The Real Reason Why Non-Programmers Are Paid More

March 24, 2013 8:43 am

Programming is a truly valuable skill. And when you are a programmer at some company, you are essentially learning on someone else’s dime. And programming empowers you. Every additional hour you spend programming, the more valuable your skill becomes, and the more valuable you become as a person, and to the market overall. Companies understand that. They understand that you understand that.

When you are moved ‘up’ in the org, you do not code anymore (well, in most cases). That is an absolute loss of empowerment, and sets you on a path towards helplessness where you can ‘drive’ things but not ‘do’ things. Where you need to ‘get someone’ to look into things rather than looking into things yourself. Every additional hour you spend in such roles, the less valuable you become as a person, and to the market overall.

The market understands that. Once you have learnt stuff on someone else’s money, the market will pay you much more to get stuff done. For the people who ‘drive’ or ‘run’ things – unless you are a rockstar driver, things are not so rosy. And by definition, those roles are few in number – definitely much less than roles where you need people who can code. And it gets worse as you move up, because the whole org thing throughout the world is structured as a triangle with a broad base and a point at the top.

So there it is – the reason non-programmers get paid more is because they willingly chose to be non-empowered. They willingly chose to ‘run’ things and not ‘do’ things. They willingly accepted the fact that every additional hour spent on non-coding tasks made them less valuable. And they are ‘compensated’ for that. The next time you are given a choice between ‘running’ the team and continuing to code – just forget the title and fire up the IDE.

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1 Comment for “The Real Reason Why Non-Programmers Are Paid More”

  1. Tom

    I have to disagree. Imho programmers are paid less for a mixture of reasons.

    1. Managers with a non-IT background (speaking from my own experience) don’t have a freaking clue. They view programmers as factory assemblers, not as “designers” that have to make dozens of decisions each day about the stuff they’re building, decisions not worth asking the manager because: (s)he doesn’t have a freaking clue.

    2. People in the upper regions of the company pyramid tend to specialize in the skill being: “behaving as someone in the upper regions of the company pyramid”. Meaning: using expensive words, dressing “importantly” and so on. People are easily fooled, believe me.

    3. A programmer’s craft is mainly invisible, good developers build invisible cathedrals. I haven’t met a manager yet who can appreciate the excellence (or lack of it) of the software underneath the user interface. It only becomes an issue when things don’t work as expected.

    4. Huge differences in developer competence. The scale spans several orders of magnitude, including negative ones. Again, mainly invisible for the decision makers because there is no effective measurement of programmer productivity. How can a decision maker decide which developer should earn what if no metric is in place? There’s no excel sheet for that.

    People don’t choose not to be a developer because they willingly chose to be non-empowered. They choose because they know that being a manager sounds better, it’s sexier, more classy, more important, you get to drive a bigger car and get a bigger paycheck. And besides, for most of these guys, the option of becoming a competent developer just doesn’t exist. They unable or not willing to spend countless hours on really really grokking something. That takes talent AND passion. Seriously, if you have talent as well passion for programming, managerial tasks is NOT what you want to be doing.

    I think the explanation in this article is elegant, but completely wrong. The world is just not that well thought-through. Managers get paid more because it’s common belief that managers should get paid more. The circle is round. It’s really that simple.


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