Data Addict

Startups, Self Quantification, and Internet Culture


For the First Time in Years, I Can Say I Don’t Want to Be a Developer

When I graduated from college, I had a massive inferiority complex about my skill set.

More than anything else, I wanted to be a scientist. My father and grandfather are both scientists and most of my role models are engineers of one sort or another. So in freshman year, I took biology, chemistry, and computer science in succession hoping to find my scientific aptitude and carry on the tradition. I found the classes equal parts difficult and un-enjoyable. I was the one who struggled for a high C and hated every assignment while my peers effortlessly achieved As and Bs and seemed to be having a ball. It was demoralizing, and so by the time I had lowered my expectations and decided to major in economics [1], I had developed a budding professional self-loathing.

Founding a web startup right out of undergrad was natural for me, I had been a computer geek since the third grade after all. But being the only non-coder in a three man web startup only fueled my feelings of inadequacy. I was the business guy. I incorporated the company, talked to investors, made marketing materials, demoed our product to customers, handled feedback, and did all the tasks that don’t immediately jump to mind when you think of founding a small technology company. Someone had to do all that work, but it always ate at me that Nick and Scott could do my job as well, if not better, than me, whereas I had no such reciprocal talent.

To this day, I struggle with feelings of inadequacy, but several months ago I reached a landmark realization. Although most programmers could technically do my job, good designers, salesmen, marketers, recruiters, copywriters, and general hustlers are valuable [2]. I happen to be pretty good at filling those roles and it makes me happy. I don’t want to program, I want to work with people and technology, in that order.

I asked HN a question more than a year ago entitled “What’s a non-programmer co-founder to do?” Although most of the feedback was helpful and constructive, way down the thread, one person simply wrote “learn to program.” That sentiment seems to be rife in the tech world, but I’m here to say that just like the world needs good hackers, it also needs good non-technical professionals. As someone completely immersed in technology, it’s easy to lose sight of that fact and forget to take pride in what I contribute.

It’s liberating to finally feel that what I’m doing really does add value and helps make my tiny little corner of the tech world a better place. If you have ever felt bad about not being a coder, chin up, the world needs people like you too.

[1] A [snort] social science.

[2] I have intentionally omitting lawyers from this list.

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