Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Mr. Moneybags

A lot of debates on these forums between software professionals end with one party presenting indisputable facts and the other party retorting with "Well I make more money than you do so everything you say is wrong."

It reminds me of arguments with PhDs who sign their name ending with "comma pee aich dee". They make bold claims and when you ask for evidence or provide obvious counterexamples, they reply "You wouldn't be able to understand that because I have a PhD and you don't."

The thing is that there is absolutely no correlation in a given field between income and competance. Should I say that again? There is absolutely no correlation in a given field between income and competance.

Let's look at the field of medicine for example since it often comes up by way of comparison. Some doctors are in it for the money. They party hard in school, make the right connections, get a job at a pretstigious hospital and work their way up to administrator where they practice no medicine at all (perhaps a good thing) while drawing million dollar salaries and figuring out how they can refuse to treat poor people without getting too much bad publicity.

Other doctors enter with a desire to help people, study long and hard, think carefully about their life, and move to Haiti where they treat impoverished people in great need, live in modest surroundings and make less than $100/month while they save literally thousands of lives.

Which doctor is more successful? It depends on where your values are. is life about raking in the dough and finishing at the top of the heap? Or is it about following your own path and vision? Is it about creating something new and fulfilling? Is it about helping others to lead fulfilling lives? Or is it about shafting it to people as you try and see how much you can get while throwing your weight around like a hippopotamus?

Allow me to drop a clue on in on this party:

Money is the leash that the man uses to make you go bow wow. You hate your job. You can't do what you want. You work with a bunch of stupid jerks in your opinion. Your whole life is a joke. All you have left is to tell us how much money you make. But I say who cares -- it's irrelevant. Money isn't success. If it was, the highlight of your week would not be anonymously posting to JOS about how rich you are while you look down on us peasants from the moneybags you sit on while being driven around in your limousine. It would be doing something worthwhile with your life.

there is absolutely no correlation in a given field between income and competance

X. J. Scott
Saturday, December 14, 2002

Pure bunk. Generally speaking, people in the IT industry who perform better then others tend to make more. Is the correlation 100%, definitely not, but neither is it 0% as you suggest. One nice thing about IT is that it is for most part a meritocracy.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

No correlation? That may be over-reaching. 

On the other hand, there are lots of people serving time at the plush minimum security facility in Redmond that think "I'm rich, therefore I'm smart".  That is certainly a gross error.

Competency is so hard to quantify that we often replace any metric with income.  Its somewhat objective and you cannot argue with results.  At least thats the basis for the argument - life as a rat race.

In my next life, I just wanna be a greyhound that runs the track at Wheeling Downs.  Better than being a rat.

Nat Ersoz
Saturday, December 14, 2002

You may want learn a little bit more about the controversial treatment of racing greyhounds...

Saturday, December 14, 2002

People with hard tech skills usually get paid what they're worth.  Management is another story.  I've never seen so many overpaid dipshits in any other industry.

Joe Paradise
Saturday, December 14, 2002

With all due respect, I do disagree with Gerald.  X.J. Scott’s statements are NOT bunk at all.  People in the I.T. industry who perform better than others DO NOT tend to make more.  Ok, X.J. makes a melodramatic analogy, but the correlation between performance and salary is closer to maybe 30% than 100%. 

I.T. is NOT a meritocracy.  Hiring practices and salary scales within the industry make absolutely no sense.  If you do work for an organization, or generally have worked for organizations in which salary scales are actually based on something rational, you are fortunate. 

I am hopeful though.  The “crash” in many software sectors was, for the most part, self- inflicted.  And in challenging economic times, I do think that the fittest will survive, and various sectors of the software industry will probably continue to mature and gain some measure of integrity.  Paying people of low competence high salaries for odd political reasons ultimately isn’t conducive to a company’s success. (oh gee, what a deep insight!) 

Nick B.
Saturday, December 14, 2002

"You wouldn't be able to understand that because I have a PhD and you don't."

I don't want to burst your bubble, but that's probably a true statement in most instances.  It doesn't mean he/she isn't being a jerk, and it doesn't mean you aren't as smart as him/her, but let's face it:  A PhD requires a tremendous amount of work and knowledge.  It's like me with a BS in Comp. Sci. and 6 years of paid experience explaining computer concepts to my mom.  She's a smart woman, but I have to make broad generalizations and occasionaly I just say "trust me on this one, mom".

John Chong
Saturday, December 14, 2002

I would have thought XJ Scott's point was so well-known as to be incontestible.

The best developers generally work away at their projects while the less capable work at moving up the hierarchy or changing to other roles that give them satisfaction in other ways they can achieve, such as more money.

His medical example is spot-on.

John Chong, PhD's aren't the only tasks that require sustained attention and intellect. Many serious development projects and even policy and administrative tasks have similar characteristics. So the argument that the holder of a PhD is possessed of superior expertise or reasoning powers has no basis.

Must be a manager
Saturday, December 14, 2002

With all due respect, this is the dumbest thing I've heard in a long time. I'll give you three industries: football, baseball and basketball. While compensaton and competence may not be perfectly correlated, they are obviously very closely correlated. Know-it-all programmers sitting around complaining all day about management and how much better coders they can do everything than everyone who's making more cash are bores. Get over it already. Prople who make a lot of money obviously have at least one competence: making a lot of money.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

"John Chong, PhD's aren't the only tasks that require sustained attention and intellect. "

I don't think that was the point john chong was trying to make. What he was saying is that  there is a good chance that someone without a PhD would not understand what a PhD holder was talking about. Which is true, if the PhD person is talking about their subject. For instance, I work at a software lab where most people have a PhD in biochemistry or microbiology. I generally have no idea what they are talking about, especially when they say "the p4234 is transcription factor which activates the B-galactosidase binding site."

Of course this becomes a problem when someone with a PhD in microbiology says "Orange juice prevents the common cold," which it obviously does not, and then insists it does, because whatever they say is true due to their PhD. However, this only occurs in limited cases.  Most PhDs I know are so broken down and burned out by the end of graduate school, that they are really happy if someone engages them in a conversation about anything. ;-)

Anyway, most people making claims like X.J. are programmers who feel they aren't making enough money. Being the baddest-ass programmer in the world does NOT translate into more money. Making money is a separate set of skills entirely.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

"And in challenging economic times, I do think that the fittest will survive".

Seems like a lottery to me, rather than some Darwinistic result. Plenty of good people don't have work at the moment, and I mean good. Some of the more silly people with work are starting to see themselves as the 'fittest' when in actual fact many of them are merely fortunate.

Strange how we can turn the misfortunes of others into our own apparent success, casting ourselves in the most positive light, out of nothing other than sheer luck.

All this talk about money, well big deal, are you happy?
If you didn't have so much money what do you think would happen to you? Would you end up living in a dumpster?

People who discuss money constantly are usually filled with fear.

Sum people are Dum
Sunday, December 15, 2002

I thought I had implied it clearly, but when I said, “the fittest will survive”, I was talking about organizations, not individual programmers.  I don’t know where in the nation you live.  But in Southern California, there are many quality professionals who have been dealt a bad hand due to poor management practices and tough economic conditions.  In no way was I suggesting that this is somehow good or fair.

However, I am suggesting that the struggles and failures on the part of many technology companies have been self-inflicted due to incompetent business practices (e.g. dubious hiring practices and salary scales), not solely as a result of “the economy”.

Nick B.
Sunday, December 15, 2002

Sheer luck and office politics seem to have as much impact as technical competance.

I've worked with a few Phd's and the good ones IMHO seemed to be the ones who viewed thier doctorate as just a ticket that had to get punched.

Eric Moore
Sunday, December 15, 2002

Being smart isn't a qualification for being right.  Earning a lot of money may be a value of your worth, but more often its a value that has nothing to do with you personally.

Simon Lucy
Sunday, December 15, 2002

It seems like this discussion focuses on proving or disproving the correlation between the monthly paycheck and knowing what's best. While that's jolly good fun to talk about, the other higher abstraction is IMHO much more interesting.

Why are non-arguments so often used to try to win a discussion? Why do people say I'm right because:
- I make more money that you;
- I hold a PHD and you don't; 
- I work at a much cooler company than you;
- My great hero Joel says so;
- I am smarter than you are;
- I am white and you're black;
- I am stronger than you;
- The bible/koran says so;
- I live in country X and you don't;
- I am always right;
- etc, etc;

Bringing non-arguments into a discussion is a clear sign of weakness. Luckily for the people using them, they generally go by unnoticed.

Like Margaret Thatcher said: "I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left."

Jan Derk
Sunday, December 15, 2002

"argument that the holder of a PhD is possessed of superior expertise or reasoning powers has no basis"

If you think that having a PhD in astrophysics is no basis for having superior expertise in astrophysics, then I can't argue with you;  we'll just have to agree to disagree. 

I also didn't say that the PhD has superior reasoning powers.

I also didn't say that a PhD in english lit is allowed to say "trust me on this, I have a PhD" when they're talking about astrophysics.

John Chong
Sunday, December 15, 2002

> Making money is a separate set of skills entirely.

Yes, making money requires a separate set of "soft" skills (interviewing skills, marketing your skills, job search skills, knowing where to find high paying jobs, time mgmt skills, recruiter screening skills, proactive networking, knowing the difference b/w FT vs. contract, tax deduction skills, knowing cost of living vs. salary inefficiencies, etc, etc, etc)

There are "soft" skills, and there are raw "tech" skills.  Either skill alone will not make you money.  Great tech skills with zero "soft" skills will rarely land you big money.  Great business saavy and zero tech skills will not get you far either.  There's an optimal balance somewhere. 

Sunday, December 15, 2002

Two quotes without comment:

"...the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

-- Ecclesiastes 9:11

"I don't want to be lumped in with the hucksters of the world, because we have the real deal," Jeff Dachis, co-founder of, told the paper of record [The New York Times].  "I feel completely and utterly entitled to whatever success comes our way.  Not everybody's good, not everybody has the winning idea, not every idea deserves to be funded or to be public.  I'm sorry, but there are sheep and there are shepherds, and I fancy myself to be the latter."

-- Jeff Dachis, who holds a BA degree in dance and dramatic literature from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase

Alex Chernavsky
Sunday, December 15, 2002

Nat & Bella have seemed to get it right.

I guess this would be a better way of conveying the essence of this thread:
"There is no absolute co-relation between pure competence and income generated"

Prakash S
Sunday, December 15, 2002

"I also didn't say ... I also didn't say ..."

What you *did* say is that the "PhD = right" argument is "probably a true statement in most instances". Most conversations aren't about astrophysics, and if you read what he did say, he's talking about people who use that argument in response to "obvious counterexamples".

Daryl Oidy
Sunday, December 15, 2002

You just don't get it Darly, 'obvious' to you probably isn't so obvious when you have the expertise level of a PhD.  Just like when I explain concepts to my mom, and I have to tell her that 'obvious' things really aren't as they seem.

John Chong
Sunday, December 15, 2002

Like when I try to tell my mom that just because she chose to delete something from the menu in windows, it's not really deleted.  She provides the 'obvious' counterexample that yes, the file is no longer there.  "See, watch:  right-click then delete, then it's gone!".  Time for the lesson about the recycle bin, and how to clear files from there.  So she empties the recycle bin, then I tell her that its still not really deleted.  Do I go into the lesson about how the bits still reside on the disk?  Hell no!  "Trust me on this one, mom"

Sure this is a contrived example, but you see what I mean?  Sometimes it's easier to make an appeal to authority than to try to explain something to somebody. 

John Chong
Sunday, December 15, 2002

John Chong, the original statement about inappropriate invocation of PhDs was different from the one you're arguing for.

X J Scott wrote about people who: "sign their name ending with 'comma pee aich dee'. XJS was mocking people who adduce the holding of a PhD as an authority in contexts where it's not relevant. I concurr with XJS in this.

Must be a manager
Sunday, December 15, 2002

As do I.

John Chong
Sunday, December 15, 2002

> there is absolutely no correlation in a given field between > income and competance

Sort of depends on the definition of "Competance," i think. Let's take programming. In terms of raw coding ability (lets say scores on, or something), I'd agree this might be the case. But in a business setting, "competance" means more than how well you code. It can mean coding well within boundries of tools and time, it can mean completing projects in budget, it can mean working well with colleagues.

I'd imagine that when competence is used in this sense -- that is, competence at programming for a business, there is a correlation. Not a 100% one. Probably not even a 75% one. But one nonetheless.

Matt Christensen
Monday, December 16, 2002

>>Plenty of good people don't have work at the moment, and I mean good.<<

That's because the people getting jobs these days are the ones who are beyond "good."  Certainly some folks are lucky.  But it's generally the extremely skilled and experience developers who are getting jobs.

Brent P. Newhall
Monday, December 16, 2002

the bar has been raised!

Prakash S
Monday, December 16, 2002

"There is absolutely no correlation in a given field between income and competance"


Monday, December 16, 2002

There are many factors that come into play when it comes to acquiring an income.
Under ideal circumstances competence would be a major factor. In real life, it isn't always. In fact, it probably starts off as hardly of influence, then it becomes more important, until after some time other factors become even more important. Like, how well you manage to be in the right place at the right time.
It all depends on the degree of politics in the work place, but even if things are reasonably healthy, people factors usually outweigh raw performance. Meaning, if coding is the your job, being good at it might not always get you as far as having an agreeable personality, or knowing when to suck up to whom, or being assertive enough to be noticed.
Not always a good thing, but from a human perspective a very natural thing.

Monday, December 16, 2002

This has been a great discussion. Always exciting when the first few responses are "That's totally wrong." and "That's entirely correct."  because it means we've discevered a real interesting belief system that was hidden. It's like when they turn on the special device and find that there are weird invisible space aliens hiding on the bridge.

Jan's comment most closely matched my reason for posting. He lucidly summarized: "Bringing non-arguments into a discussion is a clear sign of weakness. " and provided an excellant quote by Margaret Thatcher. To show that this issue of non-arguments was a actual formal pattern, I provided two examples, the salary issue and the credentials (PhD) issue. It seems that there is no objection to this assertion -- the thread is mainly about the two examples I provided.

Norrick contributed a vaild counterexample in the way of salesmen working on commission (the prototypical 'merit based pay') where it is entirely true that salary is linked to competance in the field of one's work. Thus my claim 'in *any* given field is not true. But I do think it true in development and education and other such fields in which bureaucracy and politics are involved to any extent.

Regarding the development field, I do not deny that there are organizations and situations in which development skill is correlated to salary. At other organizations, there is a reverse correlation due to the Dilbert Principle (as was pointed out) and at other organizations there is no relationship at all. I claim as hypothesis that industry wide it averages out to no statistically significant correlation. Good luck proving it though - even a simple discussion of what is competance and how do we measure it rapidly snowballs out of control.

On the PhD side certainly a PhD in astrophysics is likely to know more about the subject than the man on the street. But not necessarily. In either case, copping out by pointing to a piece of paper with a seal is something we mock in many parts of America, though credentials are 'respected' so to speak more in other parts of the world in which there is more respect for authority such as Japan (one culture where I'm fairly confident this is so.) Recall that Einstein tried to present his theory of relativity such aas it could be understood by everyman. Explaining the gist of one's field of specialty so that it can be understood by a person of reasonable intelligence is the mark of true competance and mastery, in my opinion.

Great thread!

X. J. Scott
Monday, December 16, 2002

<One nice thing about IT is that it is for most part a meritocracy>

Daniel Shchyokin
Monday, December 16, 2002

">>Plenty of good people don't have work at the moment, and I mean good.<<

That's because the people getting jobs these days are the ones who are beyond "good."  Certainly some folks are lucky.  But it's generally the extremely skilled and experience developers who are getting jobs. "

When I say 'good', I mean 'extremely skilled and experience developers'. Anybody else is 'bad'.

Sum people are Dum
Monday, December 16, 2002

haha, you all sound like a bunch of losers who dont have a PhD

I m quite amused =)

Monday, December 16, 2002

Anyone here read Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand?

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

"Great tech skills with zero "soft" skills will rarely land you big money."

My experience has been closer to the opposite.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home