Managing Partner at Dragonfly. Effective Altruist. Airbnb, Earn.com (acquired by Coinbase) alum. Writer. Former poker pro. Donate 33% of my income to charity.
A new stage in my life began four days ago. I got out of a taxi on 7th and Market Street, with all of my belongings stuffed into a backpack and one suitcase. To my left, homeless men were peddling their wares and accosting passersby, and on my right, I could see the dizzying buildings packed with San Francisco’s most promising startups.
I’ve never lived in a city like this before. Not like San Francisco. I’m frantically trying to figure out this city and the tech industry. To put it simply, I’m lost and excited.
I’ve known for a while that I wanted to move to the Bay and earn-to-give. So a few months ago, when I got an offer from a good friend of mine to do “growth hacking” in a few months for an early stage startup in the Bay, I was really interested. Marketing wasn’t what I was ultimately passionate about, but it would be a fantastic opportunity to break into the industry and work with some amazing people.
Much to my surprise, I enjoyed it. A lot. Not only did I enjoy it, but I was good at it. I picked up ideas quickly, relentlessly attacked problems, and reveled in the myopic flow of tinkering and problem-solving. In a way, it reminded me of what I used to enjoy most about poker.
It began to dawn on me that: hey, if I became a coder, I could go into the tech world from the development side. Rather than market things, I could build them myself. And if I wanted to eventually go into entrepreneurship and found my own company, then I could build that product myself. Even from the financial side, as a coder, I could earn-to-give more quickly (since marketing for a startup doesn’t pay a whole lot). It all seemed to make perfect sense. Except for one thing: I was 25 and had hardly done any coding in my life. How was I going to get good enough to actually get a job, much less in the technology capital of the world?
I began researching coding bootcamps. Coding bootcamps are a new and revolutionary model in technology education. Bootcamps.in describes them as “full time coding schools designed to train students without programming skills … by providing highly focused, accelerated learning programs.” Coding bootcamps are extremely structured full-time programs that last around 3 months, and teach students how to code from top to bottom. In the span of just a few months, many learn enough to be competitive with graduates from major CS programs. In other words, it’s the hack into quickly becoming a hacker.
Ten days later, I had five acceptances in hand, including an acceptance at my goal school: App Academy. Alongside HackReactor, it’s considered the best coding bootcamp in the world. Their program is 12 weeks of 70+ hours of non-stop coding. It has a 3% acceptance rate, 98% employment, no tuition up front, and an average starting salary in the Bay of 105k. Once I got the call, I celebrated, re-oriented, said goodbye to my old friends and prepared to move to SF.
So that’s how I got here. I’m going to become a web developer. Not forever, certainly. But for now, this is what’s next.
I’m really f**king excited.
So people have asked me: why web development? Surely there are better ways to make money. I could go back into poker, or go into finance, or even get an MBA.
Those are all reasonable choices, I agree. But I think ultimately, web development is the right choice for me, and I’m going to explain why.
First and foremost, I know that I want to work in the tech industry and in the Bay Area. The culture, the weather, and the ethos of this place have always appealed to me, and have drawn me for most of my life toward that direction. I always knew I’d eventually come here. And who knows if I’ll stay, but I know this place is going to be a part of my life.
Second, learning to code is an invaluable skill in and of itself. By getting into this industry I’ll be able to survey and understand the landscape of both business and entrepreneurship much better. As a coder, I’ll be in a prime position to move in any direction once a promising opportunity presents itself, whether that’s working for a tech company, a startup, or an orthogonal industry entirely. It is, in that sense, an extremely versatile credential. Not only that, but it’s one I can cash in immediately, unlike one that requires a graduate degree.
I know I’ll never be the best computer scientist in the world. That’s fine; it’s not my goal. I have other advantages that I can leverage in the long run, but I’m going to find opportunities to do that by making my way into the industry.
Third, I find coding very intellectually engaging in a way that I don’t marketing, business, or finance. That’s no mark against those fields—each one is complex in its own right. They’re just not fields I can get immediately passionate about, and nor are they fields that I can easily penetrate with my hodgepodge credentials. In that sense, coding is supremely meritocratic. Either you can code or you can’t, and in the Bay, abilities go a lot further than certifications. I’ve always appreciated that about poker, and I appreciate that about coding.
Four, going into coding will allow me to earn-to-give immediately, connect with other effective altruists who are in tech, and potentially influence others to get into EA and earn-to-give themselves. Tech seems to attract an ideal profile—thoughtful nerds who don’t have much use for all the money they’re making. If I can come out here and do some movement-building for Effective Altruism and earning-to-give, it could lead to an amazing impact. I suspect I could do a lot more here than I could in finance, and certainly more than in being a poker player.
And finally, as a web developer, I’ll be able to build shit! It’s cool. It’s fun. It’s an exciting and amazing skill, and one in a market that is (short-term prognoses aside), likely to remain robust, if not grow even bigger. Coding and working with data are skills that will be increasing necessities as our internet-driven society evolves. I’m excited to get involved in that, and bite off a small piece of this giant pie.
And why not poker? Because I made a promise to myself to move on with my life, and that’s what I’ve done. And while maybe I might be able to make money in poker in the short-term, I think in the long-term, this will be a much better investment. And just as importantly, I’ll be a lot happier.
To that end, this blog will be changing. I’ll still write sometimes about poker, but much of my focus is going to be shifting toward technology, entrepreneurship, and effective altruism. Over time, I’ll update the design of the blog to reflect that transition. But for now, I’ve gotta put my head into the game and focus on coding.
My first class of App Academy starts tomorrow morning. It’s 70+ hours of non-stop work for the next few months, so I have a torrent of work ahead of me. Time to start swimming.
It’s been two weeks now since I began the coding bootcamp at App Academy. The material has been blasted at us at a breakneck pace, and I’ve been learning a ton. Among the things I’ve learned: what “90 hours a week” feels like. The past 5 days, I’ve been at App Academy from 10AM till midnight, every single day. It’s strange; it feels like just a few days ago that...
It’s been almost four years now since I retired from professional poker. I haven’t played a single hand of poker since then. I’ve written a lot about poker, I’ve coached a lot of poker players, but the game itself is long behind me. So what comes next? Ever since I quit, that question has hung over me. What do I do with my life? As a poker player it was...