64

What are the known cases where a programmer (just by programming) can become rich.

A programmer that started a company, I think, doesn't count except if he/she was not the CEO but the leader programmer.

This question, at first, may seems silly but its so fundamental as anyone else that you'll see in this site. In a given moment, a programmer must do the choice between crossover to a managerial role or keep programming just for the fun of it. And this choice affect everything else.

I was surprised at first not to see this very question being posted by younger visitors but it seems that, until today (20080807) everyone is only focused in technical facts. I firmly believe that a programmer must develop also "soft" skills and this kind of questions will be asked by newbies anyway (soon or later).


I wonder if Joel and Jeff has addressed this topic before... and I question Which is the business model for StackOverflow?

Updates:

  1. Adam says that anyone that knows how to answer this question will not be answering. But that is exactly against the soul of my question. I want to keep programming, even testing and documenting mind you!, but also I want to go on vacation anytime. I want to share my wealth with my friend programmers and so.
  2. Greg: I'm 35 years old and I don't think is naive to ask yourself what will be your sources of wealth. Maybe the question can be rephrased to "What are the things I must do to keep being a well paid programmer by age 60" but, you surely realize, that's implicit in the much more visible question that I posted.
  3. Ballon: It seems like you read those books (there are three by same author for the same subject, right?) Can you tell us if you're rich?
  4. Tom: That's my point. From my POV it seems like the only way to increase your paycheck is by climbing the corporate ladder, that's not being a programmer anymore. Just for the record: I did just that but I miss you guys! And I'm pretty sure that the formula involve to always learn as much as you can from others, that's explain pretty well why I ask.
    EDIT: Bad news for you: I've been working for leader companies for twelve years and, although I like to think of myself as programmer, I'm not a formal programmer for eight years.
    EDIT, SORRY ME: I'm doing it pretty well... but I'm not rich. Are your friends rich?
  5. Modesty: I want to very proud of my achievements and for a weird reason, I prefer to be honest.
  6. Avenger: I was tempted to accept your reply as the truer one but I realized that we're doing this just for fun (It's not obvious?) so let's keep it rolling. Besides that I want to keep the feet on the ground :P I'm already maintaining my family but I don't have money to do flights to the International Space Station
  7. Ramiro: Muchas gracias! That's the kind of info I think we all need to keep our morale high!
  8. Well, it seems David has the right answer.
  9. Ballon: I was an enterprenuer (that means I run a startup before the word was used as it's used today) and started my own business at age 21. We grew very rapidly. Almost as fast as we broke :P
  10. Grom: Its not about to accumulate wealth. It's about to keep being a programmer (not a very good one in my case) but enjoying luxuries like flights to the International Space Station, your own Basketball team, your own archeological team, your own country, or whatever your can dream of.
77 accepted

How to get rich:

  1. Stay out of debt
  2. Spend less than you earn
  3. Wisely invest the difference

This works no matter what your job is.

50

Send me 20 and I will email you the answer.

32

Develop your own idea in your own space and own it yourself.

You'll never get rich as a wage-slave. It is contrary to the corporate model for them to make you richer - you are lower in the food chain. Working independently raises you in the food chain.

Solve a problem you are passionate about - you'll do a more thorough job and you'll sell it convincingly. It will help if others give a damn about the problem you just solved and the need you just met.

22

Here is my 3-step plan:

  1. Learn programming
  2. Become a good programmer
  3. Win the lottery

Personally I think 1. and 2. have the most chance of success.

19

I think you have to become a Businessman of some Sort.

Bill Gates did not become rich because of MS-DOS, he got rich because his Business-Deal with IBM. The guys who did Google, YouTube or Fecesbook did not become rich because they made good software, because they sold their software to bigger companies at some point or went to the stock exchange themselves.

So yeah, you need to have someone for the business side. And then, you need an idea. Bonus points if you live in a country where some new trends did not fully arrive yet. For example, Facebook may be HUGE in the US, but in Germany they are nowhere near StudiVZ. YouTube is big in many countries, but in France, DailyMotion got a good spot as well as they did target the French market specifically.

So if you live in a country where a recent trend did not yet fully hit, you can get rich by taking a good idea, making a clone specifically targeting your country and then sell it later, but you need a businessman in addition to a programmer.

You can also get rich by another type of Application programming. Do you know that every time there is a bank transactions, they are rounded and small fractions of a penny are simply lost? You can get rich by programming a tool that takes all these fractions of a cent and puts them on a secret bank account on some offshore bank.

Possibly the most reachable way to get rich: Work for a company that pays huge bonuses and make sure you get it.

Or start your own company, make a kick ass app and start selling it for some years, but then you also need Marketing/Customer Service/Sales.

11

You can't. Don't look for the get rich quick. Do the job because you love it, and the code you produce may someday be monetizeable. Don't program to get rich, get rich by programming.

When I program I am doing what I love, so I am rich, even though my bank account is near empty.

10

Look... you can't get hyper-rich without taking risks. Risk-reward is how the world works; the more risk you're willing the to take, the larger the possible reward. This applies to any field. You can continue programming but if you want to get rich off it you need to be doing something that's high risk. Lots of people can develop guru-level programming skills, the few that are willing to find a high risk scenario are the group that will have a subset who gets rich.

It could be taking your programming skills and starting your own company. It could be going to a startup and working for stock for four years while you live off your savings. It could be working 90 hours/week for nothing while you build something to get accepted to TechCrunch50 or Y-Combinator. But at some point you need to take some risk, just like any other part of the free market.

9
  1. Make application.
  2. Make application popular.
  3. Sell application to large software company for obscene amount.
  4. Profit!
9

Come up with some stupid brilliant idea like the Million Dollar Homepage. They only work once though.

7

What's more important to you getting rich or enjoying what you do?

As long as I can pay the bills and put food on the table, and go on a holiday every now and then I'm quite happy to continue programming.

Quit worrying about how to become rich and just enjoy life.

6

I think it depends on your perspective.

If by getting rich you mean living on your own island with a fleet of private jets - you won't do that by being a programmer. The best you can hope for is that somehow you get a shareholding in a company that makes it big and makes you rich with it - but even then it's likely that you'll have to be more than just a programmer.

However, if by being rich you mean not having to work for a living, then that is entirely possible if you're willing to put the work in and make a few sacrifices in the short term. I can wholeheartedly reccommend buying a copy of "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" - it'll change the way you look at 'being rich'.

EDIT: Guess I should've seen that question coming! Yes - I have read the Rich Dad, Poor Dad books and no - I'm not rich (in monetary terms) - YET. I'm 29 and I own and run a small internet development company (there are currently 7 of us full-time). Despite the books title, the value I got from it was in terms of it changing my attitude towards money. It isn't a get-rich-quick scheme!

6

Most of us programmers like to think that we are smart people, and we tend to try and solve difficult problems for the fun of it. But in reality, most of the people in this world don't really care about the complexity of our job. If you are quite observant enough you will notice that most applications that sell aren't really that hard to use; or that the idea behind it is really quite simple, so simple that you spend months lamenting why you hadn't thought about that in the first place. My short answer is...

The app for the stupid will make you rich

Because statistically speaking, there are more stupid people than smart people. The more stupid your app, the more stupid people will buy into it. More buyers = profit. Stupidity wins!

5

If any of the people here knew the answer to that question...I doubt we'd be hanging out on SO, we'd be retired on a beach somewhere.

5

Its easy

  1. Become a good programmer with an original idea
  2. ????
  3. Profit
5

Runescape was started by Java developer Andrew Gower. To this day he is he lead programmer with a net worth of 200-300 million dollars.

4

Interestingly enough, Stu's model seems to be the model of a lot of the big name stuff nowadays. It starts out as some kind of grad project or hobby, gets popular, and then is immediately sold off to a big corporation who puts an advertising model on it or something to that extent to milk some cash. The big name app survives for a few years, until it turns lousy due to corporate ignorance, over advertising on the product, or the "2.0" version of the app is created by a rival that effectively unseats it, and the model starts all over again.

It's a double edged sword. I mean if you had some small app or web site that you loved and then somebody walked up to you with a million bucks to take it from you, what would you do? Sure the purist in you says "heck no!" or "only if X, Y, and X occurs", but at the same time, that pays a lot of bills and you can always start on another hobby app in the meantime.

...well that's my 10 bits at least. 8^D

4

If you're 35 and still wondering what your sources of wealth will be, you're unfortunately running a bit late. The best advice I've heard is to keep working your way up the corporate ladder; when you reach the highest programming position at one company, move on to another with more resources and pay grades. But even then, you're not going to make the salary an executive will, no matter how good you are.

EDIT: I'm not saying you have to become an executive, just that you have to keep moving up...I work for a smaller company at the moment, and the maximum pay I could get is nowhere near where I'd like, so I'll probably have to switch jobs in the future to a bigger company with more resources and bigger customers. I'm still going to be a programmer, mind you, but in greener pastures.

EDIT AGAIN, SORRY: I know personally 2 individuals around your age working in the US as developers for major companies who make very substantial amounts of money. Seems to me that research and finance are very profitable areas.

4

I guess there aren't may millonarie programmers, but a very famous one is Charles Simonyi, the father of Office. He was a programmer at Xerox Labs in Palo Alto before going to Microsoft. There he lead the Word and Excel teams.

By the time he quit from Microsoft he was a millonaire (thanks to all the stock options he received as a Microsoft employee). Now he is a CEO of his own company, but he was rich before doing that.

PS. By the way, he do has enough money to travel to the space station, jeje.

4

You can't, because it takes a lot more than programming to earn money. The people who can enjoy "luxuries like flights to the International Space Station, your own Basketball team, your own archeological team, your own country, or whatever your can dream of" never sat down and did just one thing.

They did a lot of stuff other than, say, program, or trade stocks or what not. Many of them have vast pools of people that they manage and those people are the ones doing the variety of tasks that comprise of the system to create wealth, which in turns allows the rich person to enjoy owning whatever they own.

4

Write a program that solves an NP-complete problem in polynomial time!

3

If you are lucky enough to snag good projects that are moderately easy to finish, but will bring you a lot of money then you could become a Freelance Developer

3

One way would be to become a programmer on a successful product for which you receive a share of the sales. It would be tempting to become more than a programmer, and probably most people in this situation do so, but it doesn't have to be essential.

3

You have to be great and you have to surround yourself with people that will do the business side.

John Carmack is the closest thing to this that I know of.

3

Make what is considered impossible...and the rest will follow.

3

Some companies, such as Microsoft, have career tracks for people that are not interested in management but want to remain technical leaders. Mark Russinovich is one such example. Of course you need the talent and experience to obtain these exec-like technical roles.

3

Love what you do.

If you really love what you're doing, the money will follow.

3

Easy:

  1. Write a program that many people are willing to pay money for, or a few are willing to pay a lot of money for.
  2. Find a hungry young MBA and offer her X percentage of your company if she is willing to run it.
  3. Collect the the (100-X)% of the profit.

If the money stops coming in, goto 1.

I believe the only hard part is in step 1. Not the programming part, the coming up with the idea part. It is surprisingly hard to figure out what stuff people will actually pay for. I mean, ringtones are a freaking $500M market. Ringtones! People pay for ringtones and they won't pay for firefox.

3

Work for a small but growing employee owned company. I did this myself. Started when the company was 150, left when it was 2500. I stayed for 11 years, and kept being given stock. I still own every share I was given, and the company is almost 5000 people.

You have to be very selective with the company you pick, though.

Second best choice is to start your own company. Much riskier, but much better reward potential.

3

Plentyoffish.com is a story of someone by programming a site and selling advertising on it, has gotten rich.

3

Write some good software, get hired in silicon valley pre IPO company.

3

check this out : many of these young entrepreneurs are programmers and have gotten rich programming :)

http://www.inc.com/30under30/2010/index.html

2

You really can't go into the software industry looking to get rich quick. I find this attitude to be way too common among fellow students where I go to school. They hear that programming (usually) pays well, so they think it's a shortcut to success. As a result, they have no initiative to really learn what they're doing and ultimately aren't too successful.

If you're really interested in what you do, chances are the money will come as a nice side effect.

2

I just want to respond to your updates. I think that you worded the question in a way that made us all think you were looking for the "get rich Quick" answer. What you really mean is how can you land a killer job with huge salary that is still doing what you love, programming. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of ways to do that. Have a killer idea, build it, popularize it, then reap the ad benefits. Or make something you can sell. but all of that requires doing it on your own time. There really is no way in the current world to get that millions-a-year salary that we would all like and still be doing what we love, in order to reach that, you have to be more business side of it. (How much programming do you think Larry Page and Sergey Brin do today?)

2

Oh man what a question. The truth is that for most of us in this discussion we a rich beyond compare when you take in the total of the earth's population. If you just want to count hitting the top tax bracket, well it doesn't take long to get there as a programmer if you're above average.

If you?re talking about making it to a point where you never have to work and can sip pina-coladas on your back deck for the rest of your life. Well as one who got to try that for a few years, I can tell you it's not all it's cracked up to be. A lot of the passions that drive you to be excellent in your craft just can't be satiated with inactivity. You need the challenge, you need to be useful. Stuff can't replace that, but if you just want stuff yes just about anybody can get lot's of stuff.

So I would hazard a guess that most readers of this thread, have above average intelligence, a penchant for solving hard problems, and a comfort [i.e. it won't be the end of you] with failing on fairly large projects. If you can add some resilience and ability to manage people you are way better prepared to make a good amount of wealth than most millionaires in the US.

Let me also challenge your assertion that

A programmer that started a company, I think, doesn't count except if he/she was not the CEO but the leader programmer.

You see when you are in the business of doing something, you are doing it even though you may have left the role of the programmer behind. Assembling the team to make a program is no different than assembling the individual lines of code. In many ways it's more difficult.

Of course I can't rant this long without throwing out a few book recommendations, so I'll go with The E Myth (Revisited) and of course Peopleware.

2

What is it to be rich? http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rich

http://www.globalrichlist.com/

Some more reading about Wealth, and Riches below. Sorry for the United States bias in the links below. Barak Obama, says > $250,000 annual income; John McCain jokingly said > $5,000,000 annual income.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United_States http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_inequality http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_income_in_the_United_States

What is Rich -- MSN Article

Do what you love, work to make it profitable! And, always improve your "soft" and "hard" skills! Knowledge is important, and so are relationships!

2
  1. Find someone else's idea that looks like it will sell.
  2. Go get the domain and the patent.
  3. While the author is suing you, build and release your own version of the IP.
  4. Settle with the author.
  5. When the author finally releases his product sue him for copyright infringement.
2

Be creative, make something that has never been made before. Large companies are buying people's ideas all the time. Of course it is easier for them to buy it off of you when you have a proof of concept (POC) first. Look at things such as youtube and facebook. Sure streaming videos and social networking has all been done before, But these sites went above and beyond already existing content and made it something interesting. Extra kudos to you if it is something ENTIRELY non-existent so far.

2

Ah:

  1. You should build very strong logic and think of the practical solutions (algorithms) (not the best)
  2. Don't code yourself. Hire people to implement the solution.
  3. Do Marketing and take care of user interface versions ;)
  4. Don't sleep.
1

Program a time machine application, go back in time and steal Bill Gates idea's.

1

@ggasp:

I think your question is probably being downmodded because most programmers believe that without a great deal of luck (or skill), your odds of being independently wealthy by virtue of being (just) a programmer are very low. You have to be working at the right company at the right time, and even then, nothing is guaranteed.

Others might also believe that if you're asking about the money, then you're not into programming as a career because you like it; you're in it to be financially successful.

I personally believe that, while being rich would be great, as long as I have enough money to take care of my family, I'm "rich enough". As such, my goal is to get a job programming, which I enjoy, at a company that makes me happy (good coworkers, fast computers, fun and interesting projects) and making enough money to do what I like (assuming decent market conditions, enough time to save up for big vacations, etc.).

(BTW, I also recommend Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Not that I've used all the techniques in the book, but it certainly got me thinking about money in a different way, and that's never a bad thing.)

1

I don't think you're very likely to get rich by programming alone. However, you will make a very nice salary well beyond what the average person will make. A little smart investing and some frugal living for a decade or two can go a long way.

And if your startup makes it big? Well, then that's just gravy... :)

0

It's simple.

Create a website like stackoverflow.com, get a lot of people talk about technology and make them ask "how to get rich by programming." Expand your "empire" by creating Area51 (Q&A for any topic).

You will make some good money ;)

-2

I still don't get when questions get down modded... if you click a question to see the replies to a given question (necessary condition to down mod), how can the question not being helpful? In anycase, the answers are not helpful but to click a question to explore its replies seems contradictory with the downmod.

LOL if everyone downmod this answer, could my reputation score go under zero?