Computer Scientists: Are They Happy?

Here’s whether people with a degree in computer science are happy:

Computer scientists rank in the top 42% for career happiness. 

That doesn’t put them at the very top of all professions, but computer scientists are happier than the average person. 

That might be tied to higher-than-average salaries, a feeling of accomplishment from the work they do, or a number of other factors.

So if you want to learn all about the computer scientists’ happiness, then this article is for you.

Keep reading!

Computer Scientists: Are They Happy? (5 Reasons)

Can We Define Happiness?

You’re really coming to me with an existential dilemma on this one, aren’t you? 

Who am I to define the happiness of others?

Well, since you asked, it’s actually possible to take a stab at objectively defining and measuring the happiness of others. 

Obviously, all of this comes with a grain of salt, but if you’re trying to figure out if a career in computer science leads to a happy life, I’ll do my best to give you useful information.

Let’s start with a bit of a definition. 

What is happiness? 

In one sense, it’s a matter of self-reflection. 

We could even say it’s a possible answer on a “happiness” survey. 

In the very beginning, I said that computer scientists rank in the top 42% in terms of career happiness.

I was referencing a survey.

To extend beyond that a bit, happiness is a state that most adults would describe as being more positive than not. 

If you feel more good about your life than bad, then maybe we can reasonably say that you are happy. 

If your feelings are net-negative, then maybe your general state isn’t happy. 

Using that idea, the survey linked above says that computer scientists, on average, rate their life as a 3.3 out of 5. 

That tilts in the direction of happiness, and that’s going to be my general position on this one.

How Is Happiness Measured? (5 Reasons)

That said, I’m not going to stop with just one survey. 

If we’re really going to answer this question, we need to dig a little deeper, peel back some layers, and try to meaningfully measure this idea of happiness.

Fortunately, entire fields of science are already tackling this. 

The psychologists running the CareerExplorer’s surveys (that I just keep referencing) broke happiness into five categories: 

  • Money
  • Meaning
  • Personality/culture fit
  • Work environment
  • Skills utilization.

Let’s take a deeper look at those five:

#1 Money

They say that money can’t buy you happiness, but economic distress is real, and if you’re not making money beyond what it takes to cover the essential bills, a lack of money absolutely can contribute to unhappiness.

The stress associated with financial uncertainty is real, and it has real impacts. 

Since we’re trying to stay focused here, one of the big problems with financial stress is lower life satisfaction. 

Brookings Institute has poured a lot of research into this, and the results aren’t surprising. 

If you don’t make enough money, it can be a source of misery.

But that least to an inevitable question. 

How much money is enough? 

Obviously, this depends on a lot of factors. 

In general, having enough money to get out of poverty classifications massively reduces financial stress and associated unhappiness. 

But, there’s a big difference between sitting just above the poverty line and feeling true financial freedom.

We can generalize a lot here, and you can kind of break income into three levels. 

At the bottom is the poverty level, and that’s clearly not a desirable place to be. 

In the middle level, basic needs are met, but not with much room to spare, so there’s still negative financial stress. 

At the top level, it’s easy to pay the bills, and struggling with finances isn’t the top source of stress anymore.

How much money does it take to get to the top level? 

That’s going to depend on where you live and how you live, so there is no magic number. 

But, a frequently-cited study from a few years ago says that the magic number in the United States is around $75,000 a year in income. 

That’s a moving target, but for the sake of trying to get a real answer here, let’s assume it’s reasonable.

At long last, we can answer this part of the question. 

Are computer scientists happy? 

In terms of money, do they average more than $75,000 a year? 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that seems to be the case. 

Half of all computer scientists make more than $120,000 a year.

So, getting above that $75,000 mark seems pretty doable in this field.

#2 Meaning

Computer scientists are happy on the money front. 

Cool. 

But, we’re not done yet. 

Even if you don’t have severe financial stress, that doesn’t mean you will be happy, and that brings our conversation to meaning.

This word comes up a lot, and it’s as difficult to define and measure as happiness itself. 

We’re really getting into deep topics today, aren’t we?

Let’s look at this from a simple perspective. 

A lot of people relate to the idea of having a job that feels meaningful. 

It feels like the work done makes some kind of difference on a scale beyond just paying bills. 

Work that helps people or contributes to some grander connection will usually appeal to the desire for meaning.

It might be a lot to ask of a job, but then again, most of us feel this way at least some of the time.

So, how do we really measure it? 

How do we know if a job is meaningful?

The experts have come to a tried and true answer. 

Do surveys. 

If we can’t perfectly define and measure the concept, then we’ll let every individual do that for themselves. 

The scientists just have to tally the results, and it should shed at least a little light on what’s going on here.

So, how many people find their jobs to be meaningful?

I’m going to lean on the Pew Research Center for this one. 

In their research, 30% of Americans (sorry rest of the world) do not find meaning in their jobs. 

Instead, the job is just a means to an end. 

And, going back to the original idea of averaging our feelings, 49% of Americans lean towards not being satisfied.

It’s a pretty even split.

What about computer scientists? 

There wasn’t a perfect survey, but extrapolating from additional data in the Pew Research survey, computer scientists do find their jobs meaningful on average. 

That’s two for three so far.

#3 Work Environment

The next big criterion to look into is the work environment. 

The research I cited also mentioned skills utilization and the workplace culture, but I think we can combine all of those into one general concept here. 

The work environment encompasses many aspects of how you might feel at work, so let’s look at it that way.

In general, work environments for computer scientists are very diverse. 

It’s a field that is more accessible to work-from-home arrangements than many. 

Computer science is also attached to pretty much every other industry in the world. 

You’re going to see computer scientists working for and alongside people in all industries, making the software tools that help all of us.

Because of that, I think it’s best to use general averages for measuring computer science work environments. 

For this, Pew once again has good data. 

The majority of Americans lean in the direction of job satisfaction. 

The overall environment is more positive than not.

So, to finish off this quest, let’s look at using skills and culture to see if computer scientists are happy.

#4 Skill Utilization

The theory is that people like to use their skills.

They like to feel at least some level of challenge, and there’s a sense of satisfaction when they overcome present challenges. 

So, using your skills at work is probably a positive thing.

How does computer science look?

This probably won’t surprise you, but computer scientists use their skills all the time. 

It’s a high-skill job, and that’s kind of the whole point. 

Everybody needs access to someone who can write code effectively. 

We need computer and software tools that make things run well, and we turn to computer scientists for that.

In fact, computer scientists use their skills a lot more than most professions. 

That’s because the majority of entry-level computer science positions start at the professional level—meaning they require a master’s degree or equivalent. 

This is a job of experts doing expert things. 

If utilizing skills is a part of happiness, then computer scientists are very happy on this front.

#5 Culture

I’m going to summarize the last aspect of job happiness with culture. 

Do you feel like you fit in at work? 

Work is a major social component of many of our lives. 

If you don’t fit in, it’s going to impact your happiness.

That much makes sense, right? 

So, let’s just get to it. 

How do computer scientists feel about culture and fitting in?

This is actually super complicated. 

As you’ve already seen, computer scientists are attached to all kinds of cultures. 

Many work from home. 

Many interact with people who know nothing about computer science.

It’s a jungle out there.

Trying to account for all of that, I’ll turn to Pew research one final time. 

This is not quite as clear as other data, but more often than not, computer scientists feel positively about their workplace culture.