free time and as a percentage of the population they stay relatively the same from year to year

Why do you say that?

I think you may be thinking too much in the short-term. I was actually wondering what programmers in their mid-20s today are going to be doing when they're, say, 70. How many programmers in their 70s do we have today? Very little, because computing was in its infancy 50 years ago. With every generation, more and more are being exposed to computing/programming at an early age.

You also have to remember that there are tinkerers in not just the computing field. Think about the weekend woodworkers, car guys, model aircraft enthusiasts; could many of them be tinkering with software if they were exposed and educated in it at the right age? I say yes. On the macro scale, we are only at the dawn of computing and the internet, and there are going to be MANY more people working on it in the future.


You related to Tom Perkins?


Absolutely yes. I always have to be really polite to my friends who don't have technical jobs. Programmers have to offer up complicated things, that have to hold up when tested. A lot of jobs are mostly talking, or moving things around, or just whatever. Look at family physicians. I've seen them just look up stuff on Wikipedia on their netbooks, that everybody sort of knows anyway. Anything more demanding, they write down the name of a specialist. I used to have a customer service job that was like that, but I only made $14 (1998) an hour.


FWIW those people "talking" or "whatever" are quite likely creating some of the business opportunities for your code to sit in and make you the money. The number of times when coding=(lots of)money without some of the "whatever" involved is fairly rare.


I'm just saying, few jobs have analogs to "accountability to logic", "accountability to the compiler", "accountability to the unit tests" and so on. Surgeons have it. Engineers have it. Even people who do sales have it. But you know there are a lot of service, middle-management, and executive jobs where no rubber meeting road really occurs.


yes, and there are a lot of programmer jobs where the same is true as well - maybe as a percentage it's less than in a sales role, but it still exists.

but it actually doesn't really matter - you choose to be a programmer, so you choose to put yourself into a role that requires such accountability. i'm sure you are quite qualified to be a barista, but would you get satisfaction? doubt it.




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