How I made $10k working as a Software Engineer in Seattle

The tale of one young man’s journey into a self-taught career in tech.

Oct 5, 2017 · 7 min read
(A black and white picture of Mt. Rainier)

Inception: Where It All Began

Back in the fall of 2015, I was attending a modestly sized university in East Texas called UT Tyler in pursuit of a Biology degree, and worked a part-time job at Papa John’s to support myself.

One evening, while I was watching an episode of ‘Attack On Titan’ on Hulu. The show was abruptly interrupted by a 15-second commercial that caught my attention. It hummed the following message…

“Learn the skills to become a software developer in 12 weeks with Treehouse and start earning 100k.”

Your ears are probably screaming “Too good to be true!” But something within me uttered “Why not? There’s nothing to lose.” That same evening I subscribed to Treehouse and enrolled in a couple of courses like Android development and programming with Java.

For the next couple of months, I invested 3–4 hours of my day into learning, practicing, and eventually developing my first Android app.

Eureka: A Simple Mistake, A Brilliant Solution

In time I found out about coding boot camps — these are private learning institutions where unlike Treehouse, who offered courses only through the web, they had an onsite instructor teaching the course.

Unfortunately, I didn’t live within proximity of any coding schools — the closest ones were located in Dallas Texas which was 100+ miles away. Nevertheless, I didn’t completely write off boot camps from my list just yet.

To my luck, I found out that a boot camp, Guild of SA, was hosting an open house event alongside with an introductory course to iOS development. The instructor had 15+ years of experience in the field and I was hoping to gain an insight on how to jump-start a career in software development.

I spoke briedly with the instructor after the presentation, and his answer to my question was the turning point in my endeavor to jump-start my career.

Me — “How did you become a Software Developer?”

Instructor — “Simple, I taught myself.”

I thought to myself “If he can do it, why can’t I?” His answer was the key to unravelling the uncharted path to my career. Unfortunately, it also meant the end to a relationship with dev boot camps. Alas, I had chosen my faith and had to live to see it through.

Search: Looking for Opportunities

Seven months had gone by since my first course with Treehouse and in that time I was able to learn and understand the fundamentals of programming. Although I was new to software development I had the confidence in myself and enthusiasm to start looking for opportunities in software.

My search was a bit of a challenge. The only high-tech cities that had an overwhelming amount of opportunities were in the Bay Area, So Cal, Seattle and Austin. Tyler wasn’t on the list, so moving to a new city was going to be a must.

Note: I was 19 at the time about to turn 20 and I virtually had no close family members in the US, I had no support. I was always on my own.

I applied to several out of state companies and heard back from them, but, one of their immediate concerns was that they didn’t have the funds to relocate employees. Thankfully, I was able to put their feedback to good use — I started saving money for my own future relocation expenses.

With every paycheck that I earned I saved, and eventually, I was able to save $5k. It was time.

Time: The Perfect Opportunity

I took an alternate approach for my search. Instead of applying for full-time positions I humbled myself and applied for internships. I believed that I had a greater chance going down that route.

Luckily I found an organization that really caught my interest, and interestingly enough they were looking for an Android intern. Perfect. The name of the organization was GiveSafe (now rebranded as Samaritan) and what they were trying to accomplish was something that had never been tried before. They wanted to build an app that would allow downtown commuters like you and me to reach out and help homeless individuals on the streets; things like getting to know them and assisting them with services that could better improve their lives. Learn more here: https://www.samaritan.city

The next day I meticulously drafted an email and sent it directly to the founder of the project expressing my interest in helping the project get to launch. He got back to me and thanked me for my interest, but unfortunately, couldn’t afford to relocate candidates due to lack of funding. I swiftly got back to him and told him I was willing to pay my relocation expenses and work as their intern for 3–4 months for free. Now, that caught his interest.

A week later I received a letter in my inbox from GiveSafe asking if I was still interested in joining their summer internship team. I said yes!

Seattle: An Amateur’s Fortune

Two weeks after the news that I was officially part of GiveSafe’s Mobile Dev Team. I had packed all my belongings and was en route to Seattle in hopes of unveiling the next chapter of my life.

I arrived to Seattle on June 23rd, 2016 where I moved into small apartment room in the University District, it was small but comfortable, it had been my first step towards living in the city.

I still remember the first night I slept there, I didn’t. My mind was so enthralled by this crazy leap of faith I took that I couldn’t give in to sleep.

Funding: Let’s Talk Money

I moved to Seattle with ~$5k, but I knew that this money wouldn’t last forever. I had an approximate runway of 3 months, maybe 4 months (if I managed my finances well).

At the internship, they had something called the points system. Basically, I was paid based on how many tasks I could get done, and each point factored in the complexity of the problem and time requirement.

1 Point: Roughly an hour to complete task — $15
2 Points: Roughly 3–4 hours to complete — $60
3 Points: Roughly 6–8 hours to complete — $120
5 Points: Roughly 8–12 hours to complete — $250

Over the course of the internship, I was able to earn $1918.75. Let’s break this down into an hourly wage. I worked 40 hour weeks for ~4 months (16 weeks).

$1918.75 / (40 hrs * 16 wks) = $2.998046875 per hour

Shocking! yes, incredible, not quite. I was earning almost $3 per hour but I was also working for a small startup. I knew to some degree that things wouldn’t work out quite exactly as they would be working for a more stable and established company like Amazon, Google or Facebook. The best I could do was to ready my mind for the challenges ahead.

Startups are made of brave pioneers who want to break the status quo. They turn small ideas into ambitious projects at the expense of blood, sweat, and tears, all in hopes to make an impact on society. I didn’t join a startup to make money but to make an impact.

December came around and my gross income came up to $3506.25. By now you must have a pretty good understanding that I was making well below the national poverty line (haha).

Luckily, by the start of the new year, the company received some more funding and I was soon promoted from the points system over to a monthly salary, $1250. If we run that same simple algorithm from before this would be the output.

$1250 / 160 hrs = $7.8125 per hour

A year later my total gross income came up to $11,006.25 — Six months paid through the points system plus six months paid through my salary ($3,506.25 + $7,500 = $11,006.25). But wait, if we factor in my relocation investment the output would be that of $6,006.25.

$11,006.25–$5000 = $6,006.25

Questions: How Can You Live in Seattle??

To the few people whom I’ve shared my story this seems to be the #1 question they have, but I have never truly answered this question up until now.

Friends & Family. These are the two greatest supporting pillars one can have in their life, not Money & Power.

Without friends and family, I can’t imagine I would still be here writing this blog post. They were there during my darkest hours, financially, emotionally and relationally, they supported me and uplifted me when the challenges that laid ahead seemed bleak.

Communities like UPC and the Hallow’s Church were my cornerstone, they opened opportunities big enough for me to relax, think and breathe. And I thank all those friends whom provided sustenance in those moments of need.

Even when life seems to have narrowed in opportunities, I always think to myself, “There’s no other way to go, but up.”

Afterlife: What’s Next?

Having lived in Seattle for almost two years under these circumstances I’ve learned many life lessons, but for me one of the most important things in life is time. It’s a train that has no stations, it makes no stops.

This is why I’ve started a never-ending pursuit to become better and more knowledgeable in things like software development. I’ve also learned that money is an incredible tool that can be used as a means to empower oneself. I hope you were able to learn something from my experience. :)

Currently, I’m working towards building an exclusive social media platform for university students. A platform where they can connect with one another, share interests and engage with their respective communities. It’s an ambitious project, and currently something I’m working on the side, but I believe it can be achieved. Check out my project here!

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