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Ask HN: What to do when all you have is talent?
102 points by tfg4k on Feb 21, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 133 comments
I'm at the end of my rope and this is my first post. Please be gentle. (deep breath)

I started in IT 15 years ago as a help desk jockey for a small ISP back in the dial-up days. Since then I have done everything from low level hardware support to leading a large government project installing a new telephony/messaging solution for a school system.

Here's the thing: I dropped out of high school and got a G.E.D. my Junior year. I have always had a weird knack for learning on the fly (are the rest of you like this too?). I always bluffed my way in to jobs I was completely unqualified for and pulled it off quite well.

Then the recession hit my area particularly hard so I tried the local technical college but decided it wasn't worth the debt or time learning stuff I already knew.. Lately, I have been wasting my time trying to break into IT Security (always my primary interest), with no luck because my security experience isn't professional. I was able to self-study for both my Network+ and Security+ (gotta start somewhere) and did surprisingly well. I'm proud that I was able to score 895/900 on the Security+ exam after just reading for two weeks but these certifications didn't seem to make a difference.

I'll get to the point. I can't seem to get my foot in the door anywhere to do anything from level one help desk work to anything else. Add a new family to the picture and you can see why I need to make a move now. What's someone like me to do? I am talented (some past coworkers and managers actually called it freakish), but you cant put talent on your resume. I'd relocate anywhere on earth for a stable job. I pull a deer-in-the-headlights every time I try to find a new skill to learn. Too many options. I don't know what's in demand. What can people still turn in to a long-term career? What area or "discipline" in IT shows promise for a career?




I'm gonna venture a guess here, and there's a decent chance you're going to respond poorly to it and think I'm just being an asshole, or do some rationalization and throw my opinion away. But I promise: I'm not just trying to put you down. At least consider it.

> I can't seem to get my foot in the door anywhere to do anything from level one help desk work to anything else.

Maybe it's how you come across personally; whether that's in interviews, or cover letters, or introductions.

A good hiring process is probably in the 60/40 ratio of talent/personality. If you're a complete 0 in the personality department, you're probably not going to get hired unless you're a Carmack-level talent. Some places will skew that one way or the other, but I doubt it'll ever go more then 75/25 either way unless you find somewhere completely dysfunctional.

Saying things like:

> I always bluffed my way in to jobs I was completely unqualified for and pulled it off quite well

are usually red flags for me, personality-wise. It reeks a little of someone who constantly needs to publicly validate themselves as "the smartest person in the room," and ends up not accepting feedback very well (if at all). To me, self-reflection, the acceptance that maybe you're not as talented as you think, and striving to constantly be better are critical parts of being a professional.

It's sorta like that person in school who constantly made sure to tell everyone that they didn't study and still aced the exam - most people don't enjoy working with or talking to that person for any extended period of time.

Anyway, I'm not gonna sit here and shit on you. We've all got our things. Just maybe some food for thought.


I feel like I should say this. Saying things like: > I always bluffed my way in to jobs I was completely unqualified for and pulled it off quite well are usually red flags for me, personality-wise.

I have worked with people like the person you probably think I am because of how that came across. I was just trying to honestly express one of the few things that I do have going for me as opposed to just listing things that I don't.


Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying you shouldn't have confidence in your abilities. And if that truly is the case, then I think it's a great quality to have. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that you're a good person and not a loudmouth jackass.

However, as the quote goes, "That's the problem with first impressions. You only get to make one." People tend to be on their guard when interacting with someone for the first time - even if that interaction is just reading a cover letter. Things that your friends wouldn't blink an eye at can easily become reasons the hiring manager tosses out your resume, and unfortunately you rarely get a chance to explain yourself or even feedback that you did something wrong.

The best part is that fixing this doesn't involve a certification program, or spending more money, or anything like that. Maybe just have a couple people read over your cover letters or do mock interviews with you (not sure where you're getting stopped in the process, so can't give specifics there). Maybe try it with someone not super close to you (maybe a former co-worker?) who'll bring up something you're saying or doing that might seem innocuous but is raising alarms somewhere.


You're totally on-point here. My resume is a disaster because I'm bad at writing them. I think I just filled in the blanks on an old Word template the first time I made one. Lets just say that I haven't gotten better at it.

I do get contacted for interviews and solicited for resumes on a semi-regular basis. I interview well and am quite easy to deal with on an interpersonal level.

Thing is, there seems to always be another person out there who gets in after several weeks of consideration due to a number of reasons (relocation, having no professional experience and another candidate may have done an internship, etc.)

Before you say it, because were this the other way round, I'd say it: It has much less to do with 'me' than it does with a combination of my geographical location, and being a semi-self employed consultant/contractor/whatever they call it anymore, as opposed to having had a regular day job for the last few years. [edit due to being a n00b on how to post here]


Hm, well I'm not going to try and divine the source of your woes here since I'm obviously a stranger who has little context about your life and can only offer broad, general advice, but I will leave you with two thoughts:

> I interview well and am quite easy to deal with on an interpersonal level.

I think most of us know when an interview goes really poorly, but my personal stance towards most interviews is that if I wasn't offered a position after an interview it's because I didn't interview well enough.

Now it may be the case that they had some ridiculous or completely arbitrary standards for the interview, and I may be fine with the fact that the interview didn't go well, but I wouldn't necessarily say I interviewed well if I wasn't offered the position.

I say 'most' because that might happen (I interviewed amazingly well and they didn't pick me for some stupid reason) once or twice, but if it's a consistent pattern than I would start looking at the common denominator.

> It has much less to do with 'me' than it does with a combination of my geographical location, and being a semi-self employed consultant/contractor/whatever they call it anymore, as opposed to having had a regular day job for the last few years.

Again I can't speak for your personal situation or pretend to understand, so take this with a huge grain of salt, but my experience with professional employment (even outside of tech) has been that these are things many companies are willing to overlook for the right candidate.

If it was something they were truly unwilling to budge on, they wouldn't have wasted the time to interview you. You would've been screened out before anyone even picked up the phone to talk to you.


I have considered all of this.

Most likely, what few interviews or solicitations for resumes, then interviews that I have had have been from companies who are willing to overlook my crappy resume (again, I made it this far and never had to really write one before) to interview me. What happens after that is anyone's guess. I just do my best, follow the processes the company has in place and just haven't had any luck as of late. Thank you again for all of your input. I realize I need to update my format and rewrite it. Maybe I have been using an unusual style? I'll have to look in to this tonight. [edit: because I didn't know how I accidentally formatted that text.] Oops.


With all due respect, Chainsaw gave you some wonderful advice about your interview ability that you have seemingly chosen to ignore, instead choosing to focus on your resume's shortcomings. Two things:

- first, if this is indicative of how you usually behave, you may in fact be more guilty of smartest-man-in-the-room syndrome than you realize. - second, if you do get interviews, your resume is likely not the problem, but I would still consider how you come across to others. In what I've read of you, I'm sorry, but you're not coming across very well.


Again, I appreciate you taking the time to comment. It seems though that some of the "tough love" comments are just beating up on me for whatever reason. It's really not necessary or helpful to anyone.

Yes, Chainsaw did give me some good advice. I thanked him for his candor immediately as well.

Why do you assume his advice was ignored and assume that I am one of those "I'm awesome, why won't people hire me?" types?

I understand that, after getting responses assuming I still did low level end user technical support work for example, I should have been more clear about my little back-story.

That's on me. Maybe I am not coming across well. Even so, comments like these that are full of assumptions are making you come across just as badly.


Here's some more feedback. Your description on your profile here isn't so good. It reads:

about: 31 year old unemployed with 13 years experience. Trying (unsuccessfully) to break in to the IT Sec field. Been hacking and learning security in my free time since I was about sixteen. An enthusiast..

First, remove your age. I can't begin to tell you how unprofessional that makes you look. Second, the entire second sentence makes you look bad - like others have screened you and passed. The fourth sentence doesn't add anything. And finally, you should put in some contact info.

Sorry if I'm coming across a little strong, but I know where you are, I know it sucks and I want to help.


Rewritten, not knowing anything more about you than the above:

- Enthusiastic self-taught hacker with 13 years of experience. Currently seeking work in the IT Sec field: drop me an email at xxx@xxx to find out how I can help you.


Thank you


It's alright. I don't mean to come across as ungrateful for the advice, I have just never posted here before. I slapped that in there just because I had to put something in. I didn't give it any thought.

Not because I am careless or think that I am somehow the "smartest man in the room". I was really intimidated when writing the OP. I have a lot of respect for this site and the people who are regular contributors.

That being said, I think that those of you who have been critical without being constructive have done so, albeit unintentionally, due to your own preconceived ideas and assumptions. Perhaps due to your own negative experiences in the past with people you didn't like in your own careers.

All I can really say when responding to negative comments: "first time caller, long time listener. Sorry about the sloppy OP. I had no idea that it would get noticed, much less be this active."

My description on the profile doesn't look good because I didn't know what to put in it as I have been lurking here for a long time but never posted.

I appreciate you all taking time from your lives to try to contribute. Had I known this OP was going to generate this kind of activity, I would have actually put some thought in to this stuff. Please, don't take that the wrong way. I mean all of this with respect.


> My resume is a disaster because I'm bad at writing them.

Make it one page. Stick to things they actually care about. Yes, this means tailoring it to each opportunity. This also means leaving things out... that's okay, I remember in my last resume leaving off some ancient Java experience from college that didn't seem relevant at the time. It became a pleasant surprise for them when they discovered that I knew more than was on the page and we started discussing the usage of JAD.

Your goal is no typos, no informal/slang language and one, neatly written page. It should look neat, clean and uniform.

You should imagine that they have a spreadsheet or checklist (they do) that matches the ad. You want to help them check off as many boxes as possible as easily as possible. Then help them do the same thing in the interview.

When you don't know, discuss what you'd do to find out. Show them what you've learned in the past and how you've figured out problems before that look like problems they're having now.

In my last interview, they started asking me what I knew about REST and I started describing the last RESTful interface I'd made. Things went very well from there.

I hope this helps.


Strong recommendation from a frequent hirer: for each job, you should state what you accomplished, especially if that can be quantified. Supply the quantities! A list of what your responsibilities are is useless: did you actually do that stuff successfully?


For coding type jobs, I have found that relevant personal projects can also help. In the last interview I did a couple years ago, we spent most of the time discussing a relevant one and that was a good thing. When they ask a question like "What do you know about X?" and you can answer "I made an X and this is how it worked" it puts you in a good place.


Absolutely! I really appreciate that.


> I interview well and am quite easy to deal with on an interpersonal level.

This is one thing I would question about your self-assessment. What evidence are you relying on for this statement?

The reason I say this is that, (I believe) research shows that anything beyond the first 30 seconds or so during an interview actually doesn't matter. Obviously this is a statistical thing and may not apply in any given concrete situation, but if you're going to loads of interviews, you probably want to maximize your statistical probability of getting hired.


I speak well and make a great first impression, honestly. I have always understood how important that is.

Having said that, I just realized that what I started considering as the problem (my resume) may not be what needs work. In another comment, the statement was made that companies are willing to overlook certain things for the right candidate.

Perhaps my garbage resume is being overlooked I make it past the first telephone or face to face interview. I make it far enough to get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you finally get the news that someone else was selected anyway. I'm sure I am not the only one here who gets that, right? Sorry, to your question, that is my basis for that statement.


> I speak well and make a great first impression, honestly. I have always understood how important that is.

You say and believe that, obviously. But do you have independent and (above all) disinterested corroboration?

(I think the experience you relate in the last paragraph might be a symptom of increasing pressure being put on the hiring part of HR and them, thus, being reluctant to reject candidates earlier.)


Yes, and point taken.


One thing that really helped me with resume writing is learning to think of it as advertising. You want to make it as easy for the person reading it to say yes to you as possible.

I'm involved with hiring pretty frequently and here are some things that help me: -don't bother listing every technology you've ever worked with. It's a waste of space. It doesn't give any context. Mention them in the context of your work history. - talk about the people stuff you were successful at as well as the technical stuff. - don't just say what you did, tell me why it mattered. For example "reduced build times from one hour to five minutes which enabled team to release twice a week rather than one a month"

One thing to remember when you are involved in the hiring process, particularly with technical people is they want to be able to say yes to you. Hiring probably isn't their main job and they have a hole in their team. If you are the right person for the job, it's a win for everyone involved.

Another thing that helps is having contacts that will let you know where opportunities are. The fantastic thing about having experience is you probably know a heap of people who can help. Getting involved with the local community around whatever area you're interested in can help you meet more people. I've also gotten jobs from being on related mailing lists and applying for positions that are posted.

If you're not sure your experienced is quite right, getting involved in open source is an option for building up experience and reputation. It means you can show people what you can do and if your work gets traction and if you contribute to somebody else's project it can be a way to meet more people in the right area.


You may want to engage a resume writing service. I know people who have used them and gotten good results.

I could totally see a "disaster" resume being a big problem. A week or two after the interview, people's impressions of you have started to fade and blend with those of the other candidates, but your resume is still in front of them in black and white.


Absolutely valid. I really appreciate any comment with any advice whatsoever. Thank you!


Or perhaps he was just establishing context so we could better answer his question? There's no reason to assume a personality defect because he was communicating honestly about the situation he finds himself in.


No, I found it helpful. It's good to know what other people get from the post. I was super nervous because it was my first OP and I hit this site daily for a few hours at least. My post was poorly written and I appreciate any criticism as well as any advice or even just busting my chops! Thanks for your input!


Sure, and I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that he's not a jackass and perhaps just phrased things in a way that set off an alarm in my head. If I really thought he was a total git, I wouldn't have responded at all.

However on the off-chance that some of that is leaking into interviews or cover letters, it's probably worth remediation.


But that's the thing though, there is no way any mention of being unusually smart or capable would not have been received by you negatively. We've gotten to the point where we can't honestly acknowledge our strengths without someone feeling slighted by it and then judging us for it. We see it all the time in fact, anyone who is publicly recognized for a great thing they did must show a proper amount of deference and humility, otherwise they are seen as being pompous or full of themselves. This shouldn't be the case.


There are three ways to play the game:

1. Play by the "rules": stockpile the degrees, certifications, awards, etc. that we all know are largely useless but are absolute requirements for signaling your way through a standard corporate job interview. If you are after a normal, boring, corporate American desk job (nothing wrong with this depending on your life situation) you must play the game by the rules. If you don't, you will delude yourself and lose opportunities to lesser talented candidates who are better at playing the game.

2. Leverage your connections: use your professional connections to bypass / skip many of the requirements set by the "rules" to get a job. This requires less of playing by the rules but means you must have a solid professional network of people that have good jobs at companies that are looking to hire and are impressed enough by your work to give you a recommendation. This is harder than it seems, even for those with good connections, but I personally have found the most success finding good jobs these way.

3. Set your own rules: start your own business. This is the toughest but allows you to completely skip the rules. It also requires the greatest amount of talent and offers the greatest amount of reward. Speaking from personal experience, however, unless you have stockpiled savings and have excellent work ethic, this is a massive risk that has the potential to destroy your savings, emotional state and family relationships.

If I were you, I'd focus on a combination of #1 and #2. Get the college degree even if you think it's useless -- I'm sure you're being rejected immediately because of a lack of college degree. If you really don't want to do that, start working your professional network for referrals or start working on a great side project that you can present at an interview that showcases your talents and makes up for your lack of degrees. #3 is the dream, of course, but I've found that there is enormous value in the stability of a regular paycheck and insurance, especially when you have dependents, despite the soul-crushing nature of corporate jobs.

Good luck.


There's no sense in getting a college degree just for the sake of having it. They're expensive and take up a lot of time, and they're not needed to get into tech jobs. Yes, some companies will care about this, but many, many companies will not. They care about what you know and what you've shown you can do.

Leveraging connections, on the other hand, is a great idea. Most jobs are not actually advertised anywhere, and if you can use your connections well you can find yourself applying for jobs with very little competition.


It seems like you chose to selectively ignore what he said the use of a degree was. And he didn't say "just for the sake of having it," he said it's a requirement to get your foot in the door at corporate jobs. It is.


> he said it's a requirement to get your foot in the door at corporate jobs. It is.

And I disagreed with him, which I think is okay. It's demonstrably not a requirement for all corporate jobs, so you can't make sweeping generalizations like that. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that you don't need a degree to work at companies like Citrix or Google, for example.


I'm actually working on (and have been for about a year now) #3. But you're absolutely right. It's by far the toughest route.


This is the most succinct and dead on description of job hunting I've ever read.


I can't help you directly (I'm not in the IT Security field), but I think I have some applicable tips.

I did very badly in college, and majored in American History. About three years ago, I quit my job and learned how to code. I was focused on machine learning and data analysis. I faced the same problem you did -- no way to prove I had any skills.

The way to stand out to employers in your field is to do things that are publicly visible. It's hard to judge someone's talent from a resume, but it's easy from a github repo.

Some ideas for you:

* Contribute to open source projects in the space you're interested in.

* Start a blog. You'd be surprised by how much sharing some of your own experience can help others, and it can raise your profile a lot.

* Lots of companies offer bug bounties -- try to find some vulnerabilities and collect some. Blog about your experiences. I don't know how hard this is, though.

* Make cool projects and share them on github. Blog about them. Post them on HN.

* Go to meetups in your area on topics that interest you. Meet people. Make cool projects with them.

* Go to hackathons if you can. They're a great way to meet people and find interesting projects.

* See if you can take on a small part-time role helping out at a startup in your field.

As for what's in demand, take your pick. I've talked to companies having trouble hiring web developers, mobile developers, and data scientists. Any of them is a good choice (again, don't know anything about IT security demand).


Wow. That is almost exactly my life story right now (three years of cinema studies, had to drop out for financial reasons, now trying to teach myself code and sorta succeeding at it but feel grossly unqualified).

Thank you for posting.


Hey ! I kind of did this transition recently from Literature grad to developer.

I don't know if you had the same experience but I think for me the key to succeeding in this transition was to try and learn not only to 'code', but also about the engineering, quality, deployment processes surrounding code that most juniors (that I have seen) typically know little-to-nothing about.

That way, even if you have a lot to learn on-the-job, you probably won't be a burden on the rest of the team and they won't have to spend too much time holding your hand (except at code review time, but I guess that's the case with every newcomer to a project).

I also worked for myself for some time and had some experience (minor really) to help me get my foot through the door. Then when you get a job, you have an opportunity to show what you can do and after that you're just like everybody else.


I am curious how you went from freelancing to working at a firm. I also got into development from a liberal arts background ( I went to a “great books” school ). I started out several years ago, first with a brief internship, and then freelancing with a friend who a more experienced developer, and now I am freelancing solo. I have several sites and apps under my belt but I feel like an impostor and totally unqualified when I look at the requirements for various job listings (Junior/Intermediate JS/Python/PHP)


I can't speak for the rest of the industry, but since I'm the CTO of an information security consultancy, I can at least provide an informed opinion.

Many, many security companies don't care what your formal education is. The reason for this is simple: there aren't many (or, perhaps, any) undergraduate computer security programs that are cutting-edge and relevant enough to teach the skills needed to be a good hacker. Unless we're talking about graduate-degrees, I barely glance at a prospective hire's formal education -- there's just not enough correlation between that piece of paper and performance on the job.

What I do look for is self-motivation, passion, and drive. I know it's cliché, but you can't be great at infosec if you're just pulling the 9-5 -- it has to be something you really care about. You have to stay on top of everything.

So how does one measure passion?

Clearly, if you can talk about side-projects you've done in the security realm, that's a great start. If not, being involved with the community (such as the free and local Security BSides conferences, OWASP meetups, etc.), shows that security is something that you really care about. Those events are free (or maybe $10), and show a lot of drive.

I know your actual question was in terms of IT disciplines, not just security, but I'm confident that what I'm saying here applies to almost every selective career type. You're trying to be competitive in a tough environment, so you have to make yourself stand out. Really, really wanting something usually shows.

That said, feel free to shoot me an email if you're still interested in the security route. I'm always looking for new engineers!


Hearing this from someone like yourself brings me great joy...

In 2011 after my time in the military was through I made a decision to get into infosec. I didn't know how to code, had never been to college, and only had IT knowledge from being a typical computer geek in high school. That same year I found out there was security firm in my relatively small hometown, so I emailed them.

Since then I've been reading books, coding, and emailing that firm every 5 months or so basically asking for work. To hear that self-motivation, passion, and drive are big hiring factors to you makes all this studying I've done over the past few years worth more to me than before I read your post.

I finally got a "maybe later this year" from the technical lead, I'm crossing my fingers.

Thank you.


This was very helpful to me: people keep suggesting I get into infosec, but I just...don't care enough. I'm happy to leave it to people who do.


Done and Done.


This may seem way out in left field but: Do a background check on yourself. If a company does such a check and it comes back saying you're a serial murderer they will not tell you that's why you were turned down.

Background checks are often horribly wrong or contain bullshit red flags like, "Claimed position: Developer; Actual position: Architect". Get enough of those and you'll be dropped for consideration.

When I left an employer a few years ago I requested my employee record and what was inside blew my mind. The background check was so wrong it was crazy. It said I worked at places I never worked. It said I lied about my work history (aforementioned title naming problem). It said my provided address information did not exist!

Fortunately none of that seemed to matter to the company that hired me but I suspect it's only because the supposed red flags were ultimately meaningless (did I work as a customer service rep at some company 8 years ago? No. Was it relevant? No).


This is rather unsettling as I have never asked for an employee record from anyone before.

I have thought to run a background check before. However, I didn't know or have the time to find out back then where to request one. I know there are a lot of sites out there who apparently generate a report for you for a price. I just didn't know if any were particularly reputable.


> Do a background check on yourself.

Where would one do that?

> When I left an employer a few years ago I requested my employee record

Were they under any obligation to give it to you?


i'm going to give you some tough love right now, because you've sort of got the wrong concept of what a 'security job' is in your head.

first of all - why the hell are you waiting for someone to give you permission to start doing this job? if you want to do this job, just start fucking doing it.

contribute to security mailing lists and keep an eye out for opportunities. write articles. blog. go to events. write code, open source it. contribute documentation if you can't code. sell yourself as a consultant. appear to know what the hell you're talking about.

DO THE JOB.

if you don't actively participate in a community nobody is going to give a shit about you, much less hand you a career with a pretty bow on it.


I have started a small DBA in my area to provide services to small businesses here. I have been working on developing it but I am having a hard time selling it without scaring the crap out of the prospective clients.

I guess what I am saying is that I have been doing the job for years. Just not getting paid for it and was trying to dig out two things in the OP:

1)What the disconnect between working on your own and getting paid for doing the work was.

2)there was a different area I could/should focus on given my disadvantages(financial, disabled, etc.)

Big data and analytics are fascinating to me for example, but only because of the implications and uses of those kinds of skills I can see in a Security related capacity.

I wanted to find out if someone would yell, "You need to learn 'X' because it's useful both in some Security roles and you can work doing that as your day job at the same time." Hope that makes sense.


>if you don't actively participate in a community nobody is going to give a shit about you, much less hand you a career with a pretty bow on it.

Nope, obviously. They sure will post on a comment thread about it though.

Sorry, This struck me as a bit over the top with the presumptions, tone, etc..


Such great advice. Don't wait for permission just get started.


Matasano crypto challenge? Prove that you're talented.

Credentials are not skills. If you've been in IT for 15 years you have skills.

Go to meetups. Be yourself, but try to be pleasant and helpful. It's who you know + how you can help them.


15 years in, formal eduction shouldn't be a big deal. Assuming you made a deep positive impact on successful projects, you should have a deep network or connections and referrals to tap? If not, you need to answer that question.

Why are you "bluffing" through jobs when you should have a large tool-belt of experience? Just-in-time/on-the-job learning should be a positive, but it sounds like you need to improve your soft skills/be able to more effectively reposition/sell yourself.

Beyond a resume, which you've mentioned you're terrible at (learn to make a good one, there are plenty of resources, or get someone who is good at it to improve yours) you should probably also put together a CV/project portfolio. Is your LinkedIn up to date?

Also, while it sounds like your experience is mostly in IT support/systems integration, if you're looking for employability, just learn to code. iOS/Android if you're looking for immediate employability, some systems language, full-stack webdev for more general flexibility.

Participate in some open source projects, like others have mentioned, make sure you have a robust Github account. The only way to judge talent is by output, and having public repos and project participation speaks for itself and is a 100x better indicator than any degree or credential.

I wish you the best of luck, but you maybe getting feedback from former employees and coworkers to assess your strengths and weaknesses would be more effective than asking random people on the Internet?


Thanks much. The 'bluffing' was how I got the tool-belt. Again, my apologies for such a sloppy first post. LinkedIn, while up to date, has never done anything for me but spam me about things like endorsements and birthdays.

Well, and get my contact info into the hands of every spambot posing as a headhunter on the planet. It's there though. Former coworkers are hard to track down but all have written recommendations for me in the past. Some are on the LinkedIn page. I have no project portfolio. I don't really know how to put one together.

I like asking random people on the internet because my former managers and co-workers can't figure out why I have been unemployed for so long either.


Have you tried applying on AngelList? I'm just asking because I just got an offer yesterday (yay!) for a full stack position even though I had no prior experience in either back or front end.

I recommend you try to apply to start ups because usually you'll have an easier time if you have the smarts but not the skills. Also I don't think you mentioned whether you were getting interviews or not, but if you are then I really recommend improving on the areas that you don't do well on.

Finally, while I also feel like I don't get much from LinkedIn, I also noticed that when I apply to a company they often check my LinkedIn profile, so I would suggest you put any work you need into it.

And of course.. do some cool projects that you can show other people! I remember reading a post on here from a week or two ago about how there are no good web fuzzing tools? To be honest I'm not really in the know about security but try and see if there's something that would be useful to make, simplifying as necessary so that you can start it on your own.


Hmm, but none of the former managers or co-workers have managed to recommend positions or leads to you?

In anycase, I suggest you pick a specialty, whether it's infosec or something else, and make sure you are participating in the proper communities online - Twitter, mailing lists, meetups, etc and actually get really good at something.

From your response to mattmurdog, it sounds like you are defining talent differently from how I think most of the people here would - where talent == actual, not potentially acquired skills/experience.

There are a near infinite number of bugs, RFEs, unsolved problems, and projects to be done (just scan the articles that show up on HN every day). Publicly demonstrate the ability to fix some of those (like actually upstream some patches, release some projects), and honestly, you shouldn't have any problem getting a contract or any other kind of gig. Real (demonstrably productive) talent in tech is always in short supply.


A hiring manager from a job I had for a year in Tampa back in 2005 got me my last two interviews. So, I have been attempting to tap my rather small network, It isn't that large though.


I know that tptacek used to hire people who did well on http://cryptopals.com/. He is no longer with that company, but you can look around for an opportunity like that as a way to get your foot in the door.


I left Matasano to turn what we were doing with Cryptopals and Microcorruption into a company. Fun announcement coming soon.

I can't speak for Matasano/NCC Group anymore, but: I strongly suspect that if you can get through all 7 sets of the crypto challenges, they will want to talk to you. So far as I know, the resume-blind hiring process I built there is still running.

If you get all the way through the crypto challenges, want to work in software security, and have trouble finding a place to work, ping me. I will happily rep you.


Maybe I'm dumb but nobody who's hired me ever cared of my (lack of) degrees. All they cared about was proof that I could get stuff done, which is one of the purpose of my Github. AFAIK, talent is all I have, and I've never had a hard time finding jobs as a developer. And I learned and started writing code 4 years ago, so it's not like I'm a child prodigy or something.

I'm just a dude who picked up programming a few years ago. What I'm trying to say is that I'm not special and I'm doing fine. You likely have more experience than I, so there's nothing that should prevent you from getting in a similar situation. One thing I do have for myself is confidence, so maybe that's all there is to it.


Thank you for the input. While Pen Testing has always been my goal, I have started looking at things like Database Development or Full-stack web dev training. Problem is, my financial situation doesn't always allow for me to get access to structured learning.


There really isn't any kind of significant investment required to learn this stuff. Take it from a guy who's new to actual developing too - I made music before I got deeper into developing and while the tools required to produce something worth listening to are certainly much easier to afford these days, it's still a long shot from all the free and open source resources related to programming. Honestly, the only limiting factors are time and motivation. Otherwise the current state of learning to code is close to perfect.

On a sidenote though: With all those resources readily available, don't fall for the trap of being in love with preparing. I had a phase of getting stuck in a loop of doing one tutorial after another, setting up the editor again and again or generally spending too much time on minor things that make you feel like ticking checkboxes but actually don't move you forward. It happens all the time when one starts and learns somehing new - I saw it in music and audio too: People got obsessed with the tools instead of focusing on the work - whether it's that new eq or compressor (which actually isn't all that essential to the results) or starting the 17th tutorial before planning to finally tackles a real world project - in many cases those are just variations on the procrastionation theme. Just do it and learn as you go - afterwards you'll know which tools you really need.


> Problem is, my financial situation doesn't always allow for me to get access to structured learning.

There's so much information on the web, or via books/video courses/MOOCs that there's no need to do the structured learning thing. Particularly with Python. Plus, Python is used in security to create scripts/tools.

EDIT: Example of some books, vis-a-vis Python and security (learn the basics first).

* Violent Python: A Cookbook for Hackers, Forensic Analysts, Penetration Testers and Security Engineers

* Hacking Secret Ciphers with Python

* Python Penetration Testing Essentials

* Gray Hat Python: Python Programming for Hackers and Reverse Engineers


Yes, I am aware of and use some of these. I have an ex co-worker who is still a close friend and a developer who is always giving me advice and helping me find these kinds of resources.

The financial thing was more about certification training, as I was (mistakenly) under the impression that they carried more weight and would open more doors for me. Especially in the Security realm.

I had also looked at things like bloc.io but who really has that much money for that kind of training on their own? Thank you for the response!


Would you consider a (perhaps accelerated) degree program?

I understand this might not be possible in your situation, but if you can find an evening, on-site, accelerated program at a local non-flagship state school then you might be missing an opportunity. I've known some people in similar situations for whom this approach worked out well.

I can provide some advice if this is at all plausible for you.

(edit: the comment by ferrari8608 is an excellent example of why attending an inexpensive university can be a good idea, even without finishing the degree program; you'd be surprised at the number of positions filled via "former professor" relationships).


This is something I will look in to. Thanks for the comment!


Some advice (again, assuming you go this route; not saying you must/should):

1. Try to find a not-too-expensive, non-flagship state school ($5-9k / semester for a full course load is a good ballpark. You can bring that down a lot by doing gen eds at a community college and then registering for 1/2 or 3/4 loads for the semesters you're enrolled at the uni. Most state schools let you pay by credit hour and are good about accepting Community college credit, but make sure you get a commitment from the uni that they'll accept any CC course you take.)

2. Get in touch with an admissions person and request a one-on-one.

a. Make sure they know you're an "adult learner" and, if you can't arrange your other obligations to take day-time courses, figure out if there are evening sections of every course you'll need to graduate.

b. Inquire about scholarships, grants, and subsidized loans. Talk with your family and figure out what you feel like you're able to afford. Be frank with the admissions person about financial realities.

c. Request a one-on-one with a faculty member from the CS department. Many teaching-oriented schools will entertain this, but don't be surprised if you get turned down. If you get a meeting, start off with general questions about the faculty's expertise in security (actually this doesn't matter so much because you ultimately want a job rather than a research position, but technical stuff is a good way to break the ice). Then ask that faculty member about what the department does to help place students in internships/jobs. As an added bonus, in general, faculty are more likely to give you a good sense of the quality of the school than admissions people (who are, after all, salesmen).

3. Don't be afraid or too proud to avail yourself of free tutoring etc., and try to be a participant in the department's community (e.g., attend official department events whenever possible. In general, be seen and excel.

4. Once in CS courses at the uni, be sure to stand out and that your profs know about your interest in security and prior IT experience (great way to get leads passed your way).

Other advice regarding finances:

1. If you have to take out loans, make sure they're subsidized. Make sure that increase in lifetime earning balances out the full cost including interest. As a good rule of thumb, the total is approximately the cost of a new, low-end car. I.e., limit yourself to the amount of debt you would put into a consumable. Rationale: education has far better pay-offs than a car, but more risk.

2. If you can xfer courses from a community college, do all those before enrolling at the uni. In the mean time you might find a good job (at which point you can choose to attend the uni or not).

3. Make sure your family is 100% on board and that you're confident you will finish the degree or get a job out of it. Be aware that, esp. if you're working during school, the time commitments and stress are going to take a toll on personal relationships.


1. Find a cushy job in government or a very large corporation, where you can bluff your way through indefinitely.

2. Buckle down and master some real skills that are in demand. It's a cop out to say there are "too many options". All you have to do is pick one you're interested in and put the time in. You have to specialize though. Security isn't specific enough, penetration testing is, or iOS/Android development, frontend web development, whatever. After just a few months of study, you could probably find someone who will hire you at a low salary in any of these jobs. Then master the specialty on the job.


I understand. I was nervous about using the right terminology when rambling out the OP. Pen Testing was the area I had been focusing on. I have taken online courses and have real-world experience doing that but not in a "professional" capacity. That being said, how much weight do certifications carry when applying for employment in that area?


It's easy to see gauge your skill at penetration testing. Just try to collect some security bounties. Certifications don't matter much at good companies.


This may have been covered already, but... The purpose of a resume is not to get you hired. The point of a resume is to catch someone's attention for long enough to keep you in the race, or get to the next step.

A successful resume is one that will be NOT discarded by HR drones or automated resume scanning software. A successful resume will get you a phone screening or an in-person interview.

If your resume is, as you said, awful, but you are getting to the interview stage then you are getting there DESPITE the quality of your resume.

If you are not getting past the interview step, the problem is not with the resume (it's out of the picture). So "something" may be going wrong in your interviews. I don't have any ideas about how to go looking for what might be going wrong.

Separately, I don't see any mention of the web site http://asktheheadhunter.com/

This guy has strong opinions that are carefully expressed. Many of his opinions contradict "common wisdom," which I often found eye-opening. He has a lot of interesting things to say. Poke around the site... read some articles, subscribe to the newsletter. It could be helpful.


Which other talents do you have?

I would also ask myself the following questions:

Do you really wan't a job (employed by a company), or you just need one?

Have you thought that maybe your talents are not appreciated in the corporate world?

One must consider that the recruitment system is broken, or do we really believe that with a written one page document and a brief phone call, we can screen people and dimension their whole personality?

I have asked these questions myself because I relate to your situation. My advice: Just be productive every day, and this means to create things that you think might be useful to somebody.

And yes, not everyone has the ability to speak the language of the corporate world. Just try to find the people you can work with best. Maybe you're best suited to be an entrepreneur or a workshop guy building stuff and experimenting.

Also, a new family is not a small thing, it changes many things in our lives, it unbalances us in many ways, certainly in the economic one. But don't despair because this too is a great thing that is already pushing you to your limits and thus providing the opportunity to improve yourself.

Consider this your life quest.


When people start making assumptions about you, then giving advice, take it with a grain of salt.

Taking the known issues as you have stated them: No degree, no direct experience in the specialty that you want to pursue, this is how I would proceed:

1) Focus on jobs at small to medium sized companies. They will be less likely to rely on some hiring script, and likely to give more weight to an interview.

2) Make a spread sheet of all jobs on monster.com & similar services that involve security and start applying for them.

3) Make a spread sheet of all the companies that you can find where you would prefer to work, regardless if they are hiring, and apply there as well.

4) Once these two resources are compiled start your weekly applications...

Week X:

5) Blast 20 companies with your application, prioritizing the companies by which ones you like the best. Make sure to customize the cover letter for each job.

6) Follow up on the previous weeks 20 applications with a short friendly email.

7) Spend some time during the week building something that show cases your knowledge in security.

I hope I've said something that you believe will be beneficial and actionable. Good luck!


Do bug bounties.

I remember when Facebook used to put, what I presume, were PK IDs from a user table in their URL query strings. Lower numbers being earlier users. Anyway, I couldn't find Mark Z, but messaged one of the early staff. I then got a friend request off him. Pretty sure if I'd been a dev at the time, I could have convinced him to get me an interview.


This is one avenue I have never tried.... and will begin doing this evening. Thanks guys!


My answer isn't great, but it's relevant due to your experience being somewhat similar to my own.

I'm currently working my first job in IT, for two years now, after having only fast food and retail jobs. How did I get here? It wasn't my college education (I'm a dropout, due to transportation and money issues at the time). College did play a big role, though.

One of my instructors saw that talent you mentioned in me, and she knew I was into Linux while the rest of the students knew only Windows. One day one of her old students called her up and asked if she knew anyone who might be a good fit for a job he was trying to fill. I was the guy she went to, and now I'm in IT.

Long story short, it might be beneficial to you to know people who know people in IT security. College may be the place to meet those connections, though there are many other ways and places to accomplish that.


Mind if I send you an email?


I don't mind.


>I don't know what's in demand. What can people still turn in to a long-term career? What area or "discipline" in IT shows promise for a career?

Here's one rule of thumb I've been using to gauge demand. If someone's willing to hire you to use a tool even though you haven't really used it before, then the demand is there.

Another warning is that what's hot now may not be hot 5 years from now. iOS is hot right now. I'm concerned that, with Steve Jobs gone, Apple is going to implode and lose their market share. So there may be no iOS jobs 5 years from now.

Just keep sending out resumes. You'll find something eventually. It's just a numbers game.

Do you have any savings? If not, get whatever you can right now to get back. Be prepared to take something lousy and be looking to jump to something better.


Apple is too large to implode and fail quickly. Even if they do fail it will be a slow death or just a leveling off. Look at Microsoft. The last ~10 years they been getting beaten in many large markets they are entering, but they are still a massive player.


There's no way Blackberry could lose their market share. Even if they do fail it would be slowly or a leveling off. There's no way they could go from the leader to zero in 5 years.


Apple has $180Billion in cash. The total it spends on employees is $18Billion per year. So, in essence Apple could pay its employees just to sit around and not sell a single product for 10 years before running out of cash.

Ponder that. Apple is nothing like Blackberry. Your example is totally ridiculous.


> I'm concerned that, with Steve Jobs gone, Apple is going to implode and lose their market share. So there may be no iOS jobs 5 years from now.

They won't. Apple's vertical integration gives them a UI advantage. 'Normals' like easy-to-use things.


Techs like easy-to-use things too. I've got 15+ years IT background, but I use Apple phones specifically because they get out of my way and just work for everything I want a smartphone to do.

I don't have to tweak, I don't have to customize and I don't have to fix. Also they have a sane approach to bugfixes and security. Sure, it's not an open platform, but Android isn't really either. I don't have time to care, I've got work to do.


Good point.

There are definitely some people who tolerate less polish[0]... I think I've made a category error!

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations


I have seen this situation before. It seems to be a particular fail mode for the typical tech company hiring filter. A lot of people, some of my co-workers included, screen for a very particular sort of cookie. When they don't get exactly the cookie they want, they reject.

To be fair to them, the number of flaming idiots that manage to get past HR phone screens these days is seemingly monotonically increasing, but along those lines, here's my question: if you're not even getting past HR phone screens (and these people frequently are keyword-driven dim bulbs IMO having suffered through some astoundingly inept phone screens that were a waste of an hour), what are you telling them? Or if it's not even getting that far, have you had someone look at your resume?


I actually do well in this part of what has regrettably become the norm in the industry for "interviews".

I don't really know what I am doing wrong other than needing to refresh my resume. Still, even in its abominable state, it gets attention and I do get solicited. I just always seem to lack something that, while insignificant on paper as it may be, makes the difference.

For example, I was very recently put in touch with a group in Tampa. I was contacted by them because an old manager in town had told someone who told someone about me. Long story short, great interviews and 3 weeks later, I was passed over in favor of an internal promotion because of the time it would have taken me to move my family from TN back to Tampa.


Hi tfg4k, I am coming from Romania, so I know a little bit about geography problems and let's just say that on the old continent, coming from the Eastern is still a handicap. I also love IT security and I dedicated 1 year of my life to try to get in and do something. The biggest stupid thing that I could do. It's way to little and this industry is so closed, that you have absolutely no chance to make it on your own. It's impossible. In order to break something, you need to understand it and then exploit it's weakness. Because everything is so complex now, you're pretty much like a fish out of water.

If all you are saying is true and you are really good, your problem is not getting a job. Your problem is finding out what you want to be in the IT. Developer/consultant/tech support or what? This is what you should be asking yourself in the first place. After you know want you want to be, then go and find a technology THAT YOU LIKE, THAT MAKES YOU VALUABLE.

> What area or "discipline" in IT shows promise for a career? This is one of the biggest top 3 mistake in my opinion. What tomorrow is cool and trendy, tomorrow will because obsolete (e.g. Flash), so technology doesn't actually matter to be honest. One day it's a keyboard, tomorrow it's touchscreen and in 10 years there'll be mental commands. This makes no difference, because we built the whole 1/0 logic in order to help us in our day to day work in any way possible. So if you are serious about this, FIRST find out what you like, than prepare for it, practice it and the step you foot in the door. Regardless if you're going in for an internship or to be the manager, your goal is to get on that door and keep going in, day after day. If you're that good, they will promote you by default.

Cheer up and find something that you're good at, the reward will come by itself. The most important thing is to like what you are doing, the rest is history :)

PS: By the way, I ended up being a SAP Developer, after which I switched at being a SAP Consultant in Germany. I still keep a closed eye at the security field, but just as a hobby, nothing more.


People who have no credentials, but lots of talent, sometimes start their own business. This is something I used to comment on a lot on homeschooling lists. The two examples I typically gave back then were: Bill Gates is a college dropout and Madonna is a college dropout.

An example that might mean a bit more to you: In this forum, IIRC, jacquesm is a high school dropout. He is currently #3 on the leaderboard. If you haven't read his blog, you might find it of interest:

http://www.jacquesmattheij.com/

https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=jacquesm


Thanks a lot. Bookmarked. I really appreciate the response to the OP from you and everyone else. I didn't expect it to get noticed at all.


Wipe away all the negativity from your thoughts and, more importantly, your resume.

Focus only on you positive achievements. Sell yourself.

Get on daily job mailing lists from ziprecruiter, indeed, dice, and postjobfree, and apply for at least 5 jobs a day.

Good luck.


IT security is ridiculously easy to break into, and I'm not kidding.

If you are able to demonstrate all that talent (github, outside projects, anything else) and you are able to hold a conversation with people, there are literally thousands of openings for you.

The certifications only really matter to Washington DC (or people making money off of DC).

Apply more places, make some things on the side that demonstrate you know what you're talking about, and look for positions at large, stable companies.


Would recommend getting a job doing what you've already done before trying to break into the IT security field.

1. Getting a job. Know anyone you used to work with that is now at a fairly large company?

2. Getting into IT security. Ever considered going into one of the bug bounty programs, e.g. for Facebook, etc...? That'd be a good thing to put on your resume, as well as giving you some money.


You sound a lot like programmers I constantly run in to who claim to have 10+ years of experience and rate themselves a 10 out of 10 on everything known to man. But yet can't land a full time job and just coast from freelance to freelance work and take on projects that my 8 year old nephew and/or a chimp could have done/automated. Like some of the replies here, these guys come off super arrogant and are just not personalable. These are all major red flags. Not to mention they're just clever at being deceptive, not only to potential employers but also themselves. Because when pressed in technical interviews or tests they fold. They fold hard.

If you really want to break in, I would be honest with what you can do. There's no shame in being self taught. Use that trait as a strength to show your capability and interest to learn new things. That you're autonomous and motivated. Talk about how you were able to learn new things or how you were the driving force behind something. Don't be afraid to take a smaller role and listen to others. Your coworkers are assets not ladders for you to climb over. And most importantly, work with smarter people. Soon enough you'll learn that you're actually not that talented... or maybe you really are. Good luck.


Sorry, Did I say something negative about coworkers? And again, the talent I am referring to is the ability to learn quickly because of a great mentor I had when I was much younger. Not a superpower.


Make lots of little projects. Put them out there. When people contact you about them, let them know you're a consultant who sells his expertise and time.

I made a tempr for my cousin who was suffering similarly. Take a look: http://tempr.org/54e91123b3f95.html


> I am talented (some past coworkers and managers actually called it freakish), but you cant put talent on your resume.

And that's where you are wrong. Make sure that those coworkers and managers will back you up during your next interview and urge the prospective employer to actually ask these people about your qualification.


Yeah, you're right. I suppose you can put talent on your resume. Thanks!


I want to thank all of you for the great comments and advice.

I had absolutely no idea that this would get so much traction. Some of you have given me invaluable insight and I hope to see more of it. A few comments I have even lifted just to put into a note to use as reference later. I think this is awesome.


Update: Sorry if I missed a typo or sentence fragment. Had to edit a lot to get under character limit.


Think about the Army. MOSes in 25 series and 35Q and 35T would be interesting to you. All computer stuff. 35Q would have you doing pentesting. Go talk to a recruiter if you're not older than 35.

Source: I am in the Army. It's not nearly as bad as you'd think.


You won't pass the fliters to get hired. There is a way to do it. First you need to show that u have worked for big companies; second, try to work as a contractor, which can help you gain real experience.

No company wants to mentor anyone.


I have worked for large companies before. Defense Contractors and in Operations for very large retail organizations.

Am working as a contractor now. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it!


pm me, i can tell u how Indians play the gay. You can play the same game these offshoring companies play to get a contract gig right away.


Cool. I have no idea what that means but, yeah


That might be one approach to getting a job, but it doesn't really sound so good... depending on ones orientation of course.


sorry, *gay = game


Sorry for all the edits, I'm still getting the hang of the formatting in commenting and posting. I didn't expect a response like this. I appreciate everyone who took the time to comment!


I know it's not what you're looking for, but learning JS and a hot framework like React or Meteor will help you land a job in the IT sector in sooner or later IMHO.

Good luck with everything.


Hey, no, thank you very much. I was looking at Angular earlier this morning. I played around with Node when it was new, dropped it because anything within reach at the time in my job market were for things like pulling cable, fixing people's computers for a small MSP, and that was about it. At least I have something to work on in the meantime. I started playing with JS and Python when I considered being a programmer. I stopped because everyone said Python (which is awesome) and I just had a rougher time learning it than JS.


It sounds like you lack tenacity. Unless I'm completely misreading you, you're saying you started learning things to help you get into a web development job, but then gave them up because... you couldn't get a web development job yet? Why did you drop the thing that would put other jobs in reach?

> I stopped because everyone said Python (which is awesome) and I just had a rougher time learning it than JS.

Whatever you're learning, someone will come along and tell you that something else is better. Ignore them. The first programming language you learn is teaching you to program, which is far more important than which language it is. You're learning transferable skills that you'll take with you when you learn something else.


One thing is for sure and everyone here can testify this:

1. JavaScript is not a great language by any standard. 2. JavaScript is the most requested programming language today (just take a look at job postings!)

Going JS is like going for sure, RoR is heavily requested too, but not as much as JS. JS is like the lingua franca of the web and since most people don't even know that there are other protocols except from HTTP, if I was desperately looking for a job as a programmer I would try to learn JS as best as I can.


Talents gets you very little, handwork can get you a lot farther.


Instead of doing what is in demand, try doing what you like to do. Liking what you do makes it easier to deal with the boring part.


I enjoy it all. It isn't a situation like some I have read about here before where people who want to become programmers can't decide on a language. Since I have always pursued my "passion" for just about anything to do with Security, it has always been in my spare time. So, what I was looking for in that part of the OP was just a little guidance. Like, if I thought Fortran was dope, it still wouldn't do me much good to master it right now when I need work.. (trying a joke) Thanks!


I'm going to be a little rough, but it's not meant to slam you.

Here's what I would see as a hiring manager if this was distilled down to a resume:

1. H.S. Diploma

2. Worked help desk and wiring jobs for 15 years with little to no upward career progression

3. No particular portfolio of work you can point to

4. Personally, given this background, you've ended up with a new family. I don't know if you're struggling to support them or not, but I'm guessing with help desk jobs it's probably a struggle.

All this together can read to a hiring managers as "not responsible or forward thinking enough to trust with a chance. May not actually know how to do the kind of long-term hard work I need for more senior/higher paying positions."

Even with a change in any of those four bullet points, you would read as a better candidate.

1. College degree instead of H.S. Diploma

2. Upward career progression

3. A portfolio of work

4. Family issues are not part of the conversation since your personal issues are not the hiring manager's concern, this bullet doesn't even exist.

I'm not saying you need to have all 4, but any improvement in any of them would help. You don't have to have a college degree if your 15 years of experience showed a progression in roles and responsibilities. Or none of that would matter if you had a bunch of awesome projects up someplace for an employer to look at.

Or with no changes in 2,3 or 4, in 15 years it never occurred to you to go hit the local community college and start on what might even look like a degree path? (I say this one with lots of authority since I was once in a similar situation as you, but I finally got the clue after only 4 years of suffering in shitty jobs).

You can't change #1 quickly, even if you started today, that would be years of hard work. Harder than you can realize right now (I'm speaking from personal experience)

#2 might be a framing issue, you might need to rethink how you present your prior work so that if there was any kind of increase in roles and responsibility it's reflected in your work history (and in how you present yourself during interviews.

#3 is also long-term, but even some github projects that do automatic security audits or test for vulnerabilities, things that a few weeks of learning shell scripts or python could probably get you, those would be huge on your resume. Being able to talk intelligently about those things during an interview would be even better.

#4 here's some tough talk. Your personal issues are of no concern to prospective employers. They honestly don't care, and anything they know about is likely to make them concerned about your reliability as a corporate asset.

#5 Finally, certificates are touchy things, they might open some doors, but not as many as just having a college degree would. Most certifications are barely worth the paper they're printed on. If you are really interested in computer security (a very good, fast growing industry with excellent pay and plentiful job openings waiting for you to apply) you need to get into a college degree program and work towards at least a B.S. in Computer Science, Computer Security or Information Systems and then get CISSP certified.

Here's some even tougher talk, to even be considered for a CISSP certificate you have to have had 5 years of 40-hour/wk work experience in 2 of 10 work domains. https://www.isc2.org/cissp-domains/default.aspx This is the level of candidate that professionals in the field are looking for, full-stop.

You can also become an Associate of (ISC)2 and you'll then have six years to get the necessary experience. https://www.isc2.org/associates/default.aspx

If that's too much, remember an employer is going to think "this guy can't even commit to a real certification program, why should I hire him?". Scout job postings you want, and look at the requirements, that's your guide for what is being looked for. Talent is not one of them.

If this is what you want, you need to start today and do everything necessary to make it happen. You're 15 years behind at this point. But you can make it up.

If this is all too much, you might rethink and go a different direction. A portfolio of tools, a blog on your topic of interest, participation in communities of interest (start networking NOW) all need to be there when you apply for that next, better, job.

#6: okay really finally. You need to start thinking in terms of career and not job. A job is where you go exchange labor for money. You go from job to job, the pay might be better, it might be worse, but they aren't building blocks that get you anywhere in particular. A career is a tower, each place you work gives you building material for that tower and you slowly build up as high as you're capable of going. Jobs are what you do when you're just out of highschool and looking to score some gas money. Careers are what you do to prepare for eventual retirement and raise a family.

I know I'm being harsh, but I know lots of guys in your same place and can't seem to connect the dots, even after decades of walking in place.


I appreciate you being blunt. I'm not going to get anywhere if people tip-toe around any issues they may be able to bring to my attention. I'm not easily offended. I appreciate the last point. Career vs. Job. Yeah, I could go answer phones like I did when I was sixteen but that would just be stupid.

Thanks for that comment!


Sure thing.

The real advice I have is that you have to figure out what your story is. What is the culmination of your experiences. If you're still doing help-desk - that's a job people effectively right out of high school do with minimal training. It's the fast-food cashier of tech jobs.

Are you still doing that same job, or have you learned something in that time? If so, if you've aggregated experience and knowledge, you need to figure out how to tell that story and how to distill it down into your resume and interview.

A long time ago I did tech support also, but I know I learned lots of soft skills. It took me a while to figure out how to parlay those into better jobs, but now, many years later and mid-career, those same skills get exercised every single day.

I think your best bet is honestly figuring out how to rerepresent your job time as a career, start building a portfolio you can show off, and start networking.


Right-Right. I don't know what it was in the OP that gave people the idea that I am still working help-desk stuff. It was my first technical job.


Oh right, sorry if I misread it!

Good luck!


Where are you located?

A friend of mine has some sort of security business, maybe I could get you in contact with him for advice at the least.


I meant to reply to this first. I didn't expect so many responses. I am located in Upper East, TN. The Tri-Cities to be more specific.


My friend is in the Boston area but he might be able to give useful advice. Email me and I'll pass your contact info on to him. My address is in my profile. BTW: Your email address doesn't show up in your profile unless you put it in your comments.


Thanks! I really appreciate it.


Maybe offer to work for free for 2-4 weeks (10-20 hours per week) for someone you respect, with no expectation of a job, just the expectation of very candid feedback/coaching at the end of the time period.

Getting your skillet where you can meaningfully add value in the first two weeks is not necessarily trivial.


That is a wonderful idea that hadn't occurred to me. Although I don't respect anyone in the Security field because I don't know anyone in the field. Will work for free though. Respect or not.


people as talented as you say you are, do not end up needing to write this post. Just my opinion


Noted and thank you for posting it. It just is a bit more complicated than that. I have been working on a Security focused startup to provide free training to the public as well as Risk Assessment, Pen Testing, etc. to the local small business community because no one else is doing it. Also, about the talent thing: The talent is being able to adapt quickly. It doesn't really help when you're broke and there just isn't much of anything other than becoming a nurse to adapt to in your area.


I respect your passion and enthusiasm, but you seem to lack patience. Seeing as you keep bringing up your financial situation as a barrier, why don't you take a job that's not necessarily the one you love, but one that will provide financial stability so that you can spend your other time learning about security related stuff? That will also give you time to apply to other companies and not have to settle for less than what you deserve.

If you already feel like you are an expert or at least good enough to have a job in it, then apply those skills and make something to show your prospective employers.

Again, if your financial situation is not good then all these things just become more difficult. It sucks having a job you don't enjoy, trust me I am in one, but sometimes even if the job itself is not great, the things it will enable you to do make it worthwhile.

Please excuse me if I'm making too many assumptions about your situation, but you just remind me of a similar situation I was in a year ago.


No, the financial situation is complex. It isn't about patience. Quick example would be having the opportunity four years ago to work for Rackspace as a Linux Admin but I couldn't afford to move to San Antonio on my own at that time. That's the kind of stuff I am talking about. And no, you are not making too many assumptions. It's my fault for writing such a sloppy OP.


If you got an offer from them, they wouldn't be willing to relocate you?

It seems like if that's the issue but you are getting offers then I imagine you should be able to negotiate your way in. That or you could just go into debt momentarily.

Even start ups fly people in for interviews; I can't imagine they'd have too much trouble relocating you. That is, if you're willing of course.


I'm recruiting at the moment. Having just gone through 153 resumes in a week, and 4 phone interviews so far, there are a number of things that will get you to the top of the resume list, the top of the interview list and the job. As a potential employer, in my mind I am really asking myself the following of any candidate.

1. Is this person the solution to my problems, or another problem to add to my long list of problems? Or, will this person make my workload lighter, or heavier?

2. Does this person really want to work in this capacity, in this industry, doing these types of tasks? Or, are they desperate for work, and will use me as a stepping stone to another position and in 6 months I am back looking at 153 resumes again?

3. Does this person think first, and ask questions later, or the other way around? Questions that could have been answered with just a tiny bit of thinking are part of my list of problems. Great questions, honed to the crux of the issue, after thought and research are actually beneficial for me and the person asking, as they are opportunities to not only fix things, but improve the end solution as well.

Following on from this, if I were you I would redo your resume AND your interview technique with the above in mind. Your potential employer is a potential client of yours, and you are a micro business of one person. You need to convince your potential client that YOU are the solution to their problem(s), not another problem sucking down a paycheck.

How do you do this? Personally, I would recommend listing 2 or 3 problems you solved in each of your last positions. Being self-employed/contractor is no different to being employed. You are a small business, hired by your client to solve problems. So list them. If there are disclosure or confidentiality concerns, make your description of the problem and solution very high level.

I know this will probably sound strange, particularly in this particular forum, but nobody really cares what you KNOW, they care about what you can DO. When I read your story about getting 895/900 in the Security+ exam, what it tells me is that you can learn complex subjects in a short time frame. The mark is irrelevant to me, you might just have a very good memory. The REAL question I need answering, is can you put that knowledge to practical use. Will you protect my company's network like it was your first born child? Or will you take advantage of the fact that I don't really understand what it is you do and do nothing all day leaving my business at risk?

It's not easy for technical people to do this, but you need to put yourself in your potential employer's shoes for a minute. Imagine YOU own your own company, and you need a network guy to solve your security problems. You need this person to be capable, competent,responsible and reliable. You need to know that they wont leave you hanging in 6 months because this wasn't what they really wanted to do, and they flit off to something else. How can you be THAT guy?


why don't you try webdev? backend or frontend.


Planning to.


[deleted]


Thanks for pointing this out. The OP did have line breaks but not the two in a row that are required to create a new paragraph. We've added those.


Thank you. That was unexpectedly nerve-wracking.




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