In the fall semester of my sophomore year, my friend and I got this random food app idea and decided to start a startup. We spent months developing the idea, working on the business plan and preparing the pitch deck. We came to a point where we felt ready to pitch to investors–only to confront the fact that we didn’t have a product. Only well-thought out idea, whatever that’s worth.
My friend and I spent those next three weeks trying to find a technical co-founder. While we were eventually able to convince another friend to join us, at that point, the enthusiasm was lost and idea eventually fizzled out. I came out of the experience with the uncomfortable realization: as a non-technical entreprenuer, the largest factor to my success was entirely dependent on someone else.
“Should I learn to code?” It was the first time I had entertained the question. The only thing I knew about programming courses was how hard and time-consuming it was, because everyone it CIS classes complained about it. And all I could picture was the kid who started playing with computers when he was 9. I could never compete with him. And lingering in the back of my mind was the fact that I didn’t take calculus, ergo, I sucked at math and programming was all about math.
Amongst these concerns, was the lingering thought of a passage I read in Paul Graham’s What You’ll Wish You’d Known:
I propose instead that you don’t commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.
Suppose you’re a college freshman deciding whether to major in math or economics. Well, math will give you more options: you can go into almost any field from math. If you major in math it will be easy to get into grad school in economics, but if you major in economics it will be hard to get into grad school in math.
Flying a glider is a good metaphor here. Because a glider doesn’t have an engine, you can’t fly into the wind without losing a lot of altitude. If you let yourself get far downwind of good places to land, your options narrow uncomfortably. As a rule you want to stay upwind.
“Stay Upwind” overrode any excuse I could make. It’s now been 9 months since I decided to learn to code and truthfully, even if I’m not the most talented programmer, I still feel as if I have a new superpower. If tomorrow I get another startup idea, I don’t have to spend weeks searching for a programmer. I can prototype the idea and validate it myself within weeks, if not days.
I’m higher upwind.
It doesn’t matter, I’ve realized, whether I can become the best programmer or not. Even if a problem takes me longer to solve. Or if I get a worse grade. What matters is that I’m a better version of myself at the end.
Thank you Paul Graham, for helping me realize that.