Doctor says: My job is meaningful because I save lives.
Programmer says: My job is meaningful because I... umm... write DB queries?!

Are you proud of being a programmer? Do you think that your work has positive effect on people's well being?

Or you just happen to do programming because you have bills to pay...

Note: Similar to this question from a few months ago.

+5  A: 

I work (at the moment) in the games industry, so sure! Games are entertainment, and entertainment, almost by definition, makes people happy. W00t!

Heck yeah! And thanks again for allowing me to spend countless hours lost in a game while neglecting my health, kids, wife, and everything else! No, really, I'm freakin hooked on NCAA Football.
+15  A: 

I think that the level of meaning has a great deal to do with what you program. Years ago, I worked writing games for online gambling. I loved the work, but felt terrible about what I was doing because I don't like gambling.

Since then, the software I write tends to save companies millions of dollars. It allows new businesses to succeed where they couldn't before thus creating jobs and indirectly giving people a better standard of living.

So, yes, I am proud of what I do and I think it has a very positive effect on people and society.

Rob Prouse
I recently turned down several interview offers with a company specifically because their product is a gambling website...somehow the recruitment agents couldn't quite get their heads around my rationale.
Richard Ev
+2  A: 

When I worked on 'in-house' apps, i sometimes felt like my work didn't mean a whole lot. that is until the system goes down and try see what the users have to go through to do stuff manually.

but there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing something you 'create' (even partially) in "public".

like unwind said, games are a great example of that.

+70  A: 

All those fancy machines you see in Oncology units that help in detection of cancer:

  • Programmers wrote those
  • Devices that help cops track down criminals - programmers wrote those
  • Sites that publish AMBER alerts and are working to an open specification to share this data, were written by programmers
  • Moving to paperless medical records - a programmer will be involved
  • Listening and interpreting hostile chatter from terrorists for gov't agencies like the CIA, I'm sure there are programmers involved
  • Although your line of work might not be directly involved with saving lives, there are a lot of things programmers do

In fact, how much could a doctor do without the technology some group of engineers or programmers have provided?

Just to clarify, I don't save lives, but I make sure people's monetary transactions are safe online every day :)
ahh.. the silent heroes! :)
"how much could a doctor do without the technology some group of engineers or programmers have provided?" A lot, actually. You have a good list, but don't let your ego get too big.
Robert S.
@Rob - agree, its not, my wife works in Oncology, I have seen the advances made in technology over the years, doctors and technology have a symbiotic relationship.
@Rob S. - Without technology whole fields of medicine would disappear. I'm not taking away from doctors abilities, they are awesome. However, a lot of modern medicine is strongly coupled with technology
@Simucal, I agree. But doctors practiced medicine for thousands of years before programmers entered the picture. I don't deny an important relationship, but doctors can still heal people without computers.
Robert S.
Well that's not the point here. Almost everything could still be done without IT ( in a very unefficient I know ). I think the point here is we as industry provide the innovation layer to all ( almost ) existing professions.
plus, TiVo. Gotta have my stories!
@Out Into Space: Those doctors (that practiced medicine for thousands of years) used to cut off people's limbs because they were infected. The medical profession relies on technology not only to effect treatment, but to discover it. Without tech, expected live spans would still be like 40 years.
P Daddy
Flight Simulators. The better we can train pilots, and the more realistic we can make the sims, the less "accidents" (deaths) there are. Then there's al the software in the actual aircraft themselves...
And doctors can "save" a programmer from dead. Meaning is not the same than value, and certainly not the same than moral. Cause and effect should not be related to Meaning.
I agree somewhat with the "doctors can still help people" argument. They can still help heal people but could they honestly replicate such things as MRI scans by hand? Chemotherapy and things like that are all driven by software if I'm not mistaken. It isn't a "pull lever, receive treatment" system.
Peter C.
If you're writing medical or security code that helps people, then great, but honestly how many here are writing that stuff? Just because programming *can* help people doesn't mean that your latest online store does. If you really want meaning, you find it yourself. It's not just the programming.
Unfortunatelly, doctors would not be able to treat ilnesses on the same level and scale without modern technology. Examples? - Non invasive surgery - Life support machines - Drugs development and manufacture - Statistical analysis of clinical results - and the list goes on...
Just look at places with less developed infrastructure and technology. Doctors are very limited in their options there and usually one of the first things on the agenda is getting morden technology in.
+4  A: 

Well, I make peoples lives easier by providing them with automated tools to do their job.

Lets add some more examles:

Banker says: I pass around non-existant money to people who spend it on stuff they can not afford. Lawyer says: I throw sticks under peoples feet and get paid to take them out again.

mike nvck
+11  A: 

At the moment, I work for a State government. Our department's software is used in various places, including tracking the location of Wildfires for emergency services.

So, you could say, our applications do help save lives.

R. Bemrose
+10  A: 

I work on software that gets airplanes from A to B as efficiently as possible, meaning the airlines save money and the planes burn less fuel. I would consider that to be meaningful enough.

Wow. What programming language do you use for this? Other than programming and technical knowledge, is there any other knowledge required to write software such as this?
Click Upvote
It's a combination of C, C++, C#, Java, Perl, and probably some others I'm not aware of. Of course there is domain knowledge required, just like pretty much any programming job, but most of the developers come in knowing how to program and pick up the aviation-specific stuff as they go. That's the great thing about software, you can work in any domain you want. Pretty much every field requires some sort of specialized software.
+9  A: 

Why does my job have to have meaning? I enjoy what I do, and conveniently it pays the bills. I would say it's more important for your job to be enjoyable for yourself, rather than have 'meaning' in the world.

Tom Ritter
Well, I enjoy, that my job has a meaning! :) I doubt it would be still fun to do, if it was senseless...
Nothing has to have meaning (getting philosophical here), but I'd think it's much easier to approach your work with passion if you feel it has a sense of meaning.
Bernard Dy
+4  A: 

I used to write software for local government. It basically was a workflow like system for the tracking of benefits applications. As you probably know fraud is a massive problem with benefits, and our system helped - meaning there was more money for genuine applications :)

OK, so it's not exactly saving lives, and it probably didn't make a big difference, but still.

Phill Sacre
+2  A: 

I haven't worked on any of the following, but I am proud that other programmers have created it, and in doing so, improved the lives of countless others:

  • Internet protocols - in conjunction with the hardware has enabled unprecedented human communication
  • Wikipedia - unprecedented spread of human knowledge
  • Folding@Home and other medical research run entirely in computers, thereby making certain research faster and reducing the need for human trials
Jason Z
+7  A: 

Yes! I am "proud to be a programmer."

In my career I have worked on systems that have had both direct and indirect positive impacts on the lives of real people.

One system that I designed saved tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. That's a nice impact. Another system I helped design and build made it easier for child welfare workers to do the administrative portion of their jobs, allowing them to spend more time in the field working with at-risk children.

In the private sector, I have designed and built systems that have saved companies money, or time, or both. These kinds of projects have the direct impact of increasing company profits; this allows the company to hire more people, or pay better wages, or increase employee benefits, etc.

But I do not define my life by what I do for a living. I am a Person, created in the Image of God, and put here on this planet to live life to the fullest, and in so doing, to help as many other people as possible along the way.

God has gifted me with abilities as a programmer, and with the ability to enhance my skills with study and hard work. I give back by doing the best job possible for my clients or employers, always keeping the true end in mind, which is to make this world a better place for everyone.

+5  A: 

Our teacher in 3d-graphics used to say that by making 3d-games we develop new technologies that also can be used for visualizing cancer and stuff like that. He even went one step further and said that only by buying games you help saving peoples lives because that will give money to the ones who develop new 3d-technologies that can be used by doctors that saves lives. :P

But I think that all the communication-, entertainment- and infrastructure-applications are more than enough to make me proud to be a coder.

Reminds me of a prof telling the class that AVL trees were originally developed by a company making a chess game because the computer opponent needed to be able to make a choice with guaranteed complexity.
Doing something for your own fun or to enable other people to enjoy life more is worthwhile in its own right. Everybody dies in the end, so enjoy it while it lasts!
Zan Lynx
Actually, the games-driven advances in 3D hardware has had a big impact in the flight simulation industry too. Making high-quality flight simulations more accessable for all pilots is saving lives every day.
+2  A: 

It depends:

  • Do the fruits of your labour benefit your direct customers? Do you reduce the drugery in their lives, or save them money / time / stress?

  • Does your customer's business benefit the world? If you work for a charity that offers humanitarian aid, you should feel bad about yourself. Presumably not so much if you work for the MAFIA.

  • Does your remuneration enable you to meet your personal responsibilities? For example, does it feed, clothe and shelter your family?

If you can't say 'yes' to all the above, I suggest you start looking for another job!

[An old entry on my blog expresses some of these sentiments in a little more depth].

BTW: Don't knock writing queries: not everyone can do it, including most doctors.

+2  A: 

Think of the big picture. If doctor says my job is meaningful because I check blood pressure or I feel people's pulse, it will be roughly equivalent to your writing db queries or creating C# classes.

However doctor save lives and we make lives better. Who have created google search, all world's banking software, all CAD/CAM software, robotics software, and for that matter medial equipment embedded software? Doesn't that mean something?

Varun Mahajan
+1  A: 

Well, you could probably tell that doctor, that your job helps saves lives too, because without software the health system would fall apart.

You name it, we produce software for it!

+92  A: 

If somebody tells you that the job of a bricklayer is to lay bricks on bricks then you will probably not want to be a bricklayer. But what if somebody told you about building a cathedral? It is the same with programming. You need a vision to make it meaningful.

Jonas Kongslund
wow, that was beautiful. seriously.
Bricklaying is more like, say, data entry.Being a programmer requires making lots of important decisions, so it's more like being an architect who also gets to lay the bricks.
This answer is a lot better than the one currently above, in many ways.
Love the answer.
Wow, I feel better about my life... no seriously.
i like it except for the cathedral bit, why is making a cathedral supposed to make your life meaningful?
Click Upvote
I agree, I couldn't imagine a more silly example than a cathedral. How about one of schools, hospitals, housing commission...
Cathedrals are magnificent artworks. Schools, hospitals, and housing commissions do not normally fall into that category. Will a bricklayer really be more proud of building a school? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what makes him proud. What makes you proud as a developer?
Jonas Kongslund
Ahh .. but if the bricklayer could put the passion of a grand cathedral into a school or hospital .. would it make his art any less appealing?
Scott Hoffman
+1  A: 

Find out what you enjoy doing, do that for a living, and adjust your lifestyle to match its income.

It is a paraphrase quote but I cannot remember by who.

Jim C
+4  A: 

I'm a programmer, so I can laugh at jokes about random numbers and binary notation. Who will, if I don't?

+5  A: 

I have to say I'm very proud of what I do for a living.
I kinda feel like writing code is an art form.. To me just getting better at it. Making the code cleaner and cleaner, faster and faster.. Oh man, it gives me shivers.

I've written some very helpful software (for schools) and some less then helpful software. I'm always proud of the beauty of the code (not strickly true, when I look back on the junk I thought was great years ago).

I think taking pride in the effort makes any job great.

My only wish is that the art we create was seen and understood by more. Sometimes I feel like a sidwalk chalk artist after a rain.. It was amazing, but noone will ever see it.

"Sometimes I feel like a sidwalk chalk artist after a rain" - MAN do I ever relate!
Erik Forbes

Society as we know it today wouldn't exist without programmers. Somebody has to invent all that fancy technology (OK, engineers did most of that, not programmers), and write code to make it work (that's definitely us)! So yes, I feel we are a very important profession!

Assuming "As we know it today" is a "good thing."
+3  A: 

I work as a consultant to state governments, helping individual agencies improve their applications to better serve the citizens. (My specialties are enterprise application integration and legacy modernization.) Depending on the agency, my profession can feel meaningful because I'm saving millions of people a lot of money in taxes by making systems more efficient, or because I'm fixing a web application that will ensure disabled people get the assistance they require.

I can't map anything I do 1:1 to anything meaningful. All I can do is hope that my work results in a success for the agency and that success trickles down to the people who need it most.

Robert S.
+2  A: 

Funny that this question would come up. I work for a division of our company, a company that builds war-fighter technology, which helps to prevent accidents, save lives, and promote a work/life balance. Is that even possible? Yep. I work on critical systems which enable those wounded on the job to receive compensation and time off. I also work on the systems which ensure safety compliance in our production facilities and systems which track accidents that almost happened.

Is it meaningful? Well, as a programmed I would say compared to the other work we do it pales in comparison, but to the guy who just had a large metal sheet crush his toe, maybe it is meaningful. :)

Perspective is certainly key in our line of work. If the customer appreciates what you do, then it is meaningful to someone.

Abyss Knight
+2  A: 

Programmers solve puzzles.

We handle things which are too complex for most people to keep straight -- not necessarily too complicated for them to understand, but, complicated enough that they don't want to mess with them. They discover problems to which we can sometimes provide solutions.

Some solutions help people (medical, educational), some hurt people (spam, phishing), some are gray area doing good, bad, and not much all at once (Grand Theft Auto?), some are academic exercises (code for code's sake that may advance theory and might end up in any other solution later).

The thing that makes me proud is that, if I do it right, I'm solving a problem that may never need to be solved again, building a path between a question and an answer that didn't exist (or wasn't available) before. A clean, reusable solution that other programmers can then take for granted as a stepping stone toward their goals. (In practice things must often be redone, but, ideally, not too often and maybe the essence of my solution can survive and all that needs to be done is to, say, translate the language.)

A daunting puzzle is replaced with an elegant solution.

Hopefully I choose to provide solutions that help educate kids, save lives, etc. instead of those that help rob old people, exploit the poor, et al. If so, I get the sense that I've done something good myself, and that it might make the next good thing that much easier for the next guy. Even coding for a good cause (say, routing ambulances), if done badly, can do much more harm than good. The idea is to be good at the craft and do it for good reasons. When you feel like your work isn't helping anyone (or that it is helping only really evil types) or you feel like you're doing the same thing over and over again (why should you need to re-solve what's now solved?) then it's time for a change.

Programming pays bills, for which I'm very grateful. It helped me buy a house, and provide for my family. If it didn't pay bills, I wouldn't program, but I think I would still solve puzzles (I'd be a mechanical, electrical, or structural engineer, a teacher, an astronomer, a physicist, ... whatever could let me use my mind and still pay enough to keep my family fed, clothed, and sheltered).

Each solution we share has the potential to advance us all.

+12  A: 

What I find interesting about your question is that it talks about an end result with the doctor, while it talks about a process step with the programmers. It's easy to look at the intermediate steps of what we do, or even the end result, and think it isn't meaningful relative to what a doctor (or some other profession) does. I see it differently.

In my career so far, I've had a chance to write software in a wide variety of areas (government, health care, marketing, communications, newspapers, public radio, public television, and non-profits). Nothing I've written has cured disease, or saved people from starvation. But it has done things like make sure medical professionals get paid for services they've provided, given job seekers opportunities to interview for job openings, and provided companies with the ability to market their offerings to people who actually need them. I'm proud of the outcomes in those cases, but also of putting in my best effort to deliver a quality product.

So many industries rely on those of us who solve problems with software, that if we aren't proud of the work we're currently doing, we can find a place that will satisfy that need.

Scott A. Lawrence
Exactly my point
Varun Mahajan
+1  A: 

I have spent over a decade creating health promotion software that I know has a direct, beneficial impact on the companies that adopt it. After all, to sell our package we need to document its effectiveness to justify the investment.

So, yes, I think there is little question that programming can be meaningful!

Mark Brittingham
+1  A: 

Are you proud of being a programmer?

Yes. I think being a programmer is a cool profession, like being a bebop saxophonist or something.

Do you think that your work has positive effect on people's well being?

No. Because at work I work on "enterprise" business software that that helps to drive the engines of capitalism. I don't think that has a positive effect on the world.

At home, as a hobby, though, I program music and art applications. I don't know whether this has a positive effect on others' well-being, but it makes me feel better.

Paul Reiners
+2  A: 

I save lives too.

I work for a medicine distributor (HDMA). If my programs don't work, someone might not get their insulin shot on time.


Being a programmer means you get to post stuff on What more could you want?

Chris Ballance
+3  A: 

Every profession is meaningful if you like it and if you do it well. I read an interview to a former classmate of Barack Obama that now is a clockmaker. He said: his destiny was to be president, my destiny was to be a clockmaker. Both of us achieve our target. (Sorry for my english, I am learning...)

+1  A: 

I've been a doctor and a programmer. Neither one is more or less meaningful than the other. (This is offered as personal experience without debate).

Ali A
I'd love to hear your experience. Care to type?
I'm very happy to discuss it, but not in a public forum like this one :)
Ali A
+1  A: 

If they wouldn't pay me, I'd do it for free.


The code is free, you pay for documentation.

+8  A: 

There are plenty of doctors out there who don't save lifes but are involved in some criminal activity or unethical research programs or advise governments on how to get information out of ppl who don't really want to give it, etc.

So my point is, it's not about your profession, it's about your moral standards. Every profession can be used in different ways and every profession probably has its own moral dilemmata.

+1  A: 

Programming as a profession? Sure, just as the examples given illustrate. Any given programmer's current projects? That is another matter. In my five years I have personally yet to work on a project that made a quantifiable difference in the lives of its stakeholders. I wish I wrote software that saved lives or caught bad people, but society is lucky that I don't.

Having said that, I made the mortgage and child-support payments this month. Plenty of meaning in that.

Having said that, I have been incubating a restructuring plan that might allow me to sustain the substantial paycut involved in changing career fields.

I Have the Hat
+3  A: 

I am proud of being a programmer. I have seen many times where my work has had a profound effect on someone's well being. Where I can save someone literally weeks of work by writing a simple little piece of code that does it instead or a new application I write suddenly lets someone see what's really going on in the company's inventory system, I get a big "Thank you!" or "Wow!" which is a nice reward.

Or if I'm in the group responsible for writing the software that helped recover million dollar cargo or sell a defibrilator to an airport that needed one, that too can be important. It does take some understanding of what is the good that the company can provide and not just the little software that may seem a bit dry in terms of its usefulness.

JB King
+24  A: 

I have a wife and three kids. Any job that allows me to support and take care of them is meaningful. I program because I like it, not because it "has meaning".

Thanks for reminding my of why I write code, aside from to pay the bills: I like doing it. I guess as long as they're paying me to do something I like, that's reason enough for today.
I Have the Hat

You can certainly make the argument that professions like Doctors are more "meaningful" than ones like Programming (not an argument I would make myself, but I can see the rationale there.)

I've worked on enough projects at enough places that some of them I thought I was really doing good in the world and others where I was vaguely offended to be helping the client make money.

However, I'm one of those people who got into programming because I really like it. No matter what the project or the company, programming is how I want to spend my time, and the ability to pay the bills doing something you genuinely love is a rare thing, and I think it puts me (and most of the other programmers I've ever met) well ahead of the curve. A lot of people don't even have the option to do a job they really enjoy, and sure, those Doctors might have a more "meaningful" job, and those lawyers might be making more money, but if they got into those gigs because their parents wanted them to "make something of themselves," I'll take my low-fi custom web apps over that any day.

+13  A: 

I write software for commercial flight simulators. Most airline accidents are attributed to pilot error. My grandfather died in an airplane crash when my mom was 6, leaving my grandmother to raise 4 children with no help and no income. So please pardon me if I am egotisical enough to think my job is meaningful, and I am saving lives.

I did get an offer once to work on software for smartbombs. I know someone has to do that, and many have no moral qualms about that kind of thing at all. However, I'm not one of those people. I turned them down. At some point my working life will be over, and I didn't really feel like I could be proud looking back at years spent building bombs.

bombs saves lives to. The atomic bombs dropped on Japan saved millions of lives for instance.
@tster - Well yeah. Like all weapons, bombs are a nessecary evil, and I realise **somebody** out there has to make them, just like somebody has to perform executions. It just isn't going to be me.
+3  A: 

I write software for hardware stores. As a result of my work, hardware stores have lower costs. As a result, poor people are better able to afford to build their homes. So, yes, I am doing "meaningful" work.

I believe that if you are doing work that you are getting paid for, it is apparently meaningful somehow, even if the real "meaning" is several steps away from you. Somehow it is addressing a need or a want, and you are lowering costs that would be expended somehow, and people are benefiting. If nothing else, you are contributing to a rising level of wealth in society which leads to a shrinking of the lower class and a growing middle class. [Of course, there may be other counteracting pressures that are greater. But you are doing your part, simply by being productive.]

Another thing to look at is what happens with your money. You likely are not capable of personally saving lives. However, some of your money might go to a charity which does in fact save lives. My dad's best friend is a Catholic doctor who takes about four medical mission trips to Latin America each year in regions where children have severe problems due to lack of proper care and nutrition earlier in life. He's really helping people, but he's not the only one responsible. Lots of people gave the money and funds that make those trips and surgeries possible. If you can't save lives and want to save lives, you'd be better off earning as much money as you possibly can and giving as much of it as you can to someone who can use that money to save lives. If you can't find a way to make more money than programming, then programming is likely the best way possible for you to do anything meaningful at all!

Some of my money goes to raise my children, and I'm hoping they will have a positive impact on the world. They may become doctors or something else that is "meaningful" in a sense that more people accept. John Adams said "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain." Maybe you don't have any children, but you may be influencing someone in a positive way. If so, simply earning enough to stay alive is having a meaningful impact on the world.

You might do some Googling for the "law of comparative advantage," a law of economics that basically says it's more beneficial for us to all have different roles, rather than all trying to do one thing (or everything).

+6  A: 

If you trace it to its source, almost all private-sector employment has as its ultimate purpose the further enrichment of a small number of wealthy old white men. But very few of us get out of bed in the morning and think "I'm sure looking forward to making a few more bucks for Warren and Charlie today."

We find meaning in other things. In a lot of jobs, you can spin yourself a positive story about what your work brings to other people. But there are plenty of jobs (in organized semi-criminal enterprises like offshore gambling or auto insurance, say) where that's a challenge.

In my experience, the intellectual curiosity that makes someone a good programmer is also a way to derive meaning. There is pleasure to be found in learning, and in doing things well, and in learning to do things better. I've survived jobs of astonishing dullness simply by engaging with the problem of continuous improvement. (When I've found myself in a job that I couldn't make better, and that wasn't teaching me anything, that's always been a sign that it's time for me to move on.)

Robert Rossney
+1  A: 

There are several ways to attack this issue.

First, the question not a fair comparison. As somebody else said, you're comparing the doctor's end result with a programmer's minute-to-minute drudge work. At any random moment a doctor is more likely to be doing paperwork or telling somebody with a cold to say "ah", than they are to literally be saving a life. And not all doctors are specialists who "save lives" -- most just taking care of ordinary people day to day. (Not to belittle doctors, who have my ultimate respect, a truly honorable and necessary profession.)

Second, we should reject the notion that everybody needs to be doing something like saving lives. As long as you're not hurting anybody, it's ok to have a job that is "merely" intellectually interesting and does something that somebody finds useful. In fact, if everybody was a doctor and spent all their time "saving lives", it would be pretty boring, because nobody would be actually doing or making anything, or thinking about anything other than medicine. You wouldn't have games to play, or a house to live in, or a school to go to, or a book to read. (That's not to say that all jobs are useful for society, either -- plenty of jobs, if they disappeared, would make the world better for the rest of us.)

Third, programming jobs vary greatly in the impact they have on the world. Some programmers are putting robots on other planets, mapping the human genome, making visual effects for movies, allowing you to listen to music on devices that fit in your pocket, letting you easily search the world's databases, analyzing data on the latest cancer drug, letting ordinary folks do their own taxes, whatever.

If you don't think YOUR programming job has enough of a positive impact on the world or helps enough people, get off your butt and find a different programming job that does. It's not your choice of profession that's the limiting factor, but it may be your choice of employer (or project).

Larry Gritz
+1  A: 

Programming is a meaningful profession just because this human being is a programmer.

Think a bit about it before you vote me either up or down.

abstract but no less true

Karma Yoga

This one is for the initiate only.
+1  A: 

Instead of arguing whether programming is meaningful tell people what it means to you if you are proud of it! Maybe you could come up with a good grounding story about how you got involved in it all would help people understand or at least accept. Be sure they get a sense of your passion and accomplishments!


Technology is the only meaningful direction for humanity.

Economics just defines the speed for technology, since they see it as a resource to exploit.

Medicine saves lives, it does not save humanity. Technology will save us as a specie.

Social sciences investigate the problems of us humans, but this is like treating the symptom and not the cause (the cause being poverty, overcrowding, persecution etc.)

Bogdan Gavril
+6  A: 

Most of the doctors, most of the time don't save lives directly, and when they do save lives they have to share credit with a lot of other people.

Do you think modern medicine would work without software? Both the CT scanner, Ultrasound machine and the MRI machine is worthless without software. Software drives medical research through the use of statistical analysis software, molecular modelling, folding at home and so on. Software manages the health care industry. Electronic Patient Journals are not an optional.

Enough about health care. Software saves lives in many other areas. Lots of safety equipment is powered by software. Airplanes, cars, trains, ships all have software-driven safety equipment that saves lives. How many lives have been saved by cell phones or GPS receivers? And there is passive safety. How about finite element analysis in computer aided design? Cars can be tested for crash performance before they have even been built.

Lifes don't only need saving. There is also a question of standard of living. Would you rather queue up at the bank between 0900 and 1600 to pay your bills, or log on from home? Typing machine and tip-ex or word processing? Snailmail or e-mail? Telephone or telegraph? Spreadsheet or pen and paper? Digital camera or film development fluids?

What about the environment? Combustion engines managed by software burns cleaner and uses less fuel. Online news doesn't need paper. Online meetings and online shopping have reduced my need of travel. GPS routing meens I spend less miles looking for my destination.

Then there is the field of entertainment? Watching the tube or playing World of Warcraft? Which is more meaningful? Software drives them both. I think it's great that Facebook has gotten me back in touch with many old friends. Youtube - love it.

I think software engineers have done more for humanity than any other profession! Let us be proud of our achievements!

My personal reason for being a programmer is just because I have to code. If I don't code - I'm not happy. If I have a job where I don't code enough, I spend my free time coding. Might as well get paid for it.

I take pride in my code. I like creating elegant, simple and beautiful code, even when I know that noone is ever going to see the code or comprehend its beauty.

The ultimate reward is getting feedback from users that like what I have created. When they tell me that something I have done makes their day more bearable, like an annoying bug removed, or a nice feature added. Then I know that I have personally contributed to humanity.

Also, let me add that programmers who only code to pay their bills usually write poor code. The world is rich enough for all of us to be motivated by something else than an empty stomach, we just need to share it.

+2  A: 

I'm a doctor, and my job is meaningful because I cut flesh with a scalpel?

There was an old retired doctor who was asked to come back to look at a nearly hopeless patient who was dying. He walked around it, and after some time in observation and thought, cut the flesh with a scalpel somewhere, then said, “That’s where your problem is.” He then gave them an itemized bill:Scalpel: 1$Knowing where to cut the flesh with the scalpel: 9999$
Alex Brault

I'm glad to see a lot of people vacationing at the Oasis of Self-Preservation, but here's the thing: Doctors do not save lives, they prolong lives. You save your life by making your life a turning point of some kind. As with programmers and smart bombs, doctors are not going to be feeling too good about themselves if they're in a situation where they consistently treat people they abhor.

Having said that I have to say though that in reality doctors have more control over who they treat than programmers have over how their software gets used.

Life is Elsewhere

LOL your doctor is stupid. One could say all he does is serve medicine and write prescriptions (very untrue I know).

As said, programmers are responsible for so much in the world. In fact, he takes it all for granted. I am sure he has a PC in his office, and some doctors even look at the internet for information on rare conditions! Programmers have been pretty critical to the development of the internet...

+13  A: 

Doctor says: My job is meaningful because I save lives.

Programmer says: Do you use computers at your work?

Doctor says: Yea...

Programmer says: My job is meaningful because I save lives too.

grega g
+1  A: 

I am the software engineer for an Environmental Protection Department. I participate in and enable the execution of environmental protection. I feel good about that because it has meaning.

But it doesn't have to be a quote, unquote, noble endeavor to have meaning. Not to pick on game developers (I play), but they should have meaning to. They provide entertainment. This is good.

If you can only find evil in you practice, would I say that it has no meaning, well... perhaps that is a meaning in and of itself.


I am a software engineer, not a programmer.

+1  A: 

Many new features of the current world made by programmers: Internet, open source, torrents. Sometimes I say that future is already here, in our programming world.

Yes, I'm proud to be a programmer! We move our world a bit higher!

+1  A: 

I'm currently writing educational software that trains medical professionals.

And I'm old enough to remember the world when a computer was a rare 'science' thing (that fascinated a youngster, me). If I had to sum up all the changes I've seen in my life, I could sum it up in one word - 'Computers'.

I'm proud of my current work. I'm figuring out how to train people faster. How much of your life have you spent learning? How efficient was it?

But I'm actually just as proud of the other things I've done that have helped people. I've:

  • helped people draw plans for buildings and machinery
  • helped mathematicians devise new theories
  • empowered everyone who has used a spreadsheet. Some things in current spreadsheet programs, I invented.
  • Think of how much more visually interesting our current world is. I've worked on several paint programs.
  • I've worked on games. Games are pastimes, but recreation is important. It brings joy and meaning to people's lives.
  • I've analyzed blood. The machine I worked on was vital for creating drugs that are effective against HIV.
  • I've found dangerous criminals.
  • I've worked on operating systems. OS's make computers useful for everyone, not just programmers.
  • I've made computers able to display all the world's languages. I once hired a taxi to get me home. The driver asked me what I did for a living. Since He was Sikh, and I was working on adding Gurmukhi to the Apple OS at the time. When I mentioned this he was so thrilled - he came in and I demoed a Mac displaying Gurmukhi - he left immensely proud, it was a really meaningful thing for him, you could tell.
  • I've made software that was the 'guts' of artwork. It's satisfying to see your work make people delighted.
  • I've made software that let children experience the wonders of science and music in museums.
  • I've made our country less dependent on foreign oil.
  • I've helped people trade stocks. Stock trading provides the capital for many business activities that enrich people's lives.
  • I've helped train EMT's to save lives.
  • I've helped other programmers create programs that do even more.

Yes, I'm proud of what I do. I've changed the world for the better.


Remember that whatever you do, if you are being paid for it then it is a meaningful service, even if the majority of its roles doesn't involve directly save life's, the programming industry is definitely a positive for society:

If nobody programmed, their would be no internet, their would be no advanced machines, their would be nothing. Even seemingly superficial tasks play an important role, game programming is a positive for society, as its a really economically efficient entertainment option. Its easy to forget how much people enjoy the final product - and we are talking hundreds of millions of people - because comparing it to a product which saves lives is not really a fair comparison for us to evaluate, as death is a very imprinted role in society. The fact is though even if we had satellites, space programs, economic simulators and even war technology 10 times as advanced as they currently are the world would still be terrible if we had no entertainment - almost a dystopia.

As a rule of thumb, if you are being paid for a product, and that product is not being used by clients or public members in general for malicious purposes then your job is beneficial for society.

Tomas Cokis
I think you meant to type "not being used/for malicious purposes" or "being used/for non-malicious purposes" (both have different meanings though) instead of "not being used/non-malicious purposes".

I wrote programs for airlines, so my program helps people book ticket from the comfort of their homes.

+2  A: 

Always when I get asked why I'm a coder, I feel reminded of the scene in 'The Ghost and the Darkness', were Michael Douglas gets asked why he's a hunter/killer and responds with:

Because I'm good at it.

Note: This quote is from the German translation, which I like more then the English original one.

+1  A: 

I help brand owners watch their brands sold online, filter out the fake ones and help them protect their revenue from leaking.

Online shopping at its boom, brand owners are worried of the following:

1) Find for the sites, forums, blogs, etc selling the products with their brand label.

2) Identity the genuine/fake listings on various online shopping sites (like ebay, amazon, alibaba, etc).

3) Enforce those listings.

This all involves the art of programming.