Learn to code and make the change you wish to see in the world

It’s 2.30am on a balmy London night and I have my head down doing a final check of code that I’ve spent day and night writing the past three weeks for my app Accomable. I’m yet to upload the code and I have been very cautious about implementing the update. The changes are major. The model is being completely overhauled. I’ve added new classes, altered database relationships, created new controllers and written new custom methods in Ruby and Javascript.

I have a massive clench in my gut in relation to this update. Doing this wrong could destroy all the good work my team have done.

Even though I’ve created a staging version of the app to simulate and practice the change, I’m nervous.

After a final check, I push my changes from the terminal to Heroku. The upload finishes and I reset the app. To my great relief, I find that everything works smoothly. The release of tension is so palpable I can barely sleep after. So instead, I simply go for a stroll into the London night to watch the sunrise by the river and plan the day ahead.

Its now four days later since the update and all seems to be going well without any issues. Your next question might be why I was freaking out so much. It looks like I know what I’m doing from all the techy sounding words I’m using, right? Well… let me share a little secret with you…

I’m a novice.

I’m a complete beginner improvising to get my project off the ground. This time last year I couldn’t read or write a line of code!!

So what’s my story and how did I learn to code?

Well…

My name is Srin and I’m from London, UK. I taught myself to code and make Rails apps from a bunch of online resources. I’m also a One Month student and an avid user of GoRails, which have both played instrumental and transformative roles in what I’ve made.

I’m 29 and have degrees from Oxford University and Kings College London. I was formerly a bored corporate lawyer working all hours of the day at one of the world’s elite law firms. But now, I’m the co-founder and lead developer of a startup called Accomable, which aims to be an Expedia / Airbnb travel portal for travellers with a disability or who are elderly (and their families). We have early users across the world and some seed funding from the Skoll Foundation, a prestigious funding body based in Silicon Valley. We’ve also had the privilege of recently being featured in the New York Times.

I started Accomable with my lifelong friend Martyn, who I’ve known since childhood, to solve a problem we both experienced. We’re both wheelchair users.

Due to a severe physical condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, I’m unable to use my limbs, but I have just enough strength to move my fingers. And I learned how to code.

Despite all this, we’ve both lived life to the full and to the best of our abilities. We’ve both independently travelled around the world and it’s something we care passionately about.

The seeds of Accomable were sown in a serendipitous way in 2011 after I had taken six months off to go travelling. My travels took me across the world; from the wild plains of the South African savannah to the snow-capped mountains of Yosemite National Park to the beautiful seas of Bali where I was able to scuba dive beside a sunken US World War II ship.

Even though I had the time of my life, organising this trip and every trip ever since has always been difficult. Wherever I go, I have to spend hours and days painfully searching the web for places to stay with roll in showers, adapted taxis, hire cars and other bits of medical equipment I need. Such information is often unverified, inaccurate and virtually every disabled person will have some kind of horror story of turning up somewhere with their suitcases to find a big step or something very different to what was advertised.

While the horror stories and adventures that Martyn and I have experienced have formed the basis of great conversational (and chat up line…!) material with others over a beer; we couldn’t help but ask ourselves the question of why this is still an unsolved problem in the Internet age!

Why should travel and visiting somewhere on our beautiful planet still be seen as a crazy risk and source of fear for millions of disabled and elderly people around the world?

To finally do something about it; Martyn and I created Accomable.

We’d had negative experiences when trying to use external developers on past projects, so as the more technically minded person in the team, last year I decided to learn to code and build the first version myself. I was able to prototype an initial version to gather user feedback. This prototype has been rapidly iterated and developed over the last few weeks in response to users; and we now have a growing product used by more and more vendors and customers.

The last few months have been tough as a novice coder, I’m constantly on a steep learning curve spending lots of time Googling how to fix a problem. I probably experience at least one gut clenching / heart attack episode a day where I worry that something might be wrong or about to collapse. But on the flip side, learning to code on a project has been one of the most rewarding and intellectually stimulating experiences of my life. Moreover, I don’t think there is anything more enjoyable than trying to make a product that can help and improve the life of an every day person.

I hope reading this will inspire you to have a go at trying to build something. As you can see, within a year, I’ve gone from being someone with zero coding knowledge to being the technical co-founder of a seed funded startup through using resources such as One Month and GoRails. There’ll be times of frustration and countless instances of feeling really lost. But with stubbornness, persistence and a willingness to put the time in, you’ll get there.

The Rails community has been of great assistance to me and in turn, I’m always happy to assist others learning to code, so hit me up (@srinmadipalli) if you ever want to chat about what you’re working on! :-)

Much love,

Srin