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Ask HN: Burned out 21 year old software developer, what's next?
74 points by funfunfunction on Oct 19, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 115 comments
I've been writing software for startups for the last three years. I'm self taught and started right after high school. I've worked for my current employer for about 18 months and our team and technology were recently acquired. As I've begun to assimilate into the new company, I'm realizing how burnt out I am and how little satisfaction I get from writing software for enterprise companies. My question is, what's next? I've looked at other tech jobs and few of them spark my interests.

I realize this is a very open ended question. Any advice is thoroughly appreciated.

College college college college. Your 20s are when you figure out what you want to do. College is expensive but a great way to dabble in tons of stuff, socialize, and get ready for the next step. Being 21 isn't too late, plenty of people go to college at 21-22 after stints in the military. You'll be popular as you'll be able to buy your friends beer (legal disclaimer: don't do that).

To the OP:

Burn out is not really something physical. You probably need some rest, but it is less than what you think (measured in days). Your own mind is dissatisfied with some of what you are doing and it is raising red flags. You need to figure out what is it.

Do you like writing software? This is the first question. If you do, keep going, but you need to focus on something else. Maybe a slightly different industry, or smaller companies, or even something on your own.

I agree with the comments about college. You don't know what you are missing out until you do. It's great that you are self taught, which is an important skill for college.

There are a few reasons to enroll. You are unlikely to be implementing data structures in your day job. However, some algorithms are very hard to understand, and it forces your brain to work really hard to crack them. Then algorithmic problems at work become rather trivial. And the remaining non-trivial can be reduced to one of the problems you already know.

Second, there's the exchange of ideas. You'll notice that many billionaires are college dropouts. Meaning that they did enroll and took classes, and decided to quit because they found a big opportunity. Odds are you are going to leave college in debt instead of a billionaire, but you'll leave with knowledge and connections, which are worth more.

And of course, your CV will be better for it.

I heard burn out is actually and unfortunately physical. Something happens to the adrenal gland and cortisol levels.

As a dabbling neuroscientist I'm very skeptical! Why? because Cortisol levels fluctuate based on exercise, diet, and perceived stress. If you go jogging every day and follow that up with 30 minutes at the riverside thinking -nothing- your cortisol can drop dramatically in 2 weeks.

Adrenal gland.. Mostly relies on good neurochemistry, which relies on 2 things: good diet, and good gut health. Meaning: eat your yogurt (and bio flora for your tummy) and get all your amino acids! Good gut health = great digestion -> what you eat becomes good neurochem -> happiness and clarity.

If you go jogging every day and follow that up with 30 minutes at the riverside thinking -nothing- your cortisol can drop dramatically in 2 weeks.

Can you provide the source for this? I would like to read up.

Any other sources of knowledge to learn about neurosciences you would like to recommend would also be helpful.

Although the findings in my previous comment are my own extrapolations from years of dabbling, I'm confident most people can become very healthy by having diet rich in helpful cultures (party in your tummy), all the essential amino acids (that will become good neurochem), and letting the body rest in an aware and balanced state without forcing anything (zen out and in) regularly.

There being no concise source on the matter of general health, diet, good neurochemistry, and mood, I can but offer a collection of disparate books:

Principles of Neuroscience (Kandel, Schwartz, Jessell) is a great textbook.

Emotional Intelligence (Bradberry)

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (Suzuki Roshi)

I also read a lot of personal experience vault essays on erowid.org (regarding "experimental medicine," for lack of better terminology)

> College college college college. Your 20s are when you figure out what you want to do.

This is ridiculous advice for someone who is in U.S. So you want him to get into a huge debt w/o even knowing what he wants to do?

OP, if you want to find what you want to do or just "find yourself" don't bother wasting money and time at college and just travel for 6 months to some remote place and live there with locals.

This is equally ridiculous advice. First off, college is not necessarily a massive debt inducing experience. There are so many grants and loan options that it is absolutely affordable, if you do your research and plan appropriately. The early part of most college curriculums is built to help you find areas where you have interest and want to be employed. Not to mention the pursuit of knowledge is absolutely worth the cost.

Second, you mention traveling and living in a remote area with locals. This is definitely a good thing to do. But it can also drop you into debt just as quickly as college in the US if you don’t research first. And you may or may not learn anything if you are not careful. In other words it’s still a risk.

College is a huge waste of money for someone who doesn't value it. Debt sucks.

100% agree. I hated it. It was expensive, stressful, and unrewarding.

My loans won't be paid off until I'm in my mid 40s. I feel like a sucker who fell for a scam. It's objectively the biggest mistake I ever made.

I'm sure my perspective will be soundly dismissed on HN. I'm sure I must have done college "wrong" or something. Whatever. I'm not trying to blame anyone else. My choices seemed like good ones at the time; these things are only clear in retrospect.

I completely agree with you, and I'm in my mid-40's still paying off college debt for a degree that hasn't helped. (I was a business management major)

Unless, you're going to be a doctor/lawyer/engineer/$FIELD_THAT_REQUIRES_LICENSING... then college is a scam, and a waste of time and money.

Don't be fooled, education != college. You CAN get educated for much less, in MANY other ways, for much less money (if not free).

I'm in my 40s and still paying off the debt incurred to get 2 business degrees. Maybe the advice should be "don't major in business!" :P

I'd say >95% of the material covered in my business track could have been learned by reading "The Personal MBA" by Josh Kaufman. If only it had been around when I started.

Where / what did you study? Asking because I'm half curious and half astonished that college can cost so much (coming from someone outside of the US).

Felt like I did college wrong too, and it cost 4 years and ~22k USD, in return for .. nothing much really.

Ha... 22k USD? You got off easy. Four years at a private college in the US can easily top 150k.

I don’t normally reply on Ask HN threads, but just wanted to say I know what you mean and agree.

This was my original thinking though I've come to realize that college is about much much more than education in the formal sense.

Right. I also am a self taught programmer working in industry since straight after high school, although in my case it has been closer to 20 years.

This has never been a problem in terms of skills or employment and advancement. The only part I feel I missed out on is the networking aspect, and perhaps doing a minor subject, some language, literature or general studies unit or two would make one a more well-rounded person.

It's hard to justify the time and expense just for these benefits though.

Going through the motions of going to school is a waste of time if you don't take it seriously. One can "grow up" or "see the light" by doing committing to anything substantial and seeing it through, and there are much cheaper ways to accomplish that than going to college.

For example, let's say one isn't sure about going to college. Instead of spending 4 years and a bajillion dollars to find out if college is right for you, and it might not be, how about washing dishes for a few months at a local restaurant? For one, you might love washing dishes. Two, a lot of stuff can come into focus when you spend doing something you don't really want to do. Just a thought.

I saw your other comment about starting something of my own and thought that was good advice. As far as college goes, I definitely wouldn't go unless I was serious about it and social aspect is especially attractive. Most people I interact with are 15+ years older than me and it's getting a little boring. It's also hard to make friends when everyone your age is in college.

I'm currently in college, what else is it about? (I'm genuinely curious) I'm studying mathematics (it's the only degree I could see being worth while in a purely intellectual and educational sense)

Consider that you're spending $X on college, when you could probably just as easily buy the text book (or not!) and do courses online for free. So what is it that you want to get out of college? If you don't know, why are you paying?

I'm not hiring, but I'd personally rather see someone who self taught themselves some specific discipline, and then used the money they would have spent on college to apply their knowledge to build something for themselves (whether that's taking knowledge of math and building an investment portfolio, or taking knowledge of software and building a business/app, etc.)

If I were you I'd just ask "am I getting what I want out of college?" and if not, change that. If you don't know what else it's about, observe, ask, research, ask people on HN, whatever.

Disclaimer: never went.

> Consider that you're spending $X on college, when you could probably just as easily buy the text book (or not!) and do courses online for free. So what is it that you want to get out of college? If you don't know, why are you paying?

Heh. I got a specially tough mathematical logic professor and failed multiple times. It literally took me years until I finally passed the class. And several textbooks and nights with little to no sleep. I had to rinse my brain and put it back a few times until I finally got it.

Sure, go with a textbook if you are ok with some superficial knowledge. But it's nonsense to compare that with spending months studying a single subject under a tough teacher.

It is not something required to be successful, but I'm getting tired of hearing stuff like "just buy a book, it's the same thing". No, it's not.

It is, however, a good idea to do so, and use that to figure out if going deeper in those subjects would be worthwhile.

Disclaimer: never learned calculus properly. Teacher wasn't strict enough, and I didn't care at the time. Big mistake.

I know what it is about to me, I was curious about what it was about to him.

Now in terms of math I can only speak for myself but it would probably take me 10x longer to learn what I have learnt, if it wasn't for being surrounded by professionals and a peer group where I can have my assumptions tested against.

Now I'm not saying it's impossible to self teach yourself advanced mathematics, but without tutorials, office hours, students to talk to, professors to talk to, it's going to be a very difficult road and one I'm not sure I could do the self-taught method.

I've never been to college, but I guess I would say it seems like college is as much about figuring out what you want in life and finding people who can offer perspectives you may not have considered as it is getting an education. I grew up in small town and this sort of thing is attractive to me.

As others have pointed out it's a very expensive place to figure out what you want in life. I feel like figuring out what you want in life is just a product of growing up and being open to different experiences. College is probably a very good bubble to experience a lot of things in a safe environment where room for error is high (and I don't mean not passing your courses). But you could probably replicate this in other ways for example in the work place, talking to a lot of people, etc,.

You don't have to spend a ton of money on college. And valuing it solely based on money-in money-out ignores so much of it's value. It's part of your life, an experience. It's like saying traveling abroad, skydiving, or climbing a mountain is not an economical use of your resources. The social exchanges and experiences you get are pretty invaluable.

I think its possible to replicate the college experience outside of academia, but I think its a good way to take the risk out.

In college, you are in a cohort of peers who are prioritizing growing/learning over most other things. In the workforce, that is not a guarantee.

Sure you may be lucky enough to join an organization that is willing to take risks for the sake of learning, but I would argue that this is incredibly rare as companies are motivated to make profits and the ROI is not always clear.

This doesn't mean that college will automatically make you adaptable and intellectually curious. You will only get back what you put into it.

dude turn up to random classes! nobody will notice. The chicks doing psychology are amazing.

> dude turn up to random classes! nobody will notice. The chicks doing psychology are amazing.

sexual education, making friends for life (as you get older, people get into groups of friends and it's harder to make real "life" connections"), networking with people outside your future industry, trying things, getting new hobbies, parties etc.

You're at your peak in terms of learning new subjects, so if you get a chance, learn a few random ones! It's said that apple's focus on design and typography wouldn't have happened if Steve Jobs hadn't dropped in on some calligraphy classes during college.

You can go to another country where college is much less expensive or free (like France or Germany, some of those countries even subsidize the apartment rent for students). It takes grit to force yourself to learn a different language but it can be worth it.

And, as a bonus, in non-english speaking countries foreigners will have often a easier time getting admitted in an exclusive university than locals because universities want to be more international and increase diversity.

It's not worth getting into debts for an education you could have for free somewhere else.

Agree, but what about all the scholarships and free state universities?

Be careful which college. If you are feeling burnt out, don't jump into a university like mine where "sleep is for the weak" was (maybe still is?) a motto.

In fact, avoid any situation which pushes you to give up a healthy sleep schedule.

Also if you're ambitious, college is one of the best places to meet cofunders and see what the latest up and coming tech is, and discern it from sci fi.

A big thing not mentioned yet in the comments is to figure out exactly what's burning you out.

Is it the work?

Is it the people?

Is it the office?

Is it the commute?

Is it the structure of the day?

Find out exactly what it is that's actually burning you out.

Some of these can be solved by becoming a remote worker (which comes with its own cast of problems). If you can snag a remote job you can do things like remote year (remoteyear.com (I think)), which sounds like something perfect for a 21 year old interested in experiencing new things (while making money instead of taking loans!).

On the other hand if it's the work in general then college may be a good step. That being said, I'm not as certain how to combat long term dissatisfaction with work. At the end of the day a lot of our job is doing the same sort of shit of over and over again. Wire this up here, move this button there, get this data heah, color this that there ova hea.

It's kind of a grind for a lot of us I think but it's still pretty interesting stuff to be doing with decent amounts of satisfaction to be found through out our projects.

Finally, if you're filled with emotions you'd like to get out, don't be afraid to go see a therapist. Having someone to talk to, who can get to know you, and work with you overtime isn't necessarily always just for the depressed.

Burnout sucks, it's real, there's no pill for it. Use all the tools available to you to combat it. Don't make rash decisions. Do write in a notebook and sit quietly for introspection. Do spend time figuring out the what, where, why, when, and how. Do consider all available options.

Congratulations on getting a head start on your career. Now go to college. Seriously. Start at JC. You'll kill it. Then transfer to the best university you can get into; that would be Berkeley.

There's a shit ton to learn at college and a lot of interesting people to meet. You'll have a better broader handle on things than knowing everything there is about Python.

Interesting you mention Berkeley. I was visiting my sister there just this last weekend and have since considered applying. It seemed like a great place with lots of happy young people!

Are you talking about UCB? Nearly all my friends doing EECS or the likes are depressed, swamped with work and borderline suicidal. It has taken such proportions that it has become a meme on the facebook meme page UCBMFET. From what they have told me, their administration has no interest in student satisfaction or mental health.

The gruesome workload and collective depression is perhaps only topped by Waterloo.

Yeah, you get a top notch engineering education. But, I'd wager the trauma isn't worth it when you realize the workforce standards are well below what's requires of you in the "dojo".

Stanford kids seem much happier.

I went to Cal and saw many of my friends go through the same thing. EECS is one of the most impacted majors, so the weeder introductory classes are brutal by design. For those who made it into the major, it didn't seem nearly as bad.

I do not think you can apply now as a freshman. That day came and went 3+ years ago. Your route would be through junior college. It's a fine route.

Dunno where you live but go to JC. Consider moving to where there's a good JC. Kill it. Start slow, take a couple of classes and slaughter them. You need a minimum number of credits to transfer and there's a maximum as well.

Berkeley has one application per year, in the Fall. So if you start in January, you could almost be transfer read by application time. You really have to learn about requirements and articulation agreements and deadlines.

Transferring into Berkeley. You apply to the UC, 4 campuses. You apply to a school (Engineering or L+S or ...) and a major. You need to be a competitive applicant in that major. In EECS you need to kill it. Not impossible, not easy.

All of the UCs are awesome. Berkeley is incredibly tough, Marine Corps tough. Not a happy place at all, but worth it. The workload in EECS is harder than the Valley.

This is absolutely wrong, you can definitely apply to any college you want at any age you want, I went to an Ivy League school and had classmates that were in their mid 20s/30s. I agree that going to college is absolutely the right advice -- but since you already have technical skills, I would study something other than CS, depending on your interests. You have the skills, and the breadth of a more diverse education will make you a more well-rounded human being than more CS.

Programming skills is not the same as CS degree

A CS degree is not real software engineering experience (;

And real software engineering experience isn't a Berkeley degree. There are many reasons to do this. Your career is only one of them.

You could take Trevor Murphy for Classics 10B, Intro to Roman Civ. You could learn to sail or windsurf down at Cal Sailing.

BTW, applying to Berkeley from out of state is more dicey. And expensive (Tuition and Fees: $13,509 (in-state); $40,191 (out-of-state)). Again, moving here and going to a CA JC will dramatically improve your chances.

Big point: you really need to learn a LOT about the application process and requirements. Not a little, a shit ton. This is not for the faint of heart. It isn't an easy path. You have to take it very seriously. You're probably two years away.

Contrarian advice:

- do not analyze why you burned out, as it is because you feel ontologically 'incomplete', or insecure. you can't make meaning of a lack of meaning from the same position of a lack of meaning. so, you will need to bounce this off of/through others acting as nonjudgmental conversationalists

- if you do feel incomplete in this way, seeking internal answers/finding your "real self"/learning who you "really are" will only become a Sisyphean task/disaster

- don't wait for your desire to come back, it's an unobtainable, by design - see Lacan, or if that's unreasonable, just listen to the rolling stones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrIPxlFzDi0

- don't care too much about others over yourself: this is what leads to burnout

- if you get rid of your phantasies, you won't get reality: you'll get something worse than reality. so retain your dreams, and keep looking for new ones, as dreams and fantasies are really the only way to get into reality..

I have had this experience many times in my life. I noticed that I feel burned out only when I am doing something that I don't enjoy. If I work on something that I am extremely passionate about, I can withstand stress and work long hours without feeling burned out.

I think most people underestimate the value of doing nothing. Seriously do nothing for sometime. It maybe a week or a month. Just travel, eat, drink, sleep, etc., You will start feeling yourself back in no time. Once you feel normal, realize that you need frequent breaks to maintain that state of mind. Now that you have an experience of burnout, you have an opportunity to not repeat that again.

Sorry to sound negative, but welcome to the real world. The vast majority of people are doing jobs they really do not want to do. Imagine what it feels like to be work on a production line for a 12 hour shift in China. Or getting up everyday to pack the shelves at Walmart. At some point in the next 40 years of your working life you will have times when your are doing something you don't enjoy, or that causes you stress or where you suffer from burn out. Don't panic, as this is normal. Typically you solve this by doing one of the following...

1 - Just work your way through it, it will pass.

2 - Switch to another project in the company.

3 - Switch to another company.

4 - Take time off.

I'd recommend option 4. At 21 there's no need to rush things. Gain other perspectives, soak up a bit of real life!

I'm in a similar boat as you. I just turned 22 and have been working as a software developer for the past 3 years as well (interesting coincidence).

I noticed that I get the feeling of "burnout" when I'm doing things I don't enjoy. For instance, I can spend a couple months straight working on fun personal projects of mine all day every day, like the Medium.com clone I built, but if I'm spending two weeks straight fixing other peoples bugs at work I get extremely bored and am always watching the clock, looking forward to going home. I don't enjoy programming in those moments.

I would err on the side of caution when calling this burnout, though, to be honest. I think we are too young and haven't been at it long enough (no matter how dedicated we are) to really feel true burnout. We're just fatigued, demotivated, unexcited and a little annoyed (in my case).

I think a change of pace might help you, as it always helps me. Try doing something really challenging and thought-provoking. Entrepreneurship might be for you! Have you ever considered making your own startup? Got any ideas you've been neglecting? Take one of them on! You never know what might come of it. :)

Lastly, if you think programming in general just isn't for you anymore, but you love technology and would still like to be in the space, another thing you may want to consider is creating content of value for others to use and learn from. For instance, you could start a YouTube channel and talk about tech, crypto, AI, startups, etc.

Good luck!

I also would not call that burnout. It sounds like you're realising that work sucks.

Going to work is fun the first few months when you're all 'look at me going to my big job!' and you probably feel richer than you have ever done before.

Then after a while you realise you're not loaded after all, the novelty wears off the work and you find yourself repeating tasks again and again. The challenge then becomes to work out what it is you value - do you want your work to test your limits, or do you want to just pay the bills and find fulfilment elsewhere, etc, etc?

I like your advice to do something challenging and thought-provoking, but don't be afraid to think outside the tech sphere. Basically, the way I look at it is that you have your 20s to work out who you are and what you value. You should expect your value system to change substantially (which is where college is useful, to link to the discussion above).

In the grand scheme of things the gap between birth and death is really small. Don't waste it doing things that you don't enjoy.

Thanks for this. I agree with your statement about the value system. Mine has already changed dramatically. I went to college for two years while working full time, and eventually dropped out. It just wasn't for me; already knew what I was being taught, and ultimately got denied entry into CS major cause of poor high school grades. And ironically enough, I was working in the marketing department on the school website at the time they denied me. Go figure.. >.>

School, for people like me, is just a waste of time and gets you in needless debt. I learn better on my own anyways.

As for doing things outside of tech, I also dabble in many other things. I have been bodybuilding since I was 18 and an an avid gym goer. I'm also big on philosophy and science (quantum mechanics really excites me). There are plenty of things I am interested in...the hard part for me is figuring out which of them I really want to dedicate my time and effort to, so I can take it to the next level. I lack the ability to make that decision right now, and as a result I'm just sort of a generalist.

But you're totally right. Spending time doing things I don't enjoy will now produce a happy life. I'm growing more and more aware of this every day.

You have not yet begun to work.

It's one life time and the universe doesn't care, so figure it out.

You can stay on a treadmill of 1-2 years where you find a new project and get bored and move on. You can pick a project to work on for 10 years and be "the guy who knows all". Whether it's a Daily WTF or a great project that spawns research papers is partly up to you and partly up to the people around you.

Realize that this is fine.

As you're doing this treadmill, develop some hobbies, and some friends. Buy random people drinks at random bars and go home with them. Realize that's totally fine. Hang out with co-workers and listen to their complaints about the software. Don't go home with them. Realize that's totally fine also because you'll see them again at some future job. Be as weird as you want, just don't be weird about it.

Being able to write software is a skill that lets you be in interesting places and work with interesting (and very demanding) people. Realize that's totally fine. You've got the choice of being the solid reliable guy they can always call on, or being the totally flaky genius that they call on anyway, or the hack that gets the crap job but doesn't care. Half the time you'll pick the wrong job and get fired or watch a company fail, and that's totally fine too.

Take a break, sure. You'll find a new job. Fine tune your crap detector. If you can take a little bit of crap at the right place you can make out pretty well. If it's the wrong place, take no crap from anybody and you'll find your phone ringing later. Just be competent and don't be an asshole, and you'll be fine. Exercise left to the reader.

You're 21 years old? Have you ever heard of the grand tour? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Tour

Nowadays just condense your life to a backpack and travel while you can. Making money or going into debt for school is great and all but your true wealth is your time and your's alone. Sure you can hawk it out to the highest bidder but you can never buy it back no matter what you do. You code so go experience the world and find over looked problem facing real people and solve them. By not having a schedule and being self reliant you'll be forcibly giving yourself the time to do so.

I was in the same boat. I hate working for other people. 21 isn't too late to move back in with your parents (or continue doing so if you're doing that now.) There's nothing that burns me out faster than working on something I don't believe in, or have personal interest in. Don't waste your life building someone else's dream. If you've got the money, or if you're in a place to fall back to living with your parents, consider trying your own thing. That's what I did. I moved out when I was 19 and moved back in when I was 22. I wanted to do my own thing but couldn't afford it, but am fortunate enough to have parents who can help me.

Starting your own company is not necessarily a path to success, and you may not be an entrepreneur. What it will do though, is provide a.) an understanding of what it's like to work for yourself b.) provide you with some insight about what you like to work on (as opposed to being told what to work on), and c.) you might even discover a new pathway. Start with an idea you care about, research its market, try to discover a niche. If it looks promising and you're excited by the idea, try it out.

Also consider that enterprise isn't the only option for work. There are startups, non-profits, and even small businesses. Small businesses can be really interesting because of the value you can provide through simple automation. If you're like me, the more you can see your personal impact on the business and the people it serves, the more you'll enjoy your work. This type of work is basically on the opposite end of the spectrum from Silicon Valley programming work, but it can be just as fulfilling.

The other possibility is maybe you're not enjoying programming as much as you thought you would, and you're thinking about a career change. My recommendation would be to try and find a reputable trade school and check out some options that relate to your current area of expertise. Please think long and hard about attending college, though. There's a lot of things in college that aren't specifically focused on helping YOU succeed, as much as they are about helping you learn stuff that may not be relevant to you. I'm biased though, I didn't go.

What's next for you is not something you're going to find the answer to from any of us on HN. You need to discover more about what interests you. Have you considered travel or taking up more hobbies? Might help guide you.

You're so young, now is the time to think about exploring other interests. Read lots of books. Go do some traveling and immerse yourself in the world and all of its cultures outside your own. Then get involved in other activities that is not about corporate work. Volunteer your time and talents to help out others. Learn something that is outside of what you usually do, perhaps art. Since you have the skill sets that will get you hired later on -- now is the time to figure out what life is all about, what you truly value, and explore your own self-development.

The Recurse Center is a popular place to go to figure things out! I was a resident there and it's pretty incredible.


Take time off ... relax ... and I don't mean a week. :) May be travel to a place you always wanted to see .. like Barcelona. As experience of Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates, ..., Ellison showed college is not a must. If you learned software, you can learn everything on your own. You may look at Thiel's scholarship. Peter pays $100K for young talents NOT to go to college. I have nothing against college. But why pay insane money the system charges, if most of what you need you can learn on your own? As for Berkley, you can meet the same happy people without spending ....

It is normal. We recently finished a big project at my company. I barely had any sleep during the process. It took me 1-2 months to recover and begin doing useful work again. Just take it slow.

If in addition to being burned out you don't like what you are working towards, just choose a different goal. I found that working toward Artificial General Intelligence is a very motivating goal. I have been pursuing it for the past few years and I am yet to grow bored with it. The only tricky thing is there's a lot of bs surrounding the subject, so you need to learn to navigate it.

I'm very interested in ML but have had a hard time getting started. Any advice on a good entry point? I've gone through Andrew Ng's course but haven't found a great resource passed this level.

Try http://www.fast.ai/ Probably this is the best course form non-mathematical side.

Stop working for startups. Crazy hours and low pay with a tiny chance of a big payoff. Go work for a big established company where the pay and benefits are good. Where you show up at 9 and leave at the stroke of 5.

Life is short, waste as little time as possible doing work for somebody else.

I'm following this in a somewhat similar position but with less 'success'.

Over the last 7 years I've worked for 6 companies and have been let go or fired from all of the software oriented positions. In total accruing ~3 years maybe of employment experience. I've now been out of work for over 1.5 years and am confused about what's next.

My last position was for a large company. Worked out okay for a little while but gradually turned into a political shitstorm amongst other problems. After I left, I had realized that my interest in personal software dev had vanished, I had no interest in working in software, and nothing to show for the time I'd spent there.

Now things have got better. I surrounded myself with smart people, took some time off (the majority I was unable to find gainful work), and tried to find inspiration. I took some risks, had a lot of adventures, and am much more satisfied and happy. Only problem now is that software development tends to detract from all those things and it's tough to reconcile.

Also went back to school for this semester because as a Canadian I can't hypothetically get a work visa anywhere else without a degree and I wouldn't be doing anything more productive with my time.

You could have those feelings for any number of reasons so I won't make any assumptions about the cause of your problem, but maybe hearing out some others and finding a cause and solution you might relate to would help.

Personally, I found that I had the "burnout" feeling throughout my career in instances where I didn't see a path between what I was doing and where I wanted to be. So all the work I was doing felt extra draining because the output didn't seem to be helping me make steps towards where I wanted to be. The other times I felt defeated/drained are when I didn't have a clear goal of what I wanted in the future, so any efforts at work seemed pointless. Yes, I was working for a paycheck, but you can do anything for a paycheck, it was important for me that my efforts contributed towards a bigger picture. So in that case, I had to sit down and really find/set a goal. Doing anything without a real goal in mind results in just a mindless/lazy churn that feels pointless.

I don't know how exactly you feel. I've been burnt out to that point I couldn't watch at other jobs or even think about writing code. I was about 10x less productive. It was much more than just a lack of motivation. I had immediate health issues too. It happens all of a sudden when there's no motivation. A couple of month not doing any programming and I felt recovered. After that I started to feel I'm another person from the professional point of view.

Enterprise companies. People go there for a stable and well-paid job, which would look good in their resume, but probably not for personal satisfaction. Some may disagree.

If it's about not knowing the next step.. No one knows better than you. It's even funny how much more stress you can take when you feel motivated and needed.

College can be stressful too. Some people like it, others don't.

Take some time off. You should sit down and work out what you really value.

The definition of burnout is when you force yourself to work on something that you don’t see the value in.

When you know what you really value then make steps toward experiencing those values in your every day life. This doesn’t just go for work but every part of your life.

That’s not the definition of burnout, that’s just being uninspired. Burnout is a combination of cynicism, depression, and lethargy that can come from failing to maintain a healthy life/work balance. (I’ve experienced burnout at a job I loved.)

Can you go into more detail on your experience with burnout? I’d like to understand how it came about for you.

I don't have time right now but I've been thinking about writing it all down once I've had a chance to reset. I'll post it in here if you're interested.

Sounds good.

"force yourself to work on something that you don’t see the value in."

Not really, that sounds more like the definition of being an employee (without equity etc). Although I guess many employees find reward in the job itself and in the "progression" up the career ladder that business owners put in place.

I don't think it's merely a case of work-life balance. It's possible to sustain a nominally very skewed work-life balance if you enjoy the work and the people you work with, and you have a real stake in it (either equity, really building your own skills, saving the world, whatever).

But if you lose joy in the day to day work itself, and especially start to see through the "career-ladder" or "office-perks" BS then you will feel burnt out, whether you've been putting in 12+ hour days or not.

I know I previously enjoyed working at a games company as an employee because I valued the process of making something people would enjoy. Even though I was working 12 hour days 6 days a week I still enjoyed most of it.

I suppose my example mostly reinforces your point. To prevent burnout you really need to derive joy in the day to day rather than some external situation you can’t control.

Do what you enjoy, and don't be afraid to venture outside of software development. At the end of the day, not everyone obtains fulfillment out of staring at a computer screen all day fixing bugs and developing incremental features onto a piece of software. That's ok - we're human, not robots.

You're still young, so you can try something else (eg. product development) and easily go back to software development if you end up missing it. Or maybe there's another are within tech that'll interest you (eg. blockchain, AI/ML, game dev).

I will say one thing though - software development is probably the best job for money, work life balance, and ease of finding employment

Find exercise you enjoy and stick to it. Some friends got me into indoor climbing (bouldering, no ropes, just thick mats) and I love it. Your physical state is irreverent. Take chances, let your guard down, be humble, meet people.

The rest will come to you.

Read some biographies. See what other people have done with their lives, at 21 you have skills and your life is a blank canvas - get excited.

One thing that always seemed neat is to teach English in a foreign country maybe that would be a worthwhile diversion for you.

In terms of tech, the really exiting stuff happens at the edges, which right now is AI, blockchain, web assembly, decentralized systems - find a way to inject yourself into the new and exciting frontiers of tech -- if you are just debugging some enterprise CRUD app, don't blame tech, blame corporate.

Start with what you enjoy doing. Write code that interests you. Do it for no other reason than to scratch you personal itch. Share it on GitHub. Get good at it through enjoyment of the 'work'.

Then you'll have another perspective to evaluate future opportunities and you'll have a much better chance of getting a job that also interests you. Getting paid to do something you enjoy and that interests you doesn't feel like a job, but it sure is.

Not a dev myself, but my wife is. My wife finds it hard to feel fulfilled and motivated at work unless it involves some sort of cause she believes in. Have you considered working at a Non-Profit based around something important to you? From what I've read at reddit non-profit/charity work can be really fulfilling, but you do have things like shoestring budgets to deal with.

I don't think there are many people around who get satisfaction from writting enterprise-software. In the beginning you might get some, because it was all new, shiny and you had responsability and could learn new things? But now you reached the basic level of grind, and there is no fun in this. So basically you are bored.

What you should do is to find something fresh, something enriching, something distracting, something valuable. Many developers have side-projects for this. Or are trying out new things. Doing this at work is a bit problematic, so you should be careful what you actually do there. But automating your work, enhancing your workflow and learning to spark up your worklife is always accepted if you get your work done.

The other option to take a longer vacation. 4 Weeks, 3 Months, depends on your situation. And don't overwork yourself of course. 7-8 Hours a day is more then enough. A human can't code for longer then 4-5 hours a day without losing it anyway.

Have you thought about working part time? If you're 21 you probably don't have high expenses, can rent a room in a shared house instead of a full house/flat.

If your job pays decently you should be able to make it. With the remaining time you can go back to college, work on side projects or a hobby.

Then of course it depends on where you live and how much you're paid.


Also read some non-fiction and unplug from tech. Your a human, not an algorithm.

Love the non-fiction advice, I wish it had been a bigger push when I was in school. I didn't enjoy reading until I picked up non-fiction as an adult.

My 2cents would be balance your life. Workout, read, meditate and look for another gig where you find the work interesting. Going to college would just delay this phase . Last advice would be travelling, it would do wonder to your mindset .

Travel, take some time off and enjoy life (for a while). It will help you put things in perspective and maybe get clear about what you want to do next.

I quit my job last year and backpacked 2 months around Europe and it was a very richful experience.

I've been where you are (although I was 22). Going to university and, more importantly, studying something other than computer science was what really helped me. First it opened my eyes to all kinds of interesting areas where my programming skills could be applied. Secondly I found that being a pretty good programmer with solid domain knowledge in something other than computers (math and economics in my case) opened up a whole bunch of interesting jobs that weren't really available to someone who was just a pretty good programmer.

edit: One caveat is that I'm in Europe so university was pretty cheap for me. I have no idea how I would have reasoned if going to university had cost me an additional $20k+ a year.

My experience is exactly the opposite. I also made the choice to study something else other than CS and got into law school. Now, I'm in my final year, and I don't know what to do.

I feel sad that I didn't have the opportunity to study CS. Outside of school/internships all I think about is still computers. I've been struggling with this throughout my entire college life.

My advice would be that if you're genuinely interested about something, think real hard before choosing another field of study.

I'm not sure based on the description if this is a burnout. (When I think of burnout I think uncontrolled crying, physiological reactions etc.) If you have a real burnout you should seek professional assistance if that is an option.

If it is just a lack of motivation then things are a bit easier and I think you have at least two choices, maybe more:

1. (I've done this when I was just a few years older than you.) Accept that your current work is boring but otherwise OK. Do side projects. Build a portfolio.

2. (I've done this as well.) Or you can start applying for every job that looks interesting. Since you already have a job you have a great starting point.

3. (Not always an option.) Go back to school as others have mentioned.

Burned out at 21? Too your for that. Most engineers burn out in 30s/40s.

I'd suggest one of:

1) Stop working for startups. Get a job at some boring enterprise company. This might give you a) pay rise (big boring corps pay more than startups) and b) better work life balance

2) college - no reason not to go to college, you are still very young so this is ideal time, it will get harder and harder the older you get

3) travel - I assume you have saved some cash before you have burned out. Take few months off, go travel to some interesting countries, explore the world.

Or any combination of these three would probably work out well for you. Probably best order would be 3), then 2), then 1).

I warn against boring big enterprises 1). If they are boring then they are usualy soul killing with all processes/plays/politics and you have no way to improve things without stack of aprovals. Regarding work/life balance all depends on company culture. I have witnessed constant crunch times in various companies, it is up to management and yourself if you want to fight for a badge of honour.

I recommend part-time/freelance work gigs + study + travel at once :) That is all possible in Europe and with Erasmus.

#1: Realise that work is the way of the world. You'll need to get used to it. If you're burnt out after only 18 months at a job (and it's not the fault of a bad job etc), that's a problem you're going to have to solve at some point, because you have decades of work ahead of you.

#2: But you don't have to solve it now. Go travelling while you're young, healthy, and presumably have few significant commitments. It's not guaranteed, but you'll likely get more insight into what you want to do next while travelling as well.

Go traveling for a month or two. Don’t write any code. Just do whatever you want to do and clear your mind.

Ideally find a new job that is cool with you starting in a few months.

Maybe go working for a software development organization that does something not-just-for-money-&-profit, but instead because of a vision?

Then maybe you can focus on having an impact on other people's lives, rather than appeasing shareholders & hierarchical bosses.

For example: https://www.norrskenfoundation.org/ — I'd like to work there if I didn't have a job already :- )

Take a break, travel the world, see new things, meet new people, do something different every day. You might be able to use your skills to directly help a community or be able to do some tutoring or teaching, either voluntarily or for money, either way it is a good thing to see how what you know can help people out, and introduce you to new ways of thinking. Your twenties should be awesome fun and relatively care-free :-)

Read and learn about the world. Software is an achievement of western knowledge and determination. College can possibly help you with this but it's likely to burn you out again as well. Make some art. Start making music. Travel to another country. Read some books. You might just find yourself running back to your computer to code. Maybe.

I had something similar.

What I was recommended, which worked for me, was this.

Go do something that has no connection with your career expectations, which can't be justified by any means other than to say, "I did it because I wanted to."

Once you take a moment for yourself, and it soaks in, you will have a better frame of reference to understand the best next step.

Hey there. I'd like to make two suggestions: find a therapist, and go to a meditation retreat. As for the later, I can strongly recommend a 10-day Vipassana retreat - I believe the nearest center to you is in North Fork, CA. Check it out at dhamma.org. It won't be relaxing, but it will help you practice putting things down.

This looks amazing. I've been considering something like this but wasn't sure where to start. Thanks!

Good! I hope curiosity, at least, drives you to go, and luck gives you a spot on the schedule. If you do go, please get in touch and let me know how it went!

I was in your position a few years ago. A year older than you, I left my job completely, moved to a new city (SF) and live a fantastic new life. What you need is to find your people, be among peers who you respect and feel good about what you do.

The Bay Area is the place to be, if you're not there.

Wow. I also live in a city where tech is not popular. How many people here have found the same thing when moving to SF?

I live in Seattle but the people hear are all in institutional tech, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. Not too many truly innovate startups here either, mostly B2B. Was in The Bay recently and really liked it.

Is it just me or does it seem like people glaze over how hard it is to land a job with the major players. I have a degree in CS and every time an article popups about their interviewing process or a random comment on a successful applicant I am extremely discouraged. Graph theory, cutting edge technologies, bit shifting and IEEE 754 are not things I use on an everyday basis and topics such as these always pop up. I interviewed with Microsoft coming out of school and the high level discussions were great but when it came to white boarding algorithms in c for finding substrings and palindromes recursively I fizzled out. Believe it or not I am actually one of the "stars" at my company but feel woefully inadequate compared to people hired by the well known SF companies. If only it were as easy as Hacker News makes it seem.

Ugh. I really need to move to a city where I can meet people who have the same mutual interests in and out of work.

Find a job that is not a startup. Other companies often have less stressful environments.

You can even go to another country, many European countries limits how much you work every month. Sweden is for example really great in this regard.

If you don't love software development, get out. (Maybe wait until you have a financial cushion first, though.) You won't last.

Do consider other jobs in the neighborhood. Testing, training, project management, etc. Your background can be o f use.

Do something that feels important. Maybe a tech/sysadmin job at a non profit that involves coding once in a while?

It doesn't seem like you like academic environments, but if you do a PhD might be a nice idea.

Go work in a bank (read: retirement home) for a year.


Sorry to hear about your situation. Is taking a sabatical an option for you? You could study or do a course for six months. Stay with the folks while you unwind and re-humanize.

I agree with the other posters. College is a great option. I've never met a person who regretted education and now is a great time in your life to do it.

Here is my advice:

Email Derek Sivers. He's helped me in the past, though I didn't listen, deep down in my heart of hearts I know he is right.

For the unenlightened, who is Derek Sivers and what does he do?

Here's a bit of an intro to Derek. This article has helped me go from a hopeless teen to a 22 year old with years of industry experience making 6 figures in tech: https://sivers.org/kimo

Maybe it's time for a career change. Consider that carefully, as the older you get, the harder it'll be to switch careers.

You'll have a constant flow of "nexts," whether you want them or not, they come.

It's possible to switch careers. Medicine was appealing to me.

Consider a day job at an NGO that you identify with.

Don't do college. It's a waste. Even for building a network, it's a waste. It's 2017, not 2007. Instead, start something!

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