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Ask HN: Non-programming part time jobs?
68 points by Tichy on May 16, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments
While I am a software developer, somehow the thought of working for another company depresses me a lot at the moment. I guess ultimately I enjoy thinking about concepts more than the actual programming. Programming is a means to an end to realize my ideas. But programming for another company would mean programming for programming's sake. (Just trying to understand why the thought depresses me so much).

And yet, I need money. I wish I could think of any other way to earn minimum living expenses than developing. I'd love to just work in a cafe or a book shop for a couple of days, but I worry that it might not pay well enough.

Part time developer jobs are also hard to come by (which would leave me time to work on my own projects, hopefully alleviating my depression).

Maybe somebody here has ideas for a middle road?

It would also be great to work not sitting at a desk all the time.

Tutoring has a lot to recommend it, depending on where you live and your ability to get clients. You need more clients than a freelance programmer would, but the hourly pay is not necessarily that different, particularly for well-heeled clientelle. Paying a lot of money is how you know you're getting quality. :)

(Some at my previous day job once remarked that it would be cheaper to order me to do tutoring than to pay for a freelance English tutor, given the hourly equivalent of what Japanese salarymen my age made versus the typical price of an hour of English instruction in this neck of the woods.)

Edit to add:

That aside isn't quite so useful for folks not here. Let me hum a few bars: students at highly competitive suburban high schools, students studying for the LSAT, working professionals with gaps that are impeding their career growth, and middle class women who are filling a hole in their life through learning stuff all pay rather substantially more than 10 year olds who need help with multiplication.

Tutoring is great. The "credentials" you need to get a job easily are basically the fact that you've graduated from or are studying in a college, but you can do without this too. Places to look for a job are a) specific topics students commonly get stuck on (polynomials, the bane of middle schoolers! calculus!) b) things that need lots of studying like university entry exams in some countries, SATs, APs etc.

The thing about a) is that often the kids aren't stupid but they've just gotten a bad explanation. I find that a one on one with a no-nonsense explanation and enough examples clears everything up and suddenly you're a hero. The thin about b) is that you might need to know things specific to the type of thing you're helping with (eg, SATs) but you're more likely to get repeat jobs from the same customer.

The marketing scheme here is mostly word of mouth. You can put up signs and that'll get you some business but once you successfully help your first couple of students the word spreads like wildfire between stressed parents and you suddenly have a reputation. Your reputation is very important so don't scam your clients, work on giving a good impression and maybe even give occasional freebies to regulars.

If you have some teaching ability, you can also teach homeschoolers through local homeschool co-ops. We have a guy at ours that's taught programming, game modding, stop-motion animation, photography, etc. to elementary / middle school kids.

I also know a number of guys that make acceptable money teaching chess at private schools, homeschool groups, etc.

Another friend does something similar teach biology to groups. He also does guided walks and field trips for groups at local parks. He has a collection of interesting animals and even does birthday parties on the weekends. I also know a guy that's an animal trainer that now makes all his income from school events and birthday parties.

Or you should read about The Great Zucchini, a birthday party clown making $300 a party. I'm sure the business has gone downhill since 2006, but it's still good money for a flexible, weekend-only job. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01...

Yup - I paid my way through my first start-up tutoring. Again, it probably depends where you are, but on the east coast at least, some middle and high schools cost more than most college tuitions. The kids there often have several tutors to supplement their education and are willing to pay top dollar if they think you are smart; coincidentally, this is mostly determined by how much money you ask for and where you went to college.

Anyway, it can be very rewarding and fun work. Once you get that first student, it becomes exponentially easier to find the next by asking for referrals.

An online tutoring service/marketplace for connecting tutors and people would be a cool idea. Not just for offline tutoring either, develop tools to enable tutoring to be done online between anyone in the world.

Anyone know if something like this exists?

I don't know if it will be possible to do where you are, but I mowed lawns for years on the side. Even after I had a "successful" startup. I enjoyed having something completely non-technical to do and it actually let my mind reboot. And before anyone scoffs, the pay is actually pretty decent relative to the time invested. Don't believe me? Call up a landscaping service and get a quote for your yard. There is some initial costs for equipment, but it's definitely something that is scalable. You can get a used lawnmower for less than $50. It doesn't have to be great, little push mowers are work horses and damn near indestructible. Especially anything with a Briggs and Straton Motor. But like I said, this will only be relevant if you live in a part of the country you can mow lawns in.

And on your comment about working in a cafe. I have often thought about how great it would be if someone started a "Startup Cafe" with a rag tag group employees that were all working on their own projects. Somewhere you could pick up a few hours in your odd spare time and still be in a stimulating environment. Maybe have a laptop setup next to the server stand for a few snippets in your downtime. Someone start working on that! I'll buy my coffee there.

I had an idea for a "carbon-free lawn service". The idea was to get together about 10 people with the push reel-type mowers, lawn and hedge sheers, and develope a route that could be done by bike. One of the group's garage would be the central meeting place and tool storage spot.

I would seek out about a dozen clients who cared about carbon and hopefully had small lawns, rich aging hippie types. I would charge about twice what normal lawn service costs; the whole group would arrive and cut lawn and do any other work en masse, otherwise I think it would take too long.

The overall goal was to have enough work to have 1 full day's hard work each week, for which each person would earn about $200. I wanted to design the business explicitly to provide a way to pay the cheapest rent in my area (half the cheapest two bedroom apartment) and a little left over for food and etc.

I wish someone would try this. However, the person who actually starts it for the first time will probably find themselves working full time for quite a while, and it won't be a part time backup job for them.

A side note on lawn mowers -- they are almost all not work horses or indistructable, particularly the $50 ones you will get used. They are garbage. Briggs and Stratton has a good reputation, but I am not sure they are currently living up to it. A good rule of thumb is to get the best ratio of engine displacement to cutting swath you can get. If you get the used ones, get three and expect to be constantly repairing them, which will be fun for a while and then get old.

You make a couple good points/ideas.

I like the carbon free lawn service idea. My current mower is actually an American lawn reel mower. Coincidentally, I bought it on craigslist for $35. It's from 72, and still cuts like a champ as long as your willing to maintain it. The "carbon free" service would work great in my area where there is a high density of people in town homes with small front lawns.

Maybe YMMV on the small lawn mowers. But I have had extremely good luck with them. I think that most of the problem people have with mowers is failing to maintain them properly. In my experience, if you can buy a used mower that will start quickly without much hassle it can generally be kept in decent working order for a long time. But purchasing one of these used mowers was why I said the idea scales. It's pretty easy to get enough work out of a used mower to buy a better quality mower.

Thanks for sharing your insight. I hope someone jumps on the reel mower service.

This is a good point, here in San Diego (Normal Heights) there is a coffee shop called "Lestats" and all of the employees are in the same band... They work there and play in their band - kind of cool actually.

Not a bad idea at all.

During college I worked in a plastic fabrication facility - it was like a wood shop with saws and routers, no giant moldingg achines. Learned an interesting trade that I could easily fall b ack on if developing gets old. Plus going to work was like going to the gym except they paid me.

My suggestion would to find a part time job that has you active physically and mentally. Tradesmen / craftsmen are always looking for some reliable help even if you need to be trained. Go learn cheese making or how to run a printing press.

Working at a ski resort in Utah for two years was one of the best decisions of my life. Great town, great people, fun outdoor activities year round, nightlife, and plenty of time to code. Just be ready to barely scrape by - makes it easier that half the town is in the same boat and perfectly fine with it.

Sorry if this doesn't sound very useful, but my suggestion is to take the time to think deeply about why it depresses you. Have you been unsuccessful in your career? Or significantly less successful than you would like to be?

It resonated with me when you said "I guess ultimately I enjoy thinking about concepts more than the actual programming" because I think I'm that way too. But that's lead me to think a lot about programming concepts and into language design.

Not achieving what I set out to achieve is certainly a part of it. My dream is to make money with my own products/startup.

Not giving up yet, but at the moment I need money...

Your comment reminds me that there should always be ways to make the programming job more interesting. If it is boring, I should think about creating abstractions/frameworks/IDEs and what not to make it less boring.

So your comment cheered me up at least a little bit :-)

> So your comment cheered me up at least a little bit :-)

I should probably taper my words with some warning then.

I'm the kind of programmer that has always thought about methodology, design, and best practice. And after thinking about that for years, and talking with other programmers like me (only smarter) and learning from them too, I can tell you not only is it really really hard but the pursuit of the nicest possible programming experience (clarity, simplicity, lack of repetition) can make you very unproductive.

The guy who spends all day writing frameworks, testing tools, and language abstractions is rarely the guy getting the most done. Unless he's a super-genius.

Only recently I was trying to apply TDD to a really extreme level. I didn't work. I ended up throwing loads of useless tests and suddenly was much more productive. But I probably lost weeks because of that.

But there is some good news: My hardcore desire to make everything wonderful barely exhibits when I program in Haskell. I think this is because the lack of side-effects, strong type-checking, and high-order functions give you such a good baseline and I don't feel like I need to write lots of abstractions and complicated things just to feel like I've got a handle on the situation. But then I'm unproductive because of inexperience with Haskell and FP in general. But that's a temporary thing.

If you have a good typing speed then try out audio transcription. http://callgraph.biz/freelance-transcription

I can only imagine that being orders of magnitude more tedious than typing code.

Yes. But then you only require good English comprehension. The rest is pretty easy. And it gets easier if you become a reviewer/proof-reader.

If you enjoy sports and have a confident personality, I'd recommend getting into officiating your sport of choice.

I've been reffing hockey since the 9th grade and its a great way to get exercise, enjoy the game, build communication skills and make a decent amount of money (at least $20/hour, plus mileage).

You also get angry parents thinking you have it out for their kid. Reffing was one of the most exhaustive jobs I've ever done (kids basketball). Will not do it again.

And I guess it depends on the situation, because I only got $10/hr.

You sound like an "idea person" like myself. Realize that the supply of ideas far exceeds the skills needed to implement those ideas. Spend a few years learning to implement solutions at employer expense (a programming job is good). When you have sufficient skills and experience, you can start your own business. A programming job is not so depressing if you think of it as a means to acquire skills needed to fulfill your dream. Maybe you are depressed because it takes so long to learn those skills. If you already have the skills, quit your job and start working on your own ideas.

I don't have an answer but I know the feeling and hope you find a solution (I have to go back tomorrow).

You might consider looking for something you can do online that doesn't require programming, such as e-commerce. Do you have something you can produce or resell that will let you apply your technical knowledge in a non-technical way? Crafts, or writing, or buying and selling used stuff?

Firstly, I would get and idea of what your minimum living expenses really are. You say you'd love to work a few days a week in a cafe or book shop, but worry that it would not pay well enough -- you should figure out how much you need so you know. You may need to adjust your lifestyle - it is far easier to not spend a dollar than it is to get a dollar.

You may find it hard to get a part-time job to start off with. It may be easier to work a full time job for a few months, and then ask to cut back. If you save money in the mean time, you can quit if they refuse and seek out a better position.

There are a lot of posts here about the best kinds of part-time jobs. In reality, you are probably not going to be able to pick out the ultimate pay-the-rent-while-I-code-my-startup job; you are going to end up with one of the first few you actually find, and finding that job itself may be a full time effort for a while.

In that light, I'd like to suggest that the actual job and environment doesn't matter so much as you'd think, and that the fact that it is DIFFERENT is what matters.

Ideas for good products come from experience, not from cloistered ivory tower environments. You might come with a great product after working with several different inventory or point-of-sale systems, or observing how an independent roofing contractor maintains all his contacts on his phone, or whatever.

All the great American writers first learned by writing about real life things - Steinbeck filed many short newspaper stories on dust bowl refugees before he wrote the Grapes of Wrath, Clemens did the same and wrote of real experience in "Roughing It" before his masterpieces.

Here's my advice: 1) know your expences and cut them where appropriate; 2) get a job, and quit it within the first 2 weeks if it obviously sucks, and then get another one; 3) while working, agressively attend meetups and similar events so you don't become socially isolated; 4) after 3 months, ask your boss if you can cut back to part time if you need to do that - if he says no, work another 3 months and ask again; 5) if he still says no, quit, re-evaluate working a corporate development job, and start over again at step 1 if that's what you need to do.

Best non-programming job I ever had was a waiter in a fine dining restaurant. I made great cash and met lots of interesting people. I also got eat very well and learned a lot about food and wine, something I still very much enjoy today. Also, keep in mind that fine dining is nothing like Outback or Applebees.

I happened to be in college at the time, but many of my co-workers were people who waited tables on the side of their regular jobs. IIRC, one guy was a minister, another owned a catering business, and another was a teacher.

Another big plus if you're not married is that you meet tons of girls :)

I was going to create a new answer, but the "meet tons of girls" thing made me think this would be a good place to reply. :)

I haven't been an employee myself, but I took a few cruises in 2007, and got to know some of the staff members. The pay is pretty basic, and the food apparently sucks, but there was no denying how much fun (and how much sex) they all seemed to be having, and seeing passports so full of stamps they had to order new pages every few months was pretty impressive as well. They hired computer-literate types for tech positions (the ships all have sat Internet) and newsletter-publication jobs - there are probably others for which I didn't speak to the employee.

If you were up for an adventure-type job, this might be something to explore.

If you work in any industry where food is being served, it's very hard to stay hungry. :)

A point nobody made so far: If you're from a foreign country you have very little chances in getting a visa on freelance/part-time work.

I'm in exactly the same position that you are, except I also need a US Visa. I feel sad reading all those suggestions that I can not do because they won't give me a Visa :(

How about working in a technology summer camp? The pay is much better than in normal summer camps and you do what you like to do - programming. Well, teaching it.

Interesting idea - I haven't thought about summer camps for quite a while. There was a brief time in the 80ies when they actually had programming courses at holiday summer camps (not anymore, I think?).

I suppose you are talking about summer camps by universities about some technical subject? Sounds good, but wouldn't they mostly hire students?

No, I was thinking about real summer camps focusing on teaching programming (game programming, web programming...). I came across a few when I was looking for summer camps in the US. I can't remember their names. Try googling it. And I don't think it only for students. I had the illusion (but I haven't really checked) that they want true professionals not students. Good luck

If you're a dog person perhaps you could walk dogs? Exercise, canine love and money all in one. If you know how to play a musical instrument you could try teaching that. All the best!

Warehouse work - working for smaller trucking companies, loading/unloading trucks and preparing shipments. Pays around $18/hr starting out.

Retail - Retail sucks if you hate what you're selling, otherwise it's not too bad. I worked in a supermarket and hated it, but a friend worked for a car parts store and absolutely loved it.

Delivery Driver - Friend who worked at car parts store switched to a driver after awhile and liked that even more. Load up the car and head out, get people to sign off and sometimes collect payments. I always thought I'd like this style job, mostly because it's so independent.

Computer repair/freelance IT work - Most people would give this a big "hell no", in high school I worked for a bunch of small companies and made $25/hr cleaning off viruses/repairing machines/building new PCs. I'd usually go into a place for 3-4hrs on weekends. If you don't hate it, you can make some decent money.

If you're fairly comfortable with computer hardware and windows, you'll get by fairly easily. For all other problems: google. The IT jobs also lead to more side work, typically the companies I worked for didn't have websites. I worked out deals with friends who were designers and asked for a finders fee for referrals I sent. (Knowing what I do now, I would've taken on the work myself at a higher rate for web development and just outsource most of it)

Anyone on how creating screencasts for new languages/tools would pay?

I'm looking at creating 1hr screencasts.

Don't discount what you can learn from working for "the man" as a programmer. Pay attention to what's happening on the business side of things. Ask questions, show interest that you want to know more. If you ultimately want to have your own business, there's way more than just programming a cool idea to make that happen. You have to understand what it means to run a company and the types of decisions that go along with that. If you can't get that from your current job, use your programming skills to get in somewhere else that offers you that opportunity.

I'm on my third full-time job working for "the man" in 10 years and have learned a ton about what is involved beyond the code. I still very much have aspirations to put all that knowledge and experience to use for my own endeavors.

Best of luck!

I recently hit a point where my patent attorney needs more money than I have. I'm not willing to part with any share of my startup, especially over just a few thousand dollars so last night I started looking for part time jobs. It seems like 80% of the jobs available in the area are commissioned sales that seem like too much mindshare and risk, 10% were skilled jobs that I don't have experience with, and the rest were programming. I just decided that it doesn't matter what I'm doing as long as I can keep going on my startup....

I applied for some fast food jobs.

Do you have any hobbies? Are there any stores in your area that cater to your hobby? I'm trying to get back into RC-car racing and if I needed a 20-hour/wk job I might look at one of my local hobby shops.

Agree with those who said lawn care. It's hard to build a long-term business because it is competitive but if you're just trying to make $1-2K/month, you can do it. Being a helper/laborer for a tradesperson also sounds like it might fit your desire to not sit in front of a computer all of the time. Good luck!

I would suggest that you try serving at any sort of restaurant, preferably a nicer one, although you might have to hone your skills at an olive garden or something like that.


1.) Work with attractive women/men 2.) Cash in your pocket 3.) Forced exercise/weight loss 4.) Hours can compliment an office job's


1.) Dealing with people and their food 2.) Can be stressful

Why not find contract work? As a contractor, your hourly pay should be higher than that as an employee. Plus, taxes are not withheld so you

You could find a 3 month contract and then take three months off.

Some other possible jobs with a lot of downtime for doing your own thing might be security guard or small hotel desk clerk.

This is not an answer per se, given that I haven't done it myself, but I would love to drive a taxi one day.

As a developer I believe you have general computer skills. Try taking up a Tech support or sys admin gig. You wont be programming everyday but your developer skills will be very handy. This has worked for me, I did this till my side project became a start-up.

There are programming jobs with a lot of autonomy and control over the product you build. Maybe you should go for one of those, or become a product manager?

> There are programming jobs with a lot of autonomy and control over the product you build.

can you name a few?

I know people at Google who have a significant amount of autonomy (they work (or worked last time I checked) in the guts of the search engine and Android and on Google Wave).

Also a couple of guys at Yahoo working on Hadoop. Lots of startup founders (of course) who completely decide what to do.

Even a couple of teams at Intuit (which has to be the most manager heavy company in the whole world).

And people paid to work on Open Source projects have significant amounts of autonomy. Now that I think of it almost every developer I know who is not working on outsourced enterprise software seems to have significant (but not absolute) autonomy.

> Now that I think of it almost every developer I know who is not working on outsourced enterprise software seems to have significant (but not absolute) autonomy.

really? do you think you know a representative sample of developers?

"do you think you know a representative sample of developers?"

I never claimed to. But hey those are the people I know, "representative sample" or not! You asked for examples of programmers with autonomy so I gave a few. As I was writing that, I discovered that except those working on outsourced enterprise sw, most developers I know do have significant autonomy.

Sorry if that didn't answer your question sufficiently. A "representative sample" developer in Bangalore (where I live these days) has a job screwing around with mountains of crap outsourced code no one in the West wants to touch with layer after layer of management wielding the whip and micromanaging him. No autonomy there!

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