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Ask HN: If you were to switch career, what would you do?
444 points by bsvalley on Jan 6, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 833 comments
If you were to quit your developer job today and move away from the tech world for a little while, what job would you do? Or what domain would interest you?


From running two small ecommerce companies I think I've learned enough about MVP, shipping, inventory management, etc.

From 25 years as a software engineer I've learned about building tools to automate steps.

I'd pick some "hard to find / expensive niche (e.g. Greene and Greene, Art Nouveau, etc.), but offer repeatable designs, not do custom work. That would allow for lots of jigs, fixtures, using cheap machines in duplicate to eliminate setup times, etc.

...and then after growing sales and shaking the bugs out of the production, I'd hire assistants to keep cranking stuff out.

Eventually I'd allow customers to start turbing a few "knobs" on products, via a website tool (this isn't too much falling back into software, is it?), which results in customized cut lists being kicked out for my assistants. Mass customization.

This is funny, I came into programming from being a high end cabinet maker. I had to give it up because I'm allergic to the components that make up the 'smell' of red oak. Which we worked with a lot.

Theirs a real satisfaction in looking at a your work at the end of the day and being able to SEE it.

I've always whittled as a fun side hobby. My desire to do anything bigger is limited by a fear of the table saw. As a lefty, nothing in the shop plays nice with me. I'm too worried about losing a finger which would impact my income stream as well as my other hobby, piano. But, I still spend more time looking at joinery than I do on HN.

Most of the time when someone loses a finger on a table saw, it is because they were doing something that they know better than to do, or because they didn't know that a particular action is high risk. What really helps is to initially work with someone who knows what and what not to do, so they can correct any bad techniques that you have.

Common errors are things like trying to cut a piece that is too large / awkward, resulting in the wood pinching the blade, and also getting your fingers too close to the blade. Get used to using push sticks to push the wood piece through. Typically you'd make up a couple of them with notches in the ends, or with a rubber tip. If you are doing certain types of cross cuts, the table saw has a couple tracks and a jig that runs along them, to move the piece through. Also, most important, is to set the blade height correctly, so not much of the blade is sticking out through your work piece.

Of course, I've always wanted a computerized setup, where you specify where the cut should be, and the work piece gets robotically placed on the table saw and precision cut. (they have this in some of the larger cabinet shops).

First day of my High School wood shop class (do they even have those anymore?), our instructor opened up a couple of packs of hot dogs and ran one through every machine in the shop. We didn't lose any fingers in that class ;-)

That you have an opinion on this and know the circumstances seems to suggest you know multiple people who have lost their fingers, which would suggest the risk is actually quite high.

If a completely untrained person bought an entire shop worth of power tools and just started trying to build stuff, the potential for injury is astronomical. However, there's a right way to go about it. Every shop tool has a simple set of rules to follow. Learn the proper and safe way to use things, wear appropriate attire and safety equipment, pay attention, and the risk is very low.

Powertools are made to cut/grind/drill/etc... wood, metal, and even stone into useful shapes. All of these things are significantly harder than the human body. Of course the tools capable of doing it are dangerous.

Never put your fingers where you wouldn't put your bollocks and you will be fine.

That piece of advice will save you more heartache than pretty much any other, but its a little more complicated than that.

For example, you wouldn't want to wear loose or baggy clothing around a lathe.

A guy I used to work with had cut off 4 fingers on his table saw, 2 were able to be re-attached. He admitted that he was doing something stupid.

Also, when I was a kid, my Dad had almost lost the tip of his finger in a snow blower -- he was cleaning out the chute when his glove caught on the blade. Again, something that you aren't supposed to do. For myself, I've had a number of close calls -- sometimes a piece of wood gets ejected in the direction of the blade spin. I've learned to stand to the side, and now directly in front of the saw. Also learned the hard way that you don't support a board on both ends, and cut in the middle with a circular saw -- blade pinch, and a nasty bruise results. Again, if I had someone standing there that could warn me, I would have corrected my technique before getting hurt.

anybody that does a lot of machine/wood work knows a few friends with missing parts. whole fingers or partials.

i had a roommate for years, was a very skilled machinist... we called him "nine and a half" although he was really only missing about 2mm from his right index finger... state compensated him $10k for those 2mm's though.

I nicked the tip of my index finger on my table saw a while ago, and all my friends called my Johnny-nine-point-nine-eight for a few weeks.

SawStop and Bosch both make excellent table saws with a safety retraction system.

Also, you can do a lot of woodworking with other tools, like a circular saw, track saw, miter saw, or even a simple hand saw. I've built a couple of bookcases and a built-in storage bench using only circular and hand saws, though a table saw would have made the work easier and probably straighter.

Yeah, a circular saw + square will get you a long way and provide an inexpensive way to determine whether you like it enough to invest in the more expensive tools. Of course you could end up like me, still using that same circular saw years later while routinely promising yourself that next year you'll invest in a good table saw ...

Saw Stop might interest you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiYoBbEZwlk

That's incredible. Theoretically you could even wear gloves and the saw would stop as soon as it reached tissue. Although, some sort of conductive work gloves might serve as an additional safety layer so it doesn't even have to hit tissue.

In general, it's a bad idea to wear gloves when working with spinning tools. If the glove snags the wrong way, it can pull your whole hand into the tool.

For sure, but in this scenario I doubt snags pulling anything would be possible. In the video it was stopping the blade before it could even break the skin on fingertips.

If the safety mechanism failed though, the resulting injury would be far worse as a result of the gloves, so it might not be worth it in that regard.

The gloves could pull the hand along the trajectory of the blade.

Not if the gloves are conductive too.

Most gloves make a point of not being conductive.

Which would be why I explicitly suggested conductive gloves in my first comment.

Ditto rings, for the same reason.

The rules in my dad's wood shop when I was growing up were pretty simple: any jewelry (necklace, bracelet, watch, rings, etc.) had to be removed, and eye protection had to be on before a tool could be turned on.

That is pretty impressive. Sadly, I'm limited to shared workspaces given that I'm in an urban area. Good to know about for whenever I decide that I'm sick of the city.

The table saw at the maker space / shared woodworking shop near me has a SawStop, which is a pretty good idea given the varied experience levels of users in a community space. If that's really what's keeping you from pursuing an activity of great interest to you, consider checking to see if the workspaces near you are equipped with SawStop. Even if they're not, you might persuade them to get one. Especially if you're willing to chip in.

Consider hand tools. It's a bit more labor, but if you're not building for profit anyway, you may enjoy it more. I have some thoughts on this on my blog, see my profile.

+1 to this! I got into woodworking with the goal of just using hand tools. As mentioned there is quite a bit more labor but you can also do things like setup a bench in your basement and work while your kids sleep upstairs.

I'd highly suggest taking a look at some of the videos from Paul Sellers: https://www.youtube.com/user/PaulSellersWoodwork. My first real project was building his simple (but very functional) workbench. He is pretty opinionated so keep that in mind, but he speaks from experience.

Also keep in mind that there are really two "classes" of popular tools: western and Japanese/eastern. If you do get into woodworking I'd suggest trying out a few tools from each class. I ended up going with Japanese saws because they felt more natural to me but then using western style planes.

What I like about Sellers is that he doesn't try to sell you tools. He pushes the same dozen or so tools for every project and proves that you don't have to buy specialized tools for a job.

Unlike Schwarz who I feel like is always trying to get me to buy something else :/

+1 I got into handtool-only woodworking several years ago. I find it very relaxing building things by hand. I am starting on a 6' tall bookcase this week

Thanks, that's a bunch of great info. I'll be looking forward to an update on your bench.

Won't be till April at the earliest. Minnesota winters...

As others have mentioned, SawStop can mitigate most of that risk (but not all - it's still possible to get kickback if you're not careful). I'd probably own a SawStop, if not for some of the questionable behavior if it's owner [1]. It's unfortunate, because they're very well made and designed saws.

You may want to check out the Bosch ReaXX, which has a similar tech in a portable job-site saw. SawStop is currently suing Bosch for patent infringement (which I don't fault them for; it was them trying to make it illegal to sell saws without their tech that didn't sit right with me).

[1] http://toolguyd.com/sawstops-stephen-gass-people-who-are-des... and a followup that's more balanced: http://toolguyd.com/sawstop-perspective-update/

Be sure to wear ear protection (the sound is loud enough to damage your hearing) and especially a face shield.

Don't work alone in the house, keep your cell phone in your pocket. I suppose this would be a great use for Amazon's Alexa, just yell for 911 (does that work for Alexa?).

I approached workworking like software -- iterative refinement. In the physical world that left me with a pile of sawdust.

I think that's the reason I (and many programmers) enjoy gardening/farming.

Putting your hands in the soil, seeing the growth & blooms, eating your produce - very satisfying!

That's why I went into software from hardware. From software I often get immediate returns, from hardware it often took weeks.

Funny thing is before I did hardware, I was running a wood/machine shop which was satisfying, but didn't pay very well.

I've worked as a general contractor, and a union finish carpenter. (Yes--Finish Caroenters still exits in some counties, like San Francisco. The work has changed though. It's all about speed, and specs, and laminates.)

What I found is so many people glamoririze wood working, but at the end of the day keep your desk job. Working with your hands is a dirty job. It's a physical job. You come home tired. There's a reason, even custom wood shops, are filled with immigrants.

I know very few independents that make a go of it. I know a few guys who highly specialize, and claim to make a living. For a few years, guys were making good money refinishing wood slabs, for tech bosses. That market is getting crowded. A $8000 table can be had $800 if you travel, and shop around.

I won't get in to all the downsides, but if you have some extra room buy some wood working equipemnent. You don't need to go hog wild. You don't need a cabinet saw. You should have a contractor's saw with a cast iron table. A router. Drills--don't spent a lot on fancy features. Union finishers use the cheapest plug in drills. Have an assortment of clamps. Keep your chisels sharp. You don't need every router bit made either. It's not about the tools in the end.

I really think the secret is to specializing. Do custom chairs? Get your name out there. I know one guy who makes custom dressers, but they are works of art. This guy will spend months working on a piece, and some rich guy will buy it for $180,000.

I once wanted to make custom knifes, but every guy I talked to said you won't make a living off it.

I am going to try to make custom sterling belt buckles. I've done some jewelry work, and found that a hard niche to get into. The Chinese make some realistic looking hand made stuff. Yes--they steal our original ideas--sometimes overnight.

My strategy is to get in quick, and get out if I get a bunch of copycats. I already have most of the tools.

I think a lot of us want to do something else? My dad, who was an Electrician, once said, "I wish I had a job where I could sit in a warm office for two hours in the morning, and then get in my service truck and do physical labor." He never found a job he totally liked. He died an angry man. It wasn't his job he hated so much; he was just angry about everything. My biggest fear was turning into my father.

I don't think I ever will. I had a busted a gasket in my noggin in my twenties, and don't look at the world like I used too.(bust gasket--had minor nervous breakdown in my twenties. I got better, but my perspective on life did change.)

This reminds me of Matthias Wandel. He's really one of the most impressive woodworkers I've ever seen. It's so clear to me that he still thinks like a software engineer.

I was going to make the same comment. I believe he worked as a developer for RIM (Blackberry). I would urge all to check him out on YouTube. Entertaining and you will likely learn something new.

My only regret about getting into his channel is that now I have seen all of his videos and I have to wait 7 days for each new one.

His channel is great for more than just its content; it's also inspirational. My father has been a hobbyist woodworker and he has a small basement shop. Growing up I would frequently be down there with him 'helping' here and there, but never really built much of anything on my own besides a few small projects.

Watching Matthias' videos rekindled my interest in the hobby and I even picked up some new tricks along the way. It has also been great to get back into the shop with my dad and spend real quality time with him.

Matthias, if you ever read this: thanks!!!

Love that guy, his channel is so great.

Sometimes I think it appeals to me (and engineers in general) because spending so much time developing software... when not working on front-end/UI, it's all intangible. Just abstract bytes cast into the void. I need to make things in the physical realm more often.

This is more similar than it first sounds... you're proposing a variant of ecommerce that includes production of the goods. You'd still start by identifying a product niche with strong demand. You'd begin with flexible but expensive production options, then automate incrementally as you figure out which products can scale. You'd invest in technology to help you maintain an advantage over other vendors.

This is actually very similar to how semi-custom cabinets are made and sold, aside from the web interface. There is a catalog of available cabinets, and each cabinet can be customized in a variety of ways. For example, you can order a drawer + cupboard base cabinet with 2 roll trays and finished left side. The cabinets are built to order, but from a standard set of parts. They're built in a factory and shipped to the job site fully assembled. (One big maker is Masterbrand, which like GM offers many similar products under a variety of sub-brands.)

Instead of the web, though, cabinet selections are typically made by a kitchen designer, because the customer is not sufficiently skilled to take responsibility that the items ordered will actually fit. This might be a problem in woodworking, though perhaps less so for furniture.


I'm basically in the process of pursuing this dream. Previously I was an architect in Canada where we did a lot of large scale wood structures using sophisticated computational fabrication techniques.

These types of sophisticated projects though were fairly risky for property developers making them somewhat rare. So I struck out on my own to try to develop a small business around the most 'automatable' work I could afford to get into - which is basically a prototyping shop that offers laser cutting and engraving of wood products.

We've been fairly successful with it, and so now we're starting to develop product customizers that allow customers to order custom work which we can fabricate on demand without having to interact with the customer in person (a major source of overhead in most custom fabrication shops). Here's an early beta example of one we're working on for the wedding industry if you're interested: https://www.instantcaketopper.com

So it's basically wood that people put on their cake, never saw something like this. Is common in Canada & US?

I've not seen a wooden cake topper like this, but it's very common (and used to be pretty much mandatory, if I understand right) to have something on top of the cake, usually little figurines representing the bride and groom.

I've seen cake toppers for special occasion, like bride and groom, flowers but never saw a wooden one. I was wondering if wooden cake toppers are a thing over there

I love this. My single regret about doing programming for a living is that I rarely have anything physical to show for my work at the end of the day. I've been looking at hobbies to pick up that involve making things with my hands. This is an innovative way to do both.

> My single regret about doing programming for a living is that I rarely have anything physical to show for my work at the end of the day.

This is the most challenging thing about most IT jobs. I was working "maintenance" (read: janitor that occasionally builds things) at an outlet mall before I fell in to an internship that led to the VoIP/MSP job I've been working for the last decade.

I'm making a lot more money and I never have to clean up bodily fluids, but rarely does this job provide any real end-of-day satisfaction. Maybe once a month I get to work on a project that when complete I can stand back and have something tangible to be proud of.

On the other hand from just a summer of working at the outlet mall there are a half dozen things I worked on that I can see from the highway as I drive by now 12 years later. Even the cleanup work had a clearly defined "task complete" state that anyone could see.

Amen to tangible evidence! I feel similarly about my current career, but there are two things to keep in mind: the grass is always greener, and you can do something on your own terms (hobby) that fills the same niche. Thus, woodworking, or even painting, volunteering, etc.

As for the grass being greener, it's important to keep perspective about what the former was. I think your example re: bodily fluids is a pretty good example :)

I love woodworking as well, and have completed a few little projects since buying a house and finally having a garage/workshop.

But, if that's not something you have the space/money for yet, I think that cooking is a nice substitute hobby. There's a lot to learn with tools and technique, and you get the immediate satisfaction of seeing (and tasting!) your finished product.

Just be careful though -- I've injured myself many more times in the kitchen than in the garage.

Same here. My undergrad & grad degree was Computer Engineering (Hardware focus) and Electrical Engineering. I made things (circuit boards), and programmed things that moved (robotics). But lots of money in web apps...

Look into producing beehive equipment; even if you're not a beekeeper, there is a constant and large demand for high quality, low price woodenware. Fairly easy to set up jigs and it is easy to find blueprints. By the end you'll be a beekeeper anyway ;)

Luthiery specifically for me - it's a hobby currently and the thing I think about the most when I'm programming. The tooling and jig making aspect of woodworking is also very satisfying to my engineering tendencies.

I have to plug David Hurds "Left-brain lutherie" here! It's a physicist's attempt to demystify the building of guitar-family instruments, and in addition to providing a pretty in-depth look at the major components of an instrument's sound, provides many immediately practical tips on construction - for example, how to choose the proper soundhole size.

Manufacturing of any kind is as competitive as hell.

Certainly it is possible to succeed there, but I think many manufacturers are already far ahead of the average software shop in terms of automation.

> Manufacturing of any kind is as competitive as hell.

Absolutely true. And this is why I was very specific about picking a high end niche, and using tons of jigs, etc.

If you try to make rocking chairs, or cabinets, or whatever, you're going to be undercut by people in Malaysia, or huge factories in North Carolina.

You need something where there is a LOT of complexity AND a relatively small market, both to serve as walls to market entrants.

High quality and custom made stuff are always hard to find.

You normally can't build a big business on any of those niches, but it may be enough to sustain a single-person shop.

+1 on the Woodworking....

I started StumpCrafters.com just a few months ago and its great. I love being out in the shop more and still getting to do a few things with code here and there.

Im not quite there with the customization yet but its in the works.

Check it out at:





edit: formating

I am a bit confused what stumpcrafters is after going to the website.

There is some sort of game...and you sell these pieces of wood for the game?

This page explanes it the best.


TLDR; The Stump Game is played with a Stump, nails, and a hammer. Win by being the last nail above the face of the stump.

They play a similar drinking game in ski bars in Austria - you each get 3 swings of the hammer, before passing the hammer on. Last nail left buys a round. Except you have to hit the nails in with the other end of the hammer, the part for pulling out the nails.

I'm not kidding, in the middle of bars they have a big ol' tree stump full of nails

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqhtHbqjp8I seems to explain it better ... if you can sell people small stumps of wood for $80 I think you'll go far ;o)

Shipping is part of the problem and but similar games such as cornhole cost $150-$350.

This is great. My friends and I played a similar game we called hammerschlaggen -- except instead of a hammer we used the sharp end of an axe and a real stump!

My stumps are a platform for your nails and you can play any game you like or make up your own.

Hammer-Schlagen® is a Trademark troll check out there site

Came here to say this. I have a garage full of tools (I built all of our kitchen cabinets and other built-in furniture). I'd love to have more time for woodworking.

That doesn't really sound like a "woodworker".

I like this. I've been thinking about a lot about software to help improve workshop efficiency or to design interesting things.

yeah software engineers are able to pursue art niches better than artists because of having more capital

they totally should

I would be a modern day philosopher/thinker (like Taleb, Dawkins, Harris). I would start with the classics and read everything, learn ancient Greek, Aramaic, as well as Italian, French and German (maybe Russian also, who knows)

I would study the first proof in mathematics all the way up through modern probability theory.

I would throw away my cell phone and do all of this work from a nice modern loft in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome - starting every morning with an espresso, and ending it with good food and two bottles of Red French or Italian wine.

Back to work ..

I can see how this would be a heavenly existence, but it seems like a stretch to call it a "career," in the sense I think the original poster meant. Sure, there are some people who have managed to become famous authors doing those things, but this basically seems like saying "I would switch careers to being a celebrity."

Yeah, that's the joke.

Yeah, in hindsight I pretty aggressively missed the point.

No need to quit your job or move to Italy. Turn notifications off on your phone, get an espresso machine for your home, buy some decent table wine. Get the books you want to read and start reading them. Go to the library on the weekends. Arrange to get to/from work on public transit and your commute turns into reading time (90 minutes a day for me).

I have a full-time job and read as many philosophy/sociology and math books as I ever have. You can actually try out your plan of full-time study on your next vacation - I bet you will bore of it in three or four days.

I agree, "the unexamined life is not worth living." We should start a club for expats that all want to do this.

The problem with a club like that is your fellow members would at best dispel the romance of the setting, and at worst be thoroughly insufferable.

> I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member –Groucho Marx

In a sense, I do this. I work/earn 10% of what I could, and spend 90% of my time studying all the things I want, moving around different countries. On one hand it's very nice but on the other, earning little gets tiresome (especially now in my 30s). My 2017 is for reversing the percentage.

How do you find consistent work doing that? I try to work part time as a developer and usually either my clients pressure me to full time or hire someone else who will.

I'm a VA with one long-time client who can only offer me part-time work, plus the occassional small project related to the work. I also sometimes get a few side jobs from previous employers. For the last several years, I've generally worked an hour per day, M-F.

Living abroad on dollars, and staying out of native-English speaking countries and Nordic ones, it's quite easy to live an average lifestyle on around $600/mo. However, to live like this you end up going through a few dry periods where you really are struggling. Three-fourths of the time, I'm living the same lifestyle as I did in the US, except it's more interesting and I'm not working a full-time job I don't like just to make ends meet.

My free time is spent exploring cities, learning languages which I teach myself and then practice in-country, reading and watching documentaries about everything that interests me (I was born curious), volunteering and working on some online side projects (non-monetary) related to growing my knowledge.

If this were a few hundred years ago, I would be the first person to sign up for overseas voyages, but since there are no more unexplored/untouched lands these days (barring the final frontier), I try to do the next best thing - explore subjects and places that are, in the least, not previously explored by me. Another way to look at it is to say I was born (SF in the early 80s) a few decades late, otherwise I would have grown up hippie and probably fit right in (rather than have friends who make amounts I can't even comprehend).

> I'm a VA with one long-time client who can only offer me part-time work, plus the occassional small project related to the work.

What's a VA?

Virtual Assistant, so I basically just do admin type work online (for a small startup).

Let me know if you're ever in Chiang Mai and would like to get a coffee, or maybe watch a documentary.


You are living an interesting life. It is fun to read about how different everyone's experiences are.

Thanks. I've definitely got to live the life that everyone back home can't, but the reverse is true as well. After doing this for several years and realizing what kind of lifestyle I really want, I'm ready to do a trade-in this year. Contrary to a 10-year old car with 200K miles on it, I'm hoping my value has actually appreciated in this time. The thing is, it's not on a resume, it's not in the form of a house. Any value, real or imagined, is invisible to the naked eye, and so by returning to "real life" it can appear that I've got nothing to show for the last decade.

I understand. You carry your experiences on your back, in your mind.

I wonder if you COULD document that in a physical way though, maybe build a website using a free host like Wix.com loaded with photos from around the world, organized chronologically by country.

That would be amazing. Maybe even organize a speech about "What I have learned by traveling the world" (with cool photos)

Even if you didn't take photos, you could find photos of the places you lived at on Google.

I think many people would be interested by a talk like that.

I appreciate your experience, and I think employers would also.

You have proven you can relate and survive in many different cultures and you are adaptable. I would imagine that would be valuable in an international position in a big company like Pagonia, or a safari travel company, or even a local company with a diverse workforce.

Take out the math part and make it outer Trastevere (far from the tourists) and you just stole my answer.

As long as you stay away from Basilica di Santa Maria, the tourists arn't a problem :)

You know that we have the web and internet and the computers also here in Italy, Right?

I'm getting close to retiring, in many ways this sounds a very appealing option :)

Mathematics from axioms: http://us.metamath.org/index.html

See you at Bar San Calisto!

The CEO of Palantir Alex Karp is a philosopher.

Must have failed ethics.

SGTM Approved

It's interesting that the majority of these answers are professions that pay nowhere near what a software developer's salary would be.

If the question were, "What other job would you like to do, if it paid at least as much as software development?" I could probably come up with some creative answers.

But even though I'm not particularly driven by money, given that I have a family to support, mortgage to pay, etc., I probably could not take a job right now that would significantly reduce my income.

With that constraint in mind, I suppose I would say I would return to my first career (journalism) and become an editor again. This would involve a significant drop in salary. So I would have to ramp up the time I devote to my second job. I'm an author of nonfiction books, which has been mostly a side project, but a relatively lucrative one. If I could bang out a book a year, on top of working full time as an editor, I could probably keep our household finances afloat.

Unless moving out of SF/NY is a deal breaker, it's not necessary to make $100k+ a year to have a solid middle class life. You won't be driving a BMW making $55k a year but you won't need to eat Ramen to make the mortgage payment either.

Obviously kids make this harder and my perspective is certainly biased as my wife and I don't plan on children so our nut is much lower every month than our friends with kids in HS or college.

> it's not necessary to make $100k+ a year to have a solid middle class life

Depends on your circumstances. 100k with one salary?

I'm in a similar situation to you, (similar salary, 2 kids instead of 3), and think you are being hyperbolic claiming "100k is nothing honestly". I think maybe it comes down to the definition of "basic life".

Sure, 100k can go very fast with kids, and it won't make you independently wealthy, but many people manage a "basic life" and even saving some money living on far less.

The added expenses of 3 kids and a stay at home spouse completely changes the financial situation you're describing as opposed to the other poster. 100k+ not split among 4 nonworking people goes way further!

I find the change from having a family not very large, say 2x food and perhaps to be very generous +1k clothing. The chief difference is the desire to live in a own space instead of having roommates, which are hard to find with a family.

Suppose you live in Cambridge, MA and eat all organic food; rent with roommates and utilities costs perhaps 800/mo, subway costs perhaps 100/mo, food costs 300/mo, clothing is perhaps 100/mo, health insurance perhaps 1k/mo. This adds up to 1300/mo, 28k/year. Throw in a very luxurious 5k/year in travel, 4k/year in restaurants and hobbies, and your 100k salary / 67k takehome pay supports you saving 30k/year (more if you use tax advantaged accounts).

Consider a family of four in such a case. Taxes run about 21k/year instead of 33k/year, so takehome is 79k. A 1br in Cambridge runs about 2k/mo, maybe 2.5k/mo for luxury. Subway is 150/mo, food costs 700/mo, clothing of say 200/mo, healthcare is perhaps 1.5k/mo; these run 5k/mo in total, 60k/year. Throw in 5k for travel, rental cars, and hobbies, and you're still saving 15k/year for emergencies.

This seems like a very luxurious life, as someone who's lived it; expensive, and I found it slightly more luxurious than makes me happy. So yes, families affect saving rate, but also provide perpetual free entertainment.

Childcare makes a huge difference. Most people with kids either have to sacrifice a huge chunk of their income or a huge chunk of their income-earning potential.

> rent with roommates and utilities costs perhaps 800/mo

Ugh, for a lot of us roommates == hell. There's no way I'd subject myself to living with strangers again.

I live paycheck to paycheck on six figures in the midwest. I'm not broke but I'm certainly not living it up. People act like 100k is life changing money.

I think it depends more on circumstances before you get to $100k. If I had parents who paid for school I'd probably be living it up too.

Agreed. My parents gave me nothing. Had to pay for school and save up for home loan, car etc.

Different experiences. I put myself through school, have $50k in student loan debt, and I'm living comfortably on $54k/yr in New Jersey. Renting a small house, and sending around 15-20% of my income to help support my mother and 5 young siblings. I eat out a few times a month, and otherwise have a modest entertainment budget. I'm only able to set aside a very small amount, if anything, right now, but overall, I'm fairly secure. Without a requirement to live in an expensive area, I don't see why anyone would have trouble living on $100k/yr even with a couple kids and a non-working spouse. May not be luxurious, but should at least be comfortable.

I often wonder if it's just people who have a different concept of what is a necessity vs a luxury due to never having to go without for a significant part of their lives, or people who have just never lived outside of the cities or other expensive areas.

> I often wonder if it's just people who have a different concept of what is a necessity vs a luxury due to never having to go without for a significant part of their lives, or people who have just never lived outside of the cities or other expensive areas.

In my case, I lived on the lower end of the income spectrum for much of my childhood, and lived even poorer while building my startup in a low-cost area. So it is with deep experience and sincerity that I say I have no desire ever to repeat those years, nor to inflict such a life on any future young humans.

Exactly. The GP of my comment talks about 100k not being lifechanging money. I know for a fact that it would have been dramatically lifechanging if my mother or stepfather had been making anywhere near 100k during my childhood, even adjusted for inflation.

I can really see both sides of the argument here. 100k is not permanently life changing for the recipient. But if it can be earned sustainably, it is a pretty big difference for the recipient's children, if any.

Ways in which it's not life changing: probably have to live in a more expensive area, which eats into the benefit. Still have to play the office game with people you may or may not like. Still have to save up and budget if you want to travel. You won't live in a mansion with a full-time staff. You still won't have enough money to trade money for popularity if popularity is something you lack and want.

Ways it is life changing: can afford more nutritious and more enjoyable food, which helps make life more sustainable. Can provide better food/clothes/schooling for any children (I have none of my own), which gives them an advantage when they reach adulthood. Can live two or three emergencies away from devastation instead of just one.

I don't make enough to have a liquid savings for these events. Credit works.

I certainly meet necessities and a few luxury items but people think 100k is like rap star money or something. We don't make enough to buy some frivolous luxury items like a designer bag or an actual new car. We make enough to spend more than normal on groceries, go out to eat a few times a month, and pay the rest of our debt. Not enough to have a decent liquid savings account. Every time I get $500 saved up I end up with some new medical bill that I forgot about.

Seeing stuff like this makes me wanna jump in the water and swim across the ocean. On my current salary, I'd have to work nearly 7 years to get 100k. You're living it up.

I'm not so sure the rest belt is all that glamorous. Yeah I might have a new ipad but I also make get shot for lunch money.

"Obviously kids make this harder..."

If you didn't have kids you would feel incredibly rich. You could pay off your house in five years and feel even richer.

Don't forget it's not uncommon for two college grads to have $100k in student loan debt today.

It absolutely is uncommon to have that much student loan debt.


The average student loan debt is $27,000. Having four times that amount makes you a massive outlier.

Averages alone don't give you the full picture; surgeons can rack up >$250K of debt which is probably about as high as it goes (the average medical school debt for 2015 grads was $183K, mind you). On the other end, plenty of young adults don't have any debt coming out of college (worked numerous jobs, parents paid, scholarships paid, some schools don't charge for people under certain circumstances, etc.) It just turns out that once you take the one-and-a-quarter trillion dollar student loan debt, add the 44 million-ish college grads up and do the division, the average lands you around your number (albeit I'm seeing $28K with newer data: https://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/hhdc.html).

You'd need a lot more data than I have on-hand or care to track down bit-by-bit, but from the number of doctors and lawyers we mint yearly I wouldn't be surprised if 1/10 college grads were well over $50K in debt; MBAs make up something like 10% of graduate degrees and cost around $40K on average by themselves. To me, one in ten is not all that uncommon - student loan delinquency rate more than that ;).

On top of that, it's not "uncommon" for two people who are both surgeons or doctors or lawyers or MBAs to find each other and get married; these people, very much like most of the software engineers I've met, live around their jobs. The people they meet are quite often in their same fields, and have similar financial backgrounds as a result. Two young MBAs? Easily $80K in the hole together.

We in the Bay Area just get this warped sense of perspective because everyone here has to make absurd gobs of money just to make rent, reenforced by the demand for good software engineers being so high. Most of the other people we deal with or interact with are either software engineers themselves or are directly in support of software. We get insulated and siloed from differing perspectives by our monocultured Silicon Valley society.

(And yeah, doctors and lawyers don't usually become doctors and lawyers from the goodness of their hearts alone; they understand that eventually they will come back and get way ahead of their massive debts, especially as the government keeps piling on incentives like debt forgiveness and restructured repayment plans to keep people choosing these avenues of work.)

If you interpret that as $100k total rather than each, it's probably not terribly uncommon. I've got over $50k myself, so if I had a partner with similar, that's where we'd be. Median debt would be also be more useful than average, I think, or even just the top 25 percentile. Basically, anyone who paid for their education entirely with loans (say, while barely supporting themselves or even using excess loan dollars for food/rent) would be in this position.

That would be 2x. I didn't mean 100k each. You're still technically correct but that average means there are certainly people who have $100k combined.

Do these averages include living expenses outside of dorms? I know plenty of people who foolishly had to borrow to live near campus.

good reminder! I was assuming they were debt free, other than their mortgage.

As a former journalist myself (and someone who longs to write books), I'd be very interested in your thoughts on someone doing this career swap away from tech into writing nonfiction.

I realize this isn't particularly related to the thread at hand, but do you have any advice for "breaking into the biz"? It looks like the baby experiments book was published by a "conventional" publisher, too, which seems increasingly rare these days. I'm fascinated by people who can make money writing nonfiction without having an academic pedigree or something similar.

Regarding breaking into the biz ...

1) I found an agent by searching on aaronline.org and sending book-proposal queries to agents who seemed like they were a good fit.

2) Although the costs of self-publishing have gone down, the problem with self publishing, for my type of nonfiction anyway, is when it comes to distribution. Getting the book into brick-and-mortar stores, getting the book reviewed by reputable outlets, securing foreign rights deals ... that all becomes much easier if you have a book deal with a traditional publisher. Not to mention the advance.

3) Because I don't have an academic pedigree, I'm limited in terms of the type of material I can write. But my experience as a journalist helps, because although I'm not an authority myself, I'm able to take authoritative material and boil it down for a broader audience. That said, having a background as a journalist might help you get a book deal, but it's insufficient if you don't have enough of a platform: https://janefriedman.com/author-platform-definition/

Thanks for the response, this is really helpful. I'm unfortunately pretty well-acquainted with the marketing shortcomings of the self-publishing arena, but it's good to know it's not impossible to just start sending agents old-school query letters.

I'm an artist and a musician, and if I could do anything as a career, It would be in the arts. Unfortunately, it's difficult to put food on the table as an artist or a musician. As a musician, there's gigs and tours all the time, and probably a move to LA or Austin - not a very family friendly lifestyle, assuming I'm even good enough to find some success.

I loved your experimenting with babies book, btw. Kind of cool to see you are on HN as well!

Based on this extra condition to make as much money, I would develop real estate

I'd open a bookstore/cafe that sells tech and engineering books. We'd run tech classes in a space in the back, with a discount for vets and artists looking to change careers. I'd live in the apartment above the store, with a garden on the roof. The wifi would be phenomenal.

If you're ever in Seattle you should check out Ada's technical books. It's highly similar to what you're describing.

"Shelf Overflow"?

I was going to go register that domain. It's a site already apparently...


Well, you should be only registering .io domains anyway ;)

Why's that? (Honest question)

I think it's a bit of a joke about how popular .io has become recently. Seems like a lot of people these days really like them.

The reason not to is the colonial exploitation of an island nation. Doesn't seem to bother many people though.

If this were reddit I'd give you gold!

Really confused why my enthusiasm for your idea was so downvoted.

I did that after saving enough money in Silicon Valley back in 2008. I lived on the top floor. It was called USA Books and was the 1st English only bookstore in Vietnam. Naturally it was tech heavy http://wordhcmc.com/news-latest/in-the-papers/usa-books. Every month we d host a get together and do a storytelling event like the Moth. Good times :)

Why did you stop?

What is the point of owning tech books when a) much of the content is online and b) there are new developments in languages/frameworks all the time?

Mechanical Engineer here (I feel like HN tends to forget about us...). Most of the higher level stuff is pretty hard to find online, especially for heat and mass transfer or fluids. Most other mechanical or electrical engineers I know keep their textbook with them at work either as a reference, to look for some derivations, or to find some empirical data/results.

Mmm. I'm trying to learn ME a bit this year. Wrestling with endless Solidworks tutorials. Buying stuff just to pull it apart. Working towards a relatively ambitious goal in little modular steps. Trying to figure out how to buy off the shelf and have as little as possible in the way of custom parts. It's really interesting but seems very cross-disciplinary... the manufacturing process, cost, material properties knowledge, modeling processes and so on seem quite distinct, with no real high level overview to assist. Then there's the Solidworks project management ontology which differs from git and seems to play bad with it. Then there's the fact I live in China and know no ME's, and that everything I do in industry occurs in Chinese so I am learning at least two names for everything. A real adventure... :)

Thankfully, nothing in programming is anywhere near as technical as fluid dynamics. Most of it can be found on github, blogs, and medium posts.

I find reading print much more enjoyable, but I have a hard time quantifying why.

Maybe a break from the eye strain of staring at screens? Nostalgia?

Also, the book form leads to a different way of engaging with information, even if its digital. When I look at technical books on Amazon, I always read the table of contents first. Gives an idea of topics covered and overall organization, and thus how the information is connected in the author's mind. That adds value over just Googling and following various links in a haphazard fashion to learn about a topic.

So do I. What I particularly like with print is let's say when remembering a specific formula, I would remember it better by picturing its exact position in the printed book. It works even better with handwritten "cheat sheet" since you can also use some creativity to make it stand out more (borders, color,...), and thus remember it better.

On a computer screen this doesn't seem to work.

There are quite a few great books on stable information. To name a couple: Knuth's Art of Programming, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, Advanced Systems Programming in the Unix Environment, the dragon book. Why should I own them physically? Well, I find physical books more comfortable to read than digital ones. They lack text search, but being able to have it open on my desk next to my computer is handy. Not to mention the sleep hygiene issues from using a screen before going to sleep.

Not all development is frameworks and webdev and many "tech" books aren't necessarily just programming. I'd consider half of my math books to be "tech", as that is how they end up being applied.

For some things, books are just better. I can mark the book, dog ear the pages, and the physical interaction that a book provides just seems (for me) to aid in retention. They also serve one purpose and I'm not as likely to get distracted on HN while trying to learn.

Although it's changing, books for me has largely been about someone taking the time to actually plan out, organize and go into detail on the topic. Blogs and release notes are good for staying up to date or for figuring out a work around. They "used" to be not so good at the getting started part.

Fundamentals are still better off starting with a book before moving to online imo.

"Although it's changing, books for me has largely been about someone taking the time to actually plan out, organize and go into detail on the topic."

I agree, except I don't think it's changing, because the end artifact of "plan out, organize and go into detail on the topic" I would still call a "book", regardless of how its delivered.

What I meant by changing is that online content has gone up in quality since the introduction of MOOC's and the realization that decent money can be made from training. What used to be semi-random collections of tips and tricks have turned into full blown courses.

From my experience, if you want to do anything complicated in C, it's necessary to buy books. Some languages have good online resources but many don't.

B) not really / there is a world out there outside of the JavaScript frameworks driven bubble.

Some books will remain relevant. A quick glance at my bookshelf of old but relevant books: K&R The C Programming Language, Programming with POSIX Threads (it's from the 90s but pthreads really hasn't changed), Algorithms, and Expert C Programming.

Spend 9 hours a day looking at an electronic display. Hands on paper, leaf scrolling. API reference books get dated pretty quickly, but more theoretical or conceptual references hold up pretty well in a collection.

> much of the content is online

Hmm, no. many of the classics of compsci are not available to read online, and there are even some which are practically impossible to find even as shitty scanned pdfs

I'm curious about the books in this list, I'd like to read them. Do you have any recommendations?

Here are a few of the books on my bookshelf that are not available as ebooks for purchase and would probably be very hard to find pirated copies of:

    The Psychology of Computer Programming
    The Paralation Model
    Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction
    Object-Oriented Programming in Common Lisp
    Computer-Aided Financial Analysis (Miller)
    Probability, Statistics, and Queueing Theory (Allen)
    The Brain Makers
Note that I sold off most of my library and regularly sell books once I am done reading them, so this is just a small sample of the material that you will not find online, that I have personally read. Also all the older/rare books I have borrowed from/read at my local public library (public libraries have a surprising amount of computer books), and the university libraries I have been associated with earlier.

Whoever discounts computer science books today because "you can find it all online" does so out of a very deep ignorance of computer science. Between Google Books and the Internet Archive's scanning project digital copies do exist, but are inaccessible.

This isn't an argument for tech books, per se, but dead trees are still the most convenient and comfortable way to read words.

I have five bookshelves full of computer books (and other kinds of books, too), and I actually have people that borrow my books. In a way, it's like a miniature, friends-only "library". For all the things people say about print books, they're still useful.

Human interaction?

Also my dream. I already have a collection of about 5000 or so books taking over my house. There are bookshelves on every wall. If I ever cash out of the startup game I'm setting up a private membership library / bookstore. I already have the building picked out and my own collection will be the foundation.

Computer Literacy Books was lovely while it lasted. They used to offer lectures too.


Their website in 1998: https://web.archive.org/web/19961219170620/http://clbooks.co...

I read a kuro5hin post about a programmer turned courier, "A Coder in Courierland," (http://atdt.freeshell.org/k5/story_2005_3_19_133129_548.html) and became pretty infatuated with the idea over a five or six months. The recession hit, lay offs began, and then I was a courier.

I did it for a little over three years. It had its ups and downs. I returned to software development and have found a cosier community in the Javascript realm (pre-courier, .NET).

Takeaways that stick with me till this day:

- You can develop an incredible amount of strength from just cycling.

- Air quality is a long term concern.

- (More sun + more exercise) - LEDs = great sleep

- Excessive amounts of exercise != great health

- Learn your machine, and do your own work.

- Fixed gears are extremely useful in dense traffic.

- The type of work you do affects your outlook on life.

- There is a substantial amount of pride amongst messengers who show up, especially on the worst of days. Most people tend to avoid the harsh realities of life, and everyone can learn something from just taking life one delivery or line of code at a time.

- There is something to be said for sitting on a park bench and admiring the beauty around - people, man-made, or nature.

I miss it, but don't recommend it to anyone, as it's a job that requires a lot of grit and is low paying. I wouldn't change my experience at all, though. It aged my mind and soul in a really positive way.

I will say, returning to software development raises some eyebrows. Some will scrutinize the hole in your resume, others will congratulate you on being different.

Aside: ridiculous how influential k5 was on my life. Their first article on coffee turned me into a coffee snob before third wave cafes became the rage. The article on ultralight backpacking started a lifelong obsession, eventually leading me to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

I think it's because people actually _wrote_ there. Since blogging has become a part of the "presence" everyone has to have, a lot of garbage and uninspired things are written on the internet. I wasn't a regular reader, but the things I did read seemed to be more visceral and well written than your average blog post you see today. The guy who wrote, "A Coder in Courierland" had pretty amazing prose.

> The type of work you do affects your outlook on life.

I wish you had elaborated on this.

> I wish you had elaborated on this.

Sure. I've held jobs in one or two other fields prior to entering software development, and each one of them (in my opinion) contributes to a perspective that you see the world through. Our brains change with habit, and, naturally, the thoughts and feelings that frequent your mind will become mainstays of your daily life. It took two years for me to stop feeling like every time I rode my bike to and fro, that it was imperative I do it as fast as possible.

This is going to sound silly, and I'm okay with that. But, being an engineer again, the patterns and ways my brain solves problems for work permeates into daily life. For instance, I view boiling water, laundry, and texting as asynchronous tasks that can have their own thread and let me know when they're ready. Ridiculous, I know, but I feel like our brains seek these things out to strengthen the existing connections we have and to put life into contexts we understand most. Take this with a grain of salt, because this is just my experience and I have no research to link to, at the moment.

The other interesting thing about how it changed me was, prior to being a bike messenger, I was pretty naive of classism and what it looked / sounded like; however, only now is it obvious. I make conscious choices to treat all people in service industries well because I only now understand how privileged I am as an engineer. Tipping and saying "May I have xyz" are large parts of this, as vocations such as baristas, delivery personnel, and food workers are very underpaid. I can't really change the world, but I'd like to think I can make the people in front of me a little happier by treating them well.

Would like to be a back country forest ranger. Someone who does work out in the remote woods. Not one of the rangers that has to deep with the public. The problem like most of us have is that our position and tenure in IT has lead to salaries that make such a change (and reduction in pay) almost impossible. Add kids, etc. and it gets set permanently in the dream category.

I know the logical response to this statement is: Reduce your needs and the reduced pay won't be an issue. While true, I don't think I am that flexible sadly.

The bit about salary is huge. I do a moderately good job of keeping my needs/lifestyle pretty basic (I could do better). In the back of my mind, I'm always telling myself "you aren't saving to retire from work early. you are saving so you can retire to a different career early".

I'm a retired(?) programmer who spends his summers as a Forest Service camp host. I spend the mornings programming a "side" project and the afternoons panning for gold, fishing, etc.

My boss described being a forest ranger in the Mt. Shasta area as the Forest Service equivalent of being a green beret. They carry automatic rifles and are totally isolated from support while dealing with drug growers and associated violent criminals. Not my idea of a comfortable job.

Oh man there's some sort of volcanic park north of Berkely, CA that we visited once, and up on some mountain was a firewatch tower with a dude just chilling in there looking for smoke. He worked up there in 2 week shifts, just up on a mountain reading books and watching for smoke. Seemed like an awesome job, especially if you could get a data tether (he did) and do some programming on the side.

I think you're thinking of Mount Diablo. It's not quite volcanic anymore though (however when California was just the ocean it was), but is instead caused by uplift to the earth's plates: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Diablo#Geology.

Or possibly Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve http://www.ebparks.org/parks/sibley.htm , which is closer (though not north of) Berkeley.

How far north are we talking here? Calistoga North, or Lassen North? Cause we can keep going further, if we have to...

http://www.oldfaithfulgeyser.com/ https://www.nps.gov/lavo/index.htm

I've thought about this ever since visiting the Needles fire watch tower and meeting Margee while climbing there. Sadly, that tower burned down in 2011 [1].

[1]: http://www.buckrock.org/needles.html

That feels ironic. Is that ironic?

Yes, I'd say it is.

Well, here's the next best thing you can do:


Play a game about a Forest Ranger. I played this game through and it's fairly enjoyable (even if my usual cup of tea is Battlefield/GTA style FPS). Give it a try!

You are that flexible. If you were forced into making do with less you would adapt. What it really is, is the dream is not something worth pursuing to you, all things considered.

Sounds like you'd enjoy Firewatch[1].


I actually did seasonal work as a Park Ranger on the Oregon Coast for a while. I would wholeheartedly love to do that again. I'm always so proud to go back to the areas I worked and walk the trails I built during those summers in undergrad.

I would like to do that too, and had thought of something like it when in my teens. I spent a lot of time in forests then.

Around that time I had read this novel (a Western) called The Deer Hunter (not related to the famous movie of the same name, which is about Vietnam, etc.), and it was about a guy who does that work - a forest ranger in the Grand Canyon (of the US). Great story.

I just said what I'd do if I switched now, but when I retire I want to do this ... exactly this.

I'd be an economics teacher. I'd love to teach High School and/or College economics. Since this is my own fantasy land, I'd be able to set my own curriculum.

  1. Why do we work? (Jobs, Businesses, and the individual economy)
  2. What is wealth, and how do I get it? (Saving, investment, real estate)
  3. Is it supposed to be like this? (Capitalism, Government, modern political economy)
  4. Systems Design (If you want to change the system, how should it work? How do we measure things that aren't money? Love, time, attention?)
I wish I'd had an education like this earlier in life.

If I had to make a living outside of programming, I think that teaching would be one possibility. I taught for a 6 years at a large state university and took my certification qualification exam. My parents are both career teachers, and my wife makes a really nice living teaching.

That said, there is no way that I can see myself doing it in the context of a high school or college.

High schools (at least the several that I have subbed at, and I have a couple of teenagers, so I've been on that side of it too) are really crappy "Lord of the Flies" kinds of places.

Colleges are better, but there are similar structural problems to being a musician: it's basically no pay for a big sector of the population, plus you still have an institution around your students.

The best model that I have seen is private students; my wife has 40 violin students (plus her general business of being a musician, plus teaching with a couple of local youth orchestras) and makes a very good living.

There is no reason that you can't apply the same principles to teaching any subject. I asked around, and there was a high demand for folks who wanted me to teach their kids how to program. I imagine that if there were a bigger population, I'd be able to find enough folks to put together seminars on the same stuff I was teaching at the university.

At that point, setting your own curriculum is part of the job and not a fantasy.

Economics 101 seems completely useless as taught, but it's just there so people understand the jargon. Unfortunately, it's often a general elective so that foundation wasted. So, I can see plenty of ways to make it useful.

What is wealth? Things people want. Money = wealth not because it's directly useful but because people want it so you can trade it for things you want.

Why do people want Money? Taxes, and loans. If you sell stock to buy a car, you need extra money to hand to the government. Further, if you have a mortgage or credit cards you need to come up with cash on a very regular basis.

Then build on this:

What is the demand curve? Different people are willing to pay more or less and buy more or less of the same things. ex: 3rd car.

However, you would be much better making this into a book than teaching a class. As again Econ 101 is setup so people can do a lot of math in Econ 301.

Completely disagree..

Common people should know the philosophy which shaped the government thinks about their lives and productivity.

Yes econ is not a true science, because it is mostly conjecture supported by handpicked data, but at the same time, it is the only template we have created to think about the complex interactions in the competitive marketplace.

The power of the competitive market is the foundation for all capitalist action, economics is a way to understand how markets intersect and interact.

I am not sure what your getting at. My point is you can use definitions that are more intuitive while teaching the same topics.

Do a search and: The demand curve is a graphical representation of the relationship between the price of a good or service and the quantity demanded for a given period of time. In a typical representation, the price will appear on the left vertical axis, the quantity demanded on the horizontal axis. -This means nothing to most people.

"What is the demand curve? Different people are willing to pay more or less and buy more or of the same things. ex: 3rd car, water for a bathtub vs water for a swimming pool." -Sounds like something you might recall in 10 years.

I am all for talking about the laffer curve as more than as math. You can also talk about it as society breaks down and a black market grows. It's still economics as it relates to society it's also meaningful to people.

For comparison CIS 101 is often this is how you use Excel and somewhat useful to most students, but also not really a foundation for a CS degree.

Higher education in economics quickly ramps up to using actual mathematics. Your curriculum is more in line with high school or International Baccalaureate styled diplomas, with a focus on the "old" philosophical economics.

Yeah, absolutely. More of a "Home Economics" tint to it, but something I feel most people are missing in life.

I feel the math should be used to prove the philosophical points. It's rare that the math actually improves understanding without a novel hypothesis behind it.

I'd be interested in that, perhaps in book form.

When the tech world moved away from me (doing mainly embedded C for the last thirty years might not have been the best idea for my career), I became an aged carer for my disabled mum. I learned a lot about cleaning, gardening and adding subtitles to films as she is going deaf. I also learned a lot about editing spoken word audio files for pacing, volume and noise reduction as she wrote a memoir then recorded an audio version.

In the future, I could be an aged carer as I really like looking after people, although it doesn't pay well and there can be a lot of poo to deal with. On the other hand, one of my former managers has been working at Google for about ten years and is quite enthusiastic about my working with him there. Unfortunately, they are in California and I am in Melbourne so I'd have to move.

"When the tech world moved away from me (doing mainly embedded C for the last thirty years might not have been the best idea for my career)"

Strange, why do you say so? We live in the era of IoT and everything has at least one chip inside them. I also do system/embedded programming, but never felt the lack of possibilities to advance my career.

I'm also systems/embedded and the OP made me a bit nervous. I have been primarily writing C (with some C++ and other languages) for my career of ~8 years. It seems like there are enough jobs available. Certainly not as many as web dev, but at the same time I have been able to work on things I consider interesting (spacecraft, MRI, automotive).

OP, what do you wish you had done differently? Web? Enterprise Java dev?

It depends on where you live. Embedded and device driver jobs disappeared after Australia's electronics industry died and went to China. Six of my friends working in that area moved overseas, four to the States and two to England.

I wish I had learned C++ but my KISS alarm went off when I looked at the language, which is a bit of a worry as we say downunder. I avoided learning C# as I found Microsoft's business practices to be utterly repugnant.

How did you get into doing system/embedded programming?

I did most of an electronic engineering course and discovered that I like software more than hardware. After programming portable barcode readers and interactive voice response systems, I wrote a Windows device driver at one company then applied to write Linux device drivers at another. I was strictly honest during the job interview, saying I wanted to write device drivers but I had done only one for Windows and none for Linux. The interviewer said "Writing Linux device drivers is exactly the same as writing Windows device drivers" and hired me. I found that it wasn't and faced the kind of learning curve that requires mountaineering equipment.

I succeeded and even trained someone else how to do it. When we started, he didn't know C all that well so I split the drivers into hard and easy parts and gave him the easy ones. We wrote about six drivers together. I made his parts harder and harder until he was able to write a driver on his own.

Perhaps I haven't been reading the right software architecture books but it seems to me that very little mention is made of changing the design to suit the ability of the individual programmers, the way band leaders like Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller did with their arrangements.

> I succeeded and even trained someone else how to do it. When we started, he didn't know C all that well so I split the drivers into hard and easy parts and gave him the easy ones. We wrote about six drivers together. I made his parts harder and harder until he was able to write a driver on his own.

This is a pretty amazing way to teach someone something as complex as device drivers. It sounds like you did an excellent job mentoring him.

Thank you. Stephen was quite deaf (60dB loss) so we emailed each other all day, even though we were sitting together. When I noticed he was straining to hear during a conference call, I started summarising what each speaker had said. He thanked me afterwards. When he looked confused about something I said, I made sure to repeat it using the exact words I had used as he hadn't heard one or more of them. I noticed that other people thought he hadn't understood, not that he hadn't heard, and repeated what they had said using different words, which confused him even more.

Stephen's deafness did not affect his work, of course, until management made him a quality engineer for our voice over IP project. With that kind of thinking, the company wasn't making any money and owed all of us six months wages. You learn a lot about motivating your team under those circumstances. I did it by emphasising the importance of what we were doing. Of the ten software and five hardware engineers, we were the only ones joining the software to the hardware.

Apart from not being paid, it was a great place to work and I'm glad it gave me an opportunity to develop my management and people skills. Until then, I had been much better at programming computers than working with people and I was feeling a bit lopsided.

I was always curious how things and systems work. There's no better to find that out than doing embedded programming, because it touches both hardware and software. I went to embedded programming straight from the university in my final years where I was studying telecommunication engineering. Knowledge of telecommunication systems and electronics besides C programming proved to be enough to get my first few jobs.

I'm hoping that this will be the 'solution' if AI eats many jobs. With an ageing population there's plenty of caring to be done. Hopefully society will figure out a way to value it more, so that it becomes a proper, first-class career-option/alternative rather than underpaid low-skilled work, or something that people find themselves obliged to do.

ETFPOS programmer here. yeah, it's easy to become obsolete in this area, considering most of the time we work with legacy code

We are currently conceptually iterating a user experience for a forward looking network of vending machines. The idea is the user buys food via smartphone app, pays via that, turns up just to pick it up (or a proxy delivery company comes and does it for them). So there's ~zero physical interaction, no cash handling, and like 10 different ways to pay, from digital currencies to credit card gateways to appstore in-app payments. We are very seriously considering completely avoiding NFC/contactless/stored value payment cards, which would essentially negate any requirement for payment hardware or related programming.

Can you scale this to help other carers? Maybe a domain-specific website promoting ideas and tools

I'd buy a sailboat and take people on tours in Greece. Except I hate people, which is why I work in tech.

>Except I hate people, which is why I work in tech.

I once met an older guy who was a software developer and asked him how he got into the field. He said that he'd originally received a doctorate in psychology and was a psychiatrist for years before he realized that most people don't want to be fixed. He said he'd got into programming because, "Computers always want to be fixed."

I wanted to reply psychiatrist/psychotherapist in this thread (most of my free time reading is about that).

And now I want to print out and put into a frame what you just wrote.

I still think people deserve a chance though.

Save the money and deliver sailboats. Large market for trained crew to take yachts from Point A to Point B. :) No people except those you bring. Free yacht.

Can you tell us more about the training and experience required to be delivery crew?

If you want to drive the boat yourself and not get too many questions, you probably want to start looking at a Captain's license. That requires a number of hours on the water and a test. The same is typically required or at least desirable if you want to run a chartering business. https://www.uscg.mil/nmc/credentials/charter_boat_capt/

RE experience, if you're totally new to sailing I'd start first with some basic sailing expertise at a sailing academy. J-World and others offer "learn to sail" courses as well as cruising courses. An American Sailing Association boat-handling certificate is probably useful as "proof of experience" for future crews. US Sailing's "Safety at Sea" typically run annually in different cities is another good one, and required for most off-shore regattas.

Once you've got the basics down, I'd suggest being a ride-along with a more experienced skipper / crew. Places like Offshore Passage Opportunities provide listings of folks looking for crew, but I'd recommend due diligence if you decide to make the passage: https://www.sailopo.com/

You might also get yourself on a mailing list for local regattas or sailing forums and say you're looking to help with deliveries. How long / where these things happen will likely vary by region. People do transits from Florida to Carribean all the time. Same with New England to the South each year. Racing boats go from Mid-Atlantic / New England to Florida / Key West around end of the year. In Midwest, deliveries from Mackinaw are common in July after the Mackinaw races. West Coast - not sure, but Transpac (Hawaii - SF) returns and/or Coastal races are probably common.

Best of luck! :)

You can get started fairly easily. Take a sailing course that gives you a recognized certificate. For example, the RYA "Competent Crew" or "Day skipper". Different countries have different certifications that are recognized worldwide. The UK Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is definitely one of them, and you can do these courses in lots of sail training facilities across Europe.

From there you can jump on almost any boat delivery crew with a bit of luck.

Most rich boat owners don't want to sail their yachts across large bodies of water, so they employ delivery crews. Normally they employ an experienced captain and the captain hires his/her own crew.

Boats are normally moved during the spring months from Europe to the Caribbean, specifically for the start of the season for Antigua Race Week, which I believe takes place in April/May. They normally head out from the Mediterranean via the Canary Islands to cross the Atlantic.

Common places to jump on board are where yachts have been kept or serviced over the winter. Common ports include places like Palma de Mallorca, which is full of "boaties" looking to get a place on a yacht crossing. You hang out in the "boaty bars" and see if you can hook yourself a ride by chatting to people. There are also a number of internet forums, but you'll get better luck face to face, and you'll spend a number of weeks with these people in close confinement, so you'll want to know what they are like beforehand.

As you get more experienced and depending on the boat you could try to get taken on permanently by the owner. The pay on the super yachts of the super rich can be insanely high, especially for experienced captains, chefs and engineers - monthly 5 figures if you are really good. That being said the super rich can be complete assholes, who can start throwing the carefully presented lobster dish back in your face because it wasn't the right colour, or you forgot to make sure the wine fridge was stocked with enough Dom Perignon P3 Plenitude Brut.

I've heard some wonderful stories of the super rich from boaties. It's a crazy life.

Just a heads up that a friend of mine worked in this direction for years but was rejected from a captain's license because he had that partial color-blindness thing lots of people have, and that reportedly was enough to disqualify him permanently. Most of a decade "wasted" (if wasted is defined as sailing yachts around the Med and picking up languages). He now sells wines in Sydney, with the benefit of correct pronunciation in four or five languages.

That's really interesting - makes sense, however as the main nautical colors are red and green. Messing them up would mean the difference between avoiding a ship and hitting it. Never thought about how bad a color choice that was for lights!

Well you don't have to bring them BACK...

If you hate people you could open a bookshop: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/05/bookse...

I wonder if Bernard Black, from Black Books, is inspired on him.

I have a romanticized vision of owning a boat that I teach people to sail on while toiling away in my woodworking space in the evenings.

Sailboats are a lot cheaper than people think. Did you know there is no technical definition for "yacht"? In practice, it just means "a boat that's nicer than yours". Don't buy a yacht.

In Seattle there are plenty of sailboats under 30' that cost less than $10K. The moorage is the expensive part and costs around $400/month.

I've owned several boats and I'm done with that. I now belong to a coop where I pay $650 a year and have access to a 30' Catalina and 24' C&C that I can use almost as much as I want.

There is no such thing as a cheap boat. The maintaince is a constant time and money suck.

A former co-worker told his wife, "The next time I say that I want to own a boat, take me out in the yard and spray me with a hose while I tear up $20 bills."

Is it in Bay Area?

You can skip moorage if your have a trailerable boat. They are very common. I personally owned two second hand Wetas, used them for a year, and sold them for a profit. It was great fun, and I would do it again. If you can get some friends together and import four at once in a single shipping container, it's way cheaper.

And if you have an engine in it, the biggest expense is time (spent trying to fix the f^%!$@ thing)

I feel ya - the struggle is real.

I have a small yacht that I can comfortably sail myself ... who needs a big boat for that?

1. Write children's books - because I love reading good books to my children, and if successful, the revenue scales and they have great recurring revenue potential (much better than adult books, I think).

2. Try to bring software development education to underprivileged kids in some way that eventually scales and has real career potential. There is part of me that feels this has potential, because the opportunity for self-development is so high, and the cash costs of the tools low. There is part of me that worries it is futile, because I suspect software development jobs actually require more deep and diverse basic knowledge of math and reading than I could hope for in underprivileged environments.

I did #2 for a time on the south side of Chicago while I was in graduate school. We founded a non-profit; begged, borrowed, and stole computers; and wrangled a lease for $1. Paid for internet and power out of my and my co-founders pockets.

It turns out the educational systems in areas like that are, ah, pretty bad. We ended up teaching more basic logical thinking and occasional math (arithmetic) than real programming. Still, we got the kids to make HTML/CSS websites, a few picked up some basic JavaScript, others made Arduino robots. We offered a safe, educational space for free or as close to free as we could.

It was very rewarding, but also one of the most brutal experiences of my life (earning <$30K and working as a graduate student didn't help, of course!). I'd do it again, but only if I had the cash to back me, preferably my own because grant funding is/was thin, the labor required is enormous, and volunteers are flaky.

I still keep in touch with one of our students, though. I like to think we really helped him, at least.

For #2 I have thought considerably about this as well. It seems to boil down to two things:

1. Lack of awareness. In many of these environments "software engineering" doesn't really mean anything to anyone, especially if few households own computers in the first place. Growing up in Detroit, my Dad lugged in our first (huge, ancient) PC when I was in the 4th or 5th grade - if I had simply been pointed in the right direction, I could've started my learning much earlier. I remember lots of kids in our middle school getting super interested in HTML/CSS, but only having access to PCs for an hour or two after school.

2. Learning ability. Obviously not to say there aren't any smart underprivileged people, but it is not often made clear that one's ability to learn is, in itself, a powerful asset. I believe this is the strongest factor in one's ability to program outside of personality inclinations, and that anyone can increase this capacity (within whatever local spectrum their personality and lifestyle allows).

As for 2, I think that's where the life experience of the parents weighs heavily.

For example, I'm deeply saddened when reading about scam private universities, because they prey upon people who value the ideal of "education" and really want to succeed, but don't have the people around them with enough experience of higher education to distinguish the good schools from the scams.

Couldn't agree more. Also, again from "Hoop Dreams", it was as though the basketball players believed that having entered college was going to transform their career prospects in itself, regardless of what they learned. If you see college as some sort of mysterious potion, then you might think any college will transform you. You don't see that college is at best a tool for developing skills that are relevant to building a career.

I agree with 1. My wife and I just re-watched "Hoop Dreams", which she had never seen. There is a moment where Arthur Agee goes on a recruiting visit to a 2 year college, and is shown offering 4 different generic career ideas to 4 different adults in quick succession. ("Architect", "Business", "Communications", etc). Its like he is guessing at what a career might be, he doesn't have a frame of reference. So, I think the lack of awareness in underprivileged environments may apply to high level career paths in general, not just SD.

Regarding 2, I also agree. I think right now, the school (and possibly home) environments are so sub-optimal that we really have no idea what most underprivileged kids are capable of. But that problem is vastly larger and more intractable than the "could we teach kids pragmatic SD skills" problem.

As much as I want to believe that some kind of pragmatic software development curriculum could offer a scalable career direction for some of these kids, its not clear to me that it would really solve either of these problems. So, I continue to think about it occasionally, but not pursue it.

Also, I once tried calling underprivileged schools in my city (St. Louis), asking about opportunities to tutor kids in CS/computers. In each case, I got blown off, or referred to the city-wide magnet school, which teaches a tiny fraction of the most gifted students, many of them from the county.

For #1, I've heard that children's books is a flooded market and that getting published is nearly impossible. There's always room for something great -- just a heads-up when I read "the revenue scales".

I'm friends with a hugely successful children's books author -- top 50 selling in the English language -- and related to a pretty successful new author.

It's hard work, not just the writing, which is way harder than it looks, but the marketing, which nobody really does for you, at all. You have to do tons of reaching out to schools, trade fairs, and magazines, pay your own travel expenses, and develop a whole extended entertaining workshop presentation to sell 20-50 people at a time, of any age, on buying your books. Unless your book is called Harry Potter, you are eking out sales in person a lot of the time, and wondering who you have to sleep with to get your book reviewed. Even a rave review from the NYTimes really doesn't do much to sales. I hear about seemingly successful books all the time that, when I look them up on Amazon, have maybe 8 reviews.

It's hard.

Teaching math, reading, and thinking is far more fundamental than programming. Entry level programming is very simple to learn if the fundamentals are known, and the fundamentals are more broadly useful than training people to walk through a Node tutorial

I was thinking about #2 - would it be plausible to get ultra-cheap laptops, and run virtual machines in ec2?

According to this, you can get a high-end gaming rig going for fifty cents an hour; can we get a nice programming environment set up for the kids, too, running off Chromebooks or cheap Dells?

What kind of children's books, out of curiosity? I have some interest there myself.

the ones you can't find right now with the message you want.

e.g. the pleasure of being a maker.

the pleasure of finding things out.

Have you seen the Andrea Beaty books? http://www.andreabeaty.com/

I have them for my daughter and the messages are very positive for exploring ideas and experimenting.

I've seen "ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST!" but not "Fluffy Bunnies". Thank you, I will look at them.

So far, the one we like the most is "Secret Science Alliance" but it's not for younger kids.

> have great recurring revenue potential (much better than adult books, I think).

why do you think so?

I would do some climate activism, become a crew member on a Sea Shepherd boat.

That, or help out my political party (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party_for_the_Animals) since we have elections early this year. The party's name is unfortunate and its Wikipedia description as well. It is more well-rounded than that and also is the best party in the parliament wrt privacy, civilian rights, etc. (dutch link: https://www.privacybarometer.nl/pagina/45/Actuele_stand_van_...)

And Judo, more Judo.

Is Judo your current hobby?

You could consider to take a sabbatical for a time on the Sea Shepherd. I don't have the right personality for that (I'm too withdrawn/passive, not social enough) but I have a lot of respect for people who devote time, energy, and money against the strong tide of corporate selfishness.

Your party's name makes it sound like a one issue party. I recommend to change it, or merge with GL/SP.

Sorry, I should have said "the party I am a member of" :-)

And, yeah, they're unfortunately pretty resistant to changing the name.

I'd open a bar/pub with good cask ale and decent electronic music.

Actually whenever I get too stressed out at work I consider doing this, I've got the necessary capital and in a city like Oslo where people don't care about beer prices it can surely be made into a profitable thing.

DO IT. NOW. Seriously, I think it is an excellent idea. It could also be a tourist meeting point if properly placed.

Open a bar is something you should really only do if you don't have to take on debt and can pay for the starting costs without ruining yourself.

Very few bars turn out to be profitable, even those with excellent ideas.

Those two seem like they would cater to vastly different crowds, Real ale for old men in caps, electronic music for a younger lager drinking (if drinking at all) crowd.

ugh, sorry everyone. I didn't know jwz was hostile to HN. The comment is too old to delete now. :-( The relevant content at the link is:

Hi, I'm Jamie Zawinski. I'm the proprietor of DNA Lounge, a world famous and award-winning all ages dance club and live music venue in San Francisco, and of DNA Pizza, the 24 hour cafe and pizzeria next door. Prior to that, I worked as a programmer. I was one of the founders of Netscape and Mozilla.org, and have been involved in the free software and open source community since the mid-80s. I was the primary developer of Lucid Emacs (now XEmacs), and probably wrote most of your screen savers.

Apparently, they hit a rough patch -


Apparently they've been in a rough patch ever since he opened, fueled largely by his Netscape money. They're out of the rough patch now, and tumbling down a rough hillside.

Make sure you open that in a new window to scrub the referrer.

NSFW. Do not click that link from HN.

I'm not sure if you linked to the right page / responded to the correct comment?

JWZ looks at referrer headers.

Right click and open in incognito window.

Please remove this link.

JWZ.org attacks viewers referred by ycombinator.com

In that way that a testicle in an egg cup calling HN users brogrammers and finance-obsessed man-children is an attack. It's actually biting satire; an attack would be more direct and in some way actually harmful (ego doesn't count)

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