Coding is Overvalued and Software Engineering is Undervalued
If you do better on side projects or CS class tests than HackerRank assessments, there’s a place for you in the industry too. Take it from someone who’s amassed a $35,000 salary increase over 3 years by being creative. Despite its narrow stereotypical reputation, CS attracts a diverse crowd: entrepreneurs, designers, multipaths etc., especially at the undergrad level. Even the shut-in who’s been coding every waking hour since middle school usually finds their initial inspiration in the likes of MineCraft and MindStorm rather than HackerRank. Navigating a CS degree program takes a broad skillset: conceptualizing, collaborating, communicating etc., yet jobs are often awarded based on speed at accomplishing a narrow task, which says more about memorization prowess, access to resources, inclusion in study groups, and amount of free time than readiness for complex real world problems.
Engineering attracts makers, multipaths who love an exciting, new challenge. We’re motivated by big ideas, which are increasingly getting delegated to other roles like architects and product managers, reducing the average software engineer to a mechanical “code monkey.” Don’t get me wrong. Code is fun. There are always new paradigms and frameworks to learn and new projects to apply them to, yet one-dimensional, speed-based metrics pressure us to specialize in mind numbing silos and avoid the uncertainty that excites us.
I have nothing against specializing at a high level. With how fast the field is growing, it can be a lot easier to upskill and add value by focusing on an area like front end or machine learning and learning just the basics in other areas rather than trying to stay abreast of every trend across the board. However, the thought of devoting 40 years of my life to 10 files, like I was being primed for at a past job, made me seriously consider switching careers.
Thankfully, there are still a lot of companies out there that value engineers holistically, a mindset that empowers us to find innovative ways to add value. Staying in our lanes, we compete in a zero-sum game, which promotes a sink or swim or even sabotage culture. Free to explore, we spend more time on discussion and false starts but more than make up for it with ideas that add much more value than a couple more hours of codebotting. The how of speed is only as useful as the what it’s put towards. Focusing on the what might lose a sprint or two but it’ll win the marathon.
Call to action: What are some skills that help with your job that are underrated in your industry or work environment?