The value of (good) developers

pizzas on table

Last week, I shared how I reached a very low view of software development (and thus developers) even though I studied computer science at university. I ended my post saying that things started to change when I saw how some of my friends who were passionate about development got great jobs at prestigious companies, with amazing salaries and work conditions.

In this post, I want to share how my perception of software switched from being a commodity to being one of the most valuable assets for today’s companies, and then how this new perception started influencing my career decisions.

After reading my previous post, some readers told me that they were shocked that young graduates could get 6-figure salaries. I was shocked too when I first realised this, but it was before I truly started understanding the economic law of supply and demand. To make it simple, the more a skill is in demand, and the less people on the market have this skill, the higher people can be paid for this skill. And the opposite is true. As a student, I used to deliver pizzas to pay for my living expenses. I got paid the minimum wage because there were far more students willing to deliver pizzas than there were jobs available. The pizza companies knew that we were all easily disposable. When any of us left, we were replaced the next week without any problem.

If some companies like Google or Amazon are willing to pay 6-figure salaries to 21 years old graduates, this must be because the skills required for these jobs are incredibly hard to find. And this is not due to the fact that there are too few developers. There are millions of developers out there, many of whom are either jobless or employed in low-paying jobs. What is mostly lacking on the market is not developers, but good developers.

The truth is, anyone can learn how to code, in the same way than anyone can learn how to write. If you have never tried to code and are suspicious about my claim, I challenge you to take the free Javascript course on CodeAcademy. You’ll find out that in a few hours, you can understand the basics of programming, and get enough skills to create basic animations on a webpage or create an interactive fiction game. (Beware, this can become addictive and may lead you to switch career, so do not take my advice lightly! :))

But as you are well aware, there’s a wide gap between knowing how to write and being a writer, let alone a good writer. And I’ll go even further: the same gap exists between being simply a good writer and being an excellent writer. While good writers can get a living writing, only a small percentage of them reach a point where they can become wealthy and recognised for their craft. And this is not surprising. While it takes hard work and dedication to become a good writer, the level of effort, passion, dedication, persistence and pain required to reach excellence is simply much more than most of us are willing to give.

The same thing goes for programming. While anyone can learn how to code, becoming a good programmer is hard, and becoming an excellent one ten times harder. And the harder a skill required on the market is to acquire, the more valued it is.

Good and excellent programmers are in high-demand today. They can go almost anywhere in the world and get a job within a few days. And this is only the beginning. The software industry is in its infancy. The ubiquitous of the web and mobile technologies is only a step. Tomorrow, we will be surrounded even more by connected objects. We’ll depend on software for many critical tasks done by humans today, from cars driving to open-heart surgery.

The skills required to deliver high-quality software will be in ever-high demand. Our field and industry will require more and more developers who cared enough to reach excellence.

I haven’t switched back to development merely for the career opportunities. But knowing that the skills I work hard to acquire today are more valued everyday gives me a lot of motivation.

With the retirement age growing higher everyday, I may have at least 40 years of career ahead of me. I want to work on skills that will allow me to improve every day and every year without feeling that I’ve reached the end of it. And skills that will not grow old or useless.

With software development, I can rest assured that my efforts will not be in vain.

Leave a Reply