This article was originally published on .cult by Luis Minvielle. .cult is a Berlin-based community platform for developers. We write about all things career-related, make original documentaries, and share heaps of other untold developer stories from around the world.
If you’re a Bootcamp student, learning the basics that make code work, how long will it take for you to become a software programming master? In his best-selling book Outliers (2008), Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell famously brought forward the 10,000-Hour Rule — a rule of thumb to define how much time anyone should practice before becoming an expert, and a successful person, in any given field.
According to Gladwell’s reasoning, The Beatles became a primed-for-success live band because of their stint in Hamburg in the early sixties, where they amassed around ten thousand hours of live playing by performing loud songs in the city’s nightclub circuit.
Also, Bill Gates became a magician coder — among the world’s fifty best programmers of his time — because he first invested ten thousand hours in getting his code effective, snappy, and error-free. He did so at a young age — as a teenager, he slipped into his high school’s computer lab and learned the basics and insights of programming on his own. By the time he founded Microsoft, Bill Gates was a just beginner businessman, but an expert, 10k-certified developer.
The rule’s alluring simplicity — and Gladwell’s penchant for summing up complex topics into easy-to-follow mantras — have turned it into an enduring standard in regards to learning and in regards to being successful. Even Paul McCartney chipped in and said there’s “a lot of truth to it.”
If we harness Mr. Gladwell’s investigation and apply the rule to a programmer’s career, we may have an easy way of understanding how long it’d take to become a master coder — and it may also provide a cheat sheet to understand when you should request a raise as a mid-level developer.
From bootcamp to master
For the sake of this exercise, let’s pretend the 10,000-Hour Rule is incredibly accurate (spoiler alert: allegedly, it’s not). Also, let’s pretend you’ve enrolled in an intensive, full-time bootcamp to become a data scientist, such as Le Wagon in Berlin. This means that, by the time you complete the course, you’ll have practiced around 350 hours — a significant 3.5% of the final mark.
But that’s just the start. In 2020, 79% of bootcamp graduates landed a job in the six months following course completion. And a job — or maybe a high school computer lab — might be the best place to practice your coding skills.
So, being an expert coder must be a long road, but how long? Taking into account a 350-hour head-start and a (pessimistic) six-month hiatus scenario, you can do the calculations right away.
If you landed a job at any company as a data scientist, and coded and honed your skills for eight hours a day, five days a week, then you’d be attaining the ten-thousand-hour mark in… around five years and a half. Not a cakewalk, but not the longest haul either!
I’m a 3840-hour engineer, and I deserve a raise
No, please don’t say that to your boss. But, since salaries are often defined against a loosely-defined grade system, attaining 3,840 hours as a programmer could mean you’re primed to request a bump-up in your monthly income.
How many things could you do in 3,840 hours? To begin with, you could watch The Matrix Resurrections more than 1,500 times, or watch a replay of every Champions League final game almost forty times. But, most importantly, if you attained 3,840 hours as a programmer, it means you’ve invested at least two years in practicing, working, and honing your coding chops, and the industry acknowledges your improvement.
By this time, then, you’re not a junior engineer anymore — feel free to call yourself a mid-level engineer. As we’ve mentioned before, having 2–3 years of experience as a programmer means you’ll be able to aim for a salary of around $80–90k (in the US).
The 10,000-Hour Rule makes it incredibly easy to calculate how far you’ve come in two years: since we’re talking about 3,840 hours over a ten-thousand-hour goal, we’d say that, by the time you’ve done more than a third of the expected road towards mastery, you’re already a mid-level engineer.
The senior-level engineer milestone
If you’re a senior engineer, it means you know how to be an expert and a beginner at the same time: seniors are expected to explore new programming languages or concepts without qualms. It might also mean your LinkedIn inbox is blowing up by the hours: in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 98% of senior software engineers are employed.
More so, 37% of senior software engineers usually stay at the same company for just one or two years. The stats reflect the high demand the market has — in both the private and public sectors — for all-around, experienced software devs. If you’re a senior-level engineer, chances are you’ll get employment offers by the dozens in a year.
And how long should someone program before becoming a senior software engineer? Research centres seem to agree on the number of years it takes: you’ll become a senior once you attain, at least, five years as a programmer.
Yes: five years, as much as it would take to get past the ten-thousand-hour goal. Mr. Gladwell’s rule lives up neatly to the industry’s standards. Gladwell’s bold take is that practicing that much doesn’t only allow for expertise: he claims that practicing will also lead to success.
So, according to him, if you program like a beast for five years, you’ll probably amass ten thousand hours of “flight time” — and you’ll be primed to be successful. If anything, your salary by this time should be around $110k, or even more if you’re working in Silicon Valley.
The beauty of Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule is that it matches up neatly with a programming career: if we follow the rule blindly, then becoming an expert data scientist, an expert web page developer, or an expert ninja programmer will take the same amount of time, which is around five years. The industry seems to react to this coincidence by granting better salaries as time goes by — and as your expertise broadens.
Quite naturally, professional careers come with ups and downs. You might spend just three hours a day programming, which would push the ten-thousand-hour goal to almost ten years. Also, you might invest time in a passion project and amass that quantity sooner than in five years.
Even so, the alternative take from this analysis is that you’re five years away from becoming what most HR teams would deem “Senior.” And, if the theory proves sound, then you’re also just five years away from professional success.