Leadership

Grade your job: IT programmer

If you could assign a grade to your job, what would it be?

We're starting a new feature in this blog that I hope you will participate in. For the benefit of those just entering IT or for those who are looking at a change in IT specialty, I'm going to gather some feedback. Each week, I'll feature a  particular IT specialty and ask those of you who practice that specialty to help us score it.

This week we'll start with IT programmer. If you're a programmer or have ever been a programmer, could you take a moment to answer the polls below? Try to comment more on your feelings about the specialty itself and not the company you're currently working for or with. After we've covered a group of IT jobs, we'll compile them into a download that will give a snapshot view of what's available in IT.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

19 comments
phil.beach
phil.beach

I've been in the industry for nearly 30 years now. I've seen first hand how hard it is for companies to use off shore developers. Everyone on here is right -- their code bites the big one. More importantly for those not wanting to be replaced --> Don't depend on just your programming skills. A person that is key and hard to let go from a company is one who not only knows the code but knows the business an porcesses the systems support. That will make you very valuable to the organization. Another comment -- Don'timit yourself to a single language or development environment. Whats been key to my success has been my overall knowledge in IT. I cracked up when the admin type above who constantly saves the programmer -- what a hoot. While that happens some, most administrators heads spin when we try to tell them what the system is doing code and infrastructure wise.

migz123
migz123

being a programmer is already crazy as it is, being a one guy program dev't team is another. plus you throw in a couple of computer repairs (which really translates to "buy new equipment"), and yes the relentless client queries like. pfffft. im not complaining, i love my job... the stress keeps determined. just needed an airvent to a room where everybody gets it. hahaha

DFO_REXX
DFO_REXX

Don't know why this should be so....

DFO_REXX
DFO_REXX

Some programming positions I've held were "A"s; one was an "F". The grade for most of them was highly depended upon management. Those which saw fit to micromanage me made the grade lower than those who let me solve problems as I saw fit, at least within company guidelines.

DFO_REXX
DFO_REXX

When I was a programmer I loved it; it was mentally challenging and satisfying when I came up with solutions to problems. It truly beats many other IT roles, at least for me. As for finding a job, I have three comments. First, programmers (at least on legacy systems) are being cut back without a suitable transition time. Some types of programming require very specialized knowledge (but see my #3 comment below), and many people are leaving or being laid off without passing that knowledge along. Second, In the drive to "do more with less" (grammatically incorrect as well as logically wrong) programmers put in more and more overtime as their workload increases but their salary doesn't. This has ramifications; two main ones are a) burnout and b) too many unemployed programmers jamming into the workforce. The latter means higher competition for a declining number of jobs. A clear example is my situation. There are simply no openings for a zOS mainframe programmer in Connecticut, so it doesn't matter how good or bad I am at it; there are no openings. Third, upper management and HR seem to think programming languages are separate from each other as skills. In my opinion (after 25+ years programming in many different languages), it's the programming skills (logic, problem solving, understanding steps in a process) which are the transferable skills, not the language itself. A change in language is merely a change in syntax, not in grammar; in other words, a good COBOL programmer can learn Java very quickly and become a good Java programmer, and vice versa, because the difference to solving programming problems is in what the "Print" command is, not in understanding data or logic structures. The exception, of course, is (as noted in Point 1) very specific file interface coding. Consider the IMS programmer; IMS calls are different from DB2 calls, and both differ from JDBC calls (although DB2 calls aren't all that much different from JDBC). Placing a Java coder into an IMS coding situation cold (or vice versa) isn't a good idea because of that; what the Java coder needs is someone who's familiar with the IMS call structure. Still, though, this situation is a detail, not a problem; a good coder can readily pick up the differences in calling style, while a poor coder is going to have problems no matter what.

DFO_REXX
DFO_REXX

Even if you really love programming and are good at it, stress will come. There are always deadlines to meet, and many of them are both artificial and totally out of your control; that is a recipe for high stress. DBAs are in a high-stress profession, both for availability reasons and for application performance. Programmers often blame DBAs for bad database performance when it is often poor programming practice causing the delays. For every "bad database design" I can cite at least a dozen "poorly-performing program" instances for less-than-optimal application performance. Database performance is only about 10% of the total response package for a typical transaction, especially in batch environments. Finally, a lot of stress in programming environments is traceable to management and personnel handling. "Emergencies" happen, but a good manager can ease the stress involved while a poor manager can geometrically increase stress. Consider these difference in responses to this situation (which actually happened to me). Fortunately we had Mgr. B. Management comes to you and says, "Some salesman sold our product to XYZ, telling them we do A, B, C, and D. Now, I know our application doesn't do D; we have six weeks to make it happen." This is a very stressful situation; which manager below would cause more stress? Mgr. A: "Look, our customers need us to do D. Just make it happen, I don't care how many hours it takes, this contract is worth a lot of money to us." Mgr. B: "I know our app doesn't do D, but we have to make it happen. I and the team leads will sit down and figure out how to parse the work out, and look into getting some help from Mgr. X; they're not too busy right now. I know you can beat this deadline; when we do I'll give you a pizza lunch."

grutz
grutz

Stress is related to the environment you work in. -Contractors are normally more stressed than full times. -Software house employees more stressed than in house IT. -Small companies more stressed than bigger cooperation???s. -Service environments more stressed full than support environments.

grutz
grutz

The definition of a Programmer very vague ???A person who writes computer programs.??? This cause difficulties for HR to build correct pay package. Programmers work in different development languages with different experiences in different environments. Standard salary guides like Hays, do not work for old languages like 4gl or Cobol. I believe that the lift cycle for any development tool / language is like a wave. Phase1: When it is new (beginning of the wave) the pay is very high and programmers (few) with this exposure is very sort after. Phase2: Then you get to the body of the wave, here pay packages is average and normally the IT world is flooded with the skillset. Phase3: Then you enter the back end of the wave where pay packages should increase, due to shortage of programmers working in this areas. Unfortunately this is not always the case, due to the simple fact that HR don???t understand this cycle in IT.

spruce234
spruce234

I am just starting my programming education at 37 after getting tired of social work. A B.A. in psychology just doesn't cut it. How much education would you guys suggest, a two-year degree, four, or Masters? And is it worth it? Is it overly stressful, or do you guys enjoy what you do? Do you hate your jobs or do you like programming enough that the stress of the supervisors is worth it? Thanks in advance.

msimms
msimms

as an IT Contractor. Now it's like slave labor. Agencies take a huge cut of your pay. My pay rate is at 40% after inflation compared to 15 years ago. This sucks....hugely.

sjlevy
sjlevy

I have built web apps for 15 years. Turn out code that is, for the most part rock solid. Updates and modifications can be made quickly. Client administers app from a fully functional backend. Code has gone through 3 upgrades of server software with almost no modifications. Now my company has decided to put everything in SharePoint (after transitioning through 3 different IDE's). We have spent thousands on this effort and spent even more transitioning from 2003 to 2007 to 2010. Sharepoint dies at the drop of a hat and other wise runs at a sluggish rate. Everyone I talk to agrees that I have the better approach but we are still running like lemmings to the sea. Thank God I am close to retiring.

codepoke
codepoke

A job without stress would rate an F for me. It's like surfing without the waves or bungee jumping without the bridge. :-) That's why I'm so happy as a Middleware sysadmin. I don't get the call until there are unhappy customers screaming at the hapless developer, and someone's got to find the answer in real time. I get to dig my fingers into the multiple log files, the source code, the crash dumps, the data, and occasionally even my own app servers, all while four levels of upper management are dialed in to the SWAT call to monitor whether we're making progress. And all without anyone else to call if we can't solve it, except the manufacturers themselves. Try outsourcing *that* function to India! In fact, we're the jokers who get to reverse engineer some of that outsourced code to get it working in the real world. I love my job. (I still answered your questions, because I used to be a developer.)

reisen55
reisen55

Just after I finished my mini-warning to programmers, I read this little news item. We need jobs in this country, but Wal-Mart, well. Read this and weep and be worried, very worried. "(Reuters) - Retail giant Wal-Mart's new social media arm, WalmartLabs, will open a software development center in the southern Indian city of Bangalore by the end of this year, a company executive said on Wednesday."

reisen55
reisen55

India. That's it. American management sees Info Tech as an expense pure and simple, not an integral part of their business, as it has become. And India is rife with fresh and eager college puppies who are just READY to begin writing code at $2 an hour. Try living on that here, first off .... it's illegal to do, minimum wage. But generally the quality of code is poor, very poor, often re-written by American programmers. But because of that magic $2 wage wall, American management LOVES OUTSOURCING. Danger Will Robinson, Danger Danger.

Englebert
Englebert

If you have a BA in psychology, try your hand at Business Analysis. This field requires people skills more so than tech skills. Stay away from programming or anything that can be outsourced.

msimms
msimms

The outsourcing is like a tsunami......and there are hardly any younger people in the business....as witnessed by attending local Microsoft tech gatherings. Finally, all of the agencies are now staffed by foreigners as well. Wanna be poor ? Stay in IT.

nhilty
nhilty

This model only works when there are SME (Subject Matter Experts) to cleanup the code. As soon as they are retired or had enough this model will fail. It takes year to get there and decades to recover.

RealGem
RealGem

We Westerners shouldn't be so smug. Programmers in India will get better, just as we did. Their processes will improve along with their skills. They're hungrier than we are, in both senses of the word. Oh, and if the $2 an hour programmer churns out code that is only 25% good, that's still a better deal (on the surface) than the $80 an hour programmer. Think about it. Instead of spending $80 per hour for a full time programmer, I can spend $2 for a few overseas programmers and have enough dollars left to pay a Western programmer to do design and code reviews on a 0.1 FTE basis. It's a business decision, and if Western programmers cannot offer a better value proposition, they're going to lose. That's what a free market is all about. I don't even want to think about a day when the government has to "socialize" IT work just to protect an overpriced industry. We have to stay competitive or we're dead. Right now we're our own best customers, but think about China, the market of the future. They're going to have IT projects too. If Westerners want to bid for that work, they have to compete against India for it. How would you do it?

john.a.wills
john.a.wills

What is that "so" doing there? I suspect it has the same function (or lack thereof) as the "of" some people say after "off".

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