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Ask HN: How do you earn your money?
214 points by Dale1 on Mar 22, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 148 comments
I'm currently a student and wonder how developers tend to earn their money? Do you work for someone as an employee or have you got your own company? Or is it a mixture of both throughout your careers?

I do work part time as a developer in a start up and can't help feeling i'm building a dream for someone else. Not that the experience isn't really good, (It definitely is and I learn more in work than in uni!) but i can't help feeling that the current university paradigm of work hard, good grades, get a job seems to be bit of a misnomer unless you're happy building things to make others wealthy whilst you earn £30,000 a year?

Unless i'm missing something important, I am young and naive after all!

This is a subjective question. I just want to get a few thoughts especially from you old timers who want to tell a youngster some home truths! :)




"...can't help feeling i'm building a dream for someone else."

The reason so many people are content with being employees, rather than striking it out on their own, has to do (at least in part) with their risk tolerance.

If you want a stable, steady income, and you don't want to put a lot of your own money at risk, then you might find that being an employee is the way to go. Yes, other people (investors in the company) are making money off of your labor, but that's because they're willing to risk their investment.

That's not to say that it's impossible for employees to build a dream for themselves, rather than someone else. In companies that are organized as worker cooperatives, the employees (rather than outside investors) own the company. You might want to look around and see if any places around you are organized this way ... or look into starting your own co-op.

Edit, to actually answer your question: I have a day job as a software developer, which gives me a steady paycheck and good benefits. I'm also an author of two books (see my profile for the titles), and that's produced a very nice supplementary income.


Risk aversion should not be an issue in your twenties. Packing a crew of developers into a house or apartment cant be any worse than living in a dorm. Even in your thirties failures can be managed with the help of a supportive spouse (whatever the flavor of the relationship).

I am a textbook case of a guy ho did not manage his entrepreneurial career properly. Like a lot of HNers I am basically introverted. Even worse I grew up in a culture, rural Maine, here you did not ask for help; you did it yourself. I had other advantages: degree from a top flight school and college friends that were or became wealthy. But I didnt take advantage of all this, I kept trying to do it all myself. I started several companies which were ultimately unsuccessful. Between startups I supported myself by consulting with a good 6 figure income. Finally in my 60s I became less risk intolerant. My partner got some kind of autoimmune disease which meant I needed good health insurance and a steady income. The downside is that the startup adventures and a divorce left me with no savings or investments at all.

So my advice is to cultivate your circle of friends and serious acquaintances. Learn to present yourself and your ideas effectively. I think a first time, straight out of college personal startup is a real crap shoot, but at the same failure costs nothing. The advantage of being an employee is that you learn what a real company is like. A relatively new company with fewer than 100 employees should show you what a post-startup company looks like yet give you personal flexibility. You will learn about such things as sexual harassment policies, hiring, corporate culture, that can be very expensive to learn by trial and error.

If you are looking for a startup, one lead by people with previous startup experience, successful or not, can be a good bet. Your share ill be smaller, but your chances of success will be larger.

If you have been admitted to a graduate program at Stanford, go for it.


> Risk aversion should not be an issue in your twenties.

That's a difficult expectation to meet when you're $50,000 in student debt though.


So you work a few years and pay it off, then you can worry about other things. Money and debt management is also an important lesson to learn young.


That is why student debt is so insidious.


    > The reason so many people are content with being employees,
    > rather than striking it out on their own, has to do (at least in
    > part) with their risk tolerance.
I'm a happy employee, and for me the reason I'm not founding my own startup isn't a matter of personal risk at all.

It's that now pretty much all day I can do what I like doing (programming) and come home at the end of the day and wind down from work.

If you're starting your own company you have to worry about everything involved in that tiny company from acquiring clients to managing staff to building the product, if that's something you want that's fine, but it's not something I'm particularly interested in.

I also very much enjoy working on programming problems at the scale you can only find in bigger companies, if I were to start my own company now and it grew like crazy at best I could get back to the level of problems I solve at work now in 10 years or so.


The reason so many people are content with being employees, rather than striking it out on their own, has to do (at least in part) with their risk tolerance.

See, I run my own business (and was self employed for perhaps 10 years before that) and I've turned down acquisition offers on the basis that without having "FU" money, having a full time job is as risky as it gets. One source of income, other people get the control over firing you, no guarantees of landing another job within a certain time frame.. that sounds risky to me. (Not that I disagree for people in general, but it's all relative to what you're used to, I guess.)


A qualified developer with basic social skills and hygiene habits should have no fear of a full time job's lack of control. Yes, we go through minor hiccups in the hiring market every decade or so, but even in those, all of my friends who were actually good had no issues if they wanted to move jobs.

Get good at development, if that's your thing. It will help you whether you do a startup or work for someone else. (It's also a lot more fun, IMO.)


Which is precisely why this entire "risk" thing is being blown out of proportion. At any time if you fail you can go get a job with ease.


I'm doing that - took a job straight out for 1.5 years, did a startup - didnt work out. Now, going back into workforce to save up some more $$ (for the next one :) )


Having done many different things I'm currently quite happy "building things to make others wealthy whilst (I) earn (bit more than) £30,000 a year". The reason I like it is because I'm surrounded by managers and other people who's job it is to run interference for me and make sure I can really focus as much as possible on what I find interesting and not be distracted by the necessities of trying to run a profitable company. All I have to do all day is hack and solve problems.


That's awesome to learn about worker co-ops. I was thinking about starting a software development or SAAS company where every person is a worker/owner, so it's good to know they already exist.

Here's what I'd love to do if I ever started my own company:

I start the company with 1 or 2 other software developers and designers. We would each own an equal number of shares. Any new team members would have to go through a relatively intense interview process, but when they joined, they would receive an equal number of shares, which means that our shares would be evenly diluted. And the next time we bring someone new on board, the decision would need to be unanimous.

Since we'd be giving away such a huge number of shares, they would vest over something like 7 years. But we would be giving them actual shares, instead of stock options that you have to exercise with your own cash. Also, keep in mind that that person would probably own more of the company after their first year, than most early employees own after 3. So yes, if we bring on someone new and our company was doing really well, we might be giving away millions of dollars in stock, and paying them massive bonuses in their first month. But why not? If we could pull it off, I think that would be an incredible way to structure a company.

And we'd start all of this without outside investment. Mailchimp and GitHub are two awesome examples of bootstrapped startups. But if it ever made sense for us to raise $100 million, then we'd go ahead and do that, knowing that every single person's shares would be diluted equally.

As soon as we start making enough money, we'd be able to pay everyone an equal base salary. We'd all agree on a budget for equipment, office space, hosting, altruism, and cash reserves, but the rest of the profits would be paid out as monthly bonuses.

We'd also dedicate a very large portion of our time and assets to altruistic causes from the very beginning. Eventually, our company would become a non-profit of sorts, where each of us re-invest our millions, and work on fixing everything that's wrong in the world.

I think that finding like-minded people will be pretty damn hard, but even if it's just ten of us, I think this would be an amazing way to build a company. I don't think this would be able to scale past 50 or 100, but who knows.

Anyway, thanks for listening to my rant :)


If you are serious about this idea, contact me. (Chris at efficito dot com). I would love to help start such a business.


What country?


I am in Indonesia at present but if nothing else can help with ideas and experience.

The businesses I own are currently all on a coop model. I think subject matter is likely to be a larger limitation though than location.


I think this is marvelous idea.


I've been in software development for 20 years now. Started to work as a student at a top consulting firm in my country, at the expense of dropping out of CS studies - real work (and earning good money) was so much more interesting than studying.

After that I switched a couple of regular jobs and enjoyed every single one of them: working on real-world problems (electronic banking, multimedia production) together with bunch of talented and all-around nice people.

My carrier was interrupted by unexpectedly getting stuck in remote mountains of east Tibet for almost two years. After returning home I felt professionally disoriented and took on a couple of terrible freelance gigs, working for a year like crazy and earning about 2 EUR per hour (in EU) because of feature creep on a fixed amount project.

Then I got to my senses and started a consulting firm doing mostly web development. Since childhood I dreamt of having a company of my own. When I got it, it was far from glamorous - trading time for money that barely paid for my rapidly growing expenses (marriage, mortgage, kid).

Software development is one of the rare professions where you can relatively easily create something that has a value on its own - scalable and not directly dependent on how much time you put into it.

Selling products instead of my time was my goal throughout this time. Now, seven years later, we (I run the company with my wife) are finally getting there [1] [2].

I made a lot of mistakes in these 20 years, but in general, if I could go back, I would not do it much differently. Mistakes are an important stepping stones on the path.

So, what I'm trying to say is this: you're young, do the things that excite you. There is nothing wrong in working for and with others. At any time, you can decide to try creating something on your own. At this stage in life you can probably take on more risk than later when/if you get a family. But no point in over-calculating things. As long as you breath and your heart beats you have the freedom to steer your life in any direction you choose.

[1] http://pinegrow.com [2] http://getbooklers.com


I find your story incredibly inspiring! What happened in Tibet ? Also, the fact that you and your wife run your business(es) together is something we have in common. Am going to drop you an email!


Would love to hear from you!


>My carrier was interrupted by unexpectedly getting stuck in remote mountains of east Tibet for almost two years.

If you dont mind me asking, what happened ?


Short version :)

Since I was deeply involved in Tibet issue I decided to visit Tibet and spend two months travelling there to see the situation with my own eyes.

By chance I came to a small village called Ashuk in Kham (east Tibet, located in Sichuan province). The first impression was not good - everything was just mud. Mud houses standing next to the muddy road. The only nice place with decent food was the house of a local Rinpoche. One day I was bored and I baked a simple cake. He tried it and said I should stay there.

I ended staying there for three months. Mud was just one face of the place. Sun, green grasslands and incredibly kind people the other one.

In the next village I met a young buddhist master who was working on establishing a home and school for orphans. Helping him gave me a real reason to stay longer. We ended up opening the school in 2006 and it is still going strong [1].

I published a book about it [2] in Slovenia and hopefully I'll manage to do the English translation this or next year.

[1] http://shechen-school.org/prva-stran/lang:en

[2] http://www.matjaztrontelj.si/vsebina


Do you realise that although you "lost 2-4 years of your career" you created a few dozen higher quality lives?

I think you have achieved a major life goal already that most in Silicon Valley do not. I don't know if HN is the place to praise such deeds, but you did your small part in hacking the world to make it better. Kudos to you, don't ever let it feel as a wasted effort. That's so wrong a way to think.

There are people who want to help others and their repeated attempts fail. You just went and did something that's working for 7 years.

That's a pretty successful startup in my book. It can't go viral for obvious reasons, but it's mature and stable. And you did it without HN :-)


Agree 100% with you. I never for a single moment regretted spending the time in Tibet. It was literally a life-changing experience.

A lot of times it is said that you should pursue your carrier while you're still young and without many responsibilities. But the same goes for creating something meaningful with your life, for exploring the world and widening your perspective on life. It is much easier done when you're young and it beneficially affects the rest of your life.


I second that emotion

Kudos


> My carrier was interrupted by unexpectedly getting stuck in remote mountains of east Tibet for almost two years. After returning home I felt professionally disoriented and took on a couple of terrible freelance gigs, working for a year like crazy and earning about 2 EUR per hour (in EU) because of feature creep on a fixed amount project.

Almost exactly my situation at the moment. Hoping to get to where you are!


I should have gotten out of that situation way sooner - because of misplaced sense of responsibility I kept trying to make it work for far too long.

Sometimes it is better to just cut your loses and let it go. Then find something better. Nothing is more important than your physical and mental health.


Any suggestions for a software development student? I'm generally still getting my feet wet, and struggling to keep myself busy with interesting things.


Try to work on some real projects (student job, startup, open source, app...) besides your studies. There is nothing more depressing from an employer's point of view than a CS graduate with no projects to show.

Start with small projects. It is very rewarding to finish something, even more so if you get people to actually use your work.

Also, software engineering is a very multi-faceted profession, that can involve much more besides programming:

- understanding business processes, regulatory needs, economics; - working closely with people as part of collecting user needs, customer support and team work; - education and psychology; - user experience and design; - ...

There is a lot of place and flexibility to find what interests you the most.


Thanks for the comment. Was exactly the kinda thing i was looking (Guys with exp and their thoughts)


how much is your biz making now? enough to support both of you?


Yes, with the launch of Pinegrow in January we finally reached a break-even point. Plus the sales are growing so there is no reason to stop here :)


After finishing my Master's degree, I had a couple of options (company offers, a startup idea plus co-founder, a four-year research position). I chose the research position, which cumulated in a PhD thesis. Afterwards, I worked for a company for six months in NLP and machine learning. Now I am in a research position again in a different university.

The pay check may not be as good as working in some companies, but working in academia provides a lot of freedom to try ideas, do it your favorite programming language, go to conferences, and visit far-away countries.

Academia is certainly not a good option for everyone, but it's certainly something you could consider.

That said, I don't exclude the possibility of going to industry again later.


Thanks for adding an academic perspective on what is mostly an industry-centric discussion :) I struggled myself with choosing work at a startup VS going for a PhD after my Masters, ended up taking the job. I love it but still think about going back to school every once in a while. I miss the whole experimental side of academia, having loose goals and being able to fail miserably without risking somebody else's investment.


I decided to build a career in academia after working as a technician for a college that afforded me the freedom to experiment with approaches to my work. Now I am an IT manager at a small state University. My boss allows me the latitude to approach projects with creative perspectives. This fall I also plan to begin teaching, and I am continuing my work towards a Master's degree. Lastly, I find the structure of academia to be such that my off time is clearly defined (at least in comparison to working for a company in private industry), and I am able to also pursue entrepreneurial ventures.


I compete with people who are willing to work for $1/hr, on freelance sites like oDesk - occasionally someone picks me so I earn few bucks to get by. If I try to charge more people usually accept workers who charge the same amount as me but are from more western countries.

Ideally I'd settle for some junior dev type of position with reasonable(read: low/acceptable) salary, but without college degree and living in Europe, but not EU (thus no work permits for those), there's small chance of that happening - I've tried and eventually gave up on that...

Oh and today I got sued by govt for failing to send in (literally) an empty paper for my previous company and I'll (most likely) have to pay an equivalent of one month american-level-salary fine. So I've got that going on in my life too, which isn't really the best situation you want to be in if you earn your money like I do...

I don't even know why I'm writing this, I don't have any tips or suggestions for you, and even if I had you can see from the above that I'm probably not the best person to give out advice. And I understand what you're saying but... things could be worse.

You at least have options: build dreams for yourself, or for others. There's nothing stopping you (as far as I can tell) from working on both your projects and/or for someone else.


can I ask you where you're from? There's plenty of work for good coders, you seem very delusional. Try to send some resume


Sorry, delusional about which part?

In my experience, people are more likely to hire US/UK based workers for higher paying jobs than for example Indians or people from countries. Does that happen always? No, of course not. I've had clients from a bunch of different countries. Hell, maybe I'm completely wrong - but that's how it seems to me. Maybe it's just me. I'm not excellent programmer, nor do I claim to be, maybe that's it.

As far as the part about finding work in EU goes, the biggest hurdle (that I've been told) is getting paperwork for someone without college degree.

Maybe I'm delusional, maybe I'm a shitty coder, maybe I just had bad experiences, maybe you're right. I don't know.

Oh and I'm from Bosna/Serbia - don't even get me started about getting a job that pays acceptably in those countries....


For my startup, I hired the whole team through ODesk and Elance. I'm based in Hong Kong, and the rest: Ukraine, Moscow, Prague, Chicago, India, San Francisco. A really first rate team as well - will definitely hire like this again. It takes a long time to get rid of the time wasters on these sites (fire fast) but very good people can be found, who just want to work from home.


I would hire, for good money, a person from any country who has the right skills to work remotely. Unfortunately it usually falls flat on skills or greed. I work with a guy from Bosnia since two months and it has been good for both!


I work in an awesome environment where we have half a web dev team in the office and half in France and Poland. We actually prefer it that way.


I think he may have meant disillusioned not delusional.


So many folks here from ex Yugoslavia (author from Slovenia, me from Croatia).


Long time HN reader but never been a contributor (never felt smart enough to contribute). When I was growing up the best job that I have thought possible was to be a Typist (My parents has told me to learn typing). So, when I ended up in US through graduate school, I have thought I made it. But, again, I was pretty clue less after the school was complete. I have thought I should follow money (even though I was passionate about AI and did my graduate school in it) and joined e-commerce consulting firm in 2000. got laid off twice and ended up for a small company where I thought I was doing AI stuff. Slacked off for 9 years.. ended up making about 100K when I quit (worked myself through management: engineer -> Director of engineering). then, I have joined a development manager at a public company and has been working there for 3 1/2 for about 150K salary (40K stock every year). I thought I will be doing searching and machine learning. But, I have gotten deceived again(my team was cut in half)I have tried making side projects.. picked complex ones like image searching. but, couldn't sell it. I have thought may be I should something my own (I am 37 now.. leaving in a rural US town with 2 kids). So, I have resigned my job (from largest enterprise software company in world) and trying out entrepreneurship.. want to build great AI application. Even though, I can survive at least 3 years, I am going to try this out for 6 months. If it doesn't work, I am going to back to work.


I grew up in a small town in Russia during 80s and early 90s. I found my first job as a developer building accounting software in Pascal when I was 15. I remember spending my first paycheck (about $100) buying winter boots. It wasn't enough, my mom ended up pitching in. :)

As soon as I graduated, I moved to a larger city to work for a company doing offshore development in C++. I was paid $4 / hr, managing to put in about 250 hours a month. I only ended up working there for 6 months before I moved on to the next stage.

I moved to the US in 2000 to work for Microsoft in Redmond. Microsoft was good, but it quickly became obvious that there was no way to make real money, even though I doubled my paycheck in 4 years I spent there. I started at $66K / yr, ended up around $130K when I left at the end of 2004 to go and work for Google.

Except that I didn't go to Google. :) I interviewed, got an offer and used it to get an offer from a smaller company where I felt I could do more. I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond and Google already felt to me like a big pond. Their offer was for $150K and ~10,000 shares with strike price of ~$170. Smaller company offered $200K base, $50K bonus and 2% of the company. In 2004 that was a lot of money.

The smaller company didn't do as well as I expected. I only made about $3M from stock versus $5-10M I could have made from Google. But I met some good people there. But 2009 I was a VP and making close to $450K / yr. I left in 2009 to work on a startup with a couple friends. We sold it at the end of 2010 for $15M and almost immediately started another one.

Right now I work as a CTO for that other startup. We had $40M in revenue last year and on track to be at $90-$100M this year.


Starting to think I should have gone into programming, not networking :)


Were you still on H1B when joining small companies?


Yes. I transferred H1B and restarted green card process. Despite that I got my GC before some people who remained at Microsoft. Maybe it's because I re-applied in California instead of staying in Washington.


I wouldn't call myself a developer, more of a generalist.

I started my first real job in technology in the mid-late 90s and spent roughly the first half of my career maintaining systems that were built by other people.

Eventually, I jumped up a level and stared accelerating from there. Planning, writing proposals and doing the technical implementation for projects of increasing size and complexity. With each major undertaking done I was looking for the next as I had no interest in getting drawn back into maintenance mode.

I started toying with the idea of working for myself, being a truly independent consultant and ended up doing some side projects while maintaining a full time job. The money was great, nearly double my full-time job hourly rate, but it wasn't nearly consistent enough and I was in the process of starting a family.

With all the responsibilities of a family looming I had more or less mentally resigned myself to moving into a rock-steady management role and calling it a career.

That plan didn't work out for what at the time were incredibly frustrating reasons, but it turned out for the best. I took a job as an independent contractor for a lot more money doing a mix of interesting projects and braindead operations.

That's where I am today, I've realized that I'm unlikely to ever be satisfied working for other people or working on the same things for more than perhaps year at a time.

At the same time, I've realized that I don't need to draw satisfaction from my day job. By coming to grips with being parent and learning to manage my time and goals I'm able to collect a good, steady income to live while doing a full load of courses and dabbling in side projects to satisfy myself.

That's probably the most important part. Once I was earning enough money to have everything my family needs plus many of the things we want I found myself wanting less and realized at least within the same order of magnitude more money isn't what I want.

As best I can tell, what I want is autonomy and variety.

Figuring out what it is that you actually want would a great start.

Personally, I mean to continue my education while building up enough consistency on the side to transition that to be primary income. If something better comes along in the meantime - great.


I receive donations for my writing, coding, and art. I do some tutoring, too, which pays alright. I'm not a conventional developer, but I'm more than happy with the freedom I have and I feel I can really appreciate the things I have a lot more because of my self-imposed poverty.


Could you go into a bit more detail on how you do this?


I have a PayPal link on my site requesting donations, and for whatever reason, a lot of people donate money. That's all there really is to it. It's linked from my twitter page, so maybe generous people who enjoy reading my posts there stumble across it.


Thanks :)


>> work hard, good grades, get a job seems to be bit of a misnomer unless you're happy building things to make others wealthy whilst you earn £30,000 a year?

The UK is terrible for salaried developers. The industry here (like everywhere I guess) continues to moan about a lack of technical talent, but it's no surprise given how low the compensation is. The US and Australia both value tech talent far more. And the money hasn't really moved up much since I was a graduate 14 years ago. That said - that pitiful £30K? Just for context, that still puts you well above the national average income.

That said, 90% of people will never be anything other than an employee and never really aspire to it either. Steady income, minimal perceived risks* to employment etc etc. It's only really in the startup world you're close enough to feel like you're working for someone else's dream though, and plenty of tech folk advance through the ranks of the big corporates like IBM and do pretty well for themselves.

Ask yourself what you want out of your life and career. Do you want a secure income and a long-term commitment to a project? Take the 90% route, work for other people.

Do you want more control over when you work, more money and to take on new challenges every few months, but without the security (or ties) of a job? You might enjoy contracting (I do). I made a few times multiple of your starting figure there and had 4 months off in the last year.

Do you want to risk it all to build your dream? Go for it, if you have a dream and the drive to do so. You'll sink all your time into it and you might get nowhere. But you might get everywhere.

So there it is, what do you want out of life, and are you good enough at what you do (and confident enough) to reach out and grab it?

*I say perceived risk because in reality most perm jobs are no better protected than us contractors.


The UK is actually on par with US, if you accept to work in a "at will" arrangement. Let's say London is about the levels of New York in terms of compensation.


Contract work is not quite the same as the at-will arrangement, nor is it the majority of available work in London. That said, you're right and that's the reason I do it. It's the only way I've found to match the salary I had in Australia.


I'd love to know a little more about what you were doing and where in Australia.


Would you like a comfortable first class seat in a jet airliner, or perhaps fly your own little 2 seater?

There are advantages in flying the 2 seater. You might get sponsored by one of those large companies, and if you convince someone to fly with you, there is a chance that you'll soon be buying a 4 seater. And on and on.

The jet airliner doesn't offer all those possibilities, but it does give you a very predictable flight.


However, other passengers on the jet will form little cliques & play Game of Thrones with each other, with the losers getting thrown out of the plane. If you fail to join the right clique, sooner or later, you'll be skydiving.

Sometimes the pilots will go crazy, screw up, or get highjacked, and you'll die by landing 30ft short of the runway, running out of fuel over the southern indian ocean, etc.

Even on a perfect flight, your talent and hard work will likely have had minimal influence.

I will take the Cessna 152 please.


I'd say I'm a mix of entrepreneur and developer for hire. But I haven't done contract work for a while now.

I've also worked fulltime in a programming role for about a year and a half in the past at a fast growing startup. I learned a LOT in my first few months there (including getting reasonably good at Python and Django) and really absorbed so much good stuff from my peers and bosses and even people who worked in other departments. But as time went by and the company grew (went from 20 to about 100 employees in that year..) I started learning less and less. So I quit.

One thing though, I never needed to work there (for money). I already earned enough from my own projects to sustain a reasonable lifestyle. (rented apartment, car, etc.) I just did it to learn more.

I have a few successful projects under my belt that pay for life reasonably well. This really varies from person to person. Some people are happy with $3000/month and some aren't happy with $50,000/month.

In my opinion you should work somewhere for a bit because you will absorb a lot of stuff with the right attitude. You should always keep your mind focused on the end goal of being your own boss if that's what you want from life. And when that awesome idea finally comes to you, the one that you have a burning desire to watch come alive, take the leap!

If you eventually can support yourself well with your own projects/freelance work then you will have the kind of freedom and flexibility that most people can only dream about.

I spent the last two years traveling and working (a little..) at the same time! Spent time in about 20 countries :)

Regarding university and the whole rat race thing. You're spot on! My personal opinion is (and has always been) that the rat race is definitely glorious in its own way (if you are at the top..). But why compete with a million other people who are trying to do the exact same thing better than each other ? It's really really hard to stand out. And hey, you may still manage to make it into the top 5% if you work really hard and are really smart. But why run the race everyone runs ? Find your own race and you'll likely enjoy it and probably win at it too!


Actually, i'm trying to get the same thing as you have.

Currently developping some webapplications and when they earn enough income i'd like to spent some time travelling / working.


There are two quite different motives for building a company.

One is the financial comparison between building a company and working at one. This is a straightforward risk-reward tradeoff. When you think about it you will consider things like stability and the impact of stability on other things you want to achieve in life, like family; you will also consider things like how to make starting a venture as safe as possible and gaming what you build based on likely exit; you will think about freedom, meaning freedom to do other things.

The other kind of motive is the desire to build an empire, to run something that is yours and to leave a mark on the world. People who are motivated this way don't think along the lines of risk v. reward or stability being sacrificed or freedom being earned; they don't even think about the reward from exit, except incidentally, as a way of building the big thing they really want to build or as a way of keeping score. People like this just don't think life is worth living (for them, not for other people) the other way; their overriding goal is to build a great organization doing great things.

It's important, I think, to understand which of these motives is active when you're thinking about starting a company --- or joining a startup at an early stage. If you are a type 2 person, you won't be happy until you're building that kind of organization for yourself.


I've tried it all. My LinkedIn resume goes back to my first job after school (doesn't cover some during school): http://www.linkedin.com/in/spullara

Still code every day, but my main job is as an investor. Best moves I made were risky moves, like moving from Chicago to San Francisco to join a very early stage startup. I was lucky and that startup grew from a handful of people to over a 100 and was sold to a larger company. You can also watch how it unfolded here: http://techcrunch.com/2013/05/02/sam-pullara/

I get the question from engineers all the time how I ended on the path I have been on. I think there are 2 things you can do 1) try to be a great engineer and 2) involve yourself in the strategy of the company. The latter requires an opening, mine was in helping perform the technical due diligence for acquisitions.

If I was doing it again, I would intern at some of the big companies (Google, Twitter, Facebook, IBM, Oracle) and then try and get a job at a Series A funded startup run by people with experience. Good luck!


I've only ever done salaried work, and only had one job, which I've had for 10 years. I'm a builder. I want to work on big things that solve complex problems for a large userbase and grow and evolve that solution over the long term. The place were I work the web product was a few ten thousand lines when I joined as the junior member of a three man team, now it's over half a million lines (and growing quickly) and I'm the senior member of a 25 man team. Staying in one place was surprisingly educational, because I was the one who dealt with the consequences of all my own technological decisions, and thankfully my employer left me mostly free to make those decisions. Probably financially it wasn't the smartest move never to switch jobs, but it did give me the opportunity to actually build things across a timespan of years without getting distracted by having to actually run a business. I'm not a manager, I'm not a sales person, I'm not that good with people, and I'm not someone who can stand to do a lot of paperwork. I need other people to do that part of the business so that I can focus on the actual building of software.


Don't be so down on taking a job with a fixed salary. It's not a choice of one or the other. Personally I see my current and previous job as a stepping stone to doing my own thing in the future. Actually being an early employee with a start up has made me seriously consider if going it alone is something i want to do. I have gained so much experience in the past 2-3 years since university and have grown up a lot.

Taking the job is fine, but it's important to find one that allows you to step outside your role when appropriate, and be involved in any area of the company which interests you. Basically any start up or small company (10ish people). You gain so much knowledge having an insight into the other areas of the business.

I almost started a company when I left university and i believe we could of made some money from it. Comparing what I knew then to what I know now, my approach to starting that company would be much different. Also the experience and contacts I have would give it a much better chance of being successful.


Before hitting 25 being an employee or not should be a matter of opportunities. Working in a startup before, I felt I gained a lot of experience on a lot of fronts. After switching to 100+ then 5000+ employees companies, the tasks where less diverse, but one could instead focus deeper on more complex problems.

So, being an employee or not shouldn't matter if you do something interesting.

Now when you get in the mid 20ies, you might want a job that banks accept as credible, renting a house doesn't involve convincing that you're not a fraud, and the parents of your girlfriend aren't suspicious of your profession.

If you're a super successful founder that's no big deal, if your startup is surviving or you're a freelance consultant that might be more difficult while not impossible, but if you have a stable job as an employee no one will even ask questions. Depending on what you want (i.e. kids and a house in your late 20ies), that might be an important point.


"I'm currently a student "

"I do work part time as a developer in a start up and can't help feeling i'm building a dream for someone else."

"Not that the experience isn't really good, (It definitely is and I learn more in work than in uni!)"

"Unless i'm missing something important, I am young and naive after all!"

You are. At the risk of the ire of others on HN I have to say that this is a totally millennial attitude of - gasp - entitlement. Tempered by the fact no doubt that you realize "I am young and naive after all!"

I think you have to back away at this "I want it all now" thinking that you have.

You are gaining valuable experience and I'd like to know why you feel that you deserve better than that at this point? To me that's scary. I'm glad you asked the question but want to know why you feel you deserve, at this early stage in your career, to jump to the head of the line.


Ask yourself:

Can I go weeks or months without paid work? (risk tolerance as others have mentioned)

Do I want to learn about sales & marketing (the learning never stops btw)? Am I comfortable with self marketing?

Can I hustle and cold call if necessary?

And as another poster mentioned, am I willing to do A/B testing and optimize funnels? Build a social presence?

Do I enjoy the challenge of working on varying types of projects for different companies? Or would I rather stick to a few things?

In my experience you don't need to be good at all of these things to run your own show, just good enough. But I value flexibility and also really enjoy working with and learning from companies in different industries as I'm a generalist, so I chose the consultant path after a few years in corporate. I hope you find what works for you, and don't stress out too much about it, it's easier to switch paths these days! The important thing is to try.


Building blocks.

You are going to learn processes, insights and experience failures when working for someone (and help with building their dream). This is learning on someone else's dollar. It's mutually beneficial and £30k is certainly not something to sniff at.

Very few people walk out of university, raise money and launch the next Facebook.

It's all about de-risking. Make yourself investable over the next few years. Branch out and learn other areas of the business (marketing/sales/etc).

Plan what you want to do and make sure you have calculated steps to reach them.

You'll also probably want to be tinkering with stuff on the side. These could potentially get you some money, but more realistically will provide you with invaluable learning.


All depends upon where you want to end up in life. For me I was getting married and knew I'd be having kids. So job stability was very important. Also got my graduate college degree, which at the time opened the doors to corporate dev jobs. Maybe it's not so necessary in smaller/startup places now, I don't know. So, I'm jsut a cog at a big corporation. It's not glamorous, but it pays the bills for my family.

On the side is when I do stuff I (kind of) want to do - I still need to make money to pay more bills (kids are expensive :-)), but at least it's a little different than my day-to-day 9to5 stuff.


I'm kind of in the same boat. I took a year off college to focus on learning web development.

A year later, I'm working for a startup, but I am also making double I was at my old job. It was really a paradigm shift in my mind.

I looked at college as my entrance to a career, and later learned that wasn't the case. People value unique skills, not cookie cutter graduates.

You're asking some deep life questions, that extend outside programming. a book: The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin really helped me when I was at a place you're in right now. Helped me understand how really successful people do it. hope that helps :)


People value unique skills, not cookie cutter graduates.

I'm hoping to be able to work in Seattle next year at either Microsoft or Amazon and the main requirement they look at is whether the applicant has a degree in Computer Science or related field. Only after do they begin to look at personal projects/past accomplishments etc.

Not trying to say a university degree is for everyone, but for people like me looking to get into a top technology company, it's a requirement.


Not always though. I didn't get a degree but have had recruiters from both companies reach out to me based on work experience. Based on the conversations we had, it didn't sound like my lack of a degree was a big deal.

If you have the unique skills they're looking for, the top technology companies are willing to budge on the degree requirement.


Definitely, it's a shift all intelligent companies are making. Google has been relatively vocal about hiring quality people regardless of degree or quality of school i.e. ivy league.


Thanks for the book suggestion, will try and get it :)


I'm on active duty in the Army.

I bet you didn't expect that.


I went from CS at Uni into a full time dev job for a government agency. Since then I've worked for a mature micro ISV and now an environmental not for profit.

I have a paid android app and an OSS windows app that gets donations. The vast, vast majority of my income comes from my day job though.

Building someone else's dream can be great. Sometimes you get to work on things that are more important or just broader scoped than what you can do on your own. Also, a regular, decent paycheck has it's benefits.


I make about half my income from my job, where I get paid relatively little for my skillset but have heavy equity that will vest in a few years, and then I do about 15 hours of work a week as a consultant.

I hire out subcontractors to increase my throughput, and I make the other half of my income from this. In total, I make more dollars from the 10-15 hours a week I spent consulting than from the 40 I spend in my job, but I've done the math and when you include the equity vesting in a few years, in terms of per-hour rates, the full time job and the consulting share nearly identical rates. One just has a longer payment period.

When I started I was afraid to freelance because I didn't feel that safety net of my job beneath me, but I finally got my first job working 300$ for 20 hours of work. It was ridiculously underpaid. But I got my foot in the door and now I make quite a tidy sum from it, while getting a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction in it.

Also, I'd always recommend having a side gig going on because it frees you. I don't need to work full time - I don't use a single dollar from my full time job anymore. It goes straight into savings. That kind of thing can free you, and make you more likely to be eligible for raises at work because they know you're only here because you want to be.


Building a dream for someone who doesn't ask for it, but who deserves:

I live in a less-developed country, where university students aren't well-treated neither by staff & faculty (underestimated and humiliated), nor by government (54 USD/Mo scholarship for ~40%, no housing, no dining, no basic students services), nor by companies coming just for low-paid hard-coders and unpaid interns.

I endured studying in these circumstances, and finally graduated with a MSc & Eng. in Computer Science.

Now, I decide to make something valuable in honour of the student community; a service that students deserve; which take in consideration student dignity; and which help to restore student confidence and hope.

I'm looking for a startup or a small business idea, which can generate some money just for me and 2 other friends (our team), just to survive! But most importantly offer the first awesome and affordable quality service for students. Even a small service, because for our student community less is always more!

I can make web apps, and have access to some student infos (name, university, classOf). I also have access to cloud services via a restricted credit card! And I can have mobility to national universities.

Do you have some ideas and/or advice to share?

I've posted my story here as a comment first because I think it make sense, secondly I don't know how do I make it visible! I'm a greenhorn HNer; let's be tolerant :)

Thanks Dale1

Sorry for my English mistakes!


I think that you are spot on in your analysis. If you work as an employee at a startup and the company isn't a "rocket ship" that is going to go public or be acquired and make all of the early employees wealthy, you are pretty much just helping someone else achieve their dreams. It could still be beneficial for you career-wise as startups give you a lot of leeway to learn new skills and use cool technologies, but the other side is that they can sometimes try to take over your life. They also try to get a discount on salaries by offering stock, which is usually pretty worthless in the final analysis.

I personally freelance full time. Once you establish yourself and get a reputation as someone who can get things done it can be a great career; if you stay pretty busy (last year I was working for probably 9 months, 6 of it onsite someplace and the rest spread out between a few different gigs) you can earn significantly more than at most "real" jobs and have lots of free time to work on your own projects or just go on vacation. I'd definitely recommend moving to someplace with a lot of work to do, such as San Francisco. There is a lot of demand for tech talent here that you can leverage to get the career you want.


I think something that a lot of developers forget is that building a product is only half the battle, if that. You also need to sell it and make sure you're building something people actually want.

So theres a lot more to running a company than just building a product . You also need to sell it, support it, manage people and run the actual company. Just because you're a good developer doesn't mean you're a good entrepreneur. Sure you could learn along the way but you'll also be taking on more financial risk, be responsible for a lot more things and likely not have as steady of an income.

The reward may be much higher but so is the risk and responsibility. That doesn't mean you shouldn't set out on your own and learn to be an entrepreneur, it's just the reason why the financials line up the way they do.

It's also worth noting that there is a 3rd option. If you happen to get in on an early startup that is later successful and goes public or gets acquired, it can also be very financially rewarding for you. I remember reading somewhere that in the valley it is common to hear "he was an early employee at Google" which is well known to translate to "he's now very wealthy".


============= GO, SEARCH FOR YOUR ISLAND =============

I know your thoughts very well. I myself have worked for 18 years or so as employee building the dream of someone else -- or better to say: building the wealth of someone else.

I think, a lot is said already, so I want to restrict myself to my personal opinion: If you have this feeling you describe, you should definitively search for your island! And don't give up until you found it.

I am searching now for ten to fifteen years I think and have not found it yet. But I hope, my current project (an online medieval strategy game) will bring me thus far. I dumped until now at least three projects that resulted in a situation that I had to say I can not do it with my resources or in one case the project proved itself to be not profitable. Currently I also dumped my employer to be fully able to find the island I am looking for.

Today, I think, the biggest problem is to find one or more good partners. If you have one, good for you! It makes things easier. But it is so difficult to find one and I have not, since some are just not reliable enough and with others I was not able to find a common target.

The problem is, that if you are in a group you have to give up parts of your own dreaming to find a common dream.


I'm not much of an old timer, but here goes...

I make my money primarily by building software for small businesses and startups. I charge about £2500 a week for this, and am booked about 50-75% of the time. This is supplemented by the occasional workshop where I teach developers about web application security through the lens of RoR applications, which net me about £5k a pop depending on how well they sell. I have one employee who I'm training up to take on some client work for me so that I can focus on drumming up new business and building products that will provide a sustainable income that isn't linked to the amount of time we put in.

> I do work part time as a developer in a start up and can't help feeling i'm building a dream for someone else.

Some people are bitten by this bug and some aren't. I know perfectly good career developers who are content to turn up, do a good days work and get a regular pay check at the end of every month. If you ever do start your own business and go out on your own, you too will long for the days when you could do the same and have guaranteed monthly cashflow.

> but i can't help feeling that the current university paradigm of work hard, good grades, get a job seems to be bit of a misnomer unless you're happy building things to make others wealthy whilst you earn £30,000 a year?

In this market, after a few years you'll be doubling to tripling that salary. I know a guy who's been on the job two years and cleared £65K. That's not at a city IB, just a plain old startup. It was only a matter of time before London developer salaries caught up with what you might get in the states.


1)Get a job where you can learn as much as possible, where you're not even close to being one of the smartest people in the room, and that gives you the freedom to experiment and learn. Find a boss that knows this won't be your last stop, but is willing to put some time and training into you anyway. - There's a lot more of these types of bosses than you think. 2) Start up a business on the side. Even if you are just trading time for money - IE a niche software dev company rather than a cool new app - it's still worth it for the intrinsic value. Starting a business forces you to deal with clients, overhead, time management, contractors, and lots of other aspects of work. You can also give yourself any title you want. I suggest stay away from "CEO" or "CoFounder" because it will make you look like just another wantrepreneur. Try "Director of ...." It's really important to give yourself an awesome title that people will believe and give you credibility for. 3) Know that your business WILL fail. It's going to happen. Don't avoid it, embrace it. Obviously don't willingly fail, try to keep it going as long as possible, but just know in the back of your mind that you will fail. 4) Know you have experience with a company, a group of people that you can use as references, as well as a former fancy title and experience running a business and managing people. You just skipped 10 years of climbing the corporate ladder. The next time you apply for jobs, or as a high level director in a startup, you'll be younger and just as qualified than your contemporaries.

Try it out - let me know how it goes...it worked for me, and a lot of other successful people.

Note, I'm not a developer, I'm a marketer


Instead of answering your question, I'm going to offer some generic life advice:

Figure out what you want. Even if it's just in the short term, but ideas of what you want in the long term are best. Use that to decide what you do month to month and year to year. I've noticed that most happy developers are only mildly interested in what their company does: they enjoy their work because it presents challenges and lets them work with people they respect. For these people, it's less about the salary than it is about the opportunity. The salary is important more for keeping your position in the market than to make you rich.

Do you have your own dream? If so, then it might be worth looking into entrepreneurship. Starting a business is less about being able to code your MVP than it is about learning what's available in the current market and being able to sell. Is your dream crazy? Is it crazy in terms of ambition, or crazy in terms of feasibility? The former is fine; the latter should make you step back and reconsider.

Your dream doesn't have to involve some engineering department at a corporation, either. You can be a developer in other settings. They're less obvious, but if you dig into your other interests, you might be able to find opportunities where your programming skill can contribute something huge.

If you don't have such a dream, you still have to make a living. Is it so terrible to contribute to someone else's dream in that case? You'll want to learn how to drive a hard bargain so that you can get the most from them out of the contract. Building someone else's dream starts looking fairly peachy when you're pulling in enough to not have to worry about money anymore.


I'm currently a student, so with the great benefits of student loans in my country I am able to afford an OK standard of living.

I am currently working in my startup with some friends. I believe firmly that what I do is everyone's dream, though the need to have a stready income is greater for most.

I also have a part time job at the university, so I do have some sources of income. My startup provides no income, and takes a lot of time.

You can be happy both working at a company, and you can feel ownership to something you have made for that company, even though it might be labeled without your name. It all comes down to what you really want.

In any case I would say the time to try something for yourselves would be before you have ties somewhere, being a wife/kids, a car etc.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to live a good period of time with no money, and are prepared to work literally every hour of your day for a long, long time, I would go for it. If not the need to survive will become greater.

When creating something, unless you utterly hate the concept of the very thing you are making, I would say you gain a sense of ownership towards it. If you made the Paper app for Facebook you would certainly be proud of yourself.


I work as an e-learning systems developer for large FE college in the UK, it is very stable and rewarding job that allows me to innovate. It is a public sector job and as such the wages aren't as good as working in the private sector but I do have good working hours and a very generous holiday entitlement, because of this I get plenty of time to pursue personal projects.

I'm currently trying to set myself up as a freelancer and consultant to supplement my wages and maybe if it takes off I can make the transition from full time employed to full time self-employed.

Because my full time job allows me to innovate I've developed my skills an enormous amount while working there, I now get asked to give talks in industry events about the work that I have been doing which gives me a massive confidence boost. I actually worry that moving away from my full time job would stop me from being able to develop my skills and experience at the rate I have been doing.

So I guess that if you have a job that makes you feel like you're lining someone else's pockets with little reward for yourself then you're working for the wrong company!


> can't help feeling i'm building a dream for someone else

This is one reason why I try to limit myself to working with companies that are on a mission that I believe in.

A side effect is that it also seems to be easier to find a job there because these companies love hiring people who are passionate about the same thing as them. Cold emailing is fine if you can show good reasons why, and even more so when you come bearing gifts.


I wanted a part time job to pay the bills while I'm finishing up a couple sites so I took one washing dishes at a pizza joint. All I can say is writing code in the morning and then doing the most mindless, repetive work while being forced to listen to "sunny FM" is not something I recommend. I think if I hear one more Billy Joel song my brain is going to go into emergency shutdown mode.


Currently contracting through oDesk. I tend to average about 25 billable hours per week, with the remainder of my time split between learning about technology trends and working on long term personal projects. This led to a six month stint last year as a contractor at a local business that is exploring startup approaches like Agile/Scrum, which was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I was also lucky enough to be a contractor at hp for a year in 2005 but didn’t recognize the potential of making it a career at the time.

Before that I had many years of negative experiences working as a furniture mover, a web developer, a Macintosh technician, and your local neighborhood computer guy. I survived for a year after the housing bust on $6,000 I made flipping PowerPC iMacs that were suffering from the bulging capacitor issue that’s been plaguing electronics. I scratched out income any way I could to support a floundering shareware business, hoping that the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy would pan out, but unfortunately it never did.

If I was a student again and had it to do all over.. hmmm what a question. I think that even today I consider £30,000 a year to be a good income, although a contractor can certainly make more than that at the going hourly rate if they reach full employment. It might help to take a step back and look at software development like any other kind of development. For example in real estate, there is earned and unearned income, and each type has its advantages.

There will always be money in the first type, because people always need things done. Historically contractors have generally been paid more than full time employees, because they are responsible for their own equipment, training, insurance, retirement, etc. Software development requires a great deal of education. If you add up all of the hours, not just in school but on personal time, it’s comparable to a being an architect or civil engineer. Except instead of leveraging the efforts of subcontractors, we employ code. So there is a potential there to make considerably more money. There is no ceiling on income for software contractors.

The second type works more like speculation. Yes, a client might make a million dollars from the code you develop. But the odds are extremely high (I would put them around 50/50, maybe even up to 90%) that he or she will break even or possibly lose money. The contractor gets paid first, after that it’s anyone’s guess. I had every advantage (a degree, a brief period of no bills living with my father after I graduated college, even a dot bomb to open up opportunities over the competition) but I was unable to find any traction with the products I was creating. The tech industry has rose colored glasses. For every overnight success, there are hundreds, even thousands of failures. Successful speculators in software are like the ones in real estate. Generally they just don’t touch the code. They’ve either put in their time and earned their wings, or they have a personal calling inside themselves to outsource the details and focus on the big picture. And perhaps most importantly, they have access to capital. I have come to peace with the fact that I would rather be in the trenches than flying a desk.

But say it’s the year 2000 again, I’m fresh out of college and Facebook hasn’t been invented yet, and I want to be in the second camp. It’s not going to happen selling shareware games, or scratching out a living doing odd jobs, or pulling all nighters with other hackers. As far as I can tell (and the simplicity of this took me a decade to grok), the secret is growth. I know it sounds mundane, but if you look at any successful company, they are always growing. So fresh out of school, I would have done my contract at hp first, to just see how established companies do things. Everything is about interoperability, passing data back and forth to different teams, being able to explain your work to others. It’s vanilla, and boring, but allows for scale. Then I would have taken my savings for the year (I would have only spent about a quarter to half of my earnings) and used that to bootstrap myself over the next year, meeting local developers and the clients they work for. I would have found myself designing websites, probably learning about the gotchas of scaling databases, but today it’s all about apps and SAAS and scaling interfaces and interoperating with mobile devices. I would have quickly found that there is high demand for such work. High enough that I couldn’t respond to all of the job invites coming my way, and would have to make a choice either to become a team of developers or cater to more selective clients. At some point I would have crossed a threshold where my priorities switched from survival to planning. To me, that means having six months of income or more saved so you can work on your own without answering to anyone. And more importantly, having a trade that allows you to build your savings again in case of failure (which is likely). Then I would have had a history of a few successfully completed projects under my belt, and could think about hiring myself and others.

Then I would either write a solution for a company and sell it at $10,000 a pop, or look at the niche they are ignoring and write the app that fills it. Knowing how I am, I’d go for the second option. It’s almost always something that people want really badly, that they’re willing to pay for, that they just can’t get easily (preferably software related so it can scale). In my fantasy, this would be a wifi box that gives you free internet by way of distributed hashing (hey, I can dream, that’s why I got my degree in computer engineering), and I’d just build them out of my garage and sell them locally for a few hundred dollars each until we hit scale. Maybe another option is a $99 app that runs on your cell phone, something that crosses wifi mode and tethering to create a mesh network. The prospect of canceling one’s internet and cable bills is almost too sweet to think about rationally. Then everyone in the country would want one, and we’d have more work than we could handle, and we’d sell to Elon Musk or Richard Branson or whoever for a billion dollars. I probably have, I don’t know, a few dozen, maybe a hundred ideas like this that I would like to do, but never had the savings to attempt such things, until recently. Most of them are not nearly this audacious.

But just out of college, my highest priority was “just finishing this game I’ve been working on for years” and I missed out on a ton of opportunities. So I think that kind of nagging, soul crushing worry is something to be very wary of, because it’s hindered the careers of countless developers. I should have focused on a concrete product, with say a three month development time, that I could sell for real dollars, that people would tell their friends about. The shareware and app markets are saturated, so for a fraction of the effort, I could have created new niches. I should have listened more closely when my family had trouble setting up their email and written a $5 solution for them, that solved the decision tree of username, password, pop/smtp, ssl, etc once and for all, and sidestepped the necessity of hosted tools like gmail. I remember being surprised that Apple implemented it in their Mail.app years later. Such low lying fruit could have been so lucrative in the early 2000s. It would have sidestepped app stores and marketing by going viral. Crossing that magical curve from $100 a month to $1,000 and then $10,000 would have put me well on my way to making a meaningful contribution. Instead I floundered, and let the internet lottery distract me from networking, bootstrapping and compound growth.

P.S. It’s worth noting that I’ve only had a six month cushion twice in my life, and didn’t keep my eye on the ball. I let others talk me out of it. Those times were after long term contracts, but my current goal is to get there independently. Sorry this got so long.


Hey Zach, advice to you from an industry elder. From your comments, I would put you in your late 30s, young enough to be scrappy but experienced enough to be on a founding team.

The only reason for doing is to gain industry domain experience. (Software doesnt count.) The domain can suggest startup possibilities. Consulting income is a trap, unless you make massive savings.

Dont look back at what might have been. I worked on a VisiCalc equivalent on a 7094 in the 60s. One of the members of the founding team of Sorcim worked for me (remember SuperCalc?). Dont say I didn have my chances to be rich and famous.

Dont look sideways. If it is being done now, someone has beaten you to it. And someone else is working on the second generation.

Dont scratch your own itch. Software itches dont make money. Too many smart people doing the same thing.

Do cultivate relationships.

Do look for other people,s problems. As you noted , if it bugs the common man or the elderly, it is probably an annoyance for everyone else.


Hah you got me, I'm 36. I also agree that consulting can be a trap, but for the reason that it's not scalable. A consulting firm is only worth about as much as its employees, so there's no real exit strategy. I guess I'm kind of lucky that I don't live in a big city so can afford to dabble in it. But it does sting sometimes to not receive residual income for past work.

Cool to hear about your earlier escapades. My business partner and I were just getting a foothold in Mac OS 9 shareware games when Apple switched to OS X and antiquated the code we had worked so hard on for 5 years. I took it really personally and suffered several years of depression. Things didn't turn around for me until I stopped using my own code. Now I don't maintain an "engine", I just scavenge commonly used code and find that it shields me from the whims of proprietary APIs.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I also look back on what might have been, and sometimes wished I had been born 5 years earlier, when things were “booming”. But it’s an easy trap to fall into, because at least for the time being, programmers’ leverage is increasing faster than competition can fill the niches. Kids today, what with their supercomputers and megabit internet connections and being able to stand on the shoulders of giants’ open source projects! Get off my lawn! In my day we didn’t even have the internet! We had BBS’s, and floppy disks that stopped being readable, and books.. paper books! Imagine such a thing! And girls didn’t even use computers! Neither did teachers! Can you imagine?

I too have often wished the geeks and hackers of the world were better at networking. Generations of potential have been lost to reinventing the wheel. It’s kind of ironic that we’re so able to communicate in this distributed fashion and solve problems but have so few interpersonal and professional relationships.


FWIW, I enjoyed your game. I especially liked the way the day and night cycle shifted the colour palette. Made a lasting impression.


Thanks, that is nice to hear. Lots of custom 16 bit blitters made that happen. I made one that blended between (I think) 16 bit patterns to interpolate between two images, plus some RGB blending if I remember right. PowerPC had some wonderful functions for all of that but in the switch to Intel, computers were fast enough that I used a regular loop since it was waiting around for ram anyway. We got pretty far on an OpenGL port but ran into issues with needing to draw the scene in a handful of passes instead of piece by piece. My partner had the vision for artwork and special FX and I just made it happen on the back end.


Russell, why do you say consulting income is a trap? Is it because it doesn't scale?


So as a college student now and graduating in two years what should I be focusing on currently and into graduation?


1.- network, know people 2.- don't focus on school or what you'll learn there, as Mark Twain wisely said: "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" 3.- focus on working for yourself, not "getting a job".


Good post. If you are starting out, it's well worth listening to guys who tried hard and didnt quite get the brass ring. One trap that Zack and I both fell into is consulting. He had a lot of small contracts for a modest income, while I had multi-year contracts for a good income. I averaged $165K for more than a decade, but if you take out the health insurance, vacation/holiday pay, and don time, it's no better than a good paying job. In California it wont make you rich. And you can get trapped in older technology. The pay is good because no one else wants to do it.


Can you share some tips for new oDesk users? I registered on oDesk for 2 months already and although I'm fairly experienced (10 years), I got zero contact so far. I must miss some important thing to get noticed or contacted.


I apologize in advance for how long this got :-/

At first I was signed up on freelancer.com as well and did several ~$150 contracts where I could bid/get picked/do the work/get paid practically the same day, which helped my psyche. I also did a relatively large project on elance.com but unfortunately didn't get paid for it due to disputes over milestones (the customer kept adding to the to do list), which is what led me to the escrow on odesk.com. I did a few fixed rate contracts but found my time management skills were not exactly stellar so switched to hourly for a while and found some peace knowing I was getting paid for my time like a regular job. Once I got back in the swing of things, I tended to prefer fixed rate again for the freedom it provides.

For odesk.com, I put a couple of pics in my portfolio, got a decent score on a skills test, and had some credentials in my education and employment history. But ya, at first I was not getting any invites and was bidding on several contracts at once without any bites. On the surface, a lot of the bidders look very experienced and I just couldn’t see how to compete with them. I guess what changed is that I stumbled onto some contracts where the client was frustrated with the quality of previous work, and I took the plunge and cleaned up their apps for them. It was an eye opener because I saw the kinds of tradeoffs that are made under low budgets. It wasn’t that any individual aspect of the code was bad, but more that it was a hodgepodge of different approaches all mashed together, that broke the don’t repeat yourself (DRY) principal, had no separation of logic and interface, was full of memory leaks, just on and on. The code had been written overseas for a really low rate and so several people had been banging away on it just trying to get it done. It was kind of remarkable, in a way, but not the kind of code that could be easily reused. So it hit me that the reason a high hourly rate is worth it is that a client can either choose to pay a team to follow good coding practices (which costs time = money) or pay an experienced developer to do it and avoid the broken telephone game. There really is no free lunch, and I think that clients understand that before developers do. So eventually I threw up my hands, realized I couldn’t fight the laws of economics, and “reluctantly” raised my hourly rate. I tried $30/hr for quite a while because that’s the overtime rate for a typical $20/hr programming job in Idaho and I don’t think a contractor should bid below 1.5 times the salary they desire (due to down time etc). So your contracting rate will be some multiple of the going hourly rate in your location. I also stopped being anxious about it, because I knew what the work entailed, so I wrote my bids in a conversational tone, just saying roughly what would be involved and not making any huge promises, and even saying where complications might come up, allowing for contingiences. That worked pretty well and I started getting more hours in and receiving invites from clients that weren’t looking for bargain basement code. It was kind of weird though to be charging more but not seeing it in my bank account, and I was having a lot of lean months. I hadn’t really factored in the hours I spent mulling over the code in my subconscious. So I came to terms with the fact that I was having trouble getting in more than about 4-6 billable hours per day, even though I felt like I was working all of the time. So I went ahead and just accepted that I’d average 25 hours per week and raised my rate again to ~$50/hr to account for the research I inevitably did but wasn’t charging for directly. I found that it alleviated a lot of the dread I was feeling when I thought about getting started working each day. For me, it was never about the work, but battling my own tendency towards distraction and procrastination. That was the point where I started getting more interesting contracts that were actually a pleasure to work on. I had been in fight or flight mode for so long that when the survival instinct died down, coding seemed to feel like a natural thing to do again and it was much easier to get in the zone. It was like picking up a good book after not reading for a few years. It had never occurred to me that clients had been going through this exact scenario in reverse thousands of times around the world, had felt frustrated and arrived in a similar place.

I really wish someone could have told me all of this, but I probably wouldn’t have heard it anyway. And in fairness, I made a lot of mistakes, for example after my six month contract last year at a higher rate, I went back down to $30/hr thinking that I had to do that to get seen. It wasn’t the case at all though, and trying to beat the laws of physics just set me back again. So I went back to my current rate and things have been good. At some point I will probably raise my rate again because I’m noticing that the gun.io contracts are priced higher than I’ve been charging (probably due to location) and I need to plan for the future, having a family etc. Also writing this out now, it sounds a little out there, so I want to emphasize that it’s just the same programming any of us have been doing. I spend 80% of my time scouring the web for the answers, mostly on stack overflow, and 20% of my time actually typing. I normally accomplish one item on my todo list per day, maybe two or three if they are small. And I’ve come to terms with the fact that any estimate I make must be tripled, so that what I think will take two weeks will actually take six. That’s been a bit of a blessing in disguise though, because I know that to actually finish something in two weeks, it means I can’t write much code. It puts the emphasis on finding open source projects that do what’s needed, or wiring up the logic in Interface Builder (finding whatever run of the mill solution works with Apple’s human interface guidelines, instead of trying to code around the issue). Also I keep a large notes file, for example tips like “~/Library/MobileDevice/Provisioning Profiles” contains Xcode’s provisioning profiles, so when I’m using a client’s developer credentials I can trash mine and not spending hours trying to get things working that should already work. If you can get to a good setup and know that you can deliver, it makes it a lot easier to bid. So go ahead and try for some smaller/easier contracts at first and if you find you are finishing ahead of schedule, spend the extra time making it top notch for the client. Someone might hear about it through the grapevine and look you up. It helped me a lot to stop thinking about competing with other contractors, or even just satisfying the client, but instead imagine the end user and what they will get out of the work. I think that’s about it, but I wouldn’t want to leave out the fact that having a cool game in my profile and a few lets just say “interesting” blog posts probably helped as much as anything. Those are somewhat based on luck though and wouldn’t be much to talk about without the fundamentals. Also follow your nose a bit if you know someone in the business. I’m a bit isolated out here and I could have saved a lot of time if I lived in more of a tech city. If you do your homework and also put yourself out there, things will work out.


Wow, this is an awesome answer! A big thank you for taking time sharing your experience. There are many good points and I will definitely go over this again and again as I work on oDesk.

Regarding my situation with the getting initial works, I think I will do what you said, like doing the tests and adding stuff to profile. May I ask that for the first few contracts, did you apply for them or did the clients discovered you? Did you have to say anything to make them comfortable with the fact that you have zero work done on oDesk before?


I think I applied for a couple of gigs at first and tended to get them (maybe 50/50 odds) and also tended to just apply for ones that I felt a calling towards, so I rarely had more than one application outstanding. After that, what usually happened is work became ongoing, so they came up with more things to do, or mentioned another project they wanted and I continued work under the same contract. That may have been a mistake in hindsight because I didn’t show much versatility, but, ongoing employment like that says something too and I wish more contracting sites reflected that.

I don't recall trying to comfort them about my inexperience on oDesk. I mostly just focussed on similar work I had done in the past, even if it was just a concept I was interested in that they were trying. Most of this stuff is so esoteric to non-technical folks that authenticity goes a long way. To alleviate their fears, you could ask for less up front. On contracts that are 40 or so hours or less, I ask for 50%, but beyond that I tend to ask for 25%. Then I usually pitch about 3-5 milestones. Never settle for 0% upfront, because it takes several hours/days to get up to speed with a project before you begin. You can always give refunds too, so don’t stress too much about going over if you have the meter running on an hourly contract. It’s probably better to have an accurate accounting of your time and renegotiate after the next payment. This has never come up for me though, because I tend to be a lot harder on myself than the client is. Just be aware of it and add in some contingency time, maybe 10-20% of total when you are bidding. So bid 100 hours instead of 80, 50 instead of 40, etc, and don’t worry about round numbers because they sound suspicious anyway. You really can’t go wrong with an honest approach, and if you still aren’t getting contracts, perhaps message some of the people who declined and just ask if there’s something you could do better to land one next time. Short of that, I’ve been thinking of pasting a beard on my profile picture.


Thanks for sharing your experiences, and I'm going to read it in full, but just wanted to suggest that it may be easier to read if you break up your comment into shorter paragraphs at logical points, with a newline between paragraphs.


This is very helpful. For something as important as how to make money, a long answer and detailed one like this is welcome. I'm currently at a technical skill level between "freelancer" and "consultant" (loosely speaking, that is). This is useful advice. Thanks.


Dropped out of college a little more than two years ago, moved to nyc, started freelancing and got tired of trying to source clients for their social networks, so started company (bootstrapped) that mines/crowd-sources data online about people. We should hit low 6 figures in revenue by end of the summer (in the middle of scaling our ops now, started generating revenue this mid jan). I'm 22 and my friend is 27.

Through my journey (many ups and downs), I've started to respect a lot more when some people say to not trade your time for money (or debt) and all the pressures society (and the different people that may be in ones environment who may) try to place upon you as an individual, because in exchange you can have the freedom to take risks and pursue whatever you want to do. I had that mindset when I was younger, but I was briefly co opted by the rat race which set me off my ways. Life is too fleeting for me to want to waste time doing/worrying about things that don't work for me.


"can't help feeling i'm building a dream for someone else."

Background - employed software developer for 15 years.

I really don't see a problem with building other people's dreams. In fact, I enjoy it and have been rewarded for it well over the last 15 years. I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from some amazing developers and to build some very cool products. At the moment, I don't have an entrepreneurial dream and I may never have one. I am content to make a living doing what I love to do - which is simply to write software.

I don't think the issue is risk aversion or not following your dream. I just think that different people have different dreams and desires. At the risk of sounding like a Disney firework show - follow your dream. If you have a dream of owning your own business, you can make a plan to do that. That might involve striking out on your own early or later in life. I think you just have to ask yourself what you want.


I work as a salaried employee. This is largely because I'm neither good at marketing & networking nor have a tremendous desire to be, as well as having lived for a long time in a place with no meaningful tech industry.

I would like to operate my own side business, but to date those projects have demanded more time than I have available.

In the long term, I'd like to obtain a PhD and consult in areas related to that, working remotely.

I also want to remark that, given careful choice of employers & their IP agreements, there's nothing stopping you from pursuing your dreams at home. Your salary might be paid for someone else's dream to come true, but it's also funding your life and dreams.

Every now and then a startup hits the jackpot - say, every one out of a few hundred. As a non-founder, you probably won't become wealthy this way. Even founders get messed over a good deal. This is well documented and understood. So if your dream is to become wealthy, being an employee developer is not the way to go. You will need to gain significant equity. If your dream is to build amazing product, you probably need to look for a midsize company who does that sort of thing but isn't large enough to have seized up into cash cow milking.

At the end of the day (i.e., when you look back on it in ten years), very few businesses are amazing, innovative, and tremendous: they exist to provide services & goods to help other people's lives get along all right & maybe improve their lives a bit.

final ninja-edit:

This is not a bad thing, to do good work for reasonable pay. There is great dignity in doing so, regardless of whether you make someone else rich or yourself rich, or simply holding a steady state in the world. Being able to provide for yourself & yours, giving back more than you take, is an honorable thing not to be despised.


I am so happy this thread exists. Reading a bunch of raw, honest, and insightful stories about the journey through an industry fueled by reality-distortion is like a breath of fresh air. This feeling must be what people mean when they talk about the "old HN". Glad to see its spirit still lays beneath the surface.


Worked hard for 10 years in various web development shops, started a company with two of the smartest people I met during that time, sold it, worked through golden handcuffs, and had a nice exit. Now I live off of interest from fixed income investments and am currently looking to pivot my career from web development into computer graphics/games/VR since I think a revolution is coming. I love programming and don't need to work but really want to build cool stuff. In broad strokes I'm where I set out to be when I graduated in college -- I didn't know the tactics but I knew the strategy. I'm in my early thirties.

This is probably the most important book you'll read at your age:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Millionaire-Fastlane-Wealth-Lifeti...


jabbathehut, you've just described my situation as well. Worked hard for 8 years at various VC/self-funded startups as founding hire, went solo in between startups, and don't need to work either - although for me, it is more of a combination of passive income and frugal living - I like to work and solve problems. I recently lived in South America for six months and realized after the novelty wore off that I really wanted to make cool things that will change the world in a big way. In fact, I ended up spending most of my time working on this while living there, so I came back to the US to move things faster.

May I ask where you're based out of? The computer animation/games/video revolution is definitely coming and I see very valuable applications of the technology outside of the gaming space. The immediate opportunity/problem I'm working on solving is in a growing global niche market. The idea came from a problem I had in this space. Users (including myself) are paying lots of money but there's nonexistent innovation and almost every user I spoke with is in interested in trying this. I'm fairly location independent, and I'd love to meet up/chat to talk more; if you're interested, please feel free to email me at yuzshan [At] gmail [d0t] com

PS I'm also in my early thirties. Great book by the way.


"...can't help feeling i'm building a dream for someone else."

I can relate to that feeling and it's something I revisit occasionally. Though, being a founder or joining a startup and taking equity has it's own set of anxieties. I think the right approach is to just focus on what you're building and if it's right for you. If you believe in the projects you're working on it's a lot easier to find happiness in your work. Some tough decisions need to be made along the way regarding money but it is possible to find a balance between compensation and doing what you love. You just need to be relentless in reaching the goals you set for your career.

I personally split time between a regular 40 hour a week job as an in-house web developer and freelancing. I just try to find new projects that interest me so that I don't get bored.


I'm a developer at dojo4 in Boulder, Colorado (dojo4.com/team) and am really happy. I do a few hours a week on a side project (manualviableproduct.com) but mainly for my own enjoyment.

I have a bachelor's in cs and a bachelor's in information assurance however so it wasn't a hard pitch to be a developer. I worked at a couple of more corporate style companies before being really happy at dojo4.

They care enough about the craft of developing that they push me to be a better programmer and give a big middle finger to anyone who wants us to forget our values for any amount of money. I love it. Our clients love us. I'm proud of the quality of the work we do.

And we drink lots of beer & scotch, eat lots of cookies and free lunches, and get massages every month. :p


I am self-employed and have been for about 10 years.

To some extent as a programmer there are times when you will (and should) help other people build their dreams. None of us can build what we want to on our own. Doing so for money brings you connections if you do it well, which help you down the road. Additionally if your dream doesn't help others achieve their dreams, you will never be able to make money at it. This is true both in terms of formal employment and major contract work.

None of that means you shouldn't work on your own projects as well if you want, and try to make money at that. Owning your own work, in the sense of not reporting to a singular boss (sure, customers are bosses, but they aren't singular) is very rewarding.


I've been developing professionally for about 4 years now and I've tried a 10,000+ company, a 40 person company, a 2 person startup, and now back to a large corporation (with plans to continue the startup).

It's ok to make mistakes, keep learning skills (even if you don't make a lot of money), know your worth, and never give up your dream. You can't do a startup if you have lots of time but have no money to survive, and you can't do a startup if you're making someone else's dream and you have no time of your own. So find the right balance and do what makes sense.


Complete luck. Timing to start out in the right industry, followed by vigorous effort, learning, and experimentation. I also built many relationships early on in my career that I've mostly kept alive throughout the last decades. I've changed careers twice when the old skills/industry lowered the value of those skills. Keep learning - read Richard Hamming's _You and Your Research_ [1]. Keep friends and work hard. [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1zDuOPkMSw


My main source of income is very up-and-down. I develop software for jailbroken iOS devices. Once I release something there is a little bump in my income. The iOS7 release and subsequent software-updates gave me a little bump also. It's my absolute passion and I am super happy to be able to do this for a living at this moment.

It won't last forever though. I have a freelance "employer" also but the projects are small and far inbetween.

A big help in this is that I am currently living in S.E. Asia, otherwise this would never (!) work.


I've worked almost 15 years in various IT roles, building up my skills (technical and otherwise). In my spare time (when I had it), I would also dabble in side projects. Some made money, most didn't. Eventually a side project started taking off and is now providing a nice bonus. I still work full time for someone else, but I aim to have the flexibility to choose what I want to do now and not just work for the money.

This stuff takes time and a lot of effort. You can't just build an app and sell it for $19B overnight.


If you're intending to have a reasonably-sized stable of clients then there are significant tax and liability advantages to doing things through your own Limited Company, but that really is a nomadic existence, you can't just work for one client without risking falling foul of IR35.

What do you care about most? Doing something fun, feeling that your efforts are worthwhile to humanity, making money? Everything is a balance of risk and reward, and everyone's motivations tend to be slightly different.


It's a good question. I love to read people's responds here and kudos to all who have shared their experience. Answering to your question, I work as an employee. I enjoy working in a company because there are trainings, financial support to get IT certification and the salary is not bad. Also the company's dream which is to make IT more secure is pretty much similar to my dream. So if you end up working as an employee, better be in a company that has the same dream as yours.


Almost all of my money comes from client services. I didn't finish college, but often wish I had, if only because it took me just as long to sort out how to self-learn.


care to share insights you gained about self-learning?


You are right. Developer is just labor. Not too much different than a server in an resturant.

So how did a server become an resturant owner? You need to think about that.


Two weeks ago my money came from the startup I worked for.

But I have now switched to freelancing, with said startup being my only client at the moment. I might look for more clients later, but I’m hoping to make money through Gittip and releasing my own products instead. Like you, I want to be in charge of my own destiny, even if that means not doing what has conventionally worked for others.


My personal experience is this: writing software is easy, building a business is hard. I love writing code, I hate doing A/B testing / funnels, SEO blog posts, drip marketing, calculating LTV/UAC and all that, I'm not good at it + I don't like it.

and I also hate getting delayed results, when I code at my day job, I see results immediately, although it's gradual, it's still a direct feedback to my actions, I put code, I get working software, I do a code review, I get immediate feedback and quickly implement it.

So unless you are ready to do the business side of things (or know someone who is good at it and likes to do it) then doing someone else's dream is probably a good choice. As long as they pay you what you deserve. (how do you know what you deserve? take the highest salary you find for your role in indeed.com or glassdoor / payscale, and ask for it in your current / next job). There is no other way to know.

But if you are OK with delayed gratification, have a LOT of patience, are willing to speak with customers, do sales, experiment, do follow up calls, accept failure again and again and still try to make it work by changing one aspect (AKA pivot). If you are willing to lose some money to gain money later (e.g. pay for some failed ads just to know the click through rate and validate an idea), and if you are OK working your a off with potentially zero gain for a long time, then you should probably start your own business (even if you don't have an idea, find someone who does, or take an existing idea and do it better)

Even doing freelancing can work, all you need is someone (can be you) who can bring customers, and someone (can be you) who can keep those customers happy in a good hourly rate without too many non billable hours.

My advice to my younger self - try it while you can, it's harder for me now with a family to stop it all and start my own thing.

You always can do the side project thing, but don't expect it to become your main income source without either a lot of work or a lot of luck. I had a few side projects some of them made money, but it was a lot of work to maintain.

Look at the successful startups out there, yes there is a lot of execution and technical talent that drives their success, but I say this is not the main reason they are where they are, it falls down to ability to get users to come and ability to get users to stay.

I see those companies fall into one of 2 types - either they have a very high growth curve (the "Viral" / network effect startups) which are statistically very hard to re-create (getting users is REALLY, REALLY, HARD, a single Show HN in the front page + a techcrunch review + good SEO is not enough. You also need people to keep returning to your product, and tell more people about it) these include free products like Facebook, or market places like AirBNB - they need lot's of users to make it work

The other type is startups that sell something (product / service, one time or subscription), in this case you can have revenue from day 1, so I would recommend this route, but it is known to have a very slow ramp up [0]

As popular to say, YMMV... but this is my personal view on this.

[0] http://businessofsoftware.org/2013/02/gail-goodman-constant-...


> The other type is startups that sell something (product / service, one time or subscription), in this case you can have revenue from day 1, so I would recommend this route,

This is good advice. A few years delayed, but slow, steady, stable growth or your mental self as well as your brand and of your team is a pretty good platform to launch something bigger.


I choose who I work for by these attributes:

1) does the company provide a product or service that makes a world a better place? (e.g. Nest, Tesla would qualify)

2) are my potential colleagues great people that I will enjoy spending time with and learning from? (it's miserable to work for miserable people)

3) will the company pay me a market wage such that I can provide for myself and my family


Still working on masters. Current income is from being a TA, I help teach and grade undergrad computer classes. I still have time to work on my own projects and have a salaried job lined up at one of the main big tech companies out west. Though I want to branch off and do independent work and start company in a few years.


The nice thing about just being an employee is you get a lot more free time to enjoy life. Yes, there is life outside of software for some of us!

Also, way less risk.

I work for big companies, and the chance of getting laid off is about 0%, while the chance of an annual raise and performance bonus is 100%.

Not saying it's the best way to go, but it works for me.


Just a quick comment to say thanks for replying. Lots of useful ideas and a few things i'll be looking into.

Keep em coming! :)


I work as a software developer in an investment bank. In finance you can earn much more than £30,000 per year.


Not easy to get those jobs and not easy if you don't want to live in London.


Yes, I'm afraid both of your points are true.


Excuse me? Are you a student working part-time earning £30,000 a year?

(I would say that's pretty much)

Correct me if I'm wrong.


I read most of the comments, except of 2-3 vey long essays (short attention span).

On my way to work (living wage) I'll be listening to: - Millionaire Fastlane - Icarus Deception

I miss my freedom so much. Working because I have to pay off the car that is getting me to work. #insane


I started out working for a couple of years as a supporter while programming for fun at home, this way i learned a lot about computers (think os/2, dos, win 3.11) while building up my programming skills.

Been self employed for 16 years now.


Hi Dale,

I ended up starting out at UC Berkeley and during that first year of school I got my first real introduction to programming and computer science. However, I was also running a failing dial-up Internet service business (a cousin of mine had gotten my parents to purchase it so I could run it and earn some money/learn a bit about business, which was cool during high school) and was trying to maintain a long-distance relationship (which ultimately failed) and working part-time in the dormitory computer lab.

Because of the relationship, and the stress of dealing with the business failing (and closing after my first semester in school) I ended up not doing too well my second semester and ultimately decided to come back home.

At the time, back in 2006, things were still in boom mode and there were lots of cool new developments coming up back in my small town so I saw this as an opportunity to do something to make my community a little bit better.

I didn't necessarily want to continue with school (looking back, that was a pretty dumb thought) so I'm glad I followed my sister's advice and enrolled for an online degree program and worked my butt off over the next year and a half (with my AP credit and the credit from my classes I did pass at Berkeley, along with CLEP Exams I took along the way to get out of certain requirements, I was able to finish my Bachelors, and have that all too important piece of paper, before I was 21).

During that time I was in school I had started up a new business hoping to do a bunch of web development for local business and start making an income I could live off of. After that didn't really materialize I figured it'd be a good idea to start pursuing a "real job" where I could earn a regular salary I could depend on.

So months before I officially graduated I had started my job search in my local area. I blame most of this on luck, but I applied for a number of IT jobs, which I got "Thank you for applying" letters and a few web development jobs, but kept on getting rejection letters. I also ended up applying for a webmaster job at the local college in April 2007, but even though I kept on checking in each month, there wasn't any movement on actually hiring anyone for months.

So in late 2007 or so I ended up releasing a site which I hoped would "change things" and raise a bunch of money for education by encouraging folks to purchase their online products through a non-profit which would be setup specifically to collect and then distribute affiliate fees earned by all of the local individuals that made their purchase through this site (as an example, you might click on the Amazon link on this site and then be taken onto the main Amazon site after that to do your regular shopping, but since you went through that non-profit's site it would bring back a bit of that purchase to the community and I was hoping that money could go to paying for field trips for schools and other stuff that normally gets the ax because of budget cuts nowadays). I learned a few years later, but I guess that work is what eventually made the college move forward with looking at all of the applicants for that webmaster job and I impressed them enough in the interview that I was offered that position in early February 2008. That day I got that call that I was going to be hired is probably one of the happiest I can remember (it's a good feeling to know that your hard work and talents are appreciated).

Those good feelings were tempered dramatically when the Friday before I was supposed to start working, my younger sister passed away in a car accident driving to her high school. Going through such a difficult time right when you begin working somewhere really showed me how much people care about each other down here and I really appreciated all of the support I received at my new workplace during those early days.

Over time, I've learned so much and each week and month most often has something new to work through that you didn't know about before. I'm essentially self-taught in most everything related to programming I've accomplished since that first year at Berkeley, but it was a great foundation. However, if there's one thing I have learned over these years is that there is so much I don't know and which I would love to learn. The hard part is finding teachers, particularly where I live because we have no connection to startups that could teach us the wide variety of skills I'm always hearing about here on HN. I'm starting to get to the point where I'm just going to start learning some of this stuff on my own, but it's hard to justify sometimes when your day job doesn't necessarily need you to learn those things (it's always an additional driver to know that this thing that I'm trying to learn is going to be directly applicable to work).

I have a small software business I work on some weekends, but it's super small ($200-$300 which about $150 in overhead). One of my goals this year is to try and increase that amount (it's been basically the same each month since I started it back in August 2010), not because I want it to replace my day job (if the business takes off that'd be wonderful of course, but I think I would still want to keep my day job and use that extra money to help my family or my community in some way).

I think the main thing you're talking about though is that you yearn for something a bit more, and I can't say that I don't have those same wishes too. I'd love to work for a startup or a big company, but not necessarily because I think they'd be better than my current workplace, which is really great, but mainly because the types of problems would be different, there'd be more people I could learn from, and those sorts of things (additional learning opportunities).

As jawns mentioned, it has to do with your risk tolerance, and working for a good organization can be very good for you particularly when you're just starting out. Gaining that experience is crucial to allowing you to continue getting positions at other organizations if you're not happy with your current one. If creating/joining a startup sounds attractive to you, just try and make sure you think through all of the possibilities (I'm an optimist so I always think things will turn out great for my businesses, but after those past failures it does help make you a bit wiser...or at least more understanding of your own limitations as a business person, haha).

All the best and good luck for you in your career!


Thanks for writing this, and sorry for your loss.


I work nightshifts in a gambling hall and by daytime I'm coding for two startups I have with a friend. Only problem is the constant lack of money...


I'm employed and i'm a freelancer both. Tough handling both, but i just can't sit idle for even an hr, i have to do something.


I do research for a hedge fund, which pulls in $150k-$1m per year depending on how well the fund does. I program in my spare time.


Working for any entity that you do not own can be perceived as making someone else (owners, shareholders, investors) rich.


I'm 19 and living in Sydney, Australia.

I ignored High School and taught myself javascript and web standards instead from about the age of 12. During this time I also did 8 years of ballet, contemporary and jazz dancing. I also played the guitar and double bass semi-professionally and I sang in a Cathedral Choir ( even sang for the pope a couple of times even though I am 0% religious ). I also travelled across most of Europe and Asia ( it helps that I speak fluent Ukrainian and Russian ). I did a bit of freelance when I was about 16 for a couple of places. This experience was probably the most valuable part of my career to date. Learning how to pitch work to someone that doesn't know you, learning how to manage your own time correctly and learning how to talk the client speak are things that restrict many developers later on ( i've found ).

I started work a week before my HighSchool final exams were over as a full-time junior front-end Developer for a small agency that was quite far from where I lived at the time. I think it was particularly good for me since they had a wonderful culture and though my title was 'junior front-end' I was actually the only developer there that knew anything about front-end and I was able to plunge into the deep-end with every project, and really own the front-end. I also learnt to work closely with designers and really care for that relationship there. Another thing that is so often missing.

Interestingly enough, that agency ended up firing everyone and doing something new about 7 months after I started which sucked ( I was absolutely gutted at the time ). Luckily, I had built a pretty good portfolio there of work where I could point at the front-end and say 'that was all me'. I ended up applying for about 5 different places that I particularly liked.

The first place I interviewed at was actually wonderful. Great culture, reasonable expectations and a great work ethic and care for perfection ( this was my ultimate need ). Funnily enough, they liked me just as much; so much so in fact that they hired me in the interview to start the next day as a contractor until they got all of the documents in order to make me full time.

3 months in, I changed a bit as a person. Still very much a developer in mentality, I felt closed off from the decision making process and a lot like I was just a 'resource' rather than a person with ideas. The agency was in a 'transitional' period and the corporate side struggled with integrating properly with the newly acquired 'dev' side. Anyway, after 3 months I decided I needed to change something. I stopped being a developer and began working there as a 'Creative' ( this is still my position there ). This was actually pretty great since I have a great passion for marketing as I do for development. In this role I my main duty is as a 'concept' resource in regards to big integrated campaigns. I spend most of my time researching and writing up ways that the dev side can be best applied to the corp. side or drawing up concept art for products or ideas.. It's a pretty fun gig. Aside from this I do a bunch of random sub-contractor work for different people. This allows me to continue flexing my dev side which I feel is just as important as everything else.

It's hard to say i've been that successful yet, because I still have so much I feel I need to do; but it's definitely liberating earning a good $80k AUD at 19 after everyone told me that I wouldn't be able to do anything with my life unless I went to uni.

I am also working on a product in my other spare time ( if it even exists ) that I know actually has a market. Trying to figure out if I want to drop everything and pursue it or possibly even license it and raise some funding and employ someone to build it for me. Tough decisions.

Down the road, I will build an Agency that bridges the gap between digital innovation and the needs of Ad/Marketing Agencies ( I have a huge underlying passion for this ).


Testing Software


Freelance


Looking back over my career, it seems to me that I mostly warm chairs and surf the web while in the offices of software companies. Occasionally they ask me to code something, and I do it. I'd say that accounts for less than 10% of the time I've spent in the office. This is across 4 companies and 15 years. I did the most work at the one that was a startup.

As for your feeling about your situation, I think there is a pretty clear pyramid scheme whereby older people get younger people to build their pyramids for them. The idea is that people with a lot of experience lead, and provide their workers an opportunity to gain experience. I think that's partly true, but it's equally true that there are elements of human nature, ageism, and taking advantage. Perhaps it's just positioning - whether it's the older leveraging the younger, the more vigorous leveraging the more passive, or risk-takers leveraging the risk-averse, no matter how you rationalize it, in the end you will find a small number of people in a position where they're either making huge amounts of money or expecting to, and a large number of people just making whatever the ordinary wage is for their job.


It is not surprising that older risk takers lead the younger and risk adverse. I dont think that per se is ageism. They have accumulated the capital and connections to make a startup work. YC counters that somewhat. It's not necessarily for someone new to hone their skill and maybe be part of the founding team next time around.

That said, this industry is rampant with ageism. Once you get beyond 40, it takes longer and longer to find a new job. The presumption is that, if you are older, your skills development stagnated somewhere around the turn of the century.


Entrepreneurs have no cap on their income but don't always make more than an employee. Try both and see what you like.


I worked in IT, with no BSCS. I took some college classes at nights and weekends while working.

When 2008 rolled around, I knew things were shaky at my company, but many companies I looked at had "Required: BSCS" or even when not, HR would grill me on college when I applied. I began saving a lot. I decided if I could find an equivalent or better job I'd leave, otherwise I'd take my chances - I had many months warning about the company and economy shakiness. Finally at the end of 2008 I got severance (it was a big company) and unemployment. I went back to school full time.

While at school, I learned how to program better and better. I learned Java. I took $100 of my money, sent $25 to Google and bought 6 months of web/email hosting with the other $75. I began publishing Android apps. After six months, one of my apps finally began doing well, and it has paid for itself ever since.

As far as my revenue, it has averaged $600 a week for the past few weeks. My business expenses are negligible - about $35 a week, $25 of which is my cell phone bill which is not fully a business expense. My non-recurring costs are when I pay for artwork or translations or ads.

My fall 2013 semester was academically tough (with my AI class only being one of the hard classes) so I did very little new work on my apps, just some minor maintenance, checking Nagios etc. Sometimes I can do work during the semester, sometimes I can't. I wind up doing a lot of new work during winter breaks, and during those summers in which I did not take classes (some summers I do take classes - but there is a short break around those as well).

The general ideas floating around here on HN are good. Paul Graham's essays, the Lean Startup ideas of Eric Ries and all of that.

One major difference for me is I am not looking to build a billion dollar company that is initially desirable to invest in for angels and VCs. I am doing a bootstrapped, lifestyle thing for now. I'm happy with $600 a week, although I hope to push that up to $700 or $800, and then eventually to $2000 a week. Once I get to $2000 a week, I'll probably shift what I'm doing, and may take on a more long-term, ambitious project more in tune with what is discussed here. For what I'm currently doing, pg's "Ramen Profitable" essay is good. "Startup = Growth" is good as well. As well as other essays, posts, and blogs by others doing bootstrapped startups.

You talk about working part-time. I started off taking four classes a semester, including a hard class in each semester. Before doing my own apps, one semester I took a consulting gig, and stripped down to two classes - one hard, one easy. It was not stripped down enough - I wound up having to drop the hard class, and the company said I was taking too long.

I also took a summer consulting gig and had no time at all to work on my apps. It's hard to juggle too many things. One semester I could only get two easy classes registered, so I got a lot of app work done during the semester.

One problem with working for others is during go-go times like 1998-1999 there is a lot of work, but come 2001 or 2009, work dries up, especially if you have no college diploma. I'm happy I've built up $30k in side income. If it keeps building up, it might become all of my income.

On the other hand, as others have said, you learn things working at companies, technical and otherwise, meet people etc. Some companies are just overflowing with cash.


Hey, I would like to get in touch with you, as I am about to take a year off to try building an app based lifestyle business. My email is in my profile.

Just looking for some hints and tips, will probably setup an 'Ask HN' closer to the start- I have about three months of commitments left before I go full time on app building.




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