Monday, March 28, 2011

Computer programmers versus chemists: no contest.

When I was a young B.S. chemist working at a small company, I was ecstatic over one of our company's small perks: free peanut butter sandwiches and all the free soda you could drink. I should have been a computer programmer, according to the New York Times:
Free meals, shuttle buses and stock options are de rigueur. So the game maker Zynga dangles free haircuts and iPads to recruits, who are also told that they can bring their dogs to work. Path, a photo-sharing site, moved its offices so it could offer sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay. At Instagram, another photo-sharing start-up, workers take personal food and drink orders from employees, fill them at Costco and keep the supplies on hand for lunches and snacks.  
Then there are salaries. Google is paying computer science majors just out of college $90,000 to $105,000, as much as $20,000 more than it was paying a few months ago. That is so far above the industry average of $80,000 that start-ups cannot match Google salaries. Google declined to comment.
Wow. Assuming the industry average is actually 80k for a bachelor's CS major, that's a sign that chemists would be hard-pressed to compete for young talent against the computer field. (Actually, I assume that 80k is the industry median salary for all programmers; the numbers just don't make a lot of sense otherwise. Thanks, BLS!)

But you'd be challenged to find a single B.S. chemist who was making a Google salary as a chemist, I'll bet.

The other tidbits in the article about the field are revealing as well:
“The atmosphere is brutally competitive,” said Keith Rabois, a Silicon Valley veteran and chief operating officer at Square, where Mr. Firestone works. “Recruiting in Silicon Valley is more competitive and intense and furious than college football recruiting of high school athletes.” [snip]
Nationwide unemployment among computer scientists and programmers is higher than in other white-collar professions — around 5 percent — in part because many jobs have vanished overseas. But even with a glut of engineers on the job market, few have the skills that tech companies look for, said Cadir Lee, chief technology officer at Zynga. [snip]
Tech recruiters have also expanded their searches. They still scout college campuses, particularly Stanford’s computer science department, where this year it was common for seniors to receive half a dozen offers by the end of first semester.
Interesting to note that (assuming the reporters didn't mess it up), the 5% unemployment rate for computer scientists is actually higher than chemists (ACS (2010): 3.8%, BLS (2011): 3.1%.)

Well, if you have a teenager that's trying to decide on a career, you might send them Google's way...


  1. It's unfortunate that labs aren't safe places to have dogs. Perhaps there's a market for canine laboratory safety attire. There is already such a thing as doggles:

    I'd volunteer to design the lab coat.

  2. That salary information is pretty accurate for Google, but I might also add that you must remember it's not the same salary at every location - that number is going to apply almost exclusively to Silicon Valley - which means you have to live there and deal with Bay area cost of living. The other half is in that field, and at one point we investigated moving out there, since I'm in atmospheric chemistry/air quality consulting. Even the California government offers similar salaries (CARB, etc), but that kind of money just doesn't go very far out there.

    I would say it's not the salaries that are attractive (unless you're literally just a freshly minted BS) - it's the benefits. Healthcare, time off, flexible work arrangements, childcare, all that kind of thing that really does a good job of retaining talent after the first 2-3 years out of school.

    Also, while you can bring your dog in, you can't bring other animals.

  3. Are you subscribing to the Times now? Has their paywall gone up?

  4. If entry-level CS guys are making around $80k, what would an experienced worker make? That might explain the high unemployment rate.

    It's like that in engineering. You're hired for your shiny new skills and dumped when the technology moves on or you become too expensive.

  5. It's like that in engineering. You're hired for your shiny new skills and dumped when the technology moves on or you become too expensive.

    Turns out it's like that in chemistry too.

  6. Def agree with 9:25, these pay rates are for the young, single, freshly minted graduates. The pay is not awesome when we consider that it's in silicon valley and that their hours may be spent at a desk talking to no one but their dog for days on end.

    See this discussion:

    This is still better than working days on end at an industry hood with toxic chemicals talking to no dogs. Especially after having spent a decade as an indentured servant in post-graduate training, only to make less than an entry level CS graduate without a PhD.

    The CS graduate at least had time to ponder other options as he/she approaches old age (~30-35 yrs old). The Science PhD is already that old when they start their first job and doesn't know a thing about business.

  7. You know that Chemistry is a SUPER BROAD field. You have to pick the right subfield to make the big bucks. I had Ph.D. friends that do biochemistry-type work and are stuck in a post-doc ($40-$50k/year starting) for 2-4 years before they can go in to industry... where some analytical chemists can make double that right out of college (Ph.D.).

    Also, PERSONALITY is very important! You have to make a great impression AND get along with the company if you want to do well.

    So, encourage kids to do what they really find interesting. Most likely they will be able to find a way to get paid for it! That's ingenuity!

    (BTW, most of the computer people that I know (and are doing uber well $$) didnt go to college, or didn't go to college for CS. CS is not something you necessarily need to get a degree in.. you either have an aptitude for it or you don't. just really need your certifications to proove you know your crap)

  8. Personal anecdote: in the Roarin' 2000s, I had occasion to visit GSK in Research Triangle Park, NC. Many of the same conveniences there at that time: in-house gym, dry cleaning, discounted a la carte cafe food, funded seminar series, nature trails, etc.

  9. Good looks don't hurt either. At one place I worked the majority of the women wore heels in the lab. Seems impractical for running columns.

  10. The difference is job security. As a chemist gets more experience he/she becomes more valuable and a better worker to have, and gets more money and benefits.

    Computer tech people get canned all the time and they hire new fresh people that they can pay less then the senior people, and that also understand the new tech better. Yes, they always keep a few "old" people around, but it is a HUGE problem in the tech industry.....there are so many unemployed tech workers with years of experience it is crazy.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20