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How I Got a Full-time Programming Job at 19

By Charles Treichler on Mar 28, 2019

How I Got a Full-time Programming Job at 19

As a young person without a degree and with little prior professional experience, it's hard to demonstrate the skills you have. But, because Triplebyte is resume-blind and entirely focused on what you can do, it allowed me to demonstrate that I have the ability to build real things.

Warwick Marangos is a software engineer at Common Networks in San Francisco. After graduating from high school last year, Warwick decided to take a gap year, intending to find a programming internship. But without a degree or official programming experience, no tech companies were willing to give him a shot. The year seemed like it might end up as a wash—until Warwick took Triplebyte's technical screen. With Triplebyte's backing, he was able to prove that he had the skills needed to contribute. Within a few weeks, his fruitless search blossomed into a full-time position on Common Networks' Systems Infrastructure team. He's 19 years old.

I sat down with Warwick recently to see how things were going.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

On Working as a Programmer at 19

What is it like to go from high school to programming full-time in less than a year?
It's still crazy to me that it's reality. I did not expect this. I could have envisioned some kind of internship, but I wouldn't have imagined that it would be possible to become a full-time software engineer. It is definitely pretty wild.

Have you met other programmers just out of high school?
I have not. Almost everyone I know who is my age is in college, and all of my coworkers have already graduated.

What has your experience been like so far?
Being a tier younger than everyone you interact with is bizarre in both a good and a bad way. I'm grateful to be in this position because it's a unique experience that not a lot of people have. It's awesome in that way. But yeah, it can definitely be isolating at times. It's tough to meet people as an adult, period. But when everyone is older, that is an additional barrier. But I'm not miserable. My coworkers are all amazing. Being engineers, even if they're older, they're still interested in video games and all that kind of stuff. So it's definitely not like I'm surrounded by robots, and I'm like totally alone.

Why did you decide to look for a full-time job instead of waiting until after college?
Originally I was just looking for internships. I called up everyone I knew, and asked them if they knew anyone who was hiring, and asked them to vouch for me. Unfortunately—but also very fortunately—that did not go well. I didn't find anything.

Why was it so hard to find an internship?
As a young person without a degree and with little prior professional experience, it's hard to demonstrate the skills you have. But, because Triplebyte is resume-blind and entirely focused on what you can do, it allowed me to demonstrate that I have the ability to build real things.

Did your family support the idea of working full-time?
My mom has always emphasized independence. When I was very little, I wanted to dig a hole in our backyard, and we started with shovels, and then we got up to the rocky part, and I decided that I needed to buy a pick-axe to get through the rocks. And she was like, Sure, walk over to the hardware store and buy one. I've definitely been lucky to have a mom who is supportive and is open and is encouraging of independence.

What do your friends think?
I don't go around telling people, “Hey, look at me! I'm working already!” If someone asks, “What are you getting up to on your gap year?” I'll be like, “I'm working in San Francisco.” But I won't say, “Oh, I'm a full-time engineer in San Francisco,” you know? But most people think it's cool that I'm kind of already a step ahead. In some ways, I've skipped college—in other ways definitely not.

Do you think college is still in your future at some point?
College is still an open question. I'm actually currently waiting on decisions from several colleges. Even if I got into my top choice, I'm not sure I'll go. But right now I am leaning towards it because college isn't just about a career, it's also a very social experience. Many people mature a lot in college.

On Learning to Program

How did you get into programming in the first place?
I think the first time I wrote a line of code was in third grade. It was just Visual Basic where you drag and drop and then print out text when you've clicked a button. And I thought that was amazing. I've always had a desire to understand how things work. And with programming, you're never done learning. Even senior developers who have been working for decades haven't even scratched the surface of everything there is to know within software. And so I think what kept me going and what kept me interested was that there was always another thing to delve into.

How did you teach yourself to program?
I've never taken a structured class on anything, but I used YouTube videos and Stack Overflow, that kind of thing. Most of the projects that allowed me to pick up skills were centered around games. One of the biggest projects of mine was for a game called Team Fortress 2. I built a tool to get the IDs of all the players on a server and retrieve a list of all their items and how much they're worth, plus how experienced they are. They put very strict limits on how many requests you can make with a given API key and also how many requests you can make from one IP address. To make it go faster, I started learning about Google Cloud, and I was able to spin up a hundred VMs all making requests, speeding it up by a factor of 100. So that was how I got introduced to distributed programming.

What's it like to program as part of a team?
It's the complete opposite of where I was before. Entering a massive existing code base and experiencing all the joys of legacy code is different, and there is a lot to pick up. But at the same time, now I'm surrounded by people who have skills and who know so much more than me. I have been learning as quickly as I ever have, with the resources all around me and so many amazing people to learn from.

On Using Triplebyte to Find a Job

So how did you find Triplebyte?
I hopped on Reddit for a few minutes right after coming back from running, and I saw an ad, and I took the quiz. I was still sweaty in my running clothes. Then I got the message at the end, “We'd love to do an in-person interview with you.” I was ecstatic. It was crazy to me how smooth the entire process was after that point. From taking the quiz, to the technical interview, to the pitch calls, to the on-sites. Every step just kind of worked.

Did companies have questions about your age?
I think pretty much everyone I talked to was intrigued by the idea of it. The reaction was about half and half, wary versus very excited about the idea of having someone who's taught themselves but who also has a lot to learn. I think it's totally understandable to be cautious when expecting a teenager to do all of the things a job requires. But I think they saw that I'm able to pick up skills fairly quickly and contribute in a real way.

What was the value of the background-blind process for you?
Nothing I've done would have been possible if Triplebyte considered either having a degree or having a minimum number of years of experience. I would have been turned away immediately. There's no way to measure the value of the background blind process because it was 100% of the value. We spoke a little bit earlier about how difficult it is to demonstrate what skills you have if you have very little prior official experience. Being resume-blind and focusing only on skills is the complete opposite of that. The resume-blind aspect was the linchpin of everything that I do now.

Why Isn't Everyone Happy All The Time?

We've been ending all of our interviews with this somewhat-tongue-in-cheek philosophical question: Why isn't everyone happy all the time?
My answer might be a little bit morbid: because otherwise everyone would be dead. From an evolutionary standpoint, being happy all the time doesn't work, because we'd be happy as we starved, and happy as we injured ourselves, and happy as we didn't make more humans. I'm sure at some point there was some creature that just had dopamine firing 24/7, and I'm sure that their very short life was super great.

So we need that discontent to drive us?
Yes. To motivate us. At the basic level, to motivate us to get food, but now that we're a complex civilization, to motivate us to do great things.

Warwick, thanks so much for your time and good luck with your “gap year”!

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