Reginald Braithwaite once wrote about “[...] having trouble with the fact that 199 out of 200 applicants for every programming job can’t write code at all. I repeat: they can’t write any code whatsoever.” Clearly, learning to code is no small feat. Hundreds of students spend years and thousands of dollars to learn how to code. And for good reason! According to HackerYou, “there’s never been more energy around the importance of learning to code.”
It seems like everyone wants to discuss who should be learning to code. It’s the latest trend for non-programmers to learn. In fact, there are resources and workshops for women who want to learn, entrepreneurs who want to learn, children who want to learn – you get the idea. Of course, marketers are among this seemingly endless list of people who must learn to code.
Andrew Chen made it even more apparent in his post Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing, stating that “coding and technical chops are now an essential part of being a great marketer in Silicon Valley.” Though he refers to this new position as Growth hacker, it still emphasizes the increasing need for technical experience as a marketer. This doesn’t just mean a basic HTML or some CSS understanding, this is full on Ruby or Python experience. “The fastest way to spread your product is by distributing it on a platform using APIs, not MBAs”, says Chen.
Well, it’s not just another trend. Digital marketers, especially those working at startups, absolutely need to learn to code. Here are just four reasons why!
1. Small Teams
Startups are small and close-knit. As a startup marketer, you’re going to know what everyone else is working on and you’re likely going to be involved. Realistically, you can’t be a marketer for a startup without understanding the basics behind your landing pages, website, blog, etc.
How would you have an intelligent conversation with the programmers? How would you coordinate between a programmer and the CEO if you only really understand one side of the equation (the business side)? Knowing how to interpret and become involved in “geek speak” is a must for startup marketers.
2. Coding Is Digital
When you think about it, coding is what makes digital marketing possible to begin with. Without coding, most startup marketers would be out of a job. Justin Pearse calls coding “the building block” for everything online marketers do. Perhaps that’s why senior staff from brands like Unilever, Bacardi and BBC have attended coding workshops like Decoded. After all, in order to build a sound structure, you need to know a little something about laying bricks.
In order to build a sound structure, you need to know a little something about laying bricks.
3. Generalists Wanted
There’s a lot of debate about whether it’s better for startups to hire specialists or generalists. Early stage startups, for the most part, prefer to work with generalists. That is, they want employees who are good at a lot of things, not experts at just one thing. Why? The team gets more done for less money. Consider the efficiency and expenses associated with managing a design expert, a social media expert, a Google AdWords expert, and a programming expert.
So, not only do you need to be able to “speak geek”, but you need to be able to get your hands dirty too. A working knowledge of multiple areas will allow you to help out here and there, making adjustments and optimizations where you see fit. Coding is the backbone of everything digital, which means you’ll want to be able to include it under your generalist umbrella.
4. Digital Is Life
In 2010, ecommerce sales increased 12.6% to $176.2 billion. By 2015, experts are predicting sales to reach $278.9 billion. Nine years ago, Facebook didn’t exist. Today, if it were a country, it would be the world’s third largest. There’s just no doubt that the digital world is becoming more and more ingrained in day-to-day life. As more online startups sprout up, we’ll see more jobs in the digital space as well. In fact, a recent study showed that 83% of respondents telecommute at least part of the day.
Since we’ve already determined that coding is digital and now that digital is life, it might be a good idea to understand coding before the need completely overwhelms you. Imagine trying to do your job without a working knowledge of email. In a few years, coding will be the new email. Unfortunately, history is full of people who have lost their jobs because they couldn’t adapt to changing technology. Get a head start!
You don’t need to be a coding expert, but you do need a working knowledge. If marketers can’t edit a website, update the behind-the-scenes of a blog or add SEO parameters to a landing page, they’re inefficient. And when it comes to startups, there’s no room for inefficiency. Learning to code, even on the most basic level, empowers marketers. It makes them more valuable now and more prepared for the future.