How Learning To Code Made Me Rich

Part 1: 1999-2003

Ketan Anjaria
Apr 23, 2014 · 4 min read

The year is 1999. I’m 21 years old with a 3 month old baby and wife to support. I had a job supporting people with disabilities that paid $8.75 an hour and I was in college studying photography. I remember how crazy it seemed that I got a $0.50 raise after 6 months at that job. That was simply not going to work.

When I was younger my Dad who was a programmer had always encouraged me to learn programming but I mostly spend my days on the computer playing games and wasting time. I had been given a ton of opportunity but never made use of it. That was a free education that I threw away.

But when you have mouths to feed, your motivation changes. I wanted my little girl to eat only organic food, and I wanted to buy a house for my new family. I knew that working at a dead end job wouldn’t get me there. So I took some money that I had saved up and bought a Power Mac G4 and a huge 21" inch monitory for $1600. It was a huge expense at the time (my tuiton was $3400 for the year). My job required me to work nights so I would drag my huge computer and monitor every night to work while my clients slept.

I had discovered Flash through the work of Yugo Nakamura a digital artist and the first huge interactive design star. I was blown away, this was the first product that let people combine music, type, video and code interactively. ActionScript 1 was basically a joke but it got the job done. The web was still in it’s infancy but the first bubble was well on it’s way.

I spent every night learning from Yugo P, Joshua Davis, Todd Purgason and more. I studied how they did their designs, their code. There was no stack overflow and bugs would drive me mad for nights. But because I could create beautiful visual interactive pieces I was much more motivated than trying to make some boring site. It was all about the story for me. I found what motivated me to learn and kept at it, constantly.

During this time I still had to work at my job at night so during the day I barely got to see my baby girl. I would get home at 9 am while she was just waking up and pass out until 6pm. It was excruciating thing to miss and I made a promise to myself that I would double my income in a year. I remember selling my beautiful Fender 1969 Bassman amp to pay the bills and how being poor really fucking sucked.

Fast forward 3 months, I had gotten my first web site client and an internship at a web design studio Om Sites that was basically a front for a local pot dealer. The owner was never around so I basically ran the business myself making $10 an hour now. After 3 more months of this I demanded that he hire me full time and I got a raise to $20 a hour. I was basically running a full design agency for local businesses by myself. I had no idea what I was doing business wise but I flailed around and did my best. Some of my work started to get noticed, my work was reviewed by Todd Purgason and my site for the Olympia Film Festival got me nominated for an award.

At a conference in Seattle in the fall of 2000 I ran into a VP of Engineering for a new startup Headsprout and next thing I know, I’m moving up to Seattle with my little family making $40 an hour at the age of 22. In just a little over a year I had completely transformed my life, all through learning to code. Not only did I double my salary, I actually quadrupled it and set myself down the path for future success. $80k a year might not sound like much right now but adjusted for inflation thats $109,776.07.

Why does this story matter?

  1. You have no excuse for not learning to code. I did it while poor, working another job and supporting a family of 3 at 21. Get off your lazy ass!
  2. College and other schools won’t teach you how to work hard. Only actually doing the work EVERY SINGLE DAY will teach you that.
  3. While making huge projects might sound like a difficult task, you can break it down it into little experiments. Before I did my first site, I worked on my first button, my first animation, my first video. I took small steps to build up to something greater than the sum of it’s parts.
  4. Learning to code is more than about the actual coding, it’s logical thinking and abstraction. That’s a skill that’s just as important as anything else and can be used beyond programming.

Every new startup founder these days does some hand wringing about trying to find a technical co-founder but that is a sorry excuse. With all the tools we have now like Stack OverFlow, Treehouse, Codeacademy, you can build your first Rails, Web, or iPhone app in just a month. One month of work to transform your future career. I bet you it’s taking you longer than that month to go find that magical “tech” guy to help you build your dream.

Even if you don’t want to be a full time coder, learning this skill is valuable in hiring and managing products and people. How the hell do you know what it means when the server is down or the database won’t connect until you actually get your hands dirty? How do you know if you have found a good programmer if you don’t understand the basics?

When people say hustle, what they really mean is do the fucking work.

Thanks to Sean Smith, Nada, and Michael Sacca

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