I've been a professional software developer for over 15 years. In that time, I've noticed three main reasons why people go into the tech industry. I think all three are very valid, but I want to try to convince you that one reason is better than the others. (Spoiler alert: it's the last one!)
The first and maybe most common reason people get into tech is that it pays well, and has a relatively low barrier to entry compared to other high-paying fields like medicine, law, and finance. Software development pays the highest (often inequitably so), but related disciplines like user experience design, product management, and data science all pay well.
It's completely reasonable that those looking to create better lives for themselves and their families would choose to get into tech for the money. There are many examples of people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are now well-off and have provided for their families thanks to their career in tech.
I'm not talking about being a founder or early employee of a startup — that's more like purchasing a lottery ticket. Even early employees of VC-funded startups make good salaries.
The Big Tech companies all pay handsomely and set the market for compensation. My favorite example of an excellent salary is Netflix: their senior software engineers make around $500,000 per year.
Another reason to get into tech is if you truly enjoy the work. Pursuing a career for the craft is good! "Do what you love", as they say.
I remember being at RubyConf 2010 in New Orleans. The conference hotel was next to a casino and a short walk from the French Quarter. One evening, two colleagues and I set out for an evening around town. Walking through the lobby, I saw many attendees spread out on the comfy couches and armchairs, laptops open, spending their evening hacking on open source projects (like Rails and various Ruby gems). I thought to myself, "Wow, they really love their craft!"
I certainly enjoy building software, and it's gratifying to see my work being used by others successfully. In fact, I think it's the impact of my work that matters most to me. Which brings us to reason #3...
Helping people through tech is a real, honest-to-goodness thing. You can absolutely build a career out of it. I'm not talking about vague notions of "making the world a better place" either. I mean directly helping people who could use it.
Now that COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed and there have been hardships with the official websites set up for scheduling appointments, there are many who have created tools to help get others successfully scheduled. Those are mostly volunteer efforts, but that fact exposes a stark reality: tech workers are needed at all level of government.
Because government, when it functions best, does genuinely help people. It creates a social safety net that catches people who fall into economic hardship. A strong public education system means everyone has equitable access to opportunity. A well-run public health system could save lives when pandemics hit. And today, all that social infrastructure must be supported by solid technology built and delivered by tech workers.
The good news is that getting into tech to help people doesn't negate other reasons like making good money or developing your craft. Today, the field is broadly called civic tech or public interest tech. There's even a job board called the Public Interest Tech Job Board. There are really good jobs on it that will pay well and provide opportunities to advance your craft.
If you're not quite ready to go all in, but still want to donate your experience and skills to good causes, there's the Code for America Brigade Network in the U.S., and the Code for All network worldwide.
So consider getting into tech to really, genuinely help people. I'm thrilled that it's possible to do these days. I hope you are too.