What To Do If You Can’t Learn To Code


The Silicon Valley driven learn to code movement is now mainstream. The White House joined the wave with the National Day of Code. Granted there is some backlash. Then backlash to the backlash. I have whiplash trying to keep up with it all.

I jumped into the wave headfirst a few years ago. In 2012, I progressed through the vast majority of Codecademy and Rails for Zombies. I took CS50 via David Malan’s excellent online course. I can Fizzbuzz in both Ruby and Python, but no one is going to bring me on as their in house hacker.

While I enjoyed learning to code, I was terrible at it. I screamed at my screen for hours looking for the errant comma or colon that rendered my code crippled). I have some god-given talents, but coding is not one of them. I’ve come to terms with knowing I’m not going to be the 10x developer. I’m not even going to be the 1x developer. Perhaps with work, I could have developed into the 1/10x developer.

In my first job, I worked with successful, middling and unsuccessful General Managers. I tried to identify what separated the haves from the havenots. Goal being, of course, to make myself one of the success ones.

I saw two things that successful general managers had in common. First, most successful General Managers had a strong sales background. Second, most of the successful General Managers had other talented people supporting their efforts. The rest of this post will discuss the former item as the latter may be a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

If you want to be successful, and you can’t code, then you should learn how to sell. Sales is a foundational skill useful across all industries or a functions. Nothing happens until someone sells something to someone else. When interviewing for a job, you are selling yourself. When negotiating salary, you are selling yourself. When dating, you are selling yourself. When recruiting talent, you are selling yourself and your company.

Contrary to popular opinion, I am not a natural born sales person. I had negative associations with sales before my experience at Cintas. I thought asking for what I wanted was crass or beneath me. I was the kid that refused to go door to door selling candy bars or pizzas or whatever item the school fundraiser was hawking to parents. But, I also lived a life wherein I got little of what I wanted.

I took the role in sales while holding my nose at the prospect of asking people for money. It was like eating vegetables or taking my vitamins. Unpleasant, but necessary.

I had excellent mentors that helped me hone my sales craft. I had the benefit of learning from ninjas like Kevin Russo, Ryan Parker, Robb Kleinmann, and Michael Servello. I watched rock stars like John Kopasidas, John Rumcik, and Forrest Belcher. I worked alongside young guns like Bill Greenway, Geoff McBurroughs and Angelico Obedoza.  Most of the folks mentioned are still lights out sales people, 8-10 years later. Many are selling different products or services than they were in 2005. All have a valuable skill set that every company in America covets.

I think everyone should learn how to sell. Perhaps it won’t be their chosen career, but it will be a valuable skill that helps them for the rest their lives.

Those who can code, code. Those who can’t, sell the product. Every product and every company in the world needs both. You should figure out which one of those two skill sets you will learn.


Spoiler alert: Here’s what life is like when you’re older

Lonely Old Alone Man Sitting

James Gray, an 85 year old retired British butler placed an ad in a newspaper looking for companionship on Christmas Day. After nine Christmases eating smoked salmon alone, he’d had enough. News of his bold actions (and the subsequent media coverage) swept the Internet this week. The story appeared in the heartwarming section, the splendid section and the news of the weird sections of major media outlets.

I’m struck by how common this likely is. The world hasn’t been very kind to our seniors. We live in a world where we can 3D print pizzas, get tacos delivered by drone, or call black cars on demand. We’ve built great technology for the privilaged (and I’m including myself in that cohort), but we haven’t figured out a noble way to care for the men and women who built the world we inherit.

I am haunted by the thought of nine Christmases eating smoked salmon alone. It’s a short hop from reading about Mr Gray to thinking about the solitary evenings of my own parents and grandparents. And then it’s a baby step to thinking about a future where I’m opening the capers for a Christmas breakfast made for one. 

Five years from now, ten years from now or maybe fifty years from now, it will happen to you and me. You will be old. I will be old. Senior citizen. Retiree. Elderly.

Let’s expect more from the world of tomorrow than we have today. Let’s build a life where my parents and yours (and you and me) have companionship, dignity, independence and safety. Let’s do more than we’re doing today. Yes, I realize it is going to take more than medical alert systems to get there. And I’m ready for the challenge.

My dear Ms Laney

My dearest Ms Laney –

You never told me your middle name was Kelorah! And, well – I suppose I never asked. I wish I had asked you sooner, because it appears we’re out of time for now.

Every time I saw you, I felt the full strength of your love. Your signature strong-hug/thump-on-the-back softened over the last few years, but I just thought it would be there for me forever. Sure, you probably hugged everyone like that, but you reserved an especially warm hug for me.

I was your favorite. You were mine.

We saw each other yearly, or was it every other year or every third year recently? I had so many opportunities to learn more about you and then those became fewer and farther as my life sped up and your life slowed down.

I spent so much time catching you up on my life and the latest comings and goings. I realize now that in doing so, I never got the full sense of yours. What do you do when you’re not reading that bible and listening to my exploits? What did you do when you were my age? What was life like for young Elaine Kelorah Mullins? What were my father’s flaws as a young man? What was your youth like? How did you raise such difficult children like my father? Like me. Where did you draw your strength from?

Despite your pain these last few years, you always managed to be strong and beautiful. Always with your smart earrings, always presentable and always ready.

I put off seeing you for so long that I missed our best window. Now we have to delay our next meeting a bit longer.

One month ago, you left us. You are heading to find a better and more peaceful place to share your love and warmth.

I love you. I miss you. See you soon.