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Ask HN: How do I secure my future?
28 points by elderK 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments
Hi HN,

I'm a self-taught programmer and I'm finding myself increasingly concerned about my future.

I've had several jobs in the past, all of which were in the finance industry. Back-end software for eCommerce, point-of-sale systems and such.

The last company I worked for had a very toxic environment. Extremely micromanaged, abusive, etc.

The reason I'm concerned about the future is that I've just turned thirty, I have no formal qualifications and I'm unlikely to acquire an honest reference from my last employer.

Much of the interesting things I've worked on, the things that have taught me the most, that taught me the value of many idioms and patterns, were all done in my spare time. The kind of things I'm passionate about are those that are often unseen such as compilers, data structures of various kinds, device drivers, kernels, linkers and memory management systems.

I'm afraid that I'll be ignored because I don't possess a degree and I don't have an extensive work history.

Does our industry still accept those who taught themselves?

Is the initiative and determination of a self-taught developer still worth anything?

What can I do to secure my future?




Go get a degree. Preferably ABET accredited. Im in literally the exact same boat as you. Years of self taught experience with no degree (a high school dropout, no less) but constantly apprehensive about "hitting the wall" in terms of career advancement. The best decison I ever made was to start taking math classes at the local community college, and eventually start working on an engineering degree. You will be amazed at how much you didn't know you didn't know. Its quite hard to swallow your pride and sit in a classroom full of teenagers, feeling like an idiot fumbling over undergrad math problems. But once you get over that it's totally worth it.


I'm going to disagree with that ABET part being preferable. Stanford's CS program isn't ABET. It's an outdated notion and very limiting to CS programs, since it forces certain classes instead of potentially more modern ones. Also very few employers will care. Just go to a good non profit school with a real campus.

Mechanical engineering would be different since it is far more regulated than software development.


A healthy Github account and some writing goes a long way. Shows your skill and definitely shows initiative and determination.

Whilst having a poor reference isn't great, many people in tech understand toxic workplaces. Sadly, we've all been there. For a new job, I don't think it's good to dwell too much on negative past experience, but it's possible to frame it up in a way people will get.

It's never been a better time to be a software engineer. Keep positive and show off the passion you mentioned.


Never STOP learning, keep reading, meet and network with people each and every day. When you are updating yourself, your future too gets updated. Simple.


Degree doesn't matter unless you are going for further education (masters / PhD) or a large corporate position.

Work history matters, but experience more so. It doesn't matter where you get the experience.

Basically look for employers that respect execution, execute, and you will not have a problem.

You can also try doing something for yourself, but if you are concerned about income you probably don't have the financial means yet to risk losing on a failed venture, so just keep it as a back pocket option for the future.


> Work history matters, but experience more so

Good employers value knowledge and skills, not experience.

Apply to well-known tech companies with lengthy interview process: they don't care much about your past.


I'm not entirely sure if this generally true but if it is that doesn't sound like a particularly good approach.

Experience matters. There's only so much you can learn at school. I'd prefer an engineer who has already solved real-world problems to someone who's exceptionally good at solving whiteboard puzzles anytime.


Hey there Bjoern,

Would it be sufficient to have solved many different types of problems encountered while working on side projects?


Sure. As far as I'm concerned experience is experience no matter where that experience comes from.

One thing to keep in mind though is that part and parcel of solving engineering problems at scale is working and communicating with others. If you've been working on these side projects all by yourself then that experience might not be as valuable as if you had worked on these problems in a team. This certainly is possible with side projects, too of course, like when you have an open source project with several contributors or a side project with several remote developers. It's just that the term 'side project' usually implies a one-man-band doing everything by him- or herself.


This is probably true for lower tier dev roles, but senior / management roles require experience. eg. I don't care that you can roll out 100 systems rapidly in a fire and forget manner... if you've never maintained one long term I'm not entrusting you with architectural responsibilities. YMMV.


True, but experience is often what helps gets you in the interview seat to begin with, and also helps with salary negotiation.


Don't worry too much about references. Tell people at interviews you left your last job because the environment was toxic. There's no shame in that.

GitHub is good. Make a habit of making your work public. Go to meet ups and talk to people directly: job interview is not the only way to get a job.

Use your writing and your code as your cv. It's better than any other cv.

Don't fixate in this idea that if you don't have a degree then you're not worth a damn . If you were a doctor I'd say , yeah ok. But programming is not that . If you could prove you could do open heart surgery more effectively than most surgeons then why wouldn't I let you operate on me? Such proof outstanding , doctors need degrees. Programmers have very solid proof outside the degree .


>> Tell people at interviews you left your last job because the environment was toxic. There's no shame in that.

I would strongly advise against this, especially hinting any grievance "toxic, abusive" etc. Employers are very risk averse and any sign of these words is a big red flag. Keep in mind the hiring manager you are only getting one side of the story. Phrase it tactfully and professionally.


That's good to know.

I have an active BitBucket.

It doesn't contain everything I've ever done but it has the most recent stuff I've been working on.

Would it be worthwhile having a link to the BitBucket present on my CV?


Absolutely. And have a LinkedIn account that's up to date.

Honesty and humility are respected values precisely because they are predictable and can be relied upon.

Be good at what you do. Be able to prove it. Be honest.


Don't write-off the reference just yet. Obviously, idk how bad it was, but at the end of the day most people understand looking for a job isn't fun.

Don't give up. Going to be okay!


Thank you!

I'll try and keep the faith :)


The only place to make real money is the stock market and the money are the ticket to secure future and freedom...


You have at least 30 years of working life ahead of you, why not get a degree?




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