Why every entrepreneur needs to learn to code (something)

Or, my journey into the driver’s seat

How many times have you heard the founder of a super successful startup tell some version of this story:

When I was 12 years old I got my very first computer. When all the other kids were outside playing I was sitting in my basement hacking away and learning how to program my computer. I’ve just always been good at this stuff since I was a little kid. Yadda Yadda Yadda.”

I fuckin’ hate that story!

I hate it because it does the opposite of inspire (most of us). Instead, it makes learning to code feel completely and utterly out of reach.

I wasn’t that kid. I was outside running through sprinklers, salting slugs, and falling out of trees.

Now I’m 29 and I recently found myself wondering if it was too late for me to get in the game—a thought that hadn’t crossed my mind in my previous 28 years. And not because I had any kind of low self esteem about my ability to learn — but it just never had any place in my vision of what my future would include. Coding was never something I thought I needed to learn, or something that would be worth my time.

So then, why did I even ask myself that question 6 months ago? What made me even consider learning something that I turned a blind-eye to for so long?

Well, a few things, actually:

  1. I was miserable. And I was stuck.
    I had spent the previous 5 and half years as a project manager at an agency (something which wasn’t exactly in my plans when I got my Journalism degree). After years of the same stifling routine I wasn’t learning, I wasn’t growing, but perhaps most frustrating to me — I wasn’t creating. The growing desire to create something by myself, for myself was a big nudge to even consider learning how to code.
  2. Plain, unadulterated encouragement.
    Matt Goldman — developer-sans-neckbeard (aka my business partner, boyfriend, and personal cheering section) showed me how feasible it really is. He encouraged me over and over to try it — and he even signed me up (and still pays monthly) for my Treehouse account. Aside from that, he has such a genuine love for development and building simple, beautiful products it just made me want to experience that joy and fulfillment for myself.
  3. Phenomenal (and affordable) resources.
    It is unbelievable what resources are available online now. Between Treehouse, Code School, PeepCode and LcodeTHW (to name just a few), there are more ways to learn than ever before. And all you need is WiFi, a couple bucks, and however much time you feel like putting in. The ability to learn across multiple sources and get more than one perspective on difficult topics makes learning so much easier and enjoyable. You can really create your best personal mix of resources and learn exactly what you want, how you want, when you want.
    The key really is how painlessly easy these services make it to get started. It becomes a no-brainer to at least try. All I did was sit down one day and watch a video (and copy along with what they were doing). Then I watched another one. And another. Hooked. (P.S. 2 months later I shipped my first real website to a very happy client).
  4. Real incentive. Or, the scale-tipper.
    Those first three reasons were enough to get me to at least try to learn to code. But becoming an entrepreneur in the tech industry and joining forces with Matt at Small HQ tipped the scales for me. It really opened my eyes to just how important (and empowering) knowing how to code is and will always be.

From a practical side, the ability to contribute in a deeper way to what Matt and I are working on right now has a real impact on our progress. Especially since we’re a small 2-person team. We need to (and want to) move quickly. The more we can both produce, the faster we can get to where we’re going. Pretty simple.

Also, it’s extremely hard to work in a silo — the more I understand, the more Matt can bounce things off of me and get different perspectives on how to do something. And vice versa. I’m a better partner for it. I truly believe that collaboration always makes for better work. (I didn’t write this blog post without at least some input.)

Some people argue that it’s not necessary for me to learn. That many startups have a non-technical co-founder. That the opportunity cost of learning is too great at this critical growth time in our business. People tell me that my time would be better spent on other facets of the business like customer acquisition, retention, marketing, etc. That heavy development should be left to career engineers (which I’m not trying to become by the way). Perhaps there’s some truth to that. There’s always an opportunity cost to anything you do.

But the fact is, when it comes to learning, growing, and developing skills that give you the power to literally take control of your own destiny — I have a very hard time thinking that I’m not spending my time doing exactly what I should be doing every time I sit down to watch a new video or add a little bit more to my dummy Rails app.

To put it another way…

Knowing how to code in the long run won’t make me a worse entrepreneur. It won’t make me less able to execute on ideas.

Knowing how to code may actually become the most powerful tool in my belt. It’s one of many skills that I’ll need to continue to improve. But I really don’t see any way to accomplish the things I want to without it. Besides, it’s awesomely fulfilling to see something through from idea to completion! Who can argue with that?!

Ultimately, I’m in this for the long-game. And the decision to put in the hard work now comes down to the fact that it’s a gateway to a new kind of freedom. A freedom I never had before. Knowing how to code will allow me to be able to act on ideas whenever inspiration strikes, to execute my own visions without having to find someone (and pay someone) to do it for me.

That’s HUGE —to be able to sit down in front of a computer and turn an idea into something tangible. Something profitable!

That’s life-changing.

I’m Joelle Steiniger and I’m Co-Founder of HookFeed and Co-Host of The Rocketship Podcast. Keep up with me on Twitter: @JoelleSteiniger