Is there a canonical "What can I do with my programming skills if I'm weary of heads-down coding?" question?

I think that's what the OP is really asking for in this question …

Average career programmer with no passion: try harder or try related IT field?

… and I think such a canonical-form question should exist here on programmers. A very similar question was asked on Workplaced and closed:

What kind of business management fields are available to a programmer who no longer wants to program?

With this comment

Software Engineers should give you job options (other than programmers) such as: Business Analyst/Requirements Engineer, System Architect, Configuration/Build Manager, Project Manager, Test Engineer/Management, etc. Try looking for management jobs in IT, contractor/consultancy firms are big on this. Also, job fairs are a good place to start looking if you're still at the campus.

Based on the FAQ:

A good way to test this is to ask the question, "Would the answer to the question be materially different if a non-programmer answered it?" If no, the question should be closed as off-topic.

Here on Workplace they are asking for programmers to answer the question!

Which is kind of exactly my point. A single, canonical

What can I do with my programming skills if I'm weary of heads-down coding?

Question is, I think, something many programmers (not chefs, lawyers, or firemen) might ask themselves at some point in their lives. Such a question is valuable to, and entirely specific to, programmers.

  • it's concrete. There is data, there are facts:

    • Either having programming skills is something that is typically in the hiring requirements for such positions, or it is not.
    • Either there is a documented record of ex-programmers moving into these positions and being successful, or there is not.
    • Either there are 100k such positions worldwide, or there are none.
  • it applies to "all programmers". The root skill is programming.

  • it has nothing to do with feelings or motivation. It's about skills, specifically programming skill, and how you use it. (Just not in the typical "heads down coding all the time" way.)

I looked around a bit and I couldn't find such a question, but I strongly believe it needs to exist -- at the very least you could close-as-dupe a bunch of soft and questions with something nice and hard and concrete.

Just ask that question. I think a heroic edit would pretty much turn it into a new question anyway. If the new question is phrased so that it's on-topic then clearly it isn't a duplicate. Of course, the answer to the new question is probably a list of related jobs, and if all other close reasons fail it might get closed because it's asking for a list. –  psr Jul 26 '12 at 20:00
I fear that the example you cited is a poor one, since it combines "I hate my job; what should I do" with "how can I use my programming skills to build a career in a position that isn't an actual programmer". I think the former is clearly off topic. The later, however, is a good question, and I believe it is really what you are looking for. –  Beofett Jul 26 '12 at 20:01
@beo I'm not defending that question, I am saying it should be closed as a duplicate of the canonical question I am proposing. Alternately, it could be edited into the canonical form by removing the "passion" part. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 26 '12 at 20:03
I could've sworn I've seen a question like what you're looking for here, but even browsing the historically locked questions the closest I've found is this one. Have you searched on the deleted questions? We might've deleted one as part of the ongoing cleanups. –  user8 Jul 26 '12 at 20:38
@Jeff I know. I just think that by including that question as an example, it may create some confusion, and distract from what you're really after. –  Beofett Jul 26 '12 at 20:57
Agree with Beofett - as the question is currently written it is not the canonical answer you want to point to. –  psr Jul 26 '12 at 21:10

5 Answers 5

There isn't, as of yet, any consensus on the existence of canonical questions (although some successful attempts have been executed on Stack Overflow), nor is there adequate system support for them (although the insta-answer checkbox is a step in the right direction).

The fact of the matter is, the question you linked is a broken window (being specifically off-topic as a career-advice question), and the fine distinction that is being applied here (namely, that it applies specifically to programmers by virtue of the bolded sentence at the end of the question body) is going to be difficult to explain to others who wish to post their "I'm bored, what's my next career move" questions.

Creating canonical questions so that other, off-topic questions can be closed as duplicates is a contradiction; the canonical question is almost certainly either going to be too general to be of any use to the OP in the specific, or too specific to apply to all duplicate instances.

A canonical SINGLE "I'm a programmer, what other related fields value my skills in a concrete way that can get me hired?" question and answer pair would absolutely be useful. I have a hard time producing that list, but it's interesting to me, and I think collaboratively we could produce a pretty amazing version of it that would be helpful to other programmers, who are thinking maybe coding isn't their strong suit. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 26 '12 at 20:02
No. A canonical question works on Stack Overflow because "How do I parse HTML with regex" is on-topic there. You can't make a canonical question without first demonstrating on-topicness. It's hitting nails with a screwdriver. –  Robert Harvey Jul 26 '12 at 20:03
So a question about where you can use your programming skills is off topic here? Not sure I agree with that. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 26 '12 at 20:06
@JeffAtwood my understanding is that all career questions are off topic here. –  wax eagle Jul 26 '12 at 20:07
@JeffAtwood How is it constructive? My level of programming skills is different than your's, or anyone else's. I could be (am) the golden god of .NET, and yet how that question applies to will be different than it applies to you or anyone else. There's no practical, reasonably subjective answer to this. –  casperOne Jul 26 '12 at 20:08
@robert "A good way to test this is to ask the question, "Would the answer to the question be materially different if a non-programmer answered it?" If no, the question should be closed as off-topic." Only programmers can really tell you what tightly related fields they've moved into, gotten hired into, or seen their peers move into, where their programming skills have paid off, yes? –  Jeff Atwood Jul 26 '12 at 20:14
Isn't that essentially a poll? –  Robert Harvey Jul 26 '12 at 20:16
@casper there absolutely is. Look in the job listing. Does it say "Perl experience"? Ask your programming peers. Have they been hired into those jobs based on their programming background. Look at the stats: how many ex-programmers work in that field? For say, "fry cook", the data may show very few. For "Project Manager", the data might show a lot. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 26 '12 at 20:16
@robert no; see "Either having programming skills is something that is typically in the hiring requirements for such positions, or it is not. Either there is a documented record of ex-programmers moving into these positions and being successful, or there is not." –  Jeff Atwood Jul 26 '12 at 20:17
Well, your answer is the only good one, based on your own personal interpretation of the question. The rest of the answers suck, and I made that evident in the flag I cast on the question asking for it to be closed again. –  Robert Harvey Jul 26 '12 at 20:19
@robert Once you discard the (obviously) useless "how do I get the passion?" part, the only rational question left is "what can I do with my programming skills if I'm weary of heads-down coding?" Which is, I think, something many programmers (not chefs, lawyers, or firemen) might ask themselves at some point in their lives. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 26 '12 at 20:22
Perhaps. But you still have to figure out how to edit the question without running afoul of the career-development restriction in the FAQ. –  Robert Harvey Jul 26 '12 at 20:23
also as Rachel pointed out, the dupe of this question got closed on Workplace. Because, y'know, it is too specific to programmers!… –  Jeff Atwood Jul 26 '12 at 20:24
@JeffAtwood… seems to indicate there were other reasons (related to question quality) for the closing –  wax eagle Jul 26 '12 at 20:26
@waxeagle That is correct. However, Workplace does make a distinction between workplace functions and workplace issues. I think we would close a question like Jeff mentions as too specific to programmers (and other questions as too specific to chefs, lawyers, and firemen). –  jcmeloni Jul 27 '12 at 13:33

I don't think that there can be such a canonical question - the answer is always going to be either so general it doesn't help anyone ("go into project management") or so specific it doesn't help anyone ("my cousin Vinny got a job as a lawyer").

We can't give advice because we don't really know what motivates the OP or what's the underlying reason he wants to move on to something else. With that level of detail the question is truly too localized as any answers will only be of use to the OP and no one else.

Another possible outcome is a list of anecdotes about what worked for the answerers. This leaves the OP no better off as they now still have to choose which one to pick.

Ultimately the answer to the question:

What can I do with my programming skills if I'm weary of heads-down coding?


Anything and everything.

Which, I think you'd agree isn't an answer at all.

Surely statistical information about what professions former programmers have gone into exists in the world. As well as information about what hiring managers are looking for to fill various positions, and if that includes programming experience. So it could be answered in principle. It's not as though we are hoping that someday science will advance far enough to address career questions. –  psr Jul 26 '12 at 23:17
@psr - True - but again, saying that 68% of programmers move on to profession X, 23% move on to Y and the rest simply fade away still isn't going to help the OP decide what to do with his career. –  ChrisF Jul 27 '12 at 7:26
@chris that is not the purpose of the question. I don't care what the OP's intent was, I care about building permanent reusable fact-based answers. This is the only rational form of help they can hope to get, and it would be very useful since it'd be backed by actual data. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 30 '12 at 7:29

One of the very reasons that I committed to the Workplace proposal on Area51 was because I strongly believed that such questions needed to exist, but just not on Programmers where I feel that these kinds of questions don't fit.

In reality Programmers is actually about Software Development in general or IMHO anything that is involved in the process of turning a concept into working software without being muddied in implementation details. This of course could be a general question about language features, a question about an algorithm, or even how to properly manage and navigate the SDLC.

In its current form and title the question is purely asking for career advice, which is explicitly off topic per the FAQ

and it is not about… career advice, including general workplace issues

Quoted from Mark Trapp...

A good way to test this is to ask the question, "Would the answer to the question be materially different if a non-programmer answered it?" If no, the question should be closed as off-topic.

The question as currently worded would not be materially different if a quality assurance tester were to have written it. This is evident in some of the answers...

You need to find what you DO have a passion for. Only you can figure that out. But getting better at a job you hate does not seem like a good deal to me.

This is the highest voted answer thus far, and it applies to underwater welders as well.

I suppose if you could extrapolate or edit the answer to be more along the lines of:

What common skills are shared between programmers and other IT fields


How can I use my programming skills in ways that aren't heads-down coding all day?

That might be better, but only if it still applies to an actual problem that the person asking the question faces.

also this doesn't really fit on "workplace" because it is truly specific to programmers, someone who has skill as a programmer and writes code for a living. That is the skill that we're talking about very specifically. I'd be uncomfortable asking this on workplace because any answers would only apply to someone in a very specific field: a programmer. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 26 '12 at 20:10
A form of this question was already asked on the workplace, and it got closed as off-topic. What kind of business management fields are available to a programmer who no longer wants to program? –  Rachel Jul 26 '12 at 20:19
@Robert I read it as "which jobs exist?" in terms of the skills you have, and can practically use to get and keep those jobs. Again: look at the data. How many positions like that even exist; is it common or rarer than a purple unicorn? How many programmers made the transition? Do the requirements list programming skills? –  Jeff Atwood Jul 26 '12 at 20:33
I agree with Jeff here: the question described here would be materially different for programmers than non-programmers. Whether it'd be any good is a different story. The prohibition on career advice in the FAQ is/was intended to be a fence around the law, because 95% of the career advice questions were like "help my boss is mean" or "what should I learn: C++ or Java?" –  user8 Jul 26 '12 at 20:41
@MarkTrapp: If you are going to allow some career questions, then you need to come up with a litmus test that is clear, unambiguous, and easily understandable to newcomers. –  Robert Harvey Jul 26 '12 at 20:42
@RobertHarvey it's a category of question that hasn't been constructive. "Which jobs are there given these qualifications" is basically a different form of that question. I really don't want to open the doors for [field-recommendation] or [identify-this-job] personally –  Ben Brocka Jul 26 '12 at 20:42
@BenBrocka: I'm inclined to agree. Your statement could apply equally well here on Programmers. –  Robert Harvey Jul 26 '12 at 20:43
@RobertHarvey No, you don't: that's what community moderation/the rest of the SE quality standards are for. SE is intentionally messy. If you follow the advice in the FAQ, you should be fairly safe, but it doesn't mean there aren't exceptions when a question is of a high enough quality. –  user8 Jul 26 '12 at 20:44
@MarkTrapp: Is the policy clear enough that I can understand it? We're threading a pretty fine needle here. You create a lot of discord when you assert a policy of "I know it when I see it," and a lot of work to sift through the 95% chaff to find the 5% wheat. –  Robert Harvey Jul 26 '12 at 20:45
@RobertHarvey Except that's not what this is. It's about recognizing SE's mission, which is to create a repository of quality content. The vast majority of typical career advice questions are awful, and correctly closed as off-topic: the FAQ isn't misleading on that. But if there's a question that superficially resembles a career advice question but manages to meet all the other quality guidelines and attracts high quality answers, saying "nope career advice is off-topic" is tone-deaf because heck all questions here could be construed as career advice if one wants to be pedantic about it. –  user8 Jul 26 '12 at 20:51
@MarkTrapp: What you propose is very expensive; you have to explain yourself every time you allow one of these questions, and explain it again when someone else asks a similar question because they saw the one you allowed, but you didn't allow theirs to be asked. It's much easier to just categorically disallow all of them, especially if, at the end of the day, we're just discussing a single canonical question (one ring to rule them all). –  Robert Harvey Jul 26 '12 at 21:00
@RobertHarvey High-quality career-advice-esque questions survive and thrive on Programmers. Good "career advice" questions are indistinguishable from any other question Programmers gets. Saying any question that could be construed as career advice is categorically off-topic would mean the vast majority of questions on Programmers would also be off-topic. We put the line in the FAQ to prevent people from asking "Tell me what to do" questions, not to ban every question possibly related to the Programming career path. –  user8 Jul 26 '12 at 21:05
@RobertHarvey I'm not saying the question would do well, or that it wouldn't fall into the same traps as the "tell me what to do" questions (the Workplace.SE example certainly seems to), but given how little effect that line has had on preventing or quashing the types of "career advice"-like questions we do want here, I fail to see how it's suddenly a problem now or why a high-quality version of the question Jeff describes would be automatically off-topic. –  user8 Jul 26 '12 at 21:08
No. This one. If it's on-topic, it's on-topic, and all this discussion is moot. I would have to reevaluate what the phrase "career advice" in the FAQ means, however. –  Robert Harvey Jul 26 '12 at 21:12
@RobertHarvey As it is now, with the answers it's received, yeah, I'd say in my estimation, that's on-topic. –  user8 Jul 26 '12 at 21:13

The other posts have brought up the "career advice, including general workplace issues" as a reason to disallow them. However, I'm going to go the other route and say that even if we didn't highlight career advice questions as being disallowed, nothing in the list of what is considered an allowed question covers career advice questions.

The FAQ clearly defines Programmers as a site for "conceptual questions about software development". Career development has absolutely nothing to do with the art, science, engineering, or craftsmanship of software development and falls outside of the scope of Programmers. Then, the FAQ goes on to define more specific examples of what is on topic - algorithms and data structures, design patterns, developer testing, development methodologies, business concerns, quality assurance, software architecture, software engineering, and software licensing. Looking at this more specific list of allowable topics, I don't see how career advice falls into any of those categories.

Now, even if such career development question were on-topic, most would probably be too localized to the individual's particular situation. There's no canonical answers to any career questions, since the right thing to do depends not only on the individual's knowledge and education (which can be shared among other people), but also their personality and other personality-related attributes (which are unique to the individual asking the question). If you were to generalize a question to the point where knowledge, experience, and personality are not important, you have a not-constructive list question.

Career advice is a business concern. Saying we answer questions on how to make money through programming but only if you own the business is really arbitrary. –  psr Jul 27 '12 at 19:39
Excellent answser. Couldn't agree more that the end result would be "a not-constructive list question". –  Walter Jul 27 '12 at 19:41
@psr The way I understand "business concerns" is that is covers the aspects of software projects that have an impact on the business. The emphasis is on the project and project team. An individual's career path is not a business concern. –  Thomas Owens Jul 27 '12 at 19:44
I don't buy the too localized about career questions either. Anytime you are dealing with a specific problem a specific person is having, it's localized to that person. But aspects of it are not. This is as true of career questions as it is of design questions, business concerns, and architecture, at least. Jeff's answer is clearly not localized to one person. I admit most career questions we get are both too localized and unanswerable. But neither is true of Jeff's canonical version of the question being discussed. –  psr Jul 27 '12 at 19:46
So, would a question be on topic if it asked "When managing software projects, what other career paths will developers be likely to be effective in if they are no longer interested in software development but wish to stay with our organization and we wish to keep them?" –  psr Jul 27 '12 at 20:06
@psr Career questions are people questions. People questions are not software development questions. Therefore, career questions are off-topic. The closest allowable questions to people questions are those that relate to working within or managing a software project team because, ultimately, they are about how you go about shipping a product. –  Thomas Owens Jul 27 '12 at 20:08
@psr No, that question would be both off-topic and not constructive. It is off-topic because it applies to organizational structure outside of a software project and not constructive since it would generate a list. –  Thomas Owens Jul 27 '12 at 20:09
"People questions are not software development questions." Shame on you. Go read Peopleware 5 times :) –  psr Jul 27 '12 at 20:10
@psr I've read Peopleware more than 5 times. Honestly, most of the topics discussed would be off-topic here on Programmers since they apply equally to other knowledge working disciplines. I've actually applied topics from Peopleware to a systems engineering team that included mechanical and electrical along with software engineers. There's a distinct difference between a question about people and a question about a software project or a software project team. –  Thomas Owens Jul 27 '12 at 20:12
I think you have a consistent definition in your head about what programming is, but that it is far enough from somebody coming to the site would expect that it is unreasonable to expect people to stay on what you consider topic. Nor is it a definition that is as useful as possible for addressing questions about programming or programers. If a question, like Jeff's, is a question that adds value to the site and is something a programmer unfamiliar with stack exchange would call about programming, then if the system won't accept it the problem lies with the system. –  psr Jul 27 '12 at 20:22

...this question …

… and I think such a canonical-form question should exist here on programmers...

To reopen / rewrite above question and to have its answers converge into useful canon instead of diverging into garbage bits of unrelated advice, consider passing it through an Atwood's transform 1.

  • What traits to look for in "outside" career fields in order to leverage programming experience - stuff like that.

You need something, some wording to effectively repel 2 answers like "oh our company has a BA/QA/PM position opened, question is 10 years old, are you still interested in a new career?"

You need wording that would allow connecting different answers into some larger picture that makes sense.

  • Question wording would ideally allow reader to connect advice like "go QA", "go BA", "assess your current skill set", "decide between fields involving some minor coding, or dealing with programmers, or dealing with software product / process" - to build something bigger on it, instead of leaving it lay as an unsorted heap of minor ideas.

1 Atwood's transform - here is a recent example for the reference: a question at Workplace, revisions 3 through 5.

2 repel garbage answers - one sure can not 100% protect a question from getting garbage answers. But at least try to phrase the question so that you can come to Meta, say "Here's the question, here's the answer, I don't feel like the answer is OK" and have a good chance of garbage being downvoted by active community members who happen to read your post. Fair enough?


Incidentally, I've found an older question at Workplace that sounds pretty close to what I would expect of "canonical" question of this kind:

  • Possible career transitions for a seasoned software developer?

    I have been a software developer for 11 years...

    ...I am thinking of making a career change - ideally moving somewhere my technical skills would still be beneficial in some shape or form...

    What are the steps I can take to figure out what I really like and what can make an interesting career going further?

+1 for citing Atwood's Transform on an Atwood question –  GlenH7 Jul 30 '12 at 19:48

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