Learn To Code

Naval’s epic tweetstorm about how to get rich reminded me of a favorite book, How To Get Rich by Felix Dennis. Also, Paul Graham’s essay, How To Make Wealth. Paul Graham himself chimed in on the tweets –

I agree with almost everything. The only thing I’d change is “If you can’t code [learn to].”

I learned how to code. Three pieces inspired me early and kept me going: the intro to Learn Python The Hard Way, How To Become A Hacker, and Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years. I’m on about year seven but have put in many more hours than anyone who has a job and/or family could. If it takes 10,000 hours to be good at something, my odometer is approaching.

The best way to learn is to teach, second place goes to learning how to learn. I know how to learn to code. On one hand it is as simple as Paul Graham says, just learn to. As is often the case, simple is the opposite of easy.

The worst part of being a self-taught programmer is after learning something incredibly difficult, you realize how easy it is if only someone explained it better. It irrationally makes you wish the next newbie has to suffer as badly as you did – like hazing the next freshmen. Rationally, if it was taught as easily as it is, the profession wouldn’t be as lucrative. Constraining the supply of coders increases their price especially amongst a certain demographic (hints bro culture and diversity lip service).

Dealing with frustration is something you have to learn early. Your wit, charm, and threats mean nothing to a computer. It won’t do what you want by asking nicely. You have to do everything correctly; even to the last semi-colon. Otherwise your program won’t work, period. You’ll want to smash your keyboard and cry until the circuits break. You’ll think you are the dumbest person alive, and can’t, just can’t do it.

Then it works! Maybe after googling every combination of technical terms you don’t understand. Maybe after a walk or a nap. Maybe after a clean start on a new platform or new language. But it works, and after things work enough times, you realize you always get it to work, even if it takes six months.

Programming does change how you think. You’ll perhaps see real life in a new way, break down arguments into logical chunks, or even become more patient. I ended up drinking much less, hardly at all now because I’m hyper-tuned to how clear my mind is. I spend more time thinking and less time typing.

In the beginning, I thought by learning a programming language, you learned how to code. Not really, at least not to do anything useful. There is so much. My path included Python, Bash, Vim, Nano, Linux, XML, SQL, Regex, Apache, API’s, web scraping, WordPress, PHP, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Node, JSON, MongoDB, Flask, Django, and a few dozen more. I’m not exaggerating.

To make matters worse, to save a ton of time and headaches, you should target one type of development – web, mobile, data science, cloud, devops, database, systems, or security. To add insult to injury, learning to code for a job, to freelance, or to be an entrepreneur require totally different skills.

  • Jobs want you to jump through difficult programming quizzes that have little to nothing to do with the actual job.
  • Freelancing means you have to know what the client wants when they don’t know themselves, sell them on it, and complete the job quickly, happily, and profitably.
  • Entrepreneurs have to do everything. I’ll leave it at that.

Even though all three types of professionals know how to code, I don’t know how to contribute to a large project and most employees don’t know how to make a complete app like Get QX. In theory, we could learn each other’s roles. But in practice, just learning something in programming might set you back months or years.

So why do it?
Power and freedom.

Can anyone learn how to code?
I say no, most people can’t. Not because they aren’t smart enough (you really don’t have to be very smart at all). No, because it takes too many hours and there are too many artificial barriers.

We need to give people more time, much better tutorials, and encouragement.

You can learn how to code and you should. Know what you are getting yourself into though and never stop even if ten years turn to twenty.

Surveillance Capitalism

As someone who has spent endless hours thinking about what comes after the Industrial Age, I couldn’t put my finger on a good name for the new era. Information Age is the closest but the printing press spread more impactful information, the internet just sped it. Surveillance Capitalism is a good name because perhaps we aren’t entering a new era, just continuing the same. Like offices replacing factories didn’t end the Industrial Age, servers could just replace offices while capitalism continues unabated.

What I cannot reconcile is a feeling money is less important and will become pretty irrelevant. Most find this idea ridiculous. For all our lives money was the most important thing. It can’t buy love but try having a relationship without it. Money can’t buy health yet healthcare costs more and more money. It can’t buy happiness but we’ll never know because the rich fly private to private clubs on private islands. How miserable.

Of course, the more money you have the smarter you seem, the funnier your jokes, the sexier you are. You can never have enough money, it just happens to be worth less.

Money wasn’t always the most important thing. For thousands of years land was king – either you were a landowner or a peasant. The more land you owned, the better. Land without money was fine but money without land was stupid. Then sometime around the 20th century, one didn’t need acres of land to be wealthy. All was required was a building to make widgets, hardly any land at all. What was needed, however, was capital for equipment, inventory, and workers. As time passed the need for land decreased (factories to offices to a seat in a coffee shop) and the need for money increased (more equipment/inventory/employees cost more but made more money).

Imagine what it took to get “rich” throughout human history – muscles as a hunter gatherer, land in agrarian times, capital during the era of industry. Even in the early 21st century getting rich often required expensive office space, lots of employees, and computer servers that cost a fortune to buy and even more to maintain.

Now the poor fly in air conditioned airplanes eating exotic food while video chatting far away lands and accessing the world’s information for free. Today’s peasants live richer lives than the richest royalty of the past.

Aside from living incredibly rich lives without even knowing it, to become richer than your modern day peers only costs $200 for a laptop ($50 used) and access to free Wi-Fi internet or cheap cellular data. That’s it. Software is free, servers are free, so is all the knowledge required, employees are optional. You don’t need money, but that doesn’t mean it’s free. You pay with privacy.

That’s where Surveillance Capitalism comes in. It’s a concept and book by Shoshana Zuboff. As someone without a Facebook account who usually pays in cash, I am the choir she is preaching to. And preach she did. Not to say she is wrong, the evidence and common sense backs her claims that Google, Facebook, Amazon, nearly every business and government are creepy as hell in wanting to know and control everything about us. Zuboff argued so fiercely I found myself empathizing with the other side.

Google didn’t want to be evil and neither did Facebook, we as a society decided and accepted capital in the form of shareholder value (fiduciary duty) is of upmost importance. Genocide was justified in the name of gods, then kings, then presidents, why not for CEO’s now?

Surveillance probably doesn’t make you buy more toothpaste or anything really. It can swing swing voters but propaganda isn’t much more effective than before. Shareholders value surveillance and that’s all that matters.

Shareholders changing their mind for what’s important doesn’t make a new era, us changing our mind about shareholders deciding what’s important does.