Originally published on my Medium on September 15, 2016.
An argument for those of us who write best with sentences, not code.
I’m Not a Coder
Let me start off by saying that I am not and have never been averse to learning a new skill, even one outside my general comfort zone. In fact, I quite enjoy expanding my horizons and learning how to see the world in different ways.
But I’m not going to learn to code.
At least, I’m not going to learn to code well enough to build something completely on my own. I’ve done various courses on Codecademy and it was interesting to me to begin to see the possibilities of tech and information in a new light. But that’s not my background and not my wheelhouse. My wheelhouse is broad trends, analysis, synthesis, and communication.
In college, I studied a wide variety of non-tech/coding subjects. And I’m not alone. I studied:
- Art (as did Brian Chesky)
- Psych (like Jason Calacanis)
- Sociology and philosophy (as did Chris Dixon and Stewart Butterfield)
- English and Poli-Sci (like Jessica Livingston and Morgan DeBaun)
- And come from a family of lawyers (something I feel Chris Sacca might relate to)
I also studied a ridiculous amount of history. These things—not code—are what help me put the world into a larger context.
First Coming to Tech
When I first got into tech, I felt overwhelmed. And I felt inadequate. It seemed that everyone knew how to code except me, though I resolved to find a way to learn. And I powered through a few Codecademy classes. But it didn’t stick in the way that would allow me to build an app or site myself.
I understood the concepts behind basic design, and had a better understanding of the work it took to make something materialize—but I knew I was never going to be the one to do it. It never got easier, and it’s still challenging for me.
Easy for me is sitting down for a couple hours and drafting, editing, and blasting out a solid, synthesized argument. But in those early moments, that didn’t seem to be on par with knowing how to code in java.
While in the headspace of “I need to learn to code or I don’t belong,” I seriously underrated what I was good at. And that’s people.
I’m Good at People
I love networking; I never knew there was even a term for it—I just figured it was called talking. I love hearing the stories of others, connecting them to potential partners, and trying to identify mutually beneficial opportunities for both (or all) parties involved.
I’m better at reading people than I am at reading code. People are flexible and creative—code is not. (That is, it’s not to me).
I come from lawyers. I come from the mindset of “there is never one right answer;” it all depends on how good your argument is, and how you can continually restructure your thought process. The notion that a line of code doesn’t work because one character is out of place is foreign to me. The same way that lateral thinking—that there might be multiple, arguable right answers—is foreign to others.
Whenever I read the sentence “you should learn to code,” my first thought is “you should learn to write (well).” The concept that code is the new literacy is—frankly—bullshit. It’s undeniable that coding is a hyper-important skill in the 21st century—but it’s not the end-all, be-all of literacy. Literacy spans a variety of languages, communication tools, and colloquial, idiomatic trends. There is no “one” magic bullet.
Treating it as such is short-sighted and arrogant. Arguably, it’s an—albeit unintended—micro-aggression that dissuades non-tech founders and Humanities majors from taking the dive into tech. Similarly, telling me that it’s “easy to learn” is a matter of opinion, not fact. And again, it’s arrogant.
How Good Is Your Writing?
I read staggering amounts of material online. Much of it is posted by super smart founders, investors, and thinkers. And from a writing perspective, a ton of it sucks.
A lot of it rambles, comes off as tone-deaf, is too splayed, and hasunforgivable grammar errors. In fact, some is so grammatically jarring simply because the writers use grammar rules that are ancient, while ignoring new colloquially correct dynamics. This makes the writing unbearably stilted. When writing an article in my world, you make it tight and you make it bullet-proof. I don’t understand writing that isn’t structured like this (creative writing aside, of course).
Growing Into My Skin as a Non-Tech Founder
I’m not bitter, though. I know I’ll never write code like Mark Zuckerberg, and I’m ok with that. I have amazing team members and connections who can do a better job there than I ever could. So why not let them win where they naturally win?
I’ll continue to refine the coding skills I have as much as I can, but I harbor no delusions of coding grandeur. I’ve now grown more comfortable in my non-tech founder skin. I’ve grown more adept at identifying the real things in code that I need to understand, and the ones that are nice, but superfluous for my skill-set.
Instead of telling me I “should learn to code,” lend to me a plethora of tools I can use, and articulate to me that I’m not inadequate and no less a founder if it doesn’t come so easily.
In an industry with such a high rate of failure, teamwork, communication, and vision should be prioritized above most everything else. That’s the only way any of us succeed.