From Marketer to Coder

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People always ask me why I made the switch from marketing to writing code.

Often, when it’s coming from a Marketer, the question is posed with an obvious tone of incredulousness. Like why in the hell would I want to spend my days looking at that horrible black screen, tucked away in a dark room, just a hair’s breadth away from turning into Gollum. The fear and loathing is unmistakable. And then sometimes, when the question is posed by a Coder, there is an air of distrust and skepticism. Like I am out to eat their young, or an evil secret double-agent, or simply that I am just a hair’s breadth away from certifiable cuckoo.

So here is the thing - I didn’t wake up one morning and decide, oh, I think I’ll go do that programming thing now. I’d already done with that law school and it only amounted to a law degree, bar certification, and annual dues I pay as a permanently “inactive attorney”. My desire wasn’t to change careers and become a full-fledged coder. As a marketer, with a solid career in brand strategy, digital communication planning, project/account management, and campaign leadership to name a few... I didn’t have that much to complain about. I had worked agency and client side both, and was focused on growing my resume and climbing the executive ladder.

But to keep my edge, and increase my value in the space, I felt like I needed to brush up on my tech literacy, specifically in the nitty-gritty details of actual coding. I felt like I was losing my ability to communicate effectively with developers because there was so much that I didn’t understand about their actual day-to-day work, which was work that I desperately depended upon.

Also - The Aha Method needed a website, and Kat and I were not in a position to bankroll that project. Fortunately for me, I had a host of very close friends who were developers and a few that were willing to mentor. And so I started slow. Just a little coding work and pairing sessions every week on building a tiny little static site. It took me three months at that rate, which was excruciating, because I knew my mentor could have built it in a day. But once it was done, and I pushed it live… holy shit. No past marketing campaign that I lead, not even three Super Bowl campaigns combined, could measure up to the feeling of satisfaction in that one little accomplishment. Because I had built it. Because marketing a product now paled in comparison to actually building a product. And I wanted to do more of THAT. So began my journey into a formal career change.

Luckily, I found Jumpstart Lab, which is now Turing.io. Jeff Casimir and the rest of his crew developed a six month, highly intensive and immersive program for taking those with no prior programming experience and turning them into real-live coders. I enrolled and was accepted. It was much harder than law school. It was a kick-in-the-teeth-humbling-experience in which I was pretty much failing for the first three months. I’ve always been a quick study and good at anything I put my mind to, but programming wasn’t something to be ‘conquered’ as I would discover. In her post, “Don’t Believe Anyone Who Tells You Learning To Code Is Easy”, I think Kate Ray most aptly describes what it means to learn to code and become a legitimate programmer:

“... there is no mastery, there is no final level. The anxiety of feeling lost and stupid is not something you learn to conquer, but something you learn to live with.”

And for as many times as it made me cry and doubt myself in those early months, the fact that programming isn’t something to be checked off some proverbial list - is exactly its appeal. It is truly constant learning and constant feedback. Progress is incremental, tangible, and deeply satisfying. It is a lesson in keeping things small and celebrating the cumulative wins.

And shit breaks - a LOT, which is a constant reminder to practice humility and don’t give up. Honestly - its made me a better mother if you can believe that. How I interact with and teach my son has been influenced by what I’ve learned in programming. We pair build legos in a whole new way, and it’s RAD.

So here is where I’m really going with all this, and that is that we need more developers with diverse backgrounds, hailing from all professional walks of life. There are a lot of opinions about what it takes to be a coder, including logic, problem solving, attention to detail, to name a few. And while those are valid and true, cultivating other aspects like passion, creativity, and even humor, are incredibly important. And you don’t have to be a math or computer science major to write beautiful code that works. The marketplace is in need of more developers (desperately), but it is also in need of innovation, new design thinking, and some fresh perspective from people with diverse experience.

I would challenge all of you in Ad-Agency-Land who don't write any code, to begin an investigation in writing code, even if just for the sake of understanding the world around you a little better, or to communicate more effectively with your coder-colleagues. Whether you simply task yourself with understanding how the internet really works, or you dive head first into writing your own applications, both are valuable and can be key to positioning you for growth in almost any aspect, be that marketing or parenthood. Seriously.

Here are some good places to start:

• Turing Community Meetup in Denver: Free beginner classes. http://www.meetup.com/Turing-Community-Events/

• Jumpstart Lab Tutorials Online: Excellent set of Ruby on Rails tutorials http://tutorials.jumpstartlab.com/

• Code School: Online courses https://www.codeschool.com/

This editorial is cross-posted from Aha Method's The BRAT Blog.

Comments

Poignant. And beautifully put.

I tell this to all my friends when they make fun of me for being a code geek.

CODE CAN BE BEAUTIFUL TOO.

People from a traditional Computer Science background are very valuable as developers because they can understand things at a deep level.

But a developer who understands how the features they're building fit into the product and market strategy, thanks to a background in marketing or business, can be tremendously valuable.

Come join us at Turing and we'll help you build the skills to be great.

I've worked with Bree on the agency and client side. There isn't a smarter, more insightful person in the game. Thanks for sharing Bree. Really well put.

Seriously rad.

Great article...definitely good to know there are others out there who feel this way!

I love this. I currently manage a handful of campaigns that do require development that is outside of my capabilities. However, by understanding the basics and being able to code myself, my ability to define what actually needs to get done is greatly enhanced. It also prevents developers from blowing out my budget by pretending that things take longer than they do.

Thank you for writing this. I made the switch from designer and print producer to coder 3 years ago and haven't looked back. Having that understanding of design and end user experience has been incredibly valuable, far beyond any theory-based program. Also, it's heartening to see more women like me getting into it and I have a lot of friends who have also hit career ruts ask me for firsthand accounts of my experience as a new programmer. The first thing I tell them is how hard it is; if they want to cruise, it probably isn't for them, but the rewards are immense. I work in an agency for their fledgling in-house production development department and it's a really exciting time to be part of the process.

Rock on Bree. Great piece.

I'm going to be taking a coding boot camp in early July. I have to admit, after reading this post and some of the comments, I'm getting kind of nervous. I'm certainly willing to study hard and work hard. But from what you guys are saying, I'm worried that this will all be over my head and that it will all be a colossal waste of time and money. I just don't know if I'm going to be able to hack it.

This is an excellent post. I was nodding my head in agreement and excitement as I read, thinking, "She gets it. I want to be like her. I want to do more of THAT." Thanks for sharing.

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