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.


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