Software Developer… the Best Low-Stress Job in America?

What’s the best job in the United States? According to a new list from U.S. News & World Report, “software developer” takes that coveted slot.

It’s the second year in a row that the magazine placed software developer in the top spot. Statistician came in second, followed by physician assistant in third, and dentist in fourth. Indeed, with the exception of software developer and statistician, the rest of the top 10 jobs were all healthcare-related, including nurse practitioner and pediatrician.

U.S. News & World Report relied on seven metrics to come up with its rankings, including median salary and stress levels. Although software developers make quite a bit (with a $101,790 median salary, according to the magazine), that’s not nearly as much as other professions on the list—anesthesiologists and surgeons tend to earn more, for example. Two factors helped boost developers into the top slot: A low unemployment rate (1.9 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) and… low stress?

“Unlike some other jobs that do pretty well on the list, which are very demanding, software developer tends not to be a really stressful position,” Rebecca Koenig, a reporter at U.S. News & World Report, told USA Today.

That might come as a surprise to many software developers facing tight deadlines, nasty bugs, immense project goals, unpaid crunch time, and other pressures. Maybe blowing a project milestone isn’t quite the same thing as losing a patient on the operating table, but it’s nerve-wracking nonetheless.

Yet U.S. News & World Report isn’t the first publication to state that developers live the low-stress lifestyle. A few years ago, CNNMoney named mobile app developer as the “Best Job in America,” in part because it was supposedly “low stress” and offered lots of “personal satisfaction.” Even so, mobile development is often a rough job—the typical app life-cycle has only gotten shorter, profit margins have steadily decayed, and it’s harder than ever to make your app stand out in the ultra-crowded Apple and Google storefronts.

Why do these supposedly “definitive” lists claim that the developer lifestyle is low-stress, when apocryphal evidence (and some studies) suggest that many developers are under a great deal of daily strain? Maybe it’s relative—not all developer jobs involve 100-hour workweeks, and other professions have a constant, grinding focus on life and death. Nonetheless, there seems to be a gap between how some studies report the stress levels of developers, and what their professional lives actually seem to be like.

4 Responses to “Software Developer… the Best Low-Stress Job in America?”

  1. I can’t imagine one developer who hasn’t had moments of sheer panic when a program fails (especially late at night) and the boss says “what’s taking so long to fix this?”.
    Or my favorite where a major database has been wiped out and you realize it’s your program and now you get to tell the boss. Zero stress there.
    I’ve had interviews where they ask “How do you handle stress”.

  2. Brian Kiser

    I have 28 years in IT, the first being as a software developer. “Low stress” is a very relative term. Managing IT, what I have done for the last 7 years or so, is definitely very high pressure. However, that does not make software development “low pressure.” Software development can be VERY high pressure, and is in most cases. You work long hours, often on salary. Sometimes you work all night. Sometimes you sleep at work, and just get up and code again. Whoever wrote this article is not really qualified to judge, apparently.

    With that said, software development can be incredibly fulfilling. I don’t know another field where you have to learn so much so fast, and there is a massive world of development out there. A great software developer can write his own ticket. But low stress? No.