Is there such a thing as an 'easy' programming job?
July 22, 2011 4:49 PM   Subscribe

What would be the easist kind of programming job a person could get?

I'll likely be starting a developing career at 33 or so (and I'll probably have a three year old and a one year old at that point). I don't expect to be awesome; I'll be reliable, willing and able to follow instructions and to get along with pretty much everyone. My programming skills and knowledge will be merely adequate. That won't be for lack of effort or desire; it's just because I'm not very quick with the logic-type stuff. It's not something I'm innately talented at and I have to work at it and practice quite a bit. Also, I didn't grow up 'digital'. I'm coming at this later than many.

I'm ok with that. Family life is more important to me than having an amazing career trajectory and making a lot of money. Luckily, my husband's got that part down. I'm cool with making as little as $40K.

This being said, what kind of programming position should I be looking for down the road? Something easier than not would be better -something where I won't have to work extremely quickly (again, not because of laziness, just because I'm afraid I won't be able to without being very stressed out and feeling like a total dummy). Should I aim to be a tester? What would that look like? I would appreciate any suggestions. Feel free to pick at any faulty assumptions here too.
posted by kitcat to Work & Money (23 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
QA and Professional Services are two places where understanding of programming can be very helpful but not required to do your day to day tasks. They are also good places to get more technical skills and exposure to code / scripting / etc to make you a better programmer.

Sales Engineering is an other type of job like these, but typically requires more travel.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 4:53 PM on July 22, 2011

Response by poster: There is no way in hell I will ever, ever work in sales :)
I just want to make that clear...
posted by kitcat at 5:02 PM on July 22, 2011

web development (wordpress sites and the like) maybe a good fit for you.
posted by pyro979 at 5:07 PM on July 22, 2011

Assuming that you're looking for work in the corporate world: yeah, check out testing! You could be doing unit testing and that's pretty easy as coding goes. Obviously, you can skip coding altogether as a tester and work with functional testing or even usability testing.

If you're open to doing consulting then by all means check out web development. Doing CMS centric work, Wordpress/Drupal, is pretty easy but usually means less money than, say, being good with python+django+sql. But the competition is tough and you'll have to master pretty much everything from visual design to coding, databases, etc.

Finally, I would say it "just" takes a lot of practice to become good at programming. Forget any doubts you have about yourself and just practice, practice, practice. You might even discover that you like programming ;)
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:15 PM on July 22, 2011

Response by poster: I may have given the wrong impression. I do like programming and want a programming or programming-type job. And I'm halfway through my diploma program.

IFoci: sorry, did you mean competition is fierce for CMS work or web development?
posted by kitcat at 5:20 PM on July 22, 2011

Honestly most shops are looking for quick turn around. In fact a good friend of mine lost his last job because he wanted to do things right and took longer than the higher ups wanted him to. They wanted code pushed out the door. No programming jobs are going to be easy. If you want something that is easier, go into graphic design. You won't make any money in it, as in maybe 25-35k a year because everyone and their mother can pick up html and css without much trouble (much lower barrier to entry). Only the people who have proven themselves can ask more money really.

No programming languages are easy. That being said, some are a little easier to pick up than others, such as python. If you want a good beginner's language which seems to be all the rage these days, go with ruby on rails. If you can learn to program in ruby and have some decent projects under your belt, you can probably get a job for 40k a year. That being said, it is harder to learn than HTML or CSS.

The main problem is coders are a dime a dozen and because so many are out of work right now, it's even tougher to find a job so you had better know your shit and be good/fast at it.
posted by TheBones at 5:31 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Both, really. There's just so many developers out there who do CMS/web development that you will either have to find a niche or find work locally where you can offer great value and support to clueless firms.

If you like programming i really recommend focusing on a tech stack to master in the coming years, preferably one that's specialized in some way. Really, it could be anything from NoSql databases (very hot right now) to Cobol (lots of money in enterprise-y legacy systems).
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:36 PM on July 22, 2011

scripting MS Office in VBA
posted by thelonius at 5:46 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

employable by temp agencies, small businesses, nonprofits, schools.
posted by thelonius at 5:47 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kitcat, if you are American, you should know that there are a ton of overseas workers rigorously knocking down the walls to come the U.S. to do exactly what you want to do -- except, they are super hard workers and will work 12 hours a day easy!

What you are really looking for is to be 'favored' by a tech manager who will lookout for you because he may be getting other, non-tech advantages by hiring you.

You'll have to pick up these subtle clues in the interview and recruiting process (as long as the hiring manager is not a visa worker himself!)
posted by Kruger5 at 6:27 PM on July 22, 2011

Do you have any background in science? I don't know if any research groups employ programmers full time, but it isn't hard programming for the most part, implementing equations and whatnot. I know *I* wish people like David Radford would hire and actual programmer to make there technically excellent programs a bit more stable & user friendly.

I have heard that since everyone hates cobol there is a ton of money doing easy work in it keeping legacy systems running.
posted by Canageek at 6:27 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you have any background in science? I don't know if any research groups employ programmers full time, but it isn't hard programming for the most part, implementing equations and whatnot.

There are lots of research groups that employ full-time programmers. The difficulty level varies quite a bit, but if you are actually doing scientific programming, you are going to be expected to understand what the equations mean. Just implementing someone else's equations isn't going to be enough. "I'm not very quick with the logic-type stuff" is an absolute disqualification for this.

The expectations for this are lower if you're doing web stuff, but then you have to know all that web stuff and be good at it.
posted by grouse at 6:43 PM on July 22, 2011

Testing is a great jumping off point to get into development work.

I currently do QA work, but two of the developers I work with started working in QA and transitioned into development.

If you look into testing, Unit and automated testing will utilize your programming skills, were as Functional Testing and Usability Testing will just use your understanding of how programmers can make mistakes. In the end, testing will make you a better programmer because you’ll be used to seeing other developers slip ups and knowing what to look out for.

If you get a QA job and still want to develop, Pick up the odd programming task for the developers like fixing some bugs in legacy code, and building some tools for the rest of the QA Team.That will build up your reputation in a company as a coder not just a tester. After you feel comfortable, look into seeing if they can transition you into development. This will give you the time to build up the skills and familiarity with whatever that organization does.
posted by JustAGuy at 7:06 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes there is such a thing as an easy job - look at 4GLs (fourth generation languages) rather than 3GLs such as Java or Python or PHP.

Example 4GLs include Visual Basic for Excel, Informatica PowerCenter (for data "plumbing" aka ETL), SAS (for statistics/analytics).

There's an upfront cost to learn one of these (you might need to pay for a training course of similar), but once you have it there is a lot of demand, it's not technically that complex and you will be very well remunerated. A job (especially a contract job) with a specific 4GL will often pay very well, because of the scarcity (compared to Java/PHP/.Net developers who are a a dime a dozen). And finally, these tools are often highly visual/handheld/drag-and-drop, so it's less technically scary than a 3GL.
posted by runkelfinker at 7:18 PM on July 22, 2011 [11 favorites]

There's a huge market for anybody remotely competent in vbasic and sharepoint development.
posted by empath at 7:57 PM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: In case anyone is still planning to answer, just thought I'd share that my program teaches mainly visual basic, c# and java. These are great answers, thanks!
posted by kitcat at 8:39 PM on July 22, 2011

Maybe this is just selection bias, but our WebMethods (similar to the "4GL" systems above) developers can barely program and aren't so great at the logic stuff. So are our testers, but we're moving to automate a lot of that and hire students for the rest. Testing is about the most boring job I can imagine, and as a tester you will face stress from deadlines. Especially scenarios where programming is done and they're just fixing bugs as QA reports back.

That said, women and non-traditional students tend to underrate their technical competence. The 'digital generation" wasn't born knowing how to use computers any more than my grandfather was.
posted by pwnguin at 9:16 AM on July 23, 2011

Yeah. Was going to jump in and say Sharepoint, and contracting with a huge [defense] firm. Great way to get your foot in the programming door.
posted by schmod at 10:36 AM on July 23, 2011

Yeah, writing VBA for Excel, Word, Powerpoint is pretty easy stuff. It is especially easy because you can record Macros which will generate to code for you and you can then extend it into richer functionality. And yeah Sharepoint.
posted by jasondigitized at 1:15 PM on July 23, 2011

There is no way in hell I will ever, ever work in sales :)

Well, being a sales engineer is quite a bit different from being a salesperson, and I'd recommend it based on my experience, although many of those positions require travel. You tend to do the same sort of thing over and over again, without really requiring too much work - you build customer-specific demos, proof-of-concepts, etc.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:19 PM on July 23, 2011

The main problem is coders are a dime a dozen and because so many are out of work right now, it's even tougher to find a job so you had better know your shit and be good/fast at it.

I'm sorry, what? Where? In Silicon Valley right now this could not be LESS true.
posted by squasher at 1:58 PM on July 23, 2011

Response by poster: The main problem is coders are a dime a dozen and because so many are out of work right now, it's even tougher to find a job so you had better know your shit and be good/fast at it.

Yeah, I'm not in Silicon Valley but this is not true where I am either.
posted by kitcat at 6:05 PM on July 23, 2011

Just go for something really common with a lot of community support. Java and PHP come to mind. Pretty much anything that can be done in these languages has been done, which means that any time you hit a snag, the answer can be easily googled. PHP is probably the most common language for web development, whereas Java is more general-purpose. I'd steer clear of anything more specialized unless you're actually interested in the technology.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:24 PM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

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