I took the Skype interview at 6am in the dark of my flat, wearing my suit for work, and he made sure to tell me about how he had just gone surfing that morning. I had to do three trades from the train platform due to the delay and a time change in South Africa we forgot about.
My boss was busy making a lot of money on a volatile morning and took a couple hours to process my verbal resignation, at which point he jumped ("you WHAT?") and told me to go see HR. They trusted me, and were relatively busy, so they let me stay til the next day.
We had a chat in a conference room where he told me that his biggest regret was how his career kind of "just happened", with positions of ever increasing money and responsibility keeping him in the game until he was life-locked (kids, house, cars, skills, network...). He encouraged me to go seek adventure, he had wished to go to Asia at "my age" but never got round to it.
Sydney was even more awesome than I imagined. The rest kind of followed naturally; that and I never managed to get back in, so had to keep going, self-teach, moved companies, etc.
But it all comes down to a cold, miserable day in Geneva and an executive trawling LinkedIn for suitable hires for his team downunder. I sometimes wonder whether I'd have eventually quit to do my own thing, or whether I'd be, like some of my friends from university, debating whether to go for the DBS or the F-type this season.
Funny thing is I started a few blogs anonymously, and they never really took up, and I stopped all of them within weeks of starting. But I keep coming back here because, well, a man is weak, and those upvotes mean something, that somebody read it and enjoyed it.
Somehow that "pays" more than the dollars I could have gotten consulting for the same amount of time it took to write it...
I think finance is a broad industry with a wide mix of experiences and competence and it entirely depends on which firm you are working for. I'd work in any position for someone like Jim Simons, Paul Singer or Seth Klarman, I'd probably try fairly hard (and tried fairly hard back then) to get in somewhere like Glencore, places like IMC or Tibra sound quite fun, but I'd hesitate to take up any kind of job at some of the smaller banks, startup funds or other dubious entities. Even some of the non-bulge bracket but global banks are seriously bureaucratic and technologically still in the 1980s (without the culture of proper engineering allegedly more common back then). Then there's the special cases: at Standard Chartered, you get to work with people like @donsbot which is fantastic for your technical development independently of whether you enjoy the industry or the company.
The money is good, but not that good. By specializing in something there is a lot of demand for outside of finance (say, "big, proper" dev ops) you can pull a lot more money than by being an average quant or the "guy who makes the tools for the traders", even if the best quants will pull large amounts of money. We interviewed dev ops people making north of USD 300k a year for managing less than 100 servers.
Lastly, a lot of business people in finance look down on IT; they see it as a commoditized industry with less intelligent people than those brilliant people who have "survived" markets and bring in revenue (one might make the same argument about them - the most often said thing on a trading floor is "would he make the same money without the bank's name on his business card" and "personality" and free lunches was never a factor in choosing the bank I'd trade with). If you can forgive them for that, wear your suit, swallow your pride and do what you're told, you can make an easy living in those places.
I wanted to be a math professor. One day I'm sitting in the office of my favorite professor and we're talking about grad school and PhDs. I asked him if it was worth it. He told me that you don't do it because it's worth it, you do it because you love it. I knew this, and I loved math, so I nodded.
Then he told me what my career could look like after I graduated. Part time, working at 2-3 universities, where teaching math was more of a hobby than a job. I decided that for me, no matter how much I loved math, it wasn't worth it.
Fortunately, I'm pretty good with computers and programming comes naturally given my math background. I'm really satisfied with where I am now, but math is the one that got away.
That was on reason I switched out. I would likely be a permanent adjunct or be grateful for whatever tenure-track job I could get at some low-ranking university in the middle of nowhere. And if you don't get a tenure-track job at one of the top research universities, your teaching load can be pretty high.
I still occasionally read about stuff that interests me. I'm thinking about making some Math-based HTML5/mobile games in my spare time.
My biggest regret right now is that I'm stuck in the PHP/LAMP webdev niche, and I'm having a hard time getting interviews for anything else. If demand for PHP dries up, I could wind up in a spot where my experience has no market value and my career may be over.
And good devs can learn another language no problem, so the PHP niche isn't a concern.
My email is in my profile.
A couple months, I applied to all NYC HN ads, including the ones that said "You don't need experience in our tech stack." I got zero onsite interviews. I know that I know my stuff very well.
If you're willing to relocate shoot me an email.
You get a job using languages/tools X, Y, and Z. When you apply for a new job, they'll screen your resume based on what languages and tools you used in the past, and use that as the basis for deciding whether to interview you or not. If the job ad asks for W, Y, and Z, that's close enough to X, Y, and Z, so you might get an interview. If the job ad asks for W, V, and U, no interview for you.
That is completely the wrong way to hire people, but almost everyone does this.
When you're a recent grad, people will hire you even without a perfect experience match, especially if you graduated from a highly ranked school.
Once you get a couple of jobs with X, Y, and Z, you'll probably keep taking jobs that use X, Y, and Z, because those will tend to make you the best offers. What happens when demand for X, Y, and Z dries up due to changing technology fads?
I'm at the point where I have a lot of experience in languages that are no longer used or are no longer trendy. That isn't seen as an asset, it's seen as a negative. People say "Why should I hire you FSK, when I could hire a recent college grad?" So my experience has no market value. Plus, age discrimination is a factor. (After you've been around the block a few times, you're less of a pushover, which is seen as a bad thing.)
That's why programmer is a bad career choice. Your experience loses its market value very quickly. You will do very well initially, but then you hit a wall and it's over. You have to move to management, start your own business, or always be chasing the latest tech fads. If you want to pad your resume with a new tech/language, do a project in it, even if it isn't the right choice for your employer's needs and you'll mess it up because you haven't used it before.
Computer vision may be "hot" now, but that's no guarantee of any demand 5-10 years from now. "Data Scientist" is also a hot item right now, is closer to my actual background (lots of database and data warehouse work, and lots of financial statistics and analysis), and I still can't get any interviews for "Data Scientist" jobs.
I went back to school, made a website with Frontpage for my first band (when I was 22 or something), that got me interested in computers. I self learned webstuff, later landed a job in web but decided to study computer science at a university to trully understand what I was doing. Now I am a Linux programmer in the car industry.
So basically I got cold feet.
When I was 7, me and two of my friends signed up for a local free summer course for computer skills and typing for Pioneers (this was in Kiev, Ukraine, in mid-90s).
Learning MS-DOS was pretty cool and different. It was also great fun to make infinite-loop batch files that printed out some vulgarities on screen when the instructor wasnt looking.
One day, when walking into a class, an older (maybe 15?) guy in corner of the room (who turned out to be a sys-admin) drew my attention: he had a bunch of weird text on screen in some program I've never seen before (all i knew was "copy con mytext.txt"). Then, at a press of a button, his computer lit up and started drawing colorful circles and making noises.
I've just experienced QBasic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QBasic).
I was fascinated by what I saw and, with encouragement of the the sysadmin visited couple of sessions of an "advanced programming" class. Although I didn't understand much, I was hooked.
With great support from my parents - who - and i'm still not sure how - found the means to get me a PC at home (those cost many months of salary at the time) - i started tinkering with graphics, windows, and random computer stuff.
Then a "Delphi for Dummies" found it's way to my hands somehow.
The rest of it all, leading up to today, is history as they say. For me however, it's a series of completely random, lucky, events that gave me the initial interest and subsequently permitted me to pursue an absolutely fascinating career.
Today, i am actively dedicating time to get young engineers interested in technology and show them what amazing possibilities it brings.
Maybe one day i'll even write a blog about it :)
I fell in love with my son. He drove my wife crazy. She'd rather be coding.
I'll probably stay at home forever. Taking care of the house and kids is one way I can show love to my wife. Though we might go into a semi-retired "make video games" mode in a few years (my wife tells me I'm a top-notch tester, and I have pretty good game design sense.)
I also run a competitive gaming site (with my wife and another friend): http://descentchampions.org/
In the meantime I was tinkering with building websites and learning HTML and that. I built a few sites and one day a friend who taught me told me to put some playboy style pics on my site and it'll attract people to come. Being 16 I was down for looking at hot girls. So I did. Then later he told me to sign up for these "webmaster programs" and put links on my site and I can make money. So I did.
Long story short, Paris Hilton did what she does best and lets a sex tape of herself leak and I got ranked in the top 5 sites when people started hammering Google searching for it and I was doing about $5-10k/week in revenue off that video. I decided after 10 years of running porn sites I'd bunker down and really learn to program, and now I'm a software engineer.
So you can say Paris Hilton is the reason I do what I do.
It started when I first played halo CE. I decided I want to make massive space stations like halo and I realized that in the next 20-30 years that will hopefully be possible. Until then I am trying to gather all the tools and knowledge I need to lead the next chapter in space exploration and colonization.
Mind you I didn't want to become a computer programmer at all. I would come home from school and stop in at my mom's work and all these engineers would be sleeping under their desks because a port worker had been killed when a container ship struck a pier or a satellite entered low-earth orbit and flamed out costing $100 million or something. I associated programming with tragedy and high stakes.
So I went to art school. My senior year I was spending more time in the computer lab than anywhere else. We had a lab populated with Silicon Graphics workstations and I'd written scripts to render my animation across all the machines so I could get a result in minutes instead of hours. Then the web became deregulated.
Lately I found my way into working on rail automation software that had safety critical requirements. Which is exactly what I never wanted to do and so I quit after 3 years.
I'm still in the industry and haven't figured out what I want to be when I grow up.
When I was doing my undergrad, I didn't really like programming. I took many of the core CS classes, though, because I really wanted to do embedded development. I just wanted my degree to be electrical instead of computer engineering because I felt an EE was going to have an easier time getting a job in the rapidly imploding dot-com bubble. Plus, I actually liked the physical aspects better; one of my two backup plans was to become an electrician.
When I got into a real job, though, I discovered real-world programming was more interesting than what I was forced to do in class. Additionally, I got introduced to the world of FPGA and CPLD programming. While my first position was hardware production support, I pushed to move towards signal processing. After 3.5 years I managed to switch programs.
Unfortunately, the program I switched to turned out to be a black hole. It was a DOD program that required special clearances to work on. I found out much too late that this effectively made me a prisoner of the program because getting people cleared was so difficult and expensive. Furthermore, I could say so little about what I was doing that I could hardly get interviews, let alone sound competent in the few I did get.
I took my current job out of desperation. I had been searching for over two years and basically took the first offer I was able to get, which was a small local company. It was a domain I had never worked in (NLP) in a language I had never worked in (Java). It has worked out pretty well, though I can't get as interested in NLP as I was in signal processing. Unfortunately, I think I am trapped again as I get recruitment pings about once every two weeks from my new world but can't get the time of day from companies in the old one I left reluctantly.
Why am I in tech? Partly due to participating in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award program and partly because I just took whatever was interesting at university until I was forced to pick a major... when I tallied up my course credits, the shortest path to a useful degree was "computer science" so I did that.
Why does my career look like the plot to "Memento"? Because each time I reached a point where my work was no longer that interesting, I looked around and started doing something else.
I feel I've been really lucky. I could easy have (and almost did) crashed and burned but somehow it has worked out so far.
The trick is to look at every opportunity and ask yourself "if I turn this down and never get another chance, will I look back and wish I had done it?". If so, think hard about what really matters to you and do whatever will maximize that.
 I took a year off university to go work at Disney on a cultural exchange program. It was an awesome experience, I met my future wife (who was on a similar program) and gained extremely valuable customer-relationship experience.
I often wonder if there's a job out there that I might enjoy as much or even be better at. Only other profession I might be interested in is watchmaking (sounds crazy but there's actually a huge demand for watchmakers), but the cost of tuition and the risk I might not be good at it means I'll probably never give it a shot.
The reason I founded a startup is the same reason Jack Sparrow is a pirate. The freedom to choose what to do and how. And when.
For example, right now I'm in the middle of a 3 week paternity leave because of my second son's arrival. Here at HN there's this vibe that if you run a startup, you're not supposed to sleep or take vacation. But really, why be your own boss if you don't use the freedom that comes with the package?
I played with a lego a lot and would take apart my RC-Toys to see how they work, and then put them back together. By the time I was 14 I started learning how to upgrade my computer and shortly after I build my first budget gaming PC. Around the same time as the gaming PC I got a chance to see inside the Microsoft compound in Redmond because my to-be step-father worked for Microsoft. I got to see a glimpse inside the NOC, I got to see a server room, and I was amazed that everyone had Nerf guns, the vending machines were free, and everyone made a lot of money. I knew what I wanted to do now: I wanted to be a game developer.
I started playing with linux, aspired to be a "hacker" in the FOX News sense when I was 16. Started learning more, and ended up with a hobby. My high-school years were very rough and my career aspirations went by the sideline for a number of years until I got away from that life.
Then at about the age of 20 I became a recluse, hikkikomori, and my best friends were talked to and found over Skype and various forums. I put my life into anything that involved technology and I gave myself a skillset. Once I got tired of being alone all the time I started putting out resumes to anyone that was hiring and I landed an interview with an animation studio. I excelled at the interview, got a job as a sysadmin, and the rest is history.
A promotion and a raise later I still feel like I've found my place. The job is a perfect fit for my skillset, cultural values, and the kind of people I work with. I think I've found where I belong.
Wanted to go for biology first but hearing what it would take to really get into cutting edge research I changed my mind and went for what seemed, given my hobbies and complete lack of interest for other non-tech fields,the most logical: electronics engineering. Thesis project was picked truly by coincidence (basically the last one left because we were late, lol) but the company offered me a job because I fit in pretty well. Still working there now parttime (did work in different departments as well in the meantime, now I'm back where it started) and parttime for a startup but the job is similar.
I hated being bored and I didn't like working hard. ;) When I was a teenager I asked myself what kind of activities I enjoyed doing for long periods of time that made decent money and working with a computer was one of those, so I pursued a CIS degree.
But I'll be honest. I hated my job for a long time. My original two reasons are awful reasons to pursue any line of work. I eventually became disenchanted and started making serious plans to switch to photography full time because I loved photography, which had started as a hobby and was growing into much more.
But two things happened which changed how I looked at my job. One was I got over a lot of the initial learning curve and switched companies and found a work environment I liked considerably more. The other was due to my interests in art, which unlocked my desire to understand things which was eventually fed by software development.
I love my job now (weird how that worked out).
Anyway... thats me. :)
The only thing I knew after school was how to do stuff with computers and playing games, so I did a degree in computer science and worked as a developer.
I didn't really choose to be a developer, I just did it most of my adult and adolescent life and some time people asked if I could code for them and they paid me.
Sadly this led to boring jobs, since I never really searched for anything, I just did what people asked me to do.
I was an Arabic linguist at the NSA, and would input certain numbers I'd hear into a tool. Whenever I heard a specific one, I was supposed to add 9 to it and put that number into the tool. This drove me insane, because I kept asking why I had to add 9 myself, instead of the program just doing it (since I could describe the rule myself). I started putting in trouble tickets every few months, but they were all ignored. At one point, I just decided I was going to fix it myself, and approached the guy who made the tool and asked him for permission to modify the program to fix it. He handed me the O'Reilly Perl Cookbook, and said to go to town on it.
I ended up finding out in the code how to fix the problem within the first day, and started thinking about other ways I could improve the program to make our lives easier. I made all sorts of improvements, and my cubicle neighbors saw this and asked if there was any way I could make a tool for simplifying their manual process. I got to work on it, and quickly whipped out something that stored all of their entries for later review. The big problem at the time was that I didn't have any basic knowledge of CS -- I didn't even know what a database was, so I built a system of just storing all of the text in flatfiles and using Perl's Tie::File to turn the files into dynamic arrays.
I started making program after program, and what drew me to my career was walking by someone's computer and seeing the program I built on their desktops as they were working. Eventually, the entire division of 80-90 people were all using my programs for their day-to-day, and I had to quickly learn a lot of hard lessons about putting things into production.
So, in short, I think the big reason I chose my current career was that I always loved building things that people not only wanted to use, but thanked me for building them because of how much easier it made their lives. There is nothing more satisfying (to me) than building something useful and having people who use it think you're a modern day magician.
After a few crazy moves and dropping out of 3 different universities, I was down to washing dishes at some crap restaurant and underpaid tech support. After 18 months of that, I told myself I deserved better and just quit. A week later I got called for an interview at some financial-software company I'd never heard of, they were desperate for an Italian-speaking geek. 11 years later, I'm a well-paid consultant in an expensive niche.
I'm not an ambitious guy, I've always just wanted a nice house, not having to worry too much about money, and time to geek around. If I could do it all again, maybe I'd study harder, maybe I'd emigrate sooner, I don't know.
i would prefer to get into private industry when my contract finishes.
When I was 10 years old I was going to be a biologist.
When I was 12 years old I was going to be a microbiologist.
When I was 15 years old I was going to be a Virus Hunter for the CDC.
Then I went to college and got a glimpse of what that career choice would actually look like as opposed to what I had imagined it would look like. I decided I didn't want that after all.
Programming had just always been a hobby. At some point though I started making money doing it and realized that I could be happy doing this for the rest of my life. The rest as they say is history.
So, I started a software company that helps small businesses.
At one point in time though I thought I was going to be a chef. Ha.
This was around the time the Internet started to become affordable (and thus popular), so I decided to migrate my poor design skills and started to get into making web pages.
After a few years, I realised I sucked web design too, so focused on the coding part. After about 10 years of learning to code, I realise I suck at that too and speculate I'm mentally retarded or something.
So my career is: Not Sure.
In summary, I'm doing what I was already doing when I was 6. Not sure what to make of that.
When I was younger my family owned a local computer company supporting a range of customer sizes. At the time I recall saying to my Dad that I wasn't sure if I should be a programmer or an IT technician. He bluntly said, be a programmer there is no money in IT support.
That was late 80s, whilst at the time there was money in IT support, over the long term he was right.
I think doing what your family does helps, because you have people around you that know and can support you.
My father. We grew up extremely poor in the midst of a civil war and he made extra income by fixing TVs and other electronics. I remember watching him measure voltages with his "old school" analog multimeter and watching the glow of the vacuum tubes and that heat and smell that emanated from those TVs.
Watching him work with electronics sparked my interest from a very early age and led me to my career path
I dropped out of an Ivy League PhD program part way into my dissertation because I was pretty sure that finishing my doctorate in comparative literature and continuing down that career path would mean getting on food stamps.
Playing games, wondering how a game gets on the CD.
Even though I loved it, a few years in game programming seemed like it was not "useful" enough. Transitioned to general software-, especially web-development. Started studying CS when the time came.
It's been almost 9 years since the first line of code and for now it seems like this will be the thing I do for some time.
My dad suggested I do computer science as the next option. Maybe I would not have liked being a pilot as a job but fir sure loving my programming life.
I've been interested in computers and software from when I was 8 or so. I've to thank my father who introduced me to computers when he let me use his C64 (for gaming at first but I quickly turned to writing Basic programs as well).
I became an entrepreneur because of freedom and flexibility.
I was an English teacher, but I found myself thinking about death and the future daily. I went back to school for biology and learned how to program and an opportunity to study aging just fell into my lap.
In 1981 when I was 12, my folks took me to my cousin Herb's house. He just bought a brand new BMW and took me for a drive. Coming from a middle income family, I never had been in a car like this. The handling on the road, the bucket seats, the dashboard were all amazing to me.
I asked cousin Herb, "What do you do to have a car like this?". Herb said "I'm a systems analyst". "What's that?" I asked. He replied "I work with computers".
Click...computers = BMW.
Next Monday, I stormed into my 7th grade math class and said "I want to learn about computers". Got started on TRS-80 and the rest is history.
I remember how amazed I was to press an "a" on a keyboard, and an "a" showed up on the screen. I wanted to know how that happened...and once I started coding, I realized that I could be in control of what happened. I went from an end-user to a maker and loved it. The possibilities were limitless.
Greed may have started me on my career path, but it turns out that computers and me were a match made in heaven. I loved the pace of innovation, and I was doing stuff of my own creation that amazed people. It felt good to be a geek.
Finally got my BMW while the VP Engineering at a SF startup in 2009, but that small accomplishment pales in comparison to the lifetime of creating and exploring that I have had....and still enjoy.
On a side note:
I feel so fortunate that I found my career at the age of 12 (though I didn't know it at the time). That drive gave me a focus that helped shape many decisions that people struggle with. Summer jobs, hobbies, college major, first job, where to live. They all fell in place easily for me cause I knew what I wanted in life.
- TRS-80 in 7th grade JHS
- Winning JHS science fair with my personality prediction algorithm
- Atari Computer camp when I was 13
- Reading Byte magazine like it was Shakespeare
- Changing my home address so I would be zoned for my local HS a year earlier (they had actual programming classes)
- Placing out of BASIC, and going directly to PASCAL in 9th grade.
- AP Computers in 10th grade (and tutoring the 12th graders)
- Working summer jobs as data entry and tech support through HS
- Winning an award for my HS in a regional programming competition
- Summer Advanced Sciences and Technology program. Got to work on medical imaging software for a research hospital at 15.
- Convinced my HS principal to let me co-teach a course in Applied computers (DBase, Lotus 123, Wordstar) cause they no longer had any classes for me to take.
- Went to Stony Brook University (inexpensive, and great CS dept) and able to declare a double major in Computer Science and Applied Math
- Started the Stony Brook Computer Science Society and was president for the next 4 years
- Used my financial aide work/study grant to get a university job at the Micro-Computer Demonstration Lab selling Apple/IBM/Xerox computers to faculty, students and staff. $3.15 an hour.
- 2 years later, the guy that ran the lab retired and IBM offered me a part-time job to run the lab. Same job, but now making $10.50 an hour.
- Represented Stony Brook in regional collegiate programming competitions
- Got a research job at IBM TJ Watson Research my Junior summer. Met a brilliant researcher who was moving to the private sector to do a startup in NY. Gave me a job offer that would be waiting for me when I graduated in a year.
- 1991: Moved to NYC to work at the startup (Ovid Technologies) where we built Medline using OOP.
- Rode the OOP wave through 3 more jobs, and promotions from Developer -> Sr. Developer -> Project Leader -> Director at various startups in NY.
- 1996: Joined a NYC startup (InterWorld) where we built app servers for our e-commerce products.
- Rode the "internet" wave through 2 more jobs, and promotions from Director -> CTO -> VP Product
- 1998: Joined an SF startup (Topica) as CTO to build a free email groups product. Got a BMW.
- 2001: .bomb and moved back to NYC, doing tech consulting for a few years on scalable server infrastructure
- 2003: Joined a CT startup (Netkey) where we built systems management software for Retail. Moved to Boston to build up a dev team. Got acquired by NCR.
- 2008: Moved to Brazil to be with my partner. Thought I would pickup another CTO type job at a startup, but I was too ahead of the curve. Played a lot of Xbox trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life.
- 2009: Out of boredom, started to play with the iOS SDK. Last time I wrote code was in 1996, 13 year gap.
- 2010: Published my first app. Thought I was going to be rich...instead learned that it was tough to make money publishing apps. Just then, a friend said he needed an app for his startup in NY. I banged it out for him and realized I could make a living doing consulting as an app developer.
- 2010: Started my own company, Cliq Consulting. So far: 17 clients, 35 apps, 89 million installs.
- Currently riding the app wave...and having lots of fun doing it.
Now I own my own software company (been doing this for 5 years).