Desire, design and destiny: how to go from zero to coding hero.
By Priyanka Sharma (Co-founder, WakaTime)
I went to school for Political Science. There’s no logical reason why I should be running a developer analytics startup. But when desire, design, and destiny align, great things can happen. For instance, yesterday I coded my first full-stack feature – sharing WakaTime projects. It took a while, but here’s how I got here.
Step 1 – Learn How to Turn on a Computer
By sheer chance, I took CS 105 at Stanford to complete my Engineering and Applied Sciences requirement. There we learned everything from how to turn on a computer, to how to build static HTML, CSS sites.
I didn’t know this then but that class has been the most useful one I took at Stanford. Sorry, Professor Abbas Milani.
Step 2 – Be Overzealous in Your Job
Starting my career at Google, I quickly realized my non-technical role was not going to take me far. The hegemony of tech in the Valley was pretty clear. To gain some technical knowledge, I became a product specialist for an internal sales tool.
When that team’s product manager left suddenly, I volunteered to lead the engineers and build the tool. It turned out to be a good idea; we did a great job and I got offered a role in the engineering org. Still couldn’t program though.
Step 3 – Decide to Learn it All
During Google, I worked on side projects because I badly wanted to “run a business”. I knew I needed to learn from someone before I could attempt my own. So I joined a startup called Outright.
It turned out to be good for my technical skills too because when all hands are on deck, you run SQL queries, you plan events, you build landing pages, etc. Didn’t learn any backend though.
Step 4 – Find a Genius Technical Co-founder
Then I met Alan. He’d been working on WakaTime part-time and we realized we both had the same drive to build an amazing company. We worked on some other ideas but it became obvious that WakaTime was gaining traction and we needed to make a decision. I was now at a Catch-22 – take up the idea and risk working on a product I didn’t grasp or let an opportunity go. Something Alan said struck me:
“You don’t have to work on products for a feminine audience just because you are a girl. You are more technical than you know, anyway.”
That got me revved up and I said hell yea! Turns out it was the best idea ever. Slowly, I started doing more front-end for WakaTime. Then, at the suggestion of our friend, Nathan Esquenazi, Alan and I pair programmed.
It might have been torture for him, but I built my first full-stack feature!
While this post is a little bit about me being super psyched by my newfound abilities, it’s also about pushing boundaries. What you studied in college doesn’t have to determine your destiny. Programming is just like any other skill. It can be acquired.
Of course, my journey is unconventional and I definitely do not recommend this path for people still in school. You can just get a Computer Science degree and make things easier.
Photo credit: scyther5 via Shutterstock.