The media has taken a shine to software engineering. They take every opportunity to glorify it in movies and TV shows. But we don’t often consider if software engineering is stressful and the impact a career has on developers.
Overall, Software engineering is not a stressful career. It provides a stable and well-paid career in an industry that is set to expand by 22% by 2030. Software engineering offers a varied and challenging workload in a field with a lot of jobs. It puts the workers in the driving seat of their careers.
Software engineering is fun and perfect for those who enjoy learning. However, no job is perfect and programming is no exception. Like any career, it has a few downsides which can make it stressful.
Let’s explore the ways in which software engineering can be stressful and look at whether it’s a deal-breaker for a career in coding.
Is being a software engineer stressful?
Being a software engineer is not overly stressful but you do have to be able to quickly problem solve. Incidents and issues often pop up that need to be resolved quickly, and this can be demanding if you aren’t used to that environment.
If the issue crops up in a production environment, finding the cause of the issue and getting it fixed can be stressful. Outside of incidents, the daily stresses of a software developer will depend on what industry your company operates in. Customer-focused businesses that build things for outside clients often have stricter deadlines which can be stressful when things are due.
On the other hand, product-focused companies tend to remove a lot of the stress from being a software engineer. They often have longer roadmaps and can plan longer term which means staff resourcing is better, so workloads are smaller.
Overall though, software engineers work with a lot of autonomy and their teams tend to be incredibly flexible. They get paid well and work hours that mold around their schedule which is great for lowering stress. A software engineer is generally a great career.
How stressful is software engineering?
Software engineering is not that stressful. It offers an average salary of nearly $100,000 a and steady career in a fast-growing industry. Deadlines and bugs in your code can be frustrating but it’s a small price to pay for what is otherwise an awesome job.
Let’s break down various elements of what can make a job stressful and see how software development compares in each of these areas.
Salary is an enormous factor in determining how stressful a job can seem. Underpaid work is more likely to increase stress levels. Knowing you have enough to pay the bills at the end of the month is a huge confidence booster and helps you relax.
The typical salary for a full-time employee in the U.S. is $71,456. A full-time software engineer can expect to earn $97,745 on average, over $25,000 more than the national average.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a developer who isn’t appreciative of the big salary they earn and this goes a long way to reducing work-related stress. Having enough to cover the essentials means you don’t have to focus on money and can enjoy your job more.
If the downturns of the past twenty years have taught us anything it’s that having a recession-proof carer is crucial. Knowing your job is going to be around, even in tough times is a massive weight off your shoulders.
Not only is the demand for developers at an all-time high, but there is also a massive shortage in the industry. It means there are far more IT jobs than people able to fill the vacancies. It gives workers the power to shop around for the best jobs and forces companies to provide better offerings.
The use of technology is set to increase even further over the next decade. Industries like healthcare haven’t been revolutionized by technology yet. There is still ample room for innovation like in the transport and finance industries.
It means that software engineers rarely have to face the stress of worrying about whether their job and career are going to exist in five years. It may seem trivial but it’s not. Self-driving cars are already making large numbers of truck drivers nervous about their futures. Software development has no pressure like this from outside forces.
Being unhappy at work can lead to enormous stress outside the office and have knock-on effects on your personal life. We all spend so much of our time at work that it is more important than ever to enjoy the work we do.
Software engineering can be stressful around deadlines or when a task is particularly challenging. However, the majority of developers are satisfied with their work. You get the autonomy to do things the way you want and get to tackle new and exciting problems a lot.
A lot of software engineers also code as a hobby. There aren’t many jobs that people do for eight hours, then go home and do more of it for fun.
Job satisfaction does increase as salary rises. However, the day-to-day of software development is also what makes it incredibly enjoyable.
Most people work a lot more than their contracted hours. It depends on the culture of the company you are at, and the labor laws in your country, but everyone tends to clock in extra hours.
An increased workload is one of the leading causes of stress in the workplace. Not having enough time to complete our work is demotivating and frustrating. It can even lead to negative health effects if left unchecked.
As a software engineer, your work comes in peaks and troughs. You’ll go through busy periods like when a sprint is drawing to a close. Or when a new product feature is due. But quieter periods of maintenance and small incremental improvements.
Your workload will vary depending on the type of company you work for. If you are in an agile team, expectations and tasks are drawn up every two weeks so your workload is well balanced. For agency-based developers, workloads can increase dramatically as due dates close in and things need to be delivered to clients.
Having the ability to manage a workload is an important skill as a developer. If you are unable to do so you may find software engineering demanding.
One of the best things about being a developer is the variation in the workload. You are always going to be working on different tasks and problems. It keeps things exciting and makes the job more enjoyable. A lot of companies also allow you to pick your area of focus and upskill in various niches.
Working long hours can make you feel like you have no spare time and make work more taxing.
The number of hours you will be required to work is going to depend entirely on the company that you work for. Startups tend to have a reputation to demand a lot from their developers. Larger companies have better processes in place to prevent working excessively and burnout.
Most developers work reasonable hours and clock off at the same time every day, give or take 30 minutes. Many choose to work longer because they are halfway through an issue and don’t want to lose their train of thought.
Some industries are more prone to overworking their developers – the gaming industry is a prime culprit. But generally, developers are in demand so get treated well. If you work extra hours you may be paid time in lieu or compensated for it.
Why is being a software developer stressful?
Software engineering can be stressful because there are always things to work on and improve. It can feel like you are fighting fires daily. The developer lifestyle can also lead to stress long-term.
Some of the below are subjective and some developers may find them to be positives rather than things that make them stressed.
Let’s take a look at why being a software developer is difficult and why there is never a dull moment.
Fixing a typical bug is stress-free. The bug is usually found before the product is realized and fixed accordingly. Bugs in production are a different thing entirely. If you develop products used by millions of users, the implications of an issue in production are massive.
It can prevent people from doing their job and lose your company money. Finding and fixing these types of bugs is stressful. It must be done quickly and efficiently to minimize the impact on users. If you work for a B2B provider, your company can be sued if the application is down for too long and breaches the contract.
Plenty of people find bugs to be stressful and apart they don’t enjoy development. While others love the thrill of finding and fixing a mistake as quickly as they can. Depending on the type of person you are, you may love or loath the buzz of resolving these types of bugs.
Deadlines are stressful, particularly if you have external clients and need to deliver them a product by a certain date. When these deadlines roll round you can expect your workload to increase and to finish work later. All of this increases the stress levels of most developers.
Getting things in on time is a crucial part of being a software developer. You will need to get used to deadlines and priorities changing mid-project.
If you can’t handle delivery dates and changing goals, you may find working as a software engineer too much.
Jobs can be stressful for many reasons and loneliness may not be one of the most obvious choices.
If you are someone who enjoys constant interaction with others then software engineering could seem quite taxing. You spend large portions of your working week on your own, figuring out various solutions to different problems. Loneliness has become even more exacerbated by the move to work from home.
People that live alone can end up spending all day by themselves and not interacting with anyone outside of daily standups.
Compared with a job that requires a lot of customer interaction software development can seem lonely.
The role requires you to be a team player but it doesn’t mean you spend a lot of time working with your teammates. Junior developers will benefit from paired coding and training sessions. But as you become more experienced you solve bigger and bigger issues on your own.
Software engineers spend 90% of their day sitting down. There has been a move towards using stand-up desks which is great and they have a range of benefits. But the reality is that coding is a desk job that requires very little movement.
In of itself, this isn’t a nerve-racking part of the job. But it can make blowing off steam quite hard.
Sitting down all day helps stress to accumulate. It’s important to get out and about at lunch and find time to relax after work. Many developers are now remote so you don’t even get the daily commute to unwind and switch off.
As you are going to be sat down all day, I highly recommend a chair that offers good support otherwise it could wreak havoc on your health long-term. Poor posture leads to all sorts of back problems. As does not use an ergonomic keyboard or mice.
If you are someone who gets frustrated easily then you are going to find software engineering incredibly tense. Most of your working life is spent fixing mistakes made earlier in the development process.
Before you can even fix the issue you must debug and find it. It can take hours if not days to track down issues sometimes, so if you don’t enjoy the long game it will be difficult.
Seeing a problem through to the end is rewarding and something you’ll have to do regularly as a developer. However, it can be incredibly difficult to keep motivated when you have been
banging your head against a wall for a few hours and the answer still hasn’t presented itself.
You’ll need to be persistent and happy to apply problem-solving skills over a long period.
Are tech jobs stressful?
Tech jobs are not more stressful than your average office job. The high salaries, excellent benefits, and job security make tech jobs less stressful because you don’t have to worry about these extra factors. The opportunities for career advancement mean that software engineering is also fulfilling.
But remember that every company and job is different. The tech field is incredibly broad and there are a lot of opportunities for a variety of skill sets. It is usually the company culture that dictates how stressful a job will be. Poor management and organizational structure can cause frustrations to build and lead to demotivation.
Programmers who work at startups are renowned for being overworked but this is often a price they pay to be rewarded with equity in the business. The stress of the job can be quite subjective in this sense. Some developers are happy to work longer hours for the promise of a big reward at the end of it. While others aren’t happy working a second over their 40 hours.
Whether you find a tech job stressful or not will depend largely on your values and what makes you tick as a person.
Some people hate speaking in public, others hate working alone. What you find stressful will depend on your previous experiences and your strengths. You need to try and figure out what it is you want out of a tech role and then aim for a company that can provide you with that.
Overall, the benefits of a tech-based role help reduce some other stressful elements that can occur in life. It means that overall it is a fun and rewarding job.
Is web development stressful?
However, web development remains a broad field. You could be putting together HTML templates in one role, and designing single-page apps in another. Some roles are CSS-focused while others require you to have good knowledge of React.
Stress levels are going to vary between different web development jobs. HTML and CSS-based jobs could be perceived to be less stressful than technical roles. However, the levels of stress will depend on where your strengths lie. A lack of knowledge in any area can lead you to become overwhelmed. Just because a job is more technical doesn’t mean it is automatically more demanding.
Overall, web development offers a varied and fulfilling career. It has its stressful moments but is an incredibly satisfying job where you get to express yourself creatively and bring new projects to life. Most of the stress involved in development comes from external forces such as company culture and team management. The same is true in most areas of programming. Putting stuff together and fixing things is the easy part. It’s the administration around that where the difficulties begin.
Software engineering is not a particularly stressful job. It has moments of high demand but offers excellent career prospects, a fantastic salary, and flexibility that other jobs don’t offer. It is also a highly sought-after field where you’ll never have trouble finding work.
Everyone is different and what we perceive as tough varies from person to person. But a lot of the benefits of a career in software development make the stressful periods a little bit more bearable.
Nathan Britten, the founder and editor of Developer Pitstop, is a self-taught software engineer with nearly five years of experience in front-end technologies. Nathan created the site to provide simple, straightforward knowledge to those interested in technology, helping them navigate the industry and better understand their day-to-day roles.