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Lessons I've Learned as a 15 Year Old Web Developer (joshternyak.com)
67 points by joshternyak 87 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 72 comments

When 2020 started, I began to learn SEO and content marketing. I am currently working on helping bring commercial cleaning to the 21st century at getonedesk.com. On the side, I'm learning React Js at home while working on growing a loyal audience.

Being a web developer is difficult, stressful, confusing, and exhausting. But, it's also very exciting, interesting, and meaningful. I've learned many lessons during my journey of becoming a web developer at a young age. Here are 20 lessons I learned that will help you be a better web developer and more successful in life in general.

Bro listen this is everything I'd tell my 15 year old self and I probably wouldn't listen but maybe you will

We write code for people not machines -- any 12 year old can code and see the pretty output but only a master can write code for people to understand. Remember code is twice as hard to read as it is to write but think of it as the ultimate design document, the single source of truth for a team

As a knowledge worker your role is to amass and disseminate knowledge think of yourself as a teaching professional like a tutor and abandon academic mark chasing ideology in favour of hyper learning

When we talk about DRY we're not only referring to code but also to repeating the same conversations and behavior patterns. Look at your work like an investment not just a trade of services for money -- seek ways to maximize the returns on your efforts and don't be swindled by people seeking to divorce you from the fruits of your labours by forcing you into narrow stereotypes -- they'll call you a ninja talent as a means to lower your guard you feel me?

Take it from someone who has been in software since before dialup everything we do is actually a conversation, it's no coincidence we call them languages and the quality of conversation determines the quality of the software it's a practical view of Conway's principle

Do your best and try to see beyond the curve at the application of computer science thinking to human behaviour after all software is a social exercise and in general a software solution is aimed at creating new communications pathways between people

Nice! Cool to find another 15yr old webdev here even if we have different goals :)

I know everybody's mileage varies, but these were some of my lowest priorities 20 years ago when I was a 15yo webdev.

I wanted to have fun. I built for me. I explored the depths of the internet to get experience with what could be done, and pushed a few boundaries myself. I made games. I wrote appalling code but that didn't matter because I kept moving forward. I built communities around my interests. I just had fun.

I'm going to lose points for this but 15yos shouldn't be worrying about coverage or quality metrics or critique. You're a child. Enjoy it while it lasts.

My second tip is to not get addicted to being in the spotlight. Getting your blog posts onto various front-pages is like cocaine. I mean that. Even after everybody's moved on, you'll still want more and more. That's where burn out lies.

Not just blog posts, but comments. I enjoy discussing stuff with others, but I hate seeing that number at the top of the page go up, because it goes to my head, and I can't stop checking it.

Up- and down-votes are necessary for sorting and moderation purposes, but I wish it was less visible to me. There should be a "noscore" option on HN that hides the scores unless you view individual comments/posts, like "noprocast".

Yes, it's a very similar feeling, isn't it? Feedback loops and stimulus addiction are dark magic.

I haven't yet decided if it's absolutely unhealthy in the context of HN comments though. Just thinking aloud but I like to think that I've got something worthwhile to say if I get involved in a thread. That definitely wasn't the case on Digg or Slashdot way-back-when.

But if I'd comment less without the validation, perhaps they're not as worthwhile as I'd like to think and I'm just another karma-whore getting his fix.

It's really awesome you're making stuff online so early in your life. Keep going and you will be way more successful than most of us.

If I may, I'd like to offer some constructive criticism, however. The tone of your posts is a bit instructional (self-help-esque) and comes across as marketing. This is why some people are being dismissive of your writing. I'd consider softening up the tone to be more personal and authentic. Personally, I am very interested in your honest perspective on web development and self-directed learning.

Best of luck!

Thanks so much for the advice. I will definitely change the style of my writing and make it authentic. My next post will be about how I am transitioning into paid work even though I am not legally allowed to sign contracts.

Not OP, but thanks for being constructive and not dismissive. Struck a great balance, clearly empathetic. Team zumu.

Why, is there a threshold of making stuff that once you cross you are "more successful than most of us"?

I can't speak definitively to numbers and can't judge success in any sort of quantitative way, so take that comment with a grain of salt. But I can say starting programming early in life is definitely a big leg up on others in the field.

Hi Josh, thank you for sharing your experiences, and I'm glad to see the journey you've been on and the lessons you've learned.

A lot of the lessons you're talking about come to those of us later in life (college, jobs, projects), so it will helpful to you later on when you run into these same situations and have a better understanding how to handle them compared to trying to figure it out/deal with it later.

A few people here seem to be laughing due to age or experience (or lack of experience, in whatever area). Please don't take this to heart, as a lot of us may have forgotten that we had to conquer similar hurdles and deal with these issues and feelings, too. From the people I know around 15, you seem to be doing very well. Please continue on the path, though. Talent can get you to the race track, but hard work will make sure you're at the front of the pack.

It's a bit refreshing seeing a viewpoint from your eyes and mind. A lot of us began in a similar path to where you are, and, at least for me, it's been very rewarding. Things change all the time, cool new stuff comes out, and you're able to do things you thought impossible a year ago.

Reading through your site a bit, it seems you are working on some interesting apps and are solving problems that you'll continue to run into later (DRY, Writing Tests, etc). So far, you're on the right track. You build a house a brick at a time, and so far you're laying a good foundation.

I would actually add a lesson or two for you:

There is no Perfect Solution. Just because somebody really likes Python, or React, or Rust doesn't mean that those are the right languages to use for everything. Each language, framework, or mental-model has its strengths where it will work better than others, and weaknesses where it will not. You are not married to one thing, and no one thing will be the "perfect" solution to all of your problems.

Secondly, release. Playing with cool new libraries and frameworks is fun, but a lot of maturity and project knowledge (as a whole) comes from the big changes that releasing something to public (and making new releases and changes often) brings you. It also requires that you be consistent and learn what and who to prioritize.

Good job so far! Keep it up

Hi, I am glad my viewpoint is refreshing. I am also completely understanding and appreciative of the "harsh" feedback I am getting due to my misunderstanding of what I should actually write about and the way I do so. I will soon write a post talking about how I am transitioning into paid work and how since I'm not legally allowed to sign contracts, it's difficult.

> my misunderstanding of what I should actually write about and the way I do so

You don't need their permission. Write about what you want. If they don't like it, well, nobody's forcing them to read it.

I lol'd because I started reading your article thinking "I wonder what this grizzled old web developer has learning by working since 2005", before I realized I misread the title.

Dude, you got to the front page of Hacker News. That's impressive no matter how you cut it, and suggests you're doing something very right.

I wanted to see it from a 15 year old's perspective, not just some generic advice, especially given the title. Talk more about stuff that's unique to a teenage developer for more interesting content.

I was employed for SWE at 15 and worked at Shopify at 16 (legal working age in Canada is 14 for non-hazardous jobs). Here are some semi-serious thoughts;

1. Not being able to drink at company events :( Intern and team events are sometimes dinner, booze and music. My apple juice was pretty good, and if it when up the wrong pipe then I could get the burn too! (there was actually a time where I never experienced that and deliberately tried to to get a sugary beverage into my nose. Kids, right?)

2. Dodging the education question as long as possible. I once got past two interviews with Mozilla before they realized how old I was. If you tell them your age immediately, they stop taking you seriously. If you tell them after a few interviews it amplifies your interview performance.

3. Short summers. When I interned at Shopify, I only had two months. I did that twice, and that really shows today in my ability to ramp up on new jobs/projects.

4. Quietly laughing at how much money your friends think you make. My friends in high school estimated anywhere between 15 - 50 dollars per hour of income.

5. Constantly questioning whether you were a pity/charity hire. Didn't help that I'm also female. I think when I was hired at Shopify I may have been one of the poorest performing intern by whatever measure, but I ended up with a full-time offer in less than a year. Embrace and accept the brownie points you get just by being young!

> Embrace and accept the brownie points you get just by being young!

+1. I was the youngest in everything I did/achieved, until one day I wasn’t. It’s natural to take the ego boost, but it’s definitely something to introspect about and not get too attached to - I’ve seen the loss of the “young prodigy” label affect some friends deeply.

+1, I felt so emotional and terrified because being young was apart of my identity. This might be too soon for OP, but I recommend distancing yourself from your age whenever you feel ready.

Hey! I know u from the gci chat :). To get those internships so early, did you simply apply and then prove your worth on the interview or did you know anyone there?

Any ways, congrats and good luck!

I definitely will, in my next post, I will write about how I am transitioning into paid work even though I'm not legally allowed to sign contracts.

I'm sorry but I just am a little incredulous that a 15 year old would be talking to me about burnout.. or about team conflict. Op have u worked a full time job with other devs and if so for how long?

Wait till you hear about his 3 divorces and mortgage.

My experience of working on teams has mainly consisted of working with other web developers online. On the topic of burnout, I was trying to explain how as I was learning web development and working harder everyday, I got exhausted mentally and didn't know how to come back from it.

I shouldn't have assumed a 15 year old couldn't experience this stuff. Best of luck you seem to be doing well

Sounds like you're a person just like everybody else.

Yes, I happen to be a person.


Teenagers experience burnout all the time, this is not exclusive to adults. They have a ton of busy work thrown at them if they want to excel academically and the competition to get into good schools straight out of high school is a lot tougher than getting a good job or transferring into those schools. Clearly the OP has set a much higher bar for themselves as a teenager than most of us ever did. I think most of the comments here criticizing him are just people bitter they didn't have the grit to do it when they were the same age.

Thanks for the positive comment. I think the same thing.

Considering the username, I'm surprised this comment felt necessary. The feelings and burnout of a 15 year old is just as legitimate as those of any adult.

It may be that the level of stress that will cause burnout is lower, but that should be expected for someone who is young and learning to cope with the challenges of work. Not all 15 year olds have the same lives or problems, and it's quite insulting to trivialize OP's experiences based on your own assumptions.

I completely agree, thank you.

Anecdote, but I've known 3 people that would constantly label themselves an empath. 2 of them had very strong sociopathic tendencies, or utter disregard for others (that hey weren't trying to get in the pants of).

One of the big and impactful decisions I made in my life so far was to remove video games completely. I actually don't play video games at all.

True. When I was 15 my parents had to sell my "gaming" computer because of our tough financial situation. I had to make do with an old computer thereafter. Of course, I was angry but that ultimately forced me to learn programming.

I am now 17 and I now realize that if it wasn't for that situation, I would still be gaming instead of learning a valuable skill.

Many people don't realize gaming can be a futile addiction like anything else.

It could also be a 15 year old who started suffering from a debilitating musculoskeletal chronic illness at age 11, without parents who gave the slightest shit about them and zero community support, still trying their hardest to get through the hardest classes their school offers and doing the shadiest shit they possibly can to make money to feed themselves as it's illegal to work at that age.

Broaden your horizons, Mr. "Empath"...

Please don't respond in the flamewar style, no matter how wrong another user is or you feel they are.

If you're sharing personal experience, that's of course completely welcome, but in that case please frame it that way, rather than as an attack on someone else.

Edit: you've unfortunately been breaking the site guidelines in previous comments a ton. We ban accounts that do that. If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and sticking to the rules when posting here, we'd be grateful.

It could be, but it also isn't true.

What do you mean by this? If you misinterpreted, I wasn't referring to you.

Or do you think something like I've stated doesn't/cannot happen?

Meant this to be an example of other ways "burnout" can happen.

I find this attitude incredibly arrogant and toxic. Why wouldn't a 15 year old be able to experience a burnout? I don't think this is age related at all. If anything a 15 year old that goes to school and has a dev job should be more likely to burnout.

Yes, it is true.

Wait are you 15 years old or have you been a web developer for 15 years? Impressive insight for a 15 year old if so, I know a few people who have been web devs for 15 years who still haven't figured some of those out.

Apologies for the animosity from this "community".

Best of luck for your future Josh, I can't imagine what it would be like to have such technical experience and insight at such a young age.

The contrarian dynamic strikes again: https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu.... Threads often get an initial wave of negative comments, followed by a second wave of objections to the objections. What determines the initial wave of comments is not community opinion—rather, it's what's the easiest thing to make reflexive objections to. Those comments are the first to show up because those reflexive reactions take the least time. Thoughtful comments require reflection, which is much slower (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...).

By now the thread is decisively positive. That's because other readers see those reflexive reactions, have a WTF reaction themselves, and show up to express the opposing point of view. Perhaps ironically, that double negative ends up being much more positive, and those comments tend to end up the more highly upvoted.

Your comments about the dynamics of HN are always fascinating.

I understand where the people in the comments are coming from. Some just don't express their thoughts in a kind way.

I am all for learning by doing and being young doesn't mean that you can't be a very capable programmer. You don't necessarily need a degree and some of the best programmers I know have skipped schools and went directly into the work life. So please believe me when I say that your method of working is not wrong.

I do however find the blog post a bit silly, because I'm pretty sceptical if you actually know what you talk about. I'm currently not even 30 and I've gone through two burnouts and I promise you that the issue isn't with not walking around the office every once in a while. I seriously doubt that you have experienced a burnout especially considering that you're not really even alle to bill for customer work due to your age.

Same goes for working with a team and resolving conflicts. The way you talk about the issues make it very clear that you do not have any real world experience in those matters.

I don't want to be dismissive and I know that this sounds likenit though. It's alright to write about your thoughts on issues, but you also need to realize that due to your age and lack of experience, you're not really in a place to give anyone advice on the matters.

So to be brutal, I don't think you should've posted this as in my opinion it shows immaturity on your part which invalidates a lot of what you're writing about. It's a long road you've got ahead of yourself and I hope you find the introspection within to see what I'm trying to convey.

Good luck!


A lot of these negative comments here have ground, but you should keep your head high and continue developing your skills and character! I wrote a lot of stuff like this when I was younger and got similar criticism. You're doing great for sure, but you might find yourself cringing at this a few years in the future! What you've written and worked on so far is indicative of very positive future growth.


I will keep my head high and develop my skills and character.

When do you start looking for a job? Feel free to contact me (`hello@carolchen.me`) and I'll connect you with some employers I trust and are high-school friendly.

OP, good for you learning how to code at a young age and for taking the time to share your lessons learned along the way. Don't get discouraged by the inevitable troll comments here. I'm sure you're already inspiring the next generation of young coders because your journey will be more relatable to them than a programmer with 15 years of professional experience. Thank you for taking a risk and posting here. Keep learning, keep sharing, and keep at it.

Thank you. I am actually encouraged and am using the "troll" comments as a way to get better and improve what and how I write on my blog.

Hi, Josh.

You have a typo on the "Write For Us" page: "get our of" should be "get out of". A spellcheck against each page in your navigation bar did not turn up any misspellings -- though that wouldn't have caught "our/out."

Best of luck out there. If you're this entrepreneurial at 15, your life is going to be just fine.

Hi, thank you for catching the typo. I will fix it right now. I'm just glad I enjoy doing what I do.

Not necessarily, no guarantees in this life.

Keep at it, build things you like, learn to love the process not just the results.

I like your first 2 pieces of advice, but hate your third. Build things that are useful, and do your best to make them things you like. Process be damned. And keep on keepin' on.

I'm not sure what you mean by "process be damned". I think GP was referring to enjoying the journey to a product you like, rather than only the product itself. I was reading through some of Carmack's .plan files from 1998 over the weekend, and he said something similar. This is from his Feb 4th entry:

> Many game developers are in it only for the final product, and the process is just what they have to go through to get there. I respect that, but my motivation is a bit different.

> For me, while I do take a lot of pride in shipping a great product, the achievements along the way are more memorable. I don’t remember any of our older product releases, but I remember the important insights all the way back to using CRTC wraparound for infinate smooth scrolling in Keen (actually, all the way back to understanding the virtues of structures over parallel arrays in apple II assembly language..). Knowledge builds on knowledge.

This really resonated for me, and might be along the lines of what GP meant. I don't know if that was your interpretation or not, but I thought it was an interesting perspective regardless.

I will continue to work on making my content more relatable and better.

I will for sure do that.

Good for you. Very impressive. Side note, I think your 2nd lesson heading has a typo:

"Not Others Asking For Help" looks like it was supposed to be, "Not Asking Others For Help."

Gr8 work bruh.

I respect the hustle youre going to be a great programmer

Thank you Kyle. I am going to be writing about how ever since I started doing school at home, it has taken me 4 times less time to complete school work and how I've had way more time to code and write.

These are real issues. One question: why have a YouTube video that is just you reading the text? The text is already on your page.

This article is quite generic to be honest with no interesting perspectives that fulfill the premise of the title

I will make my future articles outstanding.

Have you thought about adding a “How to hire me” section?

I couldn’t find it.

Never be afraid to ask for the sale.

Missing IMO the number one lesson all developers should learn:

Learn how to name things.

stdlin 87 days ago [flagged]


Aw, let's not be like that. Note this guideline:

"Please don't post shallow dismissals, especially of other people's work. A good critical comment teaches us something."


I will work on making my content authentic and not banal.

This comment is.

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