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Ask HN: Why did you leave the tech industry?
472 points by PirxThePilot on April 15, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 474 comments
What's your story? What do you do now? Any regrets? And how come you still follow HN?



As a kid, I aspired to be a programmer. As an adult, I succeeded, and I stuck around for a good long while. There are a lot of reasons to like working tech, obviously: the salary, the flexible working environment, the prestige, the opportunity to build products that real people use, the chance to play with new technology, and of course working with occasionally brilliant colleagues.

I tried to convince myself that these advantages made it worthwhile to sit alone in a dark room for >10 hours a day, but in the end I couldn't. I was spending more time wrestling with package managers, version conflicts, obtuse configuration files, pointless deadlines, egotistical colleagues, and almost zero time solving interesting problems on products that I care about. You might argue that I should have just found a better job, and I did, several times, but I found that no matter how much enthusiasm I had for a job at the beginning, eventually it got bogged down in software engineering detritus. I didn't much care for my colleagues: no offense to those present, but I just don't really like tech people, despite the fact that I obviously am one of them.

Through a series of coincidences, I found myself with an opportunity to teach programming at the university level. It was a lot of fun: I can talk about problems that interest with me with people who want to hear it. I operate with very little supervision. I still get to learn new technology, but fortunately I can ignore the rough edges and focus on the benefits. Meetings are minimal. The salary is adequate for my lifestyle. Best of all, I get to interact with real, live human beings. (Although at the moment, of course, we're doing everything via Zoom.) Fundamentally, the problems I'm solving are not technology problems, but human problems. At this stage in my life, this is more interesting.

I never imagined I'd end up a teacher, partly because I was a terrible student. Over the years, I had gone back and forth between industry and academia but now I think I'm in academia to stay: there's nothing I miss about slinging bits for a living.

Ironically, I'm helping my students enter a career that I left, but I let them make their own life decisions.


> I was spending more time wrestling with package managers, version conflicts, obtuse configuration files, pointless deadlines, egotistical colleagues, and almost zero time solving interesting problems on products that I care about.

That squares with my experience of software development. It's like being a furniture maker but spending 80% of your time fixing your goddamn hammer because it keeps breaking and no better hammers exist, or consulting glue-drying tables because they keep changing your glue on you every hour or two and for no good reason every single glue performs differently while accomplishing the same thing.

... and then most of the remaining 20% is meetings and communication, which would be fine if you had more time to do the thing you're actually trying to do.


And when you're doing woodworking and has to do some repetitive task you make a jig or a template for your router.

This is something that you're supposed to know on the first day after you finish apprenticeship.

In the modern tech industry you need authorization from your product owner/manager and engineering manager just to build a new tool or abstraction to automate or speed up your own job, because god forbid you do anything that's not in JIRA.


I have to manage infrastructure, but I'm not allowed to manage user accounts or permissions. I have to send a ticket to IT, and then wait 3 days for a response... Or I get no response from them, and find out 5 days later that they did the job and closed the ticket with no notification. All because their manager requires tickets for every little change... But they don't put any information in the tickets about what they did, so there's no point whatsoever to the ticket.


at the other extreme, everybody does whatever the day requires and JIRA is just an annoying after thought that for some reason (the agile coach tells us to?) we have to keep up to date and yet is always outdated.


It's my opinion that coordinate-work-among-the-team and communicate-work-to-management should not be functions performed by or in the same tool, and that most of the team should never need to touch the latter tool.


Or wait for $oracle to change


My attraction to tech is the certainty of digital. In a messy analogue world, it provides a semblance of predictability.

But my PC has recently started crashing for no obvious reason. The analogue has crept into the digital. Every error message is different. Parts work when tested in isolation. The whole is less than the sum of the parts.

It's really quite annoying, and I'm enjoying walks in the park more these days than typing on a keyboard. I put up some shelves the other day. They are still up. An update won't break them. Reliable.


My wild prediction: digital systems will officially reach analog level of noise requiring everybody to learn the "old" ways for pre-discrete computing systems.


Experiences like this are one of the major reasons I decided to keep my focus on iOS development rather than pivoting to full-stack as I was considering doing.

The iOS dev experience is far from perfect, and while YMMV, I definitely found I spent _much_ less time fixing my hammer when I'm building for a single platform using a single language in a (largely) excellent IDE.

Sometimes I think there must be engineers out there who enjoy the hammer fixing and glue-drying that comes with the rapidly changing full-stack development landscape.


I am much more productive on iOS than when I do web development. Unfortunately I want my games to be cross-platform, so sticking with Swift isn't much of an option for me. I did have an iOS only project to learn modern Swift again (with SpriteKit), and it's been an extremely smooth experience for the most part. Most of the time I'm just thinking about the logic of my game.

Nowhere near as many headaches as juggling all the moving parts in the Javascript web app ecosystem, which I'm doing for work right now (currently stuck on something right now).


I’ve been thinking about pivoting into iOS dev. swift seems perfectly fine, and the restricted eco system seems paradoxically liberating


It's the same for all kinds of work outside of academia.

I studied aerospace engineering and day-to-day it's exceedingly rare to need any math beyond basic trigonometry. 80% of the time it's useless meetings, emails, paperwork; only sometimes it's actually useful or fun. Some people study business for years and end up splitting their days between sitting in meetings and updating Gantt charts.

That's just how work is.


Which makes me wonder how much faster we'd be seeing progress in the world if companies were better managed.


I suspect we were far too quick to get rid of secretaries as actual job-performing useful people rather than just status-signaling living perks. Also I think much of our workforce is wildly over-qualified and over-educated for what they actually do. I suspect there are more people than ever in the proverbial "mail room" that are plenty capable of rising to CEO or President of a region or division and doing a fine job without taking time and money to qualify for then attain an MBA at a top school, but we just don't really do that anymore. 500 people with the education and smarts, given a tiny amount of coaching, to do jobs two notches up the "ladder" for every such position that exists, but several HBS grads applied so we're taking one of them anyway.


I agree completely. I miss having a Department Administrative Assistant who was expert at the things I shouldn't need to be expert at. Like "I need to go to San Francisco next month; please take care of my travel arrangements." Or, "how do you use this Excel feature I never heard of and will never need to use again?"

Our AA saved us countless thousands of hours each year. She was worth her weight in platinum.


That’s not some law of the universe, though, that’s a result of our specific culture which is itself the result of individual values and decisions.


> I just don't really like tech people, despite the fact that I obviously am one of them.

Wow, this resonates with me. I have never liked my colleagues at any job, and I hate talking about tech with people outside of things related to work. I find tech people difficult to get along with and the conversations don't interest me. I say this knowing I could very well fit the same description but here's the thing:

I find that often tech people replace an entire personality with video games / following the latest tech releases / anything related to their job. Almost all "water cooler chat" at tech companies is what game they played on the weekend, what the latest steam sale is, what the latest tv show is, what new programming language they're learning. Like, please. Can we talk about something else?


I can handle the shop-talk, but what bothers me about tech-guys (I've never had problems with female co-workers) is that they have their self-worth tangled up with their being the most-correct. They just can't handle being disagreed with.


> entire personality with video games / following the latest tech releases / anything related to their job.

Sounds like me if you throw in anime :) But, what's wrong with that? Other people do the same thing but with sports or music or raising kids or "hanging out with friends" or whatever else they fancy, but one is no more a "real personality" than the other, though, people with other interests always seem to have no real personality and be all about that lame thing they like, don't they? :)


> I find that often tech people replace an entire personality with video games / following the latest tech releases / anything related to their job. Almost all "water cooler chat" at tech companies is what game they played on the weekend, what the latest steam sale is, what the latest tv show is, what new programming language they're learning. Like, please. Can we talk about something else?

Interesting. I've worked at plenty of companies and I rarely met people like that. Maybe it's an American quirk (I've mostly worked in Europe) or perhaps it's specific to tech companies? I've mostly worked in non-tech (government, banking, telcos, with some simple web startups) and people there are fairly well-rounded. It may be that big tech is selecting for the biggest brainiacs in their hiring process, and being a brainiac correlates with having a one-dimensional personality? I've certainly meet a couple of people like that when interviewing at some of tech's household names.


Thanks for sharing this. What you described in your past is EXACTLY how I feel now, and how I have felt over the last couple of years. Especially the line "I should have just found a better job, and I did, several times" is EXACTLY how I feel too. You've even nailed exactly how I feel with "I was spending more time wrestling with package managers, version conflicts, obtuse configuration files, pointless deadlines".

I really enjoyed teaching guitar and talking to people when I was younger so I've slowly been creating educational content on LinkedIn and YouTube for software engineers. The main thing preventing me from taking a jump is my immigration status (I'm not American and I'm working on my green card right now). I'm glad this is working out for you!


Honestly, I don't know if there is such a thing as the perfect job.

I suspect the daily grind becomes apparent regardless the career choice.

I can imagine how doing the same thing for 20+ becomes dull and uninteresting, especially if you have arbitrary deadlines, superiors to report and so on.

The way that I personally cope with this is, accepting the fact that my job is a job and at the end of the day, the only thing that really fulfils my life are good health, exercising and spending time with loved ones.

Whilst I try to enjoy my job as much as I can, it's just a means to an end.

I think a trap that some of us fall into is letting our careers define who we are and once that happens, it becomes very easy to lose the sense of self.


That's where I'm headed. I was lucky enough to land a part-time teaching gig (US equivalent: adjunct?) at a local University through my own academic studies there, almost completely by accident (they were short-staffed and kept asking until I said yes). I love it. I am planning to make the jump from my rather depressing current tech role as soon as I'm done with my doctorate. I can apply for (and hopefully receive) research funding, or join in on others projects. Or I can teach as much as I like, or both. I can help people. The pay cut is substantial - around 40%, personally - but it's the best job in the world.


> wrestling with package managers, version conflicts, obtuse configuration files

The top answer also mentions this. Yours is currently second-top.

I hope developers get the message.

I'm SO tired of trying to navigate around the mountains of pure garbage every time I want to work on a new project.

I long for the days when adding new functionality to your project was as easy as including a single external file, and when code repositories didn't automatically come with ten different utterly useless metadata files.


I think it's a little unfair to blame developers.

I see the problem that our tooling is diverse and assembled from parts. You can pick a compiler from column A, a version control from column B, and GUI framework from column C, a message queue from column D, etc. And somehow, it's is possible to make them all work together. We love having that flexibility and choice.

But we pay a price in the added complexity of making all the pieces play together. A sibling comment mentions Turbo Pascal, as a contrast to today's programming environment. Yeah, Turbo Pascal was great, but it was also an all-in-one kit: you couldn't even use your own linker, you had to use the built-in TP linker. In a sense, it was a walled-garden Apple-style development environment. But it worked, it was easy, and it was fast.

The closest we have to that today is Visual Studio. I'd argue that the (mostly) all-in-one nature of Visual Studio and C# relieves a lot of the headaches of the more traditional open source toolset, at the expensive of less flexibility.

This is not an argument in favor or against the Microsoft world, just an observation.


In a way I think it's the current trend of rejecting GUIs. It certainly helps with automation, but I'm afraid we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Does anyone remember Borland's VCL, Rox desktop or Acme from Plan 9? All vastly different, but all enabling great workflows. I would like to dive in GUI programming more, but I'm too picky regarding technologies. Closest to my ideal is Tcl/Tk and Lazarus it seems.

I say it as a guy spending most of his time in terminals for 15 years, mostly by choice.


Wrapping my head around modules, packages, and libraries while learning Python a while back was the biggest roadblock and most discouraging part. Trying to figure out why certain things wouldn't be installed was a slog. At the same time, this struggle definitely taught me much more than I would've learned otherwise. One topic it pushed me into unwillingly was containers which was definitely a benefit in the long run.


> I hope developers get the message.

> I'm SO tired of trying to navigate around the mountains of pure garbage every time I want to work on a new project.

It sounds to me like you are also... developers? :)


I'm a PhD drop-out, and I'm reticent to give it another shot. Is it easy to find teaching jobs at the university level without a PhD?


If you have a masters and are willing to be a relatively low-paid adjunct, my impression is "yes," particularly in CS, where relatively few people want to be adjuncts.

I don't think it's easy to find jobs that pay at middle-class levels in many larger cities.


Again, just my two cents, but in looking for full-time, contract-based, permanent, non-tenure-track teaching positions in the northeast of the US, I found no shortage of schools eager to make offers to someone with the right background. Here, "right background" means previous teaching experience, good evaluations, and extensive work in industry, as well as a killer demo lecture.


In my experience, in the job market right now in the US, universities are positively salivating at the chance to hire experienced tech people into teaching roles. This is because lots of students want to study CS, and not a lot of people want to teach it (being that qualified people usually either go into industry, or go into research).

The salary may not be great, if you have experience and good student evaluations, you are in a strong negotiating position.

Some caveats: getting a university teaching job is a lot easier than getting a university research/teaching job. Previous teaching experience is a big plus, as is previous industry experience. PhD is nice, but not required (I don't have one).


US or Europe? If Europe, would any of them hire a filthy American? ;)


I have experience teaching in eastern Europe as well. It's been hit-or-miss. It's best if you're flexible and don't fixate on any particular location.

If you need a visa and work permit, it really complicates matters: I highly recommend acquiring European citizenship if at all possible. (I did, which had the side-effect of immersing me in genealogy as a hobby.)


> Fundamentally, the problems I'm solving are not technology problems, but human problems.

This is what we’ve lost in our industry in the last 25 years, and to the worlds detriment.


There's a scene early in "Halt and Catch Fire" (IMO the best tech-focused fiction show, basically a Mad Men take on the early breakthroughs in computing from personal computers through to the internet) where Joe the salesman tells Gordon the engineer, "Computers aren't the thing. They're the thing that gets us to the thing."

That's been my motto since I heard it there.


I looked into teaching programing once. What I found has horribly designed classes teaching in poor ways and I could tell the likelihood of me being able to re-write some of the curriculum was close to zero and I'd have to deal with tons of school politics.

Have you somehow avoided this stuff?


That doesn't correspond to my experience at all. Where did you find that situation?

I imagine it might be different in secondary school education, but at the university level, I find that no one really cares what I do, as long as the students don't complain. I always redesign the curriculum to suit my tastes and interests, and I've never gotten any pushback from admin.

Basically, the department assigns me classes to teach, and after that I'm on my own. Once a semester a senior faculty member observes my lecture, mostly to make sure that I haven't shown up drunk. The only politics I'm exposed to is on the hiring committee.


This sounds a lot like toxic work culture, but unfortunately there’s a lot of that in tech


To me, it sounds like their problem is they aren't introverted enough for the job (which is totally fine, but just an observation).

All jobs will have x% of nonsense and y% of what you actually really enjoy doing, and I think as long as y >= 10% then you'll do okay.

Honestly, I like sitting by myself and grappling with tech problems. It's nice that I'm allowed to sit inside my own head and think all day. Maybe it's because I'm young enough that the problems I'm facing still seem somewhat novel. But perhaps it's true that OP is more extroverted and doesn't enjoy that nearly as much.

Good on them for finding a better career fit. If I had to interact with people all day, I would die.


>If I had to interact with people all day, I would die.

I have some bad news for you. As you become a more senior developer you will spend most of your time interacting with people, and a lot less time just "sitting and thinking".


I don't think it's just a pattern that's imposed on people arbitrarily, but that most people find as they get older they want and need to do more of that sort of thing.


I'm happy to talk tech with people all day, and if it's over Slack it's great. I just don't like meetings and superficial interactions.


You may be right. When I was younger, I was a lot more willing to focus on purely technical problems. I'm still an introvert, but let's say that I'm "extrovert-curious."


A couple years ago I nearly got the opportunity to teach at a Bootcamp (one of the non-scammy ones). I got turned down very late in the process mainly on lack of experience, but I really felt strongly that I would enjoy it, and be good at it. One of my strongest skills is articulating concepts, and there's something enticing about forever remaining adjacent to that part of the journey where code is really exciting, before it becomes a drudgery.

Anyway. I hadn't really thought about it in a while, but maybe I'll try for that again in the future. I don't hate bit-slinging quite yet ;)


I second the package managers hell It just makes my life miserable when working with NodeJS or any JavaScript library, or the number of Framework libraries out there that makes every choice an endless debate.


> I didn't much care for my colleagues: no offense to those present, but I just don't really like tech people, despite the fact that I obviously am one of them.

I can totally relate to this.


What advice do you give your students in handling work-life balance?


They don't ask. If they did ask, I'd say that tech employers are designed intentionally to subsume as much of your life as they can. If you want to have your own life, you need to stake a claim.

More controversially, I'd say that any labor relationship is necessarily exploitative, and doing any work beyond the minimum means that you are giving more than you're getting and thus being abused. But that's not advice for having a prosperous career. :)


I relate so much to this!


Can you elaborate more on how you got into the teaching position? This is a path that intrigues me as well but I also had mediocre grades and I never even tried to go to grad school. However I have been quite successful in my career (worked for the NYT and currently for a FAANG) but like you I am getting burnt out by the daily realities of the industry.


It was by chance. First, I started teaching English as a foreign language in Europe: that provided a useful background in pedagogy, although has nothing to do with computers. Second, I was offered an adjunct position at a university where I was a student, which gave me a taste of teaching CS.

You'll probably need at least a Master's degree if you want to teach, but a strong industry background might be enough. You might try approaching a local university (don't discriminate, even community colleges need teachers) about teaching one class a semester. If you like it, you can try a better school or go for a full-time position.


I haven't left myself yet, but at almost-55 I know a fair number who have. Here's what I know of what their answers would be.

The first simply had another passion - travel. Work was just a way to pay for that. Eventually went to work for an agency, been there a long time and AFAICT couldn't be happier (despite being less well off materially). I've known a couple of others who fit this pattern. One left the industry to raise goats and make cheese instead.

Multiple have left to become full time parents. I hope they don't regret it, since this group includes my wife. ;)

Several others have left the industry but have not necessarily left tech. Some do light consulting. One's writing a book. Most are working on long-deferred personal tech projects.

I just about joined this third group before my savings took a 15% hit, so I might as well say why. I'm tired. I'm tired of the artificial deadlines, and processes that slow people down more than they improve quality, and the omnipresence of coworkers who exhibit every kind of bad engineering or interpersonal behavior (even though others are awesome). I want to enjoy making things again, and the moments when I can do that within the industry seem all too fleeting. Even the best of my dozen jobs stopped being fun, or just stopped. The thought of going through a modern tech interview process yet again so that I can do all the rest again just fills me with dread.


> I'm tired. I'm tired of the artificial deadlines

I think the ephemeral nature of software really plays poorly with the artificial deadlines, and the artificial importance of some projects in general.

Eventually you recognize the pattern, and there's no logical way to justify it, so it's harder to motivate yourself. You know the deadline isn't real, and you know the software will be rewritten next year with some new technology. You may even be rewriting last years right now.

Tooling churn hurts here as well, because eventually after enough iterations, new tools are just in the way of getting real work done. You know it's not gaining you anything by putting in the effort to learn Toolchain X, because arbitrarily different Toolchain Y is about to become the new industry fad, and will make all that prior arbitrary knowledge pointless.

Some of my favourite years in software were when I worked at an eCommerce agency that served only one framework. Learning I invested directly impacted my work for the coming years. I began to master the tools, which feels amazing. I could also see the real world effect the software had. Sure, it was simple, selling products to people. But commerce is an interesting problem space, and a fundamental part of society, so it was neat to be a part of it and see real companies I worked with grow because of my software.


This is why open source software at least is good -- it tends to have much longer lifetimes, so chances are decent that your code will still be running decades down the line (so long as you picked the right project).

For example, one of the open source projects that I contributed to most heavily, PyWikiBot, has been around for almost two decades now, and most of my contributions were made ~13-15 years ago, plus some minor maintenance since then, and most of those features I wrote are still in continuous use to this very day by me and many others. And that's just some random tooling library for Wikipedia stuff; imagine how much long-term impact your work would have if you were editing MediaWiki itself, or the Linux kernel, or gcc, or any number of other incredibly widely-used things.


> the ephemeral nature of software [...] it's harder to motivate yourself

It's been a few years since I left the industry, and I'd be surprised if any of the code I wrote professionally hasn't been superseded by now. Even worse, plenty of it was scrapped before it was even released.

Of course, I knew this would be the case when I was writing it - that does indeed affect one's motivation.


I doubt if more than 25% of my work-hours as a developer have gone toward any kind of program or product that went on to provide enough benefit to have been worth the effort and expense. It feels like being one of the monkeys in some kind of million-monkeys Shakespeare project. Like the system just tries random shit and sometimes something works but mostly it just wastes everyone's time (lives).


I can tell you that working with legacy turd (that will probably run for another decade or more) isn't necessarily much better.

Again the deadlines and lack of planning ahead bites. Look we just need this little feature now, it can't take long? And again, and again. You never get enough time to take a step back and re-evaluate design decisions (or, God forbid, plan ahead and do it right in the first place) and fix what wasn't done right. No, it's always this little feature that needs to be quickly hacked in, another branch, another special case, how it interacts with other past or future special cases is anyone's guess, and the code base that was already full of hastily hacked together barely-functional crap grows more and more poorly thought out crap. Tests? What tests? No tests, so if you dare go back and try quickly fix some poor design.. well, someone is eventually hopefully going to find out what you broke and give you a completely uninformative bug report. Updates? Well there's no ticket for that. And besides, something might break, because there are no tests. There's no ticket for tests.

Sometimes you might even wish that the whole thing would be discarded and done from scratch..


I prefer working with legacy turds over steaming hot new shit, but I have a hard time finding companies who will pay me for that work. Everybody wants the steaming hot new stuff.


The code I wrote in my first job out of college is still running in thousands of locations 25 years later. But then, it was Windows software for a particular industry, not a website. Most stuff I've written since then has been replaced or will be soon.


> code I wrote professionally hasn't been superseded

Well, the state of New Jersey is looking for programmers to update COBOL programs that were written 50 years ago, so you might be underestimating the sheer power of inertia in software development...


It also really depends on in which corner of the field you work in (and of course practices of the specific organization you work for)


I am in the same shoes and would add the reason of no pride or sometimes shame. Not only in the many marginal products I am forced to squeeze out rapidly and in parade but of belonging to this group of profession. Basically both stems in the pretentious design of incomplete products making people more miserable than successful or satisfied. Phones, 'smart' appliances, revolutionary technology, software and OSes promise the world and beyond (twice!) bringing tons of 'dream' (sometimes nightmare) functionality but f*k up even the most elementary function (repeatedly!) while being unreliable to the extent that it needs to be updated in the frequency of watering your plants, to no avail. Despite the mounting problems the industry takes itself very seriously with infant obscure practices considered rock solid fundamentals and with robotic approach to human resources and processes. Talking to recruiters feels like they expect not thinking humans but custom programmed organic mechanisms able to type and can be judged by ticking checklists in a couple of minutes. In seeking satisfaction in self and results I left several places for something assumedly better, sometimes leaping into unknown, but my bitterness just mounts with each position. Financial limits forces me to seek engagement in something I am experienced in but I am afraid my lethargy shines though of my smiley and optimistic face I wear for interviews. I have little trust in those sitting in front of me. I hope I can figure out something better, meanwhile trying to make money for living.


> The thought of going through a modern tech interview process yet again so that I can do all the rest again just fills me with dread.

A couple years older than you. I was working a nice gig at a startup until November. Nice because the owners were nice, the coworkers were nice and it was an interesting embedded application involving renewable energy - so not the run-of-the-mill web app. They ran out of funding in November but there was the possibility (prior to covid-19) that they would get more funding so I didn't look around much hoping I could just go back to work for them when they get more funding and avoid having to interview again.

Of course, that's not likely to happen at this point given where the economy is at. And I still can't bear the thought of interviewing again. So I'm effectively out of tech at this point. If someone comes along and offers me a gig without the arduous interview process I'd take it, but otherwise, I think I'm done.


You know, people worry about age discrimination a lot because there aren't a ton of older programmers around. But when the discussion comes up, people don't talk much about the reasons you describe.

Sure, bad programmers age out because they were never great at programming in the first place. But I would assume the HN crowd falls in the top half of competence because there are so many people here who seem smarter about programming than me. If you're good, you don't have to worry.

Maybe good programers age out because the technical side gets too repetitive, their jobs become more about politics, and they have enough money to change tracks later in life.


The changing nature of the job is definitely part of it. When you're on the steepest part of the learning curve, that makes up for a lot. I still learn plenty, but less than I used to. Instead, I spend a good deal of my time correcting mistakes made by those who hadn't learned yet. Mistakes happen, that's OK, but it's still less fun than learning new things myself. At my age/experience there's also an expectation that I'll do more "force multiplier" work - for me it's often fixing broken infrastructure - so that others can stay more productive with straight coding. Again, nothing wrong with it, but still less fun.

When it gets downright tiresome is when being the project janitor puts me in conflict with young "tech leads" who denigrate those contributions because they've only ever worked on that one project where other people took care of those things for them. It's like the difference between living in a college dorm where everything's taken care of for you, vs. having a house and kids and bills of your own. Being a strict individual contributor with no cares beyond the one piece of code in front of me is just a fond memory.

Unfortunately, few companies will hire someone with 30+ years' experience just to write code, even for a salary appropriate to that role. Companies want to pay those lower salaries not only for direct work product but also for growth potential. The worst part is, I know they're not wrong. The only way to do the kind of work I really enjoy, and only that work, is as a hobby.


This is one of the saddest yet truest things I've read here on HN. Really hits home.


Same.


> If you're good, you don't have to worry.

You don't have to worry about keeping your current job, but getting a different one becomes a lot harder. Your 27 year-old interviewer might be thinking "You're my dads age, and my dad is crusty. No way you can wrap your head around lib-of-the-week.js"


> You don't have to worry about keeping your current job

Depends on the job. There are employers who recognize the value of somebody who has broad experience, and who can/will do things that are necessary but not fun. There are also employers who only measure hands-on-coding skills, and/or who insist that everyone should be on a "growth path" even if they're already at a higher level than most will reach. Good people don't have to worry at the first kind, and very much have to worry at the second.


> But when the discussion comes up, people don't talk much about the reasons you describe.

Which people you're talking about? The survivors who are still working in the field? Or those who had heart attacks at their desks at 50?


Dead programmers don’t commit code much less talk, now do they?


I had a coworker at BigCo who would disappear for a month every summer. I wasn't paying attention to other PTO days through the year so I assumed that extra PTO for work anniversaries added up faster than I thought.

Turns out they were just taking a leave of absence, every year, to travel, and just eating the pay cut.


When you're at $500k/yr, losing <$50k/yr isn't really that big of a deal.


And most countries would give you 4 or more weeks annual leave


I believe the person is taking that extra month off /in addition/ to taking the standard PTO. (Which is around 3-5 weeks with holidays at FAANG)


Very very few people earn $500k/yr at FAANG


Perhaps very few make that year after year, but that's a totally achievable total compensation anywhere in the top half of the individual-contributor range if they get two good evals in one year. I work at one of those companies, and I'm sure I talk every day with people who have hit that level at least once.


> The first simply had another passion - travel.

I thought engineering enabled travel. I met countless "digital nomads" traveling the world, doing 20 hours of work a week at cafes. Making bank and getting to travel all they want.


In this particular case, it was adventure travel - savannahs in Africa, mountains in South America, icebergs in Antarctica. It was also 25 years ago. The "digital nomad" thing wasn't an option for this person.


What is a full time parent? I remember as a kid that I was always encouraging my mom to take up hobbies so that she's leave me alone so I could get on with my own stuff. I can't imagine putting all your identity into being a parent. Kids grow up extremely fast.


It's the gender-neutral, unpaid-work-respecting equivalent of a "stay-at-home mom" or "housewife"

If a couple decides they want four kids, the numbers can work out, for 10 years or so - especially if childcare is expensive.


Yup - the "numbers" can work out with even one kid, particularly if your equations value time spent with the child.


All the more reason to be a full-time parent. You get a return on your investment extremely fast. When you're old, you have adult kids that care about you, and hopefully grandchildren which are basically just children but free because you're not the primary caretaker anymore. All the fun with much less fuss.


I presume GP doesn't mean someone with no other identity, just someone who is doing it instead of a FT paid role. I could be a full-time plumber and still have an identity outside of plumbing


I left it before I really got started, and looking back at it now, I don't regret it. In my mid-twenties I decided I'd rather be an electrician. I don't sit on my ass all day. I get to meet new people, and see new places all the time. Some places that few ever get to see. Power plants, clock towers, police stations, homeless shelters, church attics. All sorts of stuff. Not all of it equally exciting, but a lot of it interesting. I get to build physical things that people will use for many many years into the future.

I get to play with lots of tech still, except it's more of the layer 1 stuff. Doing fiberoptical backhaul work, or installing DSL in peoples homes.

I'm still interested in both hardware and software. I run Gentoo Linux on my machines at home, and I have a DO VPS for "cloud things", but I'm glad it's not my job, because software issues can piss me off like no other thing is capable of.


Find your way into Industrial Electrical work if you can. You get a strong mix of tech and electrical, moreso than Residential, can't really say the comparison to Commercial work though...

My company (Automation & controls) is partnered with electricians for all the jobs we bid on. Having electricians that know wiring for specialized bus networks, how to do basic troubleshooting on control circuits and all that is amazing to have.

Alternatively, for those reading this in the tech side, the job is super engaging. I get to work on programming machines the size of my bedroom. I get to travel and see equally interesting locations (Dam spillways, Agricultural facilities inland and at port, underground mines, etc.). The fact that I get to get out of my office a few days a month is a big reason I've stuck with my job for as long as I have (7+ years now)

EDIT TO INCLUDE SOME PICTURES (Both the Cool and the Ugly):

https://imgur.com/5uOWDGB https://imgur.com/oJozMBr https://imgur.com/95HSxlx https://imgur.com/yhrPUC3


I'm very interested in pivoting toward electrical engineering from computer engineering (for all the reasons mentioned above). Do you have any advice on how to do this? I don't even know where to begin, but I imagine there's a lot of certification and/or educational requirements.


Be warned, EE jobs are drying up. I think they had negative job growth recently


I recently became kinda intrigued by PLCs and even consider buying one just to play with it (idk maybe it's the novelty of it) and the various programming languages for them and how they can be so different. What kind of education do you need to work on this kind of stuff?


I commented to another user, my background is a Software Systems Engineering degree but the majority of my coworkers are Electrical Engineers or some style of Electrical Technician.

As long as you understand digital logic well enough you'll be able to grasp the concepts. Having more formal education helps but is one of those fields that isn't strictly necessary unless you're working in a specialized sector. My personal take is that Software is still playing catch-up in this domain to the rest of the world but its coming. Up until the last 5 or 10 years the software was mostly just running the facilities but now integration to the business environments is becoming a bigger and bigger requirements of my clients.

I've mostly become hands off on the PLC/SCADA systems at my company now because the requirement for software utilities to function within the control system for data collection, trending, reporting, etc. has become so so much bigger. I have clients that want to use OCR to track shipping containers throughout their yard, clients who want me to integrate their invoicing systems to the operations so staff can see the scheduled daily loads coming, designing unmanned kiosks for customers to key through when coming to site and a whole lot more things.


I don't have a ton of PLC experience, but you really don't need much of an education to create basic PLC programs. I wouldn't personally recommend PLCs to anyone who enjoys programming, but I understand the appeal of trying one out.

The programming languages are all defined in IEC 61131-3, and you can more or less use them interchangeably. You can use structured text for (clunky) text-based programming, ladder logic if you want to feel like an electrician in the 70s, or functional block diagrams if you like flowcharts. They each have pros and cons, and being able to use the different languages (with different paradigms) in a single application is one of the more interesting things about PLC programming. There are probably good textbooks for this, but I don't know of any.

PLC programs execute in a constant loop (scan inputs, execute program, set outputs), so basic programming problems (e.g. delaying execution of some function) often require some re-thinking on PLCs. Having a basic understanding of how a PLC actually executes your code is pretty critical. Again, there are probably textbooks for this, but if you buy a physical PLC, its datasheet might also explain this.

You'll need to connect the PLC to some hardware for it to do anything meaningful, so having a basic knowledge of electronics would be useful. If it's just a hobby, you probably wouldn't need to know any more than you would if you were working with an Arduino.

There aren't that many major PLC vendors, so to get started, you could by an entry-level PLC from one of the big players (e.g. Allen-Bradley Micro800 series). Admittedly, I haven't looked at PLC options in 5+ years so there might be better options these days. Unfortunately, PLCs are pretty pricey, and even a small one will probably set you back a few hundred bucks. There are probably simulators available if you're just curious about PLC programming languages, but I don't have any experience there.


Check out some kit at defineinstruments.com - lightweight and more accessible versions of PLC but also bridges between industry and internet.


Could you get started with Arduino? (Disclaimer: I don't know a lot about what PLCs actually do -- maybe that's too basic for you.)

Right now I'm trying to hack my treadmill with an Arduino unit so I can control it with software, and I'm learning a ton. Plus it's not a huge investment.


I had come across Building Arduino PLCs: The essential techniques you need to develop Arduino-based PLCs when i was looking for something similar a while ago. You might find it a good starting point.


You uh...built a better mousetrap I see.


Heh, speaking of mouse traps, while working at an inland grain terminal I met a guy who was using arduinos hooked up to what's essentially a highly pressurized central vac system as a pest control system. Against the walls were small little "tunnels" the mice would run through, trigger an optical sensor then get sucked into the vac system at something like 500psi and their goop put into a holding tank for them to clean-out on routine checkups.


Incidentally, I am a Software Engineer that owns an Electrical Contracting business too and I would love to learn more about your company and your requirements for electrcians, what is the best way to contact someone to learn more?


Hmm, I apologize for not wanting to give away my explicit employer. We have like... 13 engineers/techs, rest of our staff are admin or panel builders so I'd pretty much be doxing myself to give it away.

I'll just say that my business was started by the owner in his farm's shop rebuilding/selling motors. When he expanded to doing controls they were like 3 employees and his friend was the electrician who they hired on. Since then the Electrician partnered with his Son-in-law and they train the majority of their guys right from their apprenticeship.

As much as I keep using "My company" throughout these posts I'm still just a guy in a programming/integrator role.


Can confirm!!

Especially

> Find your way into Industrial Electrical work if you can. You get a strong mix of tech and electrical, moreso than Residential, can't really say the comparison to Commercial work though...

Avoid residential electrical work if you are technology oriented! Yes, yes, home automation and all that, but that pales in comparison with industrial work. Commercial in theory has the same potential, but (at least here in Italy) the jobs are ..hm.. dodgy (very poor project management, tasks scattered across sub-sub-sub-contractors so nobody has really a clue of the global picture ..stuff like that)


For someone with a MS CS what would you recommend for transitioning to such a field?


Likely just find a system integrator in your area and apply.

The guy who got me my job was a MS CS, my employer sought him out because they needed a guy for internal software projects. I did a hackathon with him and he hired me as his replacement when he moved to the gaming industry.

My degree is Software Systems Engineering, most of my coworkers are Electrical Engineers or some form of Electrical Diploma.

As long as you have a decent foundation in Networking and Digital Logic you'll be perfectly suited to program PLC/SCADA...


Can you explain what to expect from a "system integrator" company or job? I did a quick google for those in my areas and they seem all over the place, not one mentions "PLC/SCADA"?


Hey, not the parent but I'll write my views

So, "systems integration" job involves making systems interoperate as seamlessly as possible, by doing so adding new features, or reducing weaknesses, like for example vendor lock-in (sadly this is not always possible in industrial automation, see below). So the concept applies also to other sectors - and there are indeed non-industrial automation SIs - you might want to add terms like "PLC", "SCADA", "ICS" (industrial control systems), "industrial automation", "controls" to your search.

As for my own experiences in the (industrial automation) system integration industry, in Italy:

As I said before, and said elsewhere by TheCapn, vendor lock-in (in the form of employing equipment by one company, and their tooling, and their services, etc.) is a thing. But at the same time, your job is to make heterogenous systems interoperate! So most certainly you'll have to work not with your usual tools. Personally I have found that the most successful companies rely on some vendor (and their support, and their expertise), but are very open with working with, and know, the others. Obviously the more you can develop autonomously the better; it is a trade-off between freedom of action and access to more credible (branded, battle-tested, supported by big company etc.) solutions.

Knowing when to add one part to the system, or where you can just expand one of the already existing parts in order to accomplish the task is fundamental. Too often I have seen superflous parts added where it would have been enough to extend one of the existing parts a little (This is often due to vendor lock-in, you cannot work on some equipment, so you put another device by your vendor of choice).

Another thing I love about my job is the "Jack-of-all-trades" mindset required. Also human skills are important, especially here where the industry is mostly composed of little shops: sometimes you just have to understand enough to call the right specialist and contract that part of the job to them. I started as more of a computer person than a engineering one, but I managed to gain some expertise over time thanks to this knowledge transfer.


Now that more IT is entering the shop floor, many places are adopting some solutions (for diagnostics, data collection etc.) with more "computer" content than the past; for example all the predictive maintenance platforms big vendors are developing. Or you can concentrate on the "upper" levels, like SCADA, MES; of course working with these tools is not super CS rocket science, most of the time. You can start from positions more akin to programming, then work your way into process sensors technology, electrotechnics, etc. That's what I did.

Edit: System integrators as sibling says, I second that!


Controls aren't much different than other industries who rely on vendor product solutions either imo. You can talk to your SCADA vendor to see what their Historian / MES solution is and look at integrating that or develop a custom solution. Each obviously have pros/cons. What you might gain in rapid development using the Vendor provided solution your client will probably lose in steep licensing fees. Vendor solutions are typically set up in a way that anyone could configure them using only the manual and a few tutorials but giving any joe the ability to set up a system always has the drawback of the system being very "one size fits all" and customizing it to work in certain scenarios is difficult.


True! Hence my, "most of the time". I recently had to heavily customize a SCADA event engine with my plugins due to the particular requirements of the system; come to think of it, I might have as well rewritten the whole thing, but I had some "non-technological" limitations. :)


"because software issues can piss me off like no other thing is capable of."

This in reverse is part of why I am a programmer; it can take two or three days before I'm really pissed at a software problem, but physical stuff really annoys me in mere minutes.

Why? Don't really know. I know a bit of it is that I know how to get myself into trouble in software and then usually get back out much better than I do in the real world, but even so, I had the patience in software to develop that and I really don't for real things.


Yes, it's much easier to hit Undo than it is to remove that bolt that you just snapped the head off, but you can't see because it's elbow deep in the engine bay.

On the other hand, a screw-up can have bigger consequences when your buggy code is used by thousands of users a day.


Also, with code, you generally don't lose the pieces when you disassemble something, and if you take a break, you can pick up right where you left off...


In a parellell universe, this would've been me. Electrician seem to be the perfect "manual" labor - not a lot of heavy lifts, work with your head a lot, good mix of in- and outdoors.

Ps. Love the username/post combo.


This is anecdotal, but when I was younger and still figuring out what I wanted to do, I joined a 1 year course that was supposed to prepare people with HS diplomas and other people with practical jobs like electricians and such to study engineering in college. Surprisingly, the vast majority of the men in my class were electricians that had regretted their choice because it was such a dull job with a lot of menial labor, like crawling through very tight areas and otherwise being on your knees a lot and in awkward positions.


I wonder if they realize that’s most jobs?

I always laugh whenever TechCrunch or someone runs a story about some hot shot university winning a programming competition because they implemented an algorithm the fastest or created yet another new app.

When in the real world, most programming jobs are making changes to a really large code base trying your hardest not to break other things. Not nearly as glamorous.


"I won all these hackathons!"

"That's great, kid. Now figure out why this build works on everyone else's machine but not yours. And then once the build works why the test suite throws a series of errors, one at a time, each new one appearing as you fix the last, when everyone else tells you it's green (though at some point you'll figure out they're all passing flags to disable parts of it, but forgot they're doing that). Oh we have some other things for you to do that are actual programming but you can't do those until you fix that. Oh and when you're halfway done Fred over there's gonna tell you you need to pull master because he just updated all the dependencies. Oh hey what do you know about code signing and app store distribution?"


You might be surprised by how strenuous electric work can be: pulling a cable bundle through a long conduit run, nailing staples at arm's length overhead, and finishing outlets at knee height.


I got into software mostly for the money so I can fund some extended travel, and when I get back from that extended travel I don't plan to go back into software.

My BF's dad owns an electrical company, and I know BF will most likely end up working there - I've considered in the past joining him. This post is encouraging because it seems like I could get all the movement and outdoor time that I'm missing with coding, and also be building stuff that's useful to people.

Do you see many female electricians? I suspect there are few - any ideas as to why? Is there a lot of heavy/difficult physical labor that I would be unable to do?


I was working as a SWE for a large defense contractor on some pretty neat projects, and I felt like I was good at what I did. It was 40 hour weeks, good benefits, good pay, but I was bored and miserable. I lived in a town with no friends, and was so desperate for a change and some adventure, that I left the industry to join the military.

I took what I call a 12 year sabbatical from tech. I became an officer, went to pilot training, learned lots of new and useful skills, met lots of very good and interesting people, some of whom are my best friends.

Taking off from a short airfield in a blizzard, at night, wearing NVGs is an experience I don't care to re-live, but I'm glad I have something to talk about at parties.

A quote that affected me greatly during the time I was thinking about leaving: "if somebody wrote a book about your life, would anybody want to read it?"

After getting married (to somebody I met during one of my training courses), settling down, and having kids, a quieter, 40-hour-a-week lifestyle started to sound pretty good again. I had always been a hacker at heart, and realized that I was getting to the age where it was probably now-or-never if I wanted to re-enter the industry. So I went back into tech! It's better the 2nd time around.

Zero regrets.


The real lesson I take from that is not that you should do X or Y, but that you should constantly be trying new things in life.

If you don't let yourself explore, you're not going to be happy long term. (Eventually, you will hit that fabled mid-life identity crisis.)

Perhaps it's less that any one situation is preferable, but more that you need variety.


I think the warning here is that most people will drop out of the pilot program and/or aren't qualified for it in the first place (eyesight, blood pressure, age, fitness to a lesser degree since it's "fixable" within 6 months). There's always army rotary, I guess.


True - but a lot of people self-disqualify because of rumors and urban legends. Make them tell you "no" if it's something you want. There are waivers for many medical issues, but if you don't ask you'll never get one.


Right. Don't you have to have a letter of recommendation from a Congressman or something? It always felt completely inaccessible to me, much more so than SOF, where you might get by on being fit alone.


It's probably a lot more accessible than you think.

The congressional recommendation is for entrance into the US Air Force Academy, which is a 4-year university.

If you already have your degree, you can apply for OTS (which is your initial officer training - I think it's 3 months long now) and a pilot slot directly.

Another option a lot of people overlook too is getting to pilot training via the Reserves or ANG. Those units can interview and hire you directly, and you'll go through the same training and do the same job with a lot less red tape.


I suspect someone joining the military after being in college and private industry has a higher chance of completing the pilot program than someone 18-20 years old which make up the bulk of the military recruits. (Assuming they both meet all physical requirements.)


Pilots are officers. So, they’ve at least completed an undergrad degree. It’s competitive to get into flight school.


You are basically competing with George Bush.


I love computers since I can remember, and started learning to code when I was still in basic school. This lead me to think that the tech industry was the obvious career for me. During my time in the industry, I felt miserable. I would say that the main reasons for that were:

* Meaninglessness. Most of the projects are simply not necessary, they do not help society in anyway, they just exist to make someone else wealthy.

* Tedium. The intellectual challenges aren't there after a while. There are countless intellectual challenges in the field of computing / computer science, but they are usually precisely the ones that industry has no interest on.

* Micromanagement. "Agile" and similar management practices (yes, I know, you're not doing it right, blah blah blah) are downright humiliating and infantilizing. Almost no other highly skilled professional has to tolerate such level of intrusion on their day-to-day activities. I love deep thinking and creative expression. The modern corporate setting prevents this by design.

* Open-spaces. See above.

* Idealism. I was so excited about the possibilities that the Internet opened for humanity. Now we have ad-tech and horrible exploitation of "gig-economy", warehouse workers and the like. This is definitely not what I have in mind when I started.

* Conformism. The tech industry is extremely conformist. Monetary consideration always wins. Deference to power always wins. "Hacker" used to mean something completely different. Almost opposite to the current definition.

I realized that what I always loved about computing was the endless creative and intellectual possibilities allowed by the medium. This is more or less the opposite of what the industry values, despite what they might advertise endlessly. There is nothing cool about it. It is stale and anti-intellectual.

I don't need a lot of money to be happy. You probably don't either. Time on this earth is the most valuable thing we have, and I would rather spend it waiting tables than enduring one more stand-up meeting.

I think creative nerds are the life-blood of the industry, but they tend to be shy and not assertive, so they have their life controlled by the "business types". I honestly believe that if the nerds told them to fuck off and started spending their time working on things they think are relevant, the world would become much better quickly. This won't happen, I know.


> I honestly believe that if the nerds told them to fuck off and started spending their time working on things they think are relevant, the world would become much better quickly. This won't happen, I know.

Most of the "creative nerds" I have encountered in this industry are arrogant, have grandiose beliefs about their own intelligence and have zero empathy for anybody who is not exactly like them. I don't think things would be much better if they ran the show.


+1 for this. The "business" folk might be filling your day to day with features that only improve conversion rates which is soul draining, of course, but nothing feels worse than working on something interesting surrounded by these wannabe wozniak "nerds" that instill this unspoken aura of "youre too dumb to be in the room with me." THOSE are the people that i hate the most in this industry.


Interesting you used Wozniak as the model. I get the impression from everything I’ve read about him is that he is very forgiving of people less knowledgable/experienced than himself. I take your comment to be even more poignant in that light, since the people who might aspire to be more like him, are ignoring the value of his personable personailty.


> "youre too dumb to be in the room with me"

Had a coworker say to a client, "I could explain it you but you're not smart enough to understand it."

Absolutly ridiculous and toxic individual.


I have met people who are so focused on business/money that I find them repulsive. At the same time, I know some geeks who are the most bitter and angry humans ever. Even when they consider you smart and let you in their inner circles, all they do is complain about un-worthy developers or managers. It gets draining.

I am too old to hang out with negative people, also too old for people who are only interested in making money. So I searching for a new tribe, I think outdoors people are the happiest bunch. I just don't know what can I do.


Like everything in life you need a balance between the "business types" and the "creative nerds". To think that any one personality type is far superior to any other shows a lack of understanding of the human condition.


He’s not suggesting that they “run the show”. He’s suggesting that they work on the things that they think are important. The alternative is to ask them to do what they don’t think is important. Doesn’t sound like that’s worked out too well for you.


lots of artists are like that too. yay for weirdos


It certainly need some amount of ego to be The leader of the pack, or do something different. The right amount create unique weirdo-creative genius nerd, the wrong amount create a jerk. It’s depends on your personality type as well, you can’t just suddenly want to be creative nerd and just become one. I mean, technically you can, skill and knowledge can be learn, but it will not be the same. Some people just born to be......ok now that’s borderline woo woo Lmao.


> I think creative nerds are the life-blood of the industry, but they tend to be shy and not assertive, so they have their life controlled by the "business types". I honestly believe that if the nerds told them to fuck off and started spending their time working on things they think are relevant, the world would become much better quickly. This won't happen, I know.

I recently saw a video about Boeing that concluded that the whole debacle was due to it straying aware from its commitment to good engineering and to trying to please the wall street. It traced back to the source of decline as the purchase of McDonnell Douglas which was mainly done due to Boeing management feeling that they needed better "business types", which was all that McDonnell Douglas.

Slowly, but I am seeing an acceptance and respect towards the nerds/engineering instead of hype men & impressive stock figures. Wall street types are seen as the hyenas/fox in a sheep's skin that need not be celebrated and looked upto.


I'd love to see that video. I would call this "Chipotle Syndrome". It is a long-held hypothesis I have that MBAs are subjectively-motivated rent-seekers looking to pad their resumes and they do so by transient boosts in, say, profits - most infamously by sacrificing product quality (e.g. outsourcing) - leaving the future of the company poorer as they chase the golden parachute. Chipotle is a famous example of a founding team going public, bringing in MBAs, and then having to constantly appease Wall St. rent-seekers until, voila, their food quality suffers; likely because of labor cutting costs introducing unskilled labor to a relatively speaking complicated food preparation scheme.

Meanwhile Wall St. simply downgrades, the MBAs shrug their shoulders and speak about drive-thru ordering as an innovation, the Founders get ousted, and people become sick.


I think the MBAs are just the tool/symptom of the problem. The problem is Wall St, why do we need it? Why are companies so bothered about stock prices? Why do companies have to put a show for them? Let them learn the trade and understand the value that is offered by a business.

Short-terms gains at the expense of long-term losses is a fact that has to controlled by the board of directors and the ridiculous salaries of CEOs has to be stopped. A rule must be put in place that the shares they gain cannot be used during their tenure and only used 2-5 yrs after leaving the post.

Founders bring in an MBA to run the company is like parents bringing in a Consultant to raise the children. You can never expect anyone else to care of the kids as much as their own parents.

I think that Google lost its way due to Eric Schmidt. Considering that [Page was forced out in 2001](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Page#Changes_in_manageme...), he was away too long and Eric did his MBA-shit and screwed up the company. Page should have returned as CEO in 5 years instead of 10 yrs, it was too late by then. Now Google is Evil.

I feel that if someone like Page was leading Google and all the tech giants where lead by nerds like Satya Nadella & Sundar Pichai. PRISM & attack on encryption would not have been too strong. We need more founders like Elon Musk & Jack Dorsey. I hope someone like Sergey Brin advices the WhiteHouse on tech-business while Steve Woz or Richard Stallman advices on tech-ethics.

Mark Zuckerberg is a disaster, so is Bill Gates, Peter Thiel, Larry Ellison & all Steve-Jobs-like creatures.

Video: "McDonnell Douglas had used Boeing's money to buy Boeing" - https://youtu.be/EESYomdoeCs?t=468


Jobs was better on privacy than most. People wanted to take user data silently and Jobs’ objection is the source of asking for permissions. Apple’s premium feel relies on that walled garden approach.


> I think creative nerds are the life-blood of the industry, but they tend to be shy and not assertive, so they have their life controlled by the "business types". I honestly believe that if the nerds told them to fuck off and started spending their time working on things they think are relevant, the world would become much better quickly. This won't happen, I know.

This is how I felt about myself, I spent my early twenty working a job living frugally saving and then quitting to work on my own projects. Failed entrepreneurship was a great lesson in how hard it is build things people want and how easy it is to build things you think people want. The difference is often very subtle small details, but asking the right questions to unearth those details in incredibly challenging.

The amount of things that someone will give their time or attention to our suprisingly small


> I honestly believe that if the nerds told them to fuck off and started spending their time working on things they think are relevant, the world would become much better quickly

So much this.


there's no way it would happen. The powers in place will descend on you kicking, screaming, and lying to keep the status quo. It happens to any country tries to get rid of central banking or switch to a gold standard.

wars aren't started over human-rights, they are fought when you f%%k with someone's money.


> Meaninglessness. Most of the projects are simply not necessary, they do not help society in anyway, they just exist to make someone else wealthy.

True. Right now amidst the pandemic, it turned out the farmers, medical people, janitors, delivery guys are the most essential jobs.


What did you end up switching to?


> This won't happen, I know.

Ah, don't be so negative. I'm gonna do it or die trying.


Great write up. What are you doing now instead?


I stated my career early - while I was still in high school. I went from bagging groceries and doing checkouts at a grocery store to programming for a local company my senior year of high school. I continued doing this for my first couple years of college.

But then dot-bomb happened and it looked like the party was over. I looked down at the job opportunities after graduation. I didn't really want to spend the rest of my life wearing a tie, writing bank software and sitting in a cubicle every day, so I decided to try something different.

I became a seasonal park ranger. And it was awesome.

Like most jobs, I got it through knowing someone. My grandparents had volunteered for the NPS and were able to connect me with the right people. I became a seasonal park ranger at Yellowstone.

It's not for everyone. The pay is not great, but you do get lots of good benefits because it's a government job. And you're often living in remote areas (the nearest grocery store was an hour and a half drive from where I was stationed). It's also not conducive to family life if that's your thing (again, the closest school was 1.5 hours away and everyone around me was my coworkers). And the days are long, helping tourists, checking permits, etc. Permanent jobs are also incredibly hard to get - you usually have to do years of seasonal work to accrue enough seniority to get considered for a permanent position.

But the benefits? Being able to crack open a drink after a long day and look up at more stars than I ever thought existed - I spent many nights on the front porch of my cabin looking up at the Milky Way. Hiking, camping, boating on the weekends are easy because I was right there in the park. Clean air, clean water. A good group of coworkers (for me) who legit really care about protecting these astounding natural resources. And a feeling that you're really making a difference and reaching people.

I did this for a few years and they were among my happiest years prior to my marriage. Ultimately, I ended up going back into tech after things recovered. But there are days that I really miss the outdoors and wearing the uniform.


Wow, what a story.

> A good group of coworkers (for me) who legit really care about protecting these astounding natural resources. And a feeling that you're really making a difference and reaching people.

This feeling of 'feel' for a thing, its what I miss in tech personally. Companies offer a service, want a happy customer and make money that way. But a 'feel' for the actual goal and way its done usually lacks. Too many egos...


Agreed. People so rarely bring passion to the job. In fact, they often react with hostility when encountering someone who is genuinely passionate about software (to my mind, because they feel it reflects back on them poorly).

I think the industry is totally wrong about the type of activity that programming is. It's a creative endeavor, not a mechanical one. The best people are the ones who derive joy from it, not just a paycheck.


The rpi started me on electronics, rabbitholed into manufacturing of all kinds... material science, applied chemistry.

I end up looking at nature with both my old eyes and the cold scientific ones. A piece of wood, pale shades, smooth, is also a matrix of nanoscopic sugar fibers. It's odd to confront the two point of views. Same goes for butterfly wings, or flower petals..


Like most people here, I developed myopia fairly soon after starting a cubicle job, and I can’t even see the stars anymore. It’s just a memory now. Even with glasses it’s not the same. Whether staring at a acreen was the cause, or just the thing I wasted it on, it’s gone.


I developed myopia in grade school. Then, in my late 40s, I developed cataracts. When I got replacement lenses, I had one of the eyes set to focus at infinity. And now I can see the stars again.


What town were you closest to? I grew up in Bozeman and spent a reasonable amount of time in the west side of the park.


I was stationed out of south entrance (Snake River district). Closest town was Jackson, Wyoming. There was a small convenience store at Flagg Ranch about 4 miles away, but anything you couldn’t get there required driving to Jackson.

About once a month I’d go to Sams in Idaho Falls, which was usually an all-day trip.

I’ve been up through Bozeman before. Beautiful area!


I left after over 25 years. I love programming and love working with Linux, but the jobs always came down to "help us steal peoples personal information so we can slam them with spam for products the neither want or need." It was unfulfilling. I went back to school and got an MA in history. I teach humanities though I still teach a couple of programming classes. I miss it a little. I would go back in a heartbeat for the right position, but I am through getting mauled in tech interviews which turned into combat trivial pursuit. I love technology and I still create applications mostly for myself or to help automate my school. I get new ideas from HN.


> I am through getting mauled in tech interviews which turned into combat trivial pursuit. I love technology and I still create applications mostly for myself or to help automate my school.

This. Something has definitely changed in the last ~10 to 20 years since the end of the dotcom era of interviewing in the tech industry. Before it was as simple as reading the AUTHORS file in an open-source project like Linux to vouch for a programmer applying to somewhere like Red Hat or Mozilla. But now we are expecting them to write a proof of quicksort's worst-case runtime complexity or to explain the Diffie-Helman public key exchange mathematically on a whiteboard to "see how you think" and "prove programmer ability" which is unnecessarily academic and they either don't use it directly or search on Google for it anyway.

That's just the onsite interviews, pre-interviews are riddled with Leetcode, Hackerrank and Codility tests which can be cheated or the solution can be found on Google. What a shame that these flawed tests still exist.


Interviewing is going to drive me from the industry. I'm skilled - I've consistently provided high value at my jobs - but I'm not formally trained (don't have a CS degree) and I don't have the time anymore to sit around grinding leetcode just so I can land my next gig.


That or waste a day or two of your weekend on some trivial app to be nitpicked on some nonsense not in the spec.

I had a go at our manager recently after letting two people do our tech test then say they were too inexperienced. We could have worked that out before wasting their time.


the #1 reason i think about leaving is due to the interviews as well (also not formally trained). im about 6 years in and its just getting worse and worse. the thought of spending my free time studying for interviews is so miserable. on top of that, i realized recently i have a lot of childhood trauma and interviews are very triggering due to the often combative, critical nature.

it's kinda depressing in a way, because coding was at first, something that pulled me out of the slump i was in due to a shitty upbringing. i really like writing code, but the industry sure does know how to suck all the fun out of it.


> tech interviews which turned into combat trivial pursuit

Excellent phrase. Thank you.


wow, I plan to study history at some point. Is it possible to study part time, do you think?


Depends on the program, but certainly. Don't expect finding a job with it will be easy and even if you do, don't expect the pay to be great.


A mix of the fact that most companies I've worked for don't value their workers (they say they do, but their idea of valuing workers is buying fizzy drinks in the office and giving you "unlimited vacation" which just means they pressure you to come back after a few days and don't have to pay out accrued vacation time when you leave), and because they don't care about what they're building or how much it hurts the customer as long as they can increase their bottom line a few percentage points.

That being said, I haven't left but have been wanting to for ages. I'd be more interested in staying if I could find a unionized work place (when Delta cut salaries by 20%, the pilots union was able to negotiate for profit sharing after the hard times were over, when my company did that, they refuse to even discuss whether we'll ever be bumped back up to normal… even if we get paid well already it doesn't mean we shouldn't work together for better working conditions and more of a stake at the table) or a worker owned co-op to work for, but so far that hasn't materialized.


I haven't left but I'm trying to figure out something else to do with my life.

I've been doing customer projects for the last 8 years and it has been horrible experience. 99% of the things you're building are the same thing all over again (CRUD apps and various integrations) and pretty much 100% of the problems are caused by people acting stupid in different ways. It all just feels so pointless.

I wish I could come up with something else, but currently this is all I know. At least it all pays well. So golden handcuffs of sort I guess.


> 100% of the problems are caused by people acting stupid in different ways

I moved from being employed to being a contractor/consultant (somewhere between the two). In the last 8 years I've worked with 8 or 9 clients and each one had serious issues (all bar one * , I would say). There were either individuals with power or small groups who were holding everyone else back by making consistently poor decisions, and there were upper managers too blind to see it or remove the offending parties, despite being informed by their staff what was going on.

It grinds you down, but I feel very similarly to you - it pays damn well and I can't see another way to achieve the lifestyle I want.

(* that one was a huuuuge corporate, and a department with incredibly low productivity and systemic issues with working practices. However they produced quality software to a schedule that was clearly OK with them, so .... that's OK I guess)


I've been on a pilot track in my former life, but got out due to bad eyesight, which made it risky to invest more. Now I've been a software developer for 20 years, but it doesn't make me happy. It's an ok job and provides food and shelter for my familiy, but I wish I could get back into aviation...


Meanwhile, if you ask a pilot today on advice... They will say, get a university degree and look elsewhere than aviation


We always think that grass no the other side is greener, but not really. It's yellow :(

It's the same with how a lot of tech folks idolize farming. In reality it's a tough job with long hours and cold weather.


I know a family that did that. We're not really in touch any more but he was a tech worker in London in the mid 00s and she was in corporate purchasing or something.

A few years ago they upped and moved to Wales and operate a cattle farm, they also home-school their kids. Mostly now I see their ads for pasture-fed beef on facebook. They seem happy.


Everyone seems happy on facebook.


People romanticize all sorts of things, welding, nursing...

My grandfather was a farmer and died after an accident cleaning something with gasoline. Sounds dumb (I don't know the details) but farmers tend to have accidents like that because the whole job is working with dangerous machinery, chemicals, and animals, and a "family farmer" has an incentive to take risks someone working for a corporation doesn't.

I remember a news story about a farmer who passed out from breathing something toxic, so his oldest son goes to get him, he passes out too, his wife goes...the whole family died like that one after the other.


Well, most of them love the flying part itself. Problem is everything else. With software development it's just the opposite. The perks are great, but the actual work can be very boring...


Sounds like you need a hobby. Work to live, don’t live to work.

Software Development can be mundane and repetitive. Stupid users cause most of my headaches but I use my hobbies as an outlet.


Can you try specializing in a different niche? There are so many different types of software, and it sounds like you already have the basic skills.

Might need to tailor your resume a bit but if you like coding it doesn't sound like you're at the point where it's time to leave everything.


I've made a few rules for myself regarding working in tech:

1. Do not work for a company where tech is not their primary product. If you are only a cost center, you will be treated like a second-class citizen.

2. Work for a smaller company. Your work is so much more impactful when you are not part of a mega-machine.

3. Work only remotely. The quality of life increase that comes with working remotely is massive, and I am not willing to give that up.

Of course this is not always going to be realistic. For one, working for a company that sells tech does not mean that you will be treated well, but it is more likely. Smaller companies, and remote only tend to pay a bit less (and definitely less than a FAANG), but still more than plenty to live a great life.

Who knows where life will lead me, but I will try to stick to these points.


I work for a small company where tech is elementary for the primary product, and even has become a (small) product of its own. I used to work one day per week from home, which suited me well, but since the bloody Corona crisis, I've been working from home full time, and I don't like it, at all, and video conferencing even less. Although I am nerdy-ish and introvert, it seems I do need to connect to physical people from time to time.


Improvised, forces wfh is not the same as being remote at a fully remote company though.


> 2. Work for a smaller company. Your work is so much more impactful when you are not part of a mega-machine.

That depends. If you work for a small company working on a product few use, then what's the impact?


Impact meaning my impact on the product, not my impact on humanity as a whole. I get more satisfaction from a larger impact on a product that affects less people than less impact on a product that affects many more people.


I guess I'd rather be the town baker than work at Wonder-Bread.


One way of looking at it is your_impact = your_contribution * number_of_users. If you work for a mega corp chances are your contribution is small so you would be better off in a small(er) company.

The more I work as a programmer the more I agree with points 1 and 2. With Coronavirus I'm having the change to work remote 100% of the time and I'm enjoying so far. It's likely that's something I'm going to pursue in the future.


For me nothing beats the feeling I get when I read a heartfelt message from a user who's happy about something I decided / did personally.


I left (mostly) when tech became a tool for greed and scummery. Was asked too many times to participate in completely legal yet morally abhorrent actions.

Also saw that programmers were starting to be treated like factory workers where attendance and metrics like keystrokes per minute were more important than good well written and documented code.

The final straw however was "move fast and break things". Basically pump out change for the sake of change and let the end user do quality control.

One could argue that app stores have also played a significant role, basically taking thirty percent gross while depriving the developer of direct contact with the end user.

Bottom line, I’d rather be sailing.


> The final straw however was "move fast and break things". Basically pump out change for the sake of change and let the end user do quality control.

The worst part is how this leads to more on-call and an increase in working off-hours.


Oh, exactly this! First I get lectured about how delivering a solution fast is more important than getting the technical details right... and then I get assigned for on-call duty. Because "move fast" means someone else gets a bonus, and "break things" means I have to fix the bugs over the weekend.


> Because "move fast" means someone else gets a bonus, and "break things" means I have to fix the bugs over the weekend.

This is a great quote, I'm going to steal this from you!


> Also saw that programmers were starting to be treated like factory workers where attendance and metrics like keystrokes per minute were more important than good well written and documented code.

This is why I quit being a software engineer as well (I didn't leave the tech industry altogether tho, just switched career trajectories a bit).

I spent years trying to talk some sense into the people pushing that and trying to explain (it's as much art as science) but in the end the Scrum people won. So, I moved over to devops and consulting where most of the time I'm helping people with stuff, and the long death-march sprints to satisfy an arbitrarily deadline that nobody cared about until it got put on paper two weeks ago, and still doesn't matter except it will turn some spreadsheet field red that draws the Eye of Sauron from higher ups, are mostly over now. I get my coding fix by working on open source projects, and it's way more fulfilling.


> pump out change for the sake of change and let the end user do quality control

So true! Saying both as developer and user!


My personality changed around my early 30s in a way that meant I found it very hard to align myself with anything less than the highest quality leaders in the company.

Which is a euphemism for “I turned into an obnoxious punk” but I’m fine with that too :)

It feels like as the years pass and ones sense of autonomy as a human being overflows the brim, it gets harder to tolerate not being your own boss.

I took five years off work and was complete master of my destiny, which finally wore off, and I now work at a private boarding school that is recognized globally as being a center of excellence for teaching and learning.

The summary is it’s completely different and challenging to switch careers like this. It’s also been fantastic because (1) I am naturally a very gifted teacher (2) but I am completely unqualified, very raw, and full of newbie naivety which is all very humbling (3) and yet very liberating as once again the expectations on me are low and I have room to learn and grow, and (4) I am surrounded by people who actually know what they are doing and are committed to helping me get better.

The best part is that I can approach the day to day of the new role and the skills it requires with the mindset of someone who has been through one career already. I may turn into a punk again but for now I’m enjoying being a level headed journeyman surrounded by masters.


I worked in the industry for over 10 years and I have a PhD in Computer Science. In my last job I felt miserable from Day 1. I had reached a point where coding brought me no joy. In all of my job, at the end of the day, I was serving ads to users. I was also an average developer and part of that is because I never found the motivation to keep improving. I was only so much interested in getting things done and never interested in going deep and figuring out how it’s getting done at lower level.

So I quit. I decided that movies is something that I have always loved and it’s what brought me most joy. I researched different career options and I came across creative development and producing. It resonated with me. Read movie scripts, give notes to improve it, work with writers, directors and identify the best strategy to get a movie made. One doesn’t need need money to become a producer. So I left the Bay Area and moved to Los Angeles and interned at two companies. The second company was a great fit for my interests (genre, etc) and I am now in full time Role and absolutely enjoying every minute of it.

I earn a quarter of what I used to make but I am much happier. But there are things about technology that I still like. And I am always curious about new developments. So I still enjoy reading Hacker News everyday.


Did you have to do any training for that? I’ve been contemplating leaving tech and have always been interesting in your area.


I am avid movie buff. For training, I would highly recommend reading Story by Robert McKee and look up information on how to do script coverage. There are plenty of information on that. I am happy to answer in more detail through email. saby83 at gmail


Wow what a career change! Congrats and thank you for sharing your story!


Thanks!


Never enjoyed it. I knew from the second day of my first tech job that it wasn't what I wanted to be doing, but I blamed the job itself rather than the industry. Moved on after a year and tried other tech jobs (different size companies, different types of software), but they were all essentially the same.

I like building things for people to use, but as a programmer found myself very isolated from users (even at small companies). It felt like I was doing the hard work of building a product but then someone else got to do the fun part of showing it off, while my reward was just... more programming.

Also, I found the job extremely boring at times, extremely difficult at others. I decided that the stress wasn't worth it, especially when my work was having a limited impact.

Finally, I'm not in the USA so tech jobs had no "golden handcuffs". Many other jobs were available that paid as well as a Software Engineer.

I still work on personal programming projects, where I can be much more involved in the whole product and not just the code. I can also choose to only work on things that I really care about and/or that I feel can make a real difference.


This is resonating with me. I'm still working in the tech industry but considering a change. To which industry did you switched?


I left before I got into it. It seemed like the whole field went to web & mobile & saas, none of which I care for. And interesting things like OS research got largely killed by excessively complex hardware & software stacks and bloat that must be supported or nobody will look at the thing. Freedom got attacked (saas, centeralization, nat and other efforts to kill p2p, drm, browser & web apps to enslave you instead of user agent and desktop software to empower you, portability and choice got killed for "our way or the highway", list goes on) quite hard, hackers across the board dropped principles for "pragmatism" or whatever. None of the job ads I saw had had anything in them that resonated with me. So I got depressed, dropped out of high school and gave up on going to college.

Since then? I did stints in various unskilled & skilled blue collar jobs. Can't say I had much passion for any of them. So now I'm back, without education (mild regret but I can always study more myself; I think education should be increasingly on-demand and lifelong), but at least the pay is better and I get to work in a clean office while listening to music of my choice. I think the field still sucks (well, I imagine there are jobs I would really like but the chances of finding them, without leaving my country and family and everything behind, is probably quite slim), the grass wasn't very green on the other side.

Of course, I'm still a hacker at heart and I hope to create something nice one of these days. Probably nothing commercial.


> None of the job ads I saw had had anything in them that resonated with me.

I occasionally see ones that resonate with me, but either require an education I can't afford to obtain, or want over a decade of experience working in similar roles.


Got sick of dealing with assholes. One weekend, a director said that we all had to come in to finish the last features for a Monday launch, so we all came in ten hours both days and finished the parts necessary for the feature. He never showed up in the office. Monday rolls around and we find out that he knew on Thursday that the launch wasn't going to happen.

I had been at the company for over a decade, and had gotten quite lucky in the RSU lottery & thought, wait, I have enough money to last forever, so why do I do this to myself?

My health was bad, I was overweight, smoked, was depressed. I felt like it was going to kill me if I stayed another decade.

So I quit. In the years since, I stopped smoking, lost 1/3 my bodyweight & really got my shit together. I dink around on personal projects and learn new things. I follow HN because I'm genuinely interested in tech & now I can pursue what things I want, rather than those I need for $JOB or $NEXT_JOB.

I miss the good people I used to work with, but this is almost completely offset by how much I don't miss the assholes and the hassles (annual review, recruiting, meetings, explaining basic math to MBAs, etc).


I worked as a web developer for a couple of years after teaching myself ruby and javascript. I got into programming because I found it intellectually interesting, but unfortunately commercial programming is mostly mindnumbing. I got bored of creating CRUD apps over and over again for boring business applications. I considered upping my CS and maths skills to get more interesting jobs, but decided to pursue more of a nonprofit strategy/research path instead.

I now work for a small consultancy company doing research and designing funding programmes for charitable foundations. It's great because I get to do lots of research, writing, and thinking and have a positive impact on the world. No regrets, I'm very glad to have made the transition.

Still follow HN out of mild addiction and because there are interesting articles.


Can I ask what your job title is? This sounds like an area i'd be interested in but having only experience with tech i'm not sure of any tips or tricks to finding these hybrid jobs.


My title is just 'researcher' - it's not a well-defined industry so titles are not standardised. Here's where I work in case you're interested: https://www.science-practice.com/teams/good-problems/

My route in was pretty idiosyncratic, and I think that's true of many people in these kinds of jobs. A more standard way to transition into this kind of research/consulting/policy work from tech might be go for jobs in technology or innovation policy. If you're in the UK I can point out some orgs that do that kind of work but in any country there will be various think tanks, policy consultancies, etc.


I'd be interested in hearing about tech and innovation policy orgs in the UK. Currently I think I either want to work in the civil service or in such an org. As you say, it would be nice to have a positive impact on the world.


Unfortunately i'm in the USA, but thank you that gets me started!


Why did I leave? I retired after programming for over 40 years.

I started with Fortran while in the US Air Force (yay CDC 6600 and VAXen), got my CS degree, got out, worked in C/C++ and TCP/IP in the early '90s (yay SunOS), got married, moved to a big buy-side investment manager (meh Solaris), more C++, then Java. Lots of Sybase (yay JDBC).

7 years ago I quit after our big company was bought by a bigger company (yuck Perl).

Took 6 months off for a sabbatical (yay Rome. wow Bernini), then entered my "encore" career at a public safety agency. Introduced Python to that org, of which I am slightly proud. As always, plenty of RDBMS (Pro tip: don't run Oracle on (yuck) Windows Server 2008).

Regrets? Just that it's a shame programmers tend towards philistinism, and that office culture and beer culture overshadow any appreciation of history, philosophy, and the arts.


Open offices and the extreme micromanagement known as "agile".

Both are so toxic to mental health that I had to move away.

I haven't really left the industry itself but I've moved away from a pure engineering role (which is my true passion) to a more specialized role which is ok but not as enjoyable. But, I don't have to deal with open offices nor agile, so it's a win.

The other aspect that makes me sad is that what we call tech companies today, aren't. Their product isn't tech. Netflix is an entertainment company. Google and FB are advertising companies. And so on. Very few actual tech companies in SV today.


May I ask what the specialized role is? Management? Sales Engineer? Business analyst? Data science?


I did independent consulting for a while and currently back with a larger company in a roving architect/advisor role so it is similar to consulting. It is nice in that I get to work with all the engineering teams but I greatly miss owning a product and doing hands-on development.


Huh. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side. Consulting looks like the holy grail when you're stuck doing staff enhancement freelance work.


I haven't left, but I'm thinking about it (despite still being early in my career lol). For me, it's the frustration of "nothing really matters." I value helping people, and building software actual people will use is one of the ways of doing that. Unfortunately, I have not had that opportunity. I've had to work on multiple projects that served no real purpose. It's extremely annoying.


I have found myself with a similar issue. Haven't been in the industry for too long (been working for over 3 years), but the constant shitshow that is FE development is really taking a toll on me. No matter what you do, people keep changing things, sometimes for the better, other times for no particular reason other than to work on new shiny things. If what I am writing right now will be thrown out soon or rewritten anyway, then why bother? Same goes for some BE stuff, Go language seems to be the new hip thing to do stuff in, repeating the cycle once more.

I have begun trying to find things I truly care about as a countermeasure to this fatigue, so far it seems to be moving in the direction of just helping with repairing and refurbishing used computer hardware. I know how to do it for my own purposes, it's less mentally taxing, you get to save useful stuff from going to the landfill and you will also help cut down on consumption. It probably helps that the results are immediate (broken device -> working device), but going this route will have a minuscule impact also on a larger scale.


> but going this route will have a minuscule impact also on a larger scale.

I think people trick themselves into thinking that "changing the world" is their ticket to happiness. I think looking more locally is the key to happiness. Make your community better in some way and the results are immediate, and you get to be a part of something meaningful and present. If you become the local guy that fixes people's old computer hardware, then you'll be genuinely impacting people's lives for the better.


So, rather than maybe help lots of people a tiny bit (hard to see the impact), help a small number of individuals a lot.


This!

I feel exactly the same. I’ve had a great career within web development and UX design, in pretty significant ways, but it’s still not fulfilling and I’ve lost purpose in it.

I’ve turned my UX interest towards city planning, and I focus more on nature, farming, exercising. Whatever energy I have left I spend on a few startups.

Also, I’ve gone through all the medical and psychological steps to be a helicopter pilot (old dream) and I’m applying to schools at this very moment.

Looking to make the switch more permanent soon, I still have a day job as frontend developer.

Purpose and intention is all.


> be a helicopter pilot (old dream)

Careful with that, its one of "those jobs" that people flock to, but very hard to make a living in. A relative of mine did that, started rich, got his own helicopter, isn't rich anymore.


But is he happy? That's the big question (I used to be a fixed wing flight instructor, poor but happy).


There is tons of help needed in Medical software, I made the jump to work in Radiation Oncology in 2014 after working at a large travel website and I do not regret it at all. The key is to find a company that maintains high security while still being "agile". That way the work is meaningful, and still similar in pace to working other programming jobs.

I find my work far more impactful, knowing millions of patients are being treated by my software in some way.


Thanks! I will look into those types of jobs.


Look into working at a university, "research programmer" is the title to search for. It won't pay well, but the benefits are usually world-class, the environment is incredibly fulfilling, and you can take courses for free.


Same here. I start feeling anxious any time I think about it. I think we spend a lot of energy to serve commercial purposes. I am on a huge project, that uses a lot of modern technologies like AWS, Angular, etc... just to sell products.

It is boring. So like you said, I just try to find an opportunity that could help, but it's hard to find.

A reason why I could not leave my job right now, is that it's well payed. That's a high risk when you have a family with kids.


I wonder if you pick a company that is both small (<20 people) and doing something you believe in if you'd have a different experience.

At a startup, you get to have a large impact on the company so it definitely can feel like you're making a difference.


I started out in technical writing a little more than 20 years ago with a masters degree, which turned into building websites. I built websites for a few years, when I became involved in a lawsuit with family/community/environmental org in a really novel and interesting area of law at the time. I thought that was quite enjoyable. So I decided to go to law school and become a lawyer, which I did.

Then I was a lawyer for around 15 years, and now I am moving on again. I am currently pursuing a masters degree in cognitive science, and I am planning to see if I can get into working on human cognition and AI/machine cognition in some interesting ways. (If anyone is doing anything like this, then hit me up. I am really interested.)

I do not regret my path at all. It is entirely likely that I could have made as much or more money if I had stayed with building websites and then gone into SWE or something, but a career in law was fun and challenging. And you can leave what you are doing at any time. I think a lot of people could stand to learn the lesson that you can, you really can, just say "screw it" and go do something else. It'll be ok, as long as you are even a little self-motivated.

I still follow HN because it is still one of the best online communities I've found, and it produces some of the more interesting and thoughtful interactions online. You know, it still has its faults, but overall I like it. HN is the primary way I discover new and interesting tech-related news, which still greatly interested me as a lawyer.


I love your mentality checkyoursudo. I started in civil/environmental engineering before getting into software development. For the past 5 years though I have been thinking about cognitive science in my free time and all of my idols are psychologists and neuroscientists. Might I ask where are you pursuing a masters in cog sci? This is exactly what I have wanted to do but the schools offering these programs are few from what I have seen. I'm in central florida currently.


I was living in Germany when I decided to do this. I am studying at a university in Sweden.

I don't really know the programs in the US very well. I didn't look at any when I was considering the field. Do you want to try to do a masters and then get into industry, or rather then continue with a PhD?


Ah thanks for the reply, that makes sense. I'm more interested in phd and academia than I am getting into the industry. Unfortunately cog sci still is still a bit of an obscure academic track given its "interdisciplinary" nature. I'm currently trying to find a highly regarded online psychology program I can take post-bacc to bolster my resume to apply for a masters/phd in cog sci in a couple of years. (It'd be easier for me to relocate at that time as well)


Thanks for sharing your story! I work on the machine learning side of things and have recently become very interested in the intersection of machine learning and law - for ex. disputing decisions made by algorithms, usage of machine learning in sentencing etc. How did you find going back to law school after tech?


Law school was fine. Some parts of it were quite difficult, while others were super simple. I had the advantage of already having a lot of experience writing professionally, and exams and papers (and lawyering) require a lot of writing. To do it right, it also takes a lot of reading. Like, a lot.

My best courses, I think because I was already scientifically/technically-minded, were the very math and technical based topics, like tax, retirement, real estate finance, etc, while the ones that I often had more difficulty with were things like family law and criminal law, for example, which were often much less intuitive and much more arbitrary-seeming to me.

Ultimately, law school was pretty easy for me overall. Certainly, I had friends and classmates who thought it was beastly difficult, though I suspect if they looked back at it now, most would say that it wasn't as bad as they felt at the time. It's different for everyone, right? Like anything else, how much you put in is how much you get out. I think that really probably anyone who can make it through an undergraduate program can make it through law school.


Meetings took forever, goals and budgets limited my creativity, have been getting fat on business lunches and life is simply too short to spend it in the office. Couldn't breathe with recycled air.

I got cancer and when I got better I have never wanted to go back to the office.

I have spent last 10 years travelling the world, reading, learning to live on very little. Never looked back. Life is not a bliss but I am happier in general and satified with tradeoffs I have made.

I still do some projects for my own satisfaction. Still enjoy programming and learning new skills.


Thanks for sharing your story. What is very little, and how do you make this very little? How do you learn new skills, and what keeps you motivated?


Well I am learning the old way - take a laptop and try something new, starting with small and then the project grows. Always enjoyed bottom up learning and discovery. I mostly do that in winter as in summer I prefer outdoors.

Edit: I have been blessed that despite two engineering degrees (financial math and electronic engineering) I have never worked as a programmer for living.

Since I have learned by trial and error 6502 assembler to hack strategy games on C-64 programming have always been unspoiled free time, pure fun activity for me. And 19 programming languages later it is still so.

I live in small summerhouse, eat simple food, cook, own old, small car that I use only when necessary. I prefer biking whenever possible. Buy most clothes and stuff used or heavily discounted. Buying used stuff is also good for the planet. Learnt a lot of DIY which is both cool and satifying.

I despise urban enviroment but have to visit the city cause I take care of older parents. So the summerhouse and living in the forrest is both a choice and a way to spend less on rent..

In a way I always wanted this but given the opportunity I had been chasing money, opportunities, new experiences, following the rat race etc. Now as this is over I feel less conflicted which makes me happier.


How much did you have saved when you set out? Have you worked at all in the last ten years?


No, I haven't been working in the last ten years. For seven years I have been mostly traveling and drifting, mostly in SE Asia. Long story.

You need way, way less money then you think you do but the expectations adjustment process on the mental level is very slow. But of course it is good to have some savings.


I have lived in SE Asia for about seven years.

In case anyone is curious, I've been able to live well on about $6000-8000 a year. I certainly eat like a king, since fruits and vegetables are amazingly cheap here. Otherwise my hobbies are inexpensive, e.g. exercise and sports, writing software for personal projects, making digital art, etc.

It's not for everyone, but I would have really struggled on a more conventional path. It's been my experience that working for someone else is really degrading, although I'm sure some companies are better than others.

I consider myself extremely lucky, as most of my neighbors here lead very difficult lives. In the poorer half of the world, life is extremely brutal and arduous for most people. It's very sad and I've seen things here that are shocking and appalling (and I am not faint of heart, after spending many years "hustling" in the US). The behavior of other expats here also leaves something to be desired, although at least it's not as bad as Thailand...


Are you worried the cost of living will increase over time and price you out? Singapore and Korea were once cheaper too though I suppose most countries aren't on that trajectory.


Fortunately now I'm able to make enough as a freelancer that I'll be able to increase my income if necessary, but that's almost entirely due to having a lot of time to spend on learning web and software development while I've been here so far.

Cambodia is developing rapidly, but somehow I doubt that the kleptocratic government here will manage to turn this place into the next Singapore or Korea :)


I am ready to leave.

18 years experience. My Current job the tech lead is a diva, doesn't listen to anyone else and just add more and more to our enormous codbase. There are now 3 devs. The other two just basically clean up behind him as he builds technical debt. Trying to discuss is likely to end up in an argument.

I have had a could of technical test recently and failed them both. Today I was given a number of reasons, for example was missing test x,y,z, when the spec said if you were pushed for time, write down the test you would do (which I did - along side that I actually provided the most complex test to implement, to check the timing of the cache refresh). I was advised I should have provided mocks (which would have taken ages to set up for example). They preferred a REST API to the HTML that I gave as output despite the specs asking for a "page". A couple of whitespace errors that made pylint complain. I hard coded some URLS rather than make them configurable (it's a test, not a production application) and didn't provide a setup.py (which was never asked for). Am I expected to be a mind reader? "It should only take you two or three hours"

Before that was a computer science fundamentals quiz for an hour and a half where I had forgotten thing from a couple of decades ago. How to avoid deadlocks in Java (I haven't done threading in years, I said I would need to reads up on it again) and what happens when hash tables have a collision. Again, couldn't remember off the top of me head as it was 20 years ago.

Does no on value the art of trying to keep code simple and maintainable? How do I demonstrate to prospective employers that I am good at this and stop wasting my time with nonsense described above?


"How to avoid deadlocks in Java"

I'm curious, this is not something I've needed to know, but what would be Java specific to an answer?

If I was asked about deadlocks, I would say "always acquire resources in the same order".


> If I was asked about deadlocks, I would say "always acquire resources in the same order".

I don't think that's the correct solution, unfortunately - see e.g. the dining philosophers problem.

Edit: or rather, you have to be very careful what the "order" of resources is.


It was a Java job. They said that it didn't matter that I do Python most of the time, and as I say threading isn't something that has come up since university for me.

I imagine it would take half a day or reading to remember it again.


It sounds like you have an awful boss or lead.

So much of our mental state in programming has nothing to do with the code or our work and so much to do with the people we work with. I think regardless of whether you stay or leave the industry, you've gotta leave any jobs where the people are that toxic.


He is a bit of a nightmare work wise. Aside from work he is actually a fun person, but he has built most of the monstrosity and takes any suggestion for improvement way too personally. Its a shame as I like the people, but not the work.


I was tired, stressed and bored of tech so I learned how to sail, sold my stuff, bought a boat and sailed around in the Caribbean on a budget.

I didn't work for a year and now I'm working on contract 6 months a year and try to maintain my boat/sail the other 6 months It gives me time to refuel and enjoy working in tech again.


That sounds like the dream. Is there anywhere you document the other 6 months?


I have an instagram account with beach pictures in it but that's about it. https://www.instagram.com/2marinsdeaudouce/


I haven't left, but I almost have on a few occasions (18 years in starting at a call center, then to desktop/client support, then sysadmin, then web developer, then system engineer, now dev lead that does a lot of architecture work). When I almost quit:

Incompetent leadership: bosses and leaders that are seemingly nice people, but have no clue as to what's going on in their organization. Typically managers that aren't technical at all, but they just "fell up" in the organization somehow.

Relatively low pay: speaks for itself. It's easier to deal with hard problems and difficult people when you're also not worrying about which bills to pay this month, and seeing your peers in other companies do a lot better than you. This was especially true when I was in academia.

Toxic work environment: This unfortunately has happened a couple of times, once in a small family-run shop (13 people) and once in academia (a different role than the aforementioned one). There was a common denominator with both - the person at or near the top was a nasty combination of incompetent, bitter, and pit their employees against each other. In other words people that were truly pathological. All in all in my career I've reported up through dozens if not over a hundred people total through the various chains of command, but these two stand out. With one in particular there's a bit of PTSD (in the small shop the CEO would threaten jobs for minor things - this was ~2010 when the economy was still near the bottom where I live, and his COO would do equally vicious things).

I work for a great company now with some of the most awesome leadership you could ask for. I'm glad I didn't quit.


I realized that I was only a so-so programmer. the real ninjas were so passionate and knowledgeable; I was only successful because of brute force and overworking. I moved on to a career in the law - which is a much more natural fit for me.


> realized that I was only a so-so programmer. the real ninjas were so passionate and knowledgeable; I was only successful because of brute force and overworking.

I think I'm starting to feel this. I'm neither talented nor educated enough to work on things I truly find interesting and my ability to learn feels like its completely flatlined these days. Unfortunately, I feel trapped in what I do rn, because it's really one of the only decently paying careers I can get.


As I age I feel the opposite. I can't work out whats going on as quickly as I used to but when I do I am far more inclined to refactor stuff so that its easy for the next person.


As you age, you just can't bring the same focus and stamina to bear on a project - which is ok, because experience, wisdom, and efficiency can actually make things easier.


That's why I am forced to refactor it. I'll do worse in interview questions but write nicer code.


Are you a lawyer or are there jobs that you find stimulating without the overhead of getting accredited/years of school?


I'm a lawyer, but talented paralegals (typically just a college degree) can do very well. Especially ones who can master ediscovery - the production of documents stored electronically.


how do you find the hours in law compared with working hours in tech?


There's not the 24H grind with programming to a deadline. There can be long days, especially when preparing for a court appearance or a trial, and law firms notoriously work their associates very long hours to cover their significant pay checks. Attorneys at firms bill by the hour, so there's an incentive to work lots and lots of hours to be at the top law firms - but there are lots of more human jobs at companies as in-house counsel, or with the government or with a non profit or NGO.


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