Why Programmers Give Up This Career
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. STEM. It is an acronym that evokes a multitude of feelings. For some, it may signify endless creativity and possibilities, but it may produce a sense of burden and pressure for others. For centuries, STEM has been the field of stable growth, garnering a reputation as one of the most popular and competitive fields: there is a reason why parents want their children to be in the STEM field. Like all careers, STEM has its ups and downs, and the technology field is no exception.
According to the survey Retaining tech employees in the era of The Great Resignation done by TalentLMS and Workable in September 2021, “72% of employees working in the tech/I.T. roles are thinking of quitting their jobs in the next 12 months.” (Survey: Retaining Tech Employees in the Era of the Great Resignation, 2021). People are starting to cave in from the pressure that the technology industry applies. While there are many reasons why tech employees would consider quitting their jobs, the top two reasons were limited career progression and lack of flexibility in working hours. Still, those are the programmers that have already landed a job. What about the “programmers”?
Incomplete View of the Tech Industry
More often than not, novice “programmers” come into the tech industry with a limited perspective, whether from a lack of proper research or friends and family. They get caught up in the technology industry’s positive aspects and seem to forget there are negative aspects.
Learning How to Program
For “programmers” who are majoring in computer science but have no background in that subject, they may have the illusion that programming is an easy skill to learn. That is false. Starting can be very difficult. First off, the transition from high school to college is not easy. From six-hour days, five days a week, and having one to two hours of homework to suddenly having one-to-two-hour classes with six hours for each class can be very stress-inducing. The self-discipline and time management that were not required for success in high school is needed to succeed in college. Also, “programmers” must tackle a new skill: programming. Learning how to program is a beast in itself, and when “programmers” have to juggle getting used to college life and learning how to program, it can quickly become too much to handle, leading them to give up programming altogether.
Money is Not Worth Your Happiness
“Six-figure salaries” is typically the first thing that pops into people’s brains when they hear about the tech industry. While some programmers pursue a computer science degree because they genuinely enjoy coding and creating apps, some may be in it just for the money. M’benda N’dour, a software engineer, discusses this subject in her video, “Why You Shouldn’t Be a Software Engineer…”. “Programmers” may not realize that it is not as easy as it sounds to program if they do not enjoy it. They may be caught in the allure of financial security, but if they are programming five days a week, every week, for a year, two years, ten years, or until retirement, they will realize that no amount of money is worth working a job they do not like. There is a multitude of jobs in the tech industry that do not require programming. “Programmers” do not have to force themselves into the programming mold. Mental health is as important as physical health and financial freedom/security.
It is a Desk Job
Like most “programmers” ignore that no money is worth working a job they dislike, they seem to forget that they will be inside, sitting at a desk for most, if not all, of the time. If they cannot stand sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, they must keep themselves mentally sane by going outside, getting up, and walking around the office. They may soon realize, though, that there is not much time for breaks during their work period. Forrest Knight, a former software engineer, highlights this exact point in his video, “What Professional Software Engineers Do”, stating that if sitting at a desk does not seem “appetizing”, “programmers” might want to reconsider their career path.
Sitting at a desk is one of many things programmers are stuck with. They are stuck with learning as well. “Programmers” may naïvely come into the tech industry thinking that once they have a degree, that is all the required learning, but that is far from the truth. Gyasi Linje, a frontend software engineer, talked about how hardly any jobs need people to do their jobs “for fun” or in their free time in his video “The Harsh Reality of Being a Software Engineer”. The harsh reality is, being a programmer is one of those rare jobs. Technology is constantly evolving, and there are always new techniques and languages. Because of this, if programmers want to stay employed, they must continuously pick up those new techniques and languages.
Lack of Creative Freedom
Another issue that programmers must remember is that they need more creative freedom when programming for a company. Knight states they will work on someone else’s idea because they work for a company, not their bosses. They do not get the final say. Someone will tell them what to do and how to do it, limiting the programmer’s creative freedom. This can be an issue for programmers because many of them go into coding because they love the creative aspect of it. When that creative aspect is taken away, they realize that they do not enjoy programming for a company as much as they thought they would, and they lose motivation, becoming tired of their job, leading them to burnout.
As a programmer for a company, software development is a challenging task. If there is one thing that all careers have in common, it is burnout. Linge warns future/new programmers about the allure of success. He states that people often hear that programmers can make six figures straight out of college, and this causes younger programmers to strive for that success. The wanting to climb up the ladder causes them to constantly try to improve their coding skills to become a more efficient programmer. This fuels them to program as frequently as possible, sacrificing their free time, hobbies, and sleep, creating unhealthy habits and stress. On top of all that stress, they must go through technical interviews to even be able to land a job.
Technical interviews themselves can often lead to burnout. While preparing for these interviews, applicants are expected to study for an ASC or SAT while keeping up with the new software and technology, and they only have time for something else. Programmers want to refrain from doing these interviews because of the exhaustion that comes with it. They are expected to eat, code, sleep, and have a social life, and programmers can often feel like they are not doing enough, causing them to overwork themselves even more. Linge recounts when he has heard his coworkers conversing about the new technology they have encountered and experienced outside of work, making him feel as if he were slacking for not taking more time outside of work to code.
Lack of Personal Time
Programmers, like all people, have other interests they want to pursue. They may find joy in programming, but they have family and friends, and with technical interviews on top of work, there is no time for hobbies, causing them to burn out quickly. Josef Cruz, an entrepreneur and coder, writes that he has seen and heard many programmers give up their careers because they feel burnt out in his article “Here Are Some Reasons Why Programmers Quit Their Jobs”. Having meetings daily, the stress and chaos of a finishing project and programming eight hours a day for five days a week are enough for a brain to shut down. He notes that a programmer’s day is filled with backlogs, debugging, and other complicated tasks.
Effort V.S. Reward
Complicated tasks require a tremendous amount of effort. When people put in vast amounts of action, they expect an output that equals their hard work. That output, or reward, is different for everyone. When the reward does not equal the amount of effort inputted, all that effort feels as if it was in vain, which results in burnout. Mayuko Inoue, a software engineer, her an effort to help people with her work. In her video “Why is Burnout So Common in Tech? Let’s talk about it”, Inoue talks about the burnout she has felt in her career.
As Knight pointed out in his video, programmers are not their bosses when working for a corporation. They do not get to decide what is programmed and what the purpose of that program is, so when Inoue realized that the app she had poured out her soul into working for a mission-driven company was not a crucial part of that company’s strategy, she felt like the effort she put into the app was wasted. The app would not be impacted as much as expected, leaving her feeling burnt out.
Not every “programmer” will have the exact reasons for giving up this career. Some recognize that working as a programmer is entirely different than studying to become a programmer. Others may not want a job that requires learning twenty-four-seven until retirement. Some realize that they cannot stand the limited creative freedom given to them, or they may recognize that the six-figure salary is not worth all the stress and chaos that comes with it. Some may fancy the idea of being able to live a life outside of just eating, coding, and sleeping. With all the giant tech companies laying off tons of workers and A.I. becoming more advanced, some may wonder whether the burden and pressure of the tech industry are worth the low job security.
The tech industry’s future is less stable than ten to twenty years ago, and entry jobs are more challenging. Yet some programmers may still need to give up this career. Those that genuinely enjoy programming may try freelancing. Like Knight and Linge, they may try doing YouTube videos to help other programmers become aware of the realities of the tech industry and make a profit. Only time will tell how far A.I. can go and how the tech industry will change because of it.