Can 1000 of Us Learn to Code? / by Nate Westheimer

Editors Note (1/7/11): I've now posted my guide to learning how to code - The HoPE Manifesto. The other day, my friend Charlie O'Donnell wrote a post challenging the NY tech industry to recruit or educate 250 new engineers to the NY early-stage tech ecosystem this year.

Today, Fred Wilson upped the stakes and called for 1000.

I have a different challenge: Can 1000 of us learn how to code in 2011?

I already did. It took me one solid week of really, brutally hard work, and then an ongoing passion and interest (which has translated into two solid months of coding and learning on Ohours when I have the time).

For as long as I've been involved in the NY tech industry we've made cries for more engineers to a) move here; or, b) abandon/avoid Wall Street so they can join our silly startups that are "changing the world."

What if instead of calling on others to do things we just looked to ourselves? Aren't we the change we are waiting for?

If you're willing to put in the time to learn -- and if you're really passionate about something, the time and energy comes freely -- then learning to code really isn't that hard.

Once you can code, the entire dynamic changes. Instead of early ideas needing more money so we can hire more engineers, startups founded by people who can do the work become more self-sustaining.

Example Ohours: Ohours is a great idea with some early traction I'm excited about. If I didn't know how to code and was paying -- in financial or social capital -- a developer each time I needed a change or update to the site, a) the site would be a lot worse then it is today, because we really couldn't make updates that often; and b) our risk/reward profile would be way out of whack. I'd go raise angel financing, deluding myself and the investors that *now* was the time to invest in what's still a stupid-early project, I'd then I'd use that money to tie up an engineer in a non-proven startup. In the current model, everyone is over-invested and a great engineer is out of the market.

Sure, it would be great if NY tech was able to recruit more engineers and keep college hackers away from Wall Street -- I 100% agree -- but it's not going to happen just by wishing it to happen. And, the more "business people" (like me for the past 4 years) whine about the lack of engineers rather than turning themselves into engineers, the less I see us attracting people.

So you know what would really turn things on its head? If every damn "business person with a great idea" in this town decided to take a bit of time and actually learn how to code and built it themselves.

  1. First, we'd alleviate demand put on the talent pool by non-proven businesses.
  2. Second, we'd have an increased yet more sustainable rate of creation and creativity in our market
  3. And last of all, I guarantee that -- when the startups founded by newly minted hackers actually needed to expand and hire talent -- we'll be a heckofalot more attractive place to move to/work for ('cause if you were a hacker, would you really want to work for people who didn't have it in them to learn to code?).

So who's coming with me? Can 1000 of us learn how to code this year? Sign below in the comment thread if you're with me.

And after 1000 of us learn to code, I'm sure we're get those 1000 new engineers the old-fashioned way.