How to Code for Decades and STILL NOT become a Millionaire

Why doesn't someone who has been coding for 40 years have as much money as Bill Gates or Elon Musk?


Anthony Watson

3 years ago | 5 min read

I do not know if I am particularly proud of this accomplishment, or if calling it an "accomplishment" is the appropriate appellation. After all, men like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are coders who turned their skills into BILLIONS. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are other examples of what the bank accounts of long-time coders should look like.

I clearly have made some mistakes that cost me quite a bit of money over the years. I am not proud of being stupid or misguided. On the other hand, I do consult on career management, specializing in the tech space. Ergo, I feel a bit of an obligation to share these mistakes.

First, it is good to seek advice and consider the advice. However, you have to be the one who makes the decisions. Always understand this. ALWAYS embrace this. YOU make the decisions about how you run your career path.

By making sure you EMBRACE this and that you OWN the fact YOU make your OWN decisions, the regrets will be easier to deal with. You are about to read some stories of a person who made some mistakes. I live with those mistakes because I never ever turned over decision-making to anyone but me. Anything I did because I decided it was the right thing...or whatever emotional reason I might have driven any given decision of mine.

For example, I had landed at a large corporation where I had the job pretty much wired. However, I was young and arrogant. I was doing far more work than my compatriots because I had become good at the job. I wanted to be paid for being more productive, but corporate salary structures are not always very flexible. I was stymied and I was frustrated and I quit suddenly one Halloween.

I was quite frustrated with the bureaucracy. I ended up cashing out of the employee profit-sharing plan before being fully vested. I retained NO holdings at the company I had spent seven years at. A year later the company was bought by a private capital company. The $10,000.00 I walked away with would have been worth $250,000.00 had I waited a mere 365 days to pull the trigger to quit.

Ouch, but we do what we do. That was thirty years ago. I try not to imagine what a quarter-million dollars would be worth to me thirty years later. I deal with the regret because I OWN the fact I threw a temper tantrum and quit a good job. Then afterward I still did not control my emotions enough to recognize the value of the stock I held but instead cashed out in a fit of pique. Dumb? Yep, but nobody told me to do it. I DID IT.

It really made me try harder at the next position I found myself in. I learned quite a lot about business at the next job and kept my emotions in check much better. I rose to be the general manager of a small medical software company in four years. When the owner sold the company the buyers did not need two general managers. I moved on.

I left with so much knowledge I started a small consulting firm. I got certified to send electronic claims to Medicare and Blue Shield. I could handle any other insurance companies through a clearinghouse API. I was set to make money because insurance companies paid for claims delivered electronically.

I had seen good products go nowhere without salespeople to do the dog and pony show. I knew I was not good with people or dog and pony shows. My father-in-law was though, he sold heath insurance. We made a common cause. I moved down to Southern California to be closer and push the business.

Unfortunately, before much could happen he died. It was a terrible time. My mother-in-law's financial situation was not great. I had a wife and a young child and now a mother-in-law whose financial situation was sketchy. I had not planned on staying in Southern California, but I decided I should for a little while. A little while turned into quite a long time. The electronic claims opportunity passed as the 21st century dawned.

It was a real missed opportunity I admit, but I felt the best thing for my family at the time was for me to make money as quickly as possible. Booting up a new business does not allow for that. I actually do not feel a lot of regret on this one even though it represents a missed opportunity to be a millionaire.

There are actually a number of times after this where I choose to leave a company so I could spend more time with my children. I regularly negotiated four ten-hour day weeks and I took Wednesday off. I was able to walk my children to school once a week. I was able to run a chess club at the elementary school for a few years too. I also coached many soccer teams because I had negotiated a work schedule that allowed me to do so.

More than once I actually sat down at the "annual review" and negotiated four ten-hour days INSTEAD of a pay raise. It was that important to me. I wanted to spend time with family. I wanted to coach my sons' soccer teams. I decided what it was I wanted and it was not more money.

I have one more little regret I should share. In 2011, I started researching digital currencies because my sons had been telling me about video game ecosystems. I started to realize digital goods could be commodities. I then stumbled onto Bitcoin while researching other digital commodities.

It was going for about one dollar! I started to buy some. I literally had entered everything into a checkout screen but had not clicked the final SEND for the transaction on my credit card. Right at that moment the CTO of the company I was working for at the time came up and asked for status on a project. Oops! I dropped out of that browser tab right quick. LOL

I had a good status to report and it was no big deal to show off the progress to him. He went away satisfied. However, the "checkout session" had expired. I was going to have to jump through all the hoops again to get to the point where I was about to buy 100 bitcoins. And you know I had a thought. I said to myself, you know, this seems like a good way to evaporate $100.00. Maybe fate has smiled upon me and saved me a C-note? I did not go back to the site for three years.

Do I regret that choice? Yes, I guess I do, but it was MINE. I could have chosen differently. I could have chosen to surf digital currencies on my home computer and not on company time but I did not do that. I did what I did and I decided what to do next. I DECIDED. I was the decisionmaker.

I also decided to keep an eye on Bitcoin though. I started dabbling in the cryptocurrency space in 2014. I have kept my finger on the pulse of crypto ever since.

Working in the tech space provides opportunities for making money. Opportunities for making LOTS of money will present themselves over the years of a tech career. Yes, for sure, but it is rarely without many hours of work and sacrifice. This is of course admirable but it is not the only thing in life. Tech careers also offer the possibility for less stressful professional lives and more individual freedom. We need to balance those things.

I was fortunate to meet an oncologist at a party while I was the GM at the medical software company. I was whining about the politics and pressures of management. He had the job of telling people they were probably going to die before their time. He told me something which informed almost every decision since.

He told me-"They never cry about not working enough."



Created by

Anthony Watson

Coder/Consultant -







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