From high school dropout to six figure Software Engineer salary
Nader Dabit caught my attention with an amazing tweet showing his career progress. He went from dropping out of high school to becoming a well paid Software Engineer. And he doesn't have a CS degree! Nader was kind enough to answer my questions about how he's been able to change career. He learned to code aged 29 years old. Check out this interview for lots of tips on becoming a Software Engineer without a CS degree.
Hey, so can you give us a short introduction for people who want to know more about you?
I’m from Jackson, Mississippi and still live here working remotely for Amazon Web Services. I dropped out of high school at 17 and got my GED. I then tried college a few years later but also dropped out. I worked for my family business and doing odd jobs for about 10 years before learning how to code on my own using videos and tutorials off of the internet.
I read that you dropped out of high school and college but you’ve recently made $400k in a year as a contractor. What were you doing between then?
I worked a bunch of different jobs and also helped my dad at his clothing store here in Jackson MS. I worked with everything from clothing, real estate, importing / exporting, to bartending.
How and why did you begin to learn to code at 29?
I was working with my dad at his clothing store and we wanted to build an ecommerce website. We tried over the course of about 12 months to hire people to do it but we had zero success and ran through (what we thought was) a lot of money, but in reality wasn’t that much.
I decided to try to build the site myself. I learned how to use Wordpress which then made me learn PHP, HTML, and CSS. The website became successful and I loved coding so I decided that was what I wanted to do with my life.
How did you get your first programming job or freelance work?
I tried opening my own consultancy doing freelance wordpress stuff in Mississippi for a couple of months but had no luck, so I decided to start applying for jobs. I started applying for jobs locally, then regionally, then after not having any luck I started applying for jobs all over the United States (some in New York, most in California).
I grossly overestimated my skillset and also kind of fudged my competency and was ultimately hired by a company in Los Angeles, California. I got hired on a Friday and was expected to show up for work on Monday, but I was living in Mississippi.
I packed up a suitcase and bought a ticket to L.A. and rented a hotel room. A few months later I flew my wife and son out to live with me there and was fired the same week that they made it to L.A. I worked really hard to find a new gig and was placed at another agency within about 2 weeks that was closer to my skillset.
What advice do you have for people that have dropped out of high school and/or college and want to improve their life?
There are certain jobs people like us can get and others that we cannot, like we’ll never become a doctor or a lawyer unless we go back to school. With the internet, there are also endless possibilities for success in all kinds of areas.
I would find people who are successful in the area that you want to be and follow them, watch what they are doing. Find as many of them that you can, read the books they recommend, and start taking action. Work every day towards your goal, whatever that is.
Have you ever had imposter syndrome and if so, how have you dealt with it?
Yes, I still deal with it (but it *does* get better as you become a better developer). I overcome it by remembering how far I have come and reminding myself that whatever I don’t know is just a google search away. Over the course of my career I’ve worked with tons of smart and senior people who I have known things they did not know, and am always surprised that these really smart senior people are also learning on a daily basis like us.
How were you able to earn as much as $400k in a year? That’s a lot of money!
I got on the stepladder of consulting clients, i.e. find one and then create the biggest possible pipeline of clients that you possibly can. What this does is allows you to find only the best clients and also the highest paying ones. If you have a client paying $100 / hour, and you have 10 new people wanting to work with you, quote $150 / hour and even if evey one of them says no you have not lost anything. If one of them says yes you’ve increased your yearly pay by $100,000.00.
To get these clients you have to make yourself stand out. To make yourself stand out you have to do a lot of work, including writing, networking, SEO, and just being where your clients are potentially looking (whatever that looks like in your industry). Content marketing is always a great start.
Do you have any tips for getting hired at a FAANG?
I think getting hired anywhere is all about combining a solid set of soft skills, networking, and technical skills. When you interview for a company, passing the technical interview is not the hardest part, it’s all about psychology and being a good person to work with. If you can convey that you will be a step above anyone else. I would research the company you are interviewing with and find out every possible thing about the interview process so that you go in prepared.
When you fail an interview, take it as a positive lesson and do not beat yourself up about it. I know people who have interviewed at the same company 10 times before they were ultimately hired and became extremely successful in their now role.
Thanks for the interview!
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