People ask me how much I get paid all the time. It comes up on podcast interviews, Quora questions, and face-to-face discussions.
And people search this question a lot, too. It's one of the top autocomplete options when you google my name.
So for everyone who's interested in my relationship with money, I've got good news.
I work full time at freeCodeCamp.org – a 501(c)(3) public charity. And since I'm on the board of directors, it means my compensation is public.
freeCodeCamp has earned GuideStar's Platinum Seal of Transparency for 2 years in a row. You can go there and browse our nonprofit's full 990 tax returns over there.
But in case you're in a hurry, I'll save you some effort.
I made $60,000 last year.
That's less than I did in 2010 when I was working as a teacher.
And that's after several years of not accepting any compensation at all from freeCodeCamp.
What's more, I put around $150,000 of my own meager savings into freeCodeCamp over its first 3 years of life.
Quincy - How did you have $150,000 saved up in the first place if you were just working as a teacher?
This is usually the second question people ask me. $150,000 is a lot of savings for a 30-something American to have on hand.
The answer is that my wife Jade and I are compulsive savers.
We worked for more than a decade and squirreled away as much as possible.
We also lived in China for much of that time, where the cost of living was much lower than in the US.
We managed to stay debt free by renting small suburban apartments, cooking our own meals, and studying at inexpensive public universities.
Our hobbies were either free or cash-flow positive.
For example, I would spend my weekends buying old arcade machines and video game systems on Craigslist, then selling them on eBay.
We were saving up to afford a downpayment on a house in the San Francisco Bay Area – the most expensive housing market in the US.
When freeCodeCamp.org started to take off – and millions of people started to use it – we decided to abandon those dreams of owning a home in San Francisco.
Instead, I put that downpayment money toward paying for servers and getting help with freeCodeCamp's growing curriculum.
How did you stay afloat for years with negative income?
Jade and I did two critical things to make this work:
- Jade kept working full-time in accounting at a software company. Her benefits saved us $10,000s per year in health insurance costs – which are just a fact of life for people here in the US.
- We left San Francisco. After our daughter was born, we moved back to my home town of Oklahoma City – one of the least expensive places you can live in the US.
We did what we could so that the freeCodeCamp community could continue to grow and thrive.
But this is not one of those "anything is possible" inspirational stories. Jade and I came from backgrounds of relative privilege. Both of Jade's parents went to college – which was rare in China at the time. And my father went to college, too.
The stars lined up for us. This made our many sacrifices non-fatal.
For most people, quitting your job to start a nonprofit would be a path to financial ruin. But since we had both worked for nearly a decade, we had the savings and the health insurance to see it through.
One thing's for sure, though. If my daughter had been born one year earlier, freeCodeCamp wouldn't exist. I would have had give up my dreams of running an education NGO and instead go get a job to support our family.
But as fate would have it, Baby Jocelyn was born after freeCodeCamp had already been online for 11 months. And in that 11 months, Jade had seen how many lives it was touching.
I was able to convince her that one day this would be a viable nonprofit, with enough donations coming in that we could keep it going.
Where we go from here
freeCodeCamp is now one of the biggest programming sites on the internet. We have 1,500,000 YouTube subscribers. Our forum is now second only to Stack Overflow itself as a place to get programming help.
And we are only 5 years into our mission.
The good news is that this year we are now "break even" – meaning I haven't had to plow any more of my personal savings into freeCodeCamp. We are finally able to cover the cost of servers and payroll.
But freeCodeCamp's budget is still comically small. To put our 2019 budget of $373,000 into perspective: I know individual developers in Silicon Valley who earn more money than that each year.
And we're trying to use that tiny sum to run a global nonprofit organization, and one of the world's biggest websites.
We can do so much more once we have a bigger budget to work with.
And I say this as someone who has personally spent $150,000 of his hard-earned teacher savings to help get this community off the ground.
If you've read this far, you clearly care about the freeCodeCamp community. So donate to freeCodeCamp. You'll be able to deduct it from your taxes and everything.
You can make a one-time year end gift here.
Or better yet – if you want to help us increase our monthly budget – you can make a monthly gift here.
With more resources, we can help more people around the world. We can create more free programming courses for you and everyone else. And we can expand our curriculum faster.
Thanks for caring about the freeCodeCamp community – even if you just clicked through to see if I was secretly a millionaire. (I'm not. With my home mortgage, I'm not sure my net worth is even a positive number ?).
Have a fun, blessed holiday season with your friends and family.
I'll be right here, working to make freeCodeCamp an even better learning resource for you, your kids, and your grandkids.
There is so much more work to be done.