What industries hire programmers?
March 4, 2010 7:29 PM   Subscribe

What sort of industries hire programmers, other than for web development?

I'm trying to see if I'm covering all my bases in my current job search. I've been applying to software companies mostly, but I'm wondering what other industries have a significant need for programmers, that I may have overlooked. For instance, universities advertise for bioinformatics programmers without requiring a ton of biology experience. And investment banks want developers to support their quants. (I'm pretty hesitant to go into the financial industry because of what I've heard about stress and hours, but that's a different AskMe.)

Of course everyone has a website, but those jobs require a lot specialized experience in particular Java frameworks or CSS compatibility tricks that I don't have. What options are available for talented generalists?

Bonus points if it's an industry represented in NYC.
posted by serathen to Work & Money (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Finance wants a lot (a LOT) more than developers to support their quants. A few developers support quants, but many (quite possibly, most) support things like operations and risk (how does a trade booked at one desk get counted against the firms daily risk, into the P&L, how do you know that the trader making that trade had the proper legal agreements in place to do so, how do you evaluate the future risk and valuation of that trade, how do you calculate margin calls for that portfolio, and by the way there are many different systems to do this for many different products that have to work together, and on and on and on). Then there's the vast amount of software infrastructure needed to support thousands of developers and tens of thousands of employees doing everything from requesting additional disk on a system to booking a conference room. The stress and hours vary as much in finance as they do anywhere else, but no one in NYC pays as well, and you would be mighty foolish to ignore that industry completely as a developer in this area.
BTW, if you're worried about stress and hours, ask about it in the interview. The truth will out, I promise you.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:41 PM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

You should job search based on skill set, not industry, if you are a generalist. Everyone needs programmers.
posted by nomisxid at 7:43 PM on March 4, 2010

All levels of government (Federal, State/Provincial, Municipal).
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 7:43 PM on March 4, 2010

Can you name a company that doesn't use computers? Probably not.

Can you name any that don't retain and process data? Only the bad ones.

Everyone else uses programming to make computers automate their business and report how well it's doing. My dad was a 'business analyst' that involved substantial programming work (he dual majored in accounting/computer science).

Insurance companies hire programmers to do actuarial analysis, and computerize claims (when I was temping at a call center, they were just rolling out palm pilots to claims inspectors with a custom app). The local community college I work for hires programmers for various things; but we're mostly turning to web stuff because reducing the GUI problem to declarative HTML delivered to a browser is dramatically easier than the alternatives. Most of the programming I do is to write scripts to handle student accounts and edit a few PHP webapps we operate internally for ticket tracking, most of which is inferior to available open source PHP webapps.

Engineering companies need programmers to deliver products with software in them. Mostly defense contractors and consumer electronics firms. I assume you know this though. And it typically requires far more electrical engineering background than the average programmer has.

Partially, I think you need to get over your fear of the Web. It does a lot of things for you and lets you the size of the problem. Plenty of webapps are written for internal use where you can safely say 'we don't support ie6' and so on.
posted by pwnguin at 7:56 PM on March 4, 2010

pwnguin: Aside from some of the the browser compatibility issues I have nothing against going into web programming. But it's not an area I've worked in much, and most jobs seem to be pretty specific in terms of prior experience they require. More so than something like bioinformatics or finance it seems. I suppose I could build up a portfolio using a personal project; that's let me move laterally before.

And of course I do have some specific technology skills and expertise, and have been applying to jobs in those fields. I was mostly curious what the non-obvious options are. It's good to hear that finance companies will be up-front about their work environment; I suppose it wouldn't hurt to see if I can get a few interviews in that sector then.
posted by serathen at 8:19 PM on March 4, 2010

generally it is easier to get a job as a programmer in a specific industry if you have a related college degree and some programming experience, rather than a CS or Software Engineering degree. At least that has been my experience so far.
posted by spacefire at 8:25 PM on March 4, 2010

I previously worked at a very large law firm, there was a guy in IT who created an application specifically catered to the needs of the docketing department, which needed an app to keep track of every client the firm ever had, every active/inactive client code, and a bunch of other data. It was an extremely important piece of software, and the firm relied on it heavily to keep the conflict check process as smooth as possible. It also helped tremendously in keeping the number of client codenames that sounded too much alike down. I have yet to come across a similar application, and I think it was a rare stroke of genius (and luck) on part of that firm's management to have a programmer on staff who could pull off such a feat.

Also, every big law firm I've worked at has always used multiple software tweaks and add-ons tailored for the legal industry to extend the application of every piece of software.
posted by invisible ink at 8:34 PM on March 4, 2010

Post production and VFX outfits often need coders, although it would help if you had specific computer-graphics interests within CS, or very strong database-fu. You sometimes find these jobs listed as "TD" or "technical director" positions. If you have extremely strong aptitude in computer graphics, you may also be able to do "R&D programmer" jobs.

TDs sometimes specialize in development for a particular package ("Maya TD" or "Houdini TD," for example, for the two big 3D packages); otherwise, they may be "generalist" TDs who handle a number of different tasks. Pipeline TDs handle the development of facility-specific tools and deal with the rollout and support of commercial solutions that make in-house life easier (like Shotgun, an extremely popular task management tool for VFX work).

If you have any leanings that way, experience with 2D or 3D software packages like Maya, Houdini, Combustion, or Nuke would be handy. Good Python skills would be nearly a must, since Nuke and Maya both support Python; for more R&D-related or heavy graphics tasks, you'll want C++ and OpenGL experience.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:54 PM on March 4, 2010

The auto industry's still pretty big for embedded programming.
posted by rfs at 8:54 PM on March 4, 2010

"... Bonus points if it's an industry represented in NYC."
posted by serathen to work & money

If you have any RPG III/IV, COBOL, FORTRAN, DB2, AIX (or Linux), WebSphere, Lotus Notes, or CL or JCL experience, I'd suggest you attend the upcoming MUGWNY, NEUGC, NY Metro System, or March 24 meeting of LISUG, featuring Charles Guarino of RDi speaking on "New iSeries topics," and, perhaps, the upcoming national COMMON meetings.

If you don't know anything about any of this, I'd suggest you start getting hip to old school IBM, and recognize that there is still work being done on Power Series, and a lot of good jobs supporting the various Power Series platforms.
posted by paulsc at 8:56 PM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

there is a whole world of awesome jobs in finance for high-energy programmers. particularly if you can get into trading systems - high frequency / big data systems are constantly pushing the boundaries of whats possible and if you have the right mindset its a great competitive environment that is a big leap from "supporting the quants". The higher the frequency, the bigger the datasets, the more its a classic CS set of problems then math.

I'd stay away from companies like bloomberg or backoffice, assuming you like to be 'in the trenches.
posted by H. Roark at 10:05 PM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's an oft-quoted statistic that only 25% of software written commercially is written for sale. The other 75% is for internal use. Everyone needs software.
posted by hattifattener at 1:56 AM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't forget the obvious one: the software industry. In other words, there are plenty of businesses out there of all sizes (from single-person outfits to Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, IBM) who employ programmers to write everything from tiny little apps to office suites for both general and niche markets.

My first job was with a small publisher of educational software; the required knowledge/experience was minimal, and the target market (kids) were great fun. Smaller businesses often give their programmers an entire product to develop from scratch, which I preferred to being a cog in a larger machine. I moved on from there to web development and found it pretty easy to build up enough experience to get a fun job in that field. I've stuck with web stuff ever since.

An area that has really taken off in recent years is the casual gaming market - not the big first-person-shooter xbox 360 kind of games, rather the smaller, simpler games found on Facebook, mobile phones and the Wii (to name but a few). The number of small businesses working in this area is pretty huge, and the skill level and degree of specialisation is much less than for the mega-budget console gaming industry.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:12 AM on March 5, 2010

There's a lot of companies that have a small in-house dev team, that isn't advertised. The HR dept does the looking, so make sure you have a good resume that's parse-able, put it online at the major career sites, and surprisingly craigslist.

What industries...anywhere, manufacturing, aerospace, bio-tech and health, etc.

A lot of the work I've been seeing is in the smart phone market, but be aware there isn't quite a standard yet in terms of languages and API's.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 5:11 AM on March 5, 2010

If you think about the internal software, rather than software that a company makes available to the public, then yes, everyone has software and programmers.

Anyone who sends you a bill or offers customer service over the phone: Retail stores, electric and other utilities, credit cards, phone, magazine publishers, internet service providers.

Anyone who keeps track of data/statistics for their members: schools, libraries, newspapers, gyms.

Anyone who has a large inventory of parts/repairs: car companies - manufacturers or dealers, airlines, railroads/subway, manufacturers of almost anything - steel mills, toys, furniture, I know a programmer at a very large tobacco company.

Anyone who has a large number of employees and needs to keep track of payroll: any large company, but also things like employment/temp agencies
posted by CathyG at 7:05 AM on March 5, 2010

Insurance, Government (local, state, federal), large Law firms, Oil+Gas, Consulting companies, Utilities. I've worked for them all as a programmer.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:41 AM on March 5, 2010

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