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18 and hopeless
47 points by _toutouastro on Aug 16, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments
I am 18 years old startup founder from north africa : last year was my final year at high school.I spent most of my time working on my product so I got bad grades and didn't qualify for engineering school.They did put me in design school and now I can't get even a PHD or masters degree.I always wanted to be a computer scientist or at least an engineer : my dream is destroyed now.I can't work without a degree in computer science and can't even a get a visa for Europe or USA.What should I do ?

People here are predominantly American or European, which means they already have good visas and even if they don't live in a big city with lots of computer industry jobs they can at least move there.

This is probably not how it works where you're currently living. Without an engineering degree or a lot of money, it will be really hard for you to emigrate to North America or Europe.

Your life is not ruined, in so far that you can probably still get a job in your current country.

I don't know about your education system, but can't you retake the university entrance examinations?

To my knowledge, that's usually possible in most countries. Quit design school, study for the exams, and apply again. You'll lose a year, but that's better than being shut out of the rich country emigration stream.

Ideally, if your parents can afford it, study abroad. Here in Canada, for instance, it's easier to attain permanent residency if you went to school here.

Good luck,

Harsh reality: most immigration departments don't give a shit about your Github profile or your open-source cred. They do care if you have a relevant degree.

It's going to be an uphill battle if you want to find work in a first-world country without a degree. Not saying it's impossible, mind you.

It's an uphill battle if you have a degree. It's an uphill battle to get to N. America from the EU and vice-versa, let alone N. Africa.

Anyone commenting here who has not personally immigrated to another country in which they were not born with work rights needs to seriously consider their advice.

Harsh reality: if you're on a work visa, the immigration department doesn't care about whatever degree you have either. It cares about whether you have a job offer/visa sponsor.

Whether a degree or demonstrated proficiency/work experience matters more depends on the employer.

How do you get that work visa without proper degree? It's more or less a requirement for an H1-B in the US


"Having education, specialized training, and/or progressively responsible experience that is equivalent to the completion of a U.S. bachelor’s or higher degree in the specialty occupation, and having recognition of expertise in the specialty. through progressively responsible positions directly related to the specialty. In general, 3 years of work experience or training in the field is considered as equivalent to 1 year of college."

Yeah, so 4x3=12 years of relevant experience. The subject in question is still looking for first job out of college.

Guys, talking about the H1-B is a moot point, he might as well buy a lottery ticket and then pay his way into engineering school somewhere in the world, given how US immigration looks.

Immigration departments due give a shit: philsturgeon.uk/blog/2014/08/i-was-an-extraordinary-alien-for-a-week

Please do not make broad assumptions like your post does ._.

I was born in Russia, and i drop out of engineering univ. myself being 18. Life is awesome now, you can make much more money doing consulting, and you can get tourist visa for Europe/USA to make sure those countries suck (I was in pretty much all interesting cities). I do infosec btw.

Forget about degree, do your own business

You're a bit of a special case, though. For starters, you've made enough of a name for yourself that you might get someone willing to go to bat for you as an 'exceptionally qualified' person once you get a few more years of work under your belt.

Do you plan on going back to Russia? You can't keep living on tourist visas forever. Even a permanent residency in Thailand seems to require a degree.

That's right tourist visas can't help forever. But "permanent residency in Thailand seems to require a degree" cannot be true, rather working visa requires it. Other migration ways such as investment visas are not so strict about degree. All you need is about half or a million dollars.

I don't have it yet but it doesn't seem so hard to me, and I believe i chose the right path. It's harder path because less people choose it. Countries' job, I guess, is to keep dangerous or unqualified people away, and degree was one of a few way to estimate how good is a person. This metric is more of a legacy than real reason to go to university imo.

@phillmv has his point, being famous can get you visitors on your website, but you still need to sell your services. A friend of mine, JS consultant, lives the same life not being that "famous".

Yeah I dropped out because I wanted to be a musician, I spent 10 years f@#$ing around touring and playing - I was never very good, but I had a blast - not the kind of thing the speaks to building a future.

I have always been a self starter, reasonable at math and have loved computers since I was a kid. Three years ago I began studying business and founded a startup which has grown to 12 employees, is very profitable, and looks to have a bright future.

Its not there yet, but I have created many real opportunities for myself. If you have a skill and a dream, refine it, keep working at it, and keep hustling. If your skills are not there yet, make a plan to get some, if your product is not there yet pivot or drop it and move on.

We're on a continent with massive potential, a need for innovation and a hunger for leaders and free thinkers. Your dream can only be created by you, and in the same destroyed by you.

You've chosen your product over grades, so don't whine, get busy making sure it was worth it.

Terminal degrees are pretty overrated if your goal is to build products or even to learn to develop/become a technical badass.

While getting credentials is a tried and true path for getting a visa, it's still dependent on getting a job offer - certainly in the US, most startups would rather look for exceptional ability/experience over a degree.

If you're really motivated, it's fairly easy to draw up a list of skills that you want to gain/learn focused on development. Then like b6 suggests, participate in some community projects that you are interested and start building up a strong public Github presence/history. If you were willing to dedicate 10yrs to get a PhD and spent that time on this type of personal development path, I think you would be much better off if you're goal is in skills acquisition/actually making stuff. Of course, this depends strongly on your internal drive/discipline and perhaps a bit on your penchant for autodidactism (personally, I think those are acquired skills, but they're rather foundational/catch-22 ones).

In the meantime you should be able to use elance/odesk to gain contracting experience/pay the bills once you're functional.

As you level up, you'll get a better idea of what exactly you want to do and get a better perspective on things.

You can still do masters or PHD in computer science. Who said designers cannot apply to computer science bachelor or masters degrees? Have you looked at US universities? For e.g. if you want to apply for a masters in computer science, all you need is 16 years of education in your home country. US universities are amazing in screening candidates. I have a personal experience in this regard. Also, designers (graphic, industrial, art) are in amazing demand in computer science industry. Do your design thing and then top it off with a masters in computer science. You'll be one of the rarebreed. I've hired a guy recently at $200/hr. Super rock star.

When applying to US for masters program, just remember to showcase your startup, your open source contributions and diverse education background. You'll be heading into the top 10 schools here.

If you want to apply to companies without any degree then all top class internet/mobile companies give a damn about education (if you're really good and you should be able to prove that). Most of the founders are drop-outs and know that degree is just one of the criteria and not the only criteria. A top class degree definitely helps because you've been vetted before but it is not the only criteria.

If you want to study computer science, then I think that you are in luck. CS is one of the few fields where most (if not all) the information that you need is freely available online. Some other fields such as civil engineering or medicine have less material available online and therefore you have to attend college for those majors.

Unless you plan on working for a large corporation or the government, your credentials are not really that important. Credentials were important in the last century because graduating from college was so rare and knowledge was only taught at the university. I view credentials as a screen mechanism used by HR departments who don't have the time or energy to understand the strengths of a candidate.

If you are determined enough you can learn anything. You can look at the curriculum at the top schools (i.e., MIT) and find books and online courses that match their major requirements. One of the things that you will find is that what is taught in school is a very small subset of skills that you need. Once you finish with the academic courses, you real lesson begins in a far more unpredictable environment-- the real world.


Here's my story... when i was your age i started programing for a local company while i was in high school, i had no idea how to do a basic for loop. My grades suffered too, but i never gave up and i didn't go to college or university. But i tought myself PHP, and then C#, right now I'm working full time and paid well.

for the past 6 years I've worked for 5 companies and i have freelanced for a while. I've went to about 15 job interviews, only 3 decided not to hire me because of the lack of my formal education, the others were mostly looking for someone with more experience.

The important thing here is that without a degree I still get hired over people with college degrees. If you are smart kid it doesn't really matter where you are located because you can still practice what you love. Don't give up.

P.S. Try to create few personal projects that are really interesting to you and have passion for. showing people what you've built in your free time is what's most likely to get them to hire you. And if you get to earn some $$ from those projects that's going to be even better for you!

I don't know if you're near Marocco, but you could try to get into Supinfo North Africa: that branch didn't exist yet when I went to that engineering school, but one good thing about it is that it has branches in many countries, and you can move between countries while continuing the same classes which is useful to get to know other places and start making contacts. I think they also make remote courses if you're too far, but I don't know the details: http://www.supinfo.com/fr/Menu8fb44d65-6662-4ceb-bbb6-c2d203...

The email of the school is: maroc@supinfo.com


But most importantly is that you don't give up even if things look grim right now: as long you don't give up, the dream is not dead, it's merely postponed :)

Worst case scenario, you could continue the design school, get a job in that branch to save money, then try for the engineering school again later and by then you would have improved your skills by learning online.

Don't worry about software engineering degree. Most people and companies don't care. But you need to learn on your own. You can find anything you need to learn online. Free online courses, tutorials, open source software etc.

Learn how to use Bitcoin. Really. It might enable you to deal with any company in the world: buy VPNs, hosting, hardware, accept jobs and payments for your services. Noone cares where you live if you deal in Bitcoin. Find a way to convert BTC to local currency so you can pay your bills and buy stuff you need to live, accumulate what you can.

Learn Linux and its ecosystem if you haven't already. It's great enabler for anything.

Keep learning and do your own projects, work remotely for the best jobs you can find. You might want to accept Bitcoin or start your own online services.

Your goal should be to learn a lot and be able to work as a software engineer. After couple of years you will know better how to deal with other dreams you have.

I am 17, live in the US, and am not going to go to college even though I was planning on applying to Stanford (I am very ambitious).

I made that decision because I have a lot of momentum in business and entrepreneurship, and I feel like college will not be able to teach me more than I can learn where I'm at now.

I recently started an online teenage entrepreneurship community, and I would love for you to join. There are some teens in the community with professional experience in computer programming (they get paid good money), although they don't have a degree and haven't even graduated high school. They are self-taught, and I'm sure they would be more than happy to give you some advice on learning to code.

Oops forgot a link: http://teenpro.net/

Could you add your email to your profile or contact me via my own? I'd love to discuss some aspects of this site.

I agree with everything b6 said.

I too had delt with this problem when I was a freshmen in college for cs. Most of the papers were utter bull shit. I had to make a choice and I, somewhat cowardly chose grades, although I did try to do things that really matter (reading books that are good not the ones they want to you mug, writing open source code etc etc), grades were always my priority.

Well, guess what, it is the most stupid decision I ever made. I am out of college, I work in a start up and been to some other companies and none of them ever asked me my grades.

So my advice would be: - Build more things - Contribute some couple of Open source projects - Have a grasp of CS fundamentals (readup on algos, DS, basic computer design)

If you are an employee, a degree is useful. Employers care about portfolios and past working experiences much more than they do about grades, but a CS diploma is what gets your foot in the door for an interview at a decent firm or being considered for a promotion, at least in your first years.

If you are the boss it's a little bit different: It's all about the product, knowing how to surround yourself with the right people, being motivated, making connections, your conviction and ability to sell and speak in public and your past experiences running or participating in other companies' big decisions.

Hi, I'm from North Africa myself, precisely from morocco. I understand you already have your bacalaureat and are having a hard time getting to an engineering school. What about the next best thing, which is University or private university? so you can get your degree at least. I know how hard it is there, especially if you are in morocco. Working on private projects on the side or on your own startup shouldn't be a problem or blocking you from getting a bachelor/master or phd degree. Your other option is to apply for universities in europe, especially france, germany or UK.

I received a BA in my native country and then MS in CS in United States.

Cost-wise it's an optimal option, since US undergraduate tuition is generally a rip-off, while in grad school there are assistantships and research grants.

If design school is easy for you, spend your free time studying computer science and concepts. If you plan to apply to a US graduate school for an engineering/CS degree, you should also prepare for GRE and GRE CS - even if schools don't require them, impressive scores convince them that someone without documented background put in enough effort.

You can get a work visa for some countries without a degree, just need a proper job offer.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Netherlands and a few others allow you to do so even if they say they don't.

However since you do not have an extensive practical experience, you might run into problems actually getting someone to offer you a job overseas.

Being a person with similar background (no degree) and that worked legally in a few countries already, I can just advice you to keep your head up and acquire more experience, the right time will come and the job offers will start flowing. :)

No one can prevent you from learning computer science.

Everything you need is open to you on the Internet. You just need to find he harder and more theoretical stuff (in addition to practical) and make yourself work through it.

Almost all CS papers are open, except for the dratted ACM and many of those can be obtained via a professor's site, etc.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have any guidance in terms of putting a curriculum for yourself together but that too is available to you! Go get 'em.

I didn't finish high school even.

I'm 23, programming since 13 and working professionally since 18. Working at a startup at the moment -- my second job ever. Never worked outside the computer engineering area.

Go for it, apply to startups in EU/USA.

If a startup don't hire you because you don't have a degree or whatever, they're doing it wrong. Work for them for 1 week and see how things go.

Do whatever works for you and be happy.

I don't get it. You worked on your product and startup. How did that work out?

If you wanted to get degrees, a PhD even, then you would have known that you had to be a very good student.

So you made the decision to go down the startup path. Why not make that successful? Lots of successful founders either never went to university or dropped out. Take inspiration from them.

A bachelors degree in something is a useful tool for getting your CV past some companies' HR firewalls and into the hands of somebody technical.

Said actually technical person is probably going to be a lot more interested in whether you can code than whether you have a piece of paper claiming you spent three years studying how to code.

hi, i was born in China, immigrated to Europe when i was 11 years old. though where we live has huge influence on our persona, it can't make us who we were not. Growing up is not a one person challenge, try to surround urself with peers & mentors, participate & contribute to international no profit projects ( i was involved in the UNIDO program, the branch of UN who promote investment & tech transfer, it was a eye opener for me, and my first dive into the business world) I agree with b6 on college stuff, cause most of them are built to be social pressure reducers, they just "gaged" people ouside of the world as long as possible.

Don't fear for have failed some exams, cause those are just bugs from an antiquated sys,just hack your way out! lol

Hmm why don't you consider studying in Europe? I know the southern countries treat people immigrating from Africa like shit, so fuck them. But in the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden you can study computer science in English.

Also, the governments give are going to give you a really good price for your your education, unlike our friends in the US who pay crazy amounts for their degrees. That could be something to look into.

In Sweden I'd say Chalmers University (in Gothenburg) or KTH (in Stockholm) are the top schools. They both provide education in English, classes are mixed with foreigners and Swedes. In Berlin, Germany you should check out TU (Technisher Universität (or however it's spelled)), I recall they do English-speaking courses in Computer Science (they call it "Informatik" there). Keep in mind though that all of these places are f%$#ing cold, haha!

Best of luck buddy! In a few years looking back at this you're gonna be fine, and have a great degree and interesting life!

Can you re-take the final year?

Wa sat ana 3arfek magrabi u la men lzazaier, ana saken fi sbania wahc bagi tgi loropa? gaubni fi had l'email: a5414h @ gmail . com

I am tunisian in fact !

You can always pass online job interview and if it get well the company will get you greencard and all.

Don't regret and work and learn

> I can't work without a degree

Why not?

north africa ? not many jobs there ... :/

Do the ones that exist really rely on a CS degree? Or might a smart, dedicated hacker be just as useful, if not moreso?

Not really, the market in North africa is tightly related to france market. In france, having a degree is almost a must. You can't hack yourself around things unless you are really very very lucky. Even career changes are looked upon badly. Example: you are an engineer and you want to switch to management, unless you have a degree in management, you will have a hard time moving up the ladder. The franco system is very very different from the Anglo-saxson system where people are more risky and hacking around the system is rewarded.

Why not start a company that hires all these outstanding engineers who, for whatever reason, don't have degrees? It seems like a fantastic way to jump ahead of your illogically-prejudiced competitors.

You are young, keep up the spirit.

Hi, I'm glad I saw your post.

I nearly got expelled from high school and ended up dropping out. When I went to college, I had no idea how to study, and I spent so much time writing code for my own private projects that I had almost no time left over to study or do homework, so my grades were awful.

But I kept getting stronger at solving computer problems. Employers asked me lots of questions about Linux, and C, and how I'd solve various problems, and so on. But nobody has ever asked me about my grades, or my GPA, or the courses, or my degree. I know grades and degrees may seem important to you now, but in my experience, it just hasn't made any difference. What has made a difference is the huge amount of time and effort I've put into programming and solving problems.

I'm 35. I work at a startup. I work very hard, but I do whatever I want. I'm still learning and getting better. I don't have a boss. I work with my friends. One friend, like me, had disastrous grades. Another friend, probably the most brilliant and talented person I know, did not finish college.

You simply don't need permission from a university to be what you want. And the university doesn't even have the power to grant anything except a certificate. If you want to become a software engineer, you do it by putting in time every day. Always curiously searching and probing and testing and challenging yourself and making yourself stronger.

Like I said, I know grades seem important to you now, but your dream is not destroyed -- it's hardly even started. Go find an interesting repo on Github and study the code and make a meaningful contribution. Solve a tricky problem and write an article about it (explaining to others is an excellent way to solidify your own understanding).

Don't get discouraged and don't ask people for permission to do what you want! :) Good luck.

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