From Business Guy to Programmer

The road ahead is paved in code

This article was published on April 12, 2012.
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Since I began writing several years ago, I've written exclusively about the business side of startups; my most popular articles being What's a Non-Programmer To Do? and How to Bootstrap among others. You wouldn't come here to read articles about the other side of things — programming and design — as that's something I had little to no experience in up until now. I didn't make things. I lived on what Paul Graham deems the manager schedule. All that changed at the start of this year. I got tired of having to rely on other people to get my ideas out there. It was my time to put everything on hold to learn to code, and I couldn't be happier.

From Business Guy to Programmer

Why the change of heart?

First, a little backstory. Back in what seems like forever ago, I started freshman year of college in 2002 with the full intention of majoring in Computer Science. Three semesters later, I founded a startup called TypeFrag — it's still around! — and completing my CS degree became impossible. Most people would have dropped out, as busy as I was with TypeFrag, but I chose to complete college by pursuing a far less time consuming major: Psychology.

Looking back at my decision to drop Computer Science for TypeFrag, I have no regrets. Life has been great. I've co-founded a handful of small businesses as a non-technical co-founder, TypeFrag and Carbonmade being the most successful. However, not being able to contribute directly to the building of my products often left me feeling empty.

While being a successful Business Guy can be tremendously important for the company, and has more impact than many developers and designers acknowledge, there are times when you cannot contribute to the product as much as you'd like. In the meantime, the makers seldom have a free moment, as a product can always be improved. A new design tweak here. A refactor of code there. The Business Guy is left with an internal struggle: wanting to do all they can do for the company but knowing deep down inside that pulling out a code editor or Photoshop would often be the most helpful thing they could do — and realizing they can't do it.

That's not to say that the Business Guy is never overwhelmed with work. And if someone says "you just gotta hustle more, there's always something for the Business Guy to do," yes, that's true, but I'm talking about relative value. Often one hour in code or design makes more difference than one hour in business hustling. Not always, but quite often.

It's at those times when an hour in code or design is what's needed that I've wished I hadn't stopped programming so that I could fire up a code editor and hack away. It's that feeling of always wanting to contribute to the most critical part of the company at any given time that has returned me to programming.

What are you doing to learn?

Since February 1, 2012, I've fully engrossed myself in programming ten to twelve hours a day, seven days a week. If you want to be good at anything, you need to put in the hours — and I have a lot of catching up to do. Did I mention how much fun it is, so much fun that ten to twelve hours often feel like two to three?

I plan to follow this up with an article on How I Learned To Program, but I want to get a solid ninety days in before I do. Since you probably read my articles because you're a Business Guy too, I'll leave you with the best advice I can give you if you're looking to get your programming up to speed: Figure out a project that keeps you up at night and instead of passing it off to another developer (or a technical co-founder), tackle it yourself. Hacking on tutorials will teach you syntax, but hacking on your own project will teach you how to program. More to come.

Are you putting your new skills to work?

After some time off after Carbonmade, during January 2012, I knew what I wanted to do next. In February I started pushing myself ahead so I could build the product. I've teamed up with an old friend, and talented designer, who felt the same pain point I did. Only sixty days later and we're beginning to test what we've built with a small group of friends. When its had some more time to mature, and we've been able to reflect on what we're learning, I'll share it with all of you.

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