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Tell HN: I used to be homeless and want to work as a software developer
359 points by jackm2019 26 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 129 comments
I have a degree in the hard sciences and went through a period of homelessness during which I started teaching myself how to program.

I have been on the hunt for developer positions in the United Kingdom without any luck. I am also open to developer positions else where in Europe.

I am reaching out to the great community here in hopes that there are hiring managers/employees who can give me an opportunity at interviews and also for any advice that may help get a foot into the door.

Although I welcome opportunities all over the UK and Europe, I am located in a rainy city in northen England so I have a preference towards any opportunities or leads in my area.

Thank you for being a humanitarian and enjoy your holidays!

I was homeless too, a rough sleeper throughout the UK for 3 winters. This was a long time ago, and I've been an engineer and now am a manager. I may not have a role (in London) that is shaped for you but I'm happy to look at your CV, see what roles we have that may fit you, and advise on what people look for in a CV.

My email is in my profile.

I was also homeless a while back, but I was able to pick myself back up due to the existing support systems for the homeless, both public and private in the US. I eventually landed a job as a developer by the numbers ie I sent out tons of tailored CV’s and cover letters to virtually every job listing. Unlike you, I didn’t even have a degree back then. Just keep trying Jack. Luck favors the bold and persistent. Having a portfolio of projects also helps a lot

Also previously homeless, and got a job in software development through luck and good networks. I don't have anything at the moment, but wish you luck. It is possible, keep trying, don't give up.

Thank you. I'm happy to know things turned out well for someone who shared a similar experience. I have emailed you.

In my experience, in the absence of a CS degree you need a portfolio, though posting on HN may be a good shortcut.

While you're job hunting, if you haven't already, start building something moderately technical. You don't have to build anything that cures cancer, but if you can build a reasonably complex project consisting of at least two independent modules (say, a frontend and a backend) with a modern stack, you should have a reasonable time finding a job.

Tech is still the place where one may find lucrative work without a field specific degree, but the part that everyone leaves out is that you have to demonstrate above average talent in some other way first. In any case the practice and knowledge will likely be useful to you. Personally I spent some 5 years building a distributed client/server MMO in my spare time before I finally transitioned to tech and it's amazing to continue to see how much of what I practiced applies to professional development.

Note that my experience is with the U.S. job market so yours may differ.

Edit: additional advice is to leverage your past degree and target software development in the area, if it exists. Especially if it's a place where ML is still young. Programmers are a dime a dozen, but those who can understand and translate between code and applied science are hard to find and very much in demand, though generally at smaller outfits and especially startups. Further, a startup may be more willing to take a risk hiring you if you're ok with sacrificing some pay for a hot resume entry. Once you have solid professional coding experience job hopping is relatively easy, especially if you have hard science/math in your background. And the work will be substantially more interesting than pure coding, IMO.

With a bit of luck, you might also be able to angle in from some other position. I originally worked in customer support, found opportunities for automation, built a couple small tools on my own time, convinced management I was more efficient automating than doing support directly, and that snowballed. No engineering degree or prior portfolio to speak of. But I was also quite lucky and the company (and support department in particular) is constantly strapped for engineering talent.

This works well at game companies. They're almost always starving for tools. Schedules/management tend not to make time for them, but devs love tools and they make a huge difference.

Get in via QA or support, make some tools. You'll probably be able to transition to engineering.

I'd advise against seeking gaming positions instead of going for more 'boring' sectors. There's cut-throat competition for any position in gaming while you have to scour the earth for boring things like Axapta specialists (meaning someone with sysadmin background + a little practical experience), Sharepoint site admins and other gruntwork. Opposite of sexy but a (usually) well paying job with options for consulting work.

I'm lucky enough not to have had to go that route but if I ever find myself long-term unemployed, that's my plan-B.

I work in the area of online learning and am curious to learn more about these “plan-B” jobs. Is there a whole range of software development jobs that the education sector isn’t preparing graduates for? And which might be easier to apply to, for developers with more unusual backgrounds or trajectories? Where do you think are the biggest gaps / the biggest unmet demand?

Just a strange thought: Education will lag behind if its looking for waves of jobs. I think one can bet on a thing before it becomes the next newfangled hipster must have/employee not found error. Things might cowabunga if the instructor had the student hit the beach before the waves come? Maybe in 2020 there will be linux mobile devs sitting next to the ios and android devs? One could have anticipated that how many years ago?

There's no unmet demand. Nobody wants to work with boring tech unless given incentive. Sharepoint is kludgy once the site grows a bit. Almost anything else will be more elegant at it's job but the suits drank the koolaid so it has to suffer.

I should clarify what I mean. There is no unmet educational demand. Some tech things are decided not on merit but by PHBs. Still needs to be serviced.

What's the deal with Sharepoint? It's easy peasy and yet discussed as very lucrative.

Because Microsoft sells it as easy to admin and use, then people don’t know how to configure it to be productive. Eventually whatever they were doing won’t scale, and they have to ask a consultant to fix it.

Couple that with SharePoint not being great at its core competency (collaborative editing of MS office files, which ends in data being lost pretty much every time I’ve used it), and bingo, it isn’t usable for much of anything.

One specific place you can demonstrate your abilities and help the world out a bit is at Ruby for Good - you can jump in and build frontends and backends of web applications. The code is public and open on GitHub so you can show specific commits to prospective employers, and speak intelligently to having solved real-world business problems with code.

Come contribute to https://github.com/rubyforgood/voices-of-consent if you'd like!

> in the absence of a CS degree you need a portfolio

If you can demonstrate good programming skills I think most companies would still hire you even without past job experience (I assume that's what you mean by portfolio - if you mean Github projects then in my experience nobody really looks at those).

A CS degree is also irrelevant - pretty much all programming jobs in the UK just want any technical degree. In all the companies I've worked in most people did maths, physics, engineering or CS, but CS was still a minority.

If you can program well then the real difficulty will be getting your CV past HR since they probably will dismiss it based on lack of experience. I'm not sure how to solve that but asking here seems like a decent thing to do.

> if you mean Github projects then in my experience nobody really looks at those

This makes me so sad. As a hiring official I love reading through an applicants commits. It says so much about their personality, what they choose to say, when they choose to commit, their attention to detail when they think nobody is “really” looking.

It's a culture thing, I think.

I've spoken to recruiters who pretend I didn't say anything when I mention my GitHub account. I think if enough people don't have open source / pet projects, it seems hard for a non-tech to evaluate it.

Whereas a CTO / hiring tech lead would probably learn more about a person by viewing commits than the resumé.

It’s super easy to favour people who have a github profile with a bunch of projects in it, but that biases you towards a certain style of candidates — é.g. It’s definitely easier for single, childless candidates to devote their time to a side project than for somebody who has a family.

If they link their github profile to show, the commits you see are what they allowed you to see. So you’re not really seeing what they do when “nobody is looking”.

I help decide on hiring decisions (company in California) and I absolutely look for a Github account with genuine content in it. Of course, many good candidates who get hired don't have one, but if you do, and if it shows that you have some ability to write/discuss/maintain software independently, then that's a big plus.

What do you think of a github account that's full of unfinished projects and commits that are rushed and not necessarily made for general consumption?

If it indicates that the person enjoys writing software enough that they’re spending spare time doing that, then that’s positive.

Agreed. From time to time I've interviewed candidates for junior position and it's the first thing I look for.

I don’t know why you’ve been downvoted. I’ve observed pretty much every point you listed.

I agree. Every point he's listed is more or less accurate in my experience.

I'm based in the North East (Newcastle) and am happy to have a look at your CV or point you to opportunities I know about in the toon. I mention this as you said you're currently in the North.

As others have said, in lieu of a recent degree, you need a portfolio. Happy to help you understand how your previous experiences or projects might map to a portfolio - work with what you've got :) This doesn't necessarily have to be totally technical; "soft skills" are core too. Also, LinkedIn is the way to go for finding local work. Happy to critique your current profile too.

In the past I have helped several people, including international candidates, navigate the UK recruitment process to secure positions in this field and academia.


- When did you get your previous degree?

Depending on when this was, this could enable you to apply for graduate programmes.

Likewise, as someone mentioned below, leveraging your undergraduate knowledge to position yourself for a job at the intersection of software development and that domain might be a good option.

Newcastle is just a little bit north of where I am. I'm happy to send you my CV, do you have an email?

I got my previous degree in 2016 but I really don't want to do anything related to my previous degree unless it is in robotics/ autonomous systems because it is now mostly software driven unlike in the past.

I reckon you should give London a try as most tech jobs are in that area. Obviously there are some in other parts of the uk, but demand being so high in london there is a good chance you will find one there. Try cwjobs.co.uk and monster.co.uk. Good luck!

Thanks a lot! I appreciate your advice.

I agree that there are more jobs in London, and they can certainly be more prestigious, like Facebook, Google, or Monzo.

However, Newcastle is much cheaper so you'd be able to afford a generally better lifestyle that might make you feel more comfortable and happy. For example, a nicer apartment that you don't have to share, more cash to save for a rainy day, etc.

Indeed London is much more expensive. I left the city for that reason myself, but probably for a year or two career wise it might be great. Long term, I fully agree with you re nicer apartment and more cash.

Not sure why you're being downvoted. What you say is correct and a great idea.

I'd second that: work in a large company or a startup (if that interests you) in London for a couple of years to learn the ropes and build your career.

Then the world (or the North East) is your oyster. Or course, it's always difficult to move once you've settled down, even in London.

I thought Newcastle might be near you!

Of course. I'm Jay, and have updated my profile to include my email.

That's good to know and sounds like it was a good degree.

I work for a Newcastle company - currently hiring developers - who would be more than happy to give you a chance. Our engineering team has people with science backgrounds, engineering backgrounds and people who worked their way in from product support.

I strongly believe that if you are smart, driven and nice then your background and history is of little relevance w.r.t. whether you can succeed here.

Can't promise we'll give you a job, but I can promise we'll take any application seriously and give proper feedback if we don't make an offer.

Jobs live on http://hive.hr/careers or we can chat on here/offline.

Good luck.

I work for a Newcastle company too. Welcome to HN. :)

Where do you work now? That's surprisingly relevant to answering the actual question, because most of getting hired as a developer has nothing to do with being a good programmer, it mostly had to do with HR viewing you as hireable.

The only advice I can actually give you is: interview, interview, interview. Assume that no one will hire you and you'll fail all interviews. Don't even try to pass the interviews. Instead, view it as a way to extract information from the interviewer. Ask tons of questions. Ask about everything you can think of. If they mention something you don't know, ask them about it. You want to learn what the interviewer knows and how the interviewer thinks. Your ultimate goal should be to become a carbon copy of the interviewers. Coming from a place of homelessness and non-tech jobs, you may be rejected as a bad "cultural fit". But if you can transform yourself into a clone of the typical tech interviewer, they'll be more likely to accept you.

Edit: I taught myself Python which I used in a freelance project. I am currently learning Java, JavaScript, HTML, CSS and SQL. Out of all the languages I am learning, Java is my strongest. I also taught myself to use the command line (bash) on linux proficiently and have written Java command line programs that use algorthims for manipulating files and performing other command line tasks.

I taught myself to use AWS to back up data on S3 from the command line and learned how to use git for version control, in addition to github, bitlocker and gitlab in order of most to least familiar. I am also an avid user of vim.

I sincerely appreciate the overwhelming response to this post. I am proud to be part of this great community.

Not a manager myself, and I don't have any positions in my hands, but can give you some advice:

1. Register at LinkedIn, fill in your profile as much as you can (especially "skills" section) - it will start offering you matching opportunities. Also, you can find some recruiters there - they will be very happy to make you close the vacancies they're working on.

2. I believe UK also has some startup hubs, but I know only one in Oslo, Norway - and they have a page which lists all jobs in their member companies: https://jobs.startuplab.no/ - note that these are startups, so quite small companies, but I'm aware of at least one case when they helped relocating a non-EU citizen to Norway.

Don't lie, but do fill in your empty time with something that isn't "unemployed" or irrelevant.

Something such as running your own business is a good option.

> Don't lie, but do fill in your empty time with something that isn't "unemployed" or irrelevant.

what could you (or someone else :)) suggest for the CV, if there were some family problems which came with mental/health issues for the past year, where I didn't found time to work on a project or get it finished?

edit: especially for linkedin and similiar sites

I'm a hiring manager and here's my opinion:

* If it's less than a year, you don't need to explain it or justify it. Just leave it blank on the CV and in the interview, say something like, "...and then I took some time off to take care of a family member."

* If it's more than a year, you still don't need to explain it or justify it, but you should acknowledge it and explain what you've done to make sure you stay sharp. "...and then I took some time off to take care of a family member, but I don't want to get rusty so I've been [whatever]." Don't BS on that last part, good interviewers will delve in to it just like they would for a job. If you say you've been taking Pluralsight courses on ML, I'm going to ask what you learned.

* Seriously don't explain it or justify it. Even if it's totally reasonable, just give me one vague sentence and get back to the stuff that's relevant to the job interview.

Good luck!

big thanks!

Did you attend any events, watch anything related to the field, or read any articles related to it? That's bare minimum research right there.

Volunteer work is another good option.

Both at the time, because it keeps you active, and later, because it shows character.

I second the LinkedIn advice. As annoying as LinkedIn can be, when you are on the job hunt, it's actually very useful.

I do not any degree, but I do have things on my CV that lead to interviews and offers:

* community contributions - I do not find it special any more, but I learned that it is not the default: I have basically millions of people using text and code I created. Again, it's a side effect of the work, but it's also social proof, probably more so than a degree, since the results are tangible. Some people are immediately amazed by this.

* open source: as said above, have some kind of portfolio - it so easy today - in fact, if I weren't that busy right now, this would be the part I would focus on in my position - have well defined clear fun portfolio projects with tangible goals and a somewhat coherent story, maybe around current topics like devops, AR or ML (which are full of unsolved or tedious problems btw)

* be a great generalist: you need the first job or jobs to find some direction you want to go in; but for an entry it's great to be a generalist; me, you can throw frontend-fixes, search engines, ML data pipelines or web API design tasks; documentation or presentations at me - I'll work it out and help you win. Not sure if that helped, but I see people specializing in niches, and not really learning much beyond their focus field is a bit dis-encouraging

* attend meetups and talk to people; many meetups today are hosted by companies and you can have informal chats, which I find much more relaxing than interviews and whiteboard coding questions

* stand out - be in top 10% of kaggle or any other competitive programming site and I would bet jobs would hunt you, not the other way around

The other way to look at it:

Find work at a place, where other programmers won't go. Many orgs are desperate for a software literate IT guy, maybe you find some entry in such way.


The software development world today is totally different; you can go out and program something useful and get it into the hand of millions of people simpler than ever. It takes some courage to start and put things out there, polish and nourish them. Good luck!

Totes this. I got no degrees too fam but the way I approached it was to do side gigs in making websites for small businesses while making small github contributions.

Higher-paying gigs want some bit of track record and those small websites and github stuff are the lowest hanging fruits for me imo.

> be in top 10% of kaggle or any other competitive programming site and I would bet jobs would hunt you, not the other way around

I do wonder, is there an equivalent to Kaggle in other areas in software (not for data science)?

Topcoder, leetcode, SPOJ, Projecteuler, ...

Not many will care you were homeless in the context of a programming job. All that matters is that you can code and you can convince others you can code. This is both good and bad. One one hand no one cares about your particular story, just that you will be useful to them, but on the other hand this means in many cases people don't care whether you have a traditional education and/or experience. Work on a portfolio that proves you are good at what you say you are in your resume, and then the rest is being a good match as a person with the team.

All that really matters is that he has a degree and can fizbuz.

Please email me at alex@gatepay.co

Founder and former homeless here. Have a European/U.K. presence and would love to talk.

1. Open a github.com account

2. Use that as a base to build a public portfolio

3. There are many code golf based platform such as https://www.hackerrank.com/ - Get an account and practice. Others without account - https://projecteuler.net/

4. Also sites which may or may not be great at job hunting - https://hired.co.uk/, https://linkedin.com/

5. Go to meetups - find meetups in meetup.com or google mailing lists. Search for User Groups in your area. London is obviously the best place(sheer numbers) to do this in the U.K. but Edinburgh and other cities should have in some form or another. Universities. A lot of companies keep holding tech events in their offices - that is a good way to get a foot in the door.

6. Build something useful and demoable - search for things you have interest in.

7. Apply to early career/internship programs at companies

All the very best.

I'll second 1/2. This is something I did and it definitely helped me.

I work for a small Bristol (UK) based software consultancy, and we are currently looking to hire software engineers at all levels – drop me an email at charlie.anderson@unai.com and we'll go from there.

Hi Charlie, thanks for responding. I have sent an email to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

I got started 15 years ago without my degree via a small consultancy giving me a shot like this, best of luck.

It would be great if you could share what particular skill set you developed, and what areas of software development you’d like to work in.

Shoot us a note a jobs@epistemic.ai - we build an AI knowledge engine to map and navigate the biomedical knowledge. I’d like to connect.

I have added a comment below my post to include information on my skill set. I really like the algorithmic side of programming/problem sloving in software development so working in AI would have been an option but I heard there's a lot of gate keeping in AI so I hesitated looking for opportunities in that arena, hopefully that's hearsay so I have gone ahead and sent you an email. Thank you!

My girlfriend is unemployed in West Pennsylvania and is having trouble getting a minimum wage job in the area. She has her GED and a resume which contains a lot of art projects she's worked on. Are these irrelevant credits a turn off for employers? Is there anything else she can do? I'm more than happy to share the document.

What skills does she have and what sort of position is she looking for? The answer would depend a lot on what she's looking to do.

Has she worked on any "money" projects (as opposed to "art")? Employers, as a rule, don't care about art. They do care if you have a demonstrated track record of delivering stuff they can sell. Art and money need not be mutually exclusive, if she worked on art projects that were commercially successful, she might want to put the tangible, commercial success front and center, preferably with concrete numbers that can be attributed to her.

If you'd probably be interested in a startup in the AI / devops space, drop me a note: hackernews@smashmail.de

I was recently transitionally homeless for about 3-4 months. Over that period I slept on over 20 couches, floors, and beds. The closest I got to sleeping on the street were 2 times when I had no where to sleep after 4 pm and no one to reach out to. There was one other time when I got locked out of a sort of half way house. Anyways I went to an elite college and couldn’t afford to continue after both my parents went bankrupt and divorced, my mom had a mental breakdown and suffered psychosis while we ate from the food bank.

Long story short, your circumstance right now doesn’t define your future at all, you have to be relentless in your effort to get out of your position right now. I developed a portfolio of two websites and a highly complex mobile app that I launched with a full scale backend, it included redis , sockets , MySQL , and ELB AWS.

I’m not in a position to give a job but I can encourage you and be a reminder that it is possible. My advice is to never look back, be relentless in portfolio building and applying to jobs. These days I have a full time mobile development job, working on my second app, and have enough savings to pay to continue my school + my current company is encouraging me and helping me finish my degree.

Do let me know if u have any questions or anything specific you need advice on

Thank you, that's inspirational. I am currently learning Java and considering work in mobile development, ideally once I finish learning Java or do I need to spend additional time learning Kotlin as well? In other words is Java enough to work as a mobile developer? Also what's the best book or written MOOC to use and learn mobile development from start to finish?

That’s a great question, I’d say with the rise of Asia so many companies are targeting android and so Java engineers are arguably more in demand than swift engineers, I’ve heard a number of engineers say this and it’s consistent with my experience in the job market. So in my experience I’d say that java will be enough. As far as the best book focused on mobile I’m not exactly sure, because I learned through trial and error on my personal project and primarily through react native documentation - though I had a few years experience prior in python development. I’ve heard people recommend the book android development for dummies which is about 300 pages, but I’ve always believed the best way to learn to program is through trial and error on personal projects + by the end you’ll have something to show an employer, and over time your skills will get refined, especially working in a professional organization I’ve seen my skills increase exponentially

One thing I’d give guidance on is there’s no real “finish line” to learning something like Java. You’re on a journey from an apprentice to a master.

I somewhat routinely hire people to work on Java codebases that have 10+ years working in Python or C, or other alternative languages, and only a very small amount of professional experience in Java. Decent developers tend to be fairly adaptable and can ramp into a new language or new technologies. I’m looking for people who are passionate and skilled at their craft.

Some questions which might come up in entry-level interview:

What kind of things do you like to build? What are one or two things you’ve built and are proud about, how did you build them, why did those get you excited, what were the key challenges you had to solve? Given your educational background isn’t CS, what got you into writing software, why do you want to make a career of it? What do you see yourself doing in 5 years time, are you excited about backend / distributed systems, mobile, frontend development?

You likely want a LinkedIn profile and a GitHub account. Contributions to open source projects would be viewed incredibly positively.

Interviewing at some companies may involve writing code to solve a problem on a whiteboard or a provided laptop under time constraints, you can practice for that on sites like Leetcode.

I don’t have any U.K. roles which would suit you but I’m happy to spend an hour talking to you, doing a mock interview, whatever would help you. Email address is in my profile.

I'm in the US, but I'm sympathetic.

You'll probably have more luck if you're more specific about your capabilities. The first questions prospective employers are likely to have, on reading your post, are "How have you been teaching yourself to program?" and "What technologies have you been using, and what have you done with them?" If you're able to edit your post, you may want to include some information along those lines.

Thanks, I couldn't edit my post but I added a comment at the top just below my post, that includes the information you suggested.

Analyze the jobs you've applied to or would like to apply to, and build an interesting portfolio using those technologies. Ideally useful to yourself in some way, for motivation and that it solves a real rather than a contrived problem.

Continue developing your portfolio while you continue to job search.

Eventually your resume will rival your portfolio, but you gotta start somehow, and this is one how.

To add to the comments here, I highly recommend networking locally at meetups if you can - those have the best bang for the buck for first positions that I've seen for people.

Software developer here who’s also been through mental health issues and periods of homelessness in the past, the company I work for is aggressively hiring and already has offices in, I suspect, the same rainy northern city you speak of. Drop me an email at noone.youknow46@gmail.com and we’ll talk about a referral :)

I've never been homeless, but I do have a degree in physics/astronomy, and I've recently (less than two years ago) made the move to "software engineer." The reality is that although I had a great deal of experience programming as well as highly relevant problem solving skills, it was very difficult to get interviews for software engineer positions. As soon as I had one position, however, and could put the title on my CV, suddenly, senior level positions opened up for me (afterall, I did have the experience, just not formally as a "software engineer.").

I think the key is to use your cover letter to highlight the programming you have done and the problems you have solved as well as highlighting any other relevant skills. With a degree in science, you will have skills and a way of looking at problems that is different to a typical software developer.

It is probably also useful to be targeted in your search. I started by applying to software positions in research contexts, the sort of places I had previously worked in other roles. In other words, doing software in a physics context (with knowledge that a typical CS grad may not have). Or, if you can find a small company doing something that is very interesting to you, you may be able to talk your way into an interview. That sort of place needs talent, but doesn't have the cachet (and perhaps, the budget) to draw more traditional candidates, so, depending on who is doing the hiring, they may be more willing to take the risk on a non-traditional candidate.

What have worked for me is to use my friend network. Send an application to the same place one of your friends work, and ask them to become your champion. If you do not have any friends in software, prepare a CV and send it out to every emplyer you can find. You will need to contact hundres if not thousands, but when you do get an interview, do not mention you have applied anywhere else if you get asked you need to lie and say that you did not apply to anywhere else, unless you have got multiple offers. In the interview they will ask you how you can help them, and what they should hire you for. You need to reverse those questions in order to find out what they like you to do. What they need... Using any work sites like Linkedin, or Github is a waste of time. Something that will impress employees is if you are a public speaker, so make a talk and have someone record you, it doesn't matter if there is a audience or not.

Hiring in general and especially in software is FUBAR. It doesn't matter how good you are at doing the work, all that matters is your contact network and/or how good you are at the hiring process.

There's a bunch of larger companies in Manchester (ARM, IBM and more) but also a bunch of smaller startups; however without the experience it might be hard. You could try for a job as something like a software tester if any are going and see where you can get from there. Also, depending on which hard science your degree is in, you might try finding some companies with overlap.

Many good suggestions here, I will add a couple of slightly different suggestions.

While you look for work, may be you can find some casual freelance gigs from upwork.com . It takes a while to get good reputation on upwork, but once you do, finding gigs gets much easier and protects you if you ever lose your job. So worth doing this in my opinion. Tip on finding work at upwork - look for work that is physically closer to you and then apply for it. Geographical proximity often is a good trust indicator and hence helps in winning work. And be patient, it takes a some time to start getting steady supply of gigs.

There is also toptal.com and few other similar sites, you will need to pass their evaluation, but once you do, they can get you some contract positions where you can work remotely for a company. They also pay well and usually there is enough work to go around.

I wish you the best of luck in your job search.

Any advice for the getting started part? Currently working on my first Upwork contract, but I got it through a conversation on HN (I requested they pay me through Upwork to start building a reputation). I'm 0/6 for replies to my proposals I sent, each one directly addressing what they were asking for getting (moderately) specific about how I'd solve their problems. In one case what they wanted was so simple and interesting enough I just did the work up front and sent them a screenshot.

Edit: Here's an example of how I'm writing bids. Am I doing it wrong?


> About us:

> I manage social media accounts, specifically on Instagram, and I am a seeking a more efficient solution.

> What we're looking for:

> An experienced web developer to create a simple web application that displays whether or not a particular Instagram account is following you (the account) back without clicking on their profile. (See attachment) [this is an image that shows how they want the UI to display this to look]

They proposed $300, I responded to their posting by bidding only $100 with the following cover letter:

> I currently study Computer Science at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. I have built a variety of applications, including browser extensions that modify web-pages to add functionality, for my personal usage and for my friends.

> I am currently attempting to start working as a freelance web developer. Were you to hire me for this project you would be my first client. I understand that as a result you will naturally be hesitant to work with me, and I am therefore bidding below the market rate to account for the risk you are taking.

> Do you have any questions about the job description?

> My understanding is that you visit instagram.com using Google Chrome, and that you want a Chrome extension you can install on your computer that will add the text “follows you” next to the username of anyone that follows you. Is this correct?

> Unfortunately, Instagram has restricted its publicly-available API so that the list of people following you can no longer be queried. As a result, I will have to write a program that queries the undocumented internal API the Instagram applications use. Because it is only intended for internal usage Instagram developers may make changes to the API unexpectedly. Historically it has been relatively stable, but neither I nor anyone else can guarantee to you how long an application that uses Instagram’s internal API will work without needing updates. Is that acceptable to you?

> I have the experience necessary to solve every aspect of your task, if I have understood it correctly. I have made applications that query private, internal APIs, and I have made browser extensions that add to existing user interfaces.

Main suggestion - do not drastically underbid projects. It is usually a bad trust indicator. If you do not have confidence in your own abilities, how can I? Bidding 250 for a 300 project is okay, but 100 is too less.

I will also not mention the part about being a student. A it is irrelevant and makes me doubt your focus.

Have you verified buyers history? Have they spent money on the platform, substantial money?

Getting a foot in the door is definitely hard. Place I work at isn't hiring at the moment.

Have several suggestions.

1- Have you considered looking at freelance platforms like Upwork?

There is a bit of a game that needs to be played to get the first few projects.

- bid quickly (as soon as job posts come up) - underbid - keep trying.

It'll probably help you hone your skills and have specific projects to talk about during interviews.

I helped my wife step into this. Quite quickly, a few projects led to a nice part-time role with a US startup via Upwork. A while later, tried applying full time locally and the projects and work was easy to talk about during the interview.

2 - Have you considered going to local/slightly distant meetups via https://www.meetup.com/ or eventbrite? Networking in person makes it easier to push the CV through HR. And in some cases, there are HR folk attending the meetup to step in. I once attended DWPs Hackathon in Leeds (which turned out to be a recruitment event basically. so sign up to those perhaps?)

3 - I'd recommend having a LinkedIn profile. Saw some questions about how to put the homeless time gap in there. Don't have any suggestion. But I think having a profile would be better than not.

If you had a LinkedIn profile, I can share that easily. Have lots of recruitment people connected in my profile.

Connect here https://www.linkedin.com/in/zubairlk/

And there are some other people I wanted to share your profile. Perhaps I could try sharing the CV. But definitely easier as LinkedIn is super easy to parse. The format is the same for everyone. One glance is enough.

Add a little udacity/coursera online course icon and that is sufficient to push the profile through the door sometimes.

CVs require more investment to parse.

I am not in the position to offer you a job. However, I am also a self-taught engineer in the UK and I can offer you mentorship on developing yourself as an engineer, if you are interested. Feel free to reach out at alek@zvuk.net. Good luck!

I'm a software engineer based in Edinburgh and in my previous job I was responsible for hiring into my team. The city is becoming a strong tech hub and from my experience there are not enough engineers available on the market.

There are lots of software engineering jobs here, mostly JavaScript, other web dev, and machine learning (though, admittedly, fewer entry level positions).

You don't need a degree to get a job but you have to demonstrate skills and professionalism.

- Set up a GitHub profile and fill it with your coding exercises/pet projects. The more of your own code the better. Code style and commit messages matter. Show that you can push professional code. I always looked through GH profiles of potential candidates when available. - Set up a LinkedIn profile. This will allow headhunters to find (and spam) you. You may not have professional coding experience yet but you have a degree and have been learning programming for a while. This is an asset. Include information about programming languages - you need keywords. And link to your GitHub profile.

Edinburgh (and other cities) has lots of meetups. They are free and good for making new connections. And you may hear about open positions.

It's probably obvious, but so many people don't do it: when applying for a job, triple check your CV and all communication for typos. When reviewing job applications we looked for attention to detail and professional communication. A great communicator with a strong will to learn would often be a better fit than a more experienced person who couldn't communicate.

If there's a position/company you really want to work for, be persistent. Ask for feedback after unsuccessful applications. Some places won't send any, but it's always worth a try and it will help you improve.

It's ok to reapply to the same place.

Don't underestimate covering letters - they help you sell yourself and can be the difference between you and another candidate who didn't bother writing anything. Think about your strengths and point them out.

This is not an endorsement, but FYI, if you feel you need help improving your skills and making professional connections, there are coding schools available (e.g. in Scotland we have CodeClan).

We hire remote software engineers and provide the kit necessary do work. Have a look at our work culture here and drop us a CV, mention that Marco should have a look about it and the link to this post. We can upskill you on the job as we have done so successfully in the past at no cost for you.


First of all, thank you for sharing your story. As others have mentioned, having a portfolio goes a long way. Contributing to open-source projects is a great place to start; it gives you exposure to software being used in the real world and sometimes inspiration for your own projects too. Also check out AngelList (angel.co); there are lots of positions worldwide that are open to remote employment. Wishing you the best!

I was not homeless, but I raised from the lower-middle-class and upper-middle-class through rigorous effort I put on every day. If you haven't got any interviews, I would recommend you to do any part-time work for the time being and spend at least an hour or two to improve your technical skills every day. If not immediately, you will succeed eventually for sure as long as you keep improving yourself.

Would appreciate if you shared how you accomplished moving to upper middle class. Thanks!

Infinity Works run an academy for grads like yourself. They have offices in Leeds, Edinburgh and Manchester. I suggest you contact them after Christmas.

Thanks for the recommendation. I will contact them after Christmas. Is infinity works a boot camp and do you pay them to attend their academy or do they give you some kind of stipend?

Mike Crawford was homeless, he would live in a tent and cook with canned food and a gas stove. It is a matter of finding the right clients that actually pay you than keep you from being paid. Start out small and work your way to larger clients. Mike is dead now, but he made it from homeless to having an apartment in the Portland area.

Have you considered going through an agency? They'll lie to you and take an obscene amount of money, but if what you're looking for is a foot in the door they might be a shortcut to getting into the industry. Get on linkedin and list the right skills and they'll probably spam you mercilessly with opportunities.

Would you mind telling How myou learnt fo code being homeless,i have heard a ton of stories like this and was always intrigued how people even learned to code on their phones.

Good luck with your job hunt!

I run a non-profit healthcare IT company in the Uk. We have just signed a customer (hospital) in the north (UK). Send me your CV (in my profile) - would be happy to chat.

Where are you in the UK? I’m London and feel like the market is really good when it comes to it. I’m happy to put you in touch with some people, email in my profile!

Thanks for your generous offer. I have emailed you.

Check out 8th Light in London. They hire through a paid apprenticeship program and hire from very diverse backgrounds, already have some from similar circumstances.

I checked them out. Great recommendation. Do you know how much they pay in London? I also noticed they have offices in los angeles. Do you know if someone from the UK can work in their US offices?

You’d need to legally be able to work in the US, which can be a little tricky.

Assuming you’re not already a citizen or a lawful permanent resident, your best routes to investigate would be an H-1B petition (now is a good time to talk to US employers about this) or working for a multinational company like this one for a minimum of 12 months, then petitioning for an L-1B visa.

You’d be able to visit the US office whilst working for the U.K. entity by getting a B-1 visa and that’ll let you evaluate if you want to spend several years living in the US.

Get on linked in... I have at least three recruiters a day contact me on there for software jobs. Make sure you have the 'actively searching' flag on

What languages/platforms did you use to teach yourself?

Java, JavaScript, HTML, CSS, Python, Linux, Command line Interface, Git, Github, AWS, SQL, JDBC

Oh, that's super, you should have no problem to find a job with that set of skills. I haven't seen him in this thread but you could try to contact Charles Pick, phpnode on hackernews, he has a small shop in your neck of the woods, maybe he's looking for someone.

We offer a TypeScript, React, Node.js position in Prague, CZ


You might reach out to Michelangelo van Dam. He knows this story well, and continues to be an inspiration in the PHP community. He’s @dragonbe on Twitter.

Let me know if Australia is on the cards. We are always hungry for skilled developers, CS degree or not. Let me know.

I am interested. How do I contact you (email, skype)?

What are your skills?

Do you have a CV? Please post a link to it.

I can hire you for remote work if the skills fit (Web and Javascript experience).

I prefer not to post my CV on a public domain, can you post your email so I can send my CV? Thanks. I am learning web and JavaScript now so if my skills are not there yet I would still like you to hold on to my CV to reconsider me once I have gained more experience.

That is a weird response.

Why can't you post your CV in the 'public domain'? Also, no employer is going to 'hold on to your CV' while you upskill.

This person might not want the fact of their former homelessness tied to their real name, which posting their CV on a public site would do.

Fair enough. In reality though, its a poor strategy to not volunteer information, if you are looking for a job. It just creates another obstacle.

What would you be looking for in a CV by someone looking for their first job without a relevant degree?

Are you looking for OS contributions? Work in other domains?

It might help to put your contact Info in your profile. I wanted to contact you to offer maybe some help

Good idea, thanks for pointing that out. I added my email to my contact info. You can reach me through that email.

There are a lot of open positions in the Netherlands, you can speak English in Amsterdam etc.

Any specific online-places too look?

I'm happy to help out, how can I contact you? Please connect with me (pirosb3 on Twitter)

I'd start studying how to combat imposter syndrome now, not later.

do you have a laptop? if yes, you might be able to work for me remotely, shoot me an email: andrew.forsure@gmail.com

Without wanting to sound unsympathetic, what relevance does your history of homelessness actually have to your question? To qualify my point: Ideally, you won't be explaining your personal history to a prospective employer in these terms. It's unfortunately all too common for people to fall on hard times resulting in prolonged periods of unemployment. Breaking ( back ) into a career after these gaps is an extremely hard task for an individual. Most people I've known ( myself included ) were able to do it though, through either good luck or perseverance ( or some mix thereof ). Don't expect to be given a chance on the basis of sympathy. I'm sorry that this might sound a bit unfriendly, but it's the unfortunate truth. You'll need to accept the fact that your personal history will be a setback, to one extent or another.

Just so you don't think I'm overly unsympathetic, here is my personal story: I had a very rough upbringing. I moved between an unstable and violent household and the streets throughout my teens. I had very little positive influence throughout my childhood. I dropped out of school at 16 years old and lived as a petty criminal until my mid twenties. I did work some minor entry-level jobs from time to time, but certainly nothing that I would even want to list on a resume. Mostly manual labor. I spent some minor time incarcerated as a result of being convicted of many minor crimes. I feel very fortunate that I do not live in the US, where a history of incarceration permanent blacklists you from most professions. During an altercation I was injured very badly. I suffered ligament and tendon damage in my leg which near crippled me. It took two years of physiotherapy before I was able to even run at a jogging pace. I wasn't going to be very good at my present vocation if I could only limp around the place. This necessitated major changes in my life. I was very depressed and purposeless for some time, but after a bit of an epiphany I won't bore you with I decided to seek gainful employment.

I was about 26 years old at this point. I had some minor experience with programming from having an interest in graphic design as a kid. I took a terrible entry-level job in technical support and taught myself some web development while there. I was basically exploited by this company but I gained a sense of pride in being a reliable and competent worker. I had expected to be spat on by the rest of society, but I found that I was a smarter and more reliable worker than my peers and was quickly promoted. By complete chance I overheard a different department interviewing applicants for a web design/development role within the company. In a pivotal moment that would change my life I decided to just knock on the hiring manager's door and tell him that I had these skills. They submitted me to the same test they gave the applicants, which I ended up acing. From that day on I moved into my first programming role. The rest is history. I've been in this field for years now at a variety of companies. I have had to explain my past a few times, never publicly. Fortunately it's been 8 years since I last had any trouble with the law, so most companies have been able to overlook this.

It is certainly possible to break into the industry with minimal experience and a terrible past. You can always start in very junior positions just to get your foot in the door and improve your resume. From there you can bend the truth without pushing the envelope. Work your actual skills into your work history creatively, pursue every chance you get to prove yourself to your employer. Jump at every chance you get to excel! There's no need to be brutally honest about your history either. Don't expect anyone to take pity on you, they won't.

Best of luck, and merry Christmas!

Don't get me wrong (I hope you'll find a job in a blink), but I see you created an account an hour ago, so this could be useful (from HN FAQ):

Can I post a job ad?

Please don't post job ads as submissions to HN.

A regular "Who Is Hiring?" thread appears on the first weekday of each month. Most job ads are welcome there. But only an account called whoishiring[1] is allowed to submit the thread itself. This prevents a race to post it first.

Another kind of job ad is reserved for YC-funded startups. These appear on the front page, but are not stories: they have no vote arrows, points, or comments. They begin part-way down, then fall steadily, and only one should be on the front page at a time.

1: https://news.ycombinator.com/submitted?id=whoishiring

I appreciate your concern for the quality of HN, but I don't think we need to consider this a job ad—the discussion is more interesting than that.

It's true that the "Who Wants to Be Hired" monthly submissions would also be a great resource for the OP.

The way you wrote this comment makes it seem like you're implying OP has posted a job ad, when obviously he's posting looking for jobs....the opposite of a job ad.

If you were just trying to let him know about the Who's Hiring thread, it was a weird way to start your comment.

Yes, I thought my tone could be misunderstood. That's why I started with "don't get me wrong." In first place I wanted to help by pointing to the whoishiring, but I also thought it was a "job ad" (don't kill me, English is not my first language) and that's why I included the full FAQ section about job ads. I'm not judging - just pointing to the rules.

have some compassion and screw the rules

try to find a way to move to the US. the UK doesn't have much of a tech scene compared the US

Not true at all. If you have tech skills, you will never run out of job opportunities in the UK

Are you saying that there are more tech jobs in the UK vs US?

Based on all the positivity in these comments, it does seem like the UK has at least a more laid back, sort of entry-level culture making hiring decisions than the US does at the moment... awesome ;)

More jobs? No. But 'more' doesn't really matter. It's hard enough to move to the US.

It's easier for him to find a tech job in the UK (there are plenty) than it is to move to the US and get a tech job (for which he'd need to get sponsored by a company).

The biggest difference between US and UK tech isn't job 'quantity', it's job 'quality' (the culture in the US is better imo). But I'm not sure that's OP's priority currently.

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