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What to do if you're just semi-technical?
89 points by samelawrence on Mar 14, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments
Everyone tells me this is a blessing, but it feels like a curse.

I enjoy writing code and the world of software, but I'm by no means an accomplished or brilliant developer. I can hack my way around some HTML/CSS and JavaScript, but I couldn't deploy anything more than a single-page application.

I also enjoy music, acting, singing... but I don't think I was born for the world of the arts. I want to make a real impact through technology, and the things I care about are problems that can probably only be solved with computers and money.

Georgia Tech pushed me to be so specialized that I quickly changed my original major (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering... I was a chemistry whiz in high school) to International Affairs, but even there I didn't find happiness, so I eventually dropped out of school.

I've had some jobs I enjoy, but none of them that really thrilled me. My favorite job was probably the year I worked at Apple retail in college, because I got to explain technology to people and change their lives in some small way.

I've done sales, support, and now work on a QA team, but none of these things feel like my passion, my joy. These are just jobs, with no semblance of a career path. I have ideas and goals of starting a company, but am unable to build everything myself, and lack the financial resources to hire anyone to help me.

My brain bridges the gap that our culture has between highly technical people (developers) and those who need to understand the outcomes and requirements (everyone else)... but I lack a college degree or any kind of real experience in product management.

I'm 25 and I feel fucked. Has anyone else been in this situation, and what did you do to get out? Did you go more technical or less technical over time? I feel torn between what feel like different paths, and wish I could integrate both sides into my work.

Relevant: http://imgur.com/WeMCypL




You act like 25 is the end of your life or something. First of all, get over it. Second of all, I got out of the Army at age 23 with barely a technical bone in my body. I took courses and took on projects where I could learn new things in a different field all the time. You should never stop learning - many people don't become "technical" until later in their careers, contrary to the startup tabloids and HN news/comments you see here. Younger people THINK they are technical, but really don't know the first thing about what their doing until they've been in the business at least 5 years or more (college does not make you "technical", it gives you enough background to survive, but not to thrive). I've had the perspective now of looking back at my 25 year old self and realizing that even though I thought I knew it all, I knew nothing really - and there is SO MUCH MORE to the IT field than software development.

So, with that, there is a burgeoning field that combines business and technology - think of it as being a "translator" of sort, turning jargon into actionable business information. There is also Project Management, which is where most semi-technical folks go to and end up earning twice what most developers do (and end up becoming their boss).

So, keep learning and move into project management where you'll work with both the business side and technical side alike while getting paid handsomely for it. That's my advice.


I too recently transitioned out of the Army at 27 after 7.5 years in EOD. I dropped out of film school my sophomore year and joined. I've since landed a job as a developer and CTO at a robotics company in Maryland. I also have government agencies beating down my door with interest on a white paper I submitted unrelated to my 'day job'. It looks like I'll get funded.

I've always believed that you have to make yourself relevant to the position that you want, and then shoot for the one above it. Hell, I'm a college dropout raking in 6 figures a year and I get paid to hack away in Python and travel the world to teach people about our robot systems. It's truly a dream job.


> So, with that, there is a burgeoning field that combines business and technology - think of it as being a "translator" of sort, turning jargon into actionable business information.

Does this field have a name? It sounds like what I enjoy doing.


You're not fucked. Your "career path" is partly determined by past job titles, and partly by your ability to sell yourself. Neither one is going to be on a fixed path at age 25.

As human beings, we all spend a lot of time agonizing over the path not taken, and that's not limited to our career choices. I've slowly come to realize the paths not taken were usually no better than what I actually did, it was just easy to imagine the counterfactual as paradise.

I used to think I hated computers.

Then I thought I hated code.

Now I know I just hate having a boss.

If you find yourself changing job roles a lot, but remaining unhappy, maybe the specific subject matter isn't the problem. Maybe you need variety. Maybe you hate working in a hierarchical structure. Maybe you hate groups, or hate working alone. You're the only one who can figure this out.


I have gone through a similar progression. I started undergrad as a computer engineer because I was interested in computers and electronics (even though I only got my first computer at home a year before I started). After two years I thought I hated writing code, but I really liked hooking wires together (in the lab and my parents' house) so I switched to electrical engineering. Once I got to the real world I discovered I liked writing code, I just didn't like writing code for undergrad assignments. Thus, I tried to direct myself towards a hybrid EE/SwE role but ended up in pure software engineering.

I have never been completely happy and always think its because I haven't got to do what I really wanted to. Towards the end of my first position at Raytheon I wanted to do digital hardware design and FPGA development. I have never been able to get there. Maybe that really is what I want to do. Maybe I do need variety. I'm not sure. I do know that I get much more excited reading about new sensors for accurate oilfield seismic surveys than I do reading about new algorithms for partitioning distributed graphs.


Hi! Semi-technical co-founder. To answer your question, yes I have been in this situation, and more or less still am. Feel free to contact me if you want to talk (email is in profile)

First off, I'm 29. I already feel like I'm a failure because I'm not Mark Zuckerberg rich at my age. Get in line!

> * I have ideas and goals of starting a company, but am unable to build everything myself, and lack the financial resources to hire anyone to help me.*

Great, so we've identified the main problem (I've been there!). Here's something I've learned - people who are technical will respect you much more because you do have a technical understanding. So all is not lost in thinking that you can't find someone to partner up with. Think of the whole technical/non-technical challenges like this: it's like walking into a French restaurant and asking for a cheeseburger in English. If you are able to throw at least a rudimentary understanding of French ("un cheeseburger, s'il vous plaƮt") you signal to the waiter that you want to talk on his level. This has less to do with your ability to speak fluently and more about respect of the person's craft/culture. In my experience techies love this. You know what they hate? They hate non-technical people coming to them and saying "Oh god that's so easy, you should be done with it in 5 minutes" or "build the next facebook with me! it's easy!". So you've already got a leg up on 90% of the people out there.

The most important thing here is to continue to search for what you enjoy. Some people find this at 18, some people find it at 60. Don't be discouraged if your path isn't equal to what you perceive everyone elses is. Stop reading TechCrunch dreaming about how or why you aren't the next 30 under 30 who just raised $50m in VC funding. Just get out there and build stuff people like.

Good luck!


"My brain bridges the gap that our culture has between highly technical people (developers) and those who need to understand the outcomes and requirements (everyone else)"

I am kinda like you. Actually I am like you except that I am a little older (32). I majored in CS but for some reason, never enjoyed programming while in college as much as I enjoy it now. Weird but true. And I don't even do hardcore programming in my corporate job anywhere. On the side though, I have started doing a lot of programming. In my corporate job, I am defined as a "Technical Business Analyst", "Technical Project Manager" etc. Basically, I am not a developer and I am not a business user. I am somewhere in the middle. You could potentially look at that as an option. You get to do some techie stuff like writing SQL queries, VBA, scripting etc as needed but more importantly, you focus on getting the business requirements translated/developed into the final solution and you work your way through the entire process. You are involved in the entire life cycle phase.

"I am 25 and I feel fucked"

Don't feel that. You are not f'cked. You will get wiser with age and realize that there is no silver bullet to anything. Everything is a choice and there is always a cost to every opportunity. What matters is that you grab the opportunity that interests you and create something out of it.


+1, I'm with you on this :) I'm also like OP and you: partly creative, party technical (but very broad, I'm not a hardcore developer with a speciality) and do have business and social skills too. So I'm at the end of my 20's and working as a Technical Project Manager... which I enjoy so far.


I was pretty much like the OP (from Georgia Tech too), although I graduated with a masters in CS, so I had that to back me up at interviews. I hated programming as I worked at companies large and small writing code in java (mainly tweaking spring configs) and have spent the last few years trying out for different product management positions with no luck. I realized that I did not like it much, was because I was fighting the system every time as I did not have the basics right. (I barely could get myself round a linux box). I have since made it my priority to get my fundamentals right and started reading the basics of everything as if I was getting into programming from scratch. I feel it has helped. Also it happened that my current job required me to learn to code in python. Ever since I started working in python coding has been very pleasurable and fun. Also the ability to quickly have an impact and be useful gives me the thrill rather than just writing a bunch of integration tests. Anyways Im not sure why this is relevant, but felt like putting this out anyways.


We are all semi-technical outside of the narrow situations and technologies we have a lot of experience with. In other words, you can learn to be technical, but only in narrow subfields like a particular programming language, programming environment, application and so on. University education is good for getting at the shared core of these things (computer science and especially mathematics).

But what should you do? Well, I suppose you need to decide if you want to become more technical in some subfield, and what field that would possibly be, or if you want to learn the metaskills of managing projects where you are semi-technical in the sense that you know a lot about the project you are managing, but could not put it together yourself.

Note that these are complementary skills, so you can have both (and often should strive to have both).

As a technical person I would tend to think that the easy path towards a less-technical managerial position would go through an entry level technical position, but that is certainly not the only way.


A few ideas:

. Start a business that can scale despite technology. Pen, paper, lots of talking - add tech later

. Use a 'content framework' such as Drupal - it can cover a wide range of business models where storage and viewing of user data is required

. Learn to code, voraciously. By the time you're 30, if not before, you'll be ready to put together something of much greater value

You're hardly out of the gate at 25. If you think tech is where your interests lie, after double checking with the other fields you've tried, then face in that direction and start walking. It's that simple.


In my experience, knowing tech in a tech world is useful. Knowing tech in a non-tech world is a burden, because it implies a focus on something that doesn't matter.

I was a developer for the first 4 years of my career, but I've spent the last couple years doing sales and marketing. It turns out a really enjoy them, and my technical background has been enormously helpful while working at a technical company. For me, my technical knowledge is now domain expertise: I understand what our customers have to put up with, and I understand why our solution [1] will help them. My day-to-day is decided non-technical, and I intend to spend fewer and fewer hours writing code.

In short, I'm interested in working in technology forever. I'm interested in it as an industry, because I like the problems there, but not as a profession, because I don't like the altitude of problem-solving when you're the one writing the code.

I don't know you well enough to tell you what to do, but it's worth separating what you enjoy day-to-day and what you enjoy about the mission of the place you work, and figuring out how much each one motivates you. I enjoy the day-to-day aspects of marketing and product marketing enough, but I love being part of a company that I feel solves a real problem using cool technology.

My question for you: if you like explaining technology to people, is it because you like working on the story, or you like the personal connection?


Both?

I like being involved in the creative process, and the long, late hours with the team, but I also like that moment when I get to share it with customers and users...

I don't really know how to answer your question other than that I want to enjoy the mission / goals of a good product at the same time as being involved in the outcomes.


It's ok to feel this way. I have felt it all the way up to 35yrs more or less. Learn to relax - meditation. Take steps to learn the real methods. Learn to let go of baggage - Meditation is the main thing again. Focus on developing happiness - Wake up everyday and ask yourself "Am I happy? What to achieve that improves my self-happiness? Am I smiling?"

Do things for fun. If you learn good things then cool. If not, then cool.

Work part-time for someone else. This will allow you to have enough to eat and sometimes go to a movie.

Learn to DIY in your life - tools, broken things, fix them.

When you talk or meet other people, try to deliberately do something that will make them glow.

Learn to recognise when people/news stories/science reports/technological revelations are talking complete B.S. The world is a misleading place.

A Business mind will appear when you know good things. You'll learn to market your ideas, learn ideas that don't require investors, learn to make water into wine.

Am I a millionaire? No. Do I weather the storms better? Yes. Does my raft float? Yes.

Hope this helps :)


Well... I'm 33, and in a similar boat. Except, I don't feel fucked.

I crashed out of Software Engineering aged 19, because I couldn't hack the maths, and a bunch of personal stuff. So I got a law degree. Then I went and worked in government (in the UK) for 7 years, before deciding that, yep, I actually did hate it, and leaving when they decided to pay a bunch of us off. I went to work for a startup (non tech role), because I wanted to learn about starting a business and running a startup. I learned a bunch, mostly about what not to do.

Then I decided to (re)learn to code, and hacked together http://test.gmbl.io - it just about works, but I'm only a couple of steps beyond your 'couldn't deploy anything more than a single page application' ability, I think.

Largely it depends WHAT you want to do. Sorry to be brutal but wanting to "make a real impact through technology" isn't what you want to do. It's the output of something, you're having the Coffee Shop Problem. Lots of people say they want to run a coffee shop. No, they don't. They want to hang out in a coffee shop, drinking coffee and chatting to customers. Not grinding beans, cleaning stale milk out, mopping floors and humphing inventory all over the place for basically minimum wage (in most cases.) What do you actually want to do on a day-to-day basis? If you like coding, then do that. If you don't, do something else.

If you want to code and don't have the degree, get more technical and build your portfolio. If you want to do product management (which sounds like a shout), then DO IT for a bunch of products - your own or someone else's.

Edit: I got more technical, but I don't use it on a day-to-day basis for work - just to solve my own side-project-problems.


As one GT grad (MCRP03) to another...get off the bridge a build a castle (or a speed boat) -- on a solid foundation. When I sang "I'm a hellava engineer" at graduation I was entering real estate for a short and successful (until the music stopped) career wishing I actually had been an engineer when the banks failed. Now that I am an engineer -- and someone who's been f@!37cked a few times over for not choosing CS (self taught) -- I feel like I know what it means to be lost then found...it sounds like you need to dig deeper into programming.

When I started I thought I would do web apps but I just didn't feel like an engineer no matter how well I learned JS (I read four books before I used my first API). Picking up C and objective C has been far more rewarding even though I've only put one app in the store to date.

Your mind is plastic and needs to be told what to be. Don't settle on fu$&%d.


> I also enjoy music, acting, singing... but I don't think I was born for the world of the arts. I want to make a real impact through technology, and the things I care about are problems that can probably only be solved with computers and money.

There's an entire, gigantic world of production companies filled with people like you, people who hate traditional enterprise, who want to work on something meaningful, who would love to have you. It's a hell of a lot of work, but jack-of-all-trades technicians is exactly what they're looking for.

A good way to find them is to volunteer at local theatre companies and ask around. I used to volunteer at Dad's Garage and the place was a veritable hub for anyone looking to get kickstarted into entertainment. If you're still in Atlanta, you've got nothing but options.


Yeah, I'm still in Atlanta. I do dislike traditional corporate enterprise, and often wonder if I'd do well at a place like Adult Swim or working in a music studio doing webdev for up-and-coming music artists or something.

Trouble is, I don't know any of those folks to get a foot in the door. I feel like my dream job would be as an indie dev / voice actor / DJ / product evangelist / non-profit spokesman... if we're talking about dreams.

I used to perform at Relapse Theater and know a few of the Dad's Garage folks. Doing improv and standup were some of my happiest days, I just don't have the time to focus on it with my current job. That makes me very sad. Like something is missing from myself.


You have to make the time, man. There's no substitute for doing the things that feed the soul.

Reach out to some of your contacts. Let them know what you do and what you're capable of, and ask for advice on how to get your foot in the door.

Whatever it is they say to do, be sure to follow up on. And every new person you come into contact with, let them know what you're trying to do and fish for more steps to take to break in. It's too easy to just let helpful advice go unheeded out of sheer inertia. You gotta shake that crap out of your system man. In entertainment, everybody is expected to take the initiative, you can't just wait around for people to notice you.

Oh, and if you're serious about voice acting, try the folks at YourACT. http://youract.tv I went through their screen acting class and they're just lovely folks. That place is an even bigger networking hub than Dad's Garage is. I didn't know you were leaning in that direction or I'd have suggested it in my first comment.


Thank you! I've actually recently befriended a voice coach and am going to record my first demo reels this weekend (on my iPhone, lulz). I'll be sure to look at YourACT and see what's up there.


I'd pursue project management.

Good Project Managers, Business Analysts, or Development Managers are much rarer than good Developers IME, and overall much more important IMO.

I'm a Developer. My wife is an Senior Operations Manager (head of the Business Analysts as well as some other roles). If I had to pick between having me on a team, or her, I'd pick her in a heartbeat. And there's not developer I know or have worked with that would make me rethink that choice.

Because she can make a lot of "OK" individuals and build a "Great", effective team.

IME you can easily have a number of "Great" individuals and end up with a "Failing" team without the management piece.

Also, this is maybe just me, but it really gets under my skin when I hear "great managers are there to run interference and give developers the room to do great things". That's absolutely false. I've been a Manager. I've tried to do that. It only ends up in failure. You do that and all you'll get are half baked projects that blow the budget nine times out of ten.

Great Managers delegate. They don't try to code. They get metrics. On everything. Just like the unquestioned advice about getting metrics for every aspect of your application, it's even more important to have metrics for your development. How long does it take to add a Form to the application? Is the Database involved in this Change Request? What does the Deployment Procedure look like? These things are in fact quantifiable, estimatable and predictable given experience and data if you know how to break them up.

Give people room to spike something, but when it isn't working out use the data to see that and kill it so you don't end up in a swamp. Don't try to be a Developer and a Manager at the same time. Until you've done every bit of your job you could possibly do in Management you don't get to go on recess playing Developer.

My wife's RFPs deliver within 93% of the hours estimate. It takes money to get there, but you put the effort in ahead of time, while it's just paper, when Change Requests are cheap. You try to avoid iteration of code during development because it's 10X the price at that point. You're able to plan budgets, quarters, quantify contributions, get people compensated fairly, make sure no one is ever working nights or weekends.

The worst slogs/most expensive projects I've ever worked on have had the least planning and most iteration during development. The best projects, where you felt you actually accomplished something every day, where you could see the light at the end of the tunnel because the whole thing was estimated and so far you're able to fairly accurately predict the accuracy of the estimates, have been far and away the most successful both in cost and client satisfaction.

That's my experience anyways.

All that just to say: If you're interested in the Software Development field and want the best chance at having an impact, changing people's lives for the better: Be a great Manager. And that's not necessarily the one the "cool" developers think you should be.


As a business systems analyst (Product Owner in agile terms) for a fotune 500 company, thank you for this comment. You uplifted my spirits.

Also, I agree with most of it, but I would argue that the best teams I've been on have at least one extremely competent developer, even if not necessarily a great one.

Why? Because I can articulate the product vision and goals working closely with that developer, and together we can make sure the other developers are developing as required.

In an ideal world developers would have all the domain and functional knowledge required to not need people like myself. But the truth of the matter is, that the higher up you go, the more specialized you become, the more you need to do only one or the other.

There are only so many hours in the day - you can either hone your skills as a developer or develop the expertise of keeping multiple business stakeholders happy while holding your own against developers and delivering in a consistent fashion.


I'd totally agree with that.

I still think your job is more important though and I'd rather work on a team with great management than great developers any day given an either or choice.


IME great developers and great managers are attracted to each other. The few times I've been on great teams (I'm a developer) when the top one or two devs left, the team fell apart. Same thing happened on other teams when the great PM left. The talented people with career mobility know when they're put in a bad spot and have the ability to get out.


I will soon be working as a PM at one of the big tech companies as my first job.

I've gotten the gist of these lessons from a software engineering class, HN articles, and from my internship (at the same company), but I'm still not very confident about becoming a great PM. Can you recommend any books or resources that covers more of this kind of stuff?


Personal thoughts - suggest you look into organizational skills. Learn to take great notes, and have a tenacious follow up and follow through.


Right on the money.

When your boss asks a question: Be able to answer it. If you can't, figure out how to answer it. Figure out what you need to track to be able to answer it in the future without being asked.

This is where Agility comes in. Not in throwing out Planning. But in being able to respond to Bad Planning by incrementally improving your process and understanding until you've got Good Planning.

You're not going to walk in the door on day one and toss out a plan that lines up actual to estimated hours at 93%. But with that tenacious follow up and follow through you can get there.

And it's not just for the boss. It's awesome as a Developer to know that I'm 50% done. That the requirements have been met for the 50% I've delivered so far and I won't be constantly going back and reworking code because someone didn't put in any effort ahead of time to think this damn thing through.

Rework is the death of budgets, team happiness, and will bring about the zombie apocalypse.

Also, meetings are an important, efficient way to dig through tough problems or keep stakeholders up to date and involved. If you feel like your meeting are wasting time, then maybe you're just not managing your meetings well enough. Or maybe it's because it's not all about you. Maybe it's a little bit about Bob the Developer transitioning off another project that just wrapped up and onto this one, or Trisha the Account Executive who has her weekly status update with the client tomorrow. Or discussing the great success or disappointing failure of spiking this new library.

I think of Development Team meetings like Pool Maintenance. Sure it'd be nice not to pay the Pool Guy to come out and check the water. If you could only pay him for "real work" that'd be great. But that's not reality. And if you're not daily spending 15 to 30 minutes testing the water with a: "What did you plan to do yesterday? What did you actually end up doing? What do you plan to do today?" then you're likely blowing a lot more than the 15-30 minutes * N Developers with people floundering, getting tunnel vision, people who need a helping hand, maybe just need a break, making sure Bob is aware of the utility classes Tammy just developed so he doesn't go off duplicating effort, etc.

It's about fostering communication. It doesn't happen by accident. If you find it's happening and effective without the meeting then by all means re-evaluate. But don't do that before you actually have the data to prove that. Because the risk is much greater than the cost.

And managing risk is what it's all about. You do that right, and your odds of success go up ten fold. That doesn't mean don't try anything new either. It means weigh your options. Timebox. Reinvest in your product and your team, but don't get so distracted you forget why you're here.


Former PM here. The Product & Project management jobs vary tremendously by company, and even within a company. Your best bet is to reach out to people who've had similar jobs in the same company and ask them for advice.

That said, I highly recommend The Innovator's Dilemma[0] and Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love[1]

[0]: http://www.amazon.com/The-Innovators-Dilemma-Technologies-Ma... [1]: http://www.amazon.com/Inspired-Create-Products-Customers-Lov...


If you mean PM as in Project Manager/Management, then please read this one for sure [0]

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mythical_Man-Month


And Peopleware is also a must read of course.


Scott Berkun [0] writes amazingly on this topic. Read his articles, read his books. I read "The Art of Project Management" [1] in 2005 and still go back to it.

Good luck!

0: http://scottberkun.com/ 1: Now called "MAKING THINGS HAPPEN: MASTERING PROJECT MANAGEMENT" http://scottberkun.com/books/#post-52


I'm pretty similar to the poster, and after majoring in poly sic, spending a few years in sales, have moved in project management with a side of product management. Trying to move more in product, which can sometimes get more technical, or more creative/design depending on the company/product. Great advice.


I am 28 years old, have no college degree... actually i didnt finish high school either ;)

Have been dabbling in design, development, seo, marketing and petty much anything web/business related since i was 20 years old.

I also felt that i was in between an average computer user and super technical genius and wondered how I could use my skills to move forward while there were so many highly technical people out there.

One day i decided to start aiming for higher responsibility positions that would force me to grow and adapt, i only did this because i knew that i was the type of person that picks up skills fast and sees the job through.

I went through a few positions as a developer/designer, content writer, marketing manager, SEO manager and finally after 6 years i stumbled into project management for a development/design company and now i truly feel that i am using all my past experience and varied talents, so the past feels like it was an investment of my time.

Our company is small, at around 50 people, with 45% of those people being developers and I am now learning skills related to PM and people skills like motivation, dealing with bad seeds and building relationships. I am able to use my technical skills to translate client requirements to our developers and designers and also able to consult with clients to provide solutions based on my past experience.

You'll need to simply put value in what you know right now and think to yourself, i've made it this far and am willing to go further, so..... where do i want to go? You may choose going more technical, getting a degree and becoming a full time developer, if thats what you see yourself doing then go for it, anybody can learn to code. But it seems that you have not went that far for a reason and so you should think hard about it before investing your time into something you dont want to do for a long time.

Good luck whatever you choose.

BTW, i make $80k+ a year and thats actually pretty low for my position.


You need to discover what is important to you.

You say that none of your jobs make you feel your passion, your joy. But you haven't decided what that is. You're looking for happiness, maybe you aren't sure what happiness is.

You say you have ideas and goals of starting a company. Why? What kind of company? Starting a (generic) company is not a very focused direction.

I think your issue is that you are afraid of choosing the wrong path. Like a Hollywood romance, you're expecting the right path to be self evident, and just feel perfect. This isn't going to happen.

My advice is to choose the wrong path. Walk down the wrong path, and while you're doing it, try to work out exactly why it's the wrong path. Make little corrections. It's going to be when you're walking down the wrong path that you learn what is right. When you learn, tend toward what feels right. Don't jump right on to another path, just correct a bit, because if you switch careers you'll lose that context and feel lost again.

In the worst case scenario you'll be in a career that you didn't enjoy to start with, but one you've learned to make the best of, and have earned a lot of experience in. In the best case scenario you will have discovered what you were looking for and learned how to get there.

Pick something that pays the bills, make the best of it, and try to figure out how you can make yourself a little bit happier there.


That's what I'm doing right now. I'm a QA Engineer working on embedded POS software on an 11-year-old Windows stack.

It's like a cocktail of things I don't care about. I'm making the best of it, but I feel like my brain is rotting.


I have been there... When I first started college (I'm 25 now) I knew a bit of coding, and done a lot of art related stuff, but I wouldn't consider myself excellent in either of those practices, so I felt every bit of a failure as you do. Eventually, I figured out that even though I wanted to do things related to art, and related to computers, I was not inclined to go through the path that would lead me to being excellent at either of those those thing. So what I did was force myself to go through it. I did it a day a time, always thinking, "tomorrow it'll be easier, tomorrow it'll be funner". And it eventually got easier and funner. My programming skills started to take off, and let me tell you. After a certain threshold, learning becomes fun, and exciting, and I found that I didn't have to force myself anymore. It seems to me that beginner materials do not really provide people with inspiration. You want to work hard enough until you're starting to touch upon advanced material- that stuff is exciting as hell. At the end of the day, I ended up pursuing computer science as my area of concentration, but it doesn't have to be the same for you. Just pick one: art, technology, business, or whatever, and go for it! Give your all. Don't be scared that you're making a bad decision. It's relatively cheap to make a change after really trying (You can even come back to the other path, and explore that), what is really expensive is keep trying to do things half heartedly. Now, take a deep breath, and in the words of Dory from Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming". :)


find something that you are willing to put your life into. something that uses as many of your talents as possible. it does not have to be the same thing all the time. for a few months or years it can be one thing, then it can be other things. You are a multi-disciplinary learner. You must make your own path. Be bold and Move Fast.

Go in the directions that interest you. The education and business systems are not designed around people like you. Get over it. Find challenging areas that suck you in and keep looking for the things that suck you and you will have a great time and it will all be worth it.

Stop comparing yourself to the specialists. Specialization leads to smaller and smaller gains. Generalization leads to larger and larger gains. But the generalist must work harder than a specialist to realize those gains (they are bigger gains right?)

Pursue the things that excite. it doesn't have to matter why they excite you. If you do that, you will do fine. Don't beat yourself up about it. You are not going to become a specialist... EVER. So go do the thing people cannot see because it requires you to approach it from so many different angles.

Make your own path. Believe in yourself. Be bold. Move fast. Have fun and play. Specialists do not get to play in so many areas. YOu do, so enjoy yourself.


I'm 29 and semi-technical. Hi :D Also, you're not fucked :D

I like that people encourage you to keep searching while nudging you technically and entrepreneurially. I think you get 3 things out of that:

1. Finding your passion, or at least talent, is hugely helpful. At 25 I went to grad school, found out I'm good at statistics, and that led me into a satisfying career in analytics. School may not be for you, but what's another way for you to discover hidden talents? MOOCs? Volunteering? Being a very chatty barista? Can you do something unconventional (a "hack") to rapidly examine your own talents? Have you taken a Myers-Briggs or Strong Interest Inventory exam?

Another plus: finding talent means you can start a business that solves a significant market pain, as opposed to uploading filtered photos to Facebook or putting a confessional into a mobile app.

2. Building more technical skill never hurts, even if (like me) you won't reach the level of a CS major. For me it was a waste of time to apply to Valley analytics jobs that needed a CS major (for big data storage) and not an analyst (for analytical rigor). Still, the things I taught myself while prototyping have helped in unpredicted ways in my last two jobs. For example, I brought performance expertise to my existing frontend job just by getting them up and going with compiled assets and page caching - things that Rails peeps take for granted but a Wordpress shop wouldn't bother with. I would humbly recommend accepting that you won't be applying to HN Hiring jobs for engineers (remember competitive advantage from your IR econ classes?) but still knowing that you can boost a career with more technical knowledge.

3. I strongly agree with the advice in other comments that you don't have to build a consumer or enterprise app to be successful. Did working at the Apple Store make you happy? Do it again. There are plenty of business-y positions that do bridge disciplines, like the oft-suggested PM jobs, sales / account management, and support. The price you pay is being in the world of business. In my experience, the quality of those experiences varies more with the company than it does on the work. Boring-ass Excel number crunching in the games industry was amazing when compared to hundred-million-dollar analytics for a megacorp. I abhor phone sales, but you bet I'll do it if it's for my hypothetical family business.

Lastly, don't let HN get to you. This place is the water cooler for hackers, engineers, programmers, etc. While this place is a great learning resource, it's not your water cooler. Yours is elsewhere, and that's OK.


> Lastly, don't let HN get to you. This place is the water cooler for hackers, engineers, programmers, etc. While this place is a great learning resource, it's not your water cooler. Yours is elsewhere, and that's OK.

I'm in the same place as the OP and the thing is - I need the chatter and virtual water cooler, to make up for working alone in isolation. Is there another forum/site geared for PM's and these mixed-skill people? Be great if anyone knows of one as HN is getting to me :)


If you're serious about starting your own company, then technical skills shouldn't matter.

There is a common misconception that "startup" == "software business". You can build multi-billion dollar companies that aren't primarily reliant on software (think Starbucks!).

I do think that passion and excellence are important. So try and focus on the thing you're great at (hint: it's probably what you enjoy doing most). So if you like talking to people and helping them solve their tech problems, maybe that's where you should start.

I have a friend who's in his mid-thirties and had spent more than a decade trying to be a "hardcore code". Recently he decided to focus on what he likes most - which is talking to people. He's now got a great business going selling other people's software and making good recurring revenue. Most important: he's having the time of his life.

So don't focus too much on code or being technical. You can go far on something like enjoying talking to people and solving their problems. If you want more help I can tell you about my friend's business (he seems to have been in a similar position to you) - drop me a mail malanj_at_gmail.com


Did Starbucks get VC funding?


Yes they did. If not from a "VC" there were plenty of investors and funds that the CEO pitched to. But they already had stores by then (originally started as boutique coffee roasters).


I'm in almost the exact same position. I've considered myself decent in front-end design and development but have had a strong desire to become more technical and proficient in programming and backend technologies so I could be a "one man shop" and prototype larger ideas. It's a tricky situation.

I ended up co-founding a company and we received grant money which enabled us us to bring on a CTO. I've learned a ton working side by side with him but still can't deploy a rails app easily on my own.

I would say you have two options. 1. Push through and spend some serious time teaching yourself what you need to. Take advantages of all of the resources easily available online and connect with friends who have experience in CS and are willing to help you through your problems or 2. Try to find someone who is technical but in the opposite position as you. They lack design and/or marketing/sales skills. Do NOT try to get them to work for you but instead work together so you can leverage each others strengths and improve each others weaknesses.

Good luck!


It seems like you have a knack for the creative side too, it's not really that bad considering that you can always merge both technical and creative. I'm in the same situation as you so I can kind of relate. It's hard to try building a technological start-up especially when you are not that adept. There are three things you should work on which is your creativity, networking, and convincing power. First, you need to empower your creative side because it is only that side of you that can really come up with great ideas. And you thinking about creating things that can solve problems, you've already made the first step into creating something that's truly great. Think outside the box, I always say. Second, it doesn't matter if you don't really know how to start it, everything's uncertain at this point. That's why you have to network and find the people who can help you in the parts where you're weak at. You need to find people who can really help build your ideas because an idea no matter how great cannot be built by just one man, no matter how smart you are. Focus on your strengths, right now everything is uncertain. Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle, the more pieces you put in, the clearer the picture gets. It's like that in starting a business, the more people you work with the clearer it gets. Third, work on your communication skills. No matter who you are, whether you're trying to build the next generation computer like Steve Jobs or trying to create an artistic masterpiece like Andy Warhol, you need to be able to convince people that what you're trying to create is the next big thing. You're gonna get a lot of rejections, that's a fact of life. But you're rejections will test you to see how badly you really want to create technologies that can impact the world in a good way. Howard Schultz, the Starbucks king finally managed to get funding from the banks on his 224th proposal. This is just a suggestion though, you don't have to take it.


To me, the key phrase is

"My favorite job was probably the year I worked at Apple retail in college, because I got to explain technology to people and change their lives in some small way."

I moved from programming to techsupport and ended up in marketing exactly because I liked helping people troubleshoot and/or make the most of our product, and now I like telling them a product exists that solves their problem. I feel great reading customers' emails with praise of our product, even though I have not written a single line of its code. (Full disclosure: I either wrote or edited most of the documentation.) I also do a bit of programming every now and then, either for our Web site or to automate my or colleague's work.

So can you think of some other job where you would change people's lives while still doing some programming? Maybe for some non-profit/charity? There are quite a few startups in this area too these days, like Watsi.


I was in the same boat a few years ago at about the same age. I doubled down, wrote a lot of code, got a junior level dev job. I read books at night (I recommend SICP & Coders at Work above all else). I watched a ton of screencasts. I also recommend the Peepcode (now owned by Pluralsight) play-by-plays because they show you how experienced devs think and work. Doing this I've been able to write code with & consult for CS & engineering grads and not look remotely out of place.

Putting in the time really matters, don't think of being technical as a skill someone is born with. It's really about an intimate knowledge of the technology and no one is born with an intimate knowledge of technology. You also need good judgement and hopefully your social science education taught you that. Don't underestimate the value of what you are already good at. Keep at it.


My parents made a lot of financial mistakes and lost everything when I was 19. I joined the military to support myself and to save some money for college. I never did get to attend college, but I managed to attend and graduate from a certification program aimed on graphic & web design. I've been a front-end developer for the last 7 years.

I'll be honest, it hasn't been easy - I studied my ass off to learn what I know now and I've always had to prove myself from skeptical employers from my lack of a college degree. Still, I get excited internal recruiters calling me only to back off once they learn of my education history.

But the opportunity is there, You just need to know EXACTLY what you want to do. Once you figure that out, then your age becomes irrelevant.

One last thing - job will always suck, that's why you have hobbies. Don't look for the perfect job, just do the job perfectly.


You have started a great discussion. I started as a software developer/analyst for IBM and then moved into developing and supporting financial systems for one of the largest banks in the world. I was never totally technical - wanted to know the larger picture and "chunk up" the issues/problems and it worked to my benefit. In my last role, I was doing exactly what you mentioned - bridging the gap between the in silo technical staff and the business. Metrics and Process improvement play a massive role - especially for companies which are relatively in the early stages of their maturity (< 10 years since inception)

Having said that, knowing how to write code gives you the ability to estimate your developers work and plan your workload/deadlines. Developers will feel connected as well knowing that you will understand their issues, joys.


I recommend the empirical approach to answering this question. The advent of modern web technologies and development techniques --- HTML5, CSS3, and Jquery, along with Jade, LESS and CoffeeScript -- means that you can create anything from a glorified Word document all the way to a seriously performant and important app. You will eventually find out exactly how technical you are by finding out how much time you spend creating 'content' (hereinafter, nontechnical content; writing, etc.) versus code.

I have lived on both sides of the tech/humanities divide, at various times in my life, and have swung like a pendulum between code and art, and there is beauty in value in all of it. The important thing is to stop asking questions that set up false dichotomies that, like a chalk circle around a chicken, limit you with an idea.


While it is difficult to find a specific title for these jobs, there is a lot of room out there for competent people with technical knowledge that can speak with humans. These people typically succeed in a role that requires managing a client relationship while also asking questions about what they really need from software to help their business. If you are part of a larger team that will be a solid chunk of your job, if a small team, you can also build what they need and learn more about development.

I would recommend taking a look at a mid to large consulting firm that does strategy work AND software development because most of the work you might enjoy typically shows up between those two areas. Make sure you tell them you want to be client facing if you like the people interaction. Good luck. Don't stress too much.


Well you don't necessarily have to be a great engineer to start a great startup. In fact, if you're running a startup, and you're the best engineer there, you've done something wrong. So if you're thinking of going down that route you don't have to be worried about the fact you can't write the best code in the world.

However, I'm not sure what you mean by "semi" technical. To me that would be someone who is a decently skilled programmer and could hack together an app without it being really well written code. You say you couldn't write more than a single-page application, and if that is really the cap of your abilities (and it's almost certainly not, you just need to spend time learning) then I wouldn't quite qualify that as semi-technical.


What would you call it?

I guess I'm technical... but I'm friends with very technical people, so I feel at a loss. The jobs I'm applying for (and getting rejected from) are at world-class companies and startups. I don't want to set my sights lower, but maybe I need a slightly different angle of trajectory.


OP:

I am 20. I cold call businesses, I wait outside large corporations, just to have the opportunity to buy people coffee/talk to them. I did this a bit and got a few leads. I now have 4 clients, each on a 25k+ mobile app dev contract, and I'm managing it all while working full time.

It's not over, you just have to hustle. Know what you want to do, and do it. I know I was born to run my own company, so I do absolutely everything in my power to direct my spare time that way. My phone is ringing 4pm - 12 every day. I have meetings, all day.

Look into project management. I used to do freelance for $40/hr. Now I have devs working for me full time, and I basically make an additional 20/hr while working full time for not really doing anything.


> I also enjoy music, acting, singing...

Well, it's not exactly along those lines, but I always thought a good business to start would be a screencasting service. Lots of companies need demo videos, and few people I know like to create them.


If you're not going to get jobs based on your technical skills, I'd seriously consider going back to school to get a degree. Most of the organizations who will hire non-technical product/project managers are still 'credentialist' and will want a degree, or at least lacking a degree will be a serious impediment.

Sales or consulting would be another option. For consulting you usually need some specific experience or skills, but that can be a very focused scope, so e.g. "expert in preparing documentation for FISMA audits" is actually a thing, and pretty non-technical, and easy to learn.


"My favorite job was probably the year I worked at Apple retail in college, because I got to explain technology to people and change their lives in some small way"

This advice may be too specific but I'd encourage you to look into working in support at Rackspace. You seem like a good fit and it's not a typical support job. The company really values the support Rackers (the company's mission is to be one of the world's leading support organizations).

There is also a good career path, which usually leads to support team management, devops or software development.

If you want more information, feel free to ping me.


I'm with you there.

I got enough knowledge to be considered a techie, but I don't have a passion for programming (although I enjoy the challenge), it's a mean to an end to me.

I feel a bit overwhelmed when people start getting hyped over stuff such as stating typing vs dynamic // how cool Haskell is and the whole shebang.

I'm in a position which sits in between, half peoples skill - half technical.

The issue is that I'm working (not for long anymore, I'll be free in a few days) for an outsourcing group and it sucks to get stuck.

I'm gonna try to get back in the game and see how it goes from there.


I've been where you are...I'm now in my mid-30's. I remember listening to a Tony Robbins tape that talked about asking yourself the right questions and how it shaped our future. For example, if you say to yourself "Why should I do X because after all (insert something negative here)". Instead, what if you were to say "How do I do X and have fun doing it?" What this does is change your personal tone from one of despair to one of hope. Hope is the key. Find your source for hope and you will no longer feel fucked.


Here are a few unordered suggestions:

1. take a few Coursera technical classes a year to slowly build some technical chops - you learn some things in classes that you won't so easily learn working on projects

2. be flexible on the types of jobs you accept over the next few years

3. at any job, understand who your bosses are and try very hard to do things to make their lives easier

4. network and talk with people in your network and your bosses about what you want to do long term and seek advice. most people like to help people so let them satisfy that need by helping you!


Honestly, I know many highly technical people who are also great at thinking about the bigger picture, so I don't know if the gap you mention exists in general.

Becoming good at anything is mostly a function of focused learning and experience. There's no limit on the things you can apply yourself to, and your life is long and mostly ahead of you.

If you're interested in software, why not spend two years becoming a competent developer? What do you have to lose?


> What do you have to lose?

Two years.


Two years to gain an important skill for someone interested in technology sounds like a good deal.


I'm another one of those with a divided mind. For example, I applied to grad school in both English literature programs and Computer Science programs, and seriously considered offers from both.

I chose the literature path. . . .for two years. Ever since then, I've been a programmer. I started at 25, your age. It was a difficult ramp-up, partly because I was way behind most of my peers in the number of hours I had put into the programming profession (I'd been spending those hours reading Moby Dick and Ulysses.) That gap lasted for years.

Something that still persists is that I have a humanities mindset -- I commonly see things in aesthetic terms first, where most other engineers see in analytic terms. This can be something of a handicap in software engineering, sometimes. Other times, it can be exactly what is needed. Clarity of purpose, taste, an ability to see things from the non-technical point of view -- organizations need these things. See Steve Jobs clips on how Microsoft lacks taste, and Apple has it. I will take heat for saying this, but it's actually a substantive claim. The last decade has borne him out.

I'm now 38. I paid dues and things have gone well -- no jackpot here, but I feel lucky in this profession. My code is elegant and minimal; I write good comments. I'm not a systems guru or a C hacker; other people can do that better.

I think I'll probably be a founder or a CTO when right opportunity presents itself. And I think my multi-valent background will only increase in value over time.

But at the outset, the technical chops were my ticket. I sat at my keyboard and made wealth. (Immediately read this Paul Graham piece, if you haven't: http://www.paulgraham.com/wealth.html). As an English professor (or marketer, or QA person), I wouldn't have had the ability to reach out and touch the nerve of wealth creation. After a couple years of grinding out some skills as a programmer, I did. Now I'm in a position of (modest) power and esteem that I can parlay into other things for the rest of my career.

Also: it's hard to see this at 25, but you can expect to end up writing off most of your twenties. So don't take it THAT seriously. Go out a lot, travel a lot, and try to have fun before the real work starts: raising small children.


Find a job as a BA (Business Analyst) and start by documenting requirements. Not necessarily requirements for code, it can also be system design requirements. See how well your likes/skills translate.

...btw your "joy" is probably a lie that society has told you. Work is enjoyable to a certain extent but it is like love in a marriage...it has it's ups and downs. Don't expect everyday to be heaven.


I'll echo comments herein suggesting project management. If you're in QA, a good next step would be to get into your company's project management or program management group. So you'll make more money and get experience getting other people to get things done. Both of which will help when you decide to do your own thing.


That's not really an option here. My next best possible step would be our dev team, which would be doing C# and SQL stuff on a Windows stack. It would be more money, and I'd learn some stuff, but it's not exactly my highest calling.


What's up, fellow Georgia Tech dropout! I "dropped out" in 2009, and was then readmitted part time. If you did want to finish your degree, that might be the best way. As a part time student, you only have a few things to keep track of at once, and you can work at the same time.


I've actually been thinking about doing that. And yeah, 2009 was my year to leave as well. It was mostly a combination of personal factors (parents divorce etc...)

I'd like to go back, but feel daunted, and lack the capitol to do it without debt.


You're only 25, no need to feel fucked - you have plenty of years ahead of you!

It sounds like you enjoy working with/around less technical people, and helping them out in the tech jungle. Have you thought about setting up some form of support shop that targets this audience?


Yes. Over the years I have consulted independently and worked full time for two years as an Apple Authorized Consultant (ACN). I really enjoyed the work, but I didn't make enough money, and I felt a yearning in my heart to shift my focus to product rather than services.

I want to be involved in the making of things, but my core competency lies in the translation, explanation, and education around those things. So, my natural trend has been toward support / sales / consulting roles... but I'd really prefer to do those things at a product company where I have a more solid backbone I believe in than just jumping from problem to problem (I wouldn't do well at an agency).

The things I care about are open education, freedom of the internet and economy, and making the world more beautiful through obsessive product design (physical or software). I just want to work on something I care about.


>I'm 25 and I feel fucked. Has anyone else been in this situation, and what did you do to get out? Did you go more technical or less technical over time? I feel torn between what feel like different paths, and wish I could integrate both sides into my work.

Going from healthcare to arts to programming has been a long, wasteful road. Going 'more technical' is very hard when it comes to programming because:

1) Businesses seem to be more suspect of autodidacts when hiring (my scope here is from mom-and-pops to big corporations to YC startups)

2) There is simply a lot of material to cover.

3) No one can tell you when you're really ready. You just sort of convince someone that you are, they take the risk, and you use google on the inside. There is no checklist that everyone has agreed to that says "You're ready to be a developer! Here's your $50k salary. Welcome to the middle class!" This annoys me greatly, because in healthcare, you have state licenses that more-or-less guarantee you a job. The field will eventually need this if we want to continue calling ourselves engineers in good faith, although I hope it is possible to take it without a degree.

4) Motivation for building your own projects is very similar to building a business. It is very hard to force this motivation upon yourself. Compounding the issue, projects are how autodidact programmers convince others that they are competent in some way. Some people luckily have a reward loop built into their heads that makes this motivation appear easy to acquire.

The goal here is still clear: In lieu of a degree, make projects to get a job.

On the other hand, you cannot break into patient care by self-teaching yourself. A degree is required. Although it's hard for autodidacts in programming, it is still possible at least.

Although I have some modicum of technical ability, I'd still find it harder to move into project management from where I am right now only because I do not already have my foot in the door like you do. I've also put a decent chunk of time and effort, and I'd feel like I was abandoning that effort. I've already abandoned the non-significant effort of getting into Nursing school, so I plainly know what that feels like.

If I were in your shoes, I would leverage the connections that your current job has. Your livelihood seems secure, so I do not think you are 'fucked', but simply lacking a direction for your passions. You still have the ability to change your course.


My current job has no real connections to the avenues I'd want to pursue. I have a pretty strong network outside of work though, that I can leverage, but I first must decide what I want to do next. It's a big world out there.

And yes, it's absolutely about the fact that I'm not fulfilling my passions. It eats at me.


I almost did a double take because this post could have easily been me right down to the health care / arts / programming bit.


To those here who recommend this poster go into product management---- I'm in the exact position as he is, and I'm wondering what I have to do to convince companies that I'm worthy of managing designers and developers.


A lot of people here say you should do PM. Why not learn how to program better, so that you can do more then just single-page application?

Lets be honest, if you can't build it, you can't build it.


I try to learn a little every day. I've been watching screencasts on database design lately, and soaking up everything I can get from MOOCs.

http://www.codecademy.com/samelawrence

http://teamtreehouse.com/samelawrence


Semi-technical for you is plenty technical to someone else, and it's interesting that your favorite job at Apple retail involved explaining technology.


Finally!!! I thread that I feel that most competent at answering!

My background is highly similar to yours. I started life as a Mechanical Engineering student and quickly grew to dislike the degree. I discovered that I did enjoy running projects and my school offered a degree in Engineering Management. It's one of the few schools that has that degree AND is an ABET accredited program, its mostly a manufacturing based degree, my specialty was Industrial Engineering.

I digress...

My initial job out of school was operations for tin rolling mill, I quit before my first day. I switched to aerospace avionics/comms. I guess I was really lucky in the fact that my department was really meant for gray beard engineers, and I did do a lot of grunt work. I was, and still am, a hybrid part business and part engineer. I've since moved through a couple of different positions but I've landed at a web agency as a technical project manager. In the beginning it was a lot a harder to find positions. Why? Not many companies are interested in Junior Project Managers. Despite the belief, being a good project manager isn't easy and requires experience that's not easily gained by hacking at some software in your undies (that's my weekend hobby). Particularly dealing with clients, there's no substitute for experience.

I'm a bit older than you, and I know that you feel fucked at 25, I did too. Ever job posting wants more experience than you have. Do the very best you can now to pick up those key responsibilities and accomplishments of a project manager. Make sure you resume resonates the level of responsibility. I ran a $300k project 2 yrs out of school, which was a lot of money for my company. I made sure that was on my resume.

I'm currently looking to relocate to the Austin, TX area and for the first time, I'm telling companies that I'm not interested in them. Here's why I'm now successful:

1. In small companies devs & design tend to dislike PMs, there's a lot of bad ones out there, and a lot that have no clue. I'm pretty good with Linux and I can write some basic Django & Python scripts, but I've also managed some very nasty clients. 2. It's experience, I run about 4-5 projects at at time now. 3. Just stick with it.

To give you an idea, I'm approaching about 6 yrs of work experience now. It's been an uphill battle but nothing easy is worth having.

My suggestion to you is look for opportunities to grow your BA & PM skills, while your technical skills are important as well the focus for you should be the former. The technical skills are easier to pick up on your own.


By the way, nice pic you shared.


Follow what makes you happier.


I know how you feel because my career path looks kind of like yours. In fact, there's almost a 99% overlap. I have had careers in tech, sales, event marketing and acting (SAG eligible). I helped 2 early stage startups grow from the ground level and worked with another half dozen. I've done everything except start a company myself, raise money, and build a team (more on this later).

Your interests seem random, but they are not. Look at Steve Job's background: he built and sold computer parts, studied calligraphy, was into zen. They are prerequisites, a foundation to which he can draw upon in creating innovation. And he combined his unique background and turned it into products. This is the Generalist's greatest asset. We must use it to be happy, because we are the sum of all our skills.

People are either inclined towards diverse, broad interests/skills (which doesn't mean they are a dilettante), or they prefer to work within a specific domain. Specialists usually end up becoming the best at their field if they are motivated and passionate about it (100/100). There's lots of interesting fields and subfields, so this keeps them happy. Generalists are a different animal. They have the potential to be great (as in 80-90% out of 100 in a given skill) at everything they do, but cannot be the best at any of them. Not because they don't want to, but because their heart is into many things; there's more to life than just acting, just technology etc. I think this is the fundamental dilemma of generalists. In a society that focuses on roles and titles, a generalist has no recognized role or title. Generalists do not fit into a mold; eg., engineer, doctor, dancer, salesman. However, they have the potential to create new paradigms and transform entire industries. It is only through combining skillsets that a generalist can find solace. This is what the world needs at this stage.

It sounds like you are a generalist. My advice to all generalists is this: Become bonafide Polymaths. Cultivate your skills to the greatest, until they don't make sense to continue anymore. Strive to become Da Vinci in your own right. The one and ultimate title to a true generalist would be 'Leonardo'. Hearing that from someone I respect more is like music to my ears that no other compliment or accomplishment can match. Then when you are ready, combine all of your skills. You will know when you are ready and your skills will all come back to serve you and help you with whatever you are building. You might have to independently manage your own business or start a company to be truly satisfied, but you will see opportunities and problems that others overlook.

As for me, I've started my educational tech company. I feel as if I'm secretly living in the 1980s and I'm holding the first personal computer. This is how exciting and revolutionary it is. The starting up phase for generalists is easiest. I can do that in 20% of the time where it takes others 80%. The recruiting is challenging as a solo-founder because it takes an open-minded person to see the vision of something that does not exist yet. But, we have to trust that the path will make sense down the road. Just keep doing what you are interested in, follow your intuition, and see where it leads you. Good luck!


Part of me also wants to tell you to "get over it" cause you're 25. But today I feel for you. I'm 25 as well and felt like I was in your situation 3 years ago. I was about to graduate with a degree in Management Science and realized that the only jobs set up for me were in finance/consulting/"analysis" (whatever that means). And then I took an entrepreneurship class and saw how much power technical people have. Each group that stood up to present its idea said "we just need a technical cofounder to implement it." So I said, alright, I never want to be in that situation, so I'm going to go technical.

I spent two years in the workforce doing part time school until I was ready to apply to grad school in CS, and now I'm here, about to wrap up my first quarter. I have a few tidbits to offer and hopefully they'll help.

1. I didn't decide to go technical because it was my passion. I decided because it would give me leverage and would keep me independent. I hate the idea of relying on someone to implement my stuff. Hate it. Those are fairly superficial reasons, but I've gotten lucky. I now LOVE this shit. I can get enough of it. I NEVER thought I'd be a systems guy, and now I'm planning on taking Operation Systems classes (known to kill you here) and looking forward to it. Yes I got lucky, but there's a takeaway here: I made a choice and moved forward with a plan based on something that seemed reasonable to me. That's really the best you can ever do. Go with your gut, keep trying stuff out enough to give it a chance and you too might get lucky.

2. During my time in industry, I did jobs that I didn't love. I did them for different reasons. First job: Google Data Analyst (bullshit title, bullshit job). What did it get me? It was an easy intro into the workforce (did not foresee) and it paid for part-time school (foresaw). Once I knew I had my fill at Google, I went to a smaller company through a friend where I got huge exposure to leadership and the ugliness behind business (foresaw) and was introduced to one of the most influential mentors in my life (did not foresee) and now understand many important lessons on recruiting talent, leading teams, dealing with crazy work drama, and much more than I ever expected. I plan to take all those lessons with me onward and hopefully play a very huge role in starting something from scratch.

Two takeaways: a. Make moves that guarantee you something. When I went to Google, I went strictly for the continuing education they'd pay for, since I knew I wanted to get back to school and needed to take classes to prove myself before I applied. I got more out of it than I expected, but I knew I'd at least get part-time school paid for. b. Talk to people you know and make sure they know what you can do. You up your chances of cool opportunities coming your way. Not guaranteed, but it might surprise you.

3. This is just a straight-up takeaway. I've always felt good at almost anything I do, not great, but good, which is really lucky (thought as you feel it can seem like a curse). I tend to be interested in a lot of things (much like you: music, acting (I did improv), literature, econ, design, CS, etc) and do decently pretty quickly at all of them. So how to choose? Time bails you out on this one. Choosing something now is not choosing it forever. But you really have to give it a chance. The probelm I ran into in college was while I was taking one class, all I could think was "oh man, that other class in that other field sounds SO COOL." But the reality was, if I had been in that class, I'd think the same int he other direction. What that meant is I never gave anything a true shot. By going to grad school, I'm taking a different apporach. I'm allowing myself to obsess over something. And not worry that maybe I'm missing out on something else. Because if it turns out I am, I'll switch to it in time. It's hard to do, it takes practice, and the easiest way I've found is to force it on yourself (hence, grad school. I can't do anything but CS these days). Whether you decide you love this thing you force on yourself or not, obsessing over it for a short period of time let's you determine whether you love it or not. If you don't, get rid of it from your life. If you do, you'll make progress in developing that skill and then can slowly carve out time for other things but you'll have something solid under your belt and you'll know that you want to keep it.

4. Piece of advice, and don't let me overstep my bounds here. I'm going out on a limb from your short question. If this sounds silly, ignore it.

Many pieces of your question sound passive. "I've had jobs..none have thrilled me". "Georgia Tech pushed me to specialize..." "A lack of funds keeps me from getting help on my ideas". Literally the terminology you use is passive. And to me, it hints that you're waiting for something to happen to you. For the perfect job to find you. For the perfect career to develop in front of you for you to walk down. If this sounds true, then this is the first thing you should change. Most people that I know that are happy have made themselves happy. They've taken their circumstances and are build things given their confinements. Limitations inspire creativity. Use yours as inspiration. You don't need money to get people to help you build stuff. You don't need a specific degree to do anything. And your job description is rarely your job. Remember that everything in the world is made up. Literally everything. There are no rules that you have to follow, it just seems like that a lot of times. Most of the time, the rules are really just "the easy way." Take some time to really think about these things that seem to hold you back and see if you can come up with a workaround. If you come up with one, however hard it is, start working towards it. I guarantee you, you'll discover that it is easier than you feared.

Hope that helps.


to the commentors who've said "you're only 25. stop feeling that way": you have forgotten what it's like to be 25 and feel 25. i think your intention is to uplift and inject perspective, but you sound uncaring and distant to me. i recommend against saying this kind of blithe bullshit. people don't like hearing it. you don't like hearing someone say that to you.

i am 25. i teach in the humanities, but i'm not interested in a degree there. i love acting. i used to act. i'm currently:

soldering an IBM model F keyboard to a USB board so i can daily-drive it.

lusting for a lisp machine.

ordering an FPGA so i can write my own lisp machine.

reading psych books on the off-chance that i become a therapist.

inhaling everything Alan Kay that i can find.

leading communication workshops so people can communicate more how they want and less how they don't.

i see connections and a narrative among these projects (uhh sometimes) but i can't explain it to anyone else for shit. i really suck at it. it gets me down because i think people misperceive me as aimless. i'm not aimless.

this blog post spoke to me: http://sebastianmarshall.com/fundamentals-and-novelty-seekin...

i'm constantly looking for distractive life-hacks (cheat codes). i should be working on my fundamentals. i subconsiously believe that all my weirdo historical hobbies will come together to make me cool/money/content/dunno. those are weirdo hobbies and self-improvement/help tricks, though. i have one fundamental right now:

learning clojure.

it's a fundamental because it's more difficult than the others. this will be the first programming language i really learn. all that other shit (BASIC c++ java bash elisp c assembly python vimscript) was forced on me or learned as a hobby or learned so i could do something else. because I Am Learning Clojure to be a Professional Programmer, when i'm programming in it i'm thinking "i'm doing the right thing" and "i wish i was learning verilog/freudian psych/arduino C/[hobby thing]"

because there's nothing at stake when i learn a stupid hobby, but there's everything at stake when i'm learning the thing that'll eventually pay the bills. my advice is: recognize what you're bad at that you want to change, do the embarrassingly hard work to change it. could be programming, could be anything else. i feel for you.

i started talking about you, and i ended up outlining my problem. hope this helps. if you're in my city, hit me up.


What's your city? I'm in Atlanta.




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