What is the difference between people like Zukerberg, Page and Brin who are programmers and also extraordinarily successful financially, and the other wise great programmer who are not very much financially successful (like most of the employees at facebook and google).

  • 4
    Financially Successful Programmers are essentially Good Businessmen,Hence all the defining qualities of the latter apply.
    – Aditya P
    Mar 20, 2011 at 12:06
  • 3
    Do a google on destiny.
    – Fanatic23
    Mar 20, 2011 at 13:11
  • vision and/or business skills.
    – Rig
    Oct 1, 2012 at 16:56
  • What is the difference between the color brown and windows? These have nothing to do with eachother, some are both, some are one, some are neither, they don't relate. Further, this is really just a discussion topic not a literal question that can be answered, sorry voting to close. Dec 27, 2013 at 19:02

10 Answers 10


Putting aside individual programmers for a second and focusing on "programming" in general (and, say, small companies and startups), this is basically how it goes:

In many, if not most cases, programming skill and technical quality has very little to do with the financial success of a project/product. Good business acumen, marketing, luck, and just being in the right niche at the right time is most often what brings great financial success in programming.

I've worked in companies which were very successful (albeit in a very tight small niche), but the quality of the programming was, to use the technical term, a Holy Mess. Some of them were epic Joel Test failures and pretty much went against every best practice imaginable - but because they were in the right niche at the right time, and made a product that fulfilled the client requirements well enough to sell and not get sued, they were fairly successful little shops at the time. And the founders that started them, well, let's just say they "don't have to worry about money anymore", at least not in typical wage earner terms.

So coming back to individual programmers (eg. Zuckerberg, Page and Brin) - you're seeing a lot of the same things play out. They didn't necessarily produce THAT much that was all that technically difficult or magical from a programming perspective, but they were in the right place at the right time, and had the right business acumen to turn their ideas into money. Think about something like Twitter: There really isn't anything there that any web developer couldn't whip up over a weekend as a basic prototype site (ignoring scaling). But it's not the "technical programming greatness" that turned it into a winner - it was the marketing and ensuing popularity.

In short, the only real path to financial success for a programmer is to be an entrepreneur. Being a corporate codemonkey won't make you rich, though if you have the right skills, and/or rise up to management, you might be close to pulling in a close-to-upper-middle-class income someday.

  • 2
    Tables, "They didn't necessarily produce THAT much that was all that technically difficult or magical from a programming perspective." In the case of Facebook, Twitter, or Hotmail, I'd certainly agree with you. But Page and Brin's PageRank algorithm was a significant piece of pure CS research. Another example would be Rivest, Shamir and Adleman and the RSA public key encryption algorithm. Those guys still needed the business savvy (and luck), but at the core of their success was a significant technical invention. Jul 4, 2011 at 19:10

Right place right time.

Also guts, bone-headed stubborn determination.

And luck.

And good financial sense.

I know many programmers who struggle to tie their shoe laces. And who have not the faintest idea about money in even the simplest sense.

Some people get money and business ["get" as in understand - pretty much instinctively]. Most don't (which is why they work for somebody else for a living.) This applies irrespective of other interests (eg software, brick laying, whatever).


**Nothing - they simply have different priorities.

  • Some choose to expend their time and energy, focusing on the greatest monetary outcome.
  • Others choose to focus on climbing the corporate ladder (being increasingly respected by those in their near vicinity).
  • Others just care about honing their technical skills and don't care about respect and/or money.
  • 4
    disagree. some people just don't have the financial know-how. Mar 20, 2011 at 12:12
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    disagree, climbing the corporate ladder has an inverse affect on respect. Being well respected in a field has nothing to do with the position in the company. Although, if the person isn't even doing development anymore, how can any developer truly respect what they say? Mar 20, 2011 at 12:42
  • 1
    Disagree on the disagree. A coder with great skills is limited by the fact thy can only work so many hours a week. The way they can multiply their effect is to manage a team of coders. They can then use their skills and "vision" to direct those coders. Just because you don't code any more does not mean you should lose any respect.
    – dave
    Mar 20, 2011 at 17:55

They were businessmen. They started companies; those who work at Google et all didn't. Programming wise, I think they are pretty much the same.

  • Mind you, if you got in before Google went IPO, you'd be pretty "financially successful". I suspect that's a large determining factor for why many are looking at Facebook right now as well... Mar 20, 2011 at 9:27
  • +1 for business first coding second when it comes to making money
    – Gary Rowe
    Mar 20, 2011 at 10:00

Most financially successful programmers tried something.

There are huge number of great programmers out there that won't be financially successful only because of fear of trying something.

Working with (it) entrepreneurs almost on a daily basis, I can say fear is what prevent them from doing great things.

Result? Many of those who are the most successful are not the greatest, but the fearless (the ones that are not conscious of what they are doing, I was one of them at my 20s) or those knowing what to do (very rare, usually those that did it once already). So most great programmers prefer to be followers.

Which is perfecly fine as soon as they are happy in life.

We are not born equal and we won't live and die equal.

  • I think it depends on the person. Some folks just want to shut the door and write code. Others was to go out and build companies. There is a place for both. (And you can even be both at different times in your life)
    – Zachary K
    Mar 20, 2011 at 10:57
  • 1
    There are a lot of people that "tried something" but turned out not to be worth billions. Not everyone gets a visit from IBM asking if they can buy your OS.
    – Bo Persson
    Mar 20, 2011 at 12:29
  • @Bo Persson: of course, many of those who try don't succeed. Nothing replace luck and talent. However if you never try, you'll never know if you could make it or not.
    – user2567
    Mar 20, 2011 at 12:50


Some, like myself, abhor profiteering and do not seek significant monetary gain in life - others lust after it.

There's a fair bit of ethics involved.

  • Two downvotes without comments, bad form.
    – Orbling
    Mar 21, 2011 at 6:08

Right ideas at the right time.

Sprinkle that with generous doses of sheer luck, strong branding, some real smart business decisions and a loyal set of developers who'd like to be associated with the brand.

Having said that lets not shy away from the fact that Page, Brin, Zuckerberg et al are extraordinarily good technical minds who wanted to make a difference. And that matters a lot.

  • 1
    The "right time" part is particularly important. You have to capture the market, which means being at the front with the right backing.
    – Orbling
    Mar 20, 2011 at 21:09

It depends what you mean financially successful. Where I live a good programmer would be at the 100k range. Most people would consider that financially successful.

Three levels of financial success:

  1. a good salary
  2. a lifestyle company
  3. a billion of worth company, i.e. big bussiness

What you need most at each level:

  1. being a good programmer
  2. being determined
  3. being able to think outside the box and sense the needs of many people.

At each level you need to have the previous qualities as well. Nevertheless, many more qualities are needed in all three, like networking, talent, positioning, understanding of a variety of matters, ability to learn fast anything.


The ability to sell themselves well for all the products they made.

If you sell yourself cheap, then even being good programmer, no one will pay more for your work.


Well, first a great programmer doesn't mean a lot to me: you can know a lot of things about programming, techniques and whatnot, have a great computer science culture, it's not what will make you type useful code.

What you call a financially good programmer is someone who put his knowledge aside and asked himself what he found out computer could do, and are not still doing. It's not marketting or "inventing a need", it's just using the tools you have to help people who can't program it themselves: you have to imagine yourself without your computer science knowledge.

Often people who are in the software industry but don't know how to code tell that programmers have a great gift that a lot of potential of success.

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