Dear Stefanie,

Your response made me want to cheer!


I totally worked my first unpaid internships in a large expensive east coast city post-undergrad, and failed at a few startups before finding my way back to do the tail-between-legs return to the parents’. I drove a tow-motor with three degrees, until I could afford a really shitty car, that could (barely) drive me to the “big” city nearby, and found my way back into the grind of academia at my alma-mater. I started as a volunteer (for *another* unpaid year), then part-time, then full-time, then double-time (grad skool + full-time) then double-plus-time (adjunct + research/organizing + full-time) and then FINALLY made it into the ideal job with the company I had always dreamed about, after six long years.

It felt great. It still feels good, everyday. I’m forever in debt to the people who helped me get here; my partner, parents, mentors, professors, and all the Free/Open Source developers who were willing to help me, as long as I kept helping everyone else.

Your story is inspiring, and one that everyone — “millennials” to “boomers” — could do to hear.


Your response also brought back a rush of regret and anxiety…

This ‘right of passage’ 

This ‘mythos of rugged individualism,’ 

This ‘academic and professional hazing’ 

That everyone is ‘supposed to go through,’ 

These “comeuppances”

They are still superbly destructive to yourself and others, and we shouldn’t keep wearing them like a badge of honor.

It is not OK to have to work two or three jobs, or give up nearly all of your weekends (not just one day of them occasionally) and many holidays to maybe get a shot at an opportunity to pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps because “hey, that’s life, and that is how everyone else did it, so you gotta do it that way too.”

I did my best to build a talent pipeline for hackers like me, from where I was from, so that they wouldn’t have to work unpaid jobs like I did before they got started. I spend time as a civic hacker — identifying good work for good causes for good money for good people — so that others don’t have to deal with the same kinds of crippling debt and shame.

I don’t have all the answers, but we should do our best to help those who want to help others. There is something to be said for “learning the hard way;” not every student I’ve ever mentored has been able to grow as quickly or effectively as they would when they “hit bottom.”


Some people have had it *rilly* hard already, maybe even seeing what the bottom looks like already, and could use every bit of compassion and help they can get. I know I needed it — and I was more privileged than some of my students.

I admire your gumption, and your willingness to call out entitlement when you see it, but I still don’t wish those six years on anyone else, just because I had to go through it. 

This kind of ‘work ethic’ eventually capsized nearly all of my personal relationships with people outside of that break-neck cycle — including my core partnership at home eventually.

It was hard, and we did it, but it still isn’t OK. 

Hopefully when folks like us make it to the next level, we can follow the “campsite” rule, that is; we can leave the onboarding path to fruitful careers a little bit better than when we walked it — uphill, both ways, in three feet of snow, with no shoes on ;)

Thank you for sharing your story Stefanie.


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