Career Opportunities

A ComputorEdge Column

Back to Archive Index

What does it take?: Part 2

© Douglas E. Welch 1997

Last week we started a discussion of the different computer careers that are available and how to make a choice between them. This week we take up the role of the programmer.

Who Can Break the Code?

Despite the stereotypes that abound about computer programmers, at the very heart is a person, doing their job day after day, just like anyone else. Just like every job, though, there are specific requirements that dictate whether someone will be successful, or not.

Programmers are to every company what engineers are to construction companies. They have the ability to develop something from nothing using only the power of their own mind and a few, relatively simple tools. Where construction workers create skyscrapers, programmers create systems of amazing complexity. Just like the building though, these systems give others a place to work.

Programming requires focus of thought and energy. You have to be able to concentrate for long periods of time and go without interacting with the people around you. This is not the right career choice for a gregarious person who really enjoys being around and working with other people. Even in projects where there are multiple programmers, the interaction between them can be very minor.

Where do programmers work?

Programming, like other computer careers, takes place in nearly every company on the planet. The type of company you work for will dictate the type of work you do. If you join a software manufacturer, you will be developing software for public consumption. You will often work with groups of programmers to develop small parts of larger projects that you could never write alone. You will not have control over all aspects of the project, only your small section.

On the other hand, if you are programming for a corporation that is in a business other than computers, you will be developing custom systems that match the specific needs of the company. You will often be developing projects entirely on your own. You will be conceiving the project, designing it and implementing it. While this can be very satisfying, it can also be very stressful. Another challenge is that these programs don't have the "brag factor" of a commercial product. There aren't a lot of people who are interested in a new system to amortize mutual funds outside of your company. You need to be able to provide your own validation outside of the praise of others.

Getting it right

One guideline for all programmers is to never tie yourself to one computer language or system. While we often develop our specialties over time we should never abandon the search for new tools, new languages and new opportunities. You never want to find yourself in the situation of being an expert in a computer language that is slowly dying. If you program in C++, learn about SQL database programming. If you program in SmallTalk, learn C++. If you develop programs for the World Wide Web, investigate Perl. Never let yourself stagnate, even if you are majorly programming in one particular language. Don't become a dinosaur.

If you have decided that programming might be a place for you, investigate your opportunities carefully. Do you want to work within a large project group turning out the latest and greatest commercial software, or are you happier being the master of your own domain and developing software that is important to one particular company or group? There is no right or wrong decision beyond what is best for you.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. While he cannot answer every letter directly, he welcomes questions and suggestions. Douglas can reached via email at or

t, it might be Ÿ