Thank You Dan Shipper

Four months ago Dan Shipper did me a big favor.

He had no idea, has no idea, will probably never have any idea.

All he did was include a sentence in a blog post. The sentence wasn’t even directly related to the post’s main subject, yet it crystalized an idea that had been floating in my mind for quite some time.

The sentence was this:

For me, the beauty in programming was the fact that it allowed me to build businesses where the only cost was my time.

Now I’ve been a small-scale entrepreneur for many years. I’ve worked on a lot of projects, grafting skills on as I go: Enough HTML to get by, CSS, some Photoshop, an embarrassing amount of WordPress, a dash of PHP — whatever I needed to get the current job done. I’d long ago begun to feel the “learn to code” itch (thanks largely to Hacker News), but it wasn’t until Dan Shipper published these words that it clicked for me.

This was what I wanted. This was why learning to code felt so important: Learning to code meant that, with a laptop and time, I could build any web app I imagined — not just the bare minimum.

So the next day I started planning my “Code Vacation” — I constructed a curriculum from the materials at Codecademy, Treehouse, and Code School (admittedly mostly Treehouse) and called in a week’s worth of vacation hours for mid-February.

In that week I did little but eat, sleep, and complete coding tutorials, with a bit of meditation and walks in the botanical gardens to keep my mind clear. I worked my way through the foundations of HTML, CSS/3, responsive design, programming concepts, JS, jQuery, and Rails, and by the end I had begun to see the web differently. Suddenly I’d gained an intuitive sense for the unseen mechanisms of the web, and complex applications became awesome where before they had merely been useful.

It’s been a month since that vacation now, and I consider it to be one of the more fulfilling weeks of my life. Although I’m still clearly the world’s worst Rails/JS hacker, I’ve already built tools that make my own work easier, and I’ve no plans to stop any time soon.

So thanks, Dan Shipper. You’ll probably never see this and this certainly wasn’t the intent of your post, but thank you all the same.

Onward, down the road to code.