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Ask HN: If you were a coder who successfully changed careers, what do you do now?
79 points by Throwaway123212 on July 25, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 67 comments
I can't fathom sitting in front of a computer writing code for the next 3 decades.

Any ex-programmers here? What do you do now? What credentials or qualifications do you have if any?

I'm back in coding, but I wasn't for a while. For a while, I was in management, and ended up a CTO. Twice.

If you find yourself not enjoying writing code, then perhaps it's not the perfect job for you. It pays better and is perhaps more fun than manual labour and cleaning jobs, so have a think about what your pain points really are, but genuinely: if you think you'd prefer to be a farmer? Go be a farmer. You'll probably hate it, but at least then you'll know.

I came back to coding because one day I wrote two lists of things about my job: 1. Things I like doing about my job. 2. Things I hate about my job. At the time I was a startup CTO and so was doing some code and architecture stuff as well as meeting investors and doing the finance and strategy stuff. All the coding stuff was on list 1. All the business and strategy stuff was on list 2.

I quit that day, and took a job as a senior dev. Don't regret it, but find it difficult to bite my tongue around managers and even CTOs or CEOs I think have got it wrong. I'm trying though.

I learned to code when I was 11. I thought I was rubbish for a long, long time. I had constant imposter syndrome. But it was only when I left the coding gig I realised that it was something I loved doing, was actually not bad at it, and that the alternative was just mindless games and niceties dressed up as strategic planning.

Go do something else, if coding is for you, you'll find yourself being pulled back to it all the time. If it isn't, consider stuff that plays to your strengths, and challenges your weaknesses in a good way.

> It pays better and is perhaps more fun than manual labour and cleaning jobs.

No offense, but these are not really great comparisons for someone with the aptitude of a programmer. I don't really understand the point you are trying to make with that statement.

OP could go to an accelerated nursing program for a year, not sit behind a desk, help people, be mentally stimulated, and make six figures (at least in the bay area).

Plus tons of other career options.

I believe there are pre-reqs for nursing school (including biology and chemistry) before one could enter an accelerated program. I realize most people on this board already have those.

I don't have a bachelors, which I expect is a requirement, but this is the kind of suggestion I was looking for.

Nursing does not require a bachelors degree, but does have a few prerequisites that you could polish off in a semester or 2. There are 1-year (LVN or LPN) and 2-year programs (RN) at many community colleges. RN pays better, of course.

I've thought a lot about dropping out of programming to do it, but my mom dissuaded me - she recently ended her 30-year career as an RN.

Yeah, it's definitely hard work, I have a lot of respect for nurses. Something to think about, thanks.

If you enjoy nursing, after a couple years of experience you can go on to get your NP (and I believe work full-time/half-time while you are doing it - and/or get it paid for by a hospital).

NP's can bring in 150K outside bay area and often have better schedules/flexibility than physicians.

Used to be a programmer.

A few years ago, started Hacker Paradise, which is basically a travel company. We organize trips around the world for people (mostly in tech) who want to work remotely while traveling.

I came from a background of startups & some freelance web dev, and my co-founder was a senior software engineer. We didn't have much experience in travel, but we both had some experience organize events & managing community (running hackathons in college, etc.).

Interestingly, after 3 years of doing more operational / community work, I'm moving back towards spending more of my time programming and tinkering with hardware. My old co-founder already made the switch and is back working as a software engineer.

I think the takeaway for us is that there is no panacea. There are some fun parts about operational & community work, but it also ends up being pretty admin-heavy. After awhile, knowledge work becomes something that seems like a lot of fun again.

My $0.02 - doing the same thing (regardless of what it is) for 3 decades sounds boring! Feel free to make the jump to something else, but be open to coming back to software or jumping into other areas as well.

Product Management is a great path for software engineers who already have a curiosity for what goes on before and after code is written in their organization. (to be clear, I'm referring to product-management, not project-management)

I transitioned from eng to PM in my mid-twenties when I realized I was good but would never be an excellent software engineer.

I later did a stint as a Director of Engineering and to this day my experience of engineering is helpful both as a (former) startup founder and now VC.

I prefer to hire product managers who have an engineering background, who can work seemlessly with an engineering team and understand what they need to do.

If you want to explore this area see if your current employer will let you work on some PM tasks (building use cases and user stories, defining user profiles etc) or just read up on the subject want try to inject some learning into your current dev process.

I was checking public profiles of product managers on linkedin, and there seems to be a preponderance of ex-consulting + MBA guys in Product management. Very few engineers breaking in without an additional degree, generally an MBA.

What do you suggest to engineers looking to switch to a PM role?

Also, is there any difference in upward mobility for PMs vs Engineers who want to become engineering managers, especially at the big 5 tech companies?

I don't have a degree in anything (including CS, which is probably why as a self-taught programmer I reached a ceiling - but that's another conversation).

When I worked at Uber, a CS degree was a soft-prerequisite for all Product Mangers (they hired me, they hired a few other people without CS but it was rare). I hear Google is the same. At Uber I also saw a couple of Sr Engineers switch to PM.

In terms of suggestions, I would focus on where you already work and see if they have interest in helping you switch to the PM track. There's lots of ways an engineer can straddle the two and begin to do some PM tasks.

I don't know if there's any difference in mobility between PMs and Eng Managers. I would say that generally there are fewer PM roles in an organization than Engineers so that is something to consider, but good PMs are always highly sought after.

I think this is highly dependent on the company. I've worked at a few of the top few tech cos as both an engineer and a product manager, and I don't recall working closely with anyone who came from consulting, although there are probably a few. A handful have MBAs, some come from engineering, some have weird liberal arts degrees. It's a very diverse group of people in my experience. It can be a good career path for engineers who are more excited about the problems they're solving and the people they're solving them for than about the raw technical challenge.

Upward mobility is also highly dependent on the company. I've found some companies to be more product-driven, and some to be more engineering-driven (e.g. goog). Upward mobility for product managers is obviously better in product-driven organizations.

I wrote code for 13 years before changing. These days I earn income trading futures on treasury bonds, albeit, with a heavy reliance on programming. After being put in touch with some experienced people, I turned their "systems" into automated algorithms. The rest, as they say, is history.

Credential wise, the only addition has been a Series 3 commodity broker license. I'm not a broker, but I'm required to hold the license to operate the algorithms using other people's capital.

I'm going propose that the HN crowd is self-selecting to a point. If you are still involved in software, you will be on HN. If you are now a gardener or shop keeper, you are unlikely to be reading HN.

But as somebody that has been sitting in front of a computer writing code for the last 26 years professionally (and coding since the age of 10, 37 years ago), I simply love the challenge and that you "learn something new everyday". If you cannot see yourself in front of a computer in 30 years time, then you will most likely not be. What you will end up doing is very much down to you and the opportunities that fall into your lap.

I quit my software job a year ago now. I loved the company, I had smart colleagues, and the pay and perks were great, but the line of work just wasn't doing it for me. I suspected as much when I started college, but decided to go with software anyway because I had enjoyed coding as hobby since I was 10, and the market for tech jobs was strong.

Now I'm starting law school next month. I've had a lifelong interest in the law and public policy, and conflict motivates me, so I think it's a good fit.

I don't think of my two years as a software engineer as wasted. I learned a lot about a great industry, and there's a very good chance I'll practice some kind of technology law. Cyber security law and policy is hot and is only going to get hotter.

If you are interested in this path, you should know that the job market for lawyers is nowhere near as good as for engineers. Going to a well-ranked law school, or being at the top of your class at a middling law school, is very important. It's too late to change your undergraduate grades, but you can do well on the LSAT, write a compelling personal statement, and get good recommendations from former professors and managers.

I should have put it in the post, I don't have a bachelors degree. I've had one lawyer say I should try to ace the LSATs and apply anyway but that seems like long shot.

I think theres also a path to becoming a patent agent without a degree but I get the impression people who do that are pretty exceptional as well.

I had a (not particularly exceptional) coworker with an electrical engineering degree go to work for the patent office. One of the perks was that the patent office would pay his way to becoming a patent attorney in return for a few years of service.

This isn't a direct answer to the question, but if you are coding professionally (in the USA at least) it shouldn't be necessary to work for 3 decades. If you think you will burn out, optimize your life for getting off the treadmill early.

reference: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/01/13/the-shockingly-sim...

Well, the linked calculator seems bogus (at least for me here in Germany). It assumes that the income is AFTER taxes. Let put some numbers in:

Given I am a programmer in Germany And I earn 4000€ (above avg.) before taxes [1]

That means I will have around 29000€ after taxes and other social charges [2]

Now if I only spend the bare minimum (9000€) [3], I can save 20000€ per year.

Now I am able to retire after 9.5 Years according to calculator. This seems right, as if I still want to live off 9000€, but guess what: The living costs (even if I do stay single, live in the same small flat and never do any vacation) rise with the years.

Now you could argue, that a saving rate of 68% might be too much, but even if you decrease the saving to 10000€ per year, you are working around 25.2 years which is plenty of time to burn out...

[1]: https://www.gehaltsvergleich.com/gehalt/Programmierer-Progra...

[2]: https://imgur.com/a/IArku

[3]: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grundfreibetrag_(Deutschland)

Can I ask why do living costs increase with years? I believe the general trend is people having less expenses after they retire.

The calculation in the link takes into account inflation, so that (massive) aspect of increased expenses is included in the prediction.

Edit - If indeed you are planning to increase your living expenses after retiring (bigger living quarters, more expensive travel, etc) that would certainly lengthen the amount of time of work needed to achieve financial independence.

The biggest "aha" moment for me was realizing that everyone out there busting their asses and burning out to "increase shareholder value" were making me rich.

What do you mean? That "increasing shareholder value" just increases the value of your investments and they're working for you?

Something like that. The link above has some more info but the key is that it only works because there are still tons of people not pursuing FIRE (Financial Independence / Retire Early) and you reap the rewards of their work while you have retired early.

Thanks for the link. Do you live by it? may I ask how many years you are away from retirement by this calculation? How save are these 5%?

I'm no financial independence role mode. Generally I do try to keep my expenses down for the big items (no car, shared housing). Easy enough to save that way.

Trained in a lot of other jobs.

Worked as architect, movie critic, civil engineering, radio host, radio manager, race engine engineering (F1), and back to coding. It makes the most fun. I knew several others from my town with similar jumps. As architect you are trained as generalist and can do everything. Another architect colleague also worked in F1 engines, others did race boats or went to the Olympics.

if you can succeed in an architecture program, you can eventually work in just about any field, by brute force alone.

Not sure if I count, but I'm a soon-to-be ex programmer. Transitioning from writing software for the FAA's air traffic control systems to being an actual air traffic controller. Dev to user. Fingers crossed on the successful part, but I would be shocked if it doesn't pan out at this point.

It depends on how you classify "successful" :)

I quit my job in order to hike every trail in Ireland with my girlfriend and make videos about it: https://www.youtube.com/toughsoles. We're not making a profit by any means - so, not successful in that regard. But we are seeing the country that we belong to, and I think we're slowly raising awareness about the incredible places that exist tens of kilometres from people's front doors.

Hey, very cool project!

As someone who is pondering about doing something like this in the future, i just watched some of your videos.

If I may, i want to give some suggestion. The first one is: consider adding some background music, for example when showing the landscape or walking otherwise it feels a bit empty. The second one is about the format: i think it will help you doing it as a sort of 'daily vlogging'. In this way you do not have the problem of having too much footage around as you mention and also it helps to convey a sense of story, even if it is just waking up - walking - eating - walking - going to sleep. It may also be a more watchable format for your followers if the videos are shorter.

Hope it helps you, keep up your adventure and good luck!

Hey, thank you!

Appreciate the feedback. We'd never even edited a video before we started walking, so we're definitely still figuring out what we're doing, creatively and even just in terms of using the tools. It's also a function of doing it as we're walking - often we just don't have that much time to put a video together (very short backlog). I think that the style of our videos differ from one to the next - some with music or montages, some with very vlog-style cuts, and so on. For instance the Cavan Way video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvOQU_ZWoWQ&index=1&list=PLX...) is quite different from the One Second Per Kilometre video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXJvOvkJbcM&index=6&list=PLX...) :)

We do more than just the videos, too - we keep a pretty active Instagram/Facebook account, and write much more in-depth blogs on https://toughsoles.ie. It's hard not to be overwhelmed by the work and the newness of it all :)

Thanks again for the feedback! It really helps. Our audience is so small still that it can be hard to get honest, uninvested feedback.

I would say that sounds pretty fun! Bravo!

Thanks! It is pretty fun! It's pretty hard, too, though, particularly because we don't have a car - it's camping and public transport all the time.

Something I was thinking about earlier today is that the longer I'm away from day-to-day programming, the more I want to think about bigger, open-ended problems. Lately I've been thinking about code synthesis, for instance. I wonder why distance from a desk does that :)

At any rate it's amazing to be outside all the time. I would highly recommend getting outside and walking your nearest trail to every single person reading this! In Ireland, we have a gigantic network of walks, including short 2-3 hour loop walks: http://www.irishtrails.ie/trails.aspx?c=-1&t=-1&l=-1&g=All&f...

I'm a marketer in tech. My latest gig is VP Marketing at Turbine Labs (turbinelabs.io, check us out!). I prefer to work on products that would have been interesting as a programmer.

My qualifications at this point are just my resume, but at the point I made the transition, I had to no reason to believe I would be successful. There were 3 key ingredients that helped me out:

- I switched from dev to sales at a company that had a strong sales organization, but where my product was a total unknown. I could be a subject matter expert on day 1, which mitigated my total lack of knowledge about how to do sales.

- The product I worked on sold to developers. It wasn't hard to talk to people who were my former colleagues.

- I had a mentor within the company who pushed me hard to try to new things. He constantly told me things like "What's good for you is good for the company" when we talked about different roles.

For me, the biggest signal that it was time to switch is that felt there was something more "important" than writing code that I was always relying on to be successful. This was personal: I felt that I couldn't write code well unless I thoroughly understand why the problem existed and the backgrounds and interactions of the user. It turns out I really wanted to work on figuring that stuff our, which is somewhere at the intersection of Product Management and Product Marketing. Marketing just fits the rest of my personality better.

Why did you leave turbine? It sounds like it was a very nice career progression from being totally new to sales.

Oh, sorry, I just joined Turbine! They're fantastic :)

The company where I transitioned was Tracelytics / AppNeta. AppNeta acquired Tracelytics and that was part of the forcing function for making the leap.

They're a great company, but I left in 2015 because my wife got a job on the other side of the country and after 5 years with the same team, I had an itch to start a company. If we had stayed in Boston, I probably would have stayed at AppNeta, but sometimes the job isn't the only thing going on.

I was a successful coder for a few years. VB and java.

I watched myself and those around me rot, in body and mind. That is some fucked up morlock shit right there.

These days I'm a handyman. Carpentry, plumbing, painting. Stuff like that.

I still work on my own software projects. Art stuff.

> These days I'm a handyman. Carpentry, plumbing, painting. Stuff like that.

I've thought of doing this myself. I've been DIY remodeling my 100+yo house room by room while preserving the "period" style and have done a credible job and learned a ton. Planning, floor refinishing, plaster and drywall repair, painting, trim work, light electrical, and lately just a bit of plumbing.

I've found that making something that has the attributes 1) you can be proud of your workmanship, 2) you'll enjoy using yourself for a long time, and 3) other people after you may enjoy for decades, perhaps a century more, is incredibly rewarding. People I've known in construction have told me that they feel good when they can drive by a building, point to it, and say "I helped make that."

I've no idea how one would break into the business though. I'm imagining long apprenticeships ...

Can you be more specific about what you mean when you say “I watched those around me rot”? Was it just a case of people not taking care of themselves?

>I watched myself and those around me rot, in body and mind. That is some fucked up morlock shit right there.

Basically captures how I feel.

Same. Thanks for starting the thread - I've been thinking about leaving too.

But still on HN?

? HN is a tech news aggregator. It collides often with pure programming but reading HN === buying into office programming lifestyle.

No man, that's a cheeto-induced hallucination

Don't get me wrong. I just found it weird as I thought if I personally wanted to quit tech I'd want to stop reading HN as well.

As far as I can tell, transitioning out of coding is much the same as transitioning into coding.

Look for something interesting to do, start doing it, educate yourself in it, and start trying to get paid for it. Learn the rules of the game you want to play.

You may want to become an accountant, for instance. There are clear steps to doing that.

I daresay you should first find a destination, so you can then look for the steps needed to get there.

There's a few past threads on this that you might get some info from:



I found the 3 decades possible though. Started as a little kid, now in my late 30s and still writing software. But if you're not enjoying coding, definitely find something else. Life is too short to spend it doing work you don't enjoy.

I majored in journalism and computer engineering. Started out doing traditional news reporting and eventually (because of the onset of the Internet and the web) got back into programming and web development, but for news organizations.

I don't know if I can say I've gotten out of coding, though; my current job is teaching journalism and programming at a graduate program. Wouldn't mind going back to a programming-heavy job, though it probably wouldn't be software or systems engineering.

If I won the lottery, I would go back to school and study biomedical devices probably. Back to physics, electronics, medicine, signal processing, and real-time low-level firmware.

I studied engineering and I want to be an engineer again. I loved doing research and with lottery winnings, I wouldn't have to worry as much about the academic rat race.

The software world is taking over domains that used to be electronics. Web is replacing low-level systems. "Agile" is replacing "engineering".

You have to know what you love about coding - Why do you do it? Ex: for exposure (your work gets seen), for competing with yourself, for recognition by peers (open source maybe), for most money for your family, etc. I got burned out coding on stuff that I found less meaningful and transitioned to the product side where my coding skills gave me a very unfair advantage against competition and peers alike (I could build what just became possible by reading APIS). I found myself wanting to code for fun and after 2 years went to get an MBA at a top school while coding my first startup at the same time. My brain loved learning all the intricacies of Finance, VC, Patent Law, and anything else that can help or hurt entrepreneurs, while my hands were hammering on product. Now I code almost full-time on my startup. I code in a language I didn't know a year ago (Go) and the speed of it gives me so much joy to work on it, compared to others - it makes coding fun. Find out your Whys, and you may realize that coding is not sitting for 3 decades, but power to bring to life previously impossible things (or just things other's didn't think of) that can improve the lives of people anywhere on the planet.

Respectfully there are two separate things here:

1. The notion that 'coding' is exactly what you're doing now.

I think that doing actual development varies far more widely between roles, company sizes and verticals than in other careers.

As an example: in my programming career I've done everything from work with Navy SEALS (handheld athletic training software) to attend rock festivals (making sure scheduling software stays up and working) to some AR.

I have a friend that makes robotic control software for nuclear plants and flies around the world collecting stories of people who have seriously messed things up. Another friend works at a big bank as one of a floor full of people doing something insanely boring with credit cards. They both seem happy. They both are developers. Their lives could not be more different.

Coding doesn't have to mean 40hrs a week in a windowless office and all of those roles varied between 20% to 60% coding (at a rough estimate) and if you've only ever worked in a large company it's crazy how different building even building your own apps/services can even be.

2. Switching careers.

I've always really liked Scott Adams career advice to try and be the top 25% of two different subject areas:


Being a developer is a great '1st skill' because it mixes so well with nearly everything else in today's society. So, I'd say don't abandon it (or your knowledge) but try to pair it with something you find more interesting.

Sensible advice. All the positions I've held have been specialized enough that all I do is write code. There are designers, managers et al being paid to do the other half. I believe there are other opportunities where that's not the case, I went out of my way to look for them during my last job hunt but come up empty. I had no problems finding a bunch of codemonkey-SWE jobs. Seems to me that programmers are fairly specialized and replaceable in most orgs.

I'm not opposed to another technical position. Something that leverages my skills to do something more dynamic would be great.

I think much of it functions around how small the team is: if you're in a larger org you're likely to be more specialized. My own career has been spent in smaller orgs where I've had a much greater say in how I do things and the types of work I'd like to do.

I started in web, moved to computer forensics for the challenge. Died a little inside, lost faith in humanity.

Moved to law, passed the exam.

Got sick (MS), so came back to code, where the ability to walk/drive is less important, currently in research on compilers.

Around 2003 I was a chief technical architect at a startup. We had to secure access to the products and I realised I had no clue. I read Security Engineering by Ross Anderson and was hooked. Went on to do a Masters in Information Security while still coding, and gradually moved into the security field.

I still spend a lot of time with developers, currently doing a lot on integrating security with continuous deployment and agile projects.

I was talking with a developer recently, who said he loves coding, so that's why he does it for a living. I replied that I also love coding, and that's why I don't do it for a living!

What bothers you about it? The 30 years part?

Start planning now, and you could theoretically cut that down to 10 or 15. Is it a better plan now?

Maybe you need to live frugally to enjoy the life you want after programming; and you possibly don't need the 30 years of work to get there.

I'm currently a developer with a partial degree in fine arts. All the experience and rank I gained through work and promotion.

Honestly, the plan is to do this for about 5 or 10 more years while my spouse and I build our real estate business; then just maintain those, while doing a lot more interesting stuff, like Fine Arts.

I was a former web dev., and transitioned into project and product management. I'd like to transition back to dev work for the next decade or so...but eventually as I close in on retirement, I wouldn't mind moving to working on hardware for electric motorcycles...basically create the Tesla of motorcycles - both for high end luxury as well as for the everyday/how-can-i-get-the-cheapest-cycle-to-safely-commute-to-work-in.

Penetration testing now. That's what I wanted to do as a high schooler more than 15 years ago.

Started as C/UNIX dev, but as a way to find a "first job" because I needed $$. I did this for around 3 years.

I'm in medical school

I have been thinking about going that route as well. How and when did you know it was the right choice for you?

I did EMS in college, so I had some patient care experience. I started working as a software engineer in Manhattan right after college. I was working 9-5 days, M-F in an office and just couldn't stand it. I missed being outside, and I missed being with patients.

I probably could have shopped around and found some place that worked well for me, but I just wasn't sold on writing software for a lifetime.

Edit: Let me add this: One of the biggest headaches I found in day-to-day life in the office was the lack of self-improvement. I missed being challenge not just with new material, but with what my colleagues were learning as well. There was no real drive for self-improvement in the officeplace, no real interest in spending anytime outside of work to learn and get better, and I missed that aspect of school and medicine.

I'll also say that I probably thought seriously about quitting medical school 30 or 40 times in the first 2 years. Now that I'm on rotation and actually interacting with patients full time again, I'm in love.

How old are you now and how far off are you from graduating?

I am 29 now, and I'll be 31 when I graduate. I just started 3rd year.

If you're not familiar, after medical school (4 years), you have to complete a residency in order to become board certified. Residencies last anywhere from 3 to 6 years depending on the specialty. After residency comes an optional fellowship to further sub-specialize. Those can be 1-3 years.

I've thought about switching, but I am self-educated and there's just no way I could make six figures doing anything else, so I keep on keeping on.

Currently CFO of a mining company.

Started with degrees in cs and then decided to get a cpa after too many nights in a lab.

It was an interesting change, but it took a bit of time...

Many move into business/management roles.

I repair cars for fun, and do what might best be filed under odd jobs for profit. I live in a rural area, and having a lot of skills puts me in demand. I haven't seen an ide in years and it brings me peace.

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