A selfie with Donavan Kealoha and Keala Chock at East Meets West 2020 Before COVID-19 changed the world around us, I participated on a panel during the East Meets West conference (EMW20) in Honolulu. The panel was called, "Indigenous Entrepreneurs – Bringing Cultural Values to Startups." During our time on stage in January, I shared a thesis I've been thinking about lately: Software Engineering is an Honorable Profession.
As a recap, the primary objective of the Paubox Kahikina Scholarship is to encourage Native Hawaiians to pursue careers in computer science and software development. The scholarship is recurring in nature; which means recipients receive $1,000 per year until they graduate (5 year maximum). Today we announced the 2020 Paubox Kahikina Scholarship recipients. As I reflect on the decision-making processes used for recipient selection, I realize there's a lot on my mind about why I chose to prioritize Computer Science majors over other laudable STEM careers. This post is about why I believe software engineering is an honorable profession.
Eric Nakagawa (Software Engineer @ Facebook) Take a few seconds to think about the coolest, most innovative products and brands out there. Do companies like Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Twitch, and Airbnb come to mind? Every one of these companies rely on software engineers to write code to run their platforms. Yes, even Tesla uses millions of lines of code to operate its cars. And yes, these software engineers get paid handsomely to do it (we'll get to that shortly). Everywhere you look, software engineers are writing code to create, support, and disrupt entire industries.
Market demand for software engineers is not a new trend
In 2011, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that coined the term, software is eating the world. In his seminal piece, Marc outlined why he believes software companies are "poised to take over large swathes of the economy." He also recognized the remarkable need for software engineers: "Many people in the U.S. and around the world lack the education and skills required to participate in the great new companies coming out of the software revolution. This is a tragedy since every company I work with is absolutely starved for talent. Qualified software engineers, managers, marketers and salespeople in Silicon Valley can rack up dozens of high-paying, high-upside job offers any time they want..." Now, even nine years later, there still aren't enough software engineers out there. Not by a long shot. I expect this trend of insatiable demand for software engineers to continue sans abatement for the next 20 years.
Speed to marketOlin Lagon (Founder & CTO, Shifted Energy) & George Lee (CS Lecturer, University of Hawaii) Total college debt in America is now estimated to be $1.4 trillion. In fact, the average debt for a bachelor’s degree has climbed to $30,301. With student loan debt spiraling out of control, many young Americans are left asking, "how much should I borrow for college?" According to a recent New York Times article, a good rule of thumb is that a student's total loan debt at graduation should be less than their annual starting salary. For a growing number of medical students however, that ratio gets flipped on its head. For example, here's a snippet from a recent WSJ article: "Some of the highest debt-to-income ratios are found at medical schools, in part because many doctors earn low salaries during residency programs, but also because tuition in that sector has soared in recent years. For example, Georgetown University medical school graduates borrowed a median of $233,128 and earned $56,600." Meanwhile, a 2020 WSJ article found that, "the median base salary for software engineers aged 25 and under with a bachelor’s degree is $94,111." Even in these uncertain times, an undergraduate degree in Computer Science will likely yield a starting salary of $94K or more, right out the gate. When compared to the aforementioned debt load of 30K+ for a bachelor degree, that's more than a 3:1 ratio in your favor. When the concept of "speed to market" is considered, it should be noted that prestigious occupations like attorneys or doctors require considerably more years of education (and debt) beyond an undergraduate degree. When compared upon these professions, generating a near six-figure salary after merely four years of college with a CS degree (and a lot less debt) is certainly an attractive choice.
Wealth GenerationSelfie with Mike Krieger (co-founder of Instagram) As of June 2020, here is a list of the 10 most valuable companies in the world by market capitalization:
- Apple Inc.
- Alphabet Inc. (Google)
- Alibaba Group
- Berkshire Hathaway
- Johnson & Johnson
Of those ten, seven were founded by people with computer science and software engineering backgrounds. In fact, those same seven occupy the top seven spots. From a perspective of generating profound wealth, software engineers outrank:
- Fund managers
- Any other profession you can think of
This is where the world is heading. Don't you want to be a part of it?
ConclusionMothers Day 2007 with Mabel Kahikina Mansfield (Pohina), my tutu. Eight months ago when I started composing this post, I called my mom and asked her: "Mom, what's the best title for this blog post, 'Software Engineering is an Honorable Profession' or 'Software Engineering is a Prestigous Profession?'" Knowing best, she quickly favored the prior. My mom then told me, "Honor is hard to come by in this world." From this Native Hawaiian's perspective, there's nothing wrong with:
- Recognizing trends
- Optimizing for them to make lots of money
- Deploying that money to help your family and loved ones
That sounds like an honorable profession to me.