Programming is not a Shortcut to Wealth

October 25, 2020

Warning: What follows is basically just a rant about people who get into Software Development for the “wrong” reasons, complain a bunch, and don’t contribute much.

You shouldn’t get into Software Development if you want to get rich.

Bold claim, right?

We all know that Software Developers are tremendously well-compensated, right?

So, you might be saying “Nathan, I like when you talk about JavaScript, but I don’t like when you lie to me. Stahp.”

Well friend, today is a lovely day, but it is not a day for JavaScript.

It’s a day for opinions! 🔥

Why do You Write Code?

This is the crux of my argument: if you start writing code with the goal of getting rich, you’re probably not going to get rich.

I would like to argue that those who get into Software Development for reasons other than a love of the work are simply not going to be able to keep up with those who are actually interested in the field.

Because there is so much to learn and the requirements are constantly changing, the people who excel are likely to be some combination of: very hard-working and very talented.

Those hard-working, talented (and perhaps a bit lucky) people will be the ones who earn the compensation packages that draw in greedy onlookers from other fields.

If you are just looking to get in and cash-out, you’re probably not also going to be the person who will feel compelled to spend a casual Saturday afternoon contributing to an interesting opensource project or studying an area of the field that you don’t currently use day-to-day.

startup plan

Now, to be clear, I think Software Development is a great career path, but I’ve seen people get burnt out and start looking for an exit strategy after just a couple of years.

If you are a fresh bootcamp or University graduate, I think you should be looking for a job that offers you growth and learning opportunities. You should be affordable, not demanding some exorbitant compensation package.

You may not realize it yet, but you are borderline useless and will cost the company a lot of money as the other devs on the team train you.

Instead of coming in with lofty expectations of how much money you’re going to make, I think you should bring some humility and gratitude for the opportunity. Trust me, you’ll be a lot more satisfied with your work if you aren’t telling yourself every day that your employer is taking advantage of you and underpaying you.

To be clear, it’s absolutely not your fault that you’re horrible at your job.

You can’t have the knowledge required to solve problems that you’ve never faced, so employers and teammates will generally expect new grads to be at some level of incompetence.

So, in summary, my opinion is that a new developer should accept the salary that is associated with a good learning opportunity. The developer should then pay their damn dues by trying to become as useful as possible. They shouldn’t complain about the work they’re given. They should ask for help when they need it, and they should try to figure out as much as they can on their own.

Put simply:

get gud.

The Internet

There are a few benefits to this approach.

  1. Your employer doesn’t hate you for stealing their money. This gives you a good base of references for your next job.
  2. Expectations of you are low, so you can exceed them with some reasonable effort, and people will reward you with more opportunity/responsibility. This will allow you to continually expand your skill set.
  3. You’re more likely to have gratitude for the opportunity and less resentment for believing that you’re “underpaid.”
  4. A few years later, you can tell stories about how you doubled your salary in a year and a half 😜

At the time of writing, I’ve worked exclusively in start-ups, so my advice should be taken with that context in mind. At a start-up, developers with limited experience can be given far more responsibility and freedom than they probably should. As that developer, taking advantage of those opportunities can allow you to level up rapidly.

It is my belief that this approach - aimed at learning and growth, fueled by curiosity and interest - will give you the proper foundation needed for a good Software Development career. Trying to rush to fat stacks, on the other hand, runs the risk of jeopardizing your long-term success without any promise of a short-term benefit.

If you just want to get rich, you’re far better off choosing a different career path. Go get a part-time retail job while you build online courses that teach people how to build online courses. Please don’t come into Software Development, write bad code, complain constantly about your salary, get burnt out from doing less work than the rest of us, and then leave.

Save us all the hassle and go buy Bitcoin or sell Herbalife.

Don’t get into this field for money. It’s nerd shit, and you can’t keep up with your peers who are just happy to be here.

Peace be the journey

Closing caveat: Software Development is super rad, and I would encourage any interested person to consider it as a career. By definition, most of us will not be exceptional developers, so there is definitely a place for those who want to work hard during the day and enjoy their evenings and weekends.

The purpose of this post is purely to vent address those who aren’t joining the field because they enjoy the work or want to be helpful and are, instead, driven by misguided greed that causes problems for themselves, the teams they’re on, and the companies that they join.


A dev blog by Nathan Calvank. I'm just trying to seem more interesting than I actually am.