Jabba the Hutt

Are coders worth it?

I read an article a year or so ago, “Are coders worth it?” by James Somers — which is a good read and is well written. I of course am slightly bias in writing this because I’ve been a Web Developer for a long time.

TL;DR: If you need to build stuff often, you bet your ass they are worth it.

Many organizations often lose sight of the value in Web Developers. Why is that? Honestly, I cannot give you a definitive answer here. It varies from place to place and person to person. In my experience, it’s closely related to pain and profit.

Perspective

From the article:

In today’s world, web developers have it all: money, perks, freedom, respect. But is there value in what we do?

Let’s use doctors for this analogy. Not because the work is comparable, but because it’s easy to understand. Would the same question be asked of a doctor? At this moment, I don’t think I would.

That’s partly because you have to ask “what do they do?” then ask “do we need that?”.  In the case of a doctor it might be “they heal people” and “of course we need that”.

Naturally, the next line of thinking is “if we don’t want doctors, what are our alternatives for healing?” — well that’s a whole new discussion — but at the moment human doctors appear to be the best option given results, cost, need and so on.

Often businesses look at things like this from the perspective of needs and costs.

I am a web developer, and there has never been a better time to do what I do. Here’s how crazy it is: I have a friend who decided, part way into his second year of law school, to start coding. Two months later he was enrolled in Hacker School in New York, and three months later he was working as an intern at a consultancy that helps build websites for start-ups. A month into that internship — we’re talking a total of six months here — he was promoted to a full-time position worth $85,000.

Given the job market, salaries and even the movies coming out these days — there’s a demand for “tech guys”, developers, hackers and your run of the mill magicians. Moreover, there’s a demand for those with the knowledge and skills needed to make use of the Internet. Which is where the value is.

That being said, the value is definitely there. But the question isn’t “are web developers valuable?” it’s “are web developers worth it?”. Let’s change the question slightly. Is a car worth it? It saves you time, but it costs a ton of money. If you really wanted you could have someone else drive you in their car. You could also just walk or use public transportation. Then why do people own cars?

With Web Development, you could buy pre-built products or you could outsource your work to someone who works pennies on the dollar. Developers are expensive, there’s no real formula for finding a good one, and then when you hire one – someone else might just come along and make an offer that blows yours out of the water. There are so many factors it can be overwhelming. Which is why people go to specialist companies who have this stuff down to a science.

Pain and Profit

I’ve learned through trial and tribulation that if you’re amazing at what you do, that’s fantastic. But if you aren’t someone people can work with or if you aren’t profitable, then how good you are is irrelevant.

Many companies do not understand the technological space. Many lack a CTO or CIO. Even the ones with those seats filled, do not have Chiefs who understand the web. What good is it to have an MBA and having learned how to write in COBOL when you’re running a company that lives on the web? That’s like hiring a professional trainer who looks like Jabba the Hutt. oh now the image makes sense…

If you have a situation where the leadership of your company has people who deeply understand the web, then you’re probably going to have an easier time than those who do not. For those without, you need to own that yourself. You understand the value and you understand the opportunity. Show the company. Solve the pain.

Profit is easy to understand, did you make as much money as it cost you? Pain is more confusing because it’s often an emotional aspect. It can sometimes come from a lack of understanding. If you don’t know how to use a lightsaber you’re going to hurt yourself. Unless you’re Finn. Are you Finn? Probably not.

We’re the ones with the magic powers. Every programmer knows that code looks cool, that eyes widen when we fill our screens with colourful incantations.

It’s not magic, it’s just text.

There’s only value in something while so little people know how to do it. Once it’s common knowledge and services can lower the barrier to entry, the value will go down. But we are a long ways away from that — regardless of what you see from the fancy videos of “drag and drop” CMS solutions. If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it. A cell phone isn’t magic, it outstripped the value of landlines with little effort and everyone got on board really fast as soon as the barrier to entry was lowered.

Are Coders Worth It?

If you are a builder of Web based things, like Twitter, Google, Pinterest, most modern day marketing departments then yes, there’s extreme value there and they are currently worth it. Do you need your own dedicated team? Well that’s going to depend on your volume, standards and budget.

It once again boils down to Cost, Quality and Time. It can either be good, fast or cheap, right? Same goes with solving most problems.

I’ll leave off with these:

  • Is the quality of what you’re building important? No seriously, is it important — not like “oh we say that word because we want people to like us” — more like “if this isn’t good I’m out of business”. If you want good, you hire talented people — which is currently expensive. Building a quality product takes time. This is not the cheap option.
  • Is time the most important? You need to be first to market? Well for the Web that typically means lower quality. That doesn’t mean it needs to be built by unskilled people. Instead it means that things do not need to be perfect, they just need to work most of the time.
  • Is cost the most important? This is without a doubt the worst spot to be in. You’d be adopting the mindset of someone who thinks buying a 7 year old Nissan Altima, $750.00 is a good idea for commuting to work. If you come to the Web at this stage in the game and choose to go the cheap route, then you’re asking for the quickest, shittiest product or a very long drawn out average product. You’re not taking the space seriously and you could honestly just buy a one pager using a pre-built solution and walk away and be done.

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