My Complicated Relation with Coding

Colin James Belyea
Aug 17, 2016 · 3 min read

March, 2016. After suddenly leaving my job at a local startup, I found myself with some time. While I had known for awhile that I was in training to eventually become a founder, I had more or less decided (if by nothing else but default) that I was going to be a non-technical co-founder, and that was that. However, during the months leading up to my departure from that startup, I’d realized that my path forward lay in Product. Not sales or marketing, as was my past.

A mentor of mine had told me that the most important thing in product is not being able to build something, but being able to translate between the three spokes of the product wheel:

  • Business- developing a product that can be the cornerstone of a functioning business.
  • Marketing- All the things that have to happen to get that product into the right people’s hands
  • Technical- Actually building the product

The assumption was that my glaring deficit as a sales/marketing person with a degree in political science was going to be technical, so I had better get better at the other two spokes I already had experience in. Code scared me. Looking at an editor made me feel like I had been dropped in a deep hole, with brackets and p tags flying past me like the hyperspace Windows98 screen saver. It seemed like too big a pool to jump into, and it was too late to start. I’d never be good enough to matter.

However, it was now March 2016 and I had a choice. I had some time between then and my new job at Crew. And the more and more sure I was about becoming a product manager, the bigger the white elephant in the room grew. It was time. I had to learn to code, and I was terrified.

So, I posted up at the local café and started in on Codecademy, and then Code School. I plowed through courses on HTML, CSS, and then Bootstrap. I made mini websites exactly like the ones I saw on the screen, copying from their code when I really needed to. I agonized when things weren’t working, and celebrated when they finally did. I built a portfolio site from scratch and I can honestly it was the proudest I’d been in some time. I’d always had ideas and I’d always knew what to do next, but I could never actually make anything. Now I could, and it felt great.

I’m now in the process of learning Javascript, and it feels to me like math did in school- dozens of seemingly unrelated principles that don’t create anything resembling a coherent whole. In high school, this made me quit. Maybe that’s why literature, philosophy and politics drew me in. They provided a story mathematics didn’t, gave me a beginning, middle, and end. I felt like I was reading in another language for the first month or two (which, to be fair, I was), but the more time I put into Javascript, the more breakthroughs keep happening. Just when I feel the most lost, a connection is made between what I see on the screen now and something that didn’t make sense earlier.

So maybe I things like programming and math didn’t lack the narrative I thought they did. Maybe I just couldn’t read the dialect. I’m still a beginner, but the beginner mind it’s giving me right now is something I wouldn’t trade. It’s humbling in the same way travel can be. And like travel, you gain the most by just diving in without a map and figuring it out as you go along.

Colin James Belyea

Written by

product manager, designer, and marketer. montreal/global.

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