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Is software engineering still lucrative?

As an incorporated software development consultant who recently closed up shop, I am posing this question to the community.  For the past 3 years, I have come across various situations which made this question come up more and more.  Given that the US no longer has the exclusive on developing software -  1 - the huge influx of H-1B visas killed (or very much subdued the demand),  2 - 3rd world countries are finding that SW development is lucrative and are jumping on the band wagon (they have the advantage because labor is so cheap there),  3 - paying for software is basically non-existent in 3rd world countries (look at China, India, USSR),  4 - the dotcom bust (there are now too many good programmers in the market chasing too little dollars). 

Is pursuing what is in effect (a lifetime education) worth a carreer in software development?

Hoang Do
Friday, March 22, 2002

Interesting points but very US centric. I am in the UK, and have been thinking about the software business as well. The threats to it that I see are not so much from developing countries, but the ruthless business practices of Microsoft on one hand and the Open Source and Free Software movements on the other.

Its always nice to see hardware, consulting and media companies (Nokia, IBM, AOL et al) try to hijack or exploit the various Open Source movements to destroy the software industry. What is amazing is how many software engineers are so keen on helping them do it.

Flame on, baby.

Kenshi
Friday, March 22, 2002

Most professions worth pursuing are going to mandate a lifetime of education. However, many do not make the worker *guess* at what he/she should learn next, which is one of the most aggravating aspects of our profession - if you guess wrong, 90% of the want ads the next year will not apply to you.
Also, many do not mandate continuous education on top of death march projects, since those professionals have a little flexibility in their schedules. Most programmers' schedules are dictated to them as if they were working in a factory.
As to whether or not "the party's over", I think it probably is. If I was 20 years younger, I'd be studying energy or environment - unless I was enough of a masochist to get a Ph.D in which case biotech might be good.

skautsch
Friday, March 22, 2002

Kenshi - I completely agree with you. I hope some of those people will listen to you.

Roger
Friday, March 22, 2002

Define lucrative.
If you want the American dream (house, car and middle class) sure.
If you want to be Bill Gates, or even a dot com IPO millionare, that is getting harder and harder to achieve. New ideas are harder to find, and getting to market first no longer guarantees success.

Doug Withau
Friday, March 22, 2002

Skautch, I disagree.

In the recording business a few years ago nobody knew what equipment to buy and learn, but everyone knew they had to do it soon or get left in the dust. Analog or Digital, 24/48 or 24/96, Hard Disk recording or ADAT recording?

You had to make a huge outlay of money on some system betting that it would be the right one and afraid that if you made a mistake all the customers would go to where the action was.

I don't think anyone went out of business because they bought ADAT over Pro Tools but everyone was afraid that that would be the case.

They were also afraid that the price for putting together a home studio would go down so much that nobody would need a professional studio anymore. If I could by an iMac and the home version of Pro-Tools for $3000, everything included, why would I go to a studio and pay $2000 and work on a limited timeframe and on someone else's schedule? Heck I would have PRO TOOLS, that's the same software the studio has.

Of course, none of this really came to pass, and while yes some people did buy home studios, typically their recordings turned out shitty. Other people were intimidated by the difficulty of setting up and learning how to work a home studio.

Will the professional recording studio go the way of the professional typesetter? I doubt it. Will purchased software go away just because freeware exists? I don't think so.

Mark W
Friday, March 22, 2002

Nope, the party is over.  It is so ovbious, on so many levels, that I wont even bother elaborating.  anyone remenber what is was like in the early 90's?  Thats the first step towards the END.

Bella
Friday, March 22, 2002

"anyone remenber what is was like in the early 90's? Thats the first step towards the END."

?? I was 15 in 1990. My memories of the early 90's mostly involve high school girls and grunge music. WHAT was the first step towards the END?

Mark W
Friday, March 22, 2002

Software development will remain vital and world-changing for at least the next century.  Anyone with even a nodding acquaintence with cognitive science realizes that there are many more good software ideas in our future than our past.

Information is infinitely malleable.  We're still in baby-step land.  With just a decade of world-wide commercial networks behind us, we're just beginning to see what we can do with all this super-connected computing power.

Trust me ... we ain't seen *nothing* yet.

As for whether the party's over, great developers will *always* be in demand.  It won't be so easy to coast on a few months of HTML, Cold Fusion, and Access.  Those with at least a decade of experience in many languages & architectures, with solid fundamentals and good communication skills, should not have any problems.

Timothy Falconer
Friday, March 22, 2002

Yes, software development is here to stay.  But your salary will be HALVED soon enough.  Fast food is here to stay as well.  You want fries with that, future boy ?

Bella
Friday, March 22, 2002

> great developers will *always* be in demand.

Tim, you're so nieve.  I haven't heard that since at least summer of 2000, when most people still had jobs.  Today, it sounds so cute.  Tell that to the THOUSANDS of 10+ gurus who are unemployed.

Bella
Friday, March 22, 2002

>>If you want the American dream (house, car and middle class) sure.
>>If you want to be Bill Gates, or even a dot com IPO millionare, that is getting harder and harder to achieve.

Sadly, in most parts of the USA where it is easy to get a programming job, you need to be a dot com IPO millionaire before you can afford a house, car, and middle class lifestyle.

Programming in general is not lucrative. It is labor, and labor typically isn't lucrative unless there is a huge shortage of it.

However, I disagree with the reasons given:

>>1 - the huge influx of H-1B visas killed (or very much subdued the demand),

H1-Bs either did really hard work americans couldn't figure out, or shit work americans wouldn't do. Actually, it seemed like H1-Bs mainly did really shitty work that was also really hard. Like database internals and work for intel.

2 - 3rd world countries are finding that SW development is lucrative and are jumping on the band wagon (they have the advantage because labor is so cheap there),

3rd world countries typically do programming work that americans don't do (or shouldn't want to do). like a bunch of russians setting up a shop that ONLY straight up ports PC games to the macintosh. or a bangalore firm doing horrible middleware components that allow one AS400 to talk to another one.

3 - paying for software is basically non-existent in 3rd world countries (look at China, India, USSR),

The number of 1st world programmers whose salaries are paid by software sales to 3rd world countries must be close to zero.

4 - the dotcom bust (there are now too many good programmers in the market chasing too little dollars)

Companies are spending less on software,but the dotcom boom did not produce very many good programmers.

Rates are all about your contacts and salesmanship, not software engineering. It is still possible to make a much better than average living doing software engineering if you know the right people and sell your services well.

I would like it if that wasn't the case, and I could just make a big salary by farting around and learning different languages all day. However, that isn't realistic. I learned that the only real way to make any money is to actually think about how I'm going to make money.

chunks
Saturday, March 23, 2002

This thread is beginning to sound more like a dissertation on world economics and US foreign policy (from a Chomsky-esque point of view).

1. These arguments could be applied to any industry.

2. Greenspan & Clinton both have said, more or less, that the economic boom of the 90's was due to "increased worker fear" which meant we were willing to do more for less because otherwise our jobs would be taken away.

3. I still don't know what the early 90's have to do with programming today.

4. There was a study by Xerox of their top sales people and it found that the top will always succeed, and even when there are massive layoffs, the top will always be there.

5. Nothing is ever so obvious it can't be elaborated on, especially in a debate.

6. The 30 year mortgage on a house in the NYC area ($400k) is around $2500 a month.

7. I think everyone here should buy a book on informal logic. Learn to present your arguments clearly rather than obfuscating the point. Give us something to disagree with rather than just fanning the flames with empty taunts.

8. Most of you sound like the boiler room stock broker that still has a job. If you're so good at predicting the future, why aren't you rich?

9. "Before I post I will breathe deeply and count to 10. I will not insult anyone for no reason. I will realize my posts here are more of a reflection of who I am than of who I'm arguing with."

10. To paraphrase Jesus "Don't worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will have enough worries for itself."

Mark W
Saturday, March 23, 2002

I will surmise that many people here didn't (or don't) make much money, b/c they lack basic business & economic instinct.  (And no, I don't mean looking good in a suit.)  I mean a  lack of basic instinct to market forces.  Good IT theorists, but not much "street smarts"  They learn Delphi,  they work at fake dotcoms, they insist that their grandmother install Linux to surf the web b/c "it's so much better"

Making money in IT is about 15% raw tech skills.  The rest is having a keen nose as to where the money IS, and where the money will REMAIN, and where the money will BE.  Evaluating your role at a firm, and evaluating the firm itself, and evaluating the groups role within the firm.,  This, folks, has nothing to do with technology skills. 

Bella
Saturday, March 23, 2002

> Sadly, in most parts of the USA where it is easy to get a programming job, you need to be a dot com IPO millionaire before you can afford a house, car, and middle class lifestyle.

Chunks, What city do you live in?  Perhaps you need some books on basic finance.  If you couldn't afford a house in the past few years, then it's not your profession, it's you.  Tech was the HOTTEST job segment in the economy.  Most of us could have afforded TWO houses.

> Programming in general is not lucrative. It is labor, and labor typically isn't lucrative unless there is a huge shortage of it.

And yes, yes, there was.  A massive unprecendented shortage. 


> 1 - the huge influx of H-1B visas killed (or very much subdued the demand),

H1's got screwed harder than anyone, you stupid idiot.  It wasn't the flood of supply, it was the LACK OF DEMAND.  H1's or no H1's.  Chapter 11's and massive layoffs.  Get a clue, whiner.


>. I still don't know what the early 90's have to do with programming today.

The early 90's was a recession, like we are in today, you imbecile.  Today job market more closely resembles the early 90's, and not 2 years ago.  As I said, basic lack of business and ecomomy awareness makes for a poor career, irrespective of raw tech skills.

> The 30 year mortgage on a house in the NYC area ($400k) is around $2500 a month.

And remember, almost all of that is tax deductible.  Most NYC programmers sohuld be able to afford paying about $2000 for a place to live.  Annually, that's about $24k of after tax salary.  Which is about $40k of pretax your salary to housing.  Spare me the "$40k on housing is too high"  And if you still can't afford that, skimp & save for a few years, and take a smaller loan.  People are still paying CASH for their houses.

Bella
Saturday, March 23, 2002

Wow Bella, you are looking for a fight in every post. I never mentioned my personal economic status anywhere. Not that it is your business, but in the past 10 years I have lived in Boston, Manhattan, and Berkeley (and tokyo for a stint). A house in any of these places is $400K+ (AT LEAST) for a modest 2 bedroom home.

It may be whining, but $40K/yr mortgage to live in a dump isn't my definition of "middle class."  Most programmers are NOT making $400K a year, and weren't making that much during the boom years, either. $400K a year as a programmer means $200/hr working a 40 hour week.

Again, not that it is your business, but I _AM_ a dot com millionaire. I'm one of those $400K a year guys. But for the most part, it is more like $100/hr working an 80 hour work week, rather than $200 working a normal work week. I also did ok with 2 companies I had a small amount of stock in. Even with money, I didn't end up buying a house in silicon valley, I don't want to be another MC Hammer...

I totally agree that making a living has nothing to do with tech skills. My best friend makes boatloads running an outsourced desktop support company. Another friend of mine is a PHOTOGRAPHER with a net worth of about $40 Million. It is all about business acumen. If I was an employee rather than whoring as a consultant during the past 5 years, I'd be fucked along with a lot of my friends. 

Regarding the 90s, I actually made about the same salary in the 90s doing work that I considered way more fun. (interactive CDrom games vs. dot com ridicula) I still make the same hourly rate doing work I like more (with vastly reduced hours). YMMV.

chunks
Saturday, March 23, 2002

> A house in any of these places is $400K+ (AT LEAST) for a modest 2 bedroom home.

LOL, typical bull market hype.  Are you sure you're not a another sensationalistic realtor troll?  I see tons of stuff way bigger than that for under $400k. 

<a href="http://www.realtor.com/FindHome/HomeListings.asp?mlsttl=&frm=bymap&pgnum=1&mls=xmls&lnksrc=REALRSCF2C0002&js=on&poe=realtor&st=ma&ct=Boston&areaid=1004&typ=1&mnprice=0&mxprice=99999999&mnbed=3&mnbath=2&mnsqft=1800&pgsz=10&view=2&ss_fthb=n%2Fa&ss_mitm=n%2Fa&optInCheckbox=yes">2000 sq ft, 3BR, for under $400k</a>


Also, who said anything about making $400k a YEAR?  NO ONE makes $400k.  Dont confuse a house price with an annual salary.    However, You CAN make $100k a year and live in a $400k house.  That's $40k each b/w you and your wife.  Think you can handle that?  And you can make even less if you you have a bigger downpayment. 

We just ended the biggest bull market in HISTORY.    In the boom, you could turn $1000 into $9000 in a few months.  The last few years, you could have made $50k as a programmer, invested your savings, and easily ended the year with $350k of income.    Of course, if you were a fool and let it all ride, you probably don't have much left.  Other's were too lazy to partake, and just sat and watched TV while complaining about high real estate prices and low salaries.

PS: What's the story behind MC Hammer?  He couldn't afford to keep the mansion?

>If I was an employee rather than whoring as a consultant during the past 5 years, I'd be fucked along with a lot of my friends.

How's that? 

Bella
Saturday, March 23, 2002

Oops, I meant to say $80k.  Pardon me.

Bella
Saturday, March 23, 2002

Bella,

Those houses are in Roxbury and Dorchester, two of the shittiest neighborhoods in the boston area. That's like living in west oakland. Actually its more like living in Flushing, but...in any case, I wouldn't pay that much to live in any of those neighborhoods.

I knew quite a few tech people (well, about 10, myself included) who were making $300K-$400K per year throughout the 90s. One of them was just doing outsourced PC support (well, he was running his own outsourced PC support business...and still does so). The others did network engineering and hoary java/Oracle systems. All were consultants, and workaholics. I don't think you can make that kind of scratch on salary. The network engineers are still making $300K-$400K per year. The programmers I knew all semi retired.

MC Hammer couldn't afford to keep the mansion.

The $400K house, $100K year salary situation is fucked.  But, I guess that is reality.

chunks
Saturday, March 23, 2002

Ok, yes, those may be in shit towns.....but I will say, that when people bitch "Oh, even a STARTER home costs $400k"  they are generally referring to the most UPSCALE towns in a suburban area.  Yea, well, that's not for most of us, get get a reality check.  If youre referring to MIDDLE class, then there's plenty in the $400k range that aint a STARTER home.  It's just not gonna be Scarsdale, but it doesnt have to be Roxbury either.  So as far as thbe original topic, is programming lucrative, well, you certainly EASILY can get a decent middle class home with that salary.  That was my only point.  Sorry to have taken this debate to a housing tangent.

Bella
Saturday, March 23, 2002

Chunks,
Do your semi-retired, $600k in the bank friends have families?  Or are they retired b/c they have 20 something lifestyles to support?  If so, well, tell them to get real, b/c once they have a family, good luck living off their interest or whatever, their expenses willl increase 10 fold. 

Bella
Saturday, March 23, 2002

> Is pursuing what is in effect (a lifetime education) worth a carreer in software development?

I'd like to live (physically) in a village instead of a city. My pursuing a career in telecommunications software might help to enable that some day.

Christopher Wells
Saturday, March 23, 2002

>>Chunks,
>>Do your semi-retired, $600k in the bank friends have >>families? Or are they retired b/c they have 20 something >>lifestyles to support?

Yes, most of them have one or two kids. And a wife. And have a good grasp of personal finance concepts. :-p
A couple (including me) are still loser bachelors. All are old (30 something), except for the guy with the desktop support business. He's young. (started business as a high school drop out) I'm not sure where I came across as a young person.  Semi-retired means $75K/yr university job, or 1 contract instead of 4 at a time. One guy (a bachelor) just outright retired and I think spends most of his time lifting weights and playing violin.

chunks
Sunday, March 24, 2002

Chunks,

Can you send me an email?  I have an legitimate, off line question about one of the scenarios you described your friends to be in...

Thanks,
Bella(cose)

Bella
Sunday, March 24, 2002

>> great developers will *always* be in demand.

>Tim, you're so nieve. I haven't heard that since at least >summer of 2000, when most people still had jobs. Today, >it sounds so cute. Tell that to the THOUSANDS of 10+ >gurus who are unemployed.

First, I doubt if there are thousands of software gurus.  That word gets used a little too easily these days.

Second, do you really believe that there are thousands of software developers with more than 10 years experience, who are experienced in multiple languages and platforms, who have solid development fundamentals & good communication skills?

Thousands?  If so, where can I read about this?

Timothy Falconer
Sunday, March 24, 2002

Clarification... do you think there are thousands of such software developers that are unemployed?

Timothy Falconer
Sunday, March 24, 2002

>>The network engineers are still making $300K-$400K per year. The programmers I knew all semi retired.

The trick , i suppose , is to work as a (software )engineer and not simply as a programmer. So would any of the experienced guys suggest what is the difference between the two , apart from having a CS degree ? What is the difference between the kind of work done by a software engineer and a programmer, given the same software company and possibly , the same project too  ?

shailesh kumar
Monday, March 25, 2002

When I was a lad, a network engineer wasn't necessarily a programmer at all (my internship was as a network engineer before I learned programming). A network engineer designs the topology of a network: how many nodes, how many trunk lines; internal node design; backup trunk lines; mathemetical "queueing theory"; computer simulations of traffic to predict performance; reliability (MTBF and MTTR) ... to decide how much telecomms equipment to sell to the Federal Reserve Bank, American Airlines, that sort of thing.

Christopher Wells
Monday, March 25, 2002

Chris W:
>Will the professional recording studio go the way of the >professional typesetter? I doubt it

I don't.  My mother was a typesetter.  What she did was as sophisticated as what you do in music or I do in software, but I watched as it became harder and harder for her to find a job, until eventually it was just impossible.  Why?  Because people *thought* they could do what she did, by themselves on their machines.  They were wrong, of course, and a lot of unreadable crap was produced as a result, but that didn't do *her* any good.  The same is already happening to music.  A lot of crap will be produced, but that won't be much consolation to the unemployed former recording engineers.

Maybe some day the same thing will happen to programming.  Or maybe not.  Programming, at least in its current form, seems to intimidate people more than printed documents or music do.  Even the work product of programming is inaccessible to many.  Maybe if someone finally cracks that "programming for the masses" nut all of our (software engineers') jobs will disappear too, but people have been trying to do that for thirty years - because we're such pains in the collective ass - and there seems to be damn little progress so far.

Bella: must you turn every conversation into a fight?  Your ad hominem attacks against chunks are inexcusable.  S/he was talking from experience, having been there and done that, and you all but called him/her a liar based on nothing but some half-assed sophomoric (lack of) perspective on what houses *should* cost.  Maybe you're used to being the smartest kid in class, but your incredible arrogance is annoying.  Even if you'd demonstrated some post-high-school achievement we should respect, which you haven't, it would be unacceptable.  Learn to treat others with something besides contempt before you expect them to treat you likewise.

Jeff Darcy
Monday, March 25, 2002

It's MARK W, not Chris W, but I digress.

I just read an article about how may small recording studios are thriving, and the local studio where I live expanded into a second location and the owner bought a house.

Certainly lowering the barriers to entry and taking away some of the mystique eats away at a client base, but I'm not sure that this is a case of the "Innovator's Dillemma" (q.v. the book by the same name) where smaller companies gain larger and larger market share until they eventually take over. Meanwhile the larger company thinks "they're no threat, they're only doing such and such."

An outside and objective engineer can be a good thing, and the equipment required to make a good album often remains expensive - good microphones, good pre's, good compressors, etc. Of course the most expensive thing of all is good ears because money can't buy them, only talent or experience.

So to answer the headline sitting at the top of this page "Is software engineering still lucrative?" I'd have to answer "it can be if you're good at what you do and the company you work for is smart enough and lucky enough to do well." On the other hand, if by lucrative you mean "make me a millionairre overnight" perhaps you should wait for the next gold rush.

Mark W
Monday, March 25, 2002

Sorry, Mark.  This format isn't the best for referring back to the parent post.

Jeff Darcy
Monday, March 25, 2002

s'allright.

Mark W
Monday, March 25, 2002

sorry to be a bit off-topic, but is anyone besides me a bit ticked at the way the entire page of postings widens dramatically all because the system cannot seem to break a url? Reading this in opera 5 on redhat 7.1, and I now have to scroll both side to side as well as from top down to read the posts. IMO, kind of a pain in the butt.

F.J. Weiland
Monday, March 25, 2002

Oh. That's why names don't show up in Netscape - they're scrolled off to the right of the screen.

I think someone should standardize the way browsers behave under these circumstances. Netscape, IE, and Opera all behave completely differently.

Mark W
Monday, March 25, 2002

Mark W: About a week ago, I was referring not to businesses but other so-called "classic" professions such as doctor, teacher, actuary, engineer. If one of these is working for someone else (teachers usually do) they will frequently get feedback about the types of continued training to do. And usually get some time off to obtain the training.

Many of us find our employers downright hostile to even getting training, much less getting time off.  I've worked in shops that did not want me to learn any new technologies and admitted that they were afraid that I could use the new skills to leave for another job. Moreover, they provided no training themselves. This has been the case in 2 of the 5 companies where I have developed software, so (at least in my experience) this is not a small minority of employers.

Bottom line: many employers do not view us as "professionals" at all, simply overpaid word processors

skautsch
Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Ah. Well that is a different story. I thought we were discussing software engineering in general, not "us in our employers eyes."

You're saying that many employers dont think educating their prorammers is important, not that the environment is constantly changing.

Luckily, in my experience the company is relatively positive about providing education. Sure I won't get 2 weeks off to take classes, but they'll pay for night school or let me take one or two days every 6 months or so. Though a lot of this depends on the manager and what his/her feelings are about what value educating me would give to the company or his department.

I agree that teachers are allowed to take sabbaticals, I don't know about doctors, but they seem to have their conventions. Engineers I'd have to say it depends on a the company. I worked for a company that had 20-30 engineers in a room each with just enough surface area to do their jobs, which mostly entailed customizing standardized parts for various installations. I doubt they would've paid for training unless it was in the latest version of CAD and they said they needed the newest version of CAD to do their jobs.

Mark W
Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Corporations can often ignore/purge current outdated staff, and just hire fresh people w/ the new skills....Sad but true.  It is hard for them to justify staff "play" with new toys on a new project. 

Bella
Tuesday, March 26, 2002

When you hire someone to redo your bathroom, and he doesn't know how to install the latest tile, do you pay to train him?  No, you go and find someone else who knows how to do what you need. 

I don't expect a firm pay to train me.  They are paying me for providing a skill.  If I no longer possess the skills they require, then they no longer need me.  I mean, it's great if they want to lend me a hand and let me learn new things, but I certainly don't expect this. 

Bella
Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Of course, it can be more expensive to replace you than to train you. If that's the case then perhaps you have a wee bit more job security.

You also don't hire someone to refin your bathroom and keep them around for 3 years. If you're hired for a specific job with a specified end state, then you're expected to leave when that goal is acheived. If you're hired because they need someone in general, they don't have to get rid of you because a goal has been acheived.

Mark W
Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Bella wrote:

>When you hire someone to redo your bathroom, and he doesn't know how to install the latest tile, do you pay to train him? No, you go and find someone else who knows how to do what you need.

I think this is a pretty bad example. An employer does not hire you to redo _his_ bathroom but to redo other peoples bathrooms in his name. He would better make pretty sure you do it like he wants you to do it. The customer has a right to get his problems solved by developers who know how to do it, but he normally does not have the insight and possibilities to provide training. An employer on the other hand does (or at least should).

In Germany, laying out tiles, as well as plumbing, are what we call "Lehrberufe" occupations with people being trained two to three years on the job before they are allowed to work on their own (and get a decent payment for it), even longer before they are allowed to open their own company. The training is paid for by the employer mostly (even though there is a public school system to back some of it up).

Jutta Jordans
Wednesday, March 27, 2002

There's another factor - techniques for laying tile don't change every six months! With Microsoft and Sun trying to one-up each other, there's a rediculous amount of churn in this industry, and if your people don't stay on top of it, you're dead.

For example - I was recently hired to do a one-day contract to build an installer with InstallShield 7 (ICK!!!). I'd never used that version before, I'd never used MSI before. In just two years, all the knowledge I had about InstallSheild was USELESS.

I look at it this way - if a prospective employer doesn't let me train, then I won't work there, since if I stay for that long I'll be trapped and at their mercy.

Chris Tavares
Thursday, March 28, 2002

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