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Ask HN: I need advice, Mid-life crisis
20 points by alexhakawy on Nov 8, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments
I'm 26. No college degree no job no money single no kids and now a DUI on my record so hard to even hire. I'm not depressed but I feel like I can do better in life.

I want to make something of myself but not sure where to even begin. I thought I would want to become a Web developer because I saw it as a way out of poverty for me and my family but I find it hard and give up at times because everything is so overwhelming and I don't have anyone to ask questions to because I have so many questions plus I can't afford bootcamps. I'm leaning towards becoming a PHP freelancer but even that seems hard to me. Because of my record of DUI I feel like being a freelancer is a good route

With no money and lack of training I don't know how I'll succeed as a developer. Or get a decent paying job in general I just don't want to end up homeless or poor.




There are a lot of people that are going to tell you to "never give up" and other platitudes.

I suggest you start with a goal in mind. If you want to be a developer, figure out what you can get paid to do while you learn. For example, I can work 20 hours a week as a "____" that will give me enough runway to learn to develop 20 hours a week.

I would not try to go from zero to employed as a developer in your situation. There will be 100 people who can say "I did exactly that" but there could have been 10,000 who died trying.

Get a smaller goal. Accomplish it and keep moving up. You will make it that way.


I completely agree with this approach. Also I wanted to add that I know it feels hard and at times it is but starting small and finding a niche that doesn't feel so hard is also an option. You don't need to be a developer to make a living, you can also be a system admin, tech support or a bunch of different things and that could then become your '20 hours a week as a ____' as mentioned above, while you keep working on becoming a developer.


how do I become tech support or system admin? that sounds fun


Okay, first you should reach out to anyone you know for a job doing anything. References can get you past all kinds of roadblocks including DUI. At this point it's probably a given that you should stop drinking completely until you have your shit together.

If you really want to be a developer here is the path I wish I would have taken:

First, save up money. Unless you're in driving distance of a good school you will need to move. Find a state with a good loan/grant program and solid state schools. This is vital. Some states/schools will cover you 100℅ with loans/grants and others don't offer jack. Try to find a place that gives grants so you don't end up in a debt hole later. Apply like crazy until you get into one. Move. Immediately begin the residency requirements for that state so you pay in state tuition and get in state grants. If the timing is off, delay starting school until you have residency.

You can reach out for part time jobs through the school. This is only a good path if you're really serious, if you fail out you will be in a much worse place than you are.

Once you're in school you will be fine money-wise until you graduate. A lot of people would recommend community college but most have a failure rate of 90℅ and it will delay your degree a few years, something you might not want to do at your age. 26 is fine for college these days, I didn't start until 23 and I wasn't out of place at all


Excellent advice. I would add that Op needs to make his or her own safety net, and the only path to this is by building up savings. The goal is to get to a place where you can save a large fraction of income with the ultimate long term goal of having 25-30x annual expenses in the bank. I wish I had known to do this in my 20's.


Seriously, a DUI is no big deal. 15 minutes in the naughty corner. So any potential employer who sees that as a barrier to employing you is probably too self-righteous for a pleasant workplace.

So what have you been doing since leaving school? 8+ years of doing _____ ?

Becoming a developer is not easy nor quick. The bootcamps only promise otherwise because they want gullible people to hand over a bunch of money. Being a freelancer is like having several bosses, besides you would still need to be able to to deliver in order to get paid.

Perhaps the best strategy is to get a job that you can do right now. Then in your free time you teach yourself a language for which there are lots of jobs in your area. Personally, I would think PHP is not a very good choice. I would suggest that JavaScript is a better choice since it is widely used on both the front-end and back-end. You can start learning it with nothing more than a good book and a recent browser with DevTools.


I would agree that JavaScript is better than php at this point. The problem with that suggestion is that the JS world is so fragmented and to be successful, you need to exercise judgement to decide what the right tool for the job is. OP is too new to have that judgement, so he needs a clear path to follow. Do you happen to know what a good path to learning nodejs from scratch is nowadays? I suspect that picking up either Learn JavaScript the Hard Way or an Egghead.io course on redux/react would be a good idea...maybe?


I've been learning HTML5 lately and CSS3


Can you join the military with a DUI? Man, if I were 26 again and single, I'd go for being a fighter pilot or maybe a submariner. Put off the "mid-life crisis" until you're actually middle aged!


> Can you join the military with a DUI?

Probably. It'd have to be a pretty egregious offense with more serious attached charges to bar that.

> I'd go for being a fighter pilot

Requires a college degree, periodically requires a technical degree (that condition changes based on USAF/Navy needs).

> maybe a submariner

Be aware, this is a very isolating career field, and also broad, as there are many jobs on a submarine (or any naval vessel).

That all said, if you've got the emotional aptitude (by this I mean stability, especially if you go enlisted), it's a good way to get started or restarted. 4-5 year commitment, end up with training and a signing bonus socked away and access to funds for college. Employers also seem to have a strong preference for former military. If you find the military satisfactory you can stay in career, or go reserves (worst case is being called up for another war like Iraq/Afghanistan, normal case is a few weeks of wearing a uniform a year and collecting an extra retirement check at 60).


Yeah, I'm really addressing the hypothetical 26-year-old me. The OP is 26 and he thinks he's at "mid-life" and is worried about not having a career. I'm nearly 40 now and am only now starting to find out what I want to be when I grow up. And I don't feel very handicapped by that! My past "careers" have all given me a lot of value and learning.

The message I'd like to convey to the OP is that he could have an adventure for 4-5 years, or even 10 years, and then worry about what career he wants to go into.


You're young you can do anything.

Web development if you enjoy it can be rewarding and fun, and pay the bills.

Network, find someone who works in the industry who can help get you in the door.

You mentioned HTML5, CSS and PHP.

You can do this without a bootcamp.

Do you have a macbook? If not I would recommend saving up for a macbook (an air 13" would be perfect <$1k on sale or refurbished, or a mac mini). You'll need it down the road when you get to more advanced topics. Windows is ok initially.

First step is learning HTML and CSS. (if you haven't already)

Then PHP, build a simple web app, get hosting FTP your files to get things working. Learn about shared hosting, domains (pointing A records). Learn the basics of MySQL.

Next learn javascript and jQuery.

Now you should be building your own websites and web apps.

Another possible path is learning WordPress (PHP).

Once you have the basics down you can move on to a framework, for PHP I would recommend Laravel. Great tools, great community, and getting really popular, used by lots of projects and companies.

You can learn a lot by signing up at laracasts.com, it's $9/mo but well worth it.

Use git or bitbucket, start deploying projects to digital ocean VPS hosting, forge.laravel.com is a great tool for creating and deploying to droplets.

Start getting the basics down and keep leveling up with the projects and fees/rate you charge.

Checkout Larajobs.com

If you have a question run in to problems google it and check stack overflow. Reach out to developers. You can build a nice network of developers willing to answer questions and point you in the right direction.

feel free to email me: HNusername at gmail.

Hang in there, Good luck.



I've been checking out that first link you gave me is it worth it? I'm half way through it but no JS stuff yet.


> With no money and lack of training ...

There are remarkable number of Free Online resources, assuming you can dedicate the time to check these out, start here... > https://skillcrush.com/2016/03/15/64-online-resources-to-lea...

> I don't know how I'll succeed as a developer...

Here's some good food for thought from Greg McKeown on achievement > https://youtu.be/5TGMujw629Y


The way I taught myself web development was: 1) The excellent Udacity courses (might not be free anymore, but they offer 50% back if you don't find a job). 2) Codeacademy for Javascript and jQuery. 3) Then, you need to build a project front to back. Choose a project that there is a similar one online that you can learn from. My first webapp is: http://sudokuisland.com 4) Google + StackOverflow

It took many months of work, but I definitely know enough to pick up whatever I need now for projects.


Sincerely, not everybody needs to be a developer. The fun part of HN is there are very bright people here that - by chance - are developers.

You should be developing all kind skills (soft skills) that will last for life, not something linked to any technology that will be obsolete in 5-10 years.

This needs time; but since you have no kids and no job you are rich in that.

There is a lot of iliteracy in this areas. Maybe your road is here:

* Communication (how to send a message to different audiences) * Numbers (spreadsheets, budgets, business plans, etc.) * Automation (home automation, business process automation).

Maybe this helps :-)


Lots of good advice here. Are you in the position to go back to school? Maybe enroll in a couple classes at your local community college and see if you learn better in a structured environment. It's hard learning by yourself when you don't know what to learn.


Yeah I'll take some classes maybe that will help.


I know in the moment things seem very dire for you. Step back, take a deep breath, and know that countless other people have been in your situation or worse. We're humans and throughout history we've adapted to conditions 10x more horrid than you can even imagine.

First, the DUI. I'm also a member of the bad judgment club, but it has never impacted my career in any way. It's an expensive lesson, but depending on your conviction, the state you reside in, where you are in the legal process, etc., employers may never see it. Do your research. In San Francisco and for public employers, it's actually legal to inquire about your criminal history if it has no relevance to the job. Out of all the things you could have been convicted of, people will probably be the least judgmental about a DUI because the vast majority of people ahve driven drunk, you just got caught. Depending on your level of desperation and/or your personal ethics, lying or massaging the truth is also an option.

> I find it hard and give up at times because everything is so overwhelming and I don't have anyone to ask questions to because I have so many questions

Guess what? That sentiment is very common amongst software engineers. In fact, from my personal experience, devs have a higher level of impostor syndrome and professional inadequacy than any other profession, save for doctors and scientists, I've witnessed. I had the exact same feelings as well in the beginning. However, I funneled these feelings to add to my drive. I wanted to be a dev and it was going to happen one way or another. My first resume was filled with a bunch of BS, personal projects were conflated to contract work, a lot of the code in my github was copypasta, and all my references were just personal friends. I don't condone this, but the padded resume got me interviews. And actually going on interviews taught me how to better prepare and perform for interviews. After 5 or so, someone finally gave me a chance and I took all those lies on my resume and made them true.

For your situation, starting off as a freelancer isn't impossible but it's very difficult as freelancers generally get contracts/positions based upon their demonstrated skill and networking as it takes a higher level of trust to hire someone who you will never see work.

Despite your claims to the contrary, you do sound depressed and obviously overwhelmed, so taking care of that should be your priority. Following my example would works best only if pressure turns you into a diamond.

In your case, I would start by going to local tech meetups, networking, and finding someone who enjoys mentoring. There's a ton of people out there who enjoy educating noobs, especially hungry ones. Find these people in developer rooms on IRC, Slack, or Discord. Take a MOOC and meet up with a local study group of like-minded wanna-be devs. Like any other profession, networking is very important. Plus, they give out free food. If you're driving there, I'd steer clear of the free drinks :).

Also, just write code. Every day. Doesn't matter if it's shitty, doesn't matter if it doesn't work and you have to start over. Code the simplest, dumbest application and just get it working. Every day, add a little something to it, no matter how trivial. If you're ever feeling like giving up, let this motivate you: https://jenniferdewalt.com/index.html There are going to be times where you feel like you're not getting it or are just not advancing anymore and ramming your head against a wall. It's an illusion. I remember when I first encountered pointer logic, it just didn't register with me and no matter how many different ways I tried to understand it, I still couldn't manipulate pointers for the life of me. Then one day, without even consciouslly thinking about it, it all made sense.

That's what the start of programming, and life in general, is like. You may not see evidence of progress every day, but some concepts take time and subconscious/unconscious though to understand. And that eureka moment is totally worth it, better than sex. Oh, focus on javascript. You most likely won't be doing anything outside of CRUD work in php, if that.


what did you mean by that last part about PHP and Javascript. honestly right now I just want to get out of poverty and Web development seems to be what I enjoy and if PHP is the fastest way why not?


thanks guys I'll find a way maybe I should join Military


>I thought I would want to become a Web developer because I saw it as a way out of poverty for me and my family but I find it hard and give up at times because everything is so overwhelming and I don't have anyone to ask questions to because I have so many questions plus I can't afford bootcamps.

Wow. Get ahold of yourself.

You're almost incoherent and begging for advice yet you were unwilling to give a serious answer to CyberFonic's post. You don't seem like a person that deserves helping.


> CyberFonic's post

What are you referring to?

Also, feeling frustrated and like you've hit a wall is just part of the nature of learning to program. Building up the mental fortitude and patience to keep going and keep trying to see what you're wrong about (and thus get around the blockage) takes time.

Why do you think he seems undeserving of help?


Do you just want me to repeat myself? He's defeatist, typing almost incoherently and he's clearly already abandoned this thread. The reasons why he doesn't deserve help are self evident.


Are you kidding? Is being coherent your litmus test for deserving help? He's probably a little depressed and emotionally rattled right now, and being incoherent (I understood him just fine, though) is absolutely a side effect of being in a dire, stressful situation.




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