Why It’s OK to Forget About FIRE

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It seems like the path to FIRE always starts with a spark – a blog article, podcast, or video that triggers a binge of information. How to save, how to earn, how to invest, how to optimize every aspect of your life in the pursuit of shaving off the years until retirement.

The information, however, is not a magic bullet, even though it may appear that way. That’s because unless you’re starting off with a lot of money, have a very high income, and can significantly reduce expenses, it takes roughly a decade to achieve FIRE.

While it’s still significantly shorter than the conventional path to retirement, the new found awareness makes it feel like an eternity. The fervent search for more information doesn’t help either. You start to obsess about every dollar and count the hours at work until you make yourself miserable.

So what’s the best thing to do once you learn about FIRE?

Fuhgetaboutit

What I mean is that once you set up automatic saving and investing, cut back on any spending that doesn’t spark joy, go back to living life. Otherwise you might as well watch water boil.

If there’s anything to do at all it’s figuring out how to make more money, whether that means climbing the corporate ladder switching careers, or starting a side hustle. That’s really the only pedal you have to speed up the path to FIRE once you’ve gotten started.

But even then don’t stress out about that if it’s going to kill you. Sustainability is key and it’s worse to burn yourself out than to be slow and steady. FIRE is like a diet. Good, consistent, maintainable habits will always give better results than sporadic “cleanses”. Even when you reach your target number, it’s not like you can let all your habits that got you there fall by the wayside. There’s a certain amount of maintenance required, so if you don’t like the journey you’re not going to like the destination.

Of course I’m saying all this because I’ve experienced it personally. The obsession, the burnout, and the realization — you don’t need to add sparks to a FIRE that’s already burning.

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Psst! Do You Have a Whisper Group?

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It’s been several years since I switched fields and became a software engineer. I’ve made big leaps in my career since then, partly because of luck, partly because of hard work, and partly because of my whisper group.

What’s a whisper group? (I just recently learned the term myself)

It’s a group of people that have a shared professional interest and openly talk about anything related (or not) to that topic. The discussions don’t even have to take place in person! Most are virtual and often take the form of a group text or social media group.

Mine formed accidentally after the coding bootcamp as a way to keep in touch with classmates. Naturally we had a lot to share professionally since we were all going through similar experiences at the same time, but the topics of discussion and the benefits of participating quickly expanded beyond work. Over the years, these are the most valuable things I’ve gotten from the group:

  1. Salary Information — For software engineers, even with online resources like glassdoor, r/cscareerquestions, levels.fyi, Blind, and StackOverflow’s annual survey, it can be hard to know what the going rate is for someone with your skill set and experience. By sharing our salaries, bonuses, raises, stock options, and stock grants with one another, we’ve been able to understand what the market rate is for the industry and how it differs between small start ups and large companies.
  2. Negotiations — Traditionally all the knowledge and power has been held by the employer, but when you can tell a recruiter that your friend got an offer of X from the same company last week, the conversation usually goes a little bit differently. We also share past negotiation experiences and tips on how to approach negotiations for a better outcome. Besides compensation, this also applies to working remote, professional development, and paid time off.
  3. Interview Preparation — There are so many resources, premium subscriptions, and paid courses on how to prepare for interviews, but nothing beats hearing about what other people used and what they thought was most helpful. It’s tough enough finding the time to study while working full time so this type of curated content is so valuable when job hunting.
  4. Job Openings — Bad jobs and layoffs happen. But when they do, we’ve been able to point out which companies are hiring and suggest ways to get a foot in the door. We share contacts and fight over referral bonuses, but ultimately benefit in the large size of our combined networks.
  5. Friendly Competition — After graduating school, it can be hard to figure out if you’re continuing to grow at a good pace. By sharing promotions and new jobs, we’ve gotten to see what kind of growth is possible within the industry. It has also encouraged many of us to explore new opportunities even when we’re perfectly comfortable in our current positions. Not that we encourage keeping up with the Joneses, but no one has turned down a higher paying job yet.
  6. Emotional Support — Not every day is a catered lunch and a game of table tennis. Sometimes you just need to rant about something technical or talk about how you’re not feeling motivated to study problems on Leetcode.
  7. New Ideas — In addition to new developments in the industry, the group also talks about a random assortment of topics like FIRE, remote work, travel hacking, fitness, etc. It’s been rewarding to see everyone pursue personal goals outside of work.
  8. Friendship — Even though we don’t see each other on a daily basis anymore, we still meet up and travel together pretty frequently. There’s something special about having friends that understand your professional struggles beyond a surface level.

I can’t imagine where I would be career wise without this whisper group, but I know that it has helped me tremendously in speeding up my FIRE journey while also making me more resilient to any obstacles I may encounter in the future.

What about you? Do you have a whisper group? I’d love to hear about the different ways you benefit from them in the comments below.

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

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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.

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