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I have the vague sense that programming now is a more high-status job than it was in previous decades; that it used to be looked upon as more rote, manual work. The sense is that, while today fresh Stanford grads flock to Google, thirty years ago Ivy League graduates were seen as better suited to manage programmers, not do it themselves.

Is this supported by historical evidence? When did the shift happen, if there was one? Did the Web affect things?

(Here I'm not interested in value judgements, or how high-status our profession "should be", just the history.)

closed as primarily opinion-based by mcottle, gnat, amon, Philip Kendall, Pieter B Oct 25 '17 at 7:03

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    In my experience of 30 years, I'd say the opposite. Programmers these days are regarded as fungible pieces to be cost-minimised by outsourcing their role offshore. Back in the day, programming was a rarer skill and therefore more highly paid / valued. For example, the hourly rates in London for my skillset were the same 6 years ago when I last looked as they were 16 years ago when I left... – mcottle Oct 25 '17 at 4:24
  • In my experience of 35+ years, I would say yes. In the US the market for strong developers is the best it's every been. The predictions of the 2011 Forbes article "Developernomics" have come true. – kevin cline Oct 25 '17 at 6:34
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    This is one of the few, if not unique roles where if you're talented in this field, you can do the work of several average workers of the same field. Being a talented programmer is a precious commodity, and unfortunately, in this line of work, there are those that want only the best and those who only care about quantity with little room in between. – Neil Oct 25 '17 at 7:06
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    computer programming was viewed as a tool for other academic uses, ie. scientific computing. 30 years ago i did not see that my coding skills would ever pay for a mortgage, but 20 years ago i was getting paid to create things like POS terminals. today I make enough to support a family, mortgage and car loans. it's still not a "high-status" job, to many it is viewed as "in the trenches" work and always will be. high-performing engineers have no life, this was true then and still true today, and you can still get paid more by becoming a doctor/lawyer just as it was 30 years ago. – Shaun Wilson Oct 25 '17 at 8:00
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In the very long run, i.e. across decades, this is certainly so.

Just remember that programming/computing was originally not considered a separate profession at all. Providing an operating system or systems software was initially something that you did because it was necessary to use the computers you sold, but it wasn't considered a product in itself (this was long before open standards, or indeed standards of any kind, that would have made different options of OS possible). Now OS and application software are products in their own right, and the people who construct them are doing a normal job that has nothing to do with computer building.

In a similar vein, scientific computing used to be done almost entirely by women, because the decision makers of that time considered it little more than mere typing, and typing was what secretaries (then all female) did. Few people are aware of this today because the distribution changed radically in the 60s and 70s. Given mid-century attitudes about gender roles, relegating programming to "women's work" was certainly an expression of disregard.

  • Gender distribution in India concerning programming is almost even, as it doesn't have the same sort of gender bias that exists in other countries. Take from that what you will, but I would argue that it implies that the reasons behind it are almost entirely cultural in nature. – Neil Oct 25 '17 at 6:56
  • there has always been a market for software, the true shift is today billions of humans are interested in such things, 30 years ago nobody was interested beyond academia and government (and those few that fall into the category of "old-school hackers.") great answer, but I'd drop the gender bias.. as someone who has been developing software for a living for almost 30 years i will note i've never witnessed the gender bias mentioned here. on the contrary, my mother was a mainframe programmer when I was born, not a glorified data entry clerk as you're suggesting would have been the case. – Shaun Wilson Oct 25 '17 at 8:07
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    @x4d I'm not saying that! Programming was always as difficult and complex as it is now, but this difficulty was initially not appreciated by decision makers. Giving computing tasks to women was an indicator of low esteem of the task (because society was undoubtedly quite sexist then), which is what the question asked. This is not the same issue as the question of gender bias in computing, e.g. the esteem of men or women. – Kilian Foth Oct 25 '17 at 8:11

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