Anyone can code and everyone should (even if you suck)

You should learn to code for three reasons:

  1. Anything you currently do, you can probably do much more efficiently with a small amount of code.
  2. The more you code, the better you get at it. By “it”, I mean the process of solving problems with code: research, experimentation, and reading.
  3. It’s easy, especially if you know basic English.

Coding is easy, mostly because it is based on the english language. If you understand this sentence, you’re 90% of the way there: If I do this, then I’ll do this. The other 10% is Algebra. The main difficulty with coding is sourcing good material to learn from. There is a lot of bad documentation out there. Some cutting edge frameworks and libraries are created by random people and sometimes teenagers. They can lack awareness of the production systems their work is used in. This translates to some pretty confusing and unreliable stuff for a newbie. Still, with all these great books and online education platforms teaching you to code, there’s no excuse for not learning the basics. It’s easier to learn older technologies. For most people, learning a buzzwordy framework with constantly changing documentation is a mistake. Learn something like PHP and the answers you’ll find via google will be consistent, simple and well-researched. As a bonus, the ecosystem is old and changes slowly.

It makes you better at almost any job. A basic understanding of coding and scripting can help you eliminate much of your trivial work and let you focus on what really matters. Even without coding, knowing how to integrate different apps to create more efficient processes for yourself can drastically change the reality of your job. This is a type of coding without coding, which is just as important of a skill. You’re thinking in logical patterns and behaviors and adapting existing functional software to suit your specific input and output needs.

Knowledge is power. People are so often intimidated by coding because they thing programmers are smart. This is indubitably wrong. Some of the stupidest people I’ve met are programmers. Really good programmers are smart – but you’re unlikely to be a really good programmer. Although, you never know until you try. Outside of being a really good programmer™, coding is simple, straightforward, and everyone can do it. Even if you don’t apply it to your daily life, a basic understanding or overview of how coding works and how the internet works is essential. For the internet history and infrastructure part, I recommend the book Tubes. Modern coding is not just a field of engineering, it is the new medium in which most businesses and social interactions will exist. Don’t be afraid: own the medium.

The Dark Side of Silicon Startups

I was personally surprised to see the lack of business ethics in the LA start-up world. People say all CEOs are assholes, but I refuse to believe that. Calling someone an asshole almost frees them of the responsibility they must take for their actions. I noticed that people with poor ethics all had a drive to succeed that surpassed any drive to do good, and this misplaced ambition was highly encouraged by greedy investors. The type of ethics I consistently see lapses on are workers’ rights, and untrue marketing and public statements.

This happens because entrepreneurs, pushed by investors, tend to value rapid growth over anything else. Because the space is so liberal, no one mentions workers’ rights. People think it’s a given. That’s how leaders in $ilicon $tartups get away with it.

Rapid growth encourages people to be scrappy. Scrappy with pay, products, and sometimes, how we treat human beings. The goal of “disrupting an industry”, sometimes stretched to “saving the world”, can become an excuse for shady business practices.

“We’re a money-losing company. This is not some situation where, for example, we are just greedy capitalists who decided to skimp on safety in order to have more profits and dividends and that kind of thing. It’s just a question of how much money we lose. And how do we survive? How do we not die and have everyone lose their jobs?” — Elon Musk

[src: Tesla factory workers reveal pain, injury and stress: ‘Everything feels like the future but us’ ]

If we look at Musk’s argument, we see that the options are binary: it is either bad working conditions for employees or the death of the business and everyone’s jobs. If your business model is so challenging that you have to hurt your employees, then what the fuck your model is a failure.

Keep in mind that there are many people who profit from money-losing companies. Even if these were the only two choices – it makes more sense to just let the company fold since the work conditions are clearly unsustainable.  The false dichotomy might fool you into thinking the decision-makers at Tesla had no choice but to de-prioritize a safe working environment. Don’t fall for it. They screwed up. On top of that, they made excuses for it instead of taking responsibility. This is a pattern of behavior in the startup world. This is just one notable example that made it in the news. It happens all across the startup world in situations where there is high pressure for rapid growth. Take a look at the transportation and food delivery startups that use private contractors, many of them undocumented immigrants. What you find will make you very uneasy. It seems like startups have run out of code to hack, so ethics are what’s next on the chopping block. 

Can entrepreneurs maintain values and still make money? Yes. There are many values that raise our probability of success. Courage is a notable one when it comes to risk-taking. Valuing empathy, community, and fairness enables entrepreneurs to maintain low-turnover and high-quality work environments. High quality job creation in turn rewards businesses with excellent networks, low hiring costs, and better per-capita output. Honesty begets admiration and loyalty. Creativity helps save costs in new and unique ways.

The ‘problem’ with these values is they tend to have long-term returns and short-term losses. It requires entrepreneurs to value a few things above rapid growth. This can be scary. That’s why you need courage.

Values are critical to success. After all, it’s more important to know why you’re succeeding than to succeed. Like Admiral Adama said:

It’s not enough to survive. One must be worthy of survival.

Many startups are imperfect and scrappiness is a given. Many also abuse workers to impress their investors.

For a sector that claims innovation at every turn, it can be surprising to see the human costs that are brought up by the news every couple of weeks. The dark side of rapid growth is becoming more and more apparent – but this doesn’t mean it can’t be done right. It’s time for Silicon Beach/Valley to stop using survival as an excuse for unethical treatment of workers. It’s time to be worthy of survival.