Alistair Smith - 17

Year 17 is the last year of legal childhood, making it quite an interesting one. This article is here for you if you’re turning 17 soon, to read what a talented young builder went through looking back at this crazy age. Take a few lessons from their experience and save yourself the trouble, you’ll need them!

Who are you?

I’m Alistair. An 18-year-old software engineer from the UK. I want to share what I took away from my year as a 17-year-old.

What are you interested in? What work do you do if any?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with computers. Finding out how and why they work, and what makes me pressing the spacebar make that character jump. There are family pictures of a tiny me messing around on my father’s old desktop PC. I dropped out of school at 15 to pursue programming, and at the moment, I work for a company called Hop. We’re building a cloud platform that doesn’t require an expensive certificate or training course to use. I also listen to a lot of music and can repeat a song I enjoy for weeks without burning it out, which some friends have called me out for.

What’s your north star?

For me, my north star or personal mission statement is something I’m still figuring out. I suppose I take things as they come and (sometimes annoyingly) don’t plan ahead too far. If I had to put an answer down now, I’d say it would be somewhere around not looking at price tags at the supermarket and being able to travel to places without thinking about the costs. I’d love to explore the small, non-touristy European cities, and meet up with great internet friends in their hometowns. I guess I am pretty fortunate that programming doesn’t require me to be in any physical place to work; I can pay for travelling while travelling. I don’t think money buys happiness, but it allows you to make the right decisions about where you want to take your life. It buys you freedom. That can make you happy. You would not choose to be in a less privileged situation, it always makes more sense to have money to ensure these options remain available.

What are some of the biggest takeaways from your year as a 17-year-old

  • Bring your loved ones with you. I am deeply grateful for the people who support and care for me. This year has been challenging for personal reasons, and I know that I would be in a much worse position without the support of my friends. Their love and affection are truly invaluable, and I am often at a loss for words when it comes to expressing my gratitude. 😆
  • I have somehow already reached a lot of my own life goals, so I try to set new realistic objectives. One thing I’d like to do in 2023 is to move out of home and rent my own flat. It’s a realistic goal if I work hard enough for it.
  • Programming, or whatever your hobby, is enjoyable and should always be so. If you're not having fun, it's likely that you've lost sight of your goals or direction. In this case, it may be worthwhile to revisit what you're building and reassess your planning.
  • Don’t let things you can’t control get to you. I care very little about a lot because I know that these things are, for the most part, out of my control. I could say something about this allowing me to “focus on what’s important” but really that would be a weak facade. I suppose it means I’m a very reactive person and can work things out on the fly.
  • You’ll be okay. If you have previously hit rock bottom and managed to bounce back, then there is no need to worry about any difficulties you are currently facing. Your past experiences have shown that you have the strength and resilience to overcome these obstacles, so it is likely that you will do so again. This is not to say that you should not be actively resolving your current problems, but rather a confirmation that you’ll get there in the end.
  • Imposter syndrome, although seemingly genuine, often arises from comparing our own perceived shortcomings to others' perceived strengths. Instead, consider your own achievements and development. Contest with yourself, not others. If you used to excel at a certain skill, you are cognisant of the effort required to regain that proficiency.
  • I don’t agree with standing up for what you think is right, but hear me out, I think the phrase needs to be extended. I believe that it's important to stand up for what you believe in, but it's equally important to be open to criticism and to be willing to learn, regardless of the conditions. A technical debate, political, family, etc. People will appreciate your readiness to learn, and if you agree with what they’re saying then there’s no reason to be embarrassed about having a previously wrong opinion. Take the loss with honour.

Wrap it up, Alistair

You are likely here because you have high aspirations and want to turn your hobby into a career. Remember that It’s totally okay to not follow the crowd and take the traditional route. There are so many resources available to help you achieve your goal that your high school teacher wouldn’t even consider an option. YouTube, for example, has an enormous amount of free content that can guide you step by step. I recognise that I was never the conventional child growing up, but I knew what I wanted and pursued it. I am still on that journey, and I am excited to see what challenges come my way, how I will react to them, and if I will care about them or not 😉

Farewell video:

Disclaimer: This article is written from the experiences Alistair has had in his life. His life will not be perfectly applicable to yours. For that reason, don’t take what he says as law.