Career Personal Finance

How I Tripled My Income and Got a Six-Figure Job in Four Months

A few years ago, I was in a rut. After graduating from college and getting let go from my first job, I found myself bartending once unemployment ran out. It was supposed to be temporary just until I could figure things out, but temporary turned into a year, which turned into two years. I knew that I couldn’t last much longer since my legs were aching even on my days off, but it seemed like every other job I could see myself doing meant going back to school for a very long time and taking out lots of student loans.

At the time I also knew about FIRE, but gave up on it after my first job since I was earning so little. On the plus side, my schedule was flexible and whenever I found cheap airfare, I begged my coworkers to cover my shifts so that I could travel. I hated having to come back for work and wondered how I could find a job that would let me travel whenever I wanted.

During my travels, I noticed that a lot of the young people on the plane were working on their laptops and usually had one of three things on their screens:

  1. Spreadsheets
  2. PowerPoint
  3. Rainbow colored text on a black background

The first two made sense to me, but the third didn’t. I couldn’t muster up the courage to ask them what they were doing so I just filed it away in the back of my mind. It wasn’t long before I figured it out after reading an article in the New York Times that profiled people turning to coding for a career change.

I still wasn’t convinced though. It seemed too good to be true. Could I really take a three-month course and land a job making six figures? I always wanted to learn how to code and build apps, but I tried computer science at college and it was a struggle to put it nicely. Why would anyone want to hire me to do something if I didn’t major in it?

Soon after reading the article, I got a few signs. One of my coworkers also saw the article and shared it with me, saying that he thought of me while reading it. I also met a college friend who mentioned that his girlfriend was doing a coding bootcamp. Then I ran into a childhood friend that had recently done the same coding bootcamp and was working at his first job. That’s when I decided that I was going to give this a chance. It was a low risk, high reward opportunity after all. Even if the program was going to cost a semester’s worth of college tuition, I knew that I could pay it back and do something else after a year if I really didn’t like it, that is, if graduates really got jobs at the salaries they were claiming. At the very least, I would have some of those “coding skills” that all the articles said were increasingly important in the workplace.

So I started researching the various bootcamps in the area and decided to first apply to the same bootcamp that I knew others went to since I was risk-adverse. Most of the programs also didn’t allow you to reapply so I wanted to make sure I didn’t blow all my chances by applying to all of them at once. I studied before work and during breaks using the sites they recommended like Codecademy and was so nervous through the entire application process. I practiced talking aloud and explaining my thought process as I went through the practice exercises. Fortunately I made it into the first program I applied to, but I was prepared to start the process with the other bootcamps.

Once I got in, I told my manager and coworkers I was leaving. They were sad to see me go, but happy that I was leaving for a good opportunity. The program I was going to attend was full-time and I wanted to devote all my time and energy to it. Fortunately I had saved enough to cover my living expenses for the length of the course and then some. I was grateful to my younger self for continuing to save and live within my means even though FIRE seemed like a pipe dream at that point.

The program itself was intense and well structured. My friend told me that his biggest regret was not taking it more seriously, so I took that advice to heart and stayed late every day to prepare for the next day and came in on weekends to catch up on anything I couldn’t finish that week.

After three months the course ended and I started my job search. This was the biggest unknown since it could take anywhere from a week to a year. I was told that it was just a numbers game so I cranked out 300 applications in a month and schmoozed with every alum that walked through the doors of our classroom. This led to a handful of phone screens, a few on-site interviews, and an offer that I was able to negotiate up to six figures with the help of my bootcamp. In between applying and interviewing, I was constantly practicing my elevator pitch on why I was making a career change and white boarding data structures, algorithms, and problems from Cracking the Coding Interview. I almost worked through the entire 706-page book by the time I accepted my job offer.

I was nervous about not knowing enough for my first job, but those fears quickly went away once I started. The course was well tailored to the actual day-to-day responsibilities of my job and I could see why even some computer science majors went to bootcamps before transitioning into the workforce.

It’s been a few years now and I’m still coding, but have since moved on from my first job. I’m still glad that I made the jump and have helped others do the same. It’s not for everyone though and I know that I had some advantages that not everyone else will have (like having an emergency fund already saved up and living at home without paying rent), but it’s not a cakewalk for anyone. Having said that, the two things I think are the most important to being successful at a bootcamp are 1. saving enough to cover you through the course and job hunt so that you aren’t distracted by finances while learning and can wait for the best offer, and 2. taking it seriously because there’s a big difference in starting salaries ($60k vs. $120k) and how long it takes to get a job (a few months vs. a year) between the unmotivated and the motivated.

Of course if I could go back all the way to college, I’d stick out the computer science major and intern at big companies during the summers, but the coding bootcamp was really the next best thing. It’s helped shorten my timeline to FIRE and feels like an insurance policy in case I ever need to go back to work to make money. This is also why I think that making more money is just as important as cutting back expenses when pursuing FIRE aggressively.

TL;DR I went to a coding bootcamp.

Books Personal Finance Saving

Walden: 8 Things that the FIRE Community Can Learn from a 165-Year-Old Book

Thoreau’s Walden isn’t a FIRE book in the strictest sense, but it has many themes that relate to the FIRE movement. I never read it in school and I’ve seen it referenced time and time again by the community so I decided to give this 165-year-old book a chance and I’m glad I did.

I always thought that Walden was an example of how many principles of FIRE were mainstream in the past, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Thoreau was considered a weird guy, his ideas were considered weird, and the FIRE community can learn a lot from his experience as a result.

  1. Living below your means was never the norm and probably will never be. Even in the 1800s, Thoreau describes that most people spent what they earned and that most farmers didn’t own the land they farmed.
  2. Society will always think that you are strange for pursuing FIRE. People thought that it was strange that a man would voluntarily move into a cabin in the woods, just like people will think that it’s strange for you to downsize your home or downgrade your car.
  3. Detailed accounts of income and expenses will always be interesting. Just like how people were interested in how much it cost to build Thoreau’s cabin and pay for food, people will always be interested in money diaries and income reports.
  4. It’s hard to separate FIRE from food. Thoreau advocates eating mostly vegetables to save on food costs and therefore reduce the amount he needs to earn.
  5. Not everyone will want to live just like you and that’s fine. Thoreau tries to convince a neighboring Irish family that they should give up meat and butter in order to reduce their expenses, but they’re resistant to the idea.
  6. Pursuing FIRE alone is one thing, but as a couple it’s hard if one person isn’t on board. In the interaction with the Irish family, the husband seems intrigued by Thoreau’s thoughts, but the wife isn’t convinced.
  7. Check your privilege. You have advantages that allow you to pursue fire that others don’t. One of the main criticisms of Thoreau’s experiment is that he didn’t pay rent or own the land he lived on. His friend Ralph Waldo Emerson allowed him to live on the land for free.
  8. Practice contentment. Thoreau both demonstrates and explains that it doesn’t take much to live a rich, full life.
Personal Finance Saving

The New Minority 30-Something

A recent New York Times article poses a riddle:

How does anyone, even those with a stable, upwardly mobile job, let alone a family, afford to live in places like New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco or Washington, D. C.?

To which the supposed answer is:

Many are bankrolled, to varying degrees, by their parents.

There’s truth to this statement, and I’ve noticed this phenomenon first hand amongst my peers and my NYC Money Diaries analysis.

The thing that irks me, however, is the one-sidedness of the article. The only examples presented in this article are 30-something millennials that receive support from their parents, or those that are not and thereby feel stuck.

What’s missing? How about showing some 30-somethings that aren’t supported, but are still able to “keep up” with their peers? And how about describing the choices they have made in order to do so? The omission of what I’m calling a “new minority” type of 30-something just perpetuates the idea that it’s impossible to get ahead without parental support and downplays the agency each individual has over their own personal finances.

While I’m not a 30-something yet and can’t claim to have never received “help” from my family after graduating college, I graduated debt-free because my need-based aid covered 100% of my costs and I am planning to purchase my own home in New York City this year without any help from my family, which I also help support financially. It has required considerable sacrifice to do so, but it’s possible.

This is also why I’m writing this blog. It’s not just a reminder to myself, but also to tell the story I think isn’t being told enough. Upward mobility is not straightforward these days, but it can still be achieved with ingenuity, sacrifice, and fortitude.

Thank you for reading and I hope that you find some encouragement while you’re here.