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Ask HN: How do hackers make friends?
34 points by lonelyhacker on Apr 14, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments
I've been a CS major at an engineering university for about eight months now, and I don't have any friends. I'm a web engineer who's really passionate about design and UX, and I've joined a few "computer" clubs, but I feel like I have hundreds of acquaintances but no friends. Everybody else seems to have a great time with their friends, and only talk to me about academic things (or how the weather is), etc. I've never been invited anywhere, hung out with anyone, celebrated someones birthday, had a meal with someone except my roommate, or just done something fun with another person. Sometimes I hate other people for ignoring me but mostly I just wish that people would accept me as a peer.

I've gotten so lonely that for the past three months, every Friday and Saturday night, I've walked aimlessly around campus for hours, hoping to find a friend since I don't have anyone to talk to. I'm just desperate for someone to like me enough to do something with me, or think that I'm more than just someone to say "Hi" to in class. It doesn't help that I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome when I was 16, which obviously makes things tougher, but I'm sure many hackers face related problems in finding similar interests. I have no physical impediments for social affairs (I'm tall, take care of my health and exercise regularly).

If you guys could offer any tips in terms of ways to turn acquaintances into friends, or how to be more social, I would be very grateful. I'm feeling more and more depressed every day because of this and it's starting to make me lose hope for my future.

It's hard. I'm not sure what to say, and can't promise to be an authority, but here goes.

I've always felt like I have very few __friends__, and many friendly acquaintances. I'm not sure I can tell you how to make them: in some cases it was as simple as finding another nerdy kid with whom to talk about things (computers, math, puzzles, chess), and in others my close friend said, "This is ___.", and at some point (years later) I realized that I was good friends with the guy he had introduced.

Are there things you like to do besides programming? Do you have interests in science fiction, movies, or the outdoors? You might try team sports (like ultimate frisbee) or computer team contests (ACM, I think?). Consider going to clubs, or looking for other people that are similarly as secluded as you, and talk with them. (It's hard. I'm terrible at it. Sorry I can't give better advice.)

People aren't (usually) friendly with you because you are inherently awesome, or they are your perfect friend -- rather, people will want to hang out with you if _they_ feel that you care about them, about what they think, and about their wellbeing. That is, you are acting like a friend to them. I'm not sure how to tell the difference between someone acting like a friend to you and __being__ a friend, but the former seems to come as reciprocity. (I likely don't understand this at all!)

I've found friends (and my wife) in the SCA (history nerds) and while playing games online -- not because I went there to find friends, but because I found people who shared a common interest, and who for some reason were interested in sharing their thoughts and time with me. Most often, my friends have been within my peer group at the time (most of my friends now are parents, like I am).

See if you can find something to do that involves time with other people, where everyone has a plausible pretext for being there together. Whether it's your campus film club, computer club, people who already share something in common with you are more likely to engage in small talk. If you have Asperger's, that may be hard. Consider listening, rather than trying to "solve" when they share problems. Ask questions, find out what they like. I'm not even sure how to do this - I've found most of my (few) friends by accident.

Thanks so much for your response. I guess I've been thinking if I was "inherently awesome" that people would want to hang out with me. Sadly I'm not the best at empathy and showing that I care about people. I'm thinking about asking someone I sit next to and talk to in my math class every week if they'd like to hang out some time, since at least that shows that I care to a certain extent.

Here's a tip that's worked well for me. Avoid asking "Would you like to hang out sometime?" The reason being that it is easy for the person to say "yes" but never act on it.

Instead, make it easy to convert their "yes" into an actual activity by arranging the activity before asking them. There are two ways to do this:

1) "Hey, I'm planning on seeing Jurassic Park 3D on Friday, would you like to join me?"

2) "Are you planning on doing anything fun this weekend?" (if they respond with some activity that you're interested in) "Oh, that sounds cool, would it be cool if I tagged along?"

Obviously you can replace seeing a movie in option (1) with any interesting activity. The key in both of these cases is that you make sure you have concrete plans to actually do the activity. If they agree, offer to call them to meet up at a convenient time/location.

I've never been invited anywhere, hung out with anyone, celebrated someones birthday, had a meal with someone except my roommate, or just done something fun with another person.

Oh dear, sorry to hear that. I'd invite you out but I'm on the West Coast.

Well, what you are going to have to do is start inviting other people out. When you're talking to an acquaintance that you find interesting, propose a dinner date or some other relevant activity (eg if they say they're curious about a movie or some upcoming sports game that you might also enjoy, propose going together). If you're not sure what a person is interested in, or don't know much about them, ask - when's their birthday, what do they think of that upcoming movie you're intersted by, what type of movies,/music/activities they like in general. Don't interrogate them, obviously - limit the number of guestions and give them time to answer.

You can also be frank about your own difficulties; mentioning Asperger's may sound like a medical problem, but it's perfectly OK to say 'I'm bad at finding cool places to go' or 'I'm bored hanging around the campus all the time, do you know of anything cool going on next weekend?' without making people think of the word 'syndrome.' And make plenty of time for listening to others (which I had to learn as a skill), because often they'll tell you about similar challenges they face. You don't need to have solutions for those challenges; eg if your acquaintance also mentions that s/he doesn't know anywhere cool to go, you could say 'let's just check out some place at random next weekend then.' It's OK to be shy, and to say that you're shy. If you're in a conversation and can't thinkof what to say, it's fine to say you don't know what to say. Social awkwardness is normal enough that nobody's going to hold it against you for admitting to it from time to time.

Think of friendships as a bit like gardening - you plant some seeds (make acquaintances) and you need to water them (regular social contact, pleasantries, small talk), but it takes a while for them to break ground and start growing up out of the earth, and staring at them won't make that happen any faster. So for the time being, just keep being good to your existing acquaintances, and display your interest in getting to know them better. Sooner or later you're bound to discover mutual interests, and once you have something to talk about in depth it's easy for a relationship to grow from there.

One piece of advice that I really liked was in David Kelley's book about the virtue of benevolence: treat strangers like acquaintances, treat acquaintances like friends, and treat friends like family. Building relationships with people is a progression, and one of the two parties has to make the gesture to become closer.

In short, don't wait for acquaintances to treat you like a friend and ask you to do stuff, treat them like a friend and make the first move.

I'm going to play devil's advocate here and say that it's a good thing to be lonely.

Some background: I'm fifteen years old, have but one friend, and never attend any parties or the like. I spend most of my time banging out code in front of my laptop.

Is it lonely? Certainly. Does it feel crushing, unbearably melancholy? Yes, it does. But I love it. You have so much time for productivity, so much time to do things you love, rather than having that time spent whilst pandering to the whims of others.

No girlfriend. No best friend. I tend to keep my distance. Ulcerative colitis doesn't help my cause much. But being social is something I see as a thing of my past. It's replaceable. Sporadic.

Learn to love loneliness. It's the only thing that will consistently love you back.

Not to be pedantic or anything, but I wouldn't necessarily expect a 15 year old to have had a girlfriend or have gone to parties in the past. But as you grow older, the desire to have a girlfriend only increases, it doesn't decrease.

While it is good to be someone who doesn't mind loneliness (as I am), I long ago understood that human relationships are incredibly important and powerful. Opportunities present themselves to you through other people. The most enjoyable experiences in my life have involved other people.

The ironic thing is that if you ever freelance - the epitome of not talking to other people (because you get to work from home all day), your "network" becomes even more important than ever, because that is how you get new work opportunities. And unless you want to be condemned to forever having to apply to jobs through an application process (hint: highest chances of getting rejected), social relationships matter.

I cannot tell you how many times people remembered me and thought I was an interesting person (and the opportunities that presented themselves through these associations) simply because I come off as very articulate, opinionated, and curious. The mechanistic "trick" to doing that is to keep asking people questions and then run a "pattern matching" algorithm whereby you see if anything you know or any stories you know relate to their answer, and then you relay that back in your reply.

Again, I don't want to be a downer, but as you grow older, social relationships only increase in importance. The ironic thing is that as its importance increases, the surface area of opportunities for new social relationships decreases.

As much as I respect your spirit, you are missing out on so much of the world.

I was you once. I worked, alone, in my little bubble for four of my teenage years. It was great, I learned a large chunk of what makes me a good developer, but a lesson - there are times where productivity should be secondary.

People are the spice of life, they color the world, they give it flavor and texture and reason. The right people make those crushing moments bearable, and gently mock you when you achieve greatness because they knew you when you were nothing more than a laptop and bundles wide-eyed optimism.

There is nothing more liberating than the feeling of having someone know you, really know you, and know them back. It gives you this intuitive ability to look into them and know what they are thinking as if it were a sense, like touch or smell or taste.

People hurt, they snarl and they wound, but the right people are so impossibly worth it. It's just a matter of finding the right people, and that's something a lifetime of happiness, pain, disappointment and kindness will give you.

Don't change, but don't resign yourself to a life of solitude. I'm just a preachy comment on a preachy website you could click a little x on to close in a second, but try to embrace the silly things the world throws at you, set some time aside to stop working and just be.


I would recommend developing some hobbies, and joining some groups and clubs. I was involved in my university's outdoors club, in karate club, and in several types of social dance. I recommend all of these, or any other activity that piques your interest. But try something genuinely new, not just a computer club, gaming club, or other club populated by like-minded people.

These are all great ways to meet a diverse range of people. They are not just about "hanging out" (which can sometimes be awkward for an introvert), there is something to do, and something to focus your attention on if you don't have anything to say.

Volunteering can also be great, but pick some volunteer organization that does actual work, like Habitat for Humanity. (Beware of volunteer gigs with a lot of volunteers but very little work. These are fun for extroverts, but perhaps not for you.)

Also, as other posters say, just try inviting random people to do random things. You will learn the pain of rejection (don't try to avoid this). But sometimes the responses will surprise you, and open doors you never knew existed.

I understand exactly what you're thinking. You can succeed. Good luck to you!

I've always been in that weird zone that I could go out partying with the cool kids.. but never enjoyed it. Going into a club and I'd always ask myself "Why the fuck am I here, I hate this place.". And that's my only regret.. I should have spent more time in the "Linux group" or hacker meetups. This is the folks I always liked and had fun being with. Why am I telling you this? Because screw the apparences. If you like design, UX, and have been diagnosed with Asperger's (I'm definitely a bit aspergers too!), well, you should definitely hit more UX / design / hacker clubs. Working on a cool project and giving a talk of it definitely help to spark discussions.

Also, it's not in the quantity. Find a good team to start working on cool projects, and they'll soon be your best friends. Don't force it, just be yourself and try to be nice.

One last suggestion: Offer yourself as a volunteer for events that you care about! Not only you'll get to meet awesome people, but you'll also have some privileged moments with well-known speakers and organizers.

>I've never been invited anywhere, hung out with anyone, celebrated someones birthday, had a meal with someone except my roommate, or just done something fun with another person

Take initiative. Find events happening that sound cool (school calendar, city calendars, local bar calendars), and invite other people out. Ask people if they'd like to grab lunch, or if you can join them at their table in the dining hall. Acquaintances become friends mainly through repeated exposure and one-on-one interaction.

>for the past three months, every Friday and Saturday night, I've walked aimlessly around campus for hours, hoping to find a friend

This is much less likely to succeed than by attending something that's meant for people to make social connections. Join clubs (activity groups, meetups, etc.). The more people you regularly interact with, the more likely it is you'll make a connection.

Your school wants you to succeed at this, and you should take advantage of the resources they provide to do so. Ask your RA if he knows of anything fun happening this weekend. Tell them you're looking to make new friends and could use some recommendations of events you should check out. Tell your professors you're really interested in connecting with people who'd like to collaborate on UX projects, and ask him if he knows any other students who are taking the class because of more than just credit. Ask people in the Student Life committee which events are most likely to have people attending who want to make new friends, rather than people attending with existing friends.

And if you're feeling depressed or having difficulty connecting with people you'd like to be friends with, talk to counselors in the student health center. Like you said, many young engineering students face problems like these -- they will have advice both specific to you and from helping hundreds of students like you.

I went to 5 different high schools before college.

Here are some tricks I found 1) Join or walk into clubs randomly(It's fun) If you feel particularly crazy change your name each time.

It will probably be easiest to walk into 1) book club 2) anime or 3) math/science club 4) syfy club Most of the time these clubs have very simple(or atleast straightforward) agendas and will contain lots of introverts.

If you see someone passionate about something ask about their opinion.

For example "What is your opinion about the most release book, science, topic, etc?"

In college I have had some of the coolest discusses in my Speech class. Some schools combine it with English, but if you can take a Speech class try to. Now it depends on what you find interesting, but it has brought up a lot of fun discussions.

Find a Linux/Hackers group. If you don't have one at your current school, check at the website for a close Community Colleges. If you are lucky they will sometimes have some pretty cool veterans heading the group that remember the good ol' days.

First, don't give up. Your not the only one who faces such issues, trust me. And you may not feel it, but it's brave of you to ask for help.

I am an introvert, didn't really interact with people much when I was younger, but when I got older I found that roleplaying games, specifically live action roleplaying dramatically improved my social skills, taught me how to interact on a team, how to lead, etc. It's geeky, but that shouldn't frighten you, because you will meet people with a range of social skills. One place you can check is owbn.net, see if there are any games near you.

gknoy suggests the SCA which is another good way to meet people.

The other thing you could do is involve yourself in the internet, and socialize that way. Join a group minecraft server, or second life, or something. Even interacting on forums or subreddits.

Finally, try hanging out in the computer lab. Maybe help people. Become a lab tutor... that's one way to have a built in group of people to interact with.


You mentioned that you are somewhere in New York State.

Send me an email (address in profile) with your college.

I'm actually in a similar situation (i.e. passionate about programming but lacking in the social areas) and will most likely be going to an educational institution in the state of New York next year.

If you're attending the one that I plan on attending, we can help each other out.

Sweet, just sent you an email.

Might sound a little unorthdox, but I'd recomend Dale Carnegie's "How to win friends and impress people". I started university somewhat socially awkward and feel the book helped me better capture social nuances. Worth a shot.

Sorry you feel that way, feel free to PM. Promise I won't ask about the weather.

Do you have any interests/hobbies outside of CS? There's probably clubs for every interest you can think of at your college. Even if you don't have any strong interests, just be open to try different things. Some people here suggested reddit, secondlife, and online gaming - you have the rest of your life for that but your college years will go by before you know it so really take advantage of what your school has to offer first. I was extremely introverted in college as well so i can definitely relate, happy to talk more, contact info is in my profile.

I never interacted much with others in CS courses until my last year. I took Japanese, though... you are forced to talk to others in language courses, and have plenty of opportunities for fun (mistranslations, lots of confusion, etc). Figure out which language department is the most fun in your school and give a 101 course a go. It lead to me studying in Japan for a year, which was some of the best times I had in college.

Go to your local 2600 meeting.

Or, find a volunteer group; they all need computer people.

Then expand your role to something that requires people interaction.

Otherwise, you'll get the mushroom treatment: they'll keep you in the dark and feed you cow feces.

Either way, you'll get to practice socializing, which is a skill like any other (think of it as learning to code recursively) and get to meet some new people, some of whom might become friends.

Where are you located? I can relate to how you feel. I was like that for few years until I finally find few close friends (not long ago).. Sometimes, I even think finding a good friends depend on luck.. Are you freshman at your university? When I was in my first year, I was very lonely as well. Anyways, add me on gtalk.

Hi, unfortunately I'm located in New York state. I am a freshman.

There is a small chance you attend the same university I do. If you do, message me (FB, twitter, email... I don't care). I'd be happy to grab a coffee or something.

Anywhere near the city? I'd be happy to chat over coffee.

I immediately thought of this blog post when I read your comment - http://joethepeacock.blogspot.com/2012/04/thats-why-you-dont... I've experienced your situation and have always found this uplifting.

Start a club. Run an event. Get yourself in a position of power, you might even become popular, but you still mightn't find any friends. Do outreach for an organization of some sort. Run stories for the college newspaper and interview people. Try to get press privileges.

Preamble: I am 28 years old and have returned to school as a full-time student. I am finishing my first year. I live on campus as an RA and am in freshman level classes. I feel like I can offer a unique perspective to you, here are my thoughts for whatever they are worth.

Don't discount your relationship with your roommate. I know you are looking to other people, and thats fine, but if you two get along that is important. My first time through college was the typical drink/party/girls experience. I made friends and lived with the same group of guys all 4 years. Now, 5+ years later, there is ONE person from college that I am still close with. He is the only one I consider a "life-long" friend. After school he moved in with me and got a job at my company. He met his wife at work, they moved to Cali then to Chicago. They're doing great. A single friendship can make a huge difference...also, this friend and I didn't even know each other freshman year.

Freshman year is tumultuous. Many of the people you see all buddy-buddy right now will hate each other before the end of next year. A lot changes during college and much of it in first two years. Don't stress about friends too much yet, nothing is settled, it just APPEARS to be settled.

Don't try too hard. This will sabotage your efforts. In my first freshman year I had a tough time when my group of friends started mixing with this other group and those new kids didn't like me very much. I tried so hard to earn their approval and be a part of the group but nothing worked. Eventually I got flat-out fed-up and angry. I said "F* them." I started doing my own thing and almost instantly they responded with acceptance. Kids can tell when you are trying hard to make something happen and, for whatever reason, they respond negatively to that. Do whatever it is you like to do, do it well, be proud, be confident, be pleasant and people will gravitate towards you. This will create opportunities for you to create a relationship.

PLEASE don't internalize this. What you are going through does NOT mean people won't/don't accept you or people don't like you. It just means that you haven't made the right connection yet. Making friends is serendipitous to a large degree, the right comment at the right time, a well placed quip, etc. Things come together and it just happens.

And now for some advice,

In high school I moved from the east coast to the west coast for my father's job. I had never had to "make friends" before. I experimented and ranked the best ways to "make friends" They were: talk about sports, talk about music, talk about movies. I'm a big movie fan so I used movies a lot. Quoting movies is an incredibly effective way to start conversations. I still use it to this day. (I don't know what you kids watch these days, the harry potter and whatnot but for me its lots of Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and American Psycho.) They can be obscure quotes and/or obscure movies, whatever. Quotes are good because when someone else recognizes the quote it says "you and I like and notice the same weird/funny things." without saying it. You don't need to be funny or over-the-top about it, just throw it out there and see who responds. If no one responds don't feel awkward, its just something you've seen that they haven't.

This year I have found the after-class-food tactic seems to work pretty well. Towards the end of class, when you are packing up ask someone if they want to get some food, I have found that most kids without another class head to the cafeteria. This is an easy, low-pressure approach.

Practice, practice, practice. Socializing is a technique like a golf swing. Practice makes perfect. Try different things out, now is the time to do that. You will crash and burn sometimes, THATS OK, everyone does. Those crashes will mean nothing to you looking back. Just keep practicing and you will get better. Remember what works and what doesn't. Incorporate and adapt.

I hope some of this helps, I tried to be honest and straight-forward. I'll leave you with this postamble,

I've lurked on HN for quite some time now. A couple years I think. I've never posted anything because I've never felt confident enough in any of my thoughts to broadcast them to such an intelligent and awe-inspiring community. This is my first post because I feel confident in saying to you that it will work out. I can see just from what you've written that you have good things to offer. It's in the honesty and thought of your words. I know this is important to you but don't stress too much. Don't get too caught up in it. It will happen for you.

Please feel free to message me if you want to talk more.

Find the juggling club. There probably is one. Learn to juggle. It's an intensely social activity (juggling clubs and conventions) usually filled with interesting and diverse people.

Why not join clubs at uni doing what you like to do? I found friends at uni playing chess, taking swimming lessons and working on tough team assignments.

Have you considered study abroad? In a friendly country, people will initiate conversation with you just because you're from a foreign culture.

I'm in MA, go to school as a Computer Engineer. I go to NYC every so often. Hit me up on Skype: knowledgegranted.

making friends is a contact sport. The more contact you have, the more likely you are to land a true friend. Also use reciprocity. Help out at a community center, invite an acquaintances to movie, be genuine.

Hey bro hit up on my Skype still_x_i_rise. Lets talk about whatever lol

(disclaimer) This is not for everybody (disclaimer)

If you walk alone on a street you probably don't interact with other people, but if you walk the same street with a medium-sized or small dog this is a very different history. Is very curious but a lot of small talk is generated with other people, even strangers, specially with other dog owners. If our dog looks well cared, not specially dangerous, healthy and happy a lot of people will hang around to touch him, and will talk with you.

A dog is not a toy, is a responsability, with expensive vet bills, food, maybe the urge to bark "hello world" in the middle of the night, and needs two walks each day, (even if you wake-up sunday morning after a party with a big headache). But if you feel alone and depressed and you can have one in your house a good dog is a powerful antidote for both, one of the best antidotes of the whole world in my opinion.

Every owner of a dog need to deal with the cleaning of dog faeces. This means to carry with you a plastic bag and a pair of gloves every time you exit your home. Don't forget this. Travels and hotels can require also some special measures.

A more easier option that could fit better for you is a ferret.

Advantages: don't make much noise, needs only about an hour of attention/day, You can have it safely in a cage in your house, they sleep most of the day whereas you work in the computer

Problems: can bite when angry but the main problem is the odour. They smell, specially in the mating's season. The problem is much avoided if the odour glands are extirpated. If you have only a female you need to assure either to breed or to sterilize her (The ferret females can die by "lack of sex", sounds funny but is very sad to see). Ask in the pet shop.

Ferrets feel the urge to explore any hole in the floor, (including WC's) or any crevice in a wall. Don't permit this, you can lost your pet. Use an harness to stop the small livingstone.

They steal and hide also any thing that they found interesting for a further review, from potatos to plastic caps. Under the beds, etc.

See also: http://www.seniorlink.co.nz/interests/pets/ferret.shtml

Cats: I say ferrets and not cats because you can walk a ferret in the park with a harness, but if you walk a cat you will be a little more in the weird side, with the spider, snakes, cricket and lizard's owners. Cats are cool and a great theme of conversation; You can atract all girls in a mile if you have a small kitten in your hand (is a scientific fact), but this kitten will grow, escape and do some nasty things with your curtains some day. Different advantages and problems.

Any small mammal, like a fancy mouse, can make you feel better and help you to generate a conversation. But they are rarely carried or seen outdoors.

Just remember that you need to implicate and care any pet, and this can lead to some troubles or discomfort in your life. There is not a thing like "the perfect pet" (maybe fishes?).

They don't.It's a lonely life..

There's something pretty universal about making friends. Rarely, if ever will people come up to you if they don't know you and invite you out. I made a point of doing it when I saw someone sitting alone at the dining hall, but it's not something that happens often.

People you know don't invite you out because they don't know that you like them. Invite THEM to go catch a movie, or play pool, or grab food. Why on earth would someone want to hang out with you if they don't even know that you want to hang out with them?

Stop relying on other people to be friends with you, go out and be friends with other people. Be that guy.

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