For the past eight years I’ve been building things in one way or another. It started with blogs and podcasts and moved to things that were essentially ideas for the web and went nowhere. I didn’t know how to stick with an idea and I didn’t know that people built things for a living. In college, I met an early mentor who taught me about startups and told me that Boulder was chock full of them. Suddenly my web ideas started to feel less like impulses and more like ideas and even businesses worth pursuing.
In my first semester of college, I built and released my first iPhone app as a final project for a CS 101 class. The app was a bus schedule for Denver and Boulder that I built for myself, a dead-simple PDF viewer that exceeded my expectations after going on to sell about 1,200 copies.
It’s been a consistent theme though to find other people to build stuff for me. Three of the four iOS apps I released in college I worked with others to build. The two web apps I worked on, I didn’t write a line of code. After eight years of doing all of the non-technical stuff, I had to be really honest with myself.
My happiest moments were the ones where something had come out of my head and had been coded into some physical form. Not being able to build something - or at least make headway on realizing an idea through code - was really irking me and frankly, it was holding me back.
So I made a change.
Last October, I bought The Rails 3 Tutorial as a Kindle book and went through it on my iPad. Here’s the strategy I used and it worked magnificently: Since it’s an ebook, I could only focus on one page at a time. No leafing through the book to get to the parts I wanted. Patience. Learn each tiny piece and follow along. One page at a time.
Fast-forward five months. I had the opportunity to attend the First Round Capital BBQ at SXSW. There I met Brian Leonard, VP of Engineering at TaskRabbit. We chatted briefly about my background a possible engineering internship at TaskRabbit. After realizing the direction I needed to take - learning how to build - Brian was the first and only person I emailed. I wanted to get serious about building things in a professional capacity, not messing around with code behind closed doors.
In the middle of June, I started at TaskRabbit as a combination business development and engineering intern. I started by building internal tools, ways to visualize the referrals paths of users who came to TaskRabbit.com. After writing more code than I ever have in my life and coming home every day feeling like my brain had been wrung out, I stopped for a moment.
I realized that building software myself, crafting it day in and day out, made me the happiest that I’d ever been. I’d been completely honest with myself, in a scary sense, and started learning something intimidating but incredibly rewarding. In three months, I’ve made massive strides in my abilities to build things. I know I have a very long way to go and that I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg; it’s humbling.
There are a lot of opinions out there about whether you should learn to code or not. I’m not sure what’s right for you, only you know that. What I can tell you is that the thing in the back - or maybe it’s in the front - of your mind, that thing that terrifies you, that looks like Everest when you look at the whole picture, go all in and do that. Because the rewards of being honest with yourself are well worth the fear.
Any thoughts on learning how to code? I’d love your to hear them over on the Hacker News discussion!
I’d be humbled if you followed me on Twitter, too