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10 Least Stressful Jobs of 2011 - 3: Software Engineer

  • 3. Software Engineer

    Stress Rank: 15
    Stress Score: 10.40
    Hiring Outlook Rank: 5 out of 200
    Hours Per Day: 8-10+


    Software Engineers research, design, develop and maintain software systems. They usually work in an office setting at a computer, but telecommuting options are becoming a more common perk. With the demand for web applications and the development of cloud computing, opportunities for software engineers are plentiful.

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It is stressful when you are

It is stressful when you are only a number in the team that managed by a back stabbing manager who only care for his/her own advancement.  It's a great job when your manager knows everybody in the team strong and weakness and putting him/her in the position where they are strong at and everybody works as a team and do their duties.  It is also under rated that the important of the software be built in a form of an assembly line to avoid less bugs.

SE stress

I think the author intended to say that because it is a diverse field, very secure, flexible, and pretty fun, it is better than other careers. But low stress wouldn't be correct. 

In context of Silicon Valley,

In context of Silicon Valley, I rate the stress level between 9-10 of 10, but then again the salary quoted here is way too low from my experience.  So if you like demanding work that pays well, become a SE.

Demanding Job, Pays Well, Requires Competency

I've been a software developer/engineer for 30 years. I've had numerous "versions" of my career, due to the rapid changes in technology. In order to survive in this profession, you must constantly keep up with new technology, be able to focus intensely for long periods of time, solve hard problems, and deal with complex ideas and abstractions.

The stress level and expectations can be very high. I think the stress level has risen considerably since I started in 1980. Once the world became a "global" market with a global workforce, the competition definitely rose significantly and many people who were mediocre exited the field!

The very best software engineers with the most in-demand skills *should* be able to set expectations and terms of their employment so as to keep stress at a reasonable level, while enjoying top pay.

Those near the bottom of ability & skills will suffer through layoffs and unemployment, quickly gaining an inferiority complex. There's no toleration for incompetency, especially these days, so don't get into this business unless you know you're very good at the basics (see the list below).

For most people, like myself, in the middle or upper middle of the pack, I'd say the stress level ranges from 6-8, out of 10. Sometimes it's higher, but for the most part, it's hovers in this range. If you feel it's always a 9, then you need to look at your skills and abilities and re-assess your situation. (I know it might not be that simple).

In addition to be very competent and keeping up with technology, you need to find a good fit. If you're working 80 hours a week and are always stressed out, look for a different job. If your skills won't let you easily switch jobs, develop new skills.

In addition to "having a knack" and being interested in technology, if you want to be a *satisfied* software developer, the following skills, abilities, and inclinations are very important:

0. Tenacity, tenacity, tenacity !
1. Problem solving skills of all kinds.
2. Understand abstractions, complex systems and interactions, an ability to understand how systems work.
3. Ability to learn new technologies quickly and in-depth. The ability to come up to speed quickly.
4. Ability to focus for long periods of time, tenaciously concentrating until a problem is solved.
5. Mathematical facility, or, at least, the inductive/deductive reasoning skills associated with math.
6. Creativity. The ability to create solutions to users' needs and create unique approaches to solving problems.
7. Interact and communicate with others (This is often underestimated).

I'm tempted to add the ability to take complex ideas or problems and translate these into demonstrable solutions. In the end, engineers must be practical. After dealing with all the high-level abstractions and complexities, business people, end-users, and bosses need to see practical indications of progress or some kind of demonstration. Often, the best software engineers can deal with complex ideas and abstractions one moment, then quickly come down to earth and show a practical application.

Stress is an inevitable part of life and work. There's good stress and bad stress. Without stress, people often don't grow or feel challenged. It's important to be able to gauge your abilities against a given job and/or assignment.

I'd write more, but I have a deadline ... a drop-dead date, if we don't ship, the company will fold and we'll all die :-)

Put this one in the overrated category.

I've been in all aspects of software engineering and let me tell you that when you are installing changes on a banking or insurance system the stress level can sky rocket especially when you know that some of your team isn't quite up to the challenge. For those of you that aren't sure of what I mean (like the guy over in cube 22 watching March madness instead of double checking his install) there are millions of accounts that can be affected with a change at a large bank or insurance company. Better yet, how about making one in the stock market software realm or at Microsoft and having it roll out onto millions of home computers and business machines. This job is high stress and not to be taken lightly.

Time for a new profession for most of you

I have been a software engineer for the last 4 years and I can honestly say my stress level has never risen above ANYTHING you guys are writing about.

I come in at 8ish, I leave around 4:30ish and our team gets everything done that has been asked of us on time because we setup realistic timelines for our work. All of my managers have been developers who have been promoted so they if we say 2 weeks, its going to take us 2 weeks.

I think all of you need to get out on Dice and find an employer who will treat you like an employee and not slave.

Don't Comment!

I am a software engineer, a real one. I believe this article is so ridiculous and insulting that I think it has been written with the intention of teasing us, and make us react (comment). I hope this is the last comment this article gets.

This is because people in

This is because people in India don't really give a $hit


I've been a "software engineer", "systems analyst" or "programmer" most of my working life, and this study is bogus.
This can be a very stressful profession, but one of the key factors here is how secure your job is.
Increasingly, its not. More and more people in this "field" are temporary aka contractors and considered disposable by corporations. Yet the interviews can be brutal and highly competitve. You are frequently expected to train yourself entirely, know everything about a company's software, languages, OS, and setup from the get-go, hit the ground running and then advise and direct established employees on their systems-- some of whom may have been there decades and have no desire to listen to anyone. And at the first hint of problem or budget cuts, you're the first to be blamed and the first to go.

Those lucky enough to be in government/union positions here are night and day from the temps, but they are a vanishing breed.
The pressures on programmers can be terrible- I've seen firsthand some work ungodly hours and go without sleeping, eating to make deadlines.

I agree

Corporations kick you out the minute your work is done.

Software Engineers have extreme stress at their job.

How is it possible that the very backbone of the most competitive place to be working, High Tech, is not stressful? How? It is clear that this article doesn't know what a software engineer does, where they work or what their work environement is like. The original study is absolutely not reliable! Software engineers work with extreme deadlines, extreme hours, extreme workloads, broken software, down systems, stressed colleagues, bully bosses etc., etc. Software engineers are known to work themselves to death at the job! Just ask the software engineers at RIM if they are stressed or not right now? Something is really wrong with this study!!!!

Software Engineering Typically a High Stress Job

I've been a Software Development Manager for several years at a few high-tech companies in the Portland area. While Portland is notable for being laid back, this high-tech field is most certainly not. Software Developers often have crazed schedules and wild expectations of what they can deliver. There's a reason why highly caffeinated carbonated beverages are littering all work surfaces. Work hours can often be over 80/week during the busier times of the year (at least half the year). Even the makers of social games like Zygna have super-stressful jobs and sadly no social lives.



Software Engineer does not have interpersonal stress bsically

I'm a software engineer with 10+ years. We basically does not have much interpersonal stress.

We don't usually deal with customers. We do have some office politics to deal with but you basically request your manager to resolve it. You don't directly deal with it. So as long as you have good relation with your manager and your manager does his/her job, you just deal with your computer.

I do get stress from programming but I think it's much more manageable than dealing with people problem.

What a Sick Joke!

This is such a crap! Whoever wrote this doesn't have any idea what software engineer and programmer does.

Boundary Control

Some commenters talk about how easy their life is, and some talk about how hard it is.

The difference? It's not where they work, it's their lack of ability to properly set expectations and maintain boundaries.

If you're the one who buckles when the project manager says, "We have to deliver this by next week!" and then works all weekend to finish the project, you only have yourself to blame.

And the more you do it, the more it will be expected of you in the future.

Take a look at yourself: Are you the one who always works overtime to stay in good with the boss? Or are you the one no one bothers to ask because they always know the answer will be "no"?

Sometimes being the whipping-boy is a path to job security, but don't kid yourself - it's not because they respect you - it's because they can get away with taking advantage of you.

Be productive at work, set deadlines for yourself that you KNOW you can meet (under-promise, over-deliver), and maintain those boundaries. In the IT world there are rarely TRUE emergencies.

You have obviously never been the one in the developers chair

When you are TOLD not ASKED if you are going to work the weekend or you will not have a job on Monday, you respond accordingly. When the client is threatening a lawsuit if the software change that they claim is costing them millions is not finished by tomorrow morning - you work through the night or quit the job.
There is not a gray area where you can tell the client - I am not going to make the change for you and you will lose another million tomorrow, have a nice evening...

Programmers who take the attitude of "I'm not going to let the boss push me around!" aren't employeed for very long in the current economy.

As for the poster who said that they have been a software developer for 10 years and they haven't had any stress because they don't have to deal with clients. In the 32 years I have been developing software, I was fortunate enough to have 1 job where I was protected from the clients thanks to their extreme budget for addition staff to keep the clients away from me.

The more common scenario is the developer is working for a small mom and pop shop who's entire financial future hinges on the production of the software developer. If product is not delivered by deadline, they lock the doors and go home. It also does not matter if you are telecommuting or working in an office in this case, the only thing that changes is where you feel the pressure to complete the tasks assigned to you.

Whoever conducted this study never spoke with a Microsoft programmer in the midst of one if their "Death Marches".

Maybe they interviewed the developer above in his nice corner office next to the cappuccino machine after they cleared it with his project manager..

The low stress high pay jobs do exist. They are just very few and far between.

They mentioned that 87k is the average pay. Maybe in NY or CA, in the rest of the country it's closer to 50k. Check out or if you want confirmation on that.

What planet are these guys on?

Software Engineer not stressful? Try again!

High pressure business deadlines requiring 80 hours a week, rotating on call tech support, non-tech-savvy users and management (why can't we just do THIS?) and oh, people from India or China looking greedily at your job and are willing to do it for 1/4 your pay.

Software Engineering is one of the most stressful jobs shy of air traffic control I can think of. Sometimes I think that would be easier!



Tell that to the people at Sony PSN right now.

You've got to be kidding... right?

You don't think software development is stressful? What a load of crap. You position yourselves as experts on careers and then post this list? 60 hour weeks, on-call 24x7, unrealistic project deadlines governed by idiots who have no clue as to what it will take to get the product out the door, cheap labor flooding the market from China and India, managers who drink the cool-aid and think the latest methodology (six sigma, quality work groups, etc) will solve all their woes and speed up development, product managers who have 9 months to develop their product and drop the requirements on your desk two weeks before the deadline, HR managers who insist on holding all day 'sensitivity training' seminars the day before project implementation. Who are you trying to kid with this list?

But why should this surprise me. Those outside of IT think it's so simple. Dealing with idiots who don't know what's involved and oversimplify software development is half the problem and you are just perpetuating that fallacy. Your organization has lost all credibility.

Couldn't Agree More!!

I have worked in IT for over 10 years and saying that software engineering (or any other job in IT) is one of the least stressful jobs in America is astounding!! My wife has grown accustomed to conference calls at 10:30 at night and waking up to more phone calls at 2 in the morning because a server in the datacenter went down. It's unbelievable to think that any position in IT could be considered low stress, but like you said, those that work outside of IT have absolutely no clue!!


I could not agree more! This is such an outrageous claim. Because those who work with software often have the option to work at home makes their jobs less stressful? What a joke.

I'm not stressed

I can't believe all the comments on this page about how stressful people think Software Engineering is. I finish all my deadlines ahead of schedule, can work from home whenever I want, and get paid a ridiculous amount of money. I think the most stressful part of having this job is trying to figure out what to do with the fists full of cash they are throwing at me. Maybe you guys need to find a new job?

Software Engineering - no stress

Spoken like a true, buzzword matching, BS recruiter, like you obviously are. By definition of your function, you don't have a clue. Your sole concern is how will you ever make the gobs of cash you do now by doing such an easy gig as matching buzzwords and acronyms you know nothing about if we in the field wise up, as well as end clients, and cease to have a need for your services.

Software Engineering - no stress - Reply

You obviously have as much of a clue about the staffing industry as recruiters know about the fuctionality of technologies. Do you have any idea why staffing firms exist? It's because staffing firms spend endless hours finding the BEST candidates for each job and if the client could find these candidates with the efficiency and low cost that a staffing firm could, at that time staffing services would not be needed. BUT THEY CAN'T. Staffing firms only work with professional and marketable candidates- if you haven't had any success with firms, I have a suggestion why that is. And based on your condescending reply, I would say that I'm right.

Living easy

I don't know what better, the huge bonuses or taking four weeks of paid vacation each year.


Agreed! This job is stress free. Most of my time is spent surfing the internet.


Tell me where you work and I'll forward my resume. I'll bring in a team from off-shore and eliminate your position. Your job still won't be stressful, it will just be done by someone in India.

If you are really in IT and have it that easy, then you know how lucky you are compared to most in IT.

Me too!

What kind of cush gig do you have? The rest of the workforce is killing themselves!

Maybe its the industry... do tell us(approximately )where you work!


The inclusion of this and 'computer programmer' as fourth just goes to show how ridiculous this 'study' is. 18 hours days, impossible deadlines, impossible managers, millions and millions of lines of code, personal liability, having all the responsibility and none of the benefits, outsourcing... The list goes on and on.

Personally, given this is a career related site I think that if this is the best 'research' they have then this site is worth nothing.

Having been a software

Having been a software engineer for 15 years, I can tell you it is definitely not stress free. I've worked at startups (which can be stressful just because they're a startup) and large corporations. In every case, the pressure of meeting deadlines makes for a not-quite-stress-free environment. Add the fact that schedules are constantly shifting and specs are constantly changing, and there's no way it's a low stress job.

There's a reason software engineers get paid what they do.

Peter Gibbons

...was a software engineer, and also, the butt of every well-known joke about terrible/high-stress work. Please re-watch Office Space, it's all true.

But. . .

To all those who scoff at Software Engineering being a low stress job, I would say most stress is created by the individual(i.e. internally) rather than by external factors. An individual's experience also plays a large role in whether they view a job as stressful or not. Point being, as you gain more experience you not only know what to expect but also have developed strategies to prevent and deal with stress.


Software engineer and computer programing isn't stressful? I'd like to see you guys remember millions of codes and calculate all those insane calculations just to develop a basic program with a usable interface. Yeah you 'could' work anywhere you want, it just needs to be quiet and well lit, and never mind eye strain, back problems and carpal tunnel syndrome. Just because something isn't 'physically' demanding doesn't mean it's stress free.

Insane Calculations?

Anyone talking about having to "Remember millions of codes" and "calculating insane calculations" to build a usable UI has been watching too much TV and has never coded anything. I feel that stress is more based on the specific job/workplace and work habits than anything in the tech field.

No, just insane.

Maybe you've never inherited a prototype application that was thrown together by two guys with low skill, working 80+ hours a week (on a death march) that someone later decided was going to be a production system, and then have crap bolted onto it and also copy/paste/tweak code instead of building it properly, and then you get hired to bolt more crap onto it and answer their questions as to why it runs poorly.  When you have four PMs telling two developers what to do, which does not include fixing glaring architectural defects, just spot fixes and adding features to a broken foundation, that's the problem.  When your VP of a Fortune 100 company comes down and issues dicta, you have no choice but to comply or watch your job go to India.I have worked in moderately low stress dev environments.  They are extremely rare.  Most of my experience has been in high stress environments, congruent with most comments here, where expectations are unrealistic and typically do not involve your input: you get told what you should do on a technical level by people with no understanding of computer science, and what timeline you are expected to deliver.  And then the requirements change (yay scope creep).  It's extremely stressful; I've won quality awards, and I refuse to operate in this environment any longer than I have to til I can get into a completely new field.

Totally Agree

I couldn't agree more.

Well put!

Well put!

Different People/Different Experiences

Although I am not in this kind of business could it be that there is no right or wrong to this question of it being more or less stressful? Maybe some peoples experiences have been different than others. Some in this profession have had less stress, some more than in other kinds of jobs. Am I possibly correct here too?


This has got to me the most stressful job other than being the President.

Where is the non stressful

Where is the non stressful Software Engineer job. I must have worked at the wrong places. I'd like to know how this lame study was conducted.

Whoever wrote this article needs to go back and do it over!

Software Engineers have a stressful job trying to please everyone
in the company including and especially the external customers while keeping/delivering on tasks/projects within budget and with deadlines! Like the cliche goes 'you just cant please everybody!' If you know of a not-stressful software engineer job please let me know asap! I want to apply there!!


That is hilarious! Where do they get these rankings? Every programmer I talk to is stressed out.


What a clown, I guess writing crap like this is pretty stress free too, if you can pull info out of your butt and passit off as the truth. What a crock.

Yeah, right

I agree, I think they must have screwed up or they've just drawn the results out of a hat.

This is a joke

Software Engineer/Application Developer/Programmer are incredibly stressful jobs. Where do they come up with these? Let's see . . . Unrealistic deadlines, business people who won't give you the time and input they need to so you can create an accurate spec and data model.

After you've taken the little good information they did give you and worked your tail off based on what they said they wanted, they use it and start asking for major changes to the app - but none to delivery date mind you - because they didn't want to put the effort in to spec it properly in the first place!

No stress. Right.


no comment

A joke

This has got to be a joke. Sorry, but try telling me that getting paged in the middle of the night because some critical service is down and you're losing $X million/hour isn't stressful.

Do your Research

It's apparent the only programmers/software engineers who had the time to fill out their survey were the unemployed ones who couldn't take the stress.

Pure Fabrication

This article is pure fabrication by someone who
1. Wants to convince the public that there are black women software engineers (there are almost none).

2. That the software engineering is easy, so if she can do, you (white male) can do it better.

Fabrication couple with Political Correctness in order to achieve a goal (cheaper labor)

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