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I am thinking about a career in software engineering, but before I look for work I wanted to get an idea of what to expect particularly with pressure. This will be my first programming job (so I am looking for entry level), so I am not yet mature as a programmer yet.

My question is what is the pressure like in these jobs? How high can the pressure get?

If your boss gives you an assignment and it's due in two weeks but it takes you 3 will you get fired, because your unable to perform?

Are you given time to learn more about the technology, develop your coding skills and grow, or are you expected to know it already and blaze through the project?

If you have trouble with code are you expected to handle it yourself and work independently, or are you able to ask others for help if you are stuck?

Are you expected to put in a lot of late nights to meet the deadlines?

I know that this can depend on the company as well, but I just wanted some professional insight to the possible pressures of being a software developer/programmer etc. I also know that other jobs have pressure too! I just would like to know the pressure unique to software engineering.

The reason I ask this question is because I had a bad experience programming once and I wanted to know if most of these jobs are the same.

If software engineering/developing/programming is tough pressure that I don't want to handle are there other types of development like web development, system admin, etc that are less pressure that I can get into and still code?

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts.

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closed as not constructive by Mark Trapp Oct 2 '11 at 22:00

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while many might answer something like, "it depends," you can do a google search for 'least stressful jobs'. Any time some entity does this kind of study/poll, software engineer always shows up in the top 5. On a macro level, the best answer: the pressures are minimal. most of us like our jobs. –  jeremy.mooer Jun 15 '11 at 15:00
    
You do realize that software engineering is an accredited degree, right? You don't just start working as an "engineer" without any formal education or training. There might well be companies who are willing and eager to erroneously dole out the title, but in that case, it's also a meaningless title and it's anyone's guess what it really means. –  Aaronaught Jun 15 '11 at 17:37
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What do you think "accredited degree" means? A hint - nothing. –  nbt Jun 15 '11 at 20:21
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Accredited degree, accredited profession, same deal; among other things, it means that you have to demonstrate a basic level of competency and professionalism before you can practice as a professional, and can have your license to practice taken away if you don't continue to demonstrate it. In many jurisdictions the title "engineer" is protected just like "doctor" or "solicitor". –  Aaronaught Jun 15 '11 at 23:58
    
I really wish I could pick more than one correct answer, because I feel I received more than one really good answer. –  Ecurbed Jun 17 '11 at 13:51

8 Answers 8

up vote 49 down vote accepted

Pressure only exists if you allow it.

And this statement is valid for any job or any situation.

Pressure may be perceived as significant in programming profession because many of us share common characteristics such as being introverted or lacking in self-confidence.

If your boss gives you an assignment and it's due in two weeks but it takes you 3 will you get fired, because your unable to perform?

How come HE assign you a task and set how much time YOU must use to achieve it? Remove pressure by estimating your tasks yourself (if you are in the team, use Planning Poker)

Are you given time to learn more about the technology, develop your coding skills and grow, or are you expected to know it already and blaze through the project?

Time to learn is a part of your daily job. You are expected to learn continously. Therefore, learning shouldn't be taken as a pressure.

I always told to myself that learning a new technology is like adding a new tool in my belt.

If you have trouble with code are you expected to handle it yourself and work independently, or are you able to ask others for help if you are stuck?

Being able to ask for help is a skill every developer should have. People struggling (alone) trying to solve a bug are putting pressure on themselve.

Are you expected to put in a lot of late nights to meet the deadlines?

You mean the deadline set by your boss two question before?

In short: learn to say NO.

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Great answer :) –  Alison Jun 15 '11 at 12:31
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Great answer. One thing I would add is the "learn to say No" –  PSU_Kardi Jun 15 '11 at 12:36
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@PSU_Kardi: that's pretty much the message. If you don't mind, I'll reuse your comment in the answer. –  user2567 Jun 15 '11 at 12:37
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Don't mind at all. Once I learned to say "No" instead of "We'll see" or "I'll try" things got a lot easier. –  PSU_Kardi Jun 15 '11 at 12:39
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I knew this was you, just from the title :D –  user1249 Jun 15 '11 at 12:45

In all cases, the answer is - it depends. There are some incredibly high-pressure jobs, like supporting trading desks in an investment bank. If the traders can't trade, they will be screaming for your head, and they may get it. On the other hand, there are places where the developers sit around playing games all day. Typically, you get paid far, far more for working in the first kind of place than you do in the second, so you have to balance monetary gain against the amount of pressure you can handle.

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Every place I have ever worked where I was treated like **** I was also paid like **** too. That is just my experience. –  maple_shaft Jun 15 '11 at 11:52
    
@maple I didn't say you would be badly treated in an IB. –  nbt Jun 15 '11 at 11:54
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+1 It depends is the only possible answer! –  Benjol Jun 15 '11 at 12:49
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I have not found any correlation between the pressure and pay. There is a very tight correlation between the business value of the software and pay, but stems from penalty of failure rather than benefit of success. –  Christopher Bibbs Jun 15 '11 at 13:40
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@Neil We've worked at different companies. :) I've been fortunate to work on a project that was making 900% ROI annually. To say management gave us room to breath is an understatement. –  Christopher Bibbs Jun 15 '11 at 16:46

The only pressure I've personally experienced is the need to abandon quality work (which takes time) and get cracking to meet the deadlines (resulting in low quality code).

Since there is usually never time to fix things, stop for a moment to think what we're doing and make a good cleaning and refactoring of the code it creates a certain psychological burden to continue pulling through in a manner you dislike.

If you love what you're doing and wish to do your best you will have a hard time trying to find a shop which has the right attitude.

If on the other hand you do not care and just want your paycheck it will be easier.

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This is very relevant, because most the time you can do the same job in either 1 week or 1 month depending on how reliable, safe, etc you want the finale code to be. You are often pressured to deliver something fast rather than something very reliable, flexible, scalable, etc. And it is stressful to commit something when you known you haven't tested it enough. –  Xavier T. Jun 15 '11 at 13:03

One of the biggest things I ended up realizing that helped me deal with the anxiety about what to expect getting into this career...

How did you do in school? How did your peers do in school? How would you rate your intelligence level and problem solving abilities compared to your peers? How hard of a worker are you compared to your peers?

Whatever assessment you make to the questions I just asked, lower the bar one more notch, and that is typically the level that MOST people you will ever work with professionally will operate at.

The average IQ is about 100 in the general population and the average work ethic and stress level by most other programmers is generally relaxed. Don't expect that average to be much different no matter what career choice you make.

The point that I am making is that intelligence is important, but it is far less important than strong work ethic, motivation and passion.

If you have those last three things then you will be above average in the field and valuable even if you make a few mistakes and even if you aren't as smart as the other guy. Everybody makes mistakes, any GOOD employer realizes this but what they like to see is that you learned from it and you make efforts to better and improve yourself.

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So who wants to be average? The programmers I know are a pretty driven lot (and with IQs a lot nearer 150 than 100). –  nbt Jun 15 '11 at 12:09
    
An IQ of 150 is truly exceptional representing around 0.2% of the general population. I would be fortunate to work with such exceptional individuals. Programming does train the brain though in mental exercises proven to increase IQ over time. In high school I scored 115 and just a couple years ago I scored 124 and this was on an official monitored test, not one of those fake inflated online tests. The online tests inflate scores by as much as 10 points. –  maple_shaft Jun 15 '11 at 12:18
    
@maple My own IQ, last time it was measured is about 145 (paper test, not online), and in all the places I've worked I've considered my self to be about averagely clever, though perhaps a bit more than averagely sensible. This isn't exceptional in the software industry - programmers are not picked at random from the general population. –  nbt Jun 15 '11 at 12:22
    
I considered myself average for the industry as half the people I worked with were less clever than me though half were more so. You are a C++ programmer where I am a Java/.NET programmer though so maybe that is the distinction? Nearly all C++ programmers I have worked with I felt were smarter than me. –  maple_shaft Jun 15 '11 at 12:46
    
@maple I wouldn't have thought so - I can do Java too, and and many of the Java programmers I've met have been very clever guys. –  nbt Jun 15 '11 at 12:50

If there is never any pressure, you're working at a place that just doesn't care or provides a product or service no one wants. Part of the challenges are the time requirements. When this is the status quo, you're probably working for someone who doesn't know what they're doing or worse what you're doing. Any idiot can just ask for faster turn-arounds. Then you develop a staff that gets in the bad habit of inflating their estimates. It turns into one big game of wasted energy.

Look for:

  1. meaningful work
  2. resources to do the job
  3. respect for your professional opinion

All of these are relative. Some work in the financial sector and may not make a connection between their work and the funding of a research project to cure cancer or allowing people to save for their retirement. During an interview, you are evalutating the company to fit your needs as well. Ask about how they handle late project and why is this position available, what is the employee turn-over rate.

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My question is what is the pressure like in these jobs? How high can the pressure get?

Like many jobs, the pressure will get as high as you allow it or as high as you want it. If you can anticipate that the pressure is headed above your comfort level, there are ways to pre-emptively work to lower it.

If your boss gives you an assignment and it's due in two weeks but it takes you 3 will you get fired, because your unable to perform?

If your boss will fire you for that, you will be better off with a new boss anyway. On the other hand, if you wait until a task is due before warning your boss that it will be 50% late, I could be talked into firing you. As soon as I am fairly certain that I will be late enough to matter, I let my boss know so he can make adjustments to deal with it. The adjustments could be as minor as

Are you given time to learn more about the technology, develop your coding skills and grow, or are you expected to know it already and blaze through the project?

Most new programmers would be shocked to know how low the expectations are of their skills and knowledge. The main time a new hire is expected to know it already is when they have claimed to have directly related experience during their interview.

If you have trouble with code are you expected to handle it yourself and work independently, or are you able to ask others for help if you are stuck?

Both. When possible you are expected to handle it yourself, but everyone runs into situations where they need to talk to others. One of the keys to being a productive programmer is learning the difference.

I constantly tell new programmers on my team that they are expected to ask questions. If they aren't asking enough questions, then they aren't making progress.

Are you expected to put in a lot of late nights to meet the deadlines?

If you have to put in a lot of late nights to meet deadlines, then you are either working for a startup, or you are working for a company with serious planning or management issues.

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This is an excellent answer as well! –  Ecurbed Jun 15 '11 at 19:19

In my experience, the psychological pressure can be very high due to some mistakes that could be avoided.

The hardest part, I think, is to communicate clearly.

  • If your boss gives you an assignment and it's due in two weeks but it takes you 3 will you get fired, because your unable to perform?

If prior to that you've said you can handle it in two weeks, than it's not good. It's your responsibility to estimate how long should it take you to finish your part of work, and to tell it before you start.

Sometimes it's hard to estimate accurately, especially to admit that certain things can take longer than you think. But, although software development is very complex and so could be a bit unpredictable, you can do your best by analyzing your past experience with similar assignments.

This question is closely related to the second:

  • Are you given time to learn more about the technology, develop your coding skills and grow, or are you expected to know it already and blaze through the project?

If you don't know enough about the technology, than, perhaps most importantly, you can't estimate accurately. And sometimes it could be hard to admit (‘of course I can do that, there're lots of node.js tutorials around, I'll surely pick it up in 2 or 3 days so it won't delay anything!’).

On the other hand, it can be hard to remember that by not learning new things you're losing much more than you can gain by earning lots of money (in my opinion). Sometimes it's better to take a few not very urgent or high-priced projects just for the sake of learning new technology, design pattern, etc. In that case, you should make it clear to the management that your estimate may be off.

  • If you have trouble with code are you expected to handle it yourself and work independently, or are you able to ask others for help if you are stuck?

Although it may be tempting to handle it yourself (communication is HARD), you shouldn't do that if the problem could prevent the project to be finished in time.

  • Are you expected to put in a lot of late nights to meet the deadlines?

That depends on the company and is not specific to programming jobs, I think. In short, if you do work late a lot or most of your coworkers do, then you'll probably be expected to, which isn't very good and perhaps is better to be avoided (communication again).

In short, I think that while the possibility of psychological pressure might be higher than in some other, less, I guess, intelligence-oriented professions, clear communication and proper attitude can save you from that. Make it a habit! =)

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I am into software for 5 years now, and yes, there is pressure. But tell me one job where you can work without pressure.

To answer you in short, there will be pressure but it wont be such that it will kill you( and if someone wants you to complete a work in 2 days ,but according to you will take 3 days, just tell politely that you need 3 days for the job.I dont think anyone will mind that).

The reason I am answering your query is that I used t have such fears in my mind too( later i realized that I was my laziness which was making me think so).

Come to software and enjoy.

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