The 2025 Programmer Has Just One Option

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The 2025 Programmer Has Just One Option

Stop chasing companies. Build ones.

The 2025 Programmer Has Just One Option
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

I have 20 years of experience in software. Through out this time:

  • I got offers that surpassed my last job by 80–120%
  • I got bored, left my cushy job, and went completely freelance
  • I went broke, taught on Udemy, went even more broke to re-enter the job market
  • With the sheer strength of my technical expertise, I immigrated to Nordics — the true tech leaders of the world today.
  • I got fired, again and again, to spend the longest unemployment time period in anxiety, rejection and upheaval

Those times were difficult. Quite frequently, I kept asking myself: If I got the 3 most recent years back, what would I do differently?

The discovery of time machine is still a century away. The only thing we can do is build our future.

Let’s project the next 3 years in the programming career.

Software is an industry overly dependent on human capital. But the big ticket organisations (FAAMG or FAANG and their league: Uber, Salesforce, Oracle etc.) have all their glitz and glamor thanks to their strong backing of stock market.

It is quite apparent that programmers’ valuations inside those companies are liquidating.

Don’t get me wrong: They were all once strong companies. They were developer-driven, too, at different times. But after a certain inflexion point, that changed.

In any successful company, there always comes a point at which war between 2 forces become visible:

  • Founder-powered core-competence-&-values mindset (here, by value, I mean the value founder envisioned in trying to solve a problem, not the absolute do-no-evil ethical value)
  • Investor-driven profit mindset (again, no reason to demonise profits, too)

Diversity and size of workforce also have their roles to play. Regardless, if those on the money side manage to unite, they have better odds at winning this war. If not, at least they manage to prevail.

Big organisations fail to listen to high-competence value-driven people who can instil meaning into company’s products

As a result, big organisations care for their employees, but mostly with checkbox benefits. They fail to listen to high-competence value-driven people who can instil meaning into company’s products. This eventually cools off the engine that drives profitability in a sustainable manner.

All is good until the time is right. COVID firstly served as a boon to these companies due to sudden global shift to online mode. But when the projections skyrocketed in anticipation of an organic post-COVID demand, the tech quarterly results began to fall flat.

When the world was just about reopen, instead of rising demands, supply chain issues and war situation resurrected the inflation monster. The billionaire investors began to clutch their funds. Instead of redeeming their post-COVID sell-off returns, they ended up holding onto them still more.

What they will do? Ask questions to the CEOs and founders running the show. Question how much running capital is truly justified to return the insane profits they hoped for.

And what is the biggest source of running capital to software companies?

Programmers.

Investors are going to advise and demand laying off people. If not, at least stop hiring them. If not, reduce the hiring.

The days of no-college-goers getting into FAAMG with LeetCode + GitHub might be over

If they don’t say it directly, founders hear it anyway, because they want to hold onto the last shred of the shrug that is getting from under their feet.

It could get worse for FAAMG and other companies in their league. In fact, it is already worse.

  • Netflix has laid off 150 engineers already
  • Facebook, already hit by Apple in privacy and getting hot competition from TikTok, has frozen its hiring
  • Being an advertising company that is too dependent on user data, Google might not be threatened by a platform. Yet, the ad-conversion revenue, its main revenue stream, may no longer remain the same in post-COVID world. User growth is saturated. Growth via conversion is subject A/B testing success. In times of inflation, if Netflix is something households cancel to save money, mindless campaigns are something companies are going to put tight control over. For Google, this would mean that the tap might not be shut off, but would simply leak instead of flowing water.
  • Apple is already hurt by global chip shortage and supply chain issues. Its flagship product iPhone has grown too stagnate. It has managed to maintain its profit mill with strong supply chain management with China, but it may no longer be the same past an already ongoing globally-hurtful war.
  • Amazon, the world’s biggest online retailer and cloud service provider, has it better. It may not have a future as bleak as others in the league, but it doesn’t mean it is insured from saturation. AWS is already struggling with talent retention, and the problem could spiral into a company split (Amazon & AWS), or a complete downfall.
  • That leaves Microsoft, a company with diversified shots at the future: OS, Enterprise productivity, XBox et al, Cloud. The Windows OS is struggling to claim its 90s position, and is losing it out to Apple for poor performing hardware — something that MS has never owned. Currently, the MS machine is running at full capacity, but it is far from futuristic. In AI, GPT-3 some ripples across the industry, but it doesn’t seem to be quite promising to turn into an immediate cash-cow. Worse, with its mediocre NLP, companies could combine it with mediocre human authors, to produce stock-pieces, and spoil writers’ market. Recently, it announced to boost its retainer budgets, redirecting them from fresh recruitment. It means that older meritorious staff would get much better pay, and new recruitment would have less romantic cash flow. It’s a good thing for the industry, yet not much helping as long as new hires are concerned.

The story might be more or less the same in all big tech companies. As a result, FAAMG+ hiring, if not halted, will be much less compared to the previous decade.

The days of no-college-goers getting into FAAMG with LeetCode and GitHub might be over — only Stanford and MIT would receive HR impressions at their CVs.

Most startup fail, or struggle financially. When this happens, programmers get fired — that’s the universal truth even when there is no pandemic, recession or inflation.

In the coming years, things for startups will get worse, too, for reasons similar to FAAMG: Investor-led nooks would tighten around recruitment budgets.

Investors will want to make their wrongs (committed with big tech) right by micromanaging their SME startup investments.

An average investor provides his funding to a startup expecting 10x returns under 10 years. Waters grow deep every time balance sheets turn red — much more in the times of inflation.

Most startups are led by mediocre leaders with above-average presentation skills just enough to pitch for more millions, and keep the wheels running

When revenues aren’t handsome, anyone can raise more. But it takes leaders of steel to maintain the culture that a motivates and retains talent.

And that happens quite rarely. This is where executive greed gives in.

What’s the outcome?

  • Mindless cost-cutting measures are adopted
  • Policies that have zero impact on customer delight or profits gets implemented
  • Competent people are driven out by malicious bosses
  • Losses cause hundreds of layoffs while founders & shareholders enjoy sold-off assets

Most startups are led by mediocre leaders with above-average presentation skills just enough to pitch for more millions, and keep the wheels running. It doesn’t matter if they have to churn their 100% staff in the process, and recruit from zero.

The “You can learn a lot in a startup” is a fallacy propagated by tech leads wanting a loyal jack of all to blame

In rarer cases when leadership is earnest, other factors can screw up a programmer’s fate, and this fact has nothing to do with current state of the world economy. Those other factors include an out of the world tech stack and/or limited resources. If a programmer wants to quit it for better options after 2 years, he is unemployable due to outdated skillset or unclear job experience.

The You can learn a lot in a startup is often a fallacy propagated by tech leads who want a loyal jack of all to blame for their own failures.

That leaves only option 3 for an aspiring programmer of 2025.

In fact, the choice has never been clearer.

The great resignation movement that occurred right at the cusp of the pandemic has outlined the fact that programmer hiring is up for disruption.

Programmers want much more from their jobs. They are tired hopping from one company to another, citing “growth” as their ambition, often getting teared up with culture shocks.

The biggest regret is not never having failed, but never having tried

21st century programmers are fed up with the old age idea of job security, which is obsolete anyway in the greedy hire and fire culture.

The only way to get it in a free market is to:

  • Go on your own. Set up a shop, and ship.
  • Build an awesome product with an international appeal, followed by an even more awesome community.
  • Just give 10 years of your life to it. Build just one thing, and market it like hell. If you fail, repeat with another idea. The biggest regret is not never having failed, but never having tried.
  • If needed, spawn multiple ventures to pay yourself a generous pension. Your employers would no longer do it.

In my 2019 story around similar premise, I advocated getting investor money, if needed. However, in the current predicament, I wouldn’t strongly root for it. Fundraising is complex. It diverts too much of your energy with little returns, at least in the present scenario. Despite bad lessons from billion dollar failures or dollar-guzzling behemoths (WeWork, Uber), investors haven’t matured.

No matter how much stats one presents, when one evaluates the volume being thrown in tech, VC ecosystem still rewards fake it till you make it kind of founders. Profitability doesn’t matter. Ethical practices don’t matter. Sustainability makes little point, but it is still waiting for prime.

So go solo. Bootstrap. See how far you can go. Then make some noise on ProductHunt + LinkedIn, without buying yourself a grey tuxedo for that dinner with angel investor.

Bargain from the vantage point. Make your work the driving force for money, not the other way around.

Because in the end, that’s how it works.

Go to Publisher:

Entrepreneur's Handbook – Medium


Author: Pen Magnet