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Ask HN: Help, I'm a developer who can't pay rent
37 points by zettavolt on Sept 19, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments
It feels smarmy posting to HN like this, but here goes.

I was laid off from my Software Engineering in March and instead of picking up another position I coasted for awhile to work on some personal projects, figuring I could coast for at least a year. This month I incurred a financial disaster and now I'm thoroughly broke and am slightly concerned about paying my rent next month.

I'm a fairly young guy without a college degree but about 7 years development experience total (since I was a kid) and about 2 years "professional" experience. I know Erlang/OTP like the back of my hand, lots of experience with x86 & C/C++ and contemporary information security and exploit development practice (Not just old tricks like stack overflows! I know dlmalloc and jemalloc allocator internals and have tried my hand at faking more than one vtable pointer in an use-after-free). I doubt any of you are hiring for this but I also have considerable experience with Reverse Engineering as well, mostly on Windows with IDA, but my understanding of Linux (and ELF) internals is definitely better than average. I'd like to think I have very good networking knowledge as well, ranging from TCP protocol suite to client I/O strategies to building distributed systems from pragmatic (and academic) perspective.

I know Rails/Ruby + Python/Django/Pyramids and have passable Javascript skill as well (honestly mostly jQuery, don't really care much for JS, but can do it). I have a fairly extensive github and my Git skill is fine (maybe above average) as well.

Given how "hot" the market for developers in SF is right now, I'm a bit embarrassed to be posting for a such a shameless quick gig hence the throwaway. If you're interested, post here contact me @ zettavolt@hushmail.com if you need help before the end of the month or are willing to give me some cash up front in exchange for a longer term agreement I am more than fine with that as well.

(I'm located in San Francisco BTW!)

I've been in your situation many, many times I'm afraid. Comes from having poor money management skills, highly narrowcast career expectations, as well as an exaggerated sense of modesty bordering on The Imposter Syndrome:


But my story is a different topic. Some quick advice:

(1) You already know you're headed towards a brick wall. The most sensible thing you can do at the moment is to soften the blow, and buy yourself time. Really, every $50 or $100 is critical here... so if at all possible, pare down your lifestyle to the barest essentials.

An apartment lease (in SF!) is probably the easiest to dispose of, and will net you the most cash, especially if, say, you have friends in the East Bay (or practically anywhere else besides the city and its immediate suburbs) that you can talk into letting you move in without a deposit. Plus you'll get your security back. That change alone might help you coast until Dec or Jan.

(2) after that, you need to put yourself on an austerity budget, i.e. you should be able to get by on $5 a day or less on food from grocery stores, +perhaps $2.50 a day if you must use coffeeshops for wifi. If you can avoid using public transit save for special trips, that's a huge plus.

(3) -DRASTICALLY- lower your expectations for you next job. Customer support, friggen PHP dev... whatever it takes. If you don't get tech work, just work at a Trader Joes, do delivery work, ANYTHING. Bottom line is it's VERY important to get out of the idea that you have to borrow money from people unless you're truly, seriously on the edge... which it sounds like you aren't6 yet, not by a longshot.

(4) finally -- you're in yout 20s (sounds like).. you're touhgh, you can take anything. forget about what other people think and their so-called "success" stories. just concentrate on you'r own story for now. Trust me, when you pull yourself out of this (and you will) you'll have a lot to be proud of + to look back on yourself positively for.

To add to this:

(1) Get a starbucks card and use it until you earn the gold card. This gives you free refills on basic coffee or iced coffee. This means you can work all day on decent wifi with all you can drink coffee. Get a small coffee since you get refills. If you drink fast, get a medium so you don't need to get up as often. Just make sure to tip the baristas occasionally.

(2) Rice and beans. Get a 25lb bag of each. Learn how to cook them. To save time, invest in a large pressure cooker and 1-quart jars. Make beans in bulk and freeze them. When I go into rice & bean austerity mode to save money for stuff, I can get my per meal costs down to about $1. My roommates and other people who have tried them think they are some of the best beans they've tasted. Besides trying many types of beans, also try lentils. To make sure the food doesn't get boring, remember that spices are your friend. Go get cheap spices from a Mexican or Chinese market.

If you want to learn how to make a big batch of beans one day, message me. Just be ready to come over with the kinds of beans you want and about a dozen quart jars. I have a 21-quart industrial pressure cooker. We'll cook up a big batch, which you can take home with you and freeze. Each quart will give you about 4-6 meals when paired with rice. Just send me an email in my profile.

Hey malandrew

What kind of dishes do you cook up when you're just doing rice and beans? I eat a lot of beans e.g. usual baked beans in tomato sauce, kidney beans, chickpeas, garden peas; and I do like various rice dishes e.g. indian rices, thai sticky rice.

Can you give me an example of a couple of dishes that you usually eat when you do this? 1) I need to save some money (wedding, startup) and 2) I need to improve my diet.

Usually, when I am on "bean-mode" there isn't a ton of variety in the dishes. I'll employ some of the approaches you mentioned, but I'm personally not super bothered by the lack of variety when it comes to rice and beans. I'm half Brazilian, so rice and beans have always been a stable food on my dinner table so I don't get too bored of it.

Besides what you mentioned I also toss in cheese (get your cheese at Costco, best value out there), fried eggs, sometimes some fresh spices from the potted herbs I have.

Besides the beans you are buying, try cannelloni beans, black beans, great northern beans, etc. There's a lot of variety in taste among legumes. If you branch out, you'll find a lot more options.

The other great thing about the pressure cooker is that you can still enjoy meats, because you can buy really cheap "stew meats" and other cuts of meat rich in collagen and other connective tissue that will break down at high temperatures and high pressure. A lot of these cheaper meats would require 6+ hours of cooking at a simmer in a crock-pot, but with a pressure cooker, you can prepare a fully cooked meat stew in 1-2 hours.

Pay it forward: I'll hire you for a half-day of work to help you. When you get on your feet, do your best to help the next person. Also look at the Hacker News "Freelancers Wanted" postings. I'm mailing you now.

Is it OK to say that the world runs because of people like you?

You are awesome. Know this.

If I were you, I'd delete this and start again with a different tone. You sound a little desperate, and that will push people away. Repost under your own name, asking for advice about how to find a job in SF, and mentioning your skills in brief. Don't ask for anything except advice, don't talk about being laid off or the poor state of your finances. You'll probably get a few spontaneous offers.

Speak to these people:



I believe they're both hiring compsec people at the moment.

Thank you for the advice, frankly I would love to work for Matasano, they are arguably one of the premier security firms in the country. However, I have difficulty placing myself in the top-tier category they are in (plus they are not in San Francisco). I honestly don't know if I could write a network protocol fuzzer without relying on SPIKE or Scapy off the top of my head in an interview.

As far as Square goes, I feel I have 0 chance there. I would love to work there as well but no computer science/Math degree, spotty work and residence record and entirely self-taught. I get the feeling that doesn't jibe with their culture and I would just be wasting their time and mine.

Every time I've seen tptacek post on HN's Who's Hiring threads, he makes it pretty clear that Matasano has a bay area office.

You should email him. The worst that happens is he says "No". And, well, in that case, nothing changes.

You don't sound desperate for a job.

Maybe, my reasoning is that while I'm in the privileged position of being young, it's a greater loss for me to potentially botch the interview today and jeopardize future employment with Matasano than to just eke it out today.

Additionally, how do you convey to an employer without sounding like an asshole "Please, I need to be hired AND get paid at least 700$ before the end of this month"

Additionally, how do you convey to an employer without sounding like an asshole "Please, I need to be hired AND get paid at least 700$ before the end of this month"

You don't. Borrow the money from a friend or family, sell your TV (or other things you don't necessarily need right now). Talk to your land-lord about it, and try to get an extension temporarily. There are lots of things you can do.

Stop being a a scared pansy. If everyone had your skills, we wouldn't have a developer shortage. You're perfectly employable by any number of local and remote programming companies based on your skill set.

If you've actually applied to more than 20 places and aren't getting hired, it's not your programming skills you need to be working on.

You are better off going in now and making the connection than waiting for the perfect moment. If your skills aren't up to par, at least you will be remembered and they will be more impressed when your skills are up to par (shows you can improve significantly). I applied as an intern for a company sophomore year, got rejected, ended up seeing the person at a conference early senior year, got the internship after senior year. If you truly want to work there, be persistent. Someone who is persistent and shows that they will improve to fill gaps in their knowledge is way more desirable than someone who has great skills from the start (since they may not be as motivated or likely to change their skillset).

You can make $700 by the end of the work by working anywhere, even McDonalds. First, get a job so you can have a roof over your head, then grow upon that.

There is no shame from being denied a job, or starting from the bottom. We all had to at one point, and sometimes we are knocked down a few notches on our way back up, but there's nothing you can do but get back up and keep trying.

Wow. That's a bit frightening. I too have been struggling on the job front, but have a less impressive background. Admittedly a huge chunk of my problem is having purchased an expensive program purporting to teach me how to get rich and find my dream job. If I didn't have a four-figure debt due to that (and another few hundred bucks due each month), I'd have a lot less stress.

One thing that I have found is that while it's a tough job market for fulltime work, companies are a lot less conservative about hiring people on a freelance basis. Non-tech companies have been an especially bet for me. Many restaurants, bars, independent realtors, are making money and haven't updated their sites in a long time. It's been a very slow process but I have gradually been getting better and better referrals from it. When I bid, I generally take 20-40% up front. For someone in your situation, that could make a big difference.

The dream drop program wouldnt happen to be ramits would it?

I read that as a tongue-in-cheek reference to student loan debt. I wonder if it was meant literally, though.

> Admittedly a huge chunk of my problem is having purchased an expensive program purporting to teach me how to get rich and find my dream job. If I didn't have a four-figure debt due

ouch. I'm sorry to hear that, you sound quite upfront about it though, so can I inquire as to what program you "fell for". Was the cash all in one go, or installments?

Don't feel bad bro. It's tough out there. We all end up short at one time or another. Chin up.

HN's own marcomassaro (http://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=marcomassaro) is currently looking for some wordpress work - sounds like you would have no problem doing it: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4543562

Any HN's who emailed Marco and get the gig and feel like making christmas in september for someone, pass it on to zettavolt.

Good luck getting back on your feet!

You sound like you need a holiday! Come to New Zealand and build something great with us (we're about to launch our first iteration)! I'm low on cash too but I'll cover your rent and food :)

dude, send me an email. I work for an infosec firm that would hire you in a sec, provided you aren't crazy (well, at least not crazier than the rest of us ;). jandre@gmail.com

Tried getting a job?

I've tried applying at three places. I've done web development "professionally" before and frankly I've always been extremely unhappy with the job environment, maybe it's characteristic of web dev or maybe just bad experience.

I would like to go into something deeper but my experience and interest in Distributed Systems, C/C++/Assembly and security is entirely self-taught and done out of a hobby so I don't have anything "professional" to show for it beyond the ability to talk for hours, a few web browser and plugin exploits I've written and the only substantial project I've done in C++ is one of the early WEP crackers for Windows which I wrote 6 years ago (and is riddled with classic C++ novice mistakes).

Plus, if I applied for a job now I would not feel comfortable asking for money up front to pay my rent, even if a company could figure out they wanted to make a hire before the end of the month.

>I've tried applying at three places.

I hope that's not since March. Pardon my bluntness, what else are you doing to find work? It sounds like you need to just get a job, not necessarily your dream job. You can always work somewhere and leave after 6 months. Have you talked to any recruiters? Have you been to any networking events or joined any professional groups? What other resources have you used to get work? If you're looking for really fast cash, I agree with the other comments, you should sell something or borrow some money from friends or family to make due. There are always services like TaskRabbit or MechanicalTurk and freelance coding websites. And if you're really hard-up, though I'm loathe to suggest it, you can always use a credit card for some quick cash.

Also, care to post a resume?

jeez I applied for four jobs just last week and I already have a job, not to sound to hard on you but you always have to keep pushing forward with career networking even if things are going well and even if its just online networking

How do you make a living wage (let alone SF rent) by working on Mechanical Turk?

Many people don't work where they want, or even in their desired field. Perhaps lower your standards until your financial crisis is over?

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