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Ask HN: Can I help you be more awesome today? (No strings. Inquire within.)
28 points by mikegreenberg on May 13, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments
Every once in a while, I throw up an offer to give free help. If it's something I can do in 10-15 minutes, I'm happy to oblige (within reason).

- I'm a full stack web developer (LAMP primarily), - I've helped a lot with personal development-type things (resume critique, self improvement suggestions, etc), - I've done my share of business model and product pitch reviews, - I'm an early adopter and provide strong/constructive feedback, - I've got great aesthetics and design sense

So if there's something I can help you with, just ask here or @mikegreenberg on Twitter. :)


What's your advice for landing a really cool job that you enjoy right out of college? Not just getting a job that you take because you need to have a job and end up despising.

Oh, man. Time and time again, I see these college students go to these craptacular job fairs, all vying for the same entry-level QA and testing gigs in their white-collar, paisley-pattern ties. They were all destined to a life of Office Space-like professional routine. Here are a few suggestions for things I've tried:

1. Believe it or not, really cool jobs are available all over the place these days (and are more likely than not in some other city). Consider relocating. Consider it very seriously. It's not reasonable for everyone, but the life experiences to be had are worth the effort now and it will be the easiest opportunity you'll ever have to do so. (I'll be 30 soon, with a wife and 2 kids and have been trying to move for almost 5 years without ever finding the perfect opportunity. (PS: There is no such thing as a perfect opportunity.))

2. Do things the are interesting and outside the norm. (This is not limited to just skillsets...I'm talking about your personality and mannerisms, too!) These things may not land you a job, but they will be intriguing to your potential employers and keep you stuck in their mind as they continue the interview process. Example: I wrote an email to a potential job that I wouldn't be totally bummed if I didn't nail it. (Read it below, if you dare.) While this seems a little too casual, I did a lot of research into the office culture (beer fridays, sombrero day, casual atmosphere) and didn't feel like it would be too over the line. Do things like this and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised with the results. (PS: They never responded.)

3. Find ways to improve yourself and network with influential people around your community. (Especially if you intend to stick around.) I live in South Florida and there's not a huge tech community here. So instead of attempting to get out and meet everyone possible (I'm not a networking, hustler-type guy) I decided to get everyone to come to ME. So I spend an aggregate day or so preparing an event called Hack and Tell (http://hackandtell.org) that gets great turnout, puts me in front of very interesting people and has done more for me than any other professional endeavor has to date! You are seen as a person who can get shit done without financial incentive (a huge signal to some people), know how to organize and pay attention to detail, and is professional experience no matter which way you slice it.

There are many more things you can do, but this is a great start. Remember that an extra-ordinary job is for extra-ordinary people. So be what you want! :)


Subject: Mike Greenberg wants to join the crusade as your next Software Engineer!

Body: Dear Pervayors of Product X (and gainful employment):

My name is Mike Greenberg. I happened across your request for a sexy, humorous and talented software engineer to join your ranks. (Link to job posting.) Unfortunately, I only satisfy two of these requirements, but hope you would consider this email as a gesture of good-will that I will be the best damn software engineer I know how to be regardless of my shortcomings!

A little about me... I'm a Pisces and somewhat fanatical of process, hacking (of all sorts) and attention to detail. I take pride in my work (especially when I enjoy what I'm working on) and know how to rise to the occasion when it hits the fan. I'm extremely creative and have privately studied a number of unrelated and interesting subject-matter like design, studio art, analog film development, piano, robotics, life-process/self improvement, martial arts, yoga, mountain biking, and racquetball. As a result of mentally wondering around over the past 29 years, I've since endeavored to become a modern renaissance man and want to carpe diem with the best of them.

On top of all of this, and likely most interesting to you, I can program computers to do fun things. And I'm hoping that you're the sort of company who would like the sort of fun things I program them to do. Of relevance to your job description, I started a hosting company fresh out of high school. I understand at a deep fundamental level how the internet works. From OSI to API, Al Gore to IPv6 (j/k about Al Gore). If you're still reading and my casual (yet persuasive) banter has not caused any furrowing of brows, please take a quick glance at my resume at http://careers.stackoverflow.com/mikegreenberg/. Therein, I mention a few other neat things I've worked on which I haven't mentioned above. I greatly appreciate your time and effort reading forward. Looking forward to hearing from you!

With great sincerity, Mike Greenberg



The things that get you jobs are extraordinary things that show you are smart and get stuff done:

- you organized hacker meetup

- you launched a sideproject/startup

- you wrote an ebook on a new programming language

- you traveled around the world for a year

- etc.

Try to make your resume look fun, and you'll attract fun employers.

Couldn't agree more. This all falls into the "stuff I'd do without getting paid" category which brings a lot of weight, especially to an initial, entry-level job interview.

Once, an employer hired me because he liked the fact that I play the piano. (100% true story)

Here's my request: can you take this comment and publish it somewhere more visible and permanent than a HN comment?

Of course. :)

Here is a more permanent home with some elaborated thoughts. http://nobulb.com/2011/05/wanted-an-entry-level-job-that-doe...

I really like that style of writing, although I'd be curious how that worked out in the past.. I assume that quite a lot of people would stop reading after the first 2 sentences - but maybe life's too short to work for people without a decent sense of humor.

Considering the relocation: Don't give up just yet. 31 and packing my things these weeks, leaving DE for IL (just to be sure: Talking countries, not states or something here) at the end of the month. Wife and cats are being dragged along. :)

You can still do it.

Thanks for the motivation. I definitely haven't given up and am seeking employment in the Boulder, CO area.

As far as my history with this voicing in my emails: For my first Hack and Tell event.... where no one knew who I was, or what Hack and Tell was, in a location that is arguably in a poorer/seedier part of town.... I got sponsored with all-you-can-eat organic pizza from Pizza Fusion, 45+ person turnout, and enough presentations to host two events instead of just one. We just did our fourth event last weekend and our audience is still 30+ strong and had 6 presentations (far too many, but it's a work in progress). This is just one recent example.

Thanks for the insight.

I'm completely gungho for relocating(I grew up an army brat so that's what I'm used to) and would pretty much go anywhere if the job was interesting.

I sent a similar email to a company that does security certifications completely on a whim after talking to who I assumed was a PR type person. Turns out she was the co-founder and partner for this really small company(2 people I believe). Even though they aren't hiring I feel I made a memorable impression for when they do start.

The networking is where I currently struggle. I'm still in school so things I'm interested in (lascon, defcon, google io, etc) that would be a great opportunity for me to start meeting people are out of my budget and time schedule.

I looked at doing freelance/open source work to build a more professional resume but most stuff is either too far above my current skill range or I don't have the time to devote to it.

I just keep imagining that I'm going to have to suck it up, take the boring tech support type job, and hope that I stumble into someone who happens to be looking to hire a pen tester or something.

Relocating is something that should be done by more people. It's not permanent! You can actually move back later! Get out there and see more of the world!

Yes, you'll miss your family and friends, but you'll make some new ones and you don't really have to give up the old ones. They're just a phonecall or email away at any time.

Put this on a blog, man -- this is way better career advice than 95% of what's out there!

Just added a link to a slightly verbose blog post above: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2553098

Mike, this is very nice of you to offer. How is the tech-job market in So Fl? Any tips etc?

Job market is great for tech, but it really depends on the type of work you're interested in. I'm interested in playing with more cutting edge web tech, and that is primarily in Seattle, Boulder, Silicon Valley (of course), New York. There are always exceptions, but I've not been very enticed by the offerings. In South Florida, there is a lot of Android dev work happening with some great groups and education programs going on here to support it. Military defense engineering is hiring a lot in this area along with some big name corps like Citrix, Microsoft, and Lexus Nexus. I've found a lot of jack-of-all-trades positions that are opening up where you'd be an IT/Dev/Support/Networking guy for a small biz. (Personally, blegh...) And there's plenty of call center work. (Gag)

I haven't been personally looking at work here, but I know there are some resources around which focus on the South Florida job scene. No lack of work for people who can go out and find it. If you'd like some introductions, I can certainly help you get connected if you'd like. Feel free to get in touch. (my first and last initials at nobulb.com)


Thanks Mike! :)

I'd like to chime in with a different POV on this:

There is a decent amount of Agency/Studio/Dev Houses here & they are often hiring.

On top of that, there are a nice amount of "corporate" jobs, on a weekly basis, I see at least 5-7 PHP jobs, 1-3 Sys Admin jobs & the occasional Ruby/Python job come through my inbox.

Lastly, There are also is a small bunch of "cool" startup companies, like CareCloud, 3DCart, CloudShopper, Myxer, ImANeed (Pancake Movement), LiveBall (ioninteractive), Dashboard CRM, SyncPad (39, inc), DevStructure!, Luxset, Pikchur (only partly here), WebbyNode, Veddio & VoxMed. Who may not always be hiring, but are definitely doing really cool/worthwhile things.

As far as tips, just be involved with the community - it will open up so many opportunities for you!

I can vouch for this activity as well. As I mentioned, South Florida is not as much on my radar as some of the other locations (partly also because I've lived here forever and want to move just to change things up). There is plenty to find here and the competition isn't so stiff that you'd have to be a rockstar to find anything. That said, things are ramping up in a big way in South Florida and you'll definitely see things trending for the better as the months continue.

Thanks sir! :-)

My fiance is from Ft. Ld and wants us to move there.

oh, also, you'll probably find this helpful: http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-Miami-FL-startup-scene-like...

Wow, this was amazing.


awesome! we need more brain power! feel free to reach out to me or mike & between us and the rest of the south florida community, we should be able to help you out!

I don't need anything at the moment but wanted to say thank you for help you've given in the past (reviewing our site when we had a hic-cup) and you're awesome for offering! Sally @ peerbackers.com!

I was happy to help. Very sorry I couldn't do more when you asked. :) (And it means a great deal more that (it seems) you registered an account just to say this!)

Hey Mike, two questions.

1) SaveMyInbox.com is growing fast, and has now a scalable backend. What would you do with it?

2) I do develop a bit in Ruby, have a BSc in Computer Engineering but don't consider myself a ninja developer. I'm 24, currently working in VC, and moving to the Valley in a month where I'll be looking for a job. Given the current job market, would you suggest looking at Software Engineering or positions or aiming at other positions where I think I could be a better fit? (Product, Developer Evangelist, etc.)

Thanks so much for offering your help :)

1) The idea seems to have traction. You've figured out how to scale the back end. You've got all the pieces in place to grow this into a business, if that's what you want.

I'm not certain what sort of business model you've been thinking about for this venture or if you were just putting it together to play with it. If you want to make money, start charging for it. Test the waters by asking what your existing customers would pay for something like this. (Consider telling them the best responses will get free lifetime accounts or something similar so you minimize the "I'll give a low price so I don't get charged too much down the road" thinking.)

The price doesn't have to be right, but pay attention to what your customers do as you raise and lower to find a sweet spot. Give your existing customer a sizable "thank you" gesture when you announce pricing. See how people continue to use your service and how they continue to convert. Figure out which demographics each individual falls into and try to understand how to tap the rest of the market that they represent.

Once you have a good idea on what your target market is, search engine marketing and a solid social-sharing campaign might be a good tactic. Since Dropbox customers are already familiar with the "give this to friends, get free stuff" model, this sort of sharing campaign may convert better than others who just copying because of its popularity. Try to connect your sharing campaign into Dropbox's sharing model/message somehow for some emotional influence with customers who already love Dropbox. Think "For each of your friends you brought to Dropbox, we'll match the love! For those who start using SaveMyInbox, we'll double it!"

I have some other ideas, but this is the general direction I'd move in if you were trying to monetize it. If you're not interested in running this as a business, then flip it and move on. This is assuming you've met all the goals you were trying to meet with this project. Drive it as long its satisfying (and fun).

2) I don't necessarily consider myself the best software engineer either, however the demand will require B and C-listers, too. So if you want to get better at development, it never hurts to keep up with it. It'll be easier now to get a job as a sub-par programmer and get better from the experience than it will be once the market shifts the demand away. Just understand that by taking this route, if you don't improve to the levels that your employer expects, you might quickly find yourself out of a job. Further, you're only 24. Granted, we're seeing rockstar developers at the age of 18, but that's not necessarily par for the course. I'm pushing 30 and I'm definitely not cut out to be an awesome programmer EVER (because the younger crowd has more time available to accelerate past my current speed of improvement). So I make my strengths up in my diversity of skills, my ability to work with and for people better than the young cowboy programmer, and to be better at recognizing opportunity to employ my assortment of skills and improve myself while remaining in the workforce.

I don't mean to side-step your question, but I hope my thoughts will help you think differently about your situation. It's not just about having to adapt yourself to future conditions, it's also about taking advantages of where you are now (physically and spatially) going forward. Regardless of what field you prefer to work in (you're working in your preferred field, right?), you will be a commodity as long as your work makes people want to collaborate with you. Bottom line. :)

Mike, thanks for the offer. I'm always looking for more advice on how we should market our product, and any additional advice/insight would be tremendous.

Our product: PostageApp (http://www.postageapp.com)

It's a B2B product, and I'm doing a lot of cold calls/email, creating a lot of content, trying to forge partnerships, and relying on our well designed UI and features.

Any critique you may have and/or insights? Thanks again!

Would love any feedback you might have on http://parkgrades.com/ (particularly the home page)...

Some quick usability comments after 5 minutes on the site:

The first thing you see on the homepage should be a map and list of parks in your area. Don't require a search, triangulate the location via IP or something.

Use a map to show what's nearby. Also have a (ranked by grade) list to show what nearby parks are the best.

I think the park recognition needs some work! http://i.imgur.com/XVFKF.png

Searching for "Seattle" or "New York City" don't return any results, I can only get it to work with zip codes.

You often have to tap the "Enter" key twice to get it to actually search. Annoying, I kept thinking it didn't have any results for a term but it in fact never searched at all.

I don't know what the little spinning circle thing in the search bar does. Just seems to get in the way of me pressing "Enter".

When I type "98101" it shows "98101 (Seattle, WA)" in the autocomplete box. But clicking that doesn't add the extra info to the search box. It the autocomplete actually helping clarify the query?

Sorry about the slow reply. ParkGrades is a GREAT idea. There's similar things put up by the city, but they typically pale in comparison. This also does a pretty decent job of find all of our local parks near us (which many sites like this have failed miserably at).

Excellent call to action. "Search for Parks" is the #1 thing to do at your site and you put that basically front-and-center all over the place. Many developers tend to miss this. Good job!

A few things that I thought were curious:

- After searching, I see "Museum Amenities" and then filter-like links which will reduce the result set to locations with certain characteristics. The title/purpose of this block here creates some end-user conflict on how to interact with it. You might consider changing the name to reflect it's purpose rather than it's description. (like "Filter by Amenity")

- On the park search page, consider a different way to your "Advanced Search" description underneath. I'm not sure what you're trying to tell me to do, so you might want to have some sort of text fields with greyed-out, pre-populated examples. Try to use common conventions anywhere possible. Look at advanced search forms and try to get good ideas on how to lay them out.

- The links to connect to Facebook, Twitter, RSS on the main page is offset from the elements themselves. In other words, the area to actually click a link is about 10px left of where they would line up with the image they represent. This was giving me unusual visual feedback on what was clickable and made me "miss" the click when I tried to click through. You're probably losing some valuable click-throughs here.

- It looks like you're using Drupal for this site. I've noticed lots of areas where the design could be "tightened up". If you're still testing the market, that's one thing, but consider paying attention to this in the near future before any large-scale launches. Additionally, I think Drupal is a VERY extensible and fantastic CMS, but it's a BITCH to configure and manage. Keep this in mind going forward as you don't want to be too invested in a product that will ultimately hold back your site's long-term ambitions. Once you've validated the market, you should be thinking about how your technical choices will affect your product in the medium-long-term (1-3 years). Many people will say It's hard to plan this far ahead (especially with technology's current pace) but if you know that your site will really require the flexibility of Drupal versus a simpler CMS, you'd be better off knowing that sooner than later.

- Open up your comments! There's no reason you can't use something like Disqus for handling it. You get better engagement and is one less hurdle for eventually acquiring users. (I've seen an implementation somewhere which onboards a Disqus account into a native user registration after a certain amount of repeat engagement with a user.)

These are just a few suggestions off the top of my head. I can go into detail about any of these if I was ambiguous.

Thank you -- much appreciated! I'll definitely work on: Improving the usability of the Amenity filters Re-writing/replacing the "Advanced Search" function and/or instructions. I agree, it's way too much work to figure out right now. Correcting links, exploring Disqus for comments Drupal is a pain but since I had zero programming experience, it's relatively easy to learn. I'm currently learning Rails and believe it or not, Drupal was a decent introduction to the programming world (for a total novice)

Thanks again, Mike, really cool to help like this!


Thank you.

Love this thread Mike.

To the others, I can vouch for Mike giving great feedback, and being a class act.

You are a sexy, sexy man. (It's okay to feel a little awkward post-kiss.)

Hey Mike, I have a technical question.

We need to set up a LAMP server that runs VPN for some remote printers. What hosting solution to choose that allows for setting up and tuning of VPN for our needs with as little constraints as possible?


How does one start a HackAndTell meetup? I'd like to maybe start one in the Milwaukee area.

To borrow a line from Nike: Just do it.

Flippancy aside, that's all it takes. The guy who started it in New York (Andrew) was very open to letting me mix/mash the format as it fit with the local need. (I found that the 5 minute limit was not needed so far.) And being part of a bigger movement adds to the credibility of the event and Andrew was happy to let me use the name. All the promo, sweat, oompfh and (most importantly) longevity/staying power is self-provided.

(And further, even if he didn't let me use the name, that probably wouldn't have stopped me. That sort of mentality helps.)

Cool, I think its a really good idea! Thanks for the encouragement.

That's very gentlemanly of you. Tell me what you think of my favorite toy project: http://textchannels.com/

Text Channels seems like a well organized and thought-out project. That said, it's not something that I'd use. It feels like a re-implementation of RSS with some social filters applied. While this works for some people, I have not yet found a social filter that I trust to accurately disseminate content to me. Personally, I prefer RSS over this because I can control specifically the sources that I'm interested in. TextChannels seems to allow a custom channel to be created, but why would I do this and hope that the social filter is applied the way I want. If there is add'l value that I'm missing from this product, it's not obvious to me. If this is the case, I would work at refining your value proposition to illustrate something more than "social news aggregator".

If you'd like more specific feedback, make your request as specific as possible and I'll focus on that.

thank you!

What are some interesting and out of the norm things that you do?

From my color letter email: "I'm extremely creative and have privately studied a number of unrelated and interesting subject-matter like design, studio art, analog film development, piano, robotics, life-process/self improvement, martial arts, yoga, mountain biking, and racquetball. As a result of mentally wondering around over the past 29 years, I've since endeavored to become a modern renaissance man and want to carpe diem with the best of them."

From my blog: http://nobulb.com/personas/

I put a LARGE amount of my life online. I realize this goes against what a lot of people feel is appropriate, but my line of work (web engineer...but that title lacks) requires a strong online presence. It just so happens that I'm working on a project which will help online identity management and could solve a lot of the problems that people have with exposing themselves online (and not THAT sort of exposing either).

As far as out-of-the-norm mannerisms and and personality traits: I'm rather blunt. Many people are caught off guard, but I make this work for me because I am constructive and not condescending. I pay a LOT of attention to how people interact and take a lot of effort to use my actions to support my statements and not give off the impression of disinterest and holier-than-thou. Most of the time this works well, but it has gotten me into trouble on occasion. This is a risk I'm very willing to accept given the many opportunities it has yielded.

I'm very much of the mentality to "Ask for forgiveness, not for permission." This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point and allows me to do the things I wouldn't normally and "Poke the Box" (as Seth Godin would put it).

I wasn't always this way and made an effort to be more extroverted. I'm not suggesting that you try to be something you're not. I'm suggesting that you mold yourself into the person you aspire to be. So these traits are tools that I've developed after watching how successful people interact and execute.

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