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Ask HN: How to get out of Tech and still make a decent living?
158 points by byebyetech on Aug 14, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 101 comments
I've been working as software engineer for over 15 years. I feel burned out and have no interest left in this field where learning new things just keeps you at the same place in life. And no respect for experience, unless you demonstrate on a whiteboard with your implementation of a sorted bubble tree list.

My question is, how to successfully get out of tech and still make decent living ($100k+). Has anyone tried small business that worked out for you?




I knew a woman once who went to law school, but burned out on the law before she passed the bar...so she went to medical school, but burned out on that before she completed her residency. What she eventually realized, though, is that there are very few people who have actually made it through both law school and medical school, so she set up a career for herself matching doctors with lawyers who needed medical expert witnesses. You see, both law and medicine have their own unique jargon, and she could effectively serve as a translator between those two worlds. She made quite a pretty penny charging her finder's fee too!

If you have 15 years experience doing software engineering, you're half-way to the same sort of a position. Find some other field you're interested in and learn up on their jargon, or take your most recent gig and dive deep into whatever industry it is you're developing software for. Whether you call yourself "biz-dev" or "project manager" or just "consultant", there is a market for people who can effectively bridge the world of software engineering with the world of...everything else.


This is more or less what happened to me. I had worked in the sofware industry for 15 years, when I decided to get out. Not a developer, but a trajectory of pre-sales support/training, systems analyst, project manager, consultant, and doing a few startups that made me enough money to live, but nothing spectacular.

I took my hobby, sustainable large scale horticulture and tried to switch by starting with a degree in environmental science. Actually taking a degree as an experienced adult was a blast and I can really recommend it. Motivation, even if lectures where boring or subjects hard, was never an issue.

I ended up meeting people at conferences, in my field of study (geology/hydrology) who really needed help with data/information technology. We started a new organisation and I am the co-director of a foundation that run data services for sustainable international development. We have 25+ governments in Africa, Asia and Soth America, UN organisations and hundreds of NGOs use our open source services. Very satisfying work and a decent living.


> Actually taking a degree as an experienced adult was a blast and I can really recommend it.

I couldn't agree more.

When I was 20-something I dropped out of Uni and started a career in public and media relations.

For several years, though, I had been making websites on the side, mostly for friends and acquaintances, as a sort of hobby. However I was becoming good at that and I was starting to get paid good money. So, after thinking about making a career change for several years, I finally decided to became a web developer full-time.

At some point, though, I realised that, while I was knowledgeable enough to build websites for small clients and earn a living, I didn't have a solid theoretical background. Software development, to me, was a passion, not just a way to pay my bills, and I wanted to know more.

So, at age 34, I started a bachelor degree in IT, majoring in software development (despite the name, it was quite similar to what would be identified as a CS degree in the US).

It was one of the most interesting periods of my life. I realised for the first time how valuable education really is. I had to work part-time jobs and study at the same time and that was somehow hard but I have a feeling that having to deal with (moderate) difficulties made me stronger (I'm lucky, my life, generally speaking, has been relatively easy as a whole).

For some reasons, some of the other students decided that I was a sort of authoritative figure (possibly because of my relatively advanced age) and started to ask for help whenever they couldn't really grasp something.

That helped me to discover that sharing ideas with others makes you a much better developer. So I started going to Meetups and talk to clever people and exchange ideas. Having those connections helped me to find a much better job as soon as I finished my degree.

Needless to say, when I decided to leave my job to become a developer (I was already over 30 by then) everyone told me that it was a bad idea. Same story when I told my friends that I would go back to Uni. However it worked out well for me and I'm happy now.


Out of curiosity, your later-in-life college experience: what kind of school was it at? (Meaning: large state university, liberal arts college, Yale, for-profit, etc.) As a college dropout who was a terrible student, I've been wanting to go back more and more as time passes.


Stockholm University, Sweden, which is a decent university. Not sure how that compares to your experience. A government owned university with ~30,000 students. No fees for EU students. I was also a college dropout from Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.


Yes!

I'm pretty un-hireable right now. I have 4 years experience as a dev, 1.5 in sales, 1.5 in marketing, and <1 as a founder. So ... I started a company making marketing analytics software. It's pretty great!

One of the most fun things about my path in the last couple of years has been embracing the actual problem the business is trying to solve, instead of just the neat tech that powers it. For me, it's a lot more fun to work on problems that have that tightened feedback loop (e.g., somebody gives you money because you solved their problem). It meant breaking a lot of the ties in my head between easy/hard and worthless/valuable -- sometimes the most valuable thing about your software is the weekly update email.

To OP, without a BUNCH more information about what you like and what you can do, I can't suggest a new path. But you probably know something about the products and markets at the companies you worked at. See if any of the other departments have openings for somebody with deep product knowledge. It's easier to switch careers within the same company than it is to jump companies to a different role.


Fascinating. I've been interesting in going towards law school, but am not sure I'd actually like to practice law at the end. This uncertainty plus the cost of attending, has been discouraging.

I wonder how she was able to go through both since each comes with a steep cost

Law School: $34,300 (avg per year) * 4 = $137,200

Medical School: $32,889 (avg per year) * 4 = $131,556

137,200 + 131,556 = $268,756

One would need to make quite the pretty penny to recoup those investment costs


Especially if you are not going to practice at the end, consider going abroad to study (might be possible even with family, definitely possible without).

The costs in western europe are about 15%-20%. The costs in eastern europe are half that, and in some places in Asia it is cheaper still. If you want to practice in the US, you will have to take some local-law courses (law) and pass the bar/board exams - but it will still be infinitely cheaper than in the US.

And it will be an adventure.


Good advice for probably every field except law. Law is so different in most European countries that it won't be of much use in the US. Also a lot in civil law hinges on subtleties in the respective language.


Possibly; I've met two Israeli lawyers and two British lawyers who moved to the US and were able to pass the bar exam within a year or so - I have no idea how hard they worked at it (and what preparations they did before moving to the US), but it was certainly cheaper then going to school in the US.


If you are a lawyer in one country and want to practice in another then take the exams in the country you want to practice for sure. Going to law school in another country to save money is a completely different thing.

Also: UK and US both have Common Law traditions whereas most of Europe does not. Israel is a more involved case.

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/92/Map_of_t...


I'm confident that most people on HN can pass the bar exam without law school. Law school really wasn't much of an advantage for the bar exam, just do the prep course and study hard full time for six weeks and you would be fine. Unfortunately I don't think any states still allow sitting the bar exam and being admitted without a law degree.


Some states have a sort of apprentice style path to the bar.

For example:

http://admissions.calbar.ca.gov/Education/LegalEducation/Law...

It's multiyear and supervised by a lawyer, so not quite at the level you are talking about.


Depends where she was studying as well. I'm in the UK and my elec engineering masters was £4k. They've since hiked the fees for higher education and my medical degree is ~£36k. Still, that's 9 years of education for 1 years of dev salary, plus I work for a startup whilst studying. It's definitely doable!


This is a fantastic example and great advice for someone who has accumulated skills but doesn't feel like being an 'expert' in their field.


This is so true. I think about this all the time. I actually believe that this type of scenario will be what makes software better in 10-15 years for industries that currently still run on old tech. Those of us on HN right now may end up in different sectors leading "software related" projects and have really good insights on how to scope out the domains.


Coincidentally 15 years ago a fellow engineer told me his plan was to keep the same job as long as possible, get to the point where it isn't demanding intellectually, clock in the minimum hours, and then find fulfillment through family, friends, and hobbies. He has built 3 homes in his spare time, is a millionaire, and has an amazing family.

It took me 15 years to realize he was right. I now work 4 hours a day as a .NET consultant and then spend the rest of day doing whatever I want. I am fulfilled, relaxed, healthy and respected.

Before abandoning what many believe to be a highly desirable profession, just cut back on your hours and revisit your feelings after a few months.

Lastly do not underestimate how smart and competitive people are in other industries. It can take many years before you build the skills and reputation where you can command $100k+. I'd argue it is 10X harder to for a small business owner to net $100k than it is to net $50k.


I once rubbed a friend the wrong way when he said "maybe I'll just get out of tech, take a few years of courses and become an electrician or something like that. Make 100k and be happy with that... leave the computer behind."

My response was: "Fine plan but don't think you'll just go make 100k after a couple years of trade school and not have any stresses!"

A few people showed me I was wrong about that but we were also living in Alberta while oil was still strong. Had my friend taken this path he likely wouldn't have made 100k for long if at all (until he had much more experience).

Anyway, point being, it's hard to go make decent money even though we all meet people who seem to do so with what seems like little effort. Lots of folks say they make good money but their interpretation of "good money" might be much different than the yours.


I used to work in the oil industry (Alberta) when I was in undergrad. I was offered to quit school and get paid 90k.

Thanks god I rejected that offer and went to tech. Most of my friends were laughing that I was taking computing science. They were making 90-130k in the trades.

Then the recession hit and most of them are now unemployed or have taken a huge paycut.

I feel bad for them since they took out a mortgage and a 70k truck. I'm not angry at them for making fun of my career. I just wish people would respect people's career choice.


I would not advise a job in the oil industry if you are a minority in. I've heard lots of traumatic experiences from friends in Texas and Alberta.

Lots of good reviews in Norway though


Houston oil execs: we need you to help us negotiate with this Arab guy.

Iranian-American: but I'm Iranian. Not Arab.

Execs: blank stares Same thing though right?

Happened. That said, I wouldn't expect one to experience any malice in a corporate Texas environment based on ethnicity or race. Rather, there's often a narrow perspective, in that they want you to be as Texan as possible, ideally an alumnus of their favorite Texas university, and stick to the norms, as opposed to say NYC where diverse experiences are appreciated more.


Yes, I've noticed if you have Texan culture in you, they welcome you with open arms.


Great comment. I think I have similar goals - work on a job for about 4 hours a day so that I can do what the rest of the time. I have 2 questions:

1. Did you get the 4-hr job after a history of working full-time for the company? Or are there companies looking for people to work reduced hours?

2. Given that its 4 hrs, is it a live-able wage? I know it depends on where you live but my actual question is - does the job pay more per-hour just because its reduced hours?

Thanks in advance for your reply.


> 1. Did you get the 4-hr job after a history of working full-time for the company?

Yes, I worked full time for about 3 years. I established myself as someone that focused on the customer, company, and group's interest over my own. Once you successfully do that, you establish a strong sense of trust and can then start making requests that benefit you. Note I am an independent contractor.

> Or are there companies looking for people to work reduced hours?

If you are competent and your team relies on you to help make important decisions, then your employer will do what it takes to keep you.

> 2. "Given that its 4 hrs, is it a live-able wage?"

Somewhat. I wouldn't have reduced my hours without first having a little secondary income. After sometime, I reduced my hours to 35 hours a week (9 to 5 plus hour lunch), then I was able to work on side projects and get income properties. Once my side project started making $2k/mo and income property netted over $1k/mo, I reduced my work hours considerably.

> Does the job pay more per-hour just because its reduced hours?

No, but that has to do more with my personal negotiation strategy. I value working less hours and flexible deadlines. In good conscience I have to then offer a concession such as not raising my bill rate for a few years.


This thread is full of personal stories so I'll add mine. Writing software is fun but burned out on doing it professionally for 10 years. Frustrated I was just making my bosses rich and building their dreams not mine. Frustrated at programming's long-term career trajectory (Nobody will hire you after 40). Dreamed of doing my own thing but no capital to start a company. Went into debt for an MBA, goal of getting into finance or somewhere without tech's various career limitations and "ceilings." Graduated from highly ranked MBA school. A month later Lehman and Bear explode and suddenly nobody is hiring MBAs (oops!). Back to programming. Programming is still fun, but I continue to just making my bosses rich. Moved into product management thinking it will be different. Still no career trajectory. Moved into project management. Still no career trajectory. Made it to 40 and still have a job but no capital to start a company. Still figuring out what to do when I grow up.

Lesson learned I suppose is you can change your role, your industry, your company, but it doesn't change the fact that you'll be stuck on the burnout treadmill building someone else's dream.


You make interesting points, but I want to correct some false assumptions that may discourage younger, less experienced people browsing this thread for advice.

A large part of my job is understanding the culture of companies and the software engineers best suited to join them; in doing that, one metric is the age of the individuals, because it does play a role in the hiring decision. It's unfair, but age does become a factor at a certain point, just around the 50-55 point as a software engineer at a decent amount (but definitely not all) companies. But your statement "nobody will hire you after 40" is false - software engineers in their 40's will be welcomed at 90%+ companies. Perhaps you're in San Francisco and experiencing more ageist attitudes inside the latest young bro-filled startup bubble, but this represents a small minority.

Second, literally every for-profit job involves making money for your bosses; this is how capitalism works. If you want to make more money tired to your own contributions, then you either climb the ladder - through merit - to become a boss or run a successful business. These are the facts of life that one should know by the age of 40.


> Frustrated at programming's long-term career trajectory (Nobody will hire you after 40).

Simply not true. At 40+ I'm making the highest salary of my career thus far, and have no problem switching jobs. Had three offers last time I switched (8 months ago). I post this as a warning to anyone less experience reading this thread and taking this as fact, when it is most certainly anecdotal.


To address your nit-pick (and lscore720's): Of course we all know the "nobody will hire you after 40" statement is not literally true. The threat of ageism, however, drives technology workers' desperate need to establish and grow our careers quickly, because in general, our career is expected to plateau early compared to other professions.


I'm just curious but do you have a specialty? And if so is it domain or technical? Like the ruby guy, or the HIPPA guy etc..


Just Java and Spring, senior level, nothing special by any means.


https://www.reddit.com/r/Entrepreneur/

https://www.reddit.com/r/financialindependence/

I bring up /r/Entrepreneur because its about starting a business, not simply a tech business that you'd get insight for on Hacker News. I bring up /r/financialindependence because it'll help you reduce your burn rate and increase your savings.

Getting your burn rate down is critical; The less money you need, the more options you have for your future. The easiest dollar to make is the one you didn't need to spend in the first place.


I know of one guy who got burned out on corporate IT and opened a game store. Several years later, each year being just as close to bankruptcy as the previous, he realized it was the corporate BS he was burned out on, not programming per se, and he would have been far better off looking for a different way to earn money with his programming skills, but by that time it was too late, he was too committed to the game store to switch.

I recommend taking a few weeks off to chill out, relax, get the corporate BS out of your system, then think about less BS-intensive ways to earn money with your skills. Even if you have to take a big pay cut, you'll probably take an even bigger one switching professions at this stage.


I am absolutely incapable of working for most companies, because of corporate bullshit. I much prefer being an entrepreneur, making money online / building great products / dealing with customers. Occasional consulting is doable, because you're usually dealing with decision makers, who cut through the bullshit.


I've known more than one person who tried something else and went back to software. The unfortunate and not-so-easy-to-admit issue is that for many, perhaps even the vast majority of, software engineers have (on a 10-15 years forward looking basis) a global maximum of salary optimization in the software field. Also, most of us have no idea how easy (except intellectually) our job is compared to other jobs which are more demanding physically and emotionally.

On a 30-year forward looking basis, we appear to be fucked, though - the only 50-year old software guys I know are either self employed, or have been working at the same place for 20 years. Even "stable" employees who only switch jobs every 5 years have problem finding new jobs when they are older.

If you know of something else you'd rather be doing, and you are able to support yourself[0], and have a reasonable 10 year horizon, by all means do. But if there's nothing you are passionate about, then in all likelihood you would be just as burned and make less just trying to run an alternative method of income.

That said, I highly recommend reading Tim Ferris' "4 hour work week" book. Do not treat it as gospel, but do follow the math - it will give you a good idea (and possibly some inspiration) of where you need to be and possibly some steps on the way to get there.

[0] but, be honest with yourself - if you make less, will you still be happy enough outside of work? Many people aren't as happy once they find out what they actually have to give up. Just give the difference to charity for a couple of months to see how well you manage.


On a 30-year forward looking basis, we appear to be fucked, though - the only 50-year old software guys I know are either self employed, or have been working at the same place for 20 years. Even "stable" employees who only switch jobs every 5 years have problem finding new jobs when they are older.

Ageism is definitely a problem in software, but not in other specialized fields, which suggests to me that it is fixable.


> Ageism is definitely a problem in software, but not in other specialized fields, which suggests to me that it is fixable.

It will take decades to fix if ever, and the fixed state won't be recognizable.

In my opinion, ageism in software exists mostly because it is a fashion business, and (statistically speaking, and rather objectively), older people are not as good at catering to the latest fashions. This also happens in the real fashion business (that of clothes, makeup etc) and also in marketing and advertising, and acting.

The fields in which ageism is not a problem are mostly regulated fields (medicine, law, mechanical engineering), where someone can die or lose their freedom as a result of malpractice. People in these fields often need to prove they are up to date with recent methods and findings to keep their certification. I, for one, would NOT like to have to prove competence with hadoop or Angular (and then .NET WinForms, followed by WPF the following year, followed by Node.js the next one) to not lose my license -- and if software developers ARE licensed, the requirements will probable [d]evolve that way.


> It will take decades to fix if ever, and the fixed state won't be recognizable.

It will fix itself. Software became popular with the rise of the Internet which didn't happen till the late 90's. If we assume people at that time were in their mid-late 20's, then they would be in their mid-late 40's now.

Basically, there just isn't that many 50+ developers out there. In another 10-20 years there will be a lot more and older programmers will be much more common and therefore won't be as out of place.


I worked with 30 year old programmers 25 years ago. I worked with 30 year old programmers 20 years ago. None of those guys are still coding. Some moved to management, some to consulting (as in, real consulting). None that I'm in touch with is still writing code.

There aren't as many 50 year old developers as younger ones, but there are enough to see a pattern (and for things like the Google lawsuit age discrimination lawsuit[0] - we'll have to wait and see how that works out). Whether it will change when there are more 50 year old developers or not - my bet is that it won't.

[0] http://www.computerworld.com/article/3090087/it-careers/goog...


> In my opinion, ageism in software exists mostly because it is a fashion business

I don't think so. The demand for programmers was inflated only in recent fifteen-twenty years, so compared to today, then nobody was entering IT. This is why there's so little people with 10-15-20 years of experience and kids after three years of work consider themselves senior programmers.

And why there's little 40+ people who have just three years under their belt? Retraining is very hard thing to do.


It's also a matter of younger people being more susceptible to poor management practices and exploitation, e.g. working for "equity" that a more experienced engineer would discount as being no substitute for market-rate salary.

But engineers do it to ourselves too. All the Java guys mocked the COBOL guys for being obsolete old fogies, and now the Java guys are on the receiving end of that, from I dunno Node.js guys, who are going to experience the same themselves in 20 years. We need a culture change so that "legacy" is not seen as a pejorative but a solid, proven foundation on which the organization relies - because this is actually the truth.


I'm in a similar situation, with a few kinks: I'm in Europe (where skilled developers are seen as prize cattle), did a few years of management (which were OK) and made the horrible mistake of going into post-sales at a US multinational.

My days are filled with e-mails, meetings with customers, PowerPoint decks and discussions about product features, and even though I'm in what passes for a senior "technical" position all people care about are sales quotas and bonus targets and my manager is clearly incompetent to run a technical team - all he cares about is making quota.

Lots of lip service towards customer satisfaction and ethical selling, but mostly passing the buck onto other teams and partners.

I do get around a lot, which includes getting a lot of face time with interesting people I might not otherwise have met if I'd stuck to a development role and do a fair amount of cool demos (whenever I'm given enough time to prepare) but the agony of not being able to build stuff and just pushing prepackaged solutions onto a customer is driving me nuts.

Pay is OK (slightly less than what I made as a manager, but with a bigger, utterly impossible to reach bonus), I get to work from home, free trips to the HQ, etc. the tech is good enough, and improving. But what irks me is the baseline, unspoken attitude of "sell and be done with it".

I'm respected for my technical skills outside the company but constantly grilled about closing the sale (even when the customer doesn't want or need what we sell - which is one of the current trendy things in our industry) so I, for one, would very much like to go back to a development role.

Let this be a cautionary tale of sorts - sales might seem like an easy half-way position towards something else, but there is more than one kind of intellectual burnout.


Getting out is possible but it's quite hard. Whatever you are going to do you won't be able to reach your current income level in the long-term. These opportunity costs and a general insecurity when doing new stuff will pull you back to well paid and secure dev jobs very quickly.

Running your own business or getting into startups as a founder is an option but you need to learn toms of new stuff, so it wont be easy either. Most developers I know who went this path realized after few months that another life isn't much easier and reverted to cushy dev jobs with free lunch and all the perks you could imagine. That's the real problem, it is so easy and tempting to get a well paid dev job. Why try hard if you get free crack around the corner?

I still recommend to venture something new but make sure you have sufficient financial resources and strong willpower to stay on track and not fall back to your current profession. You will learn a lot and tremendously improve your people skills.


Adjusting your quality of life to the pay scale of the ideal job may be worth it.

At least it could throw a smile on your face. My friend is a Engineer (controlling trains and jazz) who quit after 40 years to work in a greenhouse for 1/10th the pay. He doesn't live as well, and driving a used beater but he smiles now and enjoys facing the day. Took him a few years to slowly dial down his costs and ingrained habits though.

Consider as a method of last resort?


One thing to note: when talking to people in-real-life about what they do for a living and how much they earn take everything with a grain of salt. I've had beers with guys that said "dude.. I'm making sick money doing X" only to find out later that "sick money" was $18/hour (in Canada). I've also had similar conversations with other people and found out they meant 300k a year.


- Owner Operator Truck Driver - Owner Operator Plumbing Business Owner Operator Mobile Welding - Owner Operator Concrete Pumping

It's relatively easy to make over $100k as an owner of a small business.

It's an order of magnitude more difficult to find a company that will pay you a software engineers salary without a decade or so of experience in that field and associated education.


What part of tech are you in? Maybe you're burnt out on that niche's particular subculture, not tech in general. For example:

Tired of 10-person startups? Move to a bigger company.

Tired by the constant churn in front-end libraries? Move down the stack and work on server software.


I tried that! It works well to a certain extent but, obviously, it's not completely life-changing. I used to be a full-stack free-lance web-dev and later I was involved in a startup. I was bothered by how difficult it is, sometimes, to deal with non-technical people (clients, non-technical co-founders, etc). I moved to a larger company where I am part of a team of engineers and I have a boss who is a former software developer. We don't have to deal directly with clients, other managers or final users. I feel much happier now.


I am a very young developer (about a year and half out of college) so this might be a naïve thought. Isn't 15 years quite a long tenure for software development? I thought after 5-10 years you move into product/project management or something higher.

I mean I realize everyone is different but still. Being the inexperienced programmer I am right now I imagine myself happily coding until I am 50 (lol ask me in 15 years if I feel the same way)


I have about 3 years of industry experience, but it's been enough to teach me one very valuable lesson: don't transition entirely out of software engineering until you have some reasonable assurance of personal/financial security.

I once transitioned into a more client-oriented role for a brief time and was almost immediately scrambling to claw my way back out for a handful of reasons: (1) the value I was creating became nebulous and hard to define compared to before, (2) I lost the insane value-creation lever that software engineering enables, and (3) things became considerably less deterministic in general.

You really don't need to look any further than the various high-profile executive flameouts of seemingly intelligent people with strong engineering track records (e.g. Marissa Mayer) to understand the problem. You could even be a great manager/salesperson/product designer and still fail because so much is out of your control. I saw this play out repeatedly amongst the various managers and executives at my previous company.

So if you're going to take the risk of escalating beyond the role of an individual contributor, make sure you have a parachute.


No. Many of the best engineers have no interest and/or no aptitude for management positions. And the best tech companies compensate those engineers on a scale comparative to management.


I'm 54 and have never wanted to move out of development.

I've ended up team leading a number of times, but always with plenty of development time. I'm at my happiest when I'm in a straight development role, and I don't see that changing.


Not at all. I'm a 15 year veteran. No chance I'd move into management or project management. First, I'd hate the job. It'd move me away from the code, which is where I enjoy spending my time. Second, the problems I'd be solving would be far less interesting; I hate dealing with inter-personal issues and deciding which project takes priority is boring. But ultimately I'd be less valuable, and therefore make a lot less. Veterans command a pretty decent salary. I know I make a good chunk more than my direct manager, and I make a little over three times as much as the PMs I work with.


I'm 6 years in or so and I think the only chance I'm getting into management is by necessity when starting my own company. There is plenty of room in the org chart for a 15 year veteran software developer.


I thought after 5-10 years you move into product/project management or something higher.

Why do you think project management is higher? Did a PM tell you that?


You're in tech, so an experience you have that is over 5 years is largely useless. What you need to leverage is your wisdom gained from the 15 years of experience. Wisdom is what separates you from someone with "only" 5 years of experience, but who can code almost as good as you and work for less. So no, there is no respect for experience beyond a number of years.

I've been in tech for over 25 years and I am more engaged than ever in what I am doing. I've been a programmer (front and back end), sysadmin, dba, network engineer, project manager, and product manager. Looking back, through all of that learning, I was becoming a better leader. About 3 years ago I stopped coding and became a full time leader in tech. I now optimize people and teams, not code and systems.

I'm still very much involved in architecting systems, which is where wisdom comes in. If I can't guide them in how to build something, chances are I can provide equal value in telling them how NOT to build something.

I would advise pursuing a role where you can impart your wisdom and leverage your many years of experience to help others and make an impact that way.


Should there ever be a fear of being stuck with one technology, or language while at a job (or in a career?)

Currently I write .NET but I don't know if that would be the most interesting career to ~only~ write .NET (I'm a recent grad)


I think you should be afraid of only knowing one technology/language. You should strive to at least play with one new technology/language per year. "language" can be flexible, like CSS, SQL, HTML. It doesn't have to be things like Go, Erlang, or Haskel. It would be nice to be at a company that encourages that. Even if you just know why people like certain languages, that would be helpful.


The one lesson you should probably take from the comments here is that your should take a look at what you enjoy and how you might be able to make a living off it. If your main condition is a big salary and life in a big city, well the consultant world awaits, but it's also not as easy as many here make it sound.

Else, just be honest and see what you really like. A friend of a friend lives somewhere on the African coast and deals in shells. Locals sell them to him, he sells them on to traders abroad. He surely doesn't make 100k, but the change of location and lifestyle also means he doesn't need to.

So: think out of the box. Just make it a new life.


>"No respect for experience"

I felt the same for few years. It takes getting used to

> "How to successfully get out of tech?"

Probably not get out of it, but move away from this role. Delegate, delegate and delegate. If consulting, take a huge pay cut for sometime. It is harder in the beginning, especially with that much experience and/or being an expert. But it is easier to "earn time" and probably respect by that way.

People, and mostly experts, sometimes say "I don't want to get into management". They like what they do and I can totally understand why. However, when they do not delegate and not teach a team how to do great things - they also end up doing a huge disservice to the industry. As a result, we have so many idiotic management guys who just shouldn't exist in the industry

Optionally, Banking and Finance is one industry where you might be able to get in and may be grow easily because of your tech experience. But you will definitely feel burned out and might be working 16-18 hours a day including weekends. After a few years you just know some things - like writing a for loop. You have to keep learning and exploring, but the basic framework doesn't change.

Medical school - It takes a lot of time to just learn and then you will be working for 12-15 hours. And the life you live isn't really independent as you might think. Docs make a really good living. You do have to learn new stuff, but its not like learning a new living organism every year (compare to language/frameworks). And experience is valued.

Law - same thing, good lawyers have to work a lot. And they make a huge living, 100K might be peanuts. Experience is valued.


Yes, start a company or create an app (or several apps) that will pull in enough revenue to keep you going. This is either doable, or not really possible at all, so it should be obvious which situation you're in.

Also, meditate, listen to brainwave entrainment, maybe spend some time in a sensory deprivation tank, research DXM reset (6.4mg DXM per kg of body weight-- at most once every 2 weeks), then start taking N-Acetyl Semax and N-Acetyl Selank (both administered via a nasal spray). Also, you can research NSI-189, Deprenyl, and Cerebrolysin.

If you are burnt out due to lack of ability to do the job you'd like to do, rather than being tired of programming, then the best bet is to find a company you match well with (glassdoor, paysa, and comparably should help make this happen) or (as said above) create your own.

What else are you interested in, made curious by, or passionate about? If you can figure out what those things are, then you can look into their viability as a career or business.


Do you have any links for DXM reset? Is that similar to ketamine for depression? Interested in your burn-out reversal protocol.


Yes, it affects the NMDA receptors similar to Ketamine, though it's "safer" (when taken properly). Just search for DXM online. You can also read articles posted to Erowid. Another alternative is Memantine, but DXM also acts as a sort of SSRI and affects the mu-sigma opioid receptors, so for this one-off-once-every-2-weeks use it's more appropriate.

You can also research options like combining it with Phenibut (1-2g split across 2 servings the day and night before, as it can become addictive or problematic if used too often (more than 1-2x/week) or in high quantities (more than 1-2g/day)), 5-HTP, Melatonin, fasoracetam, etc.


Oh, count me in. Any way out would be nice.

Can't believe I let anyone talk me into coding for a living.


What other skills do you have? What else can you do that's equally valued by society?


I hear you, and hope you can find something that works for you. A cousin of mine, an aeronautic engineer, went on to become a patent agent (editor/writer/evaluator) at a big patent firm. He needed to do some legal training, but it was less than a year -- not a full law degree. He couldn't be happier - he is paid to read and be up-to-date on a lot of interesting stuff, has conversations with interesting people all day and (at least in his firm), has a job that is as 9 to 5 as he wants it to be, no pressure, no crunch time, etc.

The down side is that patents are evil.

> And no respect for experience, unless you demonstrate on a whiteboard with your implementation of a sorted bubble tree list.

I will be a dissenter here: I have interviewed people with 20 years of experience, and who have shipped products, who had gross misunderstanding about the tech stacks they are using -- to the point of taking multiple (2x - 10x) times of both implementation and resources than a reasonable solution -- just reasonable, not compared to an "optimized" (for resources) or "quick and dirty throwaway" (for time) solution. And most of the times, these people were oblivious to their (lack) of knowledge or understanding.

Your post reminded me of a specific interview, someone with 20 years of experience, who's answer to a question (essentially, a database join, which could have been done inside the select but wasn't), which was an O(n^3). Would have worked reasonably well even on an n=1000 table, but our table had n=10,000,000, and this was specified in the requirements. After grilling him a bit about runtime estimates (to which his basic answer "who cares? computers are fast enough nowadays"), he did acknowledge that as written it would take forever, but then added "But it doesn't matter, the compiler will optimize this anyway to the best possible O(n) solution, and it will be fast". This was about a C loop, in 2005.

I thanked they guy and declined his job application. I am sure his takeaway was that I was a snotty employer who only wants sorted bubble tree lists and arcane academic stuff, and that I couldn't appreciate him shipping products for 20 years. But had I taken him on our team, I am quite sure it would have been a failure: At that place, we had a successful fire-and-almost-forget shipping culture, which required doing back-of-the-envelope runtime estimates (among other things) to make sure things actually satisfy requirements -- and his attitude did not fit.

Another similar "20 year experience" story from a friend of mine who worked on a system running a moderately sized financial exchange: In small scale tests everything worked perfectly well, but once real load testing started, it was clear that it can sustain less than 10% of the existing load. (This was a 2nd-generation system, which was to take over existing trading). All measurements pointed to hard drives being the culprit, and a $50,000 SSD (whopping 10GB capacity, IIRC - this was 2002) was bought, and was able to just get the existing load working, with very little room for increased capacity.

At this point, my friend was assigned to review that the solution was properly implemented, and he discovered to his horror, that one of the 20-year-experience authors was unable to figure out how to do a "sprintf()" with unknown-in-advance result size, so he instead created a temporary file, used "fprintf" into it, allocated the memory according to the resulting size, read the data, and deleted the file. Changing this to an snprintf-and-if-failed-reallocate-buffer-and-retry scheme sped the system up some 20x (compared to the SSD!), and made the SSD redundant. The original guy's response when shown the solution was IIRC, basically a dismissive "oh, yeah - I guess I should have known about snprintf, it wasn't there when I learned C, of course the SSD was the right solution given the constraints".

I'm not saying experience is useless, but it is an appeal to authority, which most of us (especially here on HN) dislike when we are expected to revere it. If one can't show competence without referring to (vague, abstract, generally unverifiable[0]) experience, then perhaps one is not as qualified for a job as one thinks.

Just to clarify: This is not personally directed at OP - in fact, the vibe I get is that OP can easily pass sorted bubble tree list interviews and just got tired of it.

However, I'm just pointing out that anecdatally, I've seen too many "experienced" developers who are oblivious to the costs/benefits of employing them, to the point that I completely disagree with the prevailing (even on HN) sentiment that experienced developers shouldn't need to do the kind of interviews that junior devs do.

[0] Being a member of a team that did well is not, on its own, proof of anything. the dailywtf is full of "Paula"s and others who have spend months -- even years -- on teams that shipped, and the real world is too.


There are two sides to this. That story from a few months back about the guy who wrote homebrew getting denied a job at Google because he flubbed some particular algorithm on a whiteboard is pretty messed up. On the other hand, I agree with you that experience tends not to be a particularly accurate predictor of actual skill, and that white board algorithm implementations are at worst a good faith effort to solve the problem of interviewing for competence.


I didn't follow the Max Howell / homebrew story when it originally appeared, but reading about it now from a year's distance, this[0] seems like the best summary (the other quora answers are also illuminating, as is the HN discussion from the time).

Regardless, assuming Howell's original narrative ("you couldn't invert a binary tree so goodbye") is the truth, I still don't see why this is "pretty messed up". It's not the olympics where the scoring system is repeatable, objective and well known, or court where lives and livelihood are irreversibly changed".

It's an employer, one of many, who decided -- for whatever reasons, which might have been the tree inversion failure -- to not hire Mr. Howell. There's Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, IBM if he wants to work for bigcorp. There's thousands of smaller companies. If someone else hires him, fine; If no one does than the narrative is obviously untrue.

[0] https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-logic-behind-Google-rejectin...


Being comfortable is an issue regardless of career. A self-satisfied sales guy who doesn't know the latest buzzwords and customer expectations is as useless as an IT guy who doesn't know the latest buzzwords and optimizations. Really interesting thought though, experienced coders should be tested about the cutting edge instead of what is familiar


> A self-satisfied sales guy who doesn't know the latest buzzwords and customer expectations is as useless as an IT guy who doesn't know the latest buzzwords and optimizations.

I beg to differ.

Latest buzzwords and optimizations are often detrimental. Among most important thing for a coder is (a) ability to learn, and (b) critical thinking. Following the latest buzzwords demonstrates (a) but is often a red flag for (b). E.g., for a while "hadoop" was all the buzz; I have interviewed some people who have used hadoop/spark, but not one could justify it (see e.g. [0] - which is consistent with my back-of-the-envelope calculations I made in 2010 the first time someone suggested I use hadoop).

Furthermore, large scale sales do not happen because of buzzword compliance or even customer expectations. Sales happen because of compelling events and personal relationship. If buzzwords and numbers were all that mattered, engineers would be the best sales people; And yet, it is soft skills that make a good sales person.

[0] http://www.frankmcsherry.org/graph/scalability/cost/2015/01/...


All you need to know about Hadoop in one blog post http://aadrake.com/command-line-tools-can-be-235x-faster-tha...


I can't believe no one has mentioned opening up a retail, foodchain (not a restaurant), coffeeshop or franchising. If you open one of these in a good location you can make really really good coin. It's crazy how much money coffee shops in my campus makes. There are more than 20 coffee shops in a 1km radius and they are all making insane profits for a medium size campus.


How much of that is paid in rent tho'? Classic landlord tactic, get a business in, if it's a success capture all of its profit, if it goes bust get another one.

As with all things, if it was easy everyone would be doing it...


Including the business outside the campus are around 100k-5million after rent. I have not seen any landlord doing what you've mentioned.


Those sound like good figures. How are you getting those numbers? Estimations or have you managed to speak to there book keepers. I always won D we about coffee shops, they seem to be popular but I wonder how much profit is actually made.


+1000 - any ideas? Stories of successful escapes?


Have you considered moving to a better area of tech? Some of the new things being done with AI, Learning and Automation are pretty cool and might provide more excitement that your current job (since you didnt specify I assumed that you're in general product/solution development field)


I have been programming for longer than the OP, I have an advanced degree, and I can assure you: unless you have research-level skills in these areas, they will fall out of fashion and you will be stranded in a niche. Even if you do have PhD-level training, you'll still be in that niche...you just might be able to survive when the pond dries up again.

I know it doesn't seem like it to folks who haven't been around for long, but AI and ML is a fad, currently at Peak Hype. There will continue to be AI researchers in a decade, but they will be the people who are in it for the long term. The magpies who are currently swarming into the field will flitter away when the Next Big Thing comes along.

I point this out only because the OP specifically mentions how the treadmill of constant learning leaves you in place in this industry...and this is a great example of how it happens. If you spend your life chasing every five-year fad cycle in tech, hoping for continued relevance, you'll burn out. Moreover, you'll always be at a competitive disadvantage to the 20-something new grad who knows the new shiny as well as you do, and works for praise and pizza.

If you want to specialize, then really specialize. But be prepared to devote a big chunk of your life to it.


I've been looking for someone with this perspective. Do you think it is just AI and ML? Do you feel the same way about data scientists, data analyst (not actuary,statisticians,mathematicians, etc)?

What other domains do you recommend instead?


If you are new, I recommend that you pick a discipline with long-term proven value, and go as deep as you can into it. If you have a bit more experience, pick a second discipline, and define yourself as the specialist in X-meets-Y. Just don't be a magpie: make a choice, and stick to it. This is the hard part, because it will be excruciatingly tempting to follow all of the other magpies to the new field when they leave.

As for your other question: no, it isn't just AI. Right now, the "javascript engineer", "mobile developer" and "data scientist" are all magical creatures of the Unicorn Land. I can't predict what comes next, but I can confidently predict that none of these things will be as hot in a decade, because they're all just the latest variations on broader themes.

That said, there are often actual disciplines beneath these trends. For example, "data science" is practically the definition of a magpie fad: science has always depended upon data, so putting "data" in front of the term is an indication of (fairly thoughtless) trend-chasing. But actuaries, analysts, scientists and statisticians have been around for decades, and will continue to exist long after the last 20-something "senior data scientist" has closed his Jupyter notebook for good. Specialize in those things, instead, and call yourself whatever goofy thing you need to say on a resume to get hired.

Any reasonably intelligent kid can pick up a data analysis tool in months, but it still takes decades for that kid to become an expert statistician. Prefer the latter.


Most businesses would have no clue what to do with an expert statistician, though.

An analyst with a balanced combination of programming and stats skills and business domain knowledge will always, always be able to find work, regardless of whatever the latest fad is.


While they might not realized, many programmers will already specialized in software development. Meaning their career will take them to technical lead, project manager, software architect etc. and not "number crunching".


That can be a valid specialization, but the bar is higher than most people realize. If you're going to be a specialist in software development, it isn't enough to merely work at a company or three and advance through the ranks. You have to become so skilled at the process of software creation that your knowledge is recognized as universally relevant. You have to be in the top percentile(s) of people who do what you do.

It's the difference between being a middle manager at a tech company and being, say, Rob Pike or Jeff Dean. (Maybe that bar is set a bit too high, but hopefully you get the idea.)



Q the b


My 18 month year old wrote this sorry can't delete it


It's good advice anyway (says my cat)


Pardon my ignorance, but could you expand those abbreviations?


> unless you demonstrate on a whiteboard with your implementation of a sorted bubble tree list

True ! But I wonder is that criteria for all the tech companies ? I know its a must do criteria big companies like Amazon and Google.


Teaching is one way to get out, but probably won't make big money.


i have similar concerns about the industry; programming, frankly, sucks in terms of career trajectory and i have pondered what the next phase might look like for me.


maybe become a commercial airline pilot? won't make you a living wage in the valley but you can live well virtually anywhere else

plus you get to fly planes which is cool


Miserable job today. Start at $28K a year.[1] That's for experienced pilots with 1500 hours. Start by being on reserve, which means you're on 2-hour call for when they need someone.

An SF Muni bus driver is better paid.

It's one of those jobs which, like "game developer" or "actor", attracts people who really want to be in the business, even though the job sucks.

[1] http://www.skywest.com/skywest-airline-jobs/career-guides/fl...


A senior captain at BA makes a very good living, but they got in when it was a lucrative field and their union locked the benefits in. Nowadays without seniority in a union, you have nothing.


A friend of mine flies for Cathay Pacific. He makes a lot of money, but really dislikes the job. He yearns for an 8-5 job in an office.

I guess it depends on the person. I know I wouldn't want to be a commercial pilot.


Funny you should recommend flying - I think we all know someone who's done that already?

http://blogs.harvard.edu/philg/category/flying/


Pretty expensive to get there, plus you usually have to teach PPLs for a couple of years to get the requisite hours for CPL to make you employable.


Its a tough and over-saturated market, for pilots. Everyone I know in the air force is staying in as long as they can!


Isn't the divorce rate ridiculously high?


I'd also like more opinions and stories on this topic. My story is somewhat similar, started programming at a very early age, then worked professionally since 13 non-stop (first job writing credit card processing apps). Post-university, I've been in the industry for 15+ years as well. Excuse the rant that follows, but hopefully it will get others to chime in.

In University, I made an initial attempt to get out of the industry as I already lost my passion for it, so I majored in Statistics, Finance, Management Science, and did Computer Engineering as a safety. I had to pay for school somehow, so I also worked proper software engineering jobs while in school. Once I graduated, my father passed away a few days after and I was stuck knowing I'd never get any financial support, so I continued in the industry, always wanting to move out at some point. The familial responsibility, stress, company loyalty, etc. prevented me from ever getting out.

I've been checking all the job ads every few weeks, for years to find an alternative career. And of course I mean "all" types of jobs, not just tangential tech jobs. Currently taking some time off to recover from burnout by tired of dipping into my savings and ready to go back to work for various reasons. It's just sad because on a mental and emotional level, returning to a programming job depresses the hell out of me and I am not sure what else there is for me approaching 40. I worked on my own startup a bit and it was going well, but I struggled to find a reputable and competent partner, and the thought of doing it on my own and not pulling in a regular income for another year seems too much for now, so at the very least I need to work on my project on the side until something changes.

I've come to the point where I really hate computers, but I feel at this age it gets harder and harder to do something different. Sometimes I would rather just do something more simple, productive, and real. I worked in many different parts of the industry already and I've touched just about every major language there is, worked for startups, consulting, you name it. I've done sales engineering, team lead, project management, etc., but usually my dev skills would take the forefront and regardless of my job description because of necessity - lack of staff (ex: startups/wearing many hats), mistakes of others, being the most senior person skills/experience wise, and so on.

Programming only feels hard at this point because of awful colleagues, unreasonable deadlines/circumstances, and technical debt usually created by others. Just about every company's product bores me and most I wonder who needs what they make and why, and I get tired of the typical dysfunction and ridiculous "culture" be it brogrammers or overly enthusiastic corporate nonsense. I try to swallow my pride and be professional about it all, but I find myself secretly hating everyone and everything at most workplaces. I'm tired of working tons of unpaid overtime for silly reasons and likewise I don't want to work somewhere where the job/company is a joke.

I'd love to just do something "normal." I can't envision working in tech at 60 or being able to retire early either for various reasons. I can empathize because it's tough, especially when you get used to a salary and lifestyle. Lived overseas and had a much simpler life for a bit, but in the end it gets to be the same grind on a different scale, so I suppose it's more about the job than the pay. In the US though it's harder to make ends meet if your pay is very low, so I'm looking for something in-between at least.

Thought about teaching, but they make it very hard for many reasons to break into when you're older and I'm not sure I feel like grabbing a master's in education just to slash my salary dramatically. Private schools are an option of course, but much less stable in terms of long-term prospects, just seen too many friends in that world struggle long-term.

Anyway, I think for most people who are past early 30s, starting your own business is logical. The question is what, how, and with what capital depending on the business. Easier said than done.


Why not start a vendor company? Based on the tech stack you know, you can recruit competent people and sell them as business analysts or consultants for a lot of money. They earn well, you earn just as well. That's the kind of thing I'm currently in. Boss-men were two devs some 15 years ago, threw arms in the air in a 'fuck i quit' moment. Started consulting to their previously built business connections, then recruited people one by one for the different job opportunities that were vacant at their clients.


I worked in consulting and vowed to never go back. I suppose my clients would vouch for me but it's been a long time. I also lived overseas so really lost contact with lots of people for extended period of times. Let that be a lesson to the younger.

I suppose picking the right niche it can be better than your average small business custom dev consulting gig or something similar. I'm just so over the tech industry bs. I worked for Microsoft and some other names at times, and I fully admit those experiences can easily make one bitter. I'm trying to be positive and find light in it all, but it gets harder with each passing year.

In any case, thanks. I've had similar thoughts and wanted to find at least one person to partner with, but can't think of anyone interested I trust. Too many of the good people I've worked with are wife/husband kids people and don't want to take on the risk of their own business. One day though.




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