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I'm 13 years old, and I'm not planning to apply for a job any time soon (after all, I'm still learning). However, in my late teens (before college) I may want to apply for a position as a programmer (perhaps as a summer job).

Is it normal, or even possible for teenagers before college to get a job programming? Or am I making a bad decision by considering a job in my teens?

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check the labor laws in your jurisdiction –  ratchet freak Aug 12 '11 at 21:40
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@ratchet freak Yes, I understand, but often companies will not hire people that are the minimum age (14 in my state). I'm looking for a more specific answer –  Amit Aug 12 '11 at 21:51
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youtube.com/watch?v=8mwKq7_JlS8 –  yi_H Aug 12 '11 at 22:45
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Not really answer to your question, but seeing my 13 year old cousin he is still pretty clueless about the world. So my suggestion is learn programming in spare time, but enjoy the rest of your life. Don't get sucked into this and waste your childhood and think about the future yet. –  Bojan Kogoj Aug 13 '11 at 10:37
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+1 for encouraging. Upvote my comment if you are also talented and are 13-16 yrs. old :) –  develroot Aug 13 '11 at 18:46
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closed as off-topic by MichaelT, gnat, GlenH7, Michael Kohne, World Engineer Nov 11 '13 at 23:09

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13 Answers

up vote 70 down vote accepted

The earliest age where you can get a real job is 14 if you're in the US, but most companies wouldn't take on such a young person unless he or she was well qualified. I personally know people who have worked at tech companies since they were 16, and many places hire interns for the summer, so you can look for jobs as early as high school.

Another great alternative is to work on open source projects. There's no age limit to contribute to open source projects, and you'll become familiar with things like version control and best practices, and make real contributions to a real project! Programming is one of the few professions where you can do meaningful work at a young age, and a great way to build experience is by contributing to open source projects.

Lastly, I encourage you to work on your own side projects for fun. If/when you do apply for jobs, you can discuss the things you've worked on and what you learned out of it. Even if it's not official experience, interviewers love people who work on their own projects and are self motivated, and you'll be able to develop your skills.

Hope it helps!

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Ditto! You should consider yourself lucky! You're programming at an early age and can spend the next few years doing whatever you want! Learn learn learn and see how much you can achieve before you're stuck in an office somewhere trying to pay your bills. –  Jarrod Nettles Aug 12 '11 at 21:46
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Big thumbs up on the open source suggestion. I mean holy crap...if I had started contributing to open source projects when I was 13 I can't even imagine where I'd be at now. –  Casey Patton Aug 12 '11 at 21:51
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Ditto to open source. Not only is it awesome experience, but it will let you know how "good" you really are :) –  Stargazer712 Aug 12 '11 at 22:04
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Clarification: 14 because it is the current US legal age one can work –  rlb.usa Aug 12 '11 at 22:15
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I started to program to at the age of around 13 years old and I can say by experience that working on side project is not only fun, but it will also bring you an inestimable amount of experience. –  HoLyVieR Aug 13 '11 at 1:10
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If you are old enough to legally work, then go for it! Don't worry about limits. Read the book, "Everything is Negotiable". Don't let anyone tell you you can't do anything. If our 1st Navy Admiral (Adm Farragut) can command a war ship at age 13, then you can get a job as a programmer if you put in the requisite effort.

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Consider one of the freelance programmer websites.

A friend of mine made 15k+ a year throughout highschool using these websites by coding in his freetime.

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Make sure your activities are okay with the local tax authorities though. You can probably make money through these sites undetected for a long time, but if it's ever found out, the consequences may be very nasty. –  Pekka 웃 Aug 13 '11 at 20:48
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I will advice against getting a job at some company. Right now, time is your own. Take advantage of it. Once you finish college, unless you get a PhD, you will have to work or do a startup. Either of them will take up all (in the case of the startup) or a lot (in the case of some regular jobs) of your time and programming energy and you will never get these golden years of obligation-free time back.

Use this time to learn whatever you want. Contribute to open source if you'd like. Make your own projects. Just focus on learning. The freedom to literally do whatever you want everyday and learn whatever you want, which you have a lot of right now, is a very valuable and short-lived opportunity.

A regular job is not the only path. There are alternatives. Do not take this the wrong way, but don't blindly follow the obvious path, look at what the crazy people are doing. The crazy people usually have good ideas.

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But on the other hand -- a job means access to professionals and experience on larger systems. A job might be the right move if it is becoming harder to learn by himself. –  Eric Wilson Aug 15 '11 at 19:59
    
@FarmBoy This is going to sound harsh, but if you are having a hard time learning by yourself then it's time to find a new career. Learning by yourself, in my view, is the essence of a great hacker. Also, there is nothing but time to get a real job. The value of a fixed job is constant over time. The opportunity cost of getting one is overwhelming when you are young. –  yarian Aug 15 '11 at 22:37
    
Why is it, that if one is not likely to be a 'great hacker' he should find a new career? I doubt that I'll ever be described as a great hacker, but I'm honest and competent, and I've found my way into a vocation that provides well for my large family. I'm not moving on, just because I needed more guidance than you did early in my career. –  Eric Wilson Aug 16 '11 at 1:40
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@FarmBoy: Hence the disclaimer "is going to sound harsh", also known as "the following is going to be quite elitist". –  yarian Aug 16 '11 at 2:01
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Enjoy your youth, there is plenty of time to work.

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If you're going to code anyway, why not get paid? –  JeffO Aug 13 '11 at 1:29
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@jim +1 you'll have loads of years with people telling you what to code. Do the fun stuff and what YOU want while you are young (or on the weekends =) ) –  user29981 Aug 13 '11 at 2:58
    
On the contrary, life is a lot shorter than it looks when you're young, and your teenage years are potentially among the best years of your life. I would definitely encourage you to spend them doing something constructive instead of just messing around doing nothing in particular like so many of my contemporaries did. –  rwallace Aug 16 '11 at 22:18
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your teenage years are potentially among the best years of your life? isn't that true of any years? potentially? I'll trade the late 30s, with money, time and the benefit of some wisdom gained from living for my teenage years any time. –  jim Aug 16 '11 at 22:27
    
That is a very limited view.. Make money early, the money saved will grow incredibly due to compound interest, then retire very early or at least not have to worry about "stability" at all later in life. This answer also presumes "enjoy" and "work" can't go together. –  Jonathan Cline IEEE Aug 17 '11 at 23:11
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I am 15 and I am working for a startup. But it is kind of a summer thing because I still want to learn more and go to school. I'm in Michigan, youngest you can be is 15.

I think most companies don't really care how old you are as long as you are good. My employer said he would hire me if I wanted to skip college, but I am not going to, because college is more important and then I have more options.

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Describes my situation when I was 15. +1 for going to school. There are a lot of things you will learn that you otherwise wouldn't even know you didn't know -- not just academic. –  Jared Updike Aug 18 '11 at 19:18
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It's basically illegal to hire you in the US.

So I'd recommend 'hiring yourself', and sell software to different people you meet.

It's probable that your teachers have some hideous mechanism for keeping grades. Find out if that's so, and build a better solution... selling them the software.

Work your contacts, figure out what they can do better with software you can write, and write it. Then sell it.

Since you don't have a credit card, it'll be hard to get App Store stuff going, otherwise I'd recommend that.

Boring software for niche areas is a good way to make money with less competition.

Don't bite off more than you can chew. It's surprising how simple things can get complex.

Good luck.

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I did my first paid contract when I was about your age.

It wasn't much money, but then it wasn't a terribly complicated project. It was probably technically illegal for me to do this, and some people might call it exploitation, but I didn't really care - it was fun to do and gave me more money in my pocket than the firewood chopping business I'd run when I was younger (not to mention much less hard work *8').

Then I got Vat registered when I was 16 and lots of people that I went to university with took a year out between A-Levels and first year of university (between 17 and 18) and spent that year (a gap-year in British English) working in an industrial placement. Some were lucky enough to get placements with IBM, others with Philips, others spent the time running their own business. One friends code, which she submitted as a patch for OS/2, was found still in the NT source code when it was released years later, it may even have made it into more recent versions of Windows.

There is a long history of talented young programmers making significant contributions to serious projects and with the current open source movement, that's easier than ever. Don't let your studies slip, but don't close off your options either. If nothing else, your experiences will give you nice anecdotes to reel off in interviews when you're 40. *8')

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What is "*8')"? Is the asterisk like a haircut? –  BlackJack Aug 15 '11 at 14:12
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Yeah, I've never likes bald smileys, or smileys without noses. Plus I think a slight profile gives a certain elegance to a smiley. *8') –  Mark Booth Aug 15 '11 at 14:32
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You are at a very interesting crossroads here. You can either

1. Look for an employer that will hire you at age 14, and start your career(to an extent).
2. Work on open source projects.

These are very good options. They do have some issues though. With 1 you have to find that employer, and you also run the risk of burning yourself out and possibly quitting programming or who knows what. With 2, you get some great experience, but I'm guessing from your question that you would like to make some money from this. If that is the case, I have a third option that I think you should consider.

3. Learn how to write mobile applications and put them in the various app stores.

I think this is a really great option, because you are building experience, but you avoid the tendency to burn-out and you can potentially make some money.

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Let me add something to this answer, if you take option 2, be careful in what project you involve, there are very bad open source projects out there, both in terms of code (design and/or implementation) and practises. The third one, might be an option, but remember that you have to make some sort of contract with apple or something like that, in order to place your applications online, and they might limit what you gain or stop you if they think you're application is not worthwhile. So the best option, might be find a summer job or internship, you won't burn out, but you will gain experience. –  Coyote21 Jan 24 '12 at 15:18
    
Because, employers won't give you something hard to do, and will try to make more effort, in order for you to know more about the enterprise environment. But, options 2 or 3 are still the best. As you have time to get in a regular job, so try to make the most of your youth now, because you won't have other option for doing it. –  Coyote21 Jan 24 '12 at 15:18
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The law would dictate the minimum possible.

But as far as being a salaried employee at a company.... the youngest is usually a fresh college graduate. About 21.

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You can easily work full time and be a salaried employee at a company after age 16. –  BlackJack Aug 13 '11 at 3:07
    
Sure you "can". Can as in legally. But that's not what happens in reality. –  jojo Aug 13 '11 at 15:38
    
I didn’t bother to get proper education of programming and just started programming... I’m doing enough well, so uh, why no. Skills is what means something to me when I’m hiring people to us, I don’t really even look to the papers. We need programmers, not educated persons who know how to program 1+2*3 in Java, without methods. –  Smar Aug 13 '11 at 15:40
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Sounds like someone is a bit out of touch with what an education provides in this field. Beyond getting past the HR firewall it provides you with the "why" which allows you to make better informed decisions. The majority of self taught programmers lack that insight. Not all, just most. Experience: Working with self taught programmers that have been programming for a range of years. –  Rig Aug 13 '11 at 18:10
    
@Smar. Not disagreeing with you. You certainly "can" as in it's not impossible. But it is not typical to see a salaried programmer under 21 years old. Contract work out of their mom's basement would be more common for under 21. –  jojo Aug 13 '11 at 18:14
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I was hired as a full time developer at a startup when I was 17. I suspect startups are more willing to engage in unconventional hires -- younger people are (generally speaking) eschewed by larger corporations, which leads them to being a huge talent pool available to startups, who can't always offer as much money. Of course, startups are probably the only place a significantly junior programmer can be influential. This has several advantages, like helping you avoid becoming insane if you happen to care about the quality of the product. Perhaps another benefit of note would be that it helps with job prospects later -- "Junior Flunkie" isn't as helpful a job experience as managing a sub-project, even if you write almost all the code for it.

That being said, I know my stuff pretty okay, and I had the nearly-unique advantage of already having an undergraduate degree in CS at the time.

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I shoveled snow, dog crap and mowed lawns when I was 12. I would have preferred to get paid to program (not really an option in my case). You'll have to go the contractor route. There's probably laws about how long you can work (Makes me think about child actors.). If you can get paid to something you were going to do anyway, more power to you.

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You should lie. I wrote device drivers in junior high, and surprise! Years later, I write device drivers and make 6 figures. I suggest getting real advice from a business consultant (unlikely your relatives will assist) on how to set up an LLC, and with some interesting techniques you can get work which never requires a phone call -- at least, not by you -- you can hire a temporary administrative assistant for that (again, get advice from a business consultant).

I should have known this would get voted down regardless of correctness. Depending on who your techie hero is, there's a story exactly like this for how they made their bucks. Bill Gates? Told a company he had a Disk Operating System when really he didn't (before that, advertised himself as a company, when in fact he was a college kid); later Gates found someone to license it from and labelled it "Microsoft DOS". Steve Jobs? Told Woz he needed help with a design project and would split the bonus in half; Jobs kept the majority of the cash. Talk to any sales manager regarding how they exaggerate product claims or benefits.. or even the existence of the product itself. Vaporware is used because vaporware is profitable. Ask a VP, as a potential customer, how many engineers he has working on his protocol stack, and he will say he "has an entire team working on that" even if it is only one engineer playing with it part time. This is how business is done.

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What do you mean by "you should lie?" Do you mean lying about my age? Because I'm pretty sure that's not legal. –  Amit Aug 12 '11 at 22:28
    
I think my answer is obvious. I said what I mean. LLCs are fine. –  Jonathan Cline IEEE Aug 12 '11 at 22:38
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This answer reads like a Nicaraguan money transfer scam. The dude's 13 and you want him to lie? How about he just does the work without revealing his age unless someone asks? –  Jordan Aug 13 '11 at 4:21
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If I could down vote you I would. Your answer does nothing but potentially leave others liable for legal actions or other damages. Lying is never the appropriate course. –  Rig Aug 13 '11 at 21:17
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@JonathanClineIEEE What sort of business consultant is going to give advice that involves lying about age to an underage client? Underage as in "under the age of 18", a minor, even if allowed to work. I didn't down vote you, because you wrote that part in bold font. As soon as the OP did as you suggested, about consulting a business advisor, they would realize the problems and difficulties of employment at the age of 13. No business consultant who has any credibility or expertise or value is going to tell a 13 year old to lie about his age. –  Feral Oink Nov 24 '11 at 17:24
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