Pro Developer - This is Business


I've been paying the rent as a professional software developer since the 80s. I've also worked both full time and part time as a musician for longer than that. In my travels, I've come to recognize a great many similarities between programmers and musicians. Both have the fire, passion and soul of the artist. And all too often, both are incredibly naïve when it comes to the business end of things. Business - you know, that aspect of your work where they actually pay you at the end of the day?

Whether you're up all night banging away at the next Killer App or you're cranking up the guitar in a smoky bar full of black leather jackets, chances are good that money isn't really what you're concentrating on. However, contrary to popular belief, that doesn't make you noble. At the end of the month, no matter how compelling your art may be, your landlord is only interested in cold, hard currency. It's just the way the world works. If you don't take the business aspect of your career every bit as seriously as you take your art, you're going to end up hungry. And just for the record, I've also done the starving artist routine. Trust me, it's not nearly as romantic as it looks in the movies. Give me a fat bank account and a two inch steak any day of the week. My art's much better when I'm not distracted by the constant rumblings of an empty stomach.

Programmers by and large fare much better than their guitar playing brethren when payday rolls around. Even in the midst of the occasional economic slumps that the tech industry has weathered over the past few decades, a low paying coding job beats the heck out of a high paying bar gig. Nonetheless, all things are relative. If you make a living as a programmer, then you need computers, software, development tools, research books, and probably an extremely robust espresso machine. Spare change to tip your local pizza delivery person is also a good idea if you want to ensure that your pepperoni delight arrives while the cheese is still melted. All of this requires money. The difference between a hobbyist and a professional is that the professional lives off of that money. My best friend taught me that when I was but a fledgling, wannabe garage band musician, working for free. Believe me, getting paid is better.

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Christopher Duncan Christopher Duncan is President of Show Programming of Atlanta, Inc. and author of both the monthly syndicated column Pro Developer and the recent book for Apress, The Career Programmer: Guerilla T...


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“Computer science education cannot make anybody an expert programmer any more than studying brushes and pigment can make somebody an expert painter” - Eric Raymond