Author Topic: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor  (Read 9441 times)

jday

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Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« on: October 06, 2014, 07:17:41 AM »
Hi All,

Just posing another question to help me narrow down my career choices in the near future...

The question is would you rather pursue a CS degree or jump right into making money in one of the building trades?

The pros and cons as I see them are getting a degree delays you making any money. Also, you have to work for a company for awhile before you can eventually start working from home, go part-time, or go into consulting.

With the building trades you still have to learn and apprentice, but you could be starting your own business before a CS major even leaves school. It is obviously harder work, but fairly rewarding on a satisfaction level.

So which one would you pick if you could starting out at age 20? If you are in your 30s or 40s does that change the equation? All advice appreciated. Thanks!

jinga nation

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #1 on: October 06, 2014, 01:13:47 PM »
One of my college professors, an EE Ph.D, who grew up poor in WV and joined the Navy, became a test pilot, etc. gave the best advice:

Work smart, not hard.
Work with your brain, not your back.

I've met people in the trades via my RE side-gig, who wished they had paid attention in HS math class and maybe engineering further down the line. The trades get harder as you get older, physical toll. Even a foreman has to be on site, in all weather conditions.

By getting a STEM degree, you're taking a short-term financial hit (but a knowledge gain) and a long-term gain. Not my words, but that of the general contractor and the plumber I hire frequently.

When I was in undergraduate engineering school, I had several older (in their 30s and 40s) classmates who brought their work experiences into the course. You're never too old to acquire knowledge.
« Last Edit: October 06, 2014, 01:16:51 PM by kenyanboy »

BlueMR2

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2014, 02:00:40 PM »
With the rising pay of contractors and the stagnant CS wages, I'm leaning towards contractor for mustachian types.  Make solid money right away while you're in good shape.  It's a job that's going to be hard to outsource cheaply in the near future.  You get to keep yourself in shape working.  Retire early with knowledge to maintain everything you own.  Win-win.

They're raising minimum wages again in my state.  I had to notice that minimum wages have doubled since I started working, contractor pay is also about double, but entry-level CS workers are still paid at the same level (personally, my peak pay was back in 2005)!

seattlecyclone

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2014, 02:59:26 PM »
With the rising pay of contractors and the stagnant CS wages...

On what planet are software salaries "stagnant?" In my experience we're in the middle of a huge seller's market for software engineers. I get contacted all the time by recruiters who are desperate to find good candidates. My salary has been far from stagnant, and I don't think I'm an outlier.

rjg

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Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2014, 03:12:44 PM »
My father in law is a contractor and always tells me he'd much prefer a desk job. He hates it- being outside in the cold, dealing with entitled customers, dealing with unreliable subs, etc

Funny thing is he's quite successful at it people seek him out but he can't stand it

Vilgan

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2014, 04:42:01 PM »
With the rising pay of contractors and the stagnant CS wages...

On what planet are software salaries "stagnant?" In my experience we're in the middle of a huge seller's market for software engineers. I get contacted all the time by recruiters who are desperate to find good candidates. My salary has been far from stagnant, and I don't think I'm an outlier.

I'll second this. My salary has increased a ton in the past 4 years and should increase significantly each year for the foreseeable future. To quote a recent contact from a recruiter: "As you know, the market is really tight right now and companies are paying big salaries for developers like yourself." The threat from offshore exists, but most companies are learning that it is better to pay quality developers stateside and then use offshore resources for things like unit tests and QA.

As for OP original question: I think this comes down to personality. If you are are more on the logical side of things and could see yourself enjoying typing words into a computer and getting satisfaction from making those words cleaner and "work right" then I'd consider a CS degree. If you tend to gravitate towards technology in general, then CS is still a good way to go even if you don't end up as a software dev. If your personality doesn't tend towards the "logical" side and you aren't overly excited about working in tech, then it might be worth considering other options.

Fortunately, there are tons of free programming things you can do online these days to get a very basic feel for programming. Do some of those and decide from there. For the love of god DON'T PAY A TON OF MONEY FOR YOUR DEGREE. It isn't worth it. Community college for 2 years and 2 years at a state school will have 90% of the value of an expensive private school for a tiny fraction of the cost.

I think the age question is a good one. I think early 30s is fine. I would feel nervous about recommending a CS degree to someone in their late 30s or early 40s because ageism is a very real thing in the tech industry. Its already tough to get that first entry level CS job and if you are obviously older than your peers it could be brutal.

jday

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2014, 05:31:02 PM »
Thanks for the responses. My situation is that I am 34 years old and have a political science BA and an MBA. I actually wanted to get a second degree in IT but got talked into getting my MBA instead (because my job background has been mostly sales and management).

I am a very logical person and I wanted to major in engineering or computer science but took the lazy route because I was young and stupid. 12 years go by and I have made a decent living and become quite comfortable, but recently quit my job to move back closer to family.

At this crossroads its either go back to school or keep getting jobs in my field. I don't like staying in management because of potential layoffs, and 100% sales isn't what I really want to do either. Ive been successful at sales IF I can have a say or ability to produce the final product.

I think the way for me to go is to get any job while I pursue some online programming classes as well as an associate in computer science. It feels weird to go back for an associate after getting an MBA but it still seems like the right decision.

I just want to get some encouragement from people who have "been there, done that" to make sure this is the decision I want to make. Thanks for your help. Keep the advice coming.

RichMoose

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2014, 07:59:56 PM »
I would consider electrical, plumbing, or HVAC. These trades tend to be less competitive in most areas and give a good opportunity to own your own business. They're also not as physically demanding as carpentry, roofing, welding, ironworking, etc. As you know, there are lots of tax benefits to owning a business that can't be gained working as a software developer for some company. I would also wonder if you would be considered "overqualified" for entry level CS jobs that might make it tough to get started.

Guizmo

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2014, 09:12:22 PM »
My plumber charged me $90 for about 20 minutes of work. Hard to beat that with a CS degree. Also, if you are smart and have your own company you can easily make 120k pa.

jday

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #9 on: October 07, 2014, 11:19:30 AM »
Does anyone think it is a good idea to get an associates in Comp Sci vs get into one of the trades? Thanks!

Jack

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #10 on: October 07, 2014, 11:44:37 AM »
On what planet are software salaries "stagnant?" In my experience we're in the middle of a huge seller's market for software engineers. I get contacted all the time by recruiters who are desperate to find good candidates. My salary has been far from stagnant, and I don't think I'm an outlier.

I'll second this.

Hmm... Seattle and Seattle. I wonder if there's a pattern?

Those companies would have a lot less hard time finding employees if they didn't expect us all to move across the entire damn country (diagonally, in my case!) for the "privilege." They need to try opening an office in Atlanta (for example), or hiring more non-foreign telecommuters.

I would feel nervous about recommending a CS degree to someone in their late 30s or early 40s because ageism is a very real thing in the tech industry.

Again, Seattle.

(At 30, I think I'm one of the younger programmers at my office here in Atlanta. Quite a few of my coworkers are in their 40s or 50s.)

Another difference, by the way, is that -- contrary to what I've heard regarding places like Amazon and Microsoft -- I actually work 40 hours/week, not 60+. I'm not sure my real hourly rate would actually be any higher if I took a job at one of those kinds of companies...

Does anyone think it is a good idea to get an associates in Comp Sci

No. An associates is pointless: I don't think it will help you get through the HR degree filter (or at least, it won't help you much) and I doubt any school that offers associates' degrees would have decent instruction to begin with.

Personally, I'd either get at least a bachelor's (from a decent school) or do some free MOOCs and try to get a job straight out of high school.

seattlecyclone

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #11 on: October 07, 2014, 11:46:31 AM »
Honestly, I don't know how good of a value an associate's degree in CS would be.

A larger company generally won't give you an interview unless you have a CS (or similar, such as math or electrical engineering or physics) bachelor's degree or a few years of work experience as a software engineer. On the other end of the spectrum, you may find a small startup that would hire you with no degree or professional development experience at all as long as you can code. One of the programming "boot camps" might be enough to land one of these jobs, no associate's degree necessary.

pksr

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #12 on: October 07, 2014, 11:52:31 AM »
You're 34 with an MBA and trying to decide between learning a trade or getting an associates in computer science, correct?

I think you need to back way up and get outside of the specific job/trade discussion. Do a personality test (do a battery of them) and start to figure out what types of jobs will hit the mark and make you happy. Then overlap your existing skills and experience with them, and figure out which career paths / types of jobs are going to get you close to your happy place with minimum expense / retraining / effort.

Winnowing the entire universe of possibilities down to CS or a trade sounds like you're just grabbing two high-profile and well-known career paths. But they are very different from each other (like my son wants to be a lion tamer or an astronaut). What they do have in common, though, is they both are best entered when you actually are 20, and, at least initially, will not make full use of your MBA. Since you don't have a time machine, play with the hand that you've got (e.g., you could buy a trade business and use your MBA powers to run it).

jinga nation

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #13 on: October 07, 2014, 02:14:16 PM »
Jday, do you have a criminal record and past financial woes. If no and no, apply for a GS job. usajobs.gov

There's a ton of these jobs but most applicants can't be hired due to their past. It's job security. Seriously speaking, the two GS morons in my office (I'm a fed contractor) do nothing but yak all day long and can't be fired. I'm sure you're better than my two seat monkeys. There's a lot of GS's at my base who are smart and do great work. And we also have our village idiots.

Spork

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #14 on: October 07, 2014, 02:26:25 PM »

The answer here is really not something we can tell you.  It's a personal choice on what's going to make you happy.

I have a CS degree.  I'm nearing retirement... but always sort of wished I had gone with something in the trades.  Would it have paid better?  Probably not -- though maybe.  But that really isn't all there is.  For me there is something satisfying in building something with your hands that isn't overly satisfied by writing code or maintaining systems.  (And yes: it's very possible that this is just a "grass is always greener elsewhere" feeling.)

I'd also say, and I can see others disagree with me -- a degree just isn't always that big a deal when it comes to the computer world.  Yes, they would rather you have experience.  But a BSCS isn't always required.  I've worked at "pretty big" and "really big" companies.  There were always people without a degree and -- probably coincidence -- they were often "the top guys".

It sounds like you already have an MBA... you have a degree (if someone is really picky about that).  I don't necessarily think the CS degree itself is that big a deal.  Now: you need some indication you can do the work...   That will be either experience (even intensive hobby experience) or some form of training.  Your first IT/CS job will likely be bottom rung -- even if you have a CS degree.   It's likely to be Jr. Engineer, Network Ops Center, Helpdesk, etc.    But there is usually a path where the low end folks rise to the top and get slurped up by the other departments.

Heywood57

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #15 on: October 07, 2014, 04:16:36 PM »
My plumber charged me $90 for about 20 minutes of work. Hard to beat that with a CS degree. Also, if you are smart and have your own company you can easily make 120k pa.

Unless that 20 minutes was the only job the plumber had that day.


jday

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #16 on: October 07, 2014, 04:45:35 PM »
Thanks Spork! You actually gave great advice. I of course dont just want someone to say pick this or that one. I want someone to tell me if they have "been there, done that" and what the outcome is.

I do my best to try and learn from other people's mistakes and successes.

On a side note, the do what you love debate rages on. We live in a society where we can do practically anything for a living. A 100 or 200 years ago you were a tradesman or a farmer, or lucky enough to be born in the ruling class. And/or possibly a soldier. Not much choice, you probably did what your father did and his father before him.

To be honest, I love anything and everything that is a challenge. I will probably end up doing both, but of course want to see what people's opinions on getting a degree are. I technically don't even need to go to trades school to do most trade work. (I know someone is going to say you still need a master electrician to sign off on your work, or something to that effect.)

Yes, I want to be happy with what I am doing, but I have found I can be happy anywhere. And if I can be happy doing both things then I might as well go where the money is at.

mozar

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #17 on: October 07, 2014, 07:43:42 PM »
An associates degree would most likely set you back. It will make you look less employable unfortunately. The question should be how do you combine your MBA with IT. There is demand for project managers with a background in IT. I recommend getting the PMP, and learning programming in your spare time. Things like C++, Unix, etc, will make your resume stand out to recruiters. Is your resume on linked in and careerbuilder.com?

jday

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #18 on: October 07, 2014, 07:59:01 PM »
@mozar - yep my resume is out there, but it could use some more work. Getting a PMP is my plan, but its not something you can just get. You have to have provable Project Management experience. Many people tell me you can fudge it to make anything look like project management, but no one has actually showed me it is possible. <---hearsay

I do plan on learning programming and already have done some programming. Its just a matter of getting the first job.

DarinC

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #19 on: October 07, 2014, 10:21:59 PM »
Get your CS degree and work part time/have a hobby in a trade or trades.

BrianT

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #20 on: October 07, 2014, 11:11:49 PM »
This is a much deeper question than just whether you should develop software or build homes. Both are fine occupations, and just because one person said they preferred doing the other thing if possible, it doesn't mean it's a good idea. Ideally, give yourself some time to understand yourself and pursue something you can enjoy day to day. Making money is great, but there will come a point where it isn't as satisfying anymore, because you'll look for something deeper.

JGB

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #21 on: October 08, 2014, 06:04:56 AM »
My plumber charged me $90 for about 20 minutes of work. Hard to beat that with a CS degree. Also, if you are smart and have your own company you can easily make 120k pa.

That $90 also had to pay for his time getting to/from your house. And if he's not the owner, part (probably the larger part) went back to the business. If he is the owner, then it's covering other business expenses as well. On his end, it definitely was not simply $90 for 20 minutes.

During my 18-month stint as a partner in a s/w dev consulting firm, our going rate was $65/hr with some jobs bid higher than that. Most of the bids included a minimum work clause, meaning that if we solved the problem significantly faster than we estimated, we earned a specific amount, and it was as high as $300/hr in a couple of instances, without any travel time involved. That said, the lean times of getting no work left me actually taking home less than $15/hr on average over the length of the time there.

So...CS people can get a similar/better rate than that, with fewer expenses. But a per job rate for what the company makes in gross is only a small part of the story when evaluating what the ultimate compensation looks like.

hdatontodo

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #22 on: October 08, 2014, 06:09:36 AM »
Computer people can sometimes work from home. I've been able to do that the past few years (toward the end 1/3 of my career). It has been very helpful being able to stand out in front of the house at 8:45am and see my kid off to his bus, and then go inside, put in a load of laundry and then sit down at my computer.

I go outside at 4pm and wait for his bus and then go back to work for another hour.

Not something that can be done if you have to physically be somewhere else.

Roland of Gilead

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #23 on: October 08, 2014, 06:43:00 AM »
My plumber charged me $90 for about 20 minutes of work. Hard to beat that with a CS degree. Also, if you are smart and have your own company you can easily make 120k pa.

Unless your plumber lives right next door to all of his clients, that probably involved at least 20 minutes of driving time plus 5 minutes answering the call and filling out receipts.   Call it closer to $130 an hour if he can get constant jobs.

My software dev wife makes $260k a year, which is about $130 an hour (2000 hours of work plus 25 days paid vacation).

Sounds like they are about a wash.  Pick which one you like.

starguru

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #24 on: October 08, 2014, 07:31:43 AM »
First thing:  Computer Science is only partly (and minimally) about programming  Computer science is about how to solve problems with devices that perform computation, what computation is, what those problems are, and yes, about modern computers and how to program them.  But its not focused on writing code.

I think you are talking about whatever degree you need to become a software engineer, as opposed to a "programmer" or "coder".  The latter are people who throw some jquery on a webpage and think they are full-blown engineers, the former understand to how construct software that is maintainable using design principles to form elegant solutions for the goals they are trying to achieve.

CS degree is one way to become a software engineer, but not the only way. The bests software engineer I ever worked with didn't go to college.  In reality all you need is a computer, a sharp mind, and a lot of dedication.  The best way to learn is to jump right in to get exposure to the technology, and then to surround yourself with people you can learn from to pick up the "engineering" part. 

In my own experience its possible to get to $150/hr as a non-specific (good) software engineer contractor.  Framework inventors can and do charge much higher than that.  I was a contractor and am now full time, working from home.  I wouldn't do anything else. 

jday

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #25 on: October 08, 2014, 07:47:56 AM »
yep, I understand the programmer vs engineer vs architect argument quite well. But I mostly see it as a progression. And if you don't have that big picture, take a step back, and really SEE the problem type of approach your career advancement ends at your highest competency. At the end of the day, it seems like it might be wasted money (maybe not time) to go to college to learn this when there are so many resources to learn it for free. And a good majority of application is only learned once you are on the job.

starguru

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #26 on: October 08, 2014, 07:51:39 AM »
yep, I understand the programmer vs engineer vs architect argument quite well. But I mostly see it as a progression. And if you don't have that big picture, take a step back, and really SEE the problem type of approach your career advancement ends at your highest competency. At the end of the day, it seems like it might be wasted money (maybe not time) to go to college to learn this when there are so many resources to learn it for free. And a good majority of application is only learned once you are on the job.

Exactly. There are so many resources its never been easier.  But just be careful; learning the technology is just the beginning.

The only thing a degree gives you is access to job fairs -- some employers look specifically for degrees.  If you go it your own you need to build a portfolio of work employers can see and use to show your competency. 

Spork

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #27 on: October 08, 2014, 08:49:29 PM »
Another thought on the "programmer" vs "plumber" bit...

Yes, a programmer can work from home.  That is both a blessing and a curse.  He can also be outsourced to "country of cheapest labor."  I've seen it happen more times than I can count on both hands.

Try outsourcing a plumber to India.

starguru

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #28 on: October 08, 2014, 08:51:10 PM »
Another thought on the "programmer" vs "plumber" bit...

Yes, a programmer can work from home.  That is both a blessing and a curse.  He can also be outsourced to "country of cheapest labor."  I've seen it happen more times than I can count on both hands.

Try outsourcing a plumber to India.

Maybe a "programmer" or "coder" but not a software engineer.  The good ones will always have jobs.

Roland of Gilead

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #29 on: October 08, 2014, 09:05:05 PM »
Another thought on the "programmer" vs "plumber" bit...

Yes, a programmer can work from home.  That is both a blessing and a curse.  He can also be outsourced to "country of cheapest labor."  I've seen it happen more times than I can count on both hands.

Try outsourcing a plumber to India.

But a plumber can be replaced with a smart phone app.  (really, soldering a copper pipe is not rocket science...unless of course the pipe is in the cooling system of a rocket)

CabinetGuy

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #30 on: October 09, 2014, 05:48:04 AM »
Another thought on the "programmer" vs "plumber" bit...

Yes, a programmer can work from home.  That is both a blessing and a curse.  He can also be outsourced to "country of cheapest labor."  I've seen it happen more times than I can count on both hands.

Try outsourcing a plumber to India.

But a plumber can be replaced with a smart phone app.  (really, soldering a copper pipe is not rocket science...unless of course the pipe is in the cooling system of a rocket)

Yeah, try to fix this on using your smartphone app at 3 am and your wife is screaming at you because there's wjater everywhere.  Pretty gross exaggeration of how "easy" the trades are.  Pretty sure I could write code by just using a smart phone app too. 

Sorry, I'm biased.  I work in the trades...

Jon


Roland of Gilead

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #31 on: October 09, 2014, 07:09:56 AM »
Yeah, try to fix this on using your smartphone app at 3 am and your wife is screaming at you because there's wjater everywhere.  Pretty gross exaggeration of how "easy" the trades are.  Pretty sure I could write code by just using a smart phone app too. 

Sorry, I'm biased.  I work in the trades...

Jon

That doesn't look like an installation in anyone's home.

Anyway, it was just a comeback to those that think software can be outsourced to India efficiently.   It doesn't work.   My wife's team actually tried to get some small portions of a project done by a team in India and after several months and much time spent back and forth trying to communicate they ended up rewriting the whole section and writing off the India work as a loss.

RichMoose

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #32 on: October 09, 2014, 09:52:33 AM »
But a plumber can be replaced with a smart phone app.  (really, soldering a copper pipe is not rocket science...unless of course the pipe is in the cooling system of a rocket)

True, but there have been plumbing how-to books and guides published since modern day residential plumbing was invented. Yet only a small percentage of the population has ever done their own plumbing (aside from the Red Green style temporary fixes until the real plumber shows up).

BlueMR2

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #33 on: October 09, 2014, 10:31:58 AM »
But a plumber can be replaced with a smart phone app.  (really, soldering a copper pipe is not rocket science...unless of course the pipe is in the cooling system of a rocket)

For the bulk of the population, soldering might as well be rocket science.  :-)  However, having everyone do their own soldering would probably provide a great increase in employment for firefighters...

Spork

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #34 on: October 09, 2014, 10:40:31 AM »
Yeah, try to fix this on using your smartphone app at 3 am and your wife is screaming at you because there's wjater everywhere.  Pretty gross exaggeration of how "easy" the trades are.  Pretty sure I could write code by just using a smart phone app too. 

Sorry, I'm biased.  I work in the trades...

Jon

That doesn't look like an installation in anyone's home.

Anyway, it was just a comeback to those that think software can be outsourced to India efficiently.   It doesn't work.   My wife's team actually tried to get some small portions of a project done by a team in India and after several months and much time spent back and forth trying to communicate they ended up rewriting the whole section and writing off the India work as a loss.

Oh, god no.  It doesn't.  In fact, it can't be outsourced well to some reputable company in your own town.  There is just a disconnect when that happens.  What was once a collaborative relationship between departments becomes some ridiculous negotiation every single time something needs to be done.

I'm biased.  I've been involved (but the lucky one that wasn't outsourced) in more than one of these.   They don't work.  And sadly ... if you think "the good ones will always have jobs" ... that's just not always the case.  I've seen a company of about 120k employees trim down to about 60k with outsourcing and layoffs.  I've seen a whole lot of good software engineers that had to retool and find something different to do.  When the market suddenly has a thousand or more just like you -- it can be difficult.

...but ... that can happen in the trades too.  Housing turndowns have similar outcomes.   I mainly meant the whole "you can't outsource a plumber to India" as food for thought.  It's not a magic bullet.

jday

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Re: Software Developer vs. Building Trade Contractor
« Reply #35 on: October 09, 2014, 06:55:30 PM »
I did get a chuckle out of that plumbing system. Looks like it feeds an apartment complex. And I do agree about the soldering thing. Its not rocket science, but the concept needs to click in someones mind before they can actually do it and do it well.

The more I read these posts the more I think no persons job is safe and its better to be a Renaissance Man (or woman) and be good at a lot of things. Construction goes down, be good enough to get a computer job, get laid off of your computer job, go back to construction. Or do something else doing well.

The important thing is to keep learning, be flexible, and conquer change head on.