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Ask HN: What should I do?
176 points by pattle on Apr 2, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 152 comments
I work in the UK. I earn £15000 a year. For a web developer who has 3 years experience and always gets good annual reviews I feel I am underpaid. Normally the best course of action is to start looking for other jobs. But there is a problem... I have a terrible stammer

I've had lots of interviews for other positions, infact almost every position I apply for I get an interview for but my stammer that leaves me practically unable to talk in interviews.

I've asked my current employers for a raise but because they know my situation and they know my stammer means I interview badly they know I am stuck here.

I used to think my code would be able to win these battles for me but I think I'm wrong. What shall I do?




When you greet your interviewer, hand them this card:

  |=================================|
  |                                 |
  | Hi, I'm John Doe and I'm happy  |
  | to meet you.                    |
  |                                 |
  | I have a stammer, but we should |
  | not let that interfere with our |
  | conversation.                   | 
  |                                 |
  | I'm an excellent web developer  |
  | and I love what I do. My speech |
  | impediment does not affect my   |
  | work.                           |
  |                                 |
  | What can I do for you?          |
  |                                 |
  |=================================|


As someone responsible for interviewing technical candidates, I love this.

It might be a bit of a hyperbole to suggest that a stammer is an advantage in an interview, but you could view it as an opportunity. The entire purpose of an interview is to get a sense of the skill level of the interviewee. You want to know how they respond to problems. Are they able to arrive at solutions?

Your stammer is an opportunity to show that you know how to work your way through a challenge. And don't fool yourself in to thinking that using any of the solutions suggested here diminishes the accomplishment of working through your challenge. Knowing where to seek help, then taking the appropriate action based on that advice is a skill. You'd be amazed how many people do not know how to effectively seek outside help.

If I were interviewing someone with a stammer and they handed me this card, it would put a huge smile on my face. It would shift my disposition in a positive direction, which would definitely impact the interview. How could it not?


How about having this discussion in the preliminary emails? Take the card too, but let them know in advance so it is less of a surprise at interview time.


I'm not sure this is a good idea. From first communications HR may remember him as the programmer with a stammer, and will have some time to give the condition undeserved attention. Yet there's even no guarantee that the interviewer will be aware of that conversation (especially with larger companies, AFAICT).


They're likely to remember him as the programmer with a stammer anyway, aren't they? At least this way they remember him as the programmer with a stammer who was brave and addressed it up front.


Or he may come out as insecure about his impediment, fearing it may affect their decision to hire him.

I have two friends who stutter, and it never occurred to me that their condition could be worth mentioning[0]. Maybe it isn't as bad as OP's, though.

[0] Unless one goes for an acting career, of course. On a serious note—I know it's easier to say, but maybe it would help OP stammer less if he didn't perceive it as something of importance in his professional area.


He does fear it will affect their decision to hire him.

All I can say, I had an interaction today that reinforced my view. Was at a friend's house and her boyfriend announced at the beginning of lunch, "Please just know I have severe hearing problems, so if I don't respond or continue a conversation we're not actually having, it's not you or me being rude, please just correct me." I really appreciated him being honest and upfront and it enables me to better cater the conversation to suit his needs as we spoke. I recognize that a studder is different in that the interviewer doesn't have to adjust his way of speaking but rather his listening, but I still think there's a benefit from the heads up. Maybe just say so instead of giving a card, then.


Notice that the person in your example made the announce immediately before the event, when it would directly influence the communication. Letting HR know beforehand that you stutter (and you can't be sure that your interviewer will be notified of that, too) is different IMO. So your example reinforced my point of view as well. =)


I think we actually agree--I'd also say he should let them know right before the communication event.


Sure, that's a valid point. I suppose the best time to do it would be while arranging the in-person/phone interview.

The interviewers will (hopefully!) be told what time the interview is, so this information could be forwarded at the same time.

And if the HR team can't ensure the interviewers have this extremely relevant piece of information? That's probably a signal about how effectively that company handles communication.


Not gonna work for initial phone interviews....


This sounds simple, but the key is to avoid phone interviews. I'm terrible on the phone as well, and when I was looking for my last job I thought about this a lot. Looking back, I had received a job offer about 90% of the time when I had a face to face interview, but for phone interviews it was more like 10%. With that in mind, I focused on getting in person interviews the last time and found that even if someone asks for a phone interview, often you can ask/convince them to do a in-person. This might mean you have to travel on your own (or maybe they'll pay for it), but by knowing your previous rate of success you can focus on getting the job you want.


Is there such a thing as an interview over IM?


I'm deaf, and almost every company I've interviewed at which was going to perform a phone interview was willing to either a) skip the phone interview; or b) perform the interview over IM instead. (Even IBM was flexible enough to set up an IM interview over IRC on one occasion, and GTalk with a couple of their engineers on another.) Don't be afraid of asking to interview using over IM rather than over the phone.


Well, I think that refusing you(and OP) and interview because of situation might create some HR issue?


I've done this twice for candidates with speech impediments. It works well.


90% of the time you'd have to go through a phone interview. A recruiter from the company or someone will first like to speak to you. I never had an in-person job interview without someone speaking to me on phone. Unfortunately, the situation is kinda hard sell. You should look for a company/team that values your tech skills, team player, writing skills, more than your ability to communicate verbally. A company that is more human. You should try to get recommendations from people who can attest your skills. I would love to hire you, if only I could.


1) Yes, you are vastly underpaid. (Unless it's 3 years with FrontPage Pro!)

2) Apply for big companies / public sector. They have massive HR departments who will send you an equal opportunities form. Disclose your disability and ask for support during the interview. That should help them prepare for you - they will also have the budget to support you if you do get the job and require extra help.

3) Build a portfolio. If your CV and Portfolio are good, then your interview is basically "can we work with this person." If people are sufficiently impressed with your work, it won't matter whether you stammer, have dreadful BO, and have a hobby of murdering kittens on the weekend.

4) Speak to your GP and see if you can get help. Speech therapy isn't perfect, but it can help.

Good luck!


4) Speak to your GP and see if you can get help. Speech therapy isn't perfect, but it can help

+1. I used to have a colleague with a pretty bad stammer. He attended speech therapy sessions during the time that we worked together and there was a huge improvement. While his speech never became 100% normal, the stammer was greatly reduced and by the end of it, he was even able to give presentations to a room full of engineers and managers. The confidence he gained form the exercises he learnt in therapy (such as taking a deep breath and exhaling into a difficult word) and from the support he received from other attendees have helped him immensely.

Speech therapy is definitely worth trying.


Dreadful BO OR murdering kittens would seriously be a deal breaker. If I can't stand sitting near you or looking at you we're gonna have a bad time.


Steve Jobs apparently had horrid BO (not sure about his affinity for cat murder).


And pretty much never interviewed anywhere.


he also didn't spend much time as an employee, most of his life he was a founder


Yes, but he did successfully interview and was gainfully employed for a period. The point of my comment is that obstacles can be overcome and employees shouldn't be filtered for only arbitrary reasons.


Thanks for your help. I hadn't thought about applying for bigger companies and disclosing, that should help and put me more at ease.

I have a personal website and github account which should show what I can do too.


Targeting the public sector is great advice - http://www.jobs.ac.uk/ is dedicated to jobs at UK universities, hopefully that helps in your search.

If you take freelance jobs from oDesk/PeoplePerHour et cetera, you might be able to perform all communication via email/IM. This isn't ideal, but could work as a backup plan if you want to try your hand at freelancing in the meantime.


Definitely speak to your GP and explain that it is having an effect on your career. You can talk to a speech therapist that may be able to help.

A lot of people are put off by "therapy" but it is worth going to an initial meeting with the therapist and finding out what the plan would be. If you decide that ongoing meetings is not for you then they may be able to give you a few exercises to do at home.

edit: http://www.stammering.org/adults_info.html

Here is some information. You do not necessarily need to speak first to a GP


May I ask you to kindly explain what "GP" means? I think I've been outside of the realm of English English for too long...


A General Practitioner, your primary care doctor. Don't think thats "English English" I call my doc here in the U.S. that too.


I think "General Practitioner".


+1 for speech therapy. I was a kindergardener with a terrible stutter. Over the summer my parents sent me to speech therapy, and I learned some tactics for helping with my stutter.

I still feel my stutter rising up when I talk (this is 20 years out of Kindergarden) but I'm able to check myself.

I was going through old report cards that my parents saved a few years ago. In the "Questions for the Teacher" section of my 1st grade report card, my dad asked the teacher if she had seen improvement with my stutter.


Yay! Another stuttering dev here on HN! I have a stammer too (stutter here in the US); you're not alone!

I'll bet that code tests in interviews really suck. I know that they suck for me.

I think alot of it is going to depend on interviewing with the right person. Keep trying, and eventually you'll find them. Also, if that doesn't work, you can always try to pick up totally remote freelance work, but if you're looking for full-time, you should be able to find it.

One thing that may really help is getting an introduction from a friend (or a recruiter) to any companies you're interviewing for. I got one job with a conversation that went like this:

My friend: "Well, I have someone for you, but he has a pretty bad stutter"

Employer: "As long as he's smart and can get the job done, I don't care if he talks backwards!"

And I got the job.

Real employers (who aren't skeezy and exploitative like your current ones) don't care how you talk, they just want someone who can get the job done. And those are the people you should be working for.

In some ways, you can think of the above as a positive selection filter. Imagine all the non-stuttering schmucks who are out there working for skeezy employers who care more about how people talk than who can get the job done (and imagine how shitty the management must be if their hiring is not based on people's skills).

In closing, I know this turned into kind of a rant without any really good advice, but I just wanted to give a solidarity shout out to another stuttering dev here on HN.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to drive-by down vote all the commenters who are like "herp derp why don't you just stop stammering"


Another stutterer here. Fortunately, my stutter is limited to certain phonemes (generally initial plosives). I can generally just avoid words that I know I will stutter on, but unfortunately some words have no synonyms. For example, I stutter on the word "but", so I use "though" anywhere it wouldn't be terribly awkward.

I have a phone interview coming up this week. Hope I manage to keep a lid on it!


Also, here is a great blog on stuttering:

http://thestutteringbrain.blogspot.com/


Just dropping in to give you an Internet high five!


As a deaf programmer when I was on the job market I also faced similar problems that you faced. My issue was with hearing not speaking (although my speech is also not as good as a normal hearing person).

Here is what worked for me

1. Persistence. Keep trying.

2. Target the BigCorps.

They have HR departments and product managers that are sensitized to disabilities. Sometimes they actually have commitments to a diverse workforce which can work in your favor. And they are unlikely to shortchange you based on your disability if you make it through (since it isn't the HR employee or product manager's money).

3. Let him know about your disability before the interview.

For me, I had a short 1-minute speech prepared stating my hard of hearing issue and letting them know they might have to repeat the question 2-3 times or write it down in the interview and asking them if they were fine with it. I'd speak it as soon as I sat down in the interview chair. For you, you might want to send an email before the interview stating that you prefer communicating via writing? Maybe take your laptop and use Notepad to communicate?

4. Do Google Chat + Doc instead of phone screens.

You didn't mention whether most companies want you to do a phone screen or not and whether you're missing out on opportunities because of this. Phone screens are impossible for me and using an text relay would take forever, so I usually ask the interviewer to do a Google Chat + Doc interview instead. Most oblige, some of them (usually a lazy HR associate) don't for unexplainable reasons.


> I've asked my current employers for a raise but because they know my situation and they know my stammer means I interview badly they know I am stuck here.

They are wrong. They are completely and utterly wrong.

You can have a stammer and still interview well. I once knew a guy named Jack. He's one of the funniest and most charismatic people I've ever known, and he had severe strabismus (lazy eye). I'm not talking about a minor case either. One of his eyes would roll off, staring in to the distance as you were talking to him.

The eyes have it, as they say, and when you have a conversation with someone suffering from strabismus, it can be extremely uncomfortable and distracting. Jack knew this, but instead of being sheepish about his condition, he would address it head on. He had a clever quip that he used to simultaneously draw your attention to his condition, as well as communicate that he understands it can be distracting. It became immediately clear that his confidence out-shined his condition.

I know this isn't easy advice, but you have to learn to do the same. Based on the work in your Github profile and the posts on your blog, I'd say you're certainly worth more £15,000 a year.

Your employers are not the ones who believe you interview badly, you are! When you stop believing that and put yourself out there, you'll grow past it. Once you grow past it, you'll earn at a level appropriate for your skill level, rather than a social limitation.


“The eyes have it, as they say, and when you have a conversation with someone suffering from strabismus, it can be extremely uncomfortable and distracting.”

Very true. I have strabismus myself, and I only see with one eye. However, someone with strabismus can get surgery to correct the position of the eyes. When I was 19, I had the surgery done, and it made all the difference (it doesn’t help you see, but it certainly improves how people see you.)

Your friend Jack has options. For someone with a stammer, there's no such ‘quick fix’ and it might very well be permanent.


I don't disagree, but my point has little to do with whether or not someone has medical options to resolve their condition. Jack didn't have surgery to correct his condition, but he didn't allow it to limit his confidence.


I understood your point but I disagree that, when you have a stutter or a lazy eye, all that's wrong is lack of confidence. I didn't have surgery to fix my self image, I did it to be able to better communicate. When you're teaching or speaking in public in general, your eyes are very important tools. With strabismus, you can't communicate to someone in a crowd that you're watching them. Jack can joke and quip all he wants, but that doesn't change the fact that he has a handicap.


Ok, I still don't understand the point you're arguing though? What advice do you have for the OP that will help him. Painting him in to a corner isn't going to help.

You're reading too far in to what I've said. I never said that confidence is "all that's wrong". I said that confidence can outshine his condition. That doesn't make the condition go away. I have empathy for his situation, and I acknowledge that he's got a challenge ahead, but I don't think that's a very good reason to lay down and give up.


“What advice do you have for the OP that will help him.”

I will give him the same advice that others have suggested. Namely, apply for jobs with large enterprises and governmental agencies. Disclose your handicap before going to the first interview, don't allow for phone interviews. Ideally, your first interviews would be done over IM or email.

Don't feel you need to change anything about yourself before applying for jobs. Work on your portfolio, tidy up your Github profile, those should do the talking for you. Working on confidence in speaking and possible speech therapy are endeavors that you should want to pursue separate from your job search.

“I acknowledge that he's got a challenge ahead, but I don't think that's a very good reason to lay down and give up.”

I agree.


Jack Paul Sartre?


What are you posting people's names publically on the internet. Please remove that comment.


I take it you've never heard of Jean-Paul Sartre.

http://i.imgur.com/KzbWCP8.jpg


I think it's a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre, who had strabismus-- not naming a real developer.


I did not know that. Now I am sad how people downvoted my comment like that.


I'm pretty sure that was a joke, not the real name of a programmer.


That's good to know, thanks.


Not sure if joke...


You're getting screwed at £15k, I've never been paid that little for developing web.

For reference, my salary history over my 6+ year career is as follows:

£20k->£26k->£45k->£450-£600/day

Note that I am a totally average developer, nowhere near as smart or knowledgable as a lot of the guys here on HN. I have a CS degree, barely (I got a 3rd), so that helped at the beginning, but most of my luck has been thanks to an extremely welcoming market.

If you have three years experience, you should be clearing £42k, if not £45k. I don't know much about speech impediments and how easy/hard they are to fix, but in this market, trust me, you can achieve £42k+ for fizzbuzz and a pulse.

EDIT: Modified figures in last paragraph on account of OP having three years of experience.


I started on £25k in Brighton and I'm almost 9 months into the job.

Got a 2.1 in CompSci and picked up the job through a recruiter who found my newly made LaTeX CV on Monster.

I can't believe I was so apprehensive about the job market when I was graduating. I'd read that CompSci grads have poor job prospects [1] which scared the shit out of me. But I found the opposite to be true. I was beating recruiters off with a shitty stick.

[1] - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10477551


£42k after 3 years? Where are you working - London? That makes rather a large difference, as I'd be shocked if someone was getting that after 3 years for web dev here in Manchester.


For the record, I hired on behalf of a corporate in London and would routinely hire graduates for a starting salary between £30k and £40k. We only hired people who had shipped something (anything!), and we paid more if they'd shipped something that looked more full-stack.

But yes, in London... people start North of £30k if they're able to demonstrate that they've shipped something.


Posts like this makes me wish I was born in a first-world country. I'd be lucky to be earning half of what this guy's making.


I'm with you, except I was born in a first-world country (next door to you). At least in Singapore the wages are better than in Malaysia, but the Singapore wage of USD35k pre-tax for a fresh/newish web developer is still pretty crappy pay compared to SF and even London. And rent is ridiculous, so basically every local lives with their parents.

There are people who make it to SF from here but it's mostly to the big corps. The rest of us will hang around Asia earning relative peanuts while possibly hoping for a side project to take off. Given the poor wages here, it only makes sense to try to get a business going.

Come work in Singapore anyway, you deserve better.


It's odd hearing this perspective. I've lived in a country most people consider 'third-world' and yet my recent move to San Francisco is the only time I've been worried about being able to pay rent at the end of the month.


Keep in mind that cost of living in London can be higher than even New York City, so that 40K GBP ($60K USD) isn't exactly raking in the dough.

I know one guy who contracts with a US-based company while staying in Asia, exploiting the gap between salary and living cost seems like a pretty smart play.

Question for the Londoners around here: what is the salary range like? I gather that NYC and London living costs are similar (with London supposedly edging out NYC slightly), but around here $120K is common (80K GBP), and in finance frequently runs higher than that. 40K GBP sounds strangely low, but I may lack context.


I guess for a fair comparison you'd need to consider taxation and major costs. In UK £45,000pa would net you £2,750/month after tax. Most likely your employer would be paying or contributing to your pension. Health care is free. Assuming you want your own place, a typical apartment in semi-central London might be £350/week rent. Local taxes depend on your properties value, but could say £100/month typical. Then for simplicity estimate major household bills (gas & electricity) at £100/month.

Net Income: £2750/month Major Expense: ~£1750/month


Few additions:

Add £100/month more expenses for public transport to work (since in London it's not very common to live within walking distance of work).

Probably a fair comparison might want to factor in university education cost. In the UK undergraduate fees are capped at £9,000/year. So a simplified sum: a 3-year undergraduate costs £27,000; spread over 10 years that's £225/month.


my first job out of uni was in medium-size finance software consultancy @£35k, up to £37k in less than a year. Trying to live a family life on that wasn't fun (definitely possible, just not fun). Moved 80 miles south for a £34k salary, reduced hours & stress, no dry cleaner bills, much cheaper rent and 0 commuting costs (cycling). Don't miss London one bit :-) OTOH, I've not had a raise yet and can't see one coming any time soon.

p.s. all numbers are pre-bonus, but for junior devs they're near-negligible in both companies anyway.

p.p.s both jobs are enterprise java.


The higher cost of living factors into that majorly though. I know where I am (Dublin) it's very expensive to live in the city and I imagine London is the same. That's why employers in those areas have to pay quite a bit more.


Yes, London. I was at £45k after two years, and permie salaries are in general higher now than than they were three years ago.


I would suggest that outside of London the salaries are massively different. Though £15k is still almost-criminally low regardless of where you are.

I'd expect someone with 3 years web dev experience to be anywhere from mid-20's to mid-30's outside of London, and a cursory search for Suffolk that appears to be about right.


Hi, I saw some rates in Lodon for my experience(around £60k for >6 years for permanent positions). Are these rates before or after taxes ? I'm asking because it varies from country to country. Thanks Andrei


In the UK, salary figures are always gross (pun not intended).


just to clarify for others, gross means before taxes. net means after taxes.


Slightly off topic, (Sorry OP) but as an 18 y/o with quite a bit of freelance/past experience, does £20k starting sound good to you?


If you have a portfolio site and testimonials from past clients, £20k isn't that great. I worked with a guy at a small(ish, <100 employees) company who started at £34k with a similar background to that.


Sounds between acceptable (Central London) and good to me. With an 18yo there's the risk that you decide to ship out to uni, travel the world, or are bonkers but no-one's noticed yet.


Wait I'm confused here. I did the conversion and those wages seem extremely low. I'm starting at double that here in the US and I'm not even graduated yet. How do you even live off of 60k in a city?


My hope is that one day some of you guys over in SV realize what you just did and start contracting more work to us across the pond. Programming talent in the UK is cheap.


What US city? What are the tax and housing expenses?


You are a programmer. You can make value by wiggling your fingers. (Stammering is just fine!)

The solution: Build a micro product, turn it into a freedom business, and fire your boss.

http://fourhourworkweek.com

http://lifestylebusinesspodcast.com

http://startupbook.net

Fwiw, self-help products can be gold mines. You might try to develop a product to help other people with stammering, I have paid for "quit nailbiting" and "stop being shy" products.


Did the nailbiting thing work?



it helped. What finally broke the habit was my own technique, using bandaids as a pattern interrupt.


You may be entitled to protection by disability laws (http://www.stammeringlaw.org.uk/disability/disab.htm) that will help you gain a raise or new employment.


Thanks for the link, I will take a look


Hi pattle - I know exactly what/how you're feeling - I stutter as well, and am currently interviewing.

The biggest problem of stuttering during interviews is not the stuttering itself, but rather the break in the train of thought while brainstorming answers to interview questions.

First off - phone interviews are a nightmare for me - and I almost always fail to make an impression - because of the several ticks I produce while trying not to stammer.

I used to think I would do better at face-to-face interviews, since I can at least write on the whiteboard. Every piece of interview advice I've read says that one should keep speaking while thinking during an interview, and not just be silent and think - which is how I work best, because my brain is freed from the burden of speaking correctly.

When I 'speak while thinking of solutions', my brain automatically starts focusing on being careful about not stammering, and that really hurts my ability to focus on solving the questions - which are quite difficult in the first place.

One solution that's partially helped: I know that many stutterers are much better off when saying something semi-rehearsed, whether it be a phrase like, "So the brute force solution is _____ " or whatever. My brain goes into mechanical mode while saying this phrase, giving it more time to actually think.

I've never revealed to interviewers that I have a stutter (even though they would probably suspect that by the end of the interview), but I guess you should consider what edw519 says in the top comment.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any other questions.


Yes, underpaid (massivly).

Firstly are you sure the companies are not employing you because of your stammer? Just checking your not going to interviews and putting your feet upon the table etc (thats not going to get you a job).

To be honest many companies I have worked in have had a range of people and abilities but at the end of the day what got you the job was your ability to turn out code.

The best thing to do is apply for positions and arrange the interview, at this point let the interviewer know about your stammer.

More importantly if they know in advanced then they will be prepared. Let them know what can be done to make the situation easier for you and for them (i can guarentee they too will be feeling very awkward).

What will also help during the interview is to tell them how best to help you manage your stammer.

A friend of mine can speak a lot better down the phone than face to face so at his work place his boss uses the interval phone system or instant chat to work with him.


You could also think about freelancing with a business partner who does the majority of the face-to-face or phone work with clients.

I ran across this interesting freelance/consulting contract yesterday: https://github.com/ashedryden/freelance-contract. It stipulates that all the day-to-day communication is text-based, with in-person or phone meetings as needed but scheduled 2 days in advance.

With that kind of contract, you could realistically avoid dealing with most in-person/phone client stuff, or do it alongside your business partner if needed.

I don't think this kind of arrangement would look abnormal to a client. There's efficiency reasons for wanting everything text-based (IM, Basecamp, etc.) and for having a single point of contact for phone/voice meetings (your business partner).


Off topic, but that's a brilliant way to host contracts. I don't know why I didn't think of this. I'm going to start hosting my contracts for my digital consulting clients on github from now on.


Do you have a personal brand on the web? Do you blog? Do you publish code on services like github? How influential are you in the digital world - what's your social media presence? These are the strengths that matter!

Also, use this characteristic as a strength, in interviews introduce yourself "Hi, I am ____ - because I stammer, by web work is the best you'll find".


His github profile looks certainly good enough to bag a job that pays more than £15k (extreme entry level in the UK, my first web development job was underpaid at £15.5k and that was in 2004).

https://github.com/pattle


Your stammering problem must bleed into the rest of your life too. Sorry if this is a question you've heard a billion times already, but have you done any research about how to get rid of it? A prominent TV personality here in the states named John Stossel confessed to growing up with a stammer that he still slightly has and talked about how he was able to rid himself of it.


Where are you based, would you be willing to relocate and what skills do you have? I know a really great, warm web dev agency that is hiring. I can at least ping you a link. Email address in my profile.


Based in Suffolk, Yes definitely willing to relocate. Thanks, I'll be in touch


My e-mail is also on my profile page - if possible, could you send me a CV? :-) (To be honest, if you have a portfolio/CV online, you might do better posting it right here as I suspect there will be some interest.)


His personal site is on his HN profile page (www.chrispattle.com). LinkedIn at (http://www.linkedin.com/in/chrispattle)


There are cures to the majority of speech impediments, if its affecting your life day to day its likely you can also get this (this being speech therapy etc) on the NHS - you should speak to your GP for advice. I've often considered it myself, I have a mild lisp.


Wow, off topic I know but this is the kind of question and responses that give me faith in HN (and online communities in general) being a useful resource for people to participate in. This is a real world problem of someone who has had the courage to ask for help and they're receiving some decent responses and encouragement. My only words are yes I would say you are underpaid and I'm sure there's a better job out there for you so good luck with the job hunting.


Totally agree. There has been so many helpful and encouraging responses!


Hello,

1) Get great at what you do. Nothing helps to open doors like a great portfolio and great track record of success.

2) Maximize the things you can do non-verbally. You are lucky that you are in the Web Dev industry and are not something like a car salesman which would require a lot more verbal communication. For example: * Write articles for websites such as Smashing Magazine. * Contribute to open source projects on Github. * Start a mailing list offering great web development knowledge and tips. * Start a web development blog.

3) Get really good at writing. If you don't speak well, make sure you write well. Your emails should always be professional and well written.

4) Freelance remotely. Through Email/GTalk/Skype Chat/Asana/Basecamphq you can communicate with clients non-verbally. Client will always want to touch base by phone at some point, but these great tools will greatly help reduce the amount of time you need to speak on the phone.

5) Work on improving your stammer. Invest in a Speech Therapist. This could be a life-long process but if your stammer is getting in the way of your career it is worth practicing on improving it every day. Don't ignore it, work at it like you are training for the Olympics. If your job can't give you a raise, perhaps they can pay for a Speech Therapist.

6) Finally, remember you are not alone. Everyone has disabilities and your situation is not unlike people who are very shy or who have social anxiety and who try and avoid face to face conversations. Find similar people to yourself and share tips and advise and help each other.

Good luck my friend!


Question: can the stammer be fixed, or at least improved? If so I'd make that priority #1. (Sorry but I know nothing about stammers beyond what I find from a cursory Google search and my memory of The King's Speech.)

People here will tell you the world's a meritocracy and that if you're good enough employers will hire you anyway. That's bullshit. I wish it were true but you know by now it isn't. People act first and rationalize later. They'll think of all sorts of reasons why they shouldn't hire you due to your stammer. "He'll be hard to communicate with." "He's a bad culture fit." Etc. They might all be wrong, and maybe it's their loss because they're passing up on a great employee, but you'll be consistently undervalued the rest of your life due to that. You shouldn't be, but you will. Don't let your perception of how the world should be prevent you from seeing how it actually is.

Perhaps you've tried to fix the stammer, or perhaps it's unfixable. Or perhaps you just haven't devoted enough effort to it. If it's the latter I'd highly recommend doing that. I know it's unfair. You're a web developer, not a public speaker, and as long as you can communicate well with your team it really shouldn't be a factor in a job interview. But the world is unfair and it is what it is. Your options are to keep trying to do something you know isn't working, or adapt to the situation.

(If it can't be fixed I'd try to find a clever way to mitigate it. Lie and tell people you're a mute for a bit and see if they are more receptive. You'll have to do some experimentation. I wouldn't do this until I'd exhausted every avenue of fixing it though.)

Regardless, don't fall back on "my code should be able to win these battles". It should but it won't, and the longer you spend beating your head against that wall the more frustrated you'll become.


When I was a permanent employee or contractor I'd always check in on the CW Jobs salary checker (http://www.cwjobs.co.uk/salary-checker/salary-calculator) when negotiations came around.

I found the salaries and day rates there are a little higher than those I discovered by speaking with colleagues, but it's a great rule-of-thumb.

Use things like this to press for a raise/promotion or decide to jump ship/re-skill in more commercial languages.

If your stammer doesn't affect your ability to perform your job (as it's unlikely to do as a programmer vs. say, a call centre agent) you should be paid market rate.

Web developer market rates here: http://www.cwjobs.co.uk/salary-checker/average-web-developer... ...be sure to go to 'top salaries' for your county as the usual London weighting is in effect!


You're definitely underpaid. Growing up, I also had a mild stammer, and went through a couple of weeks speech therapy (not sure what age, sometime around 10-11) after speaking to my school nurse about it. You may want to speak to your local GP and see if you can get some help. A lot of what I learned was just about how to slow down my speech and breathe, which felt a bit silly at the time, but over the years it has proven to be valuable. I'm sure you'd also get some value from some it.

You're also fortunate to be in an industry where online communication is the norm, and it should be fairly easy to pick up side work and build up your skills and experience that way too. During my years freelancing, I worked for clients where 99% of communication was done via email, Basecamp, etc, in which case having a stammer is a non-issue as very little communication is voice.

Good Luck!


I'm a person who stammers (probably 7/10 on the severity scale) and make as much or more than my top peers. I'm also a contractor, go through and pass more interviews per year than the average full time developer, despite completely blowing some interviews in moments of silence.

1. Your compensation is directly correlated to the company you're dealing with, knowledge of market rates, and negotiation skills.

2. If your employers do in fact don't give you a raise due to your stammer and keep you 'locked up', they are unimaginably terrible mentors and leaders and you need to discard this toxin from your life as soon as you can.

3. Enroll in stammer-specific therapy. The Camperdown speech shaping program is one of the more recent ones for long lasting effects.

4. Read literature about organizational behaviour and power; your quality of code and unit test coverage has very little to do with winning any battles.


Do you have any recommendations for literature?


Legitimately, no one can or should refuse to hire you or give you a raise for the quality of your work due to the stammer. That's outright discrimination. But as you've seen, that's how some jerks act when they know they can take advantage of you.

There was a brilliant invention I saw a while ago that replays your own speech to you at a slight delay through headphones. This forces you to listen to your words as you speak and so you slow down to catch up to it. Over time, this improves your speech to a point where you may be able to leave the headphones behind and speak without aid.

I wish I knew what the invention was called or even where it's available, but hopefully someone here has heard of the same. This is the only device I've seen so far to actually cause near-instant improvement in speech.


Same idea as the record player in Kings Speech, right?


Interview for a job with us. You can instant message us during the interview! Email address in profile.


I stutter also--it's an incredibly frustrating experience for sure, but there's a lot you can do!

For one, I've been creating iOS apps to help people speak through proven speech therapy methods (http://speech4good.com). We're helping thousands of people improve their speech right now.

You can also join various support groups through the Nat'l Stuttering Assoc. (http://westutter.org) or the British Stammering Assoc. (http://stammering.org)--I would highly recommend one of these groups.

Most of all, stay positive! You're in great company (Churchill, James Earl Jones, and more!)


Have you considered looking for remote/telecommute positions? Maybe you could work with a speech therapist at nights while getting paid fairly during the days and work your way back into an in-office position (if that's what you desire).


Build a portfolio. Work freelance. You'll do most of your work over email or chat. Your clients will not care about your stammer.


A lot of people find it extremely difficult to find clients though. I.E Me

Where do you look when your first starting out?


Have you tried to bring up the issue at the beginning of the interview, by saying something up front like: "Hi, great to meet you, just so you know, I do stutter when I talk, but etc. etc. insert self-effacing joke here"?

Off-topic: I couldn't help but remember the This American Life episode where a student with a stuttering problem records himself speaking a monologue and removes the stutters in post-production: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/203/r...


Have you considered freelancing? You could work remotely mostly and explain upfront to your potential clients regards your situation. Clients just want the work done mostly. I understand the lack of regular income could be an issue, but you could potentially earn alot more than you are earning right now.

Also, please let me have some of your details and I'll add you to my address book. I consulting in Digital Strategy and occassionally have a requirement for someone to do some development work.


I have a stammer - often very severe. I don't have all the answers but I hope I can offer inspiration.

I'm now working at Twitter and I speak at conferences internationally. I've struggled through the issues you have and I used to assume I could never get a job of any kind.

In the end it's about attitude. Don't try not to stammer. Speak as much as you can. Be who you are, know what you're good at and let others know it. Always remember that a good employee will hire you for what you can do, not what you can't.


Out of interest, what kind of Web Development do you do? In my experience, if you are a PHP developer that primarily uses WordPress, or solely a front-end developer there are far more employers out there that are ready to shaft you.

That being said, £15k is criminal. I'd not pay a student that little, let alone someone with three years of experience.

Would you be willing to relocate? London is obviously the biggest place in the UK for tech jobs, but I would highly recommend looking at Bristol. It has some fantastic agencies, a few large tech companies, and a good mix of languages (ASP.NET/C# is strong here, and I see some Ruby and Python work around). Most importantly, someone with three years of experience would easily rake in £25-30k. I've worked with a few devs that have come from your area looking for work, and they all seem to love it here.

Regarding the point of your post, I can understand how your stammer would make you feel less confident. I know that it's a bit rich for someone on the Internet to say "be confident", but in reality an interview is as much about you interviewing a company as it is about them interviewing you. You seem experienced enough that most friendly dev teams would happily take you on if there is a mid-level role available. While I would say that you should definitely seek help if it's this much of a problem I would also suggest that you try to focus more of your energy in an interview on assessing the potential job, rather than trying to sell yourself. It'll make the process a lot more logical, and will probably reduce the stress levels in the room, and hopefully with that the potential for stammering.


Your code should always win the battles.

I've had a stammer all my life, it's one the most frustrating things ever. Here's a few things I'd do/did;

- Make a portfolio of the dev work you've done. - When you start speaking with an employer, mention your stammer before the interview so they know what to expect. I think this will also help you mentally prepare as well, there will be 'no' surprises. - Stay calm & good luck!


> I've asked my current employers for a raise but because they know my situation and they know my stammer means I interview badly they know I am stuck here.

You work in an industry where you can get away with relatively little verbal communication. Do NOT let your current employers convince you that you can't move to a better paid job because frankly, your pay is disgustingly low.

I've worked with 'web developers' making upwards of 25k who wouldn't know web development if it hit them in the face.

Provided you're not an absolutely lemon at your job, you should be able to walk into a job paying 22-28k right now, easily. Obviously this depends on location too, and whether your skills match up to the experience you claim!

Your stammer is nothing more than a hurdle - remember that. Simply accept that stammering is something you do, and try not to let it get the better of you in an interview situation. You are applying for the position of a web developer, not a public speaker.

Your current employers are taking advantage of your lack of confidence - tell it to them straight that you want a raise because you are being underpaid.


Yes, you're grossly underpaid. You're doing 100% the right thing by building up a portfolio.

That said, it would be a mistake to think that you can fix this problem with code alone. While a portfolio can "do the talking" to get you in the door, you still have to communicate with your coworkers once you're there. I'd second others opinions to talk to your GP, tell him/her that your speech impediment is affecting your career. Put just as much effort into working with a medical professional as you did/are with your portfolio, and over time you'll have no trouble earning what you're obviously worth.

[EDIT: Also, let your employer know that you're doing these things. Chances are you're more vital to them than you realize, and all of this will help you get that raise. But if you do get it, don't let that placate you. Keep improving yourself.]

[Second edit; I confused this with a Show HN post I was reading at the same time, sorry. Sentiment is the same, however.]


Wow man, you are sooo underpaid. I know there are a hundred other comments telling you that but just thought I'd add to them. Know this, there are loads of companies out there that REALLY want to hire you, it's hard to hire programmers at double your current salary.

Just tell people about the stammer, you'll find plenty who will understand and be accommodating.

Check out the monthly "Who's hiring" threads on here as well, the latest was posted yesterday:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5472746

Go contact some likely looking positions on there right now! Seriously, you're a programmer, programmers are really in demand right now. You can and will find something better.

Also, fuck your current employer, how dare they take advantage of that to pay you so little.

Good luck! Why not let us know how it went when you've had try...


Mention it in your cover letter when you apply and pass it off as a strength, not a weakness--show what you, from your experiences with your stammer understand about using web development to communicate with users that other developers just wouldn't naturally understand.

Then, when you go get invited for an interview, make sure you control the variables of the situation beforehand: remind the person who schedules the interview that you have a stammer and ask if you can bring a tablet computer to use to help communicating with the interviewer (or something similar that would work). If you set the rules for how the interview proceeds beforehand, it should give you control of the situation and show that you are in control of being able to communicate and work successfully despite the stammer.


Understand that your technical abilities are a small part of why people actually hire you. If they feel they're going to have a hard time communicating with you, or that you're not a good personality fit -- the hard truth is most people will pass.

Here is my advice: See a good speech therapist. If your stammer is triggered by your emotional state, see a good counselor. Take a communications class. Start interviewing like crazy (just to get comfortable with the process itself).

I'm giving this advice out of my own experience. All of these things have improved myself and my spouse's life immensely. You'll feel more confident and have certain tricks and tips up your sleeve to help you nail interviews.

You've got a lot of life ahead of you. Don't live it out of fear.


Wow kind of surprised by this. I worked with a project manager who stuttered...and his job was literally to talk to clients. Also worked with a tech lead who stuttered AND spoke in a heavy chinese accent...and he would give 2 hour lunch and learns and no one batted an eye. Anecdotal of course, but I'd think software would be the one place where this wouldn't be a problem. Sometimes I feel like business analyst and technical analyst have jobs solely to communicate for engineers lol.

Anyway maybe during interviews you should tell the interviewer that you are stuttering because you are nervous due to the pressure of the interview and that your communication skills are improved around people you are comfortable with/relaxed environments.


As someone with a mild stutter (5/10, 8 on bad days) but actually does a fair amount of public speaking for a living, I understand how difficult this can be for you. As context for those that have never experienced this before, Nathan Heller describes it very eloquently in both what it feels like physically and how it affects one psychologically and socially: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/assessment/2... It was an emotional read for me as it captures so successfully my own situation, and I'd imagine it will be too for many with a stutter.

I can only offer some anecdotal advice based on my own experiences, but I hope your situation improves soon (I agree with most of what everyone else is saying: you are being underpaid.)

- Slow down your speech. Sometimes my thoughts get ahead of my mouth, and my words don't come out eloquently. Sometimes when I do phone interviews (or presentations) I put a little card in front of me that has written in big letters "SLOW DOWN." Speech pace may not be a factor for you, but this trick can probably be applied to whatever you're personally going through—put something on a card that keeps you subtly conscious of your speech. Of course YMMV if this makes you nervous and enhances your stammer.

- Practice. I've basically found that all presentations and speaking events turn out better after practicing aloud. With interviews, you can ask a friend to help you prepare, and this may help you with "softball" non-coding questions (e.g., why you looking for a new position, describe a technical challenge, etc.)

- Speak more. This goes hand-in-hand with the point above but is really important. I speak more so I gain more confidence in my own speech, which helps me get over my stutter. Heller (the article above) makes a great point in saying that stutterers actually seem to be attracted to professions in which speaking is a critical part of the role. I somewhat feel the same way, and perhaps if you realize this, you can too. A stutter isn't something to cower away from, it's a challenge to step up to and break through.


I think disclosing ahead of time is the best advice. Think of the interview as an opportunity to start working with your company on how to get the most from you. With three years' experience, you may still be very young, so you may not have that all figured out yet. But if you let the interviewers know that you can communicate effectively (even if you have to do the interview via Skype chat in the same room), that will help quite a bit.

Also know that some interviewers, given a candidate who otherwise meets the requirements, like to find buried treasure. Persisting until you find a whole team of those interviewers could work as well.


I feel like all these underpaid posts are trying to send me a message lately.


One option would be to partner with an experienced freelance developer that has work they are looking to sub out to someone else. They can then be the client facing side of your development skills.


Hi, I stutter, often badly. Think this way - it is the fear that does this to you even more. I have learnt to live with it, make it your way of doing things - make people to accept you as you are, you will see you will overcome it - I worked in UK before. The card idea is perfect. When I public speak, I declare that I have a speech impediment and offer to re-iterate when needed. I taught a bunch of college kids in a classroom, all saw me, not my stuttering


Here are some stats for you about the UK job market for web developers (http://www.itjobswatch.co.uk/jobs/uk/web%20developer.do). You can use that in your negotiations with your current employer or to encourage you to look further afield.

You're doing the right thing blogging and posting to github. I encourage you to continue. You are definitely worth more than £15k, even in Suffolk.


edw519's comment is a great idea.

I also want to say that stammer's are beatable. My dad had a terrible stammer when he was young. He managed to get over it, through deliberate practice.

Now he's very social, always has groups of people laughing at parties. Except for an occasional stutter you'd never know he had had a speech impediment.

I don't remember exactly how he did it, but if you want to know more, send me an email (it's in the profile) and I'll ask him.


What a beautiful outpouring of human compassion- I'm sorry I don't have advice, but am truly moved by the outpouring of help from all posts. Lovely! :)


I dunno about in the UK but in the US it would be illegal for companies to discriminate against you based on your stammer, and I know personally I would not care. I would be fine doing the interview over text if that's more comfortable for you.

Don't let them take advantage of you. Of course I would need to see your work to know if they actually are, but if you can write PHP/Ruby and JavaScript they probably are.


I have an occasional stammer as well, but for me it is kind of an opposite - I did speak quite well during interviews, but it happens only after I get a job, on a day by day basis - at meetings or conversations with colleagues/friends.

Maybe it is some kind of defense reaction of brain, but it thinks that this is not that important for everyday life :)

I have to add that I tend to speak quite fast.


At first I thought this was a parody of the other guy complaining about $115K a year. Then I saw it was serious. Perspective, eh.


My organisation in london is hiring. I'll pop you an email with details tomorrow when I get into the office. Would be happy to meet up in london to talk about it. I don't work in that department and have no pull with HR but the organisation does have a big focus on accessibility and diversity so they'd be happy to make reasonable adjustments


It sucks if people judge you for your stammer, and if a company lets that get in the way of the interview, they probably suck too. My advice is keep trying until you find a place that doesn't judge you. Otherwise, even if you get past the interview, you will probably find that the company's discrimination will just leak into other avenues.


Just to add a useful, encouraging data point. My DBA supervisor has a really challenging stammer, and he's fantastic -- both as a technical leader and a people manager. We value him highly and his stammer has never, ever been a problem (or changed the way people interact with him). There is hope!


I really wished when people posted to complain about their situation they would give more details.

Where do you live? Can you take freelance work? Available to travel if opportunity arises?

At the moment I don't have any leads but if I know where you are located at least, I could try and see if I (and others here I'm sure) could help.


I conducted a technical telephone interview with someone who had a strong stammer. I can't say it was easy, but he was the best person I interviewed, and so he got the job.

You will find the right person to employ you, and ditch the current employer because like others have said, you are not being paid enough.


1. You should make the title more descriptive. Maybe What should I do? I stammer in interviews


There's actually a great company called Balbus Speech which develops mobile apps for speech therapy. I've watched someone go from being unable to speak to perfectly flowing English while using their solutions.

http://balbusspeech.com/


That's right! We develop mobile apps for people who stutter based on proven methods from speech-language pathology. Our most popular app is Speech4Good (http://speech4good.com)


I'm not entirely sure what this has to do with innovation vs iteration. It's more about why don't "third world" problems get solved by startups. There are a few answers to this:

a - It's where the money is. Most of the products in the world are manufactured for and sold to the rich. That's what rich means.

b - Startup founders are rich or come from rich communities. So are their investors and advisors. They are also young, urban, techie, etc. So, they see the things these markets need and make products for them. It's hard to design stuff for markets so removed from yourself.

c - It's easier to start at the luxurious end for all sorts of reasons and startups are starting up. Elon Musk gave a good explanation about doing it at Tesla (offsetting the high per-nit cost of new technology). There are other reasons that explain why you find many small chocolatiers selling $30 boxes but few competing with Cadburys. Making stuff cheap is often. harder and more expensive.


Is this comment in the wrong thread?


yes. sorry.


Out of interest, do you tell people in advance?

I've interviewed a person with a stammer and the recruiter had mentioned it beforehand, so we got over the initial discomfort very quickly and carried on as normal.

And yes, £15k with 3 years experience is LOW.


If you want inspiration you need look no further than Winston Churchill. You could try to overcome it. I really like the card idea below. Why not Freelance... since most of it is done over mail.


Is there the possibility of programming an app or tool for stutterers? Use that as gateway to both confront the topic and demonstrate your ability to overcome problems through programming.


Drop me a mail if you're interested in working on visionary products.


Track down some deaf or mute software engineers and ask them for advice. Maybe you'll get lucky and one of them will hire you!


Have you considered practicing not stammering? I don't think it'll be easy, but it sounds like the obvious course of action.


I think that's what he's been practically doing all his life, or since whenever the stammer started... Of course professional help may improve some, so if he doesn't have that already he could apply for it, but it's not as easy as "practicing not to stammer".


Hey pattle - what sort of web dev do you do? Any particular programming languages you're particularly proficient with?


You should post your resume here, or at least let us know what you're capable of and where you're heading.


If anyone wishes to contact me please see my profile for my email address and personal website


You should drop us a note Courtney at GeneralAssemb.ly. We'd love to help you.


Props for asking for advice! Good luck!


Well I don't recommend doing drugs but this is what I did and it absolutely worked. Take ecstasy. I am absolutely clinically unable to do any type of interview, phone or in person. I have a hard time even remembering my own name during an interview. I flew to an a high level interview in person and for an engineering position and I taped ecstasy to my crotch. About an hour before the interview I popped that sucker and let the magic happen. I got the job. Everyone is different and I don't recommend abusing drugs and do not do this unless you know how it affects you. But for me it absolutely works.




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