How to Make 6 Figures as a Software Engineer and Still be Bad at Math

Caleb Rogers
“Save Your Money” is Good Advice but There’s so Much

Think math skills are a requirement?

Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

You can make good money and have a fulfilling career as a software engineer and simultaneously be terrible at math.

I know, because that’s me.

Regardless, I make good money (yes, six figures) and I’ve been making decent money for many years now. You can, too, even if you suck at math.

Sorry, teachers, you were wrong about having to be good at math.

I remember being told in high school that I had to be good at math to work with computers (something I wanted to do…I just didn’t have the details). If I am remembering my youth correctly, being good at arithmetic and then at mathematics was a strong theme throughout my entire schooling.

I’ve never been good at math. I don’t think using numbers very well, and I had a super disjointed education growing up. If there was ever a chance I would be decent at math, that flew out the window with my early education. I jumped around from school to school across years and even semesters. The school I was going to might have already covered something that the school I was coming from hadn’t yet covered.

There were holes like that all over my education. I think some people thought I just wasn’t very smart, but the main problem was that I had no continuity in my education.

Though I guess I am dumb at math. It’s OK. I’m good with that because I don’t need it. I can write software to do the math for me. It’s win-win all around!

But isn’t programming just math?

Math and programming aren’t as tightly coupled as you might think. Sure, there are lots of crossovers, and even most computer science programs are taught from a very math-centric perspective.

In my program, one of the main professors had a Ph.D. in mathematics, so you know he was all Fibonacci this and matrix vertices that.

Even looking at my Algorithms in a Nutshell book I have conveniently placed on the desk next to my computer for inspiration is page after page of math-looking stuff. I just flipped it open to a random page and saw a table of equations about graphs. O(V log V) is the simplest one of the page.

A lot of programming is talking to APIs, data ingress and egress, steps to do a thing, designing interfaces, building out backend systems, updating and transforming data inside remote or local data stores, and so on.

If I have to do math to solve a problem, there are libraries I can use to do the math. This is something I’ve had to do, but that’s not a problem since I know how to build software.

Building software is different than Will Hunting solving complicated math equations on a chalkboard.

My entire career has been without math skills.

I was never good at any mathematics, and even arithmetic concepts like long division and complex fraction problems evaded my understanding all through school.

I barely squeaked by my degree-requirement college algebra and trigonometry class. Thankfully, my roommate was super good at math and was taking advanced calculus classes, so he helped me cram before each test. In one ear and out the other just to get the grade.

I’ve been programming in some from another since 1996. Maybe 1991 if you want to count the little bit of Basic I wrote in a class to loop through a line and print out something absurd all over the screen.

I’ve been working as a professional software engineer, writing code and all that, since 2004. I’ve had no problems getting the job done while being completely unskilled at math. It’s just not a requirement for a lot of development work.

And since I started, I’ve climbed up from a small salary to a good one, and you can, too.

There is a small caveat…

Some programming jobs need strong math skills. Off the top of my head, I can think of two: data science (statistics, and I think logarithms…whatever those are), and 3d game programming (physics, 3d math, and all that fancy stuff).

If you want a programming job that needs strong math skills, then just get those skills and then start applying. If you don’t have those skill and don’t want to acquire them, just don’t go out for those jobs.

Can you make 6 figures as a software engineer?

Of course you can make $100,000 or more as a software engineer, as long as you’re living in the right place and have marketable skills. I’ve been in the 6 figure club for about three years now, and I know several developers who have been in it a lot longer.

Part of the equation is where you live. When I was in a low cost of living area, I was making good money but still just the high five-figure range. Once I moved to a higher cost of living area, my pay immediately jumped into that sweet range.

The same can happen to you. Just get some skills and go out for the high paying work.

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