Coding: The Next Blue Collar Job? Sure Hope Not

February 16, 2017

Wired says coding might become a blue-collar job. I'd say that's crazy.

According to a recent Wired article, coding will become the next big blue collar job.  That sounds great, but I have some problems with this future utopia of blue collar might. First, the good news: Coding is a highly competitive and lucrative career.

According to a Stack Overflow survey in 2016 of developers working in the industry, the median salary for developers with more than 5 years of experience was $100,273 for Full Stack Developers and $97,016 for Front end developers, for a back end developer, that was $108,580. An Engineering Manager averaged $143,122 while an Executive $150,314.

That sounds like a lot of money, but as the article alludes to, the west coast tends to skew those figures upwards. Coding jobs in other parts of the US pay a lot less. The most general stats come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it reports that the median annual wage for web developers was $64,970 in May 2015. In 2014, the number of jobs available for developers was projected to grow 27% from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the average for all occupations in the US.

But, getting those salaries requires a lot of skill as well as a serious amount of education. Students I teach routinely mention how they've spent hours learning how to lay things out using flexbox or wondering about the truthiness of JavaScript boolean statements. I try to teach them that it's going to take a lot longer than a couple of hours. I think this is where the article goes too far.

...any blue-collar coder will be plenty qualified to sling Java­Script for their local bank

Gosh, I sure hope not. I wouldn't want to put my money anywhere someone is slingin' any JavaScript code. Plus, “Plenty qualified”...that's just scary. Getting good takes time and that's where education comes in. I think the article does a good job of hoping for making coding something more accessible to the young and I couldn't agree more. I do think we need to inspire young people, especially youth, women and minorities to take a look at coding as a career, but at the same time be frank and explain that it isn't a job for everyone.

What if we regarded code not as a high-stakes, sexy affair, but the equivalent of skilled work at a Chrysler plant?

I think this is the wrong approach. When I was a kid, I wasn't dreaming of one day working in a Chrysler plant. I wanted to make the type of video games I was playing. When the web materialized, I realized that there was finally something that combined skills in both programming and art...both of which I enjoyed. The stories of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and others are inspiring because they are people that wanted to change the world...not a stable blue collar future.

Teachers and businesses would spend less time urging kids to do expensive four-year computer-­science degrees and instead introduce more code at the vocational level in high school.

Good and bad point, I first learned about coding in High School. A single Pascal class introduced me to problem solving and change my life. None of the people I mentioned above finished their college degrees. Markus “Notch” Persson...inventor of Minecraft started programming when he was 7. He didn't program Minecraft because it was he wanted a stable paycheck, he wanted to do something he loved.

However, it does scare me when I hear people saying that you don't need an expensive four year degree. A lot of people don't, but if you don't have the drive of a Zuckerberg or a Persson, then a college degree might be a great thing for you. Also, many companies require a college degree. I certainly couldn't have worked at the Tribune Interactive or many of my other jobs without one, so I think it's disingenuous to tell people to skip school. College graduates earn about $1 million more over their lifetime than people without a degree. Also, developers with a Master's Degree have the highest average salary and that industry certifications and PhDs are also paid more than most developers.

Programming is hard work that requires a lot of hours and dedication. It's the type of job that has to consume you. Great programmers enjoy solving problems and see the solutions as the payoffs, not the paycheck. We're lucky we get paid well, but getting a decent job with a consistent check won't inspire anyone. And it won't make you good at coding either, when the going gets tough and debugging gets hard, you'll quickly lose people looking for a stable paycheck/JavaScript slinging job.

Coding is less of a skill and more of a craft. Something that takes years to master. If you enjoy problem solving and dream of building something great... start coding today, not just because it's a stable career with incredible growth opportunities, but because you love and challenge and want to build something that could change the world.

Ray Villalobos is a longtime full-stack developer who has taught more than 50 LinkedIn Learning courses. Check them all out here.