I feel like I'm never going to get out of school and actually get paid to write software

I really love programming, especially the aspect of designing software systems and finding the best algorithms and data structures to solve the problem at hand. This is what makes everything so difficult. I feel like I’m never going to finish school. I’m 22 years old, and I still have 3 years of full time school left. I started college as a vocal performance major and went for a year to a private university (meanwhile racking up over 10k in student loans), but then starting dating my current girlfriend over the summer. We began to get serious and this caused me to reconsider my schooling - not just because of the distance but because I worried that music wouldn’t be a stable enough career to support a family, especially not since my girlfriend wishes to go into theatre as well. I had always been “good” with computers, and I loved science (and math, but I didn’t know I loved it yet). I spent the summer learning python with Learn Python the Hard Way and transferred to the local community college (which was free because Federal Aid covered it all).

While at community college I met another who was passionate about computer science, and he essentially became my mentor. He taught me pretty much everything I know and showed me different languages and paradigms, and we often discussed software ideas such as file-systems or new programming languages. I felt that I was learning a lot, but not in class. I basically took general education classes since the computer science courses were not recommended and I needed a lot of prerequisites. So I focused on getting those done.

As an aside (I don’t want this to sound like a complaint - I often find this to be both a gift and a curse), I have been diagnosed with ADHD-I (Inattentive) since high school, and was prescribed medication. The medication, however, caused me to have a very high heart rate, which worried me, so I stopped taking it (I am currently back on it after several years off). This off-and-on of the medication has happened several times, and I am currently on a much lower dose which does not bother my heart quite as much. Without the medication, I get distracted very easily and shirk responsibilities such as assignments (often forgetting I even have them) in favor of activities which are more intellectually stimulating (such as programming), plus paying attention class, especially if I “understand” what’s going on every time I zone back in (I use that word lightly - quite often this will continue until I feel a little lost because my foundation of earlier concepts is shaky). I think that the interactivity and fast iteration cycle inherent in learning programming is what pushed me through and kept it highly engaging throughout the process. I am usually able to voraciously digest a subject I am passionate about or I find interesting - in fact, those around me often comment on how I jump from interest to interest, but unfortunately this appetite doesn’t always transfer to my grades.

I often enjoy school, but it can be really overwhelming at times. I started a nearly full time job in tech support at the college I was attending, which caused my grades to suffer. But it wasn’t just the job; before that it was involvement in the theatre program. I know school is important. I know that I should prioritize getting my degree, but I feel like I have to choose either school, work, programming in my free time, or my social life. There are not enough hours in the day. Plus (I feel I have understated this), throughout my life my home life has been less than stellar. It isn’t anyone’s fault; my mother and I just have very different personalities and we clash constantly, which gives me a lot of stress. I love her so much, but I don’t think she really understands me. My brother is special needs, and this adds to the stress levels of the entire family. Plus we live in a small house with my grandparents, bringing the total bodies in this house up to six, with my uncle and his son staying sometimes. There is always noise going on in the house, and this causes me a great deal of stress as well. I feel like I’m complaining too much about everything, but I really just want to let it out. I love them all, but I feel like this environment is too stressful for me because of my personality and workload.

I lived on campus during my first year (while I was a music major), and I loved it. I was lonely (single at the time), but there was at least peace when I wanted it and the ability to leave and socialize when I wanted that. Now I feel like everything I do affects so many other people and it’s hard for me to relax without the autonomy. I would love to live on campus at my current university, but it is a new state school (not accredited yet) so my federal aid does not transfer. I feel like in order for me to move out I need a car, plus I would have bills related to the house, food, etc. And the only way to pay for all of this would be a full time job (for which I don’t have a degree), which would cause my grades to, again, suffer.

I really don’t know what to do. I wish more than anything that I could be programming full time and live on my own or with my girlfriend. School seems almost pointless when I can learn whatever I want online and I feel I already have the programming ability (though I may be being naive - feel free to critique my github). I am much older than most of my classmates (who are fresh out of high school for the most part), and I feel like when I am done I will be older than all of my co-workers. If I could make even a small amount of money (but of course a livable wage) programming, especially if I could telecommute, I would drop out of college and begin my “real” life. But my github is sparse because of all the time constraints and stress I have been under. Now that I have quit my job at my previous college to attend the new one full time, I feel that I have much more time to program. But this is a falsehood because of school work, my new part time job (which I absolutely love and may be one of the high points right now, but it does take my weekends), my social life, and the stress of living at home.

I’m really sorry for how selfish all of this must sound and how long it is. I just really needed to get this off of my chest and hopefully get some advice.

I appreciate your input,


Have you considered dropping out of college? You keep saying how important your degree is but you don’t seem convinced. Are you going to school for you, or for society? The programming industry is one of the few industries where skills and action trump absolutely everything. I read some of your code, and it seems fine to me.

Obviously think about all the ramifications and goals you have in life, but also consider that what people say is absolutely required isn’t absolutely required. Like you said there are only so many hours in each day and you need to focus on what you want in life. You clearly want to support your girlfriend and make a living. You clearly love programming.

My story is that I dropped out of highschool in the 11th grade (due to a very bad homelife, and some serious ADHD/Depressive symptoms). I worked in tech support, then Linux operations, and now I’m a Cloud Software Engineer. I work with mostly college graduates, but I’m a team lead and design a fair bit of our critical systems. It’s all about constant learning and attitude, man, and I can tell you have it from the way you write.

Best of luck!

Thank you Phil!

It does make me feel better to know that is an option. I tried applying for software jobs last summer and I didn’t really hear back from any of them, which I attributed to my lack of degree and how sparse my github is. I also wondered whether I would even be able to take the job if I got it with no car.

How long did it take you to work your way up like that? I think I would probably be happy in dev ops or QA more than tech support, though I do like the job I’m currently at.

It took me a while to build up the business skills and such in order to be assertive and such. Maybe 7-8 years. I’m 28 now, I dropped out when I was 16 or so.