Should I Learn Coding or Carpentry?

Should I Learn Coding or Carpentry?

Ask a different question, grasshopper

It sure is a popular search!
Coding is hot! Learn these skills and you’ll make a ton of money! Buy our course now!

Yeah, sure. Maybe. But you know what else is a good paying skill? Custom carpentry. I know a guy who does that kind of work. His clients are wealthy people who don’t want their new kitchen from some sweaty guy with an exposed butt crack. They don’t want cabinets from Home Depot or anywhere, really: they want them handcrafted, and they want them perfect. Perfectly sized, perfectly designed, and perfectly built with love, care, and attention to detail.

Very few people do that kind of work. The few that can do very well for themselves.

By the way, kitchen cabinets don’t crash and will never require a long drive to a cavernous data center at 2:00 AM.

Been there, done that. Spooky places, those data centers, especially late at night. Keep that in mind when we get to talking about your coding career.

Let’s talk about Carpentry first

It’s a good career, isn’t it? Write this down for reference later on in this article:

Robotic Remodeling and Custom Carpentry Inc. won’t be opening for a long, long time.

Obviously, you aren’t going to become a custom carpenter overnight. There are a lot of skills required, mental and physical. You need some natural aptitude too. It’s not a job for me: I had to pay somebody with skills a few hundred dollars to fix the gigantic mess I made trying to hang a small shelf, so I went into the computer field.

The Coding Career

Remember Robotic Remodeling? Here’s a dirty secret about coding today: a lot of it is a bit robotic: pulling code libraries, slapping them together with glue you write. Not much different from what your lawyer did when he wrote your will or helped you buy a house: he pulled a lot of boilerplate and put your name in where it belonged. Not much different than putting together an Ikea table. Get the right screws in the right holes and it works. Coding can be a little like that.

Ever hear of LegalZoom? There are a lot of things that you can do without a lawyer today. I’m not saying you should, just that you can. I’m not saying that there isn’t any challenging high level coding either.

Do you think you will be tackling Apple’s next CPU microcode revamp straight out of Code Camp?

There are also a lot of computerish things you can do today without hiring a coder. When I got started in this field, that was not the case at all. Would you believe I once wrote an accounting system from scratch for a small auto dealer? I needed two skills for that: a basic knowledge of accounting and a basic knowledge of Microsoft Basic. A lot of people had one or the other of those skills; far fewer had both.

Try starting a business today writing custom programs for small businesses. I’ll wait here.

But the market for programmers is red-hot!

Sure. There’ are a lot of jobs available. There are a lot of carpentry jobs available too. According to the top hit I got from googling “Coding Job Salaries” the average salary is a bit less than $50k per year.

Dude, that’s what I made as a sales person at an Apple Store after I retired!

When I did the same search for average Carpenter salaries, those were better by 20%.

But you can’t hammer nails forever

Yeah, sure. Carpenters aren’t always working in cozy mansions and being offered a gourmet lunch by the live-in cook. Only unusually skilled carpenters get those gigs. I do not mean only carpentry skills; to get work like that, you need strong social skills as well. Very strong social skills.

Here’s something to chew on: I made really good money for several decades as a “have brain, will travel” computer guy, solving problems, writing a little code, giving purchasing advice, whatever. I had ‘puter skills, sure, but most of my success came from other skills and personality. Many, many people write better code than I did. Many are better at troubleshooting. But I got work they lost, time after time.

So you want to learn to code?

Okay, great. Now you want to know what language to learn, right? So before I answer that, I have my own questions.

Are you planning on working for the Man? For yourself? Do you want to write an app? Build custom websites? Design CPU cores? What do you imagine yourself doing with your coding skill?

Asking what language to learn is like asking what tools should you buy before you become a carpenter. My answer for that is that you should buy some heavy boots, gloves, and a warm but comfortable jacket. And a hat. Got to have a hat!

Answering that question for coding well today might be the very wrong thing to suggest a year or two from now. When I started out, C and COBOL were the credentials to have. You could find some work today for both of those skills, but the hot stuff, the money stuff, is constantly in flux. It changes. New stuff comes into vogue; there’s always something new to learn.

If you have already had some exposure to programming — and a lot of people took some sort of course or courses at school — you should look through job listings to see what you might like doing and what it might pay. That will give some idea about the skills and experience you will need.

A LOT of programming today is boring. It’s boilerplate work, and you won’t get much money for it. If you want the six figure and up jobs, you need six figure and up skills. And as with most everything else in life, not all those necessary skills are purely technical, especially for those of us who want to turn hardware, software, and business needs into big money.


If you don’t have any experience at all, then this might be a place to start:

If you try this out and don’t get immediately frustrated, maybe you do have a knack for coding.

And then what?

And then you’ll spend the rest of your life learning new languages if you want to make any real money. If you start now, you’ll probably soon find the ground under your feet crumbling as AI takes over more and more of the easy stuff.

So you should get into AI, yes? Well, that stuff is a long, long way from JavaScript, but sure: if you have the ability, perhaps so.

Buy a Mac. Apple’s Xcode development system is free and even if you end up doing coding for Microsoft, it’s valuable experience. Look into courses at places like Udemy and dozens of others, including universities. Some are free, some cost, some give certifications.

Or not

What would I do if I had to reinvent myself again today and found myself in a young, healthy body with a quick brain?

I think I’d learn a trade. Electrician, plumber, something like that. I’d learn as many as I could, because that’s the way to stay employed or to be able to get work if I worked for myself — which I would, because that’s how I roll. I’d be constantly learning new things there too, but I wouldn’t be worried about AI and robotics. That stuff would be stuff I would need to learn and to use, but it would be making me more skilled, not replacing me.

Really. I am not joking.

I had a fun and lucrative career, but I was in the right place at the right time with the right skills. If I tried that today, I would not be successful at all. I was able to start a business then with very little capital expense and had plenty of customers who needed help. Those conditions don’t exist today.

Maybe I’d find something else, who knows?

I’d definitely steer clear of anything in the computer field. I feel that when everyone and their cousin is selling courses, the opportunities will be drying up soon. But that’s me, an old curmudgeon.

You do you, okay?

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