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My life with 12 programmers, 2 rooms and one 21st-century dream (2016) (salon.com)
269 points by testb 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 167 comments



I know the author wised up and moved on, but I would rather work construction for the rest of my life than be a programmer and live like this.

I worked for a startup for a couple of years that really got it right. The CTO really wanted a certain lead developer as his first hire (they had previously worked together) and the lead dev said (paraphrased, of course) "Nope. Not interested in working more than 40 hours per week. Not interested in startup culture. Not interested in grueling deadlines. I like taking long breaks in the middle of the day to go for a run. I come in early, and I get home to my family early."

They gave in to every one of his demands and from my understanding, in the 3 or 4 years since he took the job, devs have only worked longer than a 40 hour week maybe 5 times total.

That dev team has consistently deployed great feature after another at an incredible rate. I have since moved on but I don't think I'll ever find a place that respected their workers like they did.

I don't have a point to that story, no takeaways, no morals, no snappy advice or anything. But paired with my current not as good job, and this article from my worst nightmares, it's made me a bit nostalgic for that wonderful time in my life where I worked for a great place that trusted that happy employees are good employees.


I got my break working for a startup that went big, but without any equity. The CEO asked me to work on his next startup, and I did so.

I worked every hour, of every day for over a year to try and make things successful. It was never enough, and I felt like a failure regularly. It destroyed my personal life, and I still feel like there are ramifications from it.

Finally they questioned the hours I was billing, from the minor level of pay + equity, they didn't feel the output was enough. I quit on that point, having given so much, and then to have to defend myself.

It was a disaster, that in some small part ruined my life. I mean, I'm fine. Life is great, but it took some measure of life out of me.

They ask me to come back regularly, and I always say no. They have twice said they'd give me more equity with no strings attached just because of the work I had done, and then never said anything about it again.

I have no idea if the equity will ever amount to anything, but I learned my lesson. It just isn't worth it, under any respect. Sacrificing for some dream that isn't in your hands is a fools errand.

They can talk about whatever millions they want to from your equity. It can never make up for the destructive aspects you do to yourself to obtain it.


> Finally they questioned the hours I was billing

So you were getting an hourly rate--not salary?


It seems to me that the moral of the story is that the work is done by people, so taking care of your people actually matters. And it is basically contained in this line:

That dev team has consistently deployed great feature after another at an incredible rate.

I very much appreciate you leaving this comment.


Work output is one thing, but it cannot be the only morale of this story. Surely there is also some intrinsic value in creating a friendly workplace, independent of economical success. It's also a story about how to realize those values.


Sure, as an employee, all that stuff matters.

But I'm not going to try to convince an employer that they should care about such things out of the goodness of their hearts. I'm perfectly happy to argue that an employer should care about such things because it enhances the bottom line for the business.

When I started my corporate job, I met the only remaining living founder of the three brothers that started the company. He said something about wanting the company to be good to me and take care of me so I would take care of it.

One of the other new hires was from California. She was surprised at how warm this Southern gentleman was. She was used to the coldness and callousness of the California social climate in business circles.

I was born and raised in the Southern city where this comment was founded. I think people not looking out for their people are fools cutting their own throats.

You don't have to care about me in a "love thy neighbor" sort of way. But you should care that running me ragged if I work for you fundamentally harms your business.


Oh, the often neglected powers of rested brains!


I got two takeaways:

The early hires (especially engineer #1) can have a huge influence on the culture. I think that's important to note both for founders and for prospective early employees.

> devs have only worked longer than a 40 hour week maybe 5 times total.

> That dev team has consistently deployed great feature after another at an incredible rate.

This second takeaway, that being disciplined about working hours is a boon to productivity, is generally supported by what few studies [1] have been done on productivity versus working hours.

[1] I believe most of, especially the early ones, have specifically studied industrial/factory output, including an early-1900s experiment showing that reducing working days from 9 hours to 8 hours actually increased output.


I think the restriction on working hours ensures that management is more conscious about spent labour too. We have this (often true) stereotype of bad leads wanting employees to overwork and I would bet that’s because they assume that the team can “passionately” do more.

When I’ve seen good projects complete on time, I remember seeing my producer comb the milestone tasks asking herself “can this deliver value and be feasible”, rather than making a marathon for other people to run.


If you want the 40 hours and treat like a human not a code producing robot I found the best way is to work as a techie for a none-tech company.

I handle the internal ERP and related software (android terminals, sandblast machines etc)

I get to work on varied problems in multiple languages where my contribution is immediately visible and then go home at 5pm.

It's glorious, I'll give up programming as a career rather than go back to 60hr+ weeks.


This is a good point. Not even tech but being one of few fluent programmers is a good position.


Completely agree. Just understanding paradigms and being willing/able to read documentation goes a long way at non-tech companies.


Was that Silicon Valley? I learnt certain places have certain “culture” of work. I worked in Connecticut as a programmer for many years and it actually compares with your description. Only some people wanted to stay longer. We had CEO coming out of his office around 5:10 and yelling “router down in two” thats how much time it took him to get to closet next to front door to turn internet off. Nobody had right to turn it back on. Same in the am. You cam before boss that always showed up 9:05, you had no net to work on.

Then I moved on to New York city and noone came after 8am or left before 9pm. Was nightmare. CTO told me once: “if you have family to attend to, don’t work here”.


This is a good way to work. I am hugely skeptical about places that have a culture of crazy long work weeks from a pure productivity standpoint.

When we 'rebooted' Sensory Networks (our regex company a while back) we held to a 'regular hours only' policy and I think we did pretty well with it. We did get to a decent acquisition (esp. for a niche product) and importantly we were able to keep progressing the product technically. I suspect that 60-70 hour work weeks lead to a lot of technical debt that will require more 60-70 hour work weeks to pay back.


> will require more 60-70 hour work weeks to pay back.

Except if 60-70 hour workweeks created the debt in the first place, subsequent ones can be expected to create even more, rather than (net) paying any back.

Perhaps a better remedy would be 1.5x-1.75x as many 40 hour workweeks. If so, that could easily be more years than the average engineer's tenure, which can add its own challenge.


Oh no. I hope you find another time in your life where you’re treated as well as you were then.


What is so hard about saying no to overtime? Just turn off the computer and go home.


I’m a junior-ish programmer at a software company. I usually stick to a 40-hour week, but I know other juniors (plus seniors!) that voluntarily do 60 and I know that they’ll likely end up advancing faster than me. The leads usually come to them first and give them the most interesting work.

I’m okay with it, as what’s important to me isn’t 100% related to the work I do and this job is a great resume bullet, but I know that the market for employee merit doesn’t stop at 5pm.


Social pressure is a pretty big motivator for most people. I find that customers are the big driver, if they're willing to wait (accept delays, don't bring the deadline in when it's been agreed) then I really feel no pressure at all to work overtime.

When the customer is screaming down the phone at your grand-boss that you've failed to deliver and they have very little context for that and ask you if you can work extra to make them happy you're in an awkward position.


The common thread is your boss, not your customer. A good boss is worth everything.

A good boss would push back on unreasonable customer demands and spend time figuring out what went wrong. A good boss will help prevent it from going wrong the next time. A good boss will help you figure out what needs to be done right now and what can be scheduled so it’s not just a constant “P1 emergency”


If you are the sole person responsible for the main feature of a startup, and it isn't completed, you know that the only thing you can do is put every hour you have into it to try and make it work.

That is what is so hard.


> you know that the only thing you can do is put every hour you have into it to try and make it work

This, of course, illustrates, why it's difficult: when one knows something that happens to be false.

That's why it's important to have these kinds of discussions here, even they appear to surface concepts that may seem obvious to some people. To other people, it's important to read/hear that perspective, lest "tunnel vision" or an "echo chamber" takes hold.


Sure, if they are compensated for their extra work in some way. Otherwise it is just free work, one could even say it is unprofessional.

Forcing someone to work overtime against their will is still a big no-no even in most hostile work environments.


Why can’t you go back? Did you move?


Haha, I could go back, except for maybe my pride. I only left for what I thought was a good opportunity personally. (still up for debate on whether it was or not). I don't hate my current job, but my current employer has reached out to most devs on my old team and I've made sure to contact them and explain that it's a huge mistake to leave.

Life is still good. My schedule is still fantastic, but I am missing that certain something where I felt like my personal goals were very closely aligned with my company's goals. I still might go crawling back and beg for my job back sometime though.


We call it a "boomerang" where I work, and it's not a sign of failure-- it's something we celebrate. We get a lot of boomerangs who leave for a year or two and then come back to work with us again. It's the highest form of flattery when they like us so much they come back. :)


My previous company hated it. The leaders perceived those who leave as disloyal and always felt deeply insulted whenever someone left. For instance, I run into them at conferences every year and they don’t even acknowledge my presence, even though I was on really good terms with them when I worked there. It’s pretty bizarre.


The leaders of that company set up a shitty culture that is not going to create an loyalty. It's honestly not surprising that their is a childish banishment mentality after you left.

If a leader feels insulted because a person left it was for the best that person left. That company needs to fire the leaders as it will only end up with a very toxic culture.


In my old company (consulting), they actually like it a lot. People leave and then return with new experience and a few things that can be learned from.


Good story. Thanks for sharing.


This really is only one small segment of the programming population. I really hate superficial shit like this that paints tech workers in a bad light bc most have ordinary jobs and live ordinary lives and aren’t social recluses.

I work typical 9-5, wife and kids. We go grocery shopping and make dinner every night together. We live very modestly and we have lots of non-tech friends and family. It’s literaly nothing special.


> This really is only one small segment of the programming population. I really hate superficial shit like this that paints tech workers in a bad light bc most have ordinary jobs and live ordinary lives and aren’t social recluses.

I don't think anyone here seriously thinks this is the norm for working in tech, although I can entirely understand that the author might have a warped perspective on it as a result of his experience.

With that said, this "superficial shit" does happen, particularly in startup culture. And even if this is out on the margins of the experience, one can imagine milder versions that are still a very long way from ideal for a lot of people. For example, I find the thought of living with people I also work with utterly horrifying even if we were living in a decent house with our own rooms, a good amount of space, and what have you. I've worked with people over the years who have house-shared with others at the same company and I've never understood how they could do it. That's no disrespect to my team, or to anyone one I've worked with previously: for the most part they've been great people, but you just HAVE to unplug from it and get some social interaction from outside of your professional milieu[1].

[1] Also, I did house sharing for 10 years and, even 12 years later, I am absolutely over it. Perhaps even more-so with the passage of time.


As someone else has said, this is specific to the SF bay area, and it's so similar to my experience that it's something I could have written.

I wouldn't say the takeaway is that working in tech is bad so much as it's a criticism of Silicon Valley hype and culture. I read HN a lot in college (2010-2015) and kept reading articles glorifying startups and the Bay Area; so when I graduated, instead of looking for a safe industry job I tried to get a job there (and decided to just move there when I was rejected by a company who said they'd prefer someone local). Even when I did get a job there, my monthly paycheck was lower than my rent--though with promise that I could earn more if I worked there longer.

Overall, SV felt like a very exploitative environment for people young and hopeful, and I'm happy people are calling it out.


What part of the country do you work in? I think this is specific to the bay area. It could be different in Austin or Chicago or even NY. If you haven't experienced the startup life in the bay area you shouldn't knock his experience.


I also have a job, wife, kids, house, non-tech friends. However, at one point in my life I lived a very "closed" life, sitting in my room by myself and self-learning stuff (hacking Delphi/Pascal, then some Assembly x86, then C). It was definitely fun at the time.


The article was almost my experience, having (within the last two weeks!) relocated to SF for a promotion. The near-work coliving space I was originally considering wasn't quite this extreme, but with 14 people sharing 2.5 bathrooms - and 0 people having a private bathroom (contrary to what was advertised on their website) - it certainly felt a bit too dorm-room-ish for my tastes. I was going for a private room, but I do know there were bunk-bed rooms, too.

After the showing for that one, I was able to get a showing and eventual application acceptance for some tiny studios at a nearby converted hotel - no kitchen, but totally private bed and bath for only $100 or so more per month than what the coliving space offered. So far so good - not my ideal living space by any means (I miss having an actual kitchen), but it's a short-term lease, so it gives me time to find something better.


This requires more upvotes. I can't believe so many people in this thread are agreeing with the view that is painted in this article as the majority.

I went to SF without money for a bootcamp, I did not experience this. The author seems to just have done it without preparing or thinking much.

First, if you are joining a bootcamp, there are other people in your cohort with whom you can find support, roommates, etc (that's what I did).

2nd, even if you end up in such a bad situation, you KNOW it's for only 12 weeks. And very intense 12 weeks anyway, so really, all you need your room for is sleeping.

3rd, you socialise with other students and teachers in that bootcamp. Can't you see that most of them are NOT like the nerdy roommates he describes?

4th I have a few friends who work at Pinterest... yes _that_ Pinterest. They can afford their own place in SF, thank you.

5th, the OP wanted to do a 12weeks bootcamp to then work remotely and be a ski bum? That's nice, but he obviously didn't really research what a bootcamp really offers. I've done a bootcamp - I'm now working for myself, but that's 5 years later. I would have NOT been able to work remotely my first year, I needed way too much mentoring and help to continue learning. Bootcamps don't promise to make your a senior engineer in 12 weeks, they promise to teach you how to learn, so can get a cheap entry level job and _continue_ learning on the job, with _mentoring_.

Sorry this sounds like a rant, but I've seen too many people giving a bad image of what bootcamps have to offer. I've had a great experience doing mine and this is true for most people I know who did one too. It just has to be taken how it is.


>I would have NOT been able to work remotely my first year, I needed way too much mentoring and help to continue learning.

I work mostly remote these days--in tech but not a developer at a company with a lot of people who are remote to greater or lesser degrees.

I can't imagine having started out that way though. Communications mechanisms and so forth were different at the time but I can't imagine starting out without physical proximity to co-workers.


> Communications mechanisms and so forth were different at the time but I can't imagine starting out without physical proximity to co-workers.

I started programming without co-workers, or instruction, or related experience. I did get a lot of use out of IRC for a while, but I don't really see what difference having someone physically proximate might have made.


Agree with you. I work in bay area...normal hours 40-50 per week. May be avg pay but way higher quality life.


What kind of software do you work on?


This is of course in no way representative. If you are a software developer in SF you get very quickly to $140k+. That guy in the closet was probably stashing way North of $60k annually, not counting equity. Do this for 7-10 years and you can retire silver else and are probably in your early 30s. If you work at FAANG you can easily take home way North of $200k. No reason to rent a illegal closet at that point unless you want to be super prudent.

As for the author's situation. There are not camps in other cities. He could have attended one elsewhere and then relocate if he wanted. It's also only 3 months. You'll survive. I rented a tiny room between kitchen and living room that saw lots of threw traffic in a shitty old house in Munich when I was a student so that I could do a internship at big Corp. It was less than ideal, but when you are young you can live shitty for a while. It will make you appreciate what you have later.


>>That guy in the closet was probably stashing way North of $60k annually, not counting equity. Do this for 7-10 years and you can retire silver else and are probably in your early 30s.

Retire with $750k (assuming stock market gains over that 10 years)? Man, I don’t know many people who can do that, at least not in the US.

Don’t get me wrong, it gets you out of the “work or starve” level, but it’s also not exactly “I don’t have to work a day the rest of my life” money.


...and now you're a 30-year-old rich guy with no mates who knew nothing of his 20s. No thanks.


There's mountains of broke 30-year olds with no mates who did nothing in their 20s.

We try to maintain a false dichotomy where the alternative to working extremely hard is partying, travelling the world, and of course tons of sex.

Most people don't do either.


Even when partying, travel, and sex figure highly in one's alternative lifestyle, you're not necessarily getting anything meaningful done with your life, and probably putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage economically. And you're still either working to maintain that lifestyle, or it is your job, and less fun because of that.

It's not necessarily a false dichotomy, but there ain't no such thing as a free lunch: there are opportunity costs to both paths. If you're dedicated, you can work out a way to fill your hours with travel and hedonism: and then one day you wake up and you're 40, you have no close friends or career prospects, and a worn-out liver.


I don’t think it’s a forced dichotomy when I contrast literally living in a cupboard and coding for 16 hours a day with having any sort of other existence during potentially the most energetic decade of your life.


If you're not going to do something awesome why not work hard?


I don’t think you wanted two “not”s in that comment (or else I don’t understand; please expound).


If you're not going to do something awesome why not work hard?

Broken down:

If you aren't going to do something awesome (like travel a lot), [then] why not work hard [instead]?


Ah thank you. I was stuck on a tight linkage between awesomeness and work:

If you're going to do something awesome, why not work hard [to achieve great things]?

or

If you're not going to something awesome, why work hard [because what's the point if it's not awesome]?


Well, if you hate paid work with passion (as many people do), gaining freedom and starting your life at 30 still sounds pretty good.


I don't think living like that is a conscious decision though. It's probably more likely for someone like the closet-guy that he's an outsider anyway and at some point along the way just thought to himself "fuck it, I might just make the most out of it now" and hope for better times in the future.

When it comes to living life I'd rather go with 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.' And I say this as someone who's worked hard in their 20s to let go of nerdy and awkward behaviour to be able to more fully enjoy my life NOW.


It isn't that bad honestly.


You can totally do that with a small house and a nice piece of land. Doubly so if you have a significant other to help even with a low income.


This part struck me as so sad:

> Programming for me was never supposed to be more than a means to an end

Programming is one of my favorite things to do and I do it even when my job is something else. Why do it if you don't like it? No wonder it seemed hopeless.


>Why do it if you don't like it?

Uhh, because it pays well, has good job security and benefits, doesn't require multiple degrees, is respected socially, isn't physically intensive, etc. etc.

Most all of my non-programmer friends don't really like their jobs all that much, so if you're not passionate about anything else, my question is why not go into software development?


Then go write back end code for Allstate. (I don't mean any insult to Allstate nor their staff; simply that it'll be a reliable, well paying 9-5).

The things the author complains about (low pay, long hours, uncertain future) are positive things for me, which is why I chose the path I did. It usually includes working with really interesting people.

I'm glad he abandoned it as it sounds like he would not enjoy it. There's no evidence from his article that, say, the Pinterest fellow or the people who'd come home and open their laptops are actually unhappy, except the author himself and the "mid-30s" person in the bunk above him.


“Low pay long hours uncertain future are positives for me”

I think you mean you’ll accept them to work somewhere you want to work, if the exact same job came up but with higher pay, a guarantee that you’d only work 35hrs a week and a clear future you’d prefer the low paying hard hrs job?

I work in a none programming job in an unrelated industry and I find start up culture really weird, you have seemingly smart people willing to sacrifice their lives to build something like Pinterest (no disrespect to Pinterest but it is what it is, a social network, not putting men on the moon)... your years 20-30 should be be some of your best years, don’t waste them living in a closet.


The point is the exact same job won't come up with higher pay and shorter hours; the jobs I like and have been doing for 30 hours really do involve passion+ and a huge lever arm. Crazy, sure, but I've been doing it for 30 years.

> I find start up culture really weird, you have seemingly smart people willing to sacrifice their lives to build something like Pinterest (no disrespect to Pinterest but it is what it is, a social network, not putting men on the moon)... your years 20-30 should be be some of your best years, don’t waste them living in a closet.

I also find it weird -- building Pinterest doesn't seem interesting, and these days (last 15 years) most of the startups are just retail shops that happen to be online. Yawn. The companies I've enjoyed starting and working for have been deeply tech oriented and actually have tried to, or managed to, have significant visible, technical effect on the world. But really, working at Apple in the late 70s/early 80s++ would have been fun, crazy, long hours, huge esprit de corps, and yes, shared housing. But don't you think it would have been worth it?

The dot com boom brought all sorts of carpetbaggers who merely wanted the money, and they changed things for the worse. Though most of them ended up in SF (used to be you lived in SF and worked in Silicon Valley, so the morning traffic jam was leaving the city, not entering it). Though we do have plenty of douchebags down here, the great thing is the SF is like a douchebag magnet. It's paved over most of the craziness of SF replacing it with blandness, but at least it acts as a honeypot for the benefit of the rest of us. This poor kid is simply one of the victims.

+ the real kind, not the "let's make a corporate mission" kind. When you actually want to live in the world where your product is ubiquitous and you only work with people who like their jobs. Crazy to work with people who don't like their jobs, and no amount of money would make that kind of life (working with people who don't like what they do) worth living for me.

++ this example is well before my time; I just picked it because everybody would know it


I don't know the author, but it sounds like he's coming from a non traditional background trying to break into the tech industry. The advice I've often seen given to these people is to move to the city and find a reputable boot camp.

Now, this was probably good advice 6 or 8 years ago. But rising rent costs, an overabundance of coding boot camps, and a relatively lower supply of jobs willing to employ boot camp grads has made that advice much more questionable.

I'm glad he abandoned that housing nonsense, but even in SF there are sane tech jobs that only expect 40 hours out of you per week.


Allstate isn't a government jobs program, and they have hiring requirements too.


It's just synecdoche.


A lot of people these days think like this. It means that software developers tend to be money oriented these days and it often affects code quality in a negative way.

Producing bad code is more lucrative for the developer than producing good code.


Almost all programmers I know are not passionate about their jobs. It's a job, not their life. Yet they write good code and deliver on schedule. Outside of the HN filter bubble this is perfectly normal. Insinuating that people intentionally write bad code for monetary reasons is rude imho.

It's like this for the vast majority of jobs, inside and outside of tech. People do them because they have to pay their bills and come home to their family and their hobbies.


I don't think I've met anyone that's passionate about their job. About programming? Sure! But it's really, really difficult to be passionate about a specific job unless it's your own company.


Hi, I'm one of those people. Been in game development 11 years, now a lead developer for a project that I would buy and play as a gamer, doing exactly what I was dreaming of doing when I was around 7 years old. It's very grueling emotionally and takes a great toll, but I have no other big goals in life right now other than to do this right.


Hi! I'm graduating college soon. My favorite hobby is engine development, and I'd love to try out the field -- may I ask how you broke into the industry?


Some of my close friends work in game development and love it. But I will warn you also that for the majority of people it's not a great industry to work in: hyper-hierarchical, personally demanding, with many many hostile insecure folks. Which I find super weird because some of the nicest folks I know work in...game development!

I think what I mean to say is: if you get into it and it sucks, don't be surprised. But instead of being discouraged jump to somewhere else in the industry. You may be able to find your happy place full of nice people and fun projects (but still hard work!). And if you never do find that place and eventually move on to something else, don't take it as a personal failure.


> I don't think I've met anyone that's passionate about their job.

How sad! I know not every job excites passion but really, nobody?


You can take pride in doing good work and you can take pride in the outcomes of your work even if you're not passionate about the work for its own sake and even if you wouldn’t be interested in the work without being paid for it.


There are people who loved programming and then made it a job, and there are people who got into programming because its widely considered to be a good career. Its easy to tell who has a passion for it and who doesn't. Both types have their strengths and weaknesses.


Its easy to tell who has a passion for it and who doesn't.

I've never met anyone with a passion for programming, but I've met a lot of people who misuse the word passion.


You must have worked at the wrong sort of company then - they do exist


I think you mean enthusiastic, curious, focused, or interested. Not passionate.


Can you explain why you don’t think a SWE can be passionate about coding? I don’t think I understand your point.


Not the parent but "passionate" can come across as code for things like all-consuming interest that I will do morning, noon, night, and weekends. It's just one of those BS words used in phrases like "We only want team members with a passion for their work" that turns a lot of people off and makes them suspect that what they really want are team members who will put in 80-hour weeks.


Read the definition of passionate. People mean enthusiastic and misuse passionate. I have no idea why, they do it, other than as a completely arbitrary way to discount others whenever they want.


Well one of the DBA's I worked with at BT made his own sensory deprivation tank and used to meditate on problems.

They where also renowned for saving a huge sum of money for the company when a quarterly CSS run barfed badly - CSS was the BT billing system and the worlds largest IBM system at the time.


That's not passion. That's a reasonable, experimental approach to problem solving.


Posts like these really continue drive home the message of "Silicon Valley is just a shell of what it used to be. Only go there for the sake of relocation or with a job offer in hand." There's nothing left for the dreamers or hopefuls in SV who have nothing to run on but just that--hopes and dreams. It just makes so much more sense to take a pay cut and swing for the fences in Atlanta, Houston, Austin, or Phoenix. Hell, I'll still throw in Boston and Seattle because they're still THAT much cheaper than anywhere in SV.


Austin is a great place to do this type of homerun attempt without experience. There are some nice start up jobs there, and the costs are way lower. I went from Austin - > sf and while I'm still in the career-building phase here in sf, it's not so desperate that I am living in a closet. So I was lucky that I came from Austin first with some experience already. But this is a really bad city to build something out of nothing. The costs are stupid, even when you see a rent like "only $1,200 a month!" it's likely that the deposit is ridiculous too. The transportation is great, but it depends on where you are in the city. I luckily get on the bus at the start of its route so I always get a seat, but if I was a few blocks down when the bus was already packed like sardines, I'd hate it.

Train is the same. You have to go out so far to be comfortable that your commute goes into the hours mark. SV is just insane for someone that doesn't already have an established career. I know I would have burned out already if I didn't have the experience from Austin already.


Phoenix is a good option if you don't mind the summers. The salaries are very good for the cost of living (salaries seem to be increased because of the proximity to California, I even somewhat frequently see startup jobs in SV with lower salaries than an equivalent position in PHX with some negotiation). There is a good mix of startups, mid-sized companies, and juggernauts like Amazon, Amex, PayPal, GM, etc.

Importantly in my opinion, you can buy a nice house on middle class income in Phoenix still, or rent for very cheap, and the traffic is pretty good. You'll be car dependent in most cases but it is RADICALLY cheaper than Silicon Valley.


Boston isn't really cheaper than The Bay. Traffic is terrible, so commuting by car long distances is out, and living near your job is often just as expensive as The Bay.


Can't really agree with that. There's still quite a few sanely priced neighborhoods with good transit access, and without huge crime issues. (Ex: Malden)


looking at what's available for under 800k in malden, and I don't really like the idea of living in a former retirement home.


The weather in Atlanta, Houston, Austin, and Phoenix is brutally hot and/or humid and shows no sign of getting a cooler average.

It's difficult to do stuff outside when it's that hot, especially as you get older.


(True also for Los Angeles, though at least that has the Pacific Ocean)

This is the (not so?) subtle quality-of-life aspect that people seem to forget when mentioning other cities as alternatives.

The Bay Area isn't popular/expensive solely due to network effects. Climate and geography (nearness to ocean, mountains) make it comparitively more appealing than the alternatives, for a variety of ages and lifestyles.


Austin is way nicer than Houston or Phoenix, not sure about Atlanta. Acutally Austin/San Antonio pretty much has the nicest weather in texas. I'm from fort worth and fort worth gets both hotter and colder than austin - climate wise it's the california of texas (austin also has comfortable levels of humidity unlike houston).


I came up the same way as the author of this article. If you don’t go to Stanford or otherwise earn yourself a CS degree, you’ve got to rightly, and almost by definition, build experience and connections from the barest of circumstances.

Nobody said a nice, well-paid coder job, let alone a successful startup and early position there, would be easy.

Besides, he misses the point. There are brilliant men and women in the SF Bay, doing magical things. Maybe they spent time on the Sisyphean path he and I did, maybe not.

But don’t go bashing everyone here because you chose the riskiest route and then lived it. He’s right that this place remains a beacon of hope and opportunity all over the world.

That’s a good thing dammit


I got out when this kind of situation became pervasive in SF. The old enthusiasm and love for tech were ground out into this kind of boring dystopia that resides there now. Its immensely sad, SF used to be such a vibrant and energetic place.


I call bushit on this story. This article is greatly exaggerated to grab your attention.

$1.4k for a closet in an Airbnb with 13 people, where you don't get a key and have to sneak in? Heh.

I have found a large room in a newer complex through a company pairing roommates in just a few days. It was $1800. Heck, you could pay $1k for a room in Berkely or Oakland and commute in by Bart.


I agree. Seems like he didn’t research things well and basically got scammed. There’s no way 1200/month to live in a 13 person 2 bedroom is anything but the most expensive roommate:cost ratio that he could’ve found.


I too call it bullshit.

12 or 13 "hackers" and noone thought to make a copy of the door key?

Come on ...


That is why he is at the bootcamp in the first place...


Lol, your situation doesn't sound a whole lot better. I assume for $400 more he could have graduated to a full sized room.


1/2 roommates and private bath vs a dozen roommates and a closet...and we're talking about staying in SF here.

If I wanted to save money, I'd accept a half hour commute and get a room near a Bart station for half the cost.

This article is a total lie, unless these people are really bottom of the barrel idiots.


Ok fair enough. I'm in the bay area too and I think you're being very optimistic/unrealistic re half the cost, near a Bart station with only a half hour commute (assuming you work in SF).


There are $1k rooms in Berkeley?



Yeah you can find singles for 1k, just make sure you get housemates to share the cost of living space and kitchen.


Yah, this makes no sense. You can get a private room in a house in Menlo Park for $1500-1800. Probably similar or cheaper in SF.


are you kidding me? it’s written as if it took place over years and decades. “the longer i stayed in the hostel, the more my life slipped away”.

it was weeks. i wouldn’t be surprised if the guy living in the closet was the owner of the unit. (or lessee)

the author thinks he’s going to graduate from boot camp and “make it”? please.

this article and the fact of its (self) publication tells us a lot about the author, and almost nothing about startup life. if you understand that, it is interesting in its own way.


While one suspects that many of these coding bootcamp stories don't have happy endings, I'm not sure there's anything particularly extraordinary about enduring far less than ideal living conditions for some closed-ended period. Out of school I spent a fair bit of time in shipyards and on offshore drilling rigs which had minimal dorm-style accommodations. Which was fine at the time but certainly not something I would have wanted to do indefinitely.


Yep, spotted the same thing. Just a few weeks, not years. Meh. A few weeks is nothing. You need years and decades to master something.


It's a weird story for me and I have absolutely no understanding for it. (no, I don't mean tolerance) I'm not from the US and am far from any startup experience, but I am a young programmer myself, without either good budget nor education.

Programming is the love my life but I would never bear this situation at any cost for it.

He states himself that programming was just "means to an end" for him. So why even bother? I just can't comprehend? Sorry for being ignorant or something ... I'd really like to understand


>He states himself that programming was just "means to an end" for him. So why even bother?

Because you gotta pay the bills somehow. This is something you only ever hear from people in our profession and I think it sometimes leads to self-exploitation.

Nobody would ever say "He states himself that driving the garbage truck was just "means to an end" for him. So why even bother?"


But, hopefully, and rarely nobody has to live in that conditions to drive a garbage truck.

There is so many stuff out there he he could've paid the bills with, why did it had to be programming in this kind of experience?


Programming had much better pay and benefits than most jobs. There is plenty of people who work multiple jobs and still are in awful living conditions. You should check out the book "nickel and dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich

Also keep in mind that the author of the article is going to a boot camp. He is not getting paid, but paying. Once he is done he will likely earn ~$100k and can move into better conditions. It's very unfortunate that the author never was able to talk to the people he lived with who already had a job and find out why they still live there. Maybe they were just saving a ton of money. I knew someone who was earning a good tech salary, but chose to commute every day from Dublin for hours. That guy chose to safe the money and bought a gold coin every month.


Nothing wrong with driving a garbage truck. It pays well, you know when you will go home, you get to be outside, you get some exercise in. Shit, most of it is automated now. At least where I live they never really have to get out of the truck. There is a arm that grabs the bucket and puts it in the truck.

It is kinda like being a bus driver but dealing with less filth.


Because it's something he had aptitude for. That's why I continue to me a programmer. People pay me for it and I'm reasonably good at it so why would I change careers? I started as an amateur but now that I'm a professional I'm not doing it for love anymore.


Actually it is not limited to our profession.

I have relatives in completely different (non-tech) jobs that would say of working a job just to pay the bills "what kind of way is that to live?". In fact they have said that of other family members from the previous generation, who stuck it out in a job they didn't particularly like so they could take care of their families.

A lot of people don't seem to value the personal sacrifice of others, even when that sacrifice is for a worthy cause (and taking care of your family most definitely is a worthy cause).

Sure, if you have a chance to get paid at least a sufficent amount of money to do something you like, or even love (if possible), then take it. But you shouldn't look down on others who choose to put up with a lot in order to provide for others. It's a noble thing to do, and it should be honored, not scoffed at.


I think this article represents a small segment of people that can’t manage their finances and/or strive for better living conditions .

Even at with the base rate of $100k/year - which is cheap, you can rent a beautiful $5k/m apartment and split it with a friend. Heck, you can even cook and eat organic only. Use Uber to move around. Even then, at “maximum living conditions” you should be able to save north of $50k/y. There’s countless beautiful Airbnbs at the same price in case you can only rent short-term. Also, you either choose a corporate job or something you love. You can’t work 15h/day on something you don’t love.

All in all, this article it’s halfway BS, halfway poor management of one’s own living conditions and financials


This does not add up. At 100k pa in San Francisco you would get something like 67k after tax, minus 30k for rent, minus (let’s be generous) 15k for other expenses leaves 22k, not “north of 50k”


Yeah, it is always deeply ironic when someone complains about people who can’t manage their finances well, then asserts that it is possible to save north of $50k with a salary of $100k in SF.


I considered that amount to be net income. Obviously.


I considered that amount to be net income. Obviously.


Sounds like a New York tenement circa 1900 except at least those were cheap.


I will be trying remote working soon, this whole culture of co-location is the reason you have SF, London, NY etc.

I moved away from London because its economically and socially tough.

With a remote job I will be able to make a London salary but live wherever I like, enjoy the outdoors and live life how I see fit.

SF, Madrid, Berlin, NY are sparkly places where a lot of people (bar the lucky few) end up trapped.


Have you lined this up already? Do you have examples of places paying London salaries to remote employees?


London salaries are surprisingly low to this US-based employer with employees in a handful of cities around the world.

I was expecting “NYC salaries” and instead found more like “Atlanta salaries” which I can’t figure out how the economics works for London-based employees.

Given that, lots of US employers with remote work available will be able to hit London salary level I think.


We are considered "greasy" engineers second class professionals London is well know as a place to get good engineers who will work cheaply.

Though London has far better public transport so living 60 miles away and commuting by train isn't to bad.


London is an amazing city.

I don't think there is much more to it than that. People just enjoy living there even if it doesn't make as much sense economically.


I disagree.

The pollution, increase in knife and gang crime, work yourself to death culture and overcrowding due to immigration.

This makes London not feasible for the long term. If you look at statistics of immigration / emigration from London by age. Anyone below 30 is net migration, whilst above 30 its the opposite.


Ok, well you are in the minority of people who don't think London is an amazing city then. Not really sure what your point is. It's still a place people want to live, even if quality of life is lower than other places. It's just that desirable in many people's minds.


People say the exact same things about the bay area.


>which I can’t figure out how the economics works for London-based employees.

They don't. Much like SF it appeals to people though so they flock to it anyway


> I can’t figure out how the economics works for London-based employees.

Well, they don't have the privilege of being able to work in the US, so basically it is what it is.


You are correct, a lot of US companies are setting up shop in the UK, some examples are JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley in Glasgow.

Its a happy medium from going full outsource to Asia


Its not concrete yet but I've been searching for about 4 months now for a suitable remote job.

The main hurdles have been that many remote jobs in the US are restricted to US only.

Other things have been tech stacks; I am a Java/Go/C++ with SQL person, whilst most remote companies use Ruby/Python/Node.js with NoSQL.

Check wfh.io , remoteok.io


a lot of companies pay salaries agnostic to where you are. Or do very little adjustment. You can look at buffer's new pay system (it's all open). A lot of other remote company do the same or something pretty similar.


Google doesn't - why would they pay the same for a physically present vs a remote.


Google is one example. And AFAIK they don't support remote work. So they have offices in multiple countries, and usually pay a salary related to the local market.

Most big companies with offices around the world adjust their salaries to local market because it is yet another way to optimise, and with a physical location, it doesn't make sense not to level. It's also how they budgeted the office to decide if it's worth having or not. So salaries in most locales will be way closer to the market. I moved myself from SF to Amsterdam (staying with the same employer) and my salary was cut by roughly 40% for this reason.

For a remote company, the approach to hiring might be a little different. They need a new engineer, they budget the new engineer, not knowing where the engineer will be located, so even if the engineer is located somewhere cheaper, lowering the salary won't be too much of a deal. That's usually what you see. For example, buffer will pay 100% for SF and 85% (I think) for a city like Amsterdam. That different is much lower than what you'd get at Google, etc.


Well, Google tends not to favor remote. However, at least within a given country, a lot of companies who support having remote employees don't vary salaries a lot based on where you live. Of course, many things go into how much someone is paid and competition with local companies may be one of those things. But most companies with remote workers aren't going to suddenly give you a big raise if you move from Akron to San Francisco.


Why do you think "co-location" is bad? its proven to be the best way to work.


Well after 6 years of co-location, im willing to try something else.


OK that's your opinion but do you have any evidence? Steve McConnell certainly comes down on the side of teams collocated with the customer.

And certainly my experience winter of 94 with another developer using DSDM (Agile) an collocated with the customer in Scotland delivering in a month what another remote team quotes 2 years for makes me agree with his thesis.


Seems crazy to live like that for $1200/month when you could find a few roommates and get 4 people in a 2 bedroom for about the same. Still tight, but it beats 12 people in a 2 bedroom for sure!


Folks doing bootcamps often are doing it on a shoestring budget. They can't scrape together significant deposits and proof of income needed to rent a more legit place.


And a bootcamper might need a place for 14 weeks. Hard to get a lease for that length of time.

Though I don't know why people need to live in an expensive city for a bootcamp.


I imagine the best boot camps are in tech hubs, which are usually expensive cities to live in.


Probably worth mentioning that this article is from 2016, but I'm sure not much has changed.

In fact, this article may have been inspired by a much longer piece from the previous year (1) which focuses on the kinds of dropout teens that Peter Thiel would later come to encourage to head west. Fascinating read.

(1) https://stories.californiasunday.com/2015-06-07/real-teenage...


> "Hackathons are technological Woodstock"

This sentence embodies what repulses me about current Silicon Valley culture: The self-satisfied claim to San Francisco 60's heritage, only, you know, with peace and love being replaced by greed and egotism.


Unrelated, but my first thought process was a video I've seen of a semi-homeless guy living in an A/C storage locker. He had to sneak in everynight and do some tech macgyver solutions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPVCTLPNUzo&t=0s&list=LLI462...


Is this fairly common in the valley?


...I don't think so? Or at least, it's totally alien to me as someone who's spent ~6 years in SF tech.

1,200 $/mo is more than enough to get a room to yourself in the nice neighborhoods; admittedly, you'll need to put in the time on craigslist to find sublets, "interview" with potential roommates, etc. I can see if you're desperate to find a place in a hurry, an airBnB like this might make sense for a month, but more than that seems insane.

Getting scammed by false promises of equity riches is definitely a thing that happens to people, but it's far from the norm. Again, take a job like that if you need something right away, but spend your time hunting for something better, because the vast majority of programming jobs in SF are nothing like this.


> 1,200 $/mo is more than enough to get a room to yourself in the nice neighborhoods

One of the difficulties potential renters can run into, especially ones from out of town, is that no matter how nice the neighborhood is from a residential standpoint, it might be much less nice from a commuting standpoint (be it work or the coding bootcamp).

Whenever I try it, I find public transit within SF to be remarkably time-consuming, even to travel short distances. That means living outside the city can be both cheaper and result in a shorter (time, not distance) commute, which might seem counter-intuitive.


I know this isn't for everyone, but I'm just curious - what about cycling? Are the distances large or is it simply a congestion or street layout issue for driving and public transit?


SF is also famous for its hills, especially the steepness of some, which creates an additional barrier to cycling beyond the usual "not for everyone".


It is not unusual.

Just to be clear, typically you will never own a home and you will be lucky to have an apartment to yourself. And you will likely be unemployable after 35 or 40 so you better get that mortgage quick and it better not be 30 years.

This site obviously has a survivor bias toward success stories. But of the 7 software people I know who are still in the bay area, only 1 still has work. The others live of the considerable income from renting their packed homes. In places like Alameda, Richmond, Oakland and Concord even. So the ratio of packed renters to home homeowners is obviously much higher than 1:1

And I think we can safely assume the housing cost to wage ratio will be even higher next.


I hear a lot of age discrimination/unemployable after 40 stories, but haven’t seen it in the wild.

I do see terrible coders who haven’t learned anything in 20 years and they have a tough go, but good coders in their 40s are readily employed from what I see. (Over 45 here.)


I don't think so; it seems more of a San Francisco thing. If nothing else, it's more shared "house"ing than "apartment"ing.

The hours are long down here though too. But IMHO the companies are more interesting.


There is no way this is common. I don't know anyone who knows anyone who lives in this situation.


They have them in Seattle as well. They come up when looking for a place or Airbnb.


Based on the description I’m 99% sure I live in the apartment complex described in the article. I can confirm there are a few illegal Airbnbs operating here. The complex has even been trying to combat it by putting out a program where that’s ok as long as you follow certain rules. The rent here is nuts, but if 14 people are living in a 2 bedroom apartment here then the operator has a very profitable scam going.

I mean, the real problem is that it's impossible to break into SF if you don't already know a lot or make a lot. As long as a 1br costs $2,000 or more you'll find operations like this.


I would rather try to civilize some other area than put up with that.


If you are paying 1200 per month to be in soma with 12 other people that is batshit crazy. And someone is making batshit crazy money off you.

There are plenty of places you could get with a few friends for less even in soma. After the first week I would've been talking with others in there about moving out together. Seriously you work at mother f'ing Pinterest and you are ok living like this?


Nice write-up. Honestly speaking I'm pretty glad the system works that way. It puts a good filter on people who want to enter the tech without the real interest in tech. Money is just one part of scheme. Another part is value. If you want get a lot of money but not ready to bring a whole lot of value then the writing is on the wall.


Is this monthly rent what is expected or is this an outlier case?


From multiple recent cursory craigslist searches, it seems you can find a bedroom of your own in a shared apartment/house for $1200, but you would share a bathroom.

For around $2000, you would share an apartment, but have your own bedroom and your own bathroom.

For $3000 to $4000, you can have your own space and bathroom, but that would unlikely be more than 500sqft.

All seem to want a security deposit equivalent to one month's rent.


> All seem to want a security deposit equivalent to one month's rent.

Also, the California statutory limit on deposits is two months of rent, so, with a law-abiding landlord, that's an upper bound.


Thanks. Wow the prices really increase at a steep rate!


The only time you should be working 80 hour weeks is to build your own business, not someone else's.

That brings me to the second point, the only time you should be working is to build your own business, not someone else's.

A lot of people fail at both.


Agree on first, disagree on second. There’s a lot of reasons to work a well paying corporate job.

But here-here on the first point: never take stock at startups, kids. It’s never gonna work out well. Wanna work at a startup? Make one.


Hmm, strange way to live...


is REMOTE a strong word ?


[flagged]


Please don't post like this. We want to learn something!

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