August 21, 2014

So You Can’t Code? So What!

By: Sarah Belknap


I think the biggest barrier for anyone breaking into tech, especially for women, is that there exists a mysterious façade of what the technology and digital space really is.

My background is in on the ground campaigning. After the 2012 cycle, I decided I needed to pivot into technology. I was (and still am thank you very much) young enough to make a career change, and young enough to learn a whole new field.

My mental roadblock, however, was that I did not know how to write code or build a website or how any of it worked. It’s not like I wasn’t curious, I just never needed to know. I worried that I was going to be at a tremendous disadvantage because I lacked the technical knowhow that I saw in “The Social Network” or heard about in the Book of Google.

Now that I have spent nearly 2 years in the space, I have realized that lots of people don’t know how to code. Steve Jobs didn’t even know how to write code (h/t Richard Hendricks). Technology is really about product. Building products (or tools, as the digital vendors like to say), understanding how they will be used and utilized, and at the end of the day how they will be monetized. Developers and programmers might be able to build it, but that doesn’t mean they can sell it. It does not mean they can manage the process. And it surely does not mean that just because some tech dude built it, “they will come.”

Successful tech companies have lots of different players in them. Being that products are the center of the operation, it should not surprise anyone that the initial code writers, those savants that took a canvas and filled it with ones and zeros in such a fashion that I can stream any Rick Ross song with a simple click, are their companies own Rick Ross’s. They are the stars because what they built is the foundation for that particular company.  But when products and companies expand, they need lots of different types of people to make it work and be a success.

The best example I can give is Sheryl Sandberg.  She got plucked from Google to run Facebook. But her first job out of college was working for Larry Summers in the Clinton Administration. She was a smart Harvard kid who knew how to work her ass off, and her professor brought her to DC to work for him. She was Chief of Staff at the Treasury Department for a time, and when the Clinton days ended, her tech days began. Now she is a billionaire and runs a social network empire.

And she did not know how to code. She knew how to work.

So get to work. Don’t get into or stay away from the tech industry based on your personal technical prowess. Take a look at the different companies and types of people, and decide whether or not you find it interesting and can spend all day working on it. If you can, take the jump. If you think you’ll fall ass backwards into an IPO and buy your own island, have a conversation with the guy who started


Sarah Belknap was named TIME’s 2006 Person of the Year. In her spare time she herds cats and developers at GenOpp.