In the last post of the previous year, I stated that in 2018 this blog should get a little bit geekier. As part of that path and to establish connections (and hopefully friendships) with more like-minded folks I decided to start an interview series. It was a pleasant surprise that how many techies are amongst our ranks, so it seems there will be no shortage of interviewees. In every post, the main goals will be to get some insights into the subject’s geeky side and to learn more about his/her professional and financial journey alongside with tips to others. To test the waters (and the questions) in this kick-off post I interviewed myself, but keep an eye on your inbox because next time a more well-known blogger will be on the other end of the keyboard. Enjoy!
Tell us about yourself!
I am [HCF] (yes, still anonymously), a simple thirtysomething millennial(?) guy, husband of a wonderful woman and father of two awesome girls. We are living in the heart of Europe, in the controversial country which is called Serbia. Spending most of my out of work time with my family and in my almost non-existent me time I am a gardening fan.
Working as a web application developer by day and testing the waters of blogging by night. As the vast majority of the personal finance community is located in the United States and other western countries in my posts I try to share my slightly different point of view about finances and share stories from my own experience which could be inspiring, but entertaining at least.
When was your first encounter with computing?
It was in the early 90’s. Our neighbors lived in Germany, but they visited home for a couple of weeks every year. Their son is the same age as me and we spent these weeks together. One year he brought home his old console and gave it to me when they left. It was an Atari 2600 Jr. and we spent a lot of time gaming on it. That was my first encounter with those famous characters whom today’s kids probably do not know anything, like PacMan and Donkey Kong.
What was your first machine?
I got my first real machine a couple of years later, a beautiful Commodore 64C. Just to help feel the difference with today’s computers it had a whopping 64KB of RAM and a ~1Mhz processor. At first, I had only the tape recorder type of storage, just a couple of years later managed to get a floppy disk drive from the 5¼-inch version. It was a true gem, I loved it and used it for a long time.
Did you started with games first or jumped straight into programming?
Started with games, like everyone whom I know. There was a scarcity of sources to get games. As we did not have shops, games were spreading from one to another, copying them onto tape cassettes using hi-fi devices. Man, those were the times… You will never truly feel the code until you try listening to it 🙂
Shortly after I got a book from one of my relatives. I cannot remember the name, but had a 7-headed dragon on the cover and was about the BASIC programming language. Through copying the examples line by line soon started to understand them enough to fabricate new programs on my own. Once drew a robot from characters which was moving its hands and legs. These exercises helped me a lot to understand the basic concepts of programming.
What about education? Was it related to computing? Did you learn in a traditional way? What kind of degree do you have?
By the time I finished the elementary school I owned a PC (with an AMD K6 200 Mhz processor and 96 MByte of RAM inside). I was saving up all my money for three years to buy it. It took years to learn the ins and outs of the machine. Taking into account that the internet wasn’t around back then and lack of books written in my mother language, I had to pick up the knowledge from my peers and friends. In the end, I was able to take apart and put together a PC (while it remained usable), became comfortable with the command prompt, installing and tweaking operating systems and to make the most messed up cracked games working. Oh, and by that time I understood English very well. This was the autodidactic part.
In this process totally fell in love with computing so the choice for secondary school was not a question anymore. There started the true indulgement into the world wide web (which meant learning stuff about networking and HTML) and deeper understanding of the BASIC programming language and programming concepts in general. After those four years, the path was paved (however, it was a very rocky road) to earn my bachelor’s degree in computer science (a not so impressing) seven years later.
When did you start to work? Was it in your field? How was it?
I started to work in my first job one month after graduation. It was tough as this was the first time I had to put my skills to work to solve real-world problems. At the university, we wrote a lot of code, but most of them were simulating or solving theoretical math-related problems. Not much practical usage. I had a month to wrap my head around a totally new to me PHP framework and become able to work on a rental property advertising web portal. It was hard but we (my fellow junior coworker and me) were putting all our effort into it (in working hours and after that) and it worked. Not counting some smaller side projects developing and maintaining that project was my main task in the following two years. Getting that job was the best what could happen to me. I started as a general programmer with no experience there and left the company as a full-stack web application developer.
A little bit more than four years ago I jumped ships and started my current job. My role was the same but now had to work on multiple projects same time. As my skills evolved and time passed I became the lead developer at one of the company’s flagship projects.
What are your experiences about the industry?
In terms of coworkers I have to tell that I am extremely lucky, have no bad memories and can count most of my current and former coworkers as friends. However, incompetence, inefficiency, short-sightedness, and mismanagement pops up every now and then. Cannot sum this up more accurately than Mr. Money Mustache himself:
“One of the joys and frustrations of being an engineer who is also a hopeless dreamer is that you can see the beauty of what the world could be, while also feeling the burden of every single thing that is in the way of achieving that beauty.”
Underpayment is a serious problem too at our ends, but the last years brought some improvement in this field, so I am hopeful.
What is your current financial situation and what are your financial goals?
I am kind of satisfied with my current salary and overall financial situation, however, there is a lot of space for improvement. We have no debt except our mortgage which can be vanished in three years or less. We own our house and have a reliable (so far) and efficient car which I expect to use for at least five more years. Our savings rate averages around 50% and even we were able to afford a summer holiday every now and then in the recent years.
In the big scheme the ultimate goal is reaching FIRE of course, but the path which leads there is hidden for now. It is obvious that in the long run, I will have to develop other income streams too and solve the lack of simple investment opportunities problem.
Tell us about your journey so far?
My financial journey is boring and interesting (from a point of view) at the same time. I had a childhood framed by frugality, sometimes because of necessity, other times by choice. We have seen weird (financial) situations through the years which others, who are living in the western world, probably did not. I was trained for saving, thus never was a big spender. Never had a credit score, never had a credit card nor any kind of loan, except our mortgage lately. We only use our debit cards (tied to a single bank account) and cash where there is no option to pay with a card (which is more common than it should be). I can say that we live below our means and we are happy with it.
How did your profession affect your finances (directly, indirectly)?
It is interesting and shocking that how much did the technology improved just in our lifetime and how much impact did it have on our daily lives and the job markets too. Computing skills are now essential for almost anyone, digital literacy is not optional anymore and programming became part of the curriculum in the elementary schools. This all led to a huge demand for qualified and skilled programmers. Even in our small country thousands of IT workers would be able to get a job instantly.
These facts made a huge impact both on my career and our finances. In a country where the overall financial situation is distressing, earning a programmer salary provides great stability. It is not anywhere like you are earning millions, but according to the statistics programming is the best paying job around here with an average salary of roughly $2k per month. Maybe it sounds a little bit low, but note that the average monthly salary here is roughly $500.
As a family, we are still in the accumulation phase, so I cannot speak either about a fortune saved up already nor a huge fat mustache has grown, but I think that we are on good track laying down solid foundations. I cannot imagine a better option I would have been able to choose. The biggest improvement could be if I could blend entrepreneurship with my profession which is one of my goals for the not too distant future.
Did you regret becoming a coder? What would you change?
No, actually I think of it as the single best decision I have made in terms of profession. The only thing I regret that back in the time when we were younger the circumstances were not optimal to learn and achieve more at that early stage. Today’s kids have much better opportunities at hand (just I am not sure if they will be able to use it properly in the current distracting environment of the digital ocean) for improvement.
Even taking this into account the only thing I would change is wasting time on formal education ( I see the killer instinct in some parent’s eyes now 🙂 ). I truly believe that the knowledge I am using every day could have been accumulated in one or two years with a skilled mentor using an informal way of learning. In my opinion, knowledge is what matters not degrees and licenses. When there is a task what you know will determine if you can handle it or not. Problems do not ask for a paper.
Would you recommend starters/career shifters to step on this path?
Yes, definitely. It is kind of a no-brainer.
Tips for beginners?
Be open-minded and avoid that pigeonhole. If you acquire stable foundations you can educate yourself into any type of coder. There aren’t too many professions which provide so many opportunities than programming both in terms of the abundance of jobs and career paths. You can be a cubicle worker, a startupper or a freelancer. Or all of them. It is really up to you, but you have to be vigilant, diligent and dedicated.
What are your short-term and long-term goals for the future both financially and professionally?
Short-term, I am dedicated to my corporate job, I try to learn and achieve as much as I can. Meanwhile, we are working on erasing our debt and saving up a stash for backing up future changes/transitions.
Long-term, I want to dip my toes into entrepreneurship and build something by myself which helps people in some way. While I really want to halt and catch FIRE, reaching a point where I could provide a stable financial background to my family while following my passion and spend a lot of time with them is more realistic, thus I am thinking about this as my next ten-year plan.
We coders have our eternal debates, let us know which side do you stand?
- Desktop OS: I am doomed to using Mac OS at work, but my personal choice would be Linux. I am not a power user but trust it much more. Linux Mint is my favorite flavor so far.
- Mobile OS: Android. iOS is too fancy and overpriced. Windows phones are too dummy (I know it from experience as I am using one :))
- Machine: I use my 5+-year-old Lenovo IdeaPad Y570 for most of the tasks. It is old and has its problems, but until it does the job I see no point in replacing it.
- Browser: Chrome, however I used to be a hardcore Opera than Firefox fan.
- Programming language: PHP. I know that many see it as the language of the past, but it is still used widely, simple and well supported. I can imagine following the trends and entering the JS world, but PHP will remain my first love forever 🙂
- And the most important… spaces or tabs: I use tabs with the length of four spaces because that is how it should be. Period.
Would you write a couple of lines of code to present a simple financial principle?
Here is a quick explanation how compounding makes your money grow. This is how much money you will have ($1,133,529) at the end of a 30-year career if you start saving with empty pockets and you are able to stash away a grand every month (assuming 7% annual returns).
Hope you enjoyed this little nostalgic journey and liked my opinions. If you are curious about something else feel free to ask me in the comments, send me an email or ping me on Twitter. I would love to get some feedback on the questions and if I should change them or supplement them for the future posts. Also if you have a potential interviewee in mind (or you are one yourself) please don’t hesitate to tell me. See you next time!