It's Your Dream. Own It.

Freddy Krueger Is Scared To Build The Next Twitter But You Shouldn’t Be. Because @Codecademy

This article almost didn’t happen because I was having so much fun learning how to code on Codecademy.

For the past few days, I’ve been coding my butt off. Why? Two reasons:

1. Tech startups are ruled by engineers, and as a non-technical founder I’m constantly at a disadvantage. Read on, I’ll explain;

2. As a self-respecting blogger who runs his own WordPress site, I am always tweaking the theme to make it look just right, but there are limits to my tweaking ability.

So I decided to dust off my coding mittens and break a decade-long vow of celibacy when it comes to all things HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. What I discovered was nothing short of astonishing.

Intrigued? You should be.

My Goal

My goal in this article is simple. I want to convince you that learning how to code is not only easy but a biological imperative.

I’ll get to the easy part in a bit, but I want to make the case for the biological imperative first.

Over the last year, I’ve been invited to speak at a bunch of startup events locally here in New York. CoInvent, Priori, and Startupalooza, to name a few.

Hands down, the most common question people ask me at these events is how I -someone who is NOT a coder- have managed to build a tech startup?

What has become obvious to me is that there is a surplus of ideas and a deficit of skill. And there are only two ways to fill that gap.

Partner with someone who has a complimentary skill set [which is what I did], or learn a new skill.

And this leads us to one simple conclusion. If learning how to code is easy and you have a surplus of ideas, then why aren’t you learning how to code?

Sure. Finding a technical cofounder is an option, but many have tried and failed in this endeavor. Besides, it’s not all roses even if you succeed, I’ll explain in a minute.

Seems to me that a much better option is to sit down, bite the bullet, and learn how to code. If you don’t, your ideas will die while someone else’s ideas become the next Twitter.

But I don’t have 10,000 hours!

We’ve all heard that “10,000 hours to expert status” Gladwellism. But let’s face it. Who’s got that kind of time, so why even bother trying?

I think what has prevented me from starting my learning journey is this gnawing feeling that I must be an expert in order to bring my ideas to life.

Add to that the wide-open landscape of soooo many different programming languages, options, and integration points; it’s enough to scare the pants off Freddy Krueger, and that guy is super scary.


With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve come to realize that expert status is not needed in order to build a tech startup. You just need to know enough to build an MVP [Minimum Viable Product], monetize it [hopefully], at which point you can hire someone who did spend 10,000 learning how to code.

So, how many hours is needed to launch your own tech startup, you ask? Well, I did some math and came up with a number. You will need approximately 100-300 hours.

If we average it out to about 200 hours and say we spend 2-4 hours per day learning how to code, we can reach the necessary level of expertise in 2-3 months.

And if we add a few shortcuts into the mix, we can cut this down even further.

For example, if we use Admin kits, front end and back end frameworks such as Bootstrap and Laravel, and take on a freelance project or two in the process, we can get there even faster.

Are we going to reach expert status in 3 months? Nope. Are we going to reach a point where we’re able to cobble together the next Yahoo, Twitter, or Amazon?

It’s possible. Take a look at Yahoo when it first launched.


Twitter, Google, Facebook, and the rest didn’t look much better either. Take a look at some of the other sites before they were famous.

websites - before they were famous

What do they have in common? Modest beginnings, thats what. Trust me, you can do this. All you need to do is get started.

It’s Your Idea. Own It.

Here’s a simple truth. Tech startups are ruled by coders.

In his book I’m Feeling Lucky, Douglas Edwards, the 56th employee at Google, tells a story about Google engineers ignoring their managers and deploying features they felt like deploying. The engineers had total disregard for what the non-engineers had to say.

This culture of engineers doing whatever they felt like doing was persistent at Google and took a long time to eradicate.

Would you be surprised to learn that this is the norm and not the exception?

I speak from personal experience when I say that as a non-technical founder, I constantly have to “sell” the engineers on the idea that X is a good feature. Conversely, an engineer can deploy a feature and see if it’s any good without the approval from anyone. In fact, they are encouraged to do exactly that.

So, let’s say you’re one of the lucky ones who had managed to find a technical cofounder. It’s very likely that you will end up with someone else in control of your idea. The technical founder will be able to do whatever s/he feels like doing to your idea, while you’ll have to “sell” your technical cofounder on the latest feature you came up with.

Theme TweakerThis is the norm, NOT the exception. Is this what you want?

You may be better off learning how to code.

The Theme Tweaker

Hi. My name is Dino and I’m a theme tweaker.

My coding mittens weren’t completely off in the last 10 years. I like to crack open a nice WordPress theme and add a few custom CSS elements as much as the next guy.

This theme I’m currently using is heavily modified and there’s still much more I’d like to do, but I didn’t know how. Until now.

After completing the HTML/CSS Codecademy course, I’ve learned so much more about things I can do…I can’t wait to apply it.

Basically, in a couple of hours I’ve gone from someone who can kinda sorta tweak a setting here and there, to someone who can discover where the tweak needs to be made and how, in a fraction of the time it used to take. And things that used to confuse me, now appear simple.

Thank you, Codecademy.

What Didn’t Work For Me

I test-drove about a dozen learning methods, and I’m here to tell you what works and what doesn’t.

I have access to countless books on the subject of web dev, but that’s not my preferred learning style for this kind of skill, and here’s why.

I normally love reading and listening to books, but something like web development is very much a hands-on type of skill. You can read a hundred books about it, but building even just one site will be a much more effective way of acquiring the skill.

So, the book learnin’ was out. What else is there?

I tried several video learning methods. Lynda, Pluralsight, TutsPlus, and few others. They were ok but had their own shortcoming.

Let’s start with the cost. None of the video tutorials are free, that goes without saying. But if you think that after spending a few hundred dollars you’re in the clear, you’d be mistaken.

For example, the instructors were demonstrating using paid tools that I simply wasn’t willing to spend money on in order to find out that I don’t like the tool or that there’s a free alternative.

PHIL HEATHBesides, I’ve learned the hard way that buying expensive exercise equipment doesn’t make you a world class bodybuilding. If it did, I’d be Phil Heath by now.

Another problem with the video tutorials is that the instructors had access to development environments that I wasn’t willing to set up on my machine at this time.

Not only do these environments take time and know-how to set up, but they end up eating up your memory and processing power and can render a machine unusable for everything else. Not to mention that setting up a dev environment is cutting into my precious coding time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t know how to set up a dev environment, but at this early stage it’s very important not to be intimidated, discouraged, or delayed while there’s learning to be done.

A Chance Discovery

Finally, after spinning my wheels for a couple of weeks, I chanced upon Codecademy.

As someone who’s spent 6 years teaching and developing technical curriculum, I could tell right away that Codecademy was my ticket. And just in case you’re wondering, the answer is no, I’m not being paid to say this.

Codecademy removes ALL barriers to entry. All you need is a browser and an Internet connection. So if you’re reading this then you already have everything you need. There’s no need to set up your own development environment, and no need to install additional tools.

Another impressive thing about Codecademy is that it has removed failure as an option entirely. The way it’s structured ensures that anyone can go through the course, and if you do, you WILL learn how to code.

Did I mention it’s is entirely free? Ya, I know. It’s a great time to be alive.

What about the selection? Well, selections galore, my friends. HTML, CSS, PHP, Ruby, JavaScript, jQuery, and bunch more, plus API integrations aplenty.

You could spend a couple of months on Codecademy and end up with a skill set that’s in high demand that would enable you to leave King Joffrey’s guard for a much better paying job. Sorry….too much Game of Thrones. Did you see that thing with Cersei? OMG, I cant even.

Anyways…go sign up for Codecademy and give birth to that idea that’s been rattling in your brain.

learn to code for free with codecademy

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Founder @Triberr | Refugee from Bosnia | Professional speaker with a real job | Lousy Mixed Martial Artist | Singer/Songwriter | Global Force for Badassery.

Whoa, I'm not sure I'm ready for this, but maybe I am!  I mess around with a little code now and then, but now that you have shown me where I can learn, I'll have to rethink the issue.

I know it could be useful for a lot of other things besides tech startups, and I appreciate this advice from one non-techie to another.  I've worked like a dog the last few years to teach myself all things internet marketing.  As a Baby Boomer, it's a challenge, but I told my husband that if learning new things staves off dementia, I ought to be good for another 30 years or so. LOL

Thanks for sharing this information and resource.

All the best,



Great article, "I shall not be afraid of code!" Thanks for sharing, I know just enough to get myself into trouble :)