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Looking to make the world a better place? Programming may not be for you

Engaged workers working hard
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High pay? Check. Job security? Check. But when it comes to feeling that their jobs have meaning, even telemarketers rank higher than software engineers, according to a recent PayScale survey


Software developers are in demand and make a lot of money these days. No doubt, developers like the high pay and job security. However, the results of a new survey suggest that the vast majority of software engineers don’t feel that their work makes the world a better place and just over half are actually satisfied with their jobs.

Those results come from a new PayScale survey, The Most and Least Meaningful Jobs, released last week. Between June 2014 and June 2015, Payscale surveyed 2.7 million workers in 24 job categories covering more than 500 job titles. Jobs were then ranked based on the percentage of respondents who answered yes to the question "Does your work make the world a better place?"

Software engineers feel their jobs aren't meaningful

Topping the list in terms of meaningfulness were the clergy, with 98% of those respondents feeling that their work makes the world a better place. Surgeons were also ranked highly, with 96% of them also feeling that their jobs were meaningful. At the bottom end of the meaningful scale were parking lot attendants; only 5% of them felt  that their work had meaning.

What percentage of software engineers feel that their work is meaningful? Only 29% said they felt that their work makes the world a better place, which was 484th out of the 505 job titles covered. Among the many other jobs whose practitioners have a higher sense of meaningfulness about their work are podiatrists (83% feel their jobs are meaningful), pest control workers (64%), and telemarketers (46%).

Tech jobs rank low on meaningfulness

In fact, every other techie, computer-related job on the list, that I could find, had a higher meaningfulness ranking than software engineer, although most were still below 50% and ranked in the bottom half of jobs.

Percentage Of Workers Who Feel Their Work Makes The World A Better Place

Job Title% MeaningfulRank among all 505 jobs
Computer Hardware Engineers 53% 265
Network Systems and Data Communications Analysts 53% 267
Computer and Information Systems Managers 49% 316
Database Administrators 49% 320
Computer Systems Analysts 46% 358
Computer Support Specialists 45% 360
Computer and Information Scientists, Research 45% 365
Computer Operators 43% 383
Computer Specialists, All Other 43% 386
Computer Software Engineers, Applications 29% 484
Source: PayScale's The Most and Least Meaningful Jobs

PayScale also noted that while computer and mathematical workers, as a group, had the highest median salary ($72,900), it also had one of the lowest meaningful ratings (44%) among job categories.

Many developers aren't satisfied with their jobs

Does feeling like their work isn’t meaningful also mean that software engineers are dissatisfied with their jobs? After all, they do still get paid well. Well, it turns out that a decent percentage of developers also aren’t satisfied with their jobs.

In response to the question, “How satisfied are you in your job?” 57% of computer software engineers told PayScale they were either “Extremely Satisfied” or “Fairly Satisfied,” which ranked 444th out the 505 job titles surveyed. Clergy again ranked highly on this list with 90% of them reporting to being satisfied, although Cartographers and Photogrammetrists ranked first in satisfaction, at 97%. Lathe and Turning Machine Tool Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Metal and Plastic, were at the bottom, with only 35% being satisfied.

Software engineers again lagged behind other tech/computer jobs in terms of satisfaction, as you can see in the following table.

Percentage Of Workers Who Are Satisfied With Their Jobs

Job Title% SatisfiedRank among all 505 jobs
Computer and Information Scientists, Research 78% 57
Computer and Information Systems Managers 72% 174
Database Administrators 72% 175
Computer Hardware Engineers 71% 195
Network Systems and Data Communications Analysts 71% 196
Computer Specialists, All Other 70% 235
Computer Systems Analysts 69% 252
Computer Support Specialists 66% 317
Computer Operators 64% 363
Computer Software Engineers, Applications 57% 444
Source: PayScale's The Most and Least Meaningful Jobs

Overall, I find these results pretty surprising; most software engineers I’ve known over the years seemed pretty passionate about their work and the importance of it. However, these results certainly suggest otherwise.

See more about these survey results and where you own job rates using PayScale’s Job Meaning Tool.

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