I read an article last week titled “Please don’t learn to code” by a guy called Basel Farag. The article raised some valid points: coding on its own doesn’t solve problems; coding won’t always get you a job; not all bootcamps are going to get you the right skills; and too many people are jumping into coding because it’s become over-glamorized. But I disagree with Farag that anyone but serious engineers should learn to code.
Learning to code won’t make you a rich, powerful, entrepreneur who will one day ring the bell at NYSE for an IPO. But, it will open doors. I know from firsthand experience. From politics to healthcare, innovation is happening every day through the power of code.
I was anti-school growing up – I went to college because my parents forced me, and I did the bare minimum to pass my classes. While calculus may have been a bore, I loved reading about entrepreneurship in tech, but how could I break into this industry?
For a while, I stuck to what I knew – sales. I sold Direct TV, high-efficiency toilets, steam boilers, you name it.
Over time, I realized I needed to move to where the action was: Silicon Valley. I moved to San Francisco and got an account executive job at a Luxury Daily Deal site. Three months in, I was a casualty of a massive lay-off, and it was super depressing.
I still remember walking into a local diner after being kicked to the curb. In shock, I sat at a corner table facing the wall, stuffing my face with steak and eggs, trying my hardest not to cry. Sales is a tough vertical in the already very unforgiving startup industry. As I sat in the diner, I realized no matter how good I was at sales, I needed another skill. I needed technical knowledge.
Soon after, I learned about CodeAcademy.org (now called The Starter League) a coding school based in Chicago. The price tag was steep for a 10-week course. CodeAcademy was a huge risk that required me to move halfway across the country and deplete all of my savings. This was in 2012, before coding schools started popping up in every city like Starbucks. (I do believe the bootcamps of today should be accredited, but that’s a whole different story.)
I took the chance, made the move, and hoped learning to code would give me another valuable tool in my arsenal.
While at CodeAcademy, I studied day and night and gave coding my everything. Code didn’t come naturally to me like it did for others, and I wasn’t exactly at the top of my class. I didn’t have a Neo moment where The Matrix all of a sudden made sense to me. After bootcamp I didn’t e-blast developer job applications, but that was never my goal.
CodeAcademy helped me gain knowledge and taught me to speak the language of the web application world. Concepts like Git, Rails, MySQL, Ruby, and Nginx now meant something to me. After the program, I applied to be a sales engineer at a company called Engine Yard, a platform-as-a-service organization.
Without knowledge of Ruby on Rails, I never would have been able to get that job. I officially made the leap from “account executive” to “sales engineer.” My Engine Yard career further developed my technical foundation and allowed me to learn about application infrastructure, server deployment, scaling, and the operations of a multibillion-dollar market called the “cloud.”
Fast forward a few years, and I’m now leading Customer Success and Sales at DigitalOcean, one of world’s most popular cloud infrastructure hosting providers. My shift from selling toilets to selling cloud infrastructure was possible because I learned how to code.
Sure my bootcamp experience didn’t give me the chops to build the next Facebook, but it catapulted me into the tech industry with a new set of skills that gives me a competitive advantage over the average salesperson.
The quality of bootcamps in 2016 is much better than in 2012, but even still, going to code school will not make you the ultimate coder and will not jump-start your career as a senior developer getting $150K+. But, with dedication, you will gain something that four years of college won’t get you: knowledge and understanding of a world built on code.
Edward Chiu currently leads Sales and Customer Success at cloud provider DigitalOcean.