I’m not quite sure how to parse this. Software development is a risk. To build software is to invest unpaid time and work in the hopes that, when it’s done, if you’ve done a good job analyzing market need, a good job at designing and writing software, and a good job at marketing, you’ll make enough money to do two things: recoup what you lost while working for free, and provide sufficient revenue to continue development to improve a future version.
If you work hard at writing software, but you don’t hit the market at the right time, or you don’t get the megaphone you need to spread the word about your software, you’ll “starve” (or at least have to give up before you actually do starve, or miss a mortgage payment, or a kid’s tuition payment, or your mom’s nursing home payment…). If you eschew paid work for, say, the six or twelve months you’d need to invest to throw yourself into developing a quality app, if you’re not sitting on a pile of savings but you have a family and expenses, yes, you’ll “starve”.
Will you literally die of starvation? No, you’ll go back to working for a paycheck from someone else before you lose your home and family. If you’re a single guy with an apartment and a laptop living a somewhat inexpensive existence with a solid education and experience in programming (which in itself is huge privilege), it’s not a huge risk to try this — anyone can, and it won’t really make that much of a difference. You can live on ramen for a while. If you’re a parent with financial obligations not only to yourself, but to other people, and you don’t have a sufficient cushion to cover that risk I outlined above, spending hundreds of unpaid hours hoping this will be your big payoff, you’ll “starve” pretty quickly.
When I was a single mom with a mortgage, car payment, day care expenses, and insurance costs, would it have been plausible for me to quit my job and write my killer app? Would it just take hard work? Those days taught me a lot about what hard work really is, and had I been able to channel the level of work I was doing into app development, I would have been the hardest-working app developer in history. But I didn’t have the luxury of taking risk. *Being able to decide to take a risk is a luxury. It is a privilege.* Not just anyone can do that without “starving”.
Could I do it now? Sure, I could. But my definition of success has changed, and my hard work — and yes, I still do lots of hard work! — doesn’t focus on making money, it has a different metric.