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Ask HN: How do you start a new career with minimal qualifications?
208 points by ryanmercer 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 152 comments
This week will be my 16th Thanksgiving in a row working. I haven't had a cost-of-living increase since 2008, the annual merit increases cap out right around inflation (or under) most years, I've been working 60~ hour weeks, working 6 day weeks, for over half a year now. In the past 2 weeks we've had 3 people quit from just my team. Put a fork in me, I'm done.

The problem is, my job doesn't really translate to much. I fill out paperwork all day, clearing international freight through customs. I don't have a GED, I'm still 3~ years out from earning a degree (which I don't actually want, but employers 100% do). I've even been rejected by companies in my industry, Flexport for example rejected me outright for not having a degree at a time when I had 11 years of experience "Hope all is well, Ryan! I wanted to extend a virtual wave and thank you for your interest in joining our team. You obviously have many of the skills we're looking for. However, for the Customs Brokerage role we require a BA/BS degree as well as previous experience in a broker role doing entries and customs classifications." so I struggle to even escape my current employer for a job that pays even remotely what I make (about 39k in central Indiana after 15 and a half years, while McDonalds is starting at $13-15 an hour all over the state...).

I'm at the point where the only joy I have in my life is what little time my wife and I get to spend together, and some volunteer stuff through my religion. Today I'll clock in, work 11 hours, get to have dinner with my wife and do some classwork, then back to bed to rinse and repeat. On Thanksgiving I'll only work 10 hours...

What do I do? I can't get a degree any faster than I already am.






I commented before, but that was before checking your profile, web site and social media. Now I guess, I have a more personal recommendation.

Apparently, you've worked for the same company for over a decade doing data entry, you just passed your Lean green belt and you like tech.

It could be useful to look at business process automation, low code tools or robotic process automation. I've seen the combination of these things used for automating data entry processes in many industries, including yours.

There are many low code and RPA tools available (Mendix, UIPath, etc, just Google it) that offer free online training and certifications. These certs are not extremely hard to get if you have some interest in tech. For many companies in this field, hiring someone experienced with data entry, that can also do automation of those tasks is like finding the holy grail. Especially when you also have a lean cert.

It might be useful to look on Google for products like the one I mentioned and then look in your area for vacancies that require knowledge of them. Maybe there's an interesting opportunity in it for you!


+1. This is a very good and well-rounded response.

I might add that for tech engineering of any type, getting a BS in Computer Science (from a reputable school) is insanely helpful in the long run if there is an interest in going further in your career and it does not lock a person into one particular track.


I have been in professional software development for 15 years, at both startups and a fortune 15. I have worked as both an individual contributor writing code, and am now a Director of Software Engineering at a large CDN.

I have zero formal computer science training. I have a BA in Philosophy, and haven't taken any classes on programming or boot camps or the like. I am completely self taught.

It was only an issue for my first job. I used a large personal project I created as proof that I could code, and I got the job. After that, it has never been an issue that I didn't have a degree.

I have also hired many developers over the years, and I only really look at schooling if they don't have any professional experience or if the work they did at school is interesting in some way.

Maybe not having a degree will be a detriment at some point in my career, but my lack of a degree has never even been mentioned to me as an issue after that first job.


> I have a BA in Philosophy

> Maybe not having a degree will be a detriment at some point in my career

Something's gone wrong here.


I think they meant a CS or related degree.

Yeah, I meant a CS degree

The question is rather what one needs to know, to be a good software engineer?

Formally, I guess if you learn Logic in your philosophy courses you know everything you need to do programming. Moreover if you know about Plato's Forms you basically know the basics about object oriented programming...

Software design on the other hand is something you can only learn by experience anyway... I had an software architecture course at university, which made only sense to me a couple of years later...


> The question is rather what one needs to know, to be a good software engineer?

As a JavaScript developer, which I am, you need to be really good at keeping up with trends. That's really it.

For most of this line of work your value is the ability to use a tool rather than engineer anything. About the time you attain mastery the industry will move on to another tool. Mastery of any skill takes about 6-10 years of frequent dedicated practice. The hot tool of the moment takes about 2 years to reach critical popularity, 6 years at critical mass, and then 2-4 years of eclipse by something else. If you aren't moving on to the next new thing your career mobility will erode until there is none.

Consider it from the employer's point of view. A good senior is worth about 4-8 junior developers. At first blush it would make more sense to hire that senior developer. Developers come and go though, and most JavaScript developers are extremely junior. Employers never invest in training except as a last resort to prevent internal obsolescence, and it costs a boat load of money to find excellent developers. So, just invest in junior developers as a limited value exchangeable commodity.


I've seen developers have trouble traveling for work without a related degree but that's about it. Some countries have tight requirements for work Visas.

Yes but you need to get the first job initially. And that step, it appears to me, has drastically changed in the past ten or so years. I have tried many years at this point, I love programming and could do it all day if I could, but have all but given up on the idea that I will ever get a job without some kind of schooling, or finding enough time in my 4HL to make something killer.

I change and revise my resume, try to showoff the little things I've made. I keep learning and making, but after many years I believe I have gotten two (rejection) emails back total. I have tried everything. I am so envious of the older people on here who talk about learning on the job.

If I ever can pay back the (humanities) degrees I already have, the first thing I will do is look to a CS degree, for both the desire for that pedagogy and the even bare chance for a job doing something I love.


No obligation, but if you want a resume review and/or quick zoom call to give you personalized advice, my email’s in my profile. Put “HN resume” in the subject line. (I doubt I’ll get inundated here, but if I do, this offer is good for beepboop, ryan, and the next N until it gets overwhelming at which point, I can only commit to emailing back “sorry, this blew up more than I expected” but nothing more.)

Are you willing to relocate? Do you have a github? I don't know what things are like right now, but I have hired someone with no degree at a former startup (though he was fresh out of a coding bootcamp), and it seems like a pretty common thing to do. I frequently see a degree listed only as 'nice-to-have' now.

But you should look for smaller companies which need cheap coders, and be prepared to work at a massive discount from the market rate for a while.

It was actually hard for me to get that first job also (with a CS degree, but no internship and a bad GPA). Actually, the bigger obstacle was not having any relevant experience, I felt like the degree set me back because it taught me very little that was useful for most of the jobs I was applying for. In the end I sort of lucked my way into web development, but was pretty much self-taught or taught on-the-job.


One might argue that the industry and the market are a lot different than how they were 15 years ago, however.

Yeah, but getting that bachelor's at a good school is a full time job. I'm not sure he can afford 4 years away from work.

Community college. One can absolutely get a technical AS from a community college while working full time, it might not be a CS degree, but I bet it will fall under the "or similar" category for most purposes. A more "job focused" AS degree would probably help the OP get out of their current career rut quickly. Given the current job market, companies might be willing to take a chance on someone who successfully completed some technical classes at night already.

In recent years, it has become much more common for community colleges to partner with a larger university to offer AS -> BS paths. The AS will serve as a good checkpoint too. Since, we know how life can be, especially in one's 30s-40s; our situations can change dramatically in the span of a few years.


Yeah, but the comment I was replying to said:

> BS in Computer Science (from a reputable school)


That's pretty much a waste of 4 years unless you can afford that luxury.

I started working before getting my BS in CS (and worked during it) and there was nothing I needed for my job. I really enjoyed a few exams (especially Logic and Automata) and I thought they were nice brain bending subjects. A few exams (especially on databases and programming) were trivial because I knew that from the inside and out.

The only reason I did it was that it was cheap in my country, I had to spend only 12k€ (if we exclude the collective 80 years of taxes my parents had to pay before that) and at the time more companies were requiring a degree.

Just start coding while you can and software developers are in demand.


Honestly, any state school should do. I graduated with high honors from just an average state school and have no problems getting interview requests at fortune 500 companies and at amazon/fb. I do pass interviews also :).

Honestly, a BS in anything is helpful. As a SWE at large the number of teammates I've had with CS degrees I can count on one hand, everyone else came from another walk of life

Personally, I’ve experienced the opposite. Almost all my coworkers have at least a BS in CS/CE/DS and only a couple have an alternative such as a bootcamp.

Software is a diverse field! I've worked at pure software companies employing largely CS people; specialized technical software companies employing more mechanical/aerospace engineers; and in business-focused software companies employing people with non-traditional tech backgrounds.

My guess is this depends when you got into tech. I am a lifer and have been at it since high school; most of my peers got in through sheer passion, when it wasn't nearly as crowded

Yes this is good advice.

RPA isn’t sexy, but it gets you some at-bats on hard technical problems. Once you’ve solved some of those, you’ve learned a few things that are probably applicable elsewhere and can start working your way up the tech ladder.

It’s never been easier to jump from being an informally trained IT generalist into a development career with exponential salary growth along the way — companies like mine have accepted the fact that qualified talent is just too expensive right now; so we need to hire for potential and invest in people or else we will have no pipeline of junior devs.


More to the point "Not Sexy" is important. Hot fields raise artificial barriers to entry because they are flooded with applicants of dubious quality.

Great advice. I would add to get these certs onto your linkedin profile, and to create a portfolio for employers to view. However - be advised that RPA doesn't usually pay very well (but might be more than you're making now), but it can get you into a position inside a company to move to a web or other developer position. Good luck to you!

I'd agree with this. My first internship in my CS degree was doing Excel automation in VBA for a business unit. It quickly grew to "hey, this guy can automate your mundane tasks" and I became very popular very quickly. It taught me at what point automation is worth it [1], and many of my clients were performing hours-long tasks weekly that I automated in less time than 1 single week's work would take them. Needless to say I had some happy clients. The hardest parts are figuring out the problem they don't know they have because they think it's normal, and the unfortunate cases of "sorry I can't help you" because the solution is more complex than the problem.

[1]: https://xkcd.com/1205/


Everything donkeyd said paired with critical advice:

The moment someone offers you an opp to do something in the direction you’re interested in going, moonlighting or not, and the finances work at at least a minimum level for you, take it. No, doesn’t matter if you’re a little or a lot under-qualified - say yes and figure it out later.

The highest chance of pivoting successfully, and IMO why many people never pull it off, is how you evaluate the above situation when it happens. Grind it out for 6-18 months, and you have a whole new resume as entry level in tech/w-e your goal is. From there, things open.

By saying yes, once you get something tech-y on your resume and enter into that new network, things just expand and expand. At that point it’ll hard to fail on your transition goal.

Many people however say no - they’re not ready enough, they have too many other things going on, etc. What they don’t realize is, especially with an incomplete resume (no college, college but non-technical, a bootcamp but a so-so one, etc), this is how many (or my guess - the majority) of career lateral transfers happen: seizing the opp when it shows up. They say no out of talent insecurity and fear, no realizing everyone one else is sort of making it up as they go along too early on.

Say yes when opps open up. That’s your window, your “shot,” will look like.


> The moment someone offers you an opp to do something in the direction you’re interested in going, moonlighting or not, and the finances work at at least a minimum level for you, take it.

To put this another way, it's worth it to take a below-average salary because you can probably parlay that into a better one in a year's time. The sooner you start the clock on that year running, the better. My first front-end job paid 20k below market value. After 18 months, I got a new gig and my salary doubled.


Excellent advice - I did this, basically. I knew how to program but no formal experience, and at the time at least there was nothing available nearby and they all wanted degrees.

Tech company came to town and I jumped on it, as a support person. Proved my chops to anyone who would listen, and went up and up and up. Making about 7x now as I did when starting, doing wildly different work!


I did it as well. I witness people I mentor as falling into either will not/will do this approach also, and I haven't decided how to navigate that as a mentor. I think I can often falsely assume people are inherently down with this way of working/advancing or not, but I haven't pushed anyone after witnessing taking the no route. Def wonder how that would work as a discussion or if this risk-taking could be taught.

Also it's much easier to say "yes" when you have somebody who is already in the industry and is willing to pick up the phone and help.

Or a role model that can assure you that it's ok to say yes, and the truth that everyone fakes it until they make it.

I'm not sure I read your comment in a right way.

I'm trying to say active support is important. It makes people feel safe when exploring new territory. I'm not saying people should be dishonest with potential employer.

It's especially important to support people who experience sub-depression states of mind. It's easier to take risk of change when you have somebody to support you.


It's not dishonest to "fake it until you make it", it's a way to address one's feeling of imposter syndrome. It's being comfortable with your own ignorance as long as you're willing to learn as you go.

This is where my brother is at.

He has over 15 years experience working customer-facing jobs, but they've all been low-level of retail and inbound sales. He wants to get into tech, but has no experience in tech and no education.

But he managed to get an entry-level IT job for a retirement home company. It's only ~$50K/year, but not only is it more than he made before, but gets his foot into the door into the IT world. He hopes to learn the skills necessary on the job to eventually move to doing IT at an actual tech company, which could skyrocket his salary.


Can not recommend this advice enough, it should be on billboards and read out yearly to every high school student.

Maybe look outside your industry? I think you're focusing on the technical aspects of your skills, but if you've done that for 16+ years and are doing it well, you could do paperwork practically anywhere for better pay than that, I think. If I were you, I'd start applying at various office jobs and see what happens.

Sorta related - We hire junior programmers occasionally, and we used to focus on the technical skills. Turns out, the soft skills were a lot more useful. We had one applicant that sold us on her ability to get stuff done and understand what the business needs, instead. She had at least the minimum technical skill of course, but what got her the job (even though we had to make room in the budget for another developer!) was her sales pitch for her soft skills. She's been a great coworker, and we've since changed our focus towards soft skills like attention to detail.

My point is that it's very likely your skills do translate to other jobs in other industries, and not necessarily in ways that you can see from your current desk. Get out there and apply!


Is there a good resource anyone can recommend on how to talk about soft skills within tech (what is valued/how to phrase)? It seems obvious, but often phrasing/linking skills effectively can be a big hurdle for job changing.

This is a good point. I would suggest this sort of branching out too. But I hope you realize how rare was your hire in the industry.

Hey there, email me ryan@flexport.com we will get you in the interview loop. We don't require college that is a big mistake on our part.

I'm assuming you are Ryan Petersen.

You put me in the interview loop last time after Sam introduced us via email in 2018. I even told you in that email that I lacked a degree, 2 months later received the following email from someone at Flexport:

>Hope all is well, Ryan! I wanted to extend a virtual wave and thank you for your interest in joining our team. You obviously have many of the skills we're looking for. However, for the Customs Brokerage role we require a BA/BS degree as well as previous experience in a broker role doing entries and customs classifications.

>Based on your background, there is no doubt that you will shine in your next career endeavor. In the meantime, I hope you have a fantastic rest of your week!

>All the best,

>REDACTED

At that time I was unmarried and did not own a house and was somewhat open to moving to another state to work for you. Now that's not much of an option, my wife is a public school teacher and we've been home owners for a year now.


It's still worth following up, especially since this is fresh in their mind from this fairly public posting. :)

> At that time I was ... open to moving to another state to work for you. Now that's not much of an option

Many tech orgs are much more supportive of remote working now than they used to be, so you might be able to be a remote member of their team. Chances are they now (post covid) have most of the infrastructure and culture already in place to support that. This seems like a golden opportunity to join an engineering team where you can grow and thrive.


Piggybacking on a response in another subthread: if someone offers you an opportunity, jump on it. Things can change in three years. Worst case you spend a couple emails to figure out that you are still not a good fit, but don't ignore opportunities. Wish I could say this loudly enough to everyone.

I was introduced to him last time, he said he could help. Passed me along. I was rejected, reported back, then was reached out to by an internal recruiter and apologized to for a misunderstanding and given an interview. 3~ minutes into the phone interview my phone digned with an email notification, about 10 minutes later when we hung up with a "we will be in touch" I checked the email and found it to be a rejection saying

>Hope you're doing well, Ryan. I wanted to drop you a note to let you know that after discussions with the team, it seems we’re not quite the right fit for your skills at this time.

>Please know that this was an incredibly tough decision for us to make as REDACTED and I enjoyed getting to know you.

Sometimes an opportunity isn't worth jumping on. I was sent a rejection email while actively on the call still being interviewed... after they had already told me I wasn't good enough for not having a degree when I told the founder of the company I did not have a degree before he passed me off to an internal recruiter.

I'm not sure I want to work for a company that rejected me twice in one process, one of the times by shooting me an email rejecting me while I was still on the phone with them in the middle of an interview. To me that says I was already rejected and the interview was a formality to check a box as the individual REDACTED was the one on the phone with me, so how did he confer with her - while still on the phone with me for several more minutes- to decide I wasn't a good fit?

I may want a new job, but sometimes you have to exercise some serious skepticism and even just say no.


Flexport was and still is a fast-growing startup. It's possible that you reached out 3 years ago, someone put you into the recruiting engine and things got mixed up. Most established companies have crappy recruiting processes, let alone fast growing startups. It doesn't mean they are bad places to work, only that they have room for improvement in their recruiting process. Maybe things are little better now. It's also possible you didn't interview well 3 years ago, but maybe you will this time.

Either way, why not give them another chance? Flexport has a lot of credibility in the tech space and can be a good resume item to move into other areas of tech. Besides, the hiring market is way better than in 2018... companies are desperate for good workers and can't afford to pass on them these days.


You're gonna publicly confront this person who has reached out to you? I think you just lost a lot of goodwill from the participants of this discussion.

It actually makes me wonder how responsible you are for the misfortune you've experienced in your career.


The correct response here was "Thank you very much, I'll be in touch!" or something to that effect. I agree publicly confronting the recruiter is a bit of a strange move here, not sure what outcome they are hoping for.

I don't think it's the recruiter, but the CEO/founder. And it's not confrontation, he wanted to public offer help so I publicly pointed out he's done that before and it resulted in sitcom like results.

I doubt a recruiter is going to have the ryan@ email address over the CEO/founder.


Upvoted for visibility. (Hopefully that’s the correct thing to do)

60 hour weeks at 39K amounts to under $15/hr (depending on the value of any benefits package), so you have to keep that in perspective when weighing your options. If you haven't had a raise in a long time, are working holidays, putting in the kinds of hours you're putting in, and having it impact your personal life, it's obviously time to move on.

One immediate idea would be if you could potentially freelance for a few different companies that maybe weren't busy enough to justify hiring someone full-time to do what you do. I don't know enough about what you actually do to provide concrete advice on this, but I would expect there are smaller companies that don't do the same level of international freight, and those companies probably would rather hire a freelancer / contractor to work n hours per week instead of having you on full time.

Contractors are typically paid at a premium, so if you could find a handful of companies to pay you maybe $30/hr for what you're doing, you could work half as much and make quite a bit more than what you're making now. Again, the wildcard here is the value of your benefits package, and what it would cost for you to buy benefits in the open market.


>60 hour weeks at 39K amounts

39k is my base, at 40 hours a week. The 60+ hours a week, 6 days a week, is more a commentary on how my industry is completely slammed and people are quitting left and right just creating more work for those of us that are still there making work even less enjoyable. Add to that this is our traditional peak where it is already our busiest time of the year.

The OT is about the only nice thing right now, but when I'm on like week 30ish of it with literally no end in sight, it stops being nice too.


That's a big difference. That doesn't mean you shouldn't leave your job, but if you're getting paid overtime the 60 hour weeks are a lot different than if you were straight salary with no overtime. You are working too much perhaps, but you are not "giving" any of your time to your employer for free.

When people start quitting, the simple economics of it may lead to an increase for you. Your value has increased as others quit, especially since you've been there for so long and probably know the job better than others. Your replacement cost is high right now, so now would probably be a good time to ask for a raise (even if you are looking to leave).


>When people start quitting, the simple economics of it may lead to an increase for you.

.

>so now would probably be a good time to ask for a raise

That's not how things work in the "real" world. That might be the case at a tech company, or a startup, but companies like mine have set-in-stone, extremely rigid, pay scales. They don't just go "oh hey, here have more money" and if you go "I want a raise" they go "too bad, that's not how this company works, your pay is determined upon your job, your market, and your merit increases". Everyone makes roughly the same give or take a couple of percent.


Understood. I wouldn't generalize this as "the real world" though. If you've been in the same place for 13 years, you probably don't have a ton of experience in "the real world", and because of that, you think where you work is the norm.

There are tons of non-tech companies that don't have rigid pay scales. Almost any small company (under 100 employees maybe) might have targets, but they don't have defined 'pay bands'.

I read in another comment that you're doing data entry (that wasn't what I expected you did). Data entry is probably considered a bit of a commodity, as companies are probably confident they can typically find someone to quickly learn how to do it and be effective. So there wouldn't be much room to negotiate a higher salary when they know they can easily replace you. But if they truly need the work done, and they are losing people and unable to replace them, eventually you'll see salaries go up. It's simple economics at work.


Which is why you have to leave. There are plenty of companies desperate to hire right now. Most of them are not willing to increase pay to get people. They are living in yesterdays world and haven’t caught up yet. Don’t work for them. Keep applying until you find someone who pays better. The best part is that people who pay you better also tend to treat you better too.

My employer had rigid pay, but they worked around it to hire me and then gave me a "market adjustment" when a few other guys quit.

We both knew some of the other guys converting from contractor to FTE had negotiated a higher salary because they didn't have any family commitments. They probably sensed I was unhappy; but didn't realize I was sticking around until my 6 week paternity leave was come and gone. Now I might stay another couple years, assuming they continue to value me.


If you still get the exact same pay as you did in 2008 than you can definately talk to your employer.

This is a pretty common story these days. I don’t know if you feel like you have leverage or if you’re perhaps too worried they’d call your bluff. But go tell them you want a salary adjustment. Make your case, and ask for like $5 or whatever extra you feel is right. Also, OT doesn’t have to be paid at 1.5x, that’s just the minimum. They can require OT, but you get to decide at what rate. So if base salary isn’t flexible, you can extract more from the situation this way. Or, use it as a way to avoid being scheduled for OT.

The state of the world being what it is, I see a lot of movement happening at your wage level. It’s a good time to get more and set the limits you’re comfortable with. I feel like many folks have never felt they have the power to negotiate and in this market, you do.

Anyways, I had no advice on your original question but thought starting with improving your current situation to accelerate the education track would help. Unfortunately, most well paying careers do require a degree and you’ll hit that obstacle throughout your life. So, if you do pivot careers, still get the degree. Because next time when you change employers it will still be a basic screening thing that will hold you back.


The people who are quitting, where are they working now? Can you work there?

This exactly. You sound very risk averse. If you're going to take a small pay cut to work 40 hours at Target paying 15$ an hour this is exactly what you should do. You're clearly being burnt out and that's likely reflecting in interviews and job searches. Just like with dating desperation isn't an attractive trait when an employer looks at you.

Bear in mind that risks are different when you have a lower salary. The risk for one person might be "have to sell some stock", for someone else it might be "homeless in a month".

Exactly. We don't even have a month of our gross income in cash savings and outside of that just my meager 401k that would even remotely be touchable (with great penalty) in a "whoops, I quit my job and it didn't pan out" scenario.

Easy...

Create something public in the area that you're interested in your new career. This will show a level of expertise in it. That level could be a neophyte or an expert, or anywhere in between.

Even if you know nothing, the sheer effort of creating something means that YOU are a person that knows something about whatever it is you created. I remember when I did not know regex. Not a tiny bit! But I remember the day someone saw a PHP program I wrote to parse something and savaged me online and so the next day I learned regex.

I've never forget that day I read that comment. But if I did not write that overly complex PHP 200+ LOC PHP code (that could be replaced with a short single line regex), and put it online, I would have never known what my problems were -- and would never become an expert at writing regexes.

Making what you're doing online public -- that's the key. That act forces you to actually get better. It's one of the more powerful acts you can do in your life -- and that's what makes the internet so powerful these days.

If you're not brave enough to do that, then continue doing what you're doing now. It's honest work and it pays the bills.

Right?


There are a few key points that you are missing that are worth pointing out:

1) Have your resume redone by a professional. You're obviously trainable and dedicated. A good resume will enhance these things. You don't need to pay huge amounts for this service. Good ones start at just about $100.

2) Don't try to apply for jobs that are drastically above your skillset, especially if you are trying to change careers. Skills in knowing what things to put in each spot on internal forms are tough if not impossible to translate to tech or any other industry. Skills in recognizing where processes can be improved or streamlined translate better. Your resume should highlight and omit the right things. Instead, target positions where you have ~80% of the required skills already and are in the process of learning the other 20%.

3) Consider starting a side business. If you look around there are countless small things that can be done on the side for decent money. Some can even be done with only a smartphone. Others just require a computer. This _could_ end up being more lucrative than a degree for the same amount of investment. The one warning here is don't fall for any "get rich quick" schemes. If it sounds too good to be true, it very likely is. Once you decide to do something, realize that it may take time to build up the income stream. 4-6 months is fast. 9-12 months is more common. If you want to make this about the skills that you are trying to learn then all the better.


I'm interested in your side gig suggestion (created an HN acct just to ask, time to quit lurking after all these years). I'm just not seeing any things that can be done. It's probably me, but I sure could use someone making some suggestions to help get started. I have the patience for 9-12 months, but I don't have any insights on what to do or how to figure it out. (my skills include many years of linux, perl, python, and java).

I found this video a few days ago, good overview of the things you could do to make money as a dev: https://youtu.be/dRHsg6hWcNo

Not necessarily a LOT of money, mind, but there are tons of ways of extracting at least some value from engineering skills


Do you recommend any specific resume service? I was considering doing this but I get overwhelmed by choice. Should I also pay for my linkedIn profile to be updated?

I'm a resume writer (I actually made the first comment on this post and recommending a resume didn't seem appropriate since I hadn't seen what he has). If you click on my profile you'll see details.

I personally know somebody who started working in tech with absolutely no prior experience. From that story I think two pieces of information are something you might find useful:

1. it's easiest to enter manual testing and then figure out next steps after a year or two

2. it's important to have somebody who is willing to give you 2-3 days of proper training on basic bits that everyone in the field just knows and then who would be willing to pick up a phone from you when you encounter something you don't know - after 2-3 months you'll notice you are not calling that person that often

There is also third thing I always suggest - if you don't have a LinkedIn profile it's good time to create one, even if it does not contain experience you don't want to show. Once you have a profile start actively searching through suggested contacts and try to link with people who are recruiting in the area you want to start working in (I always add personalized invite message). It's entirely possible to grow your network into 500+ connections within ~3 months if you do this regularly a few minutes every day. Once you have your network sorted you will start seeing offers that fit you, mute (but don't disconnect from) everyone else who is posting spam.


> “However, for the Customs Brokerage role we require a BA/BS degree”

Get that degree. Lots of people on here will discourage you from finishing college. Ignore them. Employers are directly telling you to get your degree so they can hire you. The faster you get the degree, the quicker your salary goes up and that boost will compound your entire life.

Edit: You might feel too old for college, but you’re not. My dad went back to finish college at 37. It was worth it.

Edit: Be efficient about college. The requirement is a B.A. or B.S. degree. Find an affordable school with a guidance counselor that understands students in your situation. Apply for financial aid.


Flexport recently interviewed me for a PM role despite lack of any degree and a few years of experience.

I imagine they require a customs broker to have a degree for regulatory purposes, but if you want to go fully into tech, a degree isn't really a requirement. (It may still be best to show growth, but there's plenty of other ways to do that).


If college was free and didn’t require any time I’d agree with you, however in the real world this degree will cost him $$$ as well as time and so will need to be weighed against the potential upsides and compared against other career options that don’t require a degree.

He’s already going to college & sounds like he’s got a support system to finish. The poor financial choice is dragging it out.

He doesn’t need to go to Stanford and take out $250k loans. Cal State Long Beach is $3k per semester & financial aid or taking a campus job can reduce that further (https://www.csulb.edu/student-records/tuition-and-fees). I assume schools in other states are even more affordable.

That said, you may be right. I don’t know enough about his unique situation & goals.


If they’re smart about what school they choose then they can make up the tuition in the first year or two. Easily worth it.

If you want a pay bump the easiest thing you can do is learn SQL. Just do bunch of practice problems and get comfy with it. It will take a few months at most. Then, when you apply for a job that requires SQL knowledge... well you lie about using it in your last role. If you're good enough with SQL to make it seem like you used it in your last role – no harm, no foul.

I second this. Learning SQL and a BI tool like tableau or looker makes you eligible for data analyst jobs. I'm sure you could do a few data analyst-y projects in your current role, even if they are side projects, that could propel you into a new career.

Data analysts are a good relatively low barrier to entry into the tech world that get paid decently well and can open opportunities for other tech paths like machine learning, statistics and experimentation, or just moving to python-based programming.


Can you do an online degree and work on the side? My wife is doing a CS masters, of course it's useful to be married to someone who can help, but essentially she's starting from the bottom. I don't know what types of work you could do in the mean time, but perhaps it's a possibility?

Also, see if people are happy if you're simply working towards a degree. Put 2024 or whatever as your degree year and see if people care. I've only ever had to prove my degree status once in 18 years. Keep in mind often HR people are gatekeeping for the real decisionmakers, who will care less about specifics like that. If you can get in touch directly, that might help a lot.


>Can you do an online degree and work on the side?

I am, that's why I mention being 3~ years out from a degree in my OP. And then I'll be 39~ with a degree and then 18 years of experience doing paperwork and it'll be a whole new set of "well, we're looking for someone with actual experience in such and such field" or "we can get a 22 year old for way less money than you" instead of "well, we're looking for someone with a degree".


Call back some recruiters who turned you down because of the degree. Tell them appreciated their advice and are working on the degree. Ask them what experience they recommend you get over the next three years to be eligible for the job once you have the degree.

Don’t discount the work experience you’ve had. You have 18 years of working with people & working through problems. Your maturity will count. 39 is still young.


But is coding what you will be doing? Will you be continuing in the same industry?

You should talk yourself up. You have lots of experience, not just in whatever narrow industry you think, but you're also a proven worker. I've seen young people get canned because they didn't know how to get out of bed in the morning. Plus the fact that you've run a family for a while without that blowing up is also a positive. Plenty of people have had their careers blow up at the same time as a divorce.

Finally there's the fact that you have all this experience, just because you didn't have a degree doesn't mean it isn't real. I used to work with a trader who had this terrible thing bothering him about that. He knew plenty about options trading but it always bothered him that he didn't have a shiny degree, even though none of us graduates actually learn anything about options in undergrad. The degree is really only telling people that a person has learned a bunch of topics, and thus might be able to learn some other topics at work. That's not a guarantee that you can learn if you have the certificate, and it's not a guarantee that it won't be possible to learn things if you don't.


You need to find a way to do it much faster..

You are burnt out and stressed, so I completely understand the general despair/malaise that drips through from your posts.

However, you are getting in the way of your own success. What's the alternative? Being 39 with no degree? Delaying the degree even further, so that you're 45 with a degree and 24 years of experience, and still competing with 22 year olds? Starting now, is better than not starting. If you're going through hell now, keeping going and don't stop moving forward (otherwise you'll be stuck in hell forever).

You can do this. You can make positive changes to your life and your career. It will not be easy (in fact, it will absolutely suck over the next 1-3 years, but even this you can try to mitigate somewhat). It will not be the ideal course you might've wanted for your life. You may not out-compete all the 22 year olds. But that's okay. Life is not a schedule, and whether some 22 year olds are better or worse off than you, doesn't affect the quality or enjoyment of YOUR life (or at least, it shouldn't, unless you allow it to mentally and emotionally affect you).

Being burnt out or depressed or whatnot, tends to give anyone a very negative outlook on the world, which is insidious in 2 ways: (1) it robs you of the ability to feel joy from even small wins (and even robs you of the ability to recognize what is a win, like signing up for college, passing a tough exam, or cleaning out your attic, or whatever); (2) it makes you think that there is no hope, no possibility of improvement (which is simply not true, if only you could interrupt your own thought patterns enough to see it).

Being on HN is kind of a double-edged sword for lots of folks like you who may be struggling in their careers (and when I say "struggle", I don't mean underperforming or being bad at their work, though that is also an issue for others but not in your case I think), where on the positive side, you can try to draw inspiration from the "can-do" attitude that naturally goes hand-in-hand with "hacker" mentality, with startups disrupting industries, with believing that it is possible to move mountains and upend institutions through innovation and hard work. On the negative side though, you are also inevitably going to see yourself as being compared to 22 year old founders and millionaires, or new college grads getting entry-level FAANG jobs for ~$200k+, and of course it can steal away joy or contentment from your own life or your own trials and tribulations (and successes!).

You need to try and draw out the positives while staying away from the negative comparisions, to feel inspired by the "can-do" energy of all the different types of "hackers" launching anything from personal projects to unicorn startups, and then translate that into your own life, so that you start to see how you can creatively problem-solve for your own situation.

Start with problem #1, working 60hrs/week with no end in sight... Can you simply refuse? Is your overtime mandatory? You shouldn't care about performance reviews or making a good impressions, because you don't want this job at this company in the long-run anyways. You just need to do barely enough work to not get fired, so that you have income while earning your degree and preparing your exit strategy. Or OTOH: could you actually quit? Another poster mentioned actually taking that job at McDonald's, which I think could make perfect sense, IF it actually affords you the chance to focus on and accelerate your degree, and IF it actually reduces your hours and your stress.

The point is, all of these are just random suggestions, but you're paralyzed by your burnout/depression, and not able to problem-solve effectively. If you can fix that, and start to think about it as creating a flywheel of positive changes in your life, then each individual change may be small, but they can accumulate and it will get easier and easier over time, for you to move your life in the direction that you want.

---

EDIT to add: I just poked around your personal blog a bit, and I saw this entry from you, back in July 2021. I think this is a really amazing and very healthy perspective you shared there, and I would encourage you to think about your life in relation to this sort of cohort that you are learning together with, which is much more realistic, much more grounded, vs comparing yourself to some hypothetical 22 year olds. Think about your classmates in their 60s, the recovering addicts, the former prison inmate who's trying to improve their life. If they can do this, then so can you... keep pushing! You wrote these words yourself. You have the seeds for your own success.

> The group you gather with, if it is anything like mine, is likely to contain quite a variety of people. My gathering contains 2 immigrants, a Canadian couple, people ranging in age from 20s to 60s, 2 individuals that are converts to the Church within the past year and a half, blue and white-collar workers, 2 recovered addicts, and even someone improving their life via education after having served time in prison, and we have 3 native languages represented with no communication difficulties in our group. It’s a truly diverse group and I’ve definitely been inspired by, and learned from, the unique experiences of my gathering-mates and I would suspect my unique experiences have also helped some of them. I definitely feel like I have a much more diverse group of people here than I would in a traditional brick-and-mortar college program where I live.

https://www.ryanmercer.com/ryansthoughts/2021/7/23/reflectio...


>What's the alternative? Being 39 with no degree?

Which is why I'm doing a degree.


Potential employers will always find a way to get out of hiring people, usual excuses being too qualified, experienced, old, expensive. However Goldman Sachs has noticed some trends namely Reddit becoming more topical with the younger generation what with WallStreetBets & GameStop and now Antiwork. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/antiwork-movement-may-be-long...

Its worth reading the comments in r/AntiWork its quite an eye opener!

A lot of people are fed up with the goal posts being moved, its not really being covered by the mainstream media other than labour shortages in certain areas but when ever there is a labour shortage, it usually means wages are not high enough. Besides no one can predict the future either.

Probably best advice I would give, is be your own boss and run your own business, in other words start your own pyramid and have people working for you and take a cut off all your employees to keep your pyramid going and a source of income for you. You will have to put in the hours your family if you have one wont thank you for not being around, but that's the sacrifice we all have to make.

There are absolutes, namely the global population is still growing so that means cheaper new entrants to the global workforce putting downward pressure on wages in developed countries where offshoring in one guise or another is possible. Govts are excellent at make work schemes so keep an eye on them.

Be wary of the news, or as Trump put it Fake News, so look at Foxconn and how the US tech companies offshored manufacturing to China as they could afford a high failure rate because Foxconn gave them bigger margins which made a higher failure rate still profitable because China pegged itself to the dollar, or look at how the US is not happy with Germany's trade surplus so the world saw Dieselgate to hit the German motor manufacturers when US motor manufacturers were also doing rigging emissions or Huawei 5G "spying" when in fact Huawei leapfrogged the US tech giants and have the most 5G patents rendering Huawei products legally superior to US 5G tech.

Leap frogging is a perfectly valid form of increasing market share, so try to spot developing trends and niches which will come from knowing a market/sector very well. This is the right website for some of the latest developments in a wide range of sectors.

Look at demographics, the "boomer" generation are considered to have the greatest amount of disposable income, highest level of assets and older people tend to become more right wing as they age, so servicing their needs beit funerals, property maintenance, healthcare, travel would seem a logical area to investigate further, if that's something you might be interested in.

If you talk to people who have degrees, ask them what type of degree they have, I'm surprised at how many graduates are in employment that's not in their field of study. Don't get your hopes up that having a degree will magically give you a pay rise, Zuckerberg didn't graduate along with these people. https://www.businessinsider.com/the-15-richest-people-withou...

So like I said don't get your hopes up when you do graduate, its not a panacea, all it shows is you stuck it out trying to better yourself and become more knowledgeable in some area, but most employers don't even know what you studied so they don't know if you are useful to them. That's the sad state of reality if everyone is to be honest with themselves!


My advice: understand your goals and strip your learning to the bare minimum. Ditch the degree. Its unnecessary for what you will achieve in your career. Which will be working at small-to-mid-cap companies. Your ONLY goal should be passing a take-home coding test at a recruiting agency (such as teksystems - find something local to you). Once you're placed, you will learn everything else on the job.

Some advice to help you:

1). Learn a superficial amount of git and Linux command line. I'm talking bare minimum. If you have used these tools before you already know too much.

2). Learn a programming language (ONE) to a beginner level.

3). Learn HTML and CSS to an intermediate level.


A great job many people overlook is corrections. Corrections facilities are like small towns and have a wide range of services and functions in the building.

They take anyone with a clear criminal history. Then you might work similar long hours for one or two years before being able to apply for a desk spot and you would have access to various training, step raises, and more.

I started working in corrections a few years ago and had to work 12-16 hours almost everyday for two years. Then I got a better position, then a year later an even better position, and now I just sit at a desk 8 hours or less and don't even feel like I have a job any more.


Speaking of institutional work, there's also hospitals which are by definition usually located near people, and schools.

The local private liberal arts college down the road from me pays $8.75/hr for all work-study jobs, so about half McDonalds wage. The important point is turnover is immense and demand for such low pay is extremely low. So work on campus on the help desk for one month / one semester / something like that. Instant easy experience to put on the resume. Helpdesk is an interesting way to meet people, such as the administrators and professors whom could hire you for a "real" job possibly paying as much as $15/hr.

As a comparison, you'd be very temporarily making approx $9/hr at a college that costs $37K/yr to attend, just for tuition not room and board and books and so forth. The college president makes far in excess of $300K/yr (thats what the guy back in 2003 was getting). Although it seems unsustainable for decades now, the system hasn't crashed ... yet. So may as well get that easy experience.


How long did it take you? It may be faster in Indiana, but this was basically my first idea in California a very long time ago when I was unhappy working in nonprofit fundraising management. The background check/psych eval and all the various hoops took 13 months to get through before I finally got an offer, and by then I'd joined the Army instead. And California required a college degree to become a corrections officer.

Beware, of course, that part of the reasons corrections jobs pay well is that prisons tend to be located in the middle of nowhere and they have to pay premiums to entice people to move out there. Your wife may not want to go.


It took me maybe 2-3 months. Look at county jails which are usually in less remote areas than prisons.

Maybe another state disconnect? In California, county jails are run by Sheriff's departments, not by corrections. Whether a Sheriff's department requires a degree and how long the application process takes varies wildly by county.

Guys I knew that worked as corrections officers were making around or less than what OP said he was making, ofc I imagine that highly varied on state/municipality/etc.

YMMV, but this worked for me. Find an industry you want to work in. Find a small but quickly growing company in that industry. Email the CEO, try to make yourself look as relevant as you can to that company and ask to get coffee. Come prepared with a pitch of what you can do for them.

If you reach out to CEOs directly, you skip HR, so you skip profile screens. Reaching out to medium-large company CEOs doesn't work because they have assistants/are too busy.


How does someone identify a “find a small but quickly growing company” without already understanding the industry?

I'm guessing you'll need to know a little bit so that you can sell yourself during the coffee talk. If you are new to the self driving car field you'll probably come across Geohot's startup in the first hour of online search.

Idea:

Surf what's busy.

Legacy brick and mortar retailers from October to January. Mail order would probably find your specific skills very interesting.

Lawyers and tax guys need a paperwork-focused professional to help out from Feb to April.

County parks and rec pays $15/hr to show up on time, sober, and mow park lawns every day from May to October or so.

A temp agency in general might be very helpful.


If you are savvy with computers, my recommendation is to try to get an entry level I.T. job (like helpdesk, office I.T.) where you can work 40 hours a week for similar or better pay.

Do a coding bootcamp and then apply for many entry level software engineering jobs. If you arent getting any offers, try to get some freelance coding work or build a side-project website showcasing your skills.

Having some relevant tech experience even if it's I.T. where you work with software and networking troubleshooting while you are building up some coding skill would be great.

You can take out loans and go to college and all that but I personally wouldn't.

I never went to college and I'm an engineer at one of the biggest software companies in the world, because I have experience.


I think the key question here (looking at some of your other answers below), if not how, but what.

What are you passionate about? Project management? Product? Problem solving?

Once you have an idea of the area you would like to work, in you need to think about what you will bring to that role - why does someone need you?

If you are non technical (currently) you might steer towards test, product, BA, marketing. If you want to be technical you will need to think about how you can achieve those skills in your own time - esp as it doesn't sound like you have any time right now.

Sounds like you cope with stress and pressure well - so that is a good start, but don't fall into another high pressure role just because you can. For me pressure and stress always have to be worth the reward.


When you live paycheck to paycheck, there is really no room to think about or espouse passion, value, or achievement. Language can be very hierarchical, and often creates barriers to entry between in groups and out groups.

While I understand what you are saying, unless you have some context, the above values are useless to think about and may even be detrimental, unless you have some sort of algebraic commutation of language.

However, if you can evaluate some of these terms in your own life, and find others that also value the same things, and communicate in the same terms in an interview then, yes that may work.


Totally agree. But if the op is looking to jump into tech, they will need to at least have an idea of the sort of role they want, and to be aware of those different roles in an average tech company. I was trying to point out the route doesn't have to be technical if they don't have those skills today, there may well be things they are already doing that would both sit well with an employer and still be something they enjoy.

OP - feel free to ask me any questions about other roles, happy to expand. Was a product guy myself and more recently work in strategy and transformation. Since you have asked the question here (hacker news) - I have assumed a level of knowledge of the industry and roles, but happy to help you (or others!) if of use.


Is data entry the best way for your brain to provide value to society?

If it is, keep doing it. Achieving some extra qualifications may even be good in that scenario, so you can be valued more doing what you do.

If it's not, experiment until you find that something that gives you the best return on your time. It can be a small business, it can be learning to code.

Software is pretty well paid and demanded right now and, frankly, it's not rocket science. Stress varies, but the abundance of work means you're always free to switch until you find a company that doesn't completely suck.

I've seen plenty of people who couldn't code for their life in developer positions because there are just not enough people to satisfy demand.

Best of luck


I was in a pretty similar situation and asked around in a larger organization I was a member of. Got a long shot offer that initially didn't sound too appealing (customer service) through my network, that fortunately put me on the right path to enabling me to automate my job away and change to engineering.

Thought I was just lucky, but way later on in my career, I learned that most opportunities don't happen in the first or second layer of your network, but in your third one (which kind of makes sense regarding the exponential growth).

I think it was a study referred to in Keith Ferrazzi's "Never Eat Alone" that by the way also gave me a good pointers in terms of marketing myself (even if I won't ever be the full scale hustler he is).

Anyway, back to the point: Barring any hard credentials, a good option might be making yourself vulnerable and just reach out for help in your network. Not just friends, but friends of friends, their friends, clubs, associations, organizations. Get a warm intro. My biggest insight back then was that I figured I didn't need to know somebody directly to profit from network effects.

Aim a bit broader, not neccessarily directly for your dream role, but for a company that might have it, has a good culture and is on an upwards trajectory.

Good luck!


I was in a similar situation two years ago putting in 60+ hour weeks including holidays at an IT helpdesk job, and still felt like my student debt barely had a dent to the point where my full repayment date would extend beyond 2030. My choice was to learn programming by doing challenges like HackerRank & save up to attend a coding bootcamp instead of making some numbers in some institutional bank account look slightly lower than actuarial tables would have predicted. It's a bit surprising to see most comments say to finish college where I think you would benefit more from upskilling in a trade program that has a much shorter time horizon than college to finish, where most employers do want some sort of accreditation beyond a GED instead of taking a chance on someone that's fully unproven. That said, non-traditional paths upwards exist but would likely require relocating from Indiana and networking through outreach to find what it would take to advance in a lateral career move, maybe at an industry conference or local group meetup.

Responses here really speaks to OP's question:

(Reddit.com thread) "If I am willing to put in the hard work, What in demand skills can I learn to gain $6k-$10k per month??"

https://www.reddit.com/r/Entrepreneur/comments/qycxmk/if_i_a...


I grew up in Hendricks County. There's a lot of your post that resonated with me, since several friends and family members of mine have had similar life experiences. One of my best friends was in a similar boat: no completed degree, not sure what he wanted to do, enjoyed tech but wasn't a strong programmer, but he had strong "soft" skills. There are a number of manufacturing and logistics/supply chain companies in Central Indiana that have a real need for detail-oriented, personable and hard-working people.

My friend hated working for a manufacturing company, but it was only a year and it was a launchpad: he was able to prove value with spreadsheets (similar to paperwork) and after hopping from a couple different companies is now doing Business Analyst work (some SQL, some Excel, mostly domain knowledge of the industry he picked up on the job) for a retail distributor in Central Indiana. I don't claim to be giving any particular advice, I only aim for encouragement. Keep knocking on doors and building your network. It's hard work that will pay off. Best of luck.


I think there's something to be said just for reaching out to people.

About 10 years ago I got one of my first gigs out of college by emailing someone I found here on HN. I just said "Hey, I'm interested in what you all are doing. Here's how I might be able to help. I'd love to chat." It was a contract position and only lasted a few months, but I probably would not be where I am without that experience.

A couple years later I just decided to start hosting interviews. I had no experience. I initially reached out to friends to chat, then people I didn't know—largely through email and Twitter. I thought nobody would respond, but may of them said yes! I haven't done interviews for a while, but you can find some older ones here.

https://solomon.io/portfolio-category/interviews/

My advice would be to figure out what you think you want to do—reach out to some people that are already doing that for a chat. Even if they can't help, maybe they know someone else who can get you where you want to go.


Sorry you are feeling trapped and depressed, been there and its not great. How long would it take you to get your GED and can you do it online? Getting that would open a lot of colleges and options to you that might otherwise be closed. You don't have to pursue college but getting the GED at least would likely give you a sense of accomplishment. This is a tech board so most of the suggestions are going to be tech related which may or may not be what you are looking for.

Google offers a certificate program through coursera you may look into. https://grow.google/certificates/

I have not taken them but no one who is taking them and likes it. He has not attempted to get a job with it yet though so fair warning.

Another poster mentioned this but I'll ask again, those people that have quit, where have they gone and can you look there? Could you work towards becoming a teacher like your wife?

I hope you find what you are looking for and wish you the best of luck.


This post is a good step.

I'd add "network, network, network". Tell everyone you know that you are looking. (At least ones that won't get back to your current management).

Go to meetups in your area (or online). Talk to everyone. Ask what they are looking for.

Particularly at smaller companies, people hire people they think would be fun to work with. Connect with people!


Hi Ryan. I've helped a few friends break into tech now and while I'm far from an expert, I do have opinions on how to approach it. If you're interested, drop me a line at my email (username at gmail) and we can chat sometime. It may or may not be new info for you but happy to pass along any insights I may have. Cheers.

First, I think it's really important to decide what you want from a new job. Do you want job satisfaction or just a decent pay check? Starting there, you probably want to think outside the box.

It seems like you have experience doing paperwork and possibly have some knowledge of tax law, since you do imports. Maybe a company like HR Block needs people they can train (no idea whether they pay decently).

> I've even been rejected by companies in my industry

What about companies outside of your industry that have similar needs. Companies that import goods at smaller scale could maybe use someone with your experience.

It might be a good idea to start looking at local job boards and look at the ads with an open mind. "Is this something I can learn with the knowledge I have" is a good start, in my opinion. This means you'll probably need to send out a lot of applications in order to find a company willing to take a chance. But those companies are often worth working at.

Another option is to look at something completely different. Look at what market has shortages that you might be able and willing to fill. In my country, that could be pretty much anything that has to do with building and maintaining houses (painting, plumbing, etc.). Your country might be different, but these types of businesses are often willing to take a chance because they need everyone they can get.

Also, because you're doing paperwork, you could pretty much look at every type of admin work. It's really hard to find people willing to do admin work and even harder to find ones who do it well. Maybe there's a law office or another type of company that does lots of paperwork that can use someone who's been doing that for 11 years.

If you're not tied to the US, you could take a look outside the country. The UK is definitely in need of people who can clear freight through customs right now. You already speak English, so it might be worth a try to contact a company like that in the UK. If they really need people, they might be willing to help with relocation and visa applications.

Finally, it really comes down to willingness to take a chance and fail. If you want to do something new that requires failure. If you accept that failure is inevitable when trying something new, that failure will be a success in itself, because you're doing something. Don't get demotivated by rejections, try something different, but keep trying.


There are many, many, many things which a person can do to make a living in this world. Many of them might be more enjoyable and pay more than what you are doing now. Random example: I once cleaned windows for a couple of years, and the pay was far higher than what you mention as your current income above. (That was almost 20 years ago, too.)

If you want to make a career change, start by trimming down your family's expenses so that your bank balance will grow faster at your current job, and will last longer after you quit. Start putting feelers out and seeing what opportunities are available. If you want to do software, try to find a couple of small freelancing jobs which you could do to get experience.


As a real world data point:

I used to do data entry as well (read from another comment) and I also did factory work and dish washing. I am single though so easier than having a family. If you're interested in writing code (solving problems, making things) you can get into it. My path was: self-learning, freelancing, web agency job, SWE job at a corporation. That's about 7 years (3 years to learn, get in somewhere). Doesn't have to take this long, I had personal problems like not having a car or not wanting to learn a framework.

It is hard to get into it, particularly if you don't have the education or experience to substitute (I don't, had incomplete college).

I feel it though, if you don't double/triple/quad your income it's hard to get out if you're just staying even.

What I see are the hot languages to learn are: JavaScript/Python/C++ (depends where you are but every Who's Hiring post on HN has this breakdown). IMO the first two being easier to get into (more opportunity/lower qualifications).

I would say the easiest/fastest thing to get into is some kind of web development eg. PHP/WP or if you're interested going a little further pick up a framework like React that's high in demand. Course need knowledge before that eg. html/css/js. Anyway it can be done... Easier if you can free up time.

At this time I'm still just under $100K/yr though so I'm not at FAANG or anything like that, take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Random thought: if you're trying to come up with alternative ways to make money, you could try some kind of side hustle/gig... there are sites like Indie Hackers where people share their random thing that makes some money. I haven not figured out anything myself but it can give some alternate insight. But a new higher-paying job is more guaranteed to change your life than some idea that may or may not work.

My personal goal is to exit/pursue my own interests after FIRE but I'm far from it atm.


You say:

> It is hard to get into it

It's interesting how people's opinions will differ based on their experience... I started working as a programmer while still studying something not relevant to CS. The reason I was hired was because of two things: (1) I loved to program and I was doing this for fun, I had a few little silly projects like coding a snake game that I was proud of at the time (I laugh at that code now); and (2) because I was honest about things I don't know and that I want to learn.

Of course first job was paid peanuts (and I could afford this because I was single student living with other students). But it was not hard to get it..


Yeah if you're starting as a blank slate. I remember on UpWork that's where I did my first few things, I had to apply to so many places because I had nothing... jobs on Indeed couldn't get in... Once you have something on your resume it's easier but jobs that say "BS in CS or some thing" I don't apply unless it says "experience in tech" that I'm looking into/have experience.

But yeah I was trying to get hired since 2016 and it wasn't till 2018 I got a full time gig. In between this time I had to pick up a job like washing plates/factory because I had no money. I don't know if it's easier if you come from say a bootcamp or have a plan like the developer roadmap but yeah. That was my experience. Most of my background before this was some kind of labor work or the data entry. I almost got hired for a PHP role in 2016 but didn't get it because I didn't have a car. The test I took was written ha, like "how would you make a query for grouping music".

This guy taught me a lot about PHP from PHPFreaks, would chat with him on Skype.

Also as a side note, I did some PC tech work like removing viruses but I never had the interest to program. I had to take C++ as a course and I didn't really enjoy it at the time/same with Java, I was in Eng/Phys degree at the time. Most I used a computer for was like playing Runescape.

I picked up web development because I read about high traffic websites that would make a lot of money from ads, that didn't happen but I learned how to make websites. At this point I was on my way out of college/was failing out.

Also it wasn't till 2015 I figured out what GitHub was/how to put my code on there.


Shame on me, but when I was a kid I always wanted to write viruses :] Ah childhood, it should happen at least twice in a lifetime :) I do agree it probably was much easier for me because I did not have next rent that I had to pay, my living costs were very low and if it came to the worst I had people who would give me their couch for a few weeks.. Now with family and kids I think maybe my comment was too optimistic.

Yeah I'm not saying my experience is everyone's. You should read on the subreddit CSCareers ha people saying "I applied to hundreds of jobs got nothing". I do wish I knew about CS when I was going into school, I didn't really plan my school and yeah just failed out (this is a personal discipline problem). Thankfully even without a degree I can get work in this field... I know I would not see myself working on something (qualified) like Tesla autopilot or whatever (for one I'm not good at math). But there is a lot of random things you can do out there... for money or personal joy (what I'm after eventually).

Anyway yeah time is the main thing, I feel lucky in this case not to have a family/have time.

Viruses are cool, I don't know I never got the itch to do that kind of work like pen testing. It's pretty crazy the abstract ways to get you to load some executable say in a macros.


If you haven't spent time learning to code, I strongly suggest spending a semester learning Python. I cannot overstate how many windows this alone can open up to you.

I know this is another +20 hours of your time but it's definitely worth it.


Depends entirely on the career you're looking to go into. There are certain fields that do, and should, require a college degree and appropriate certifications.

Assuming you are looking for a job in software development (since that's most of what HN is), the need for a college degree is becoming less and less. Some people are going the bootcamp route, some people are going self-taught. Just something to be aware of in terms of the talent pool, there's a ton of junior talent right now so it's hard to stand out. Actual projects you can showcase on Github and deployed on things like Heroku will be a good start


Are you contractually required to work overtime? Is anyone? If you work 40 hours exactly, and refuse to work more, can you be fired? Maybe it's worth asking an employment lawyer, seems like a fairly binary question.

And if you are at least on solid ground to sue on the basis of illegal retaliation, maybe do it. Document everything. Every decision, every conversation, names, dates, etc. Because now you have extra time for other pursuits. This OT b.s. is the real anchor that keeps you stuck.


You could consider Salesforce and learning it. There is a massive market with rather fun role / good spirited environments in the Salesforce universe. Go to trailhead.com and see if it something for you.

As an anecdote, I worked with Salesforce for a year as a consultant and it was a fantastic experience. Great tech, good solutions for the clients and the projects were good. Strangely sliding over to Service Now was easy after some time with Salesforce.


I transitioned to tech from a totally unrelated field, first into support then ops and now data engineering.

To get my foot in the door I got a number of certs including Linux+; security+, networking+, then rhcsa and CCNE. Nowadays a cloud cert would be more relevant.

My advice would be to go get the certs and be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up. In my first 30 months of working my pay had doubled.


TLDR: There's no shame in working for McDonald's if it pays better and has better working conditions. Go work there and use the extra time/money to get the credentials you need to advance your career.

> In the past 2 weeks we've had 3 people quit from just my team

Now is the time to have a frank 1-1 with your superior. Point out that they are having trouble retaining employees, and that you can quickly make more money, and have a better life, working at McDonald's. Don't demand a raise or make any threats. Just point out the facts.

Then, here's the kicker: After about 1-2 weeks, get a job at McDonald's. There is no shame walking away from a "career" job because you can make a decent living elsewhere. When you quit, be very polite about it, and tell them that you'd happily come back for ~50k / year with reasonable hours. Make sure they know the door is always open, and that you're just doing this because of the "realities of the economy and your need to support your family."

Then, enjoy your job and McDonald's. Do good work, try to get promoted. At the same time, continue your education and look for a career job. When interviewed, if anyone asks why you went to work at McDonald's, just be honest: "I quit my job at XXX because McDonald's paid more and had more reasonable hours. The better pay and reasonable hours allowed me to continue my education."

If your current employer calls you back, hold firm that they need to pay you more then McDonald's.


I recommend you look into QA. Manual QA is easy to break into. You mainly need attention to detail.

I mean, attention to detail is my job. Look at invoices, classify stuff in the tariff schedule accurately to ensure correct duty, remember which of a half dozen or so other government agencies might apply, look for any free trade/special program indicators, is it sold or not sold, etc., enter every value and quantity correctly...

QA added to a notecard.


You would probably be a shoo-in for a QA job.

Here is a page you would want to dig into as a start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_testing

Please reach out to me if you're interested in learning more. I've had a lot of good results in this field, and have also helped/mentored several other people to break into the field.


Yeah, that definitely sounds like something that I may be equipped to do, especially black-box. black-box is even analogous to how I first got online at home in 1995, here's a disk from the ISP now figure out setting it up and actually using eudora/mirc/etc where I literally just tried every option to see what the software would do while trying to figure out what it was for/why it did not produce the desired result.

He's right. No one wants to do manual QA and it sounds a lot like your current job.

It could be a good stepping stone.


Yeah, I think it's an amazing niche. Personally, I enjoyed it way more than programming as a job. Not nearly as stressful, the pay is still pretty good, and most of the time I could forget about it off-hours.

And the required skills are basically being able to follow directions and describe what you did in detail when bug.


> 60~ hour weeks, working 6 day weeks

Can you scale back to 40 hours? That is simply nuts for how little you are compensated. That would give you the time you need to investigate other options. You can't enjoy life working that many hours no matter how well you are paid.


What new career do you want?

One that pays me a decent wage and doesn't go 13 years without a cost-of-living increase. My income has been effectively as stagnant as the federal minimum wage, you can hope for (some years) a 2-3% merit-based increase and that is it which usually a good chunk of gets eaten up by just insurance cost increases.

Like - I sit up at night worrying about "what about when I need a new car, we need a new roof, the well pump fails, we need a new well drilled" because my savings rate shrinks each year as my dollar goes less far and my annual pay increase barely covers insurance increases. Or I passed my General exam for my amateur radio license Saturday and I'm like "ok, cool, maybe in 5-10 years I can afford to get into HF radio".

And they're nuking our pension contributions and instead upping the 401k match instead, the 401k match I already can't get all of because paying bills that keep going up, while pay stays relatively stagnant, is a little more important than throwing 7% at my 401k for that match for use 30-40 years from now.

My wife, as a public school teacher, has had more (dollars) raises in the past year than I have in 6-7 years.


Go learn a trade my dude. Welding, electrical, masonry, you name it, they all are better pay than what you're getting now. There are plenty of decent blue collar jobs in Indiana. By the time you get into a few years of experience, as a journeyman or what have you, you'll be making double what you are now, depending on OT.

If you like the work and are still at it ~5-8 years from now you can move into management, start a small company and bid and run your own jobs. Sky's the limit.


Trades have a huge barrier to entry too. You either go pay tens of thousands of dollars to the degree-mill equivalent of a trade school, or you hope exactly no one is trying to join a trade in your area and get lucky and get an apprenticeship.

You can readily find thread after thread on Reddit with statements like

>That said, my local just brought in 16 new first years. That's the largest class we've started in a while. There were some 200 applicants. So we only took the top 8% give or take. So more than 90% of the guys that applied didn't get in. So I think its fair to say its hard.

Or telling people to join Jobcorp (ages 16-24), or to join the military to learn a trade.


This depends on the market and the trade. Not all are equally competitive. Might have to investigate your area but look into plumbing, HVAC, carpentry and others. If you don't care about the nature of the work, go with the most promising prospect. If you do, then explore them, watch youtube accounts of the job, etc. Personally I think the downside is longer hours (typically) and often shift-work.

Since you're asking on HN I expect you're not averse to programming either. Can be competitive at Junior level. Take a free course at freecodecamp or whatever, will give you some idea whether it's worth pursuing. People will often say "contribute to open source" but without a frame of reference you'll just feel lost, so either take a course or start your own project first.

There are some other high-turnover gigs like corrections. I don't know if I'd recommend this, but it wouldn't take you long to get in. Expect overcrowding, violence, and stress.


There's literally 20 jobs open on Indeed right now in Indy for electricians helpers, which is basically the step to apprenticeship. Same for other trades. You don't need a school, just go do it. It's hard work but you can go out and get a job today that will lead you there. You might need a GED but it's literally just a test, go take it.

I'm seeing starting pay ranges bottoming out at $11 an hour to $14 an hour, which is as much as an $8 an hour pay cut, also less than fast food is currently paying with zip codes 30~ miles away. The one that lists $11 an hour as the low end requests 5 years of experience.

It doesn't sound like you're looking for answers, it sounds like you just are frustrated and want to vent. That's cool, but it's a different problem than "how do you start a new career with minimal qualifications". You're going to have to sacrifice something if you want to switch careers. As a 38 year old myself I feel your pain, but I've often thought about going back to manual labor to get into the trades. I used to stock shelves and bake pies and it was pretty satisfying work.

I'm looking for answers, I'm not looking for some arm-chair expert that assumes a person asking a question has done zero research and wants to throw out an answer an article or guidance counselor told them about years ago.

You just told me to take a 90 minute commute, at an $8 an hour pay cut, to go into a "kinda" apprenticeship that is asking for 5 years of experience in the job posting.


> I've often thought about going back to manual labor to get into the trades

Easy to pontificate what you don't do. I think a substantial wage cut in the interim is a serious concern and sussing out all the options is not tantamount to "making excuses".


I second this idea, if money is the main motivator. Technical colleges are cheaper than universities, and can be completed faster. They will still likely require a GED, though, prior to graduation if not prior to entry.

You are playing the "yes, but" game. Learn to avoid that.

You should try getting a referral. You can cold email people with very detailed and personalized messages that showcase why you are awesome and why you are interested in working at X.

You need to leave the current job. It's that simple. Whatever else you do, this job is a huge ball and chain preventing further progress.

A big problem (and it is a big problem) with the tech industry is ageism.

It's freaking jaw-dropping. When I encountered it (I left my last job, of 27 years, at 55), I was gobsmacked.

If you are over 40, forget it (unless you are C-suite, or have gobs of money). If you are in your mid-30s, you need to have a lot of relevant experience. It's very, very difficult to break in, at that age, at a junior position. If you complain about it, expect to be mocked by folks that are secure in their own employment.

I say go for it, but be prepared to roll up your sleeves, tuck in a bib, and eat some humble pie. I have been doing that, for most of my life. After encountering the current tech scene's blatant, unapologetic, ageism, I gave up, and am working for free, doing stuff I love. Fortunately, I can afford it. I doubt that's the case for the OP.

I have a GED. I have nothing but a couple of years of tech school. But I'm good at what I do. Really good. I always have been, and I can prove it.

When I was younger, selling myself was easy. Companies were clamoring to hire me; despite my lack of qualifications.

What I did have, was experience. Even now, at my age (I'm now 59), I have an unusual degree of experience, architecting and shipping software. I can prove a lot of it. I've been doing it for a living, since I was about 23 or so, and a great deal of my work is open-source (mostly because I was a manager, and did OSS to keep my tech chops up). My very first engineering project, in 1986-7, was a full-scale architecting and construction of a custom microwave switching interface. Many folks don't get to do that kind of work for years. The fact that I was cheap labor, helped.

It's just that, these days, experience isn't the currency that it used to be.

I'm not saying don't do it. I'm just saying that you'll get lots of advice from young, and/or career-secure people, with a lot of theoretical advice, based on their own experience of not having trouble (but they may be in for a bit of a shock, as their well-coiffed pompadour starts to take on a fetching shade of grey. I can tell you that happened to me, and it sucked). It really sucks to be mocked for it. Being told that what is clearly happening, isn’t happening, is quite demoralizing. I guess that I sort of deserve it, because I wasn’t always sympathetic to the plight of others.

Comeuppance is a bitch.

The rewards can be worth it. The pay in tech; even for younger/junior folks, is quite good. If you love solving problems, and working in creative teams, then it can be an amazing experience.

But I think, like in any career, it's important to love what we do. I spent 25 years as a manager. I did a lot of tech work during that time, but I hated the management part of the job. It was absolutely soul-crushing. If I hadn't had my OSS on the side, I would have gone mad. The pay was mediocre. The frustration, however, was first-class, top-shelf.

I think that it is a mistake to approach a career, based only on the money to be made. For myself, I have always loved software, and worked for a lot less than many (the companies took full advantage of my lack of formal schooling, to keep my pay down). I can't even imagine doing this, if I didn't love it. The stress of writing shipping software is pretty damn intense. Every single day (even now), I generally start the day with an existential problem that has me defecating masonry. I solve it, but there's a lot of sweat involved. I write about that, here: https://littlegreenviper.com/miscellany/thats-not-what-ships...


I'm sure this varies by location, but lots of companies are willing to hire older adults. And 40 is nothing. No one will care at that age. I mean, a startup that is trying to convince you to live there 24x7, maybe. But most real companies I've talked to have No problem with someone who is 40. Probably much older, too.

Don't let fears of discrimination stop you.

Note that the market is really good now. Discrimination will probably increase if things get worse.

I would agree with "check their about page". If no one looks like you, your chances are probably lower.

Source: am older than you and still programming.


> am older than you and still programming.

So am I (still programming -every single day, seven days a week, at 59). I just found that no one wants to pay me to do it, so I found a 501(c)(3), and I'm doing it for free.

Did I mention that I frakkin' love writing software? I won't let anyone tell me that I can't do it.

(By the way, this[0] is one of the wisest posts I've seen here).

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29270930


Ageism is real, and it is a real pain. I have an AS and 21 years in software and my last round of job searching (this time last year) was brutal.

And see, that's a fear when I finish this degree in 2.5-3 years. I'll almost be 40, with no experience in a field other than my current one, and a degree competing with 20-22 year old competition that is likely willing to work for less, and work much more, to get experience.

They are actually likely to be paid more. Starting salary, at some of these companies, is crazy[0].

“Senior people are more expensive!” Is a red herring. I was actually told, by recruiters, that I was asking too much, because of my age (I was asking for less than starting salary at most companies).

For myself, I had my retirement set. I was looking for work that interested me, and would have been happy with half of what people with far less experience would have demanded. I just needed to keep the lights on, and have insurance. I wanted to solve difficult problems, and work on a team. That's what I have been doing my entire adult life.

It’s about what is euphemistically called “cultural fit.”

i.e. “young,” in most cases. Look at most "all hands" photos of a lot of tech companies. Smiling young faces abound. There may be one or two greyhairs, but, in my experience, a bit of digging, reveals them to be very high up on the food chain.

In big corporations, with highly-structured process, that’s actually understandable.

In smaller companies, it’s likely corrosive to innovation and flexibility, but everyone wants to set themselves up to copy “the big kids.”

Maybe VCs also feed that. I don’t have experience, working with VCs, but I do know they have outsize influence in the startups they support.

[0] https://www.monkeyuser.com/2020/new-hire/


I can tell you what I did. I had some significant problems with maturity and mental health in college, due to childhood. As a result I flunked out initially, still painful to admit. For several years I did a mix of mom&pop computer consulting, and worked as an official mail fulfillment person/unofficial DBA/IT (the IT person there was very bad at their job and didn't care if I helped). During that time I honed the programming skills I had started as a hobby.

Then I left there, went to Ithaca, and got a job as an entry level programmer paying $32k per year. I set a goal of $150k per year by the time I was 50. I got the job based on the interview, not my credentials. I worked there for 3 years with very modest raises, long and hard weeks, but with a boss that took the time to teach me a lot. Eventually he had to downsize and all the junior staff were let go (including me). At this point my skills had improved, and so had my resume.

I applied to jobs as a software engineer and had three offers when 9/11 hit. I took the one that was a defense consultancy, and started at around $50k per year. This is in a small city, not a hub or even a large city, and with no degree.

Since 9/11 I have worked hard, continually learning and am now finishing up my Bachelors Degree. I made my goal and I currently make around $185k per year in Maryland. I could be making half again as much if I went back into Cyber, or worked for a TLA, but have no interest in either. In three years I will have my degree and be on my way to a masters, and I plan to start my own company at that time (I did a quick foray into starting a company on the side - it's too hard unless you let your day job suffer, and I wasn't going to do that).

The point of this story is that you have the power to succeed. Network like crazy, learn the basics of something, then pick a niche in that something and get really good in it, then build a portfolio. Don't neglect your soft skills, like effective communication, conversations, reading people, marketing yourself.

The unfortunate caveat... I am white, and male. That means that I get to start at the starting line for many job interviews and networking opportunities, even when there are more qualified people of color or women. The unfortunate reality of this country is that minorities and women are discriminated against, sometimes in subtle covert ways, such that they have to start a distance back from that starting line in any race. I've tried to do what I can by specifically mentoring people of color and women where possible (every one of them earned it through hard work), and fighting intolerance and bigotry where it appeared. If you are a person of color, or a woman, there are networking groups specifically to help you mitigate that bias, but you'll probably have to work twice as hard to get the same shot (at least in tech, and at least for now).


Is working your way up from the mail room still a thing?

Couple of thoughts:

1. Skillset: I think other people have brought up ideas on how to get fast-gain skills that may leverage your existing experience. A lot of options, you need to know your location/market/opportunities to make best judgment. As others have mentioned, beyond tech, look at generic bureaucracy but also leadership and management and supervisor positions. There's a myriad places whose primary need is an adult, responsible, diligent, intelligent, thoughtful, serious person who takes responsibility and personal ownership. (For one of my teams, those are literally the primary pre-requisites; I just need a serious person who will take serious things seriously; everything else I can teach you; unfortunately, we are in Canada)

2. Presentation: I want to highlight that for many companies/recruiters, there's no upper limit to gains you can make by having your Social Profile, Resume, Cover Letter, and then email/phone/in-person discussion made better and more specific to the target position. Look hard at your experience working and I would be absolutely shocked that you don't have many valuable skills you may not be aware of or you believe are common (but aren't) - look for soft skills, organizational skills, people skills, management skills, process and procedure skills, documentation skills, judgment skills, leadership skills, quality assurance, etc. Look for experience and knowledge and skills you have gained that somebody in high school would not inherently have.

Btw, I'm NOT saying spend months making perfect linked in facebook web page, or go bananas on your letters :). Quite the opposite - distill, distill, distill. Make it TIGHT where every word hits subconscious keyword in recruiter's mind, rather than having them read meandering thoughts. Others may disagree, but have an easily-discoverable social/internet presence that is slimmed and specific and generic enough to be inoffensive to absolutely anybody. Your website is personal, which I love; but you should have an entry page which is more generic and more attuned to random recruiters who might want to skim it quickly for any redflags. I like Derek Sivers' idea of "About/Now Page" [1]. Here's mine [2].

FWIW, and this is the harsh reality: 45 second scroll of your page, and there will be SOMEbody who'll be scared off by mentions of Masonic, Probiotic, Religion Course, Carbon Footprint, Poetry, and the APril 6 2021 photo :D. NOTHING wrong with any of those, but your goal now is not to fight for causes you believe in or defend yourself as a person, but get a better job; pass through as many filters as possible and don't get any inadvertent red flags. Laser focus on that :). Don't hide your page, but have a front landing page that gives random people the most succinct image of yourself that you want to put out there. My 100 Croatian Lipa :->

1: https://nownownow.com/about 2: http://nikolanovak.com/


You should be made aware that the US and world are divided into classes, and you are currently in the working class. You being in the position you are currently in is the entire point of the system. It is called capitalism.

With regards to Flexport, I am not in freight particularly, but I am a programmer at a big company automating shipping and truck delivery. My total comp. this year will be $170k (low for this board) and one impetus for it is to automate people like you out of a job.

Workers at Kellogg's and some other companies organized together to better their lot https://m.metrotimes.com/news-hits/archives/2021/11/19/kello...

In terms of as an individual, keep going to school. Have a realistic idea about majors, jobs available afterward. career growth etc. Look into it all - if my career goal was to be a level 6 programmer at Google or Facebook, I would look at what I need to do to get in those companies at level 1 or 2, and then what I need to get to that preceding step, working backwards. Also be cognizant you might work with people who start their professional careers at 21, and at 35 you might have a boss who is 28, and whose other reports are all younger than them.

Also, you can learn and do MVPs on the side.

Of course, all of this is hard to do working 60 hours a week, spending time with wife and community and taking night school. It is kind of the point, you are a wage slave whose purpose is to extract profit for your freight company until you conk out and are replaced. Any kind of betterment for yourself is not a consideration, as corporate profit is all, you don't matter other then the profit you generate on the treadmill. It's the economic system we live in, capitalism.




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