How Learning to Program Got Me A Technical Co-Founder

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When I started learning to program back in February 2012 in order to build Uncover, I simply wanted to be able to see my ideas through to a solid prototype that customers could use. Nothing else mattered. I’d watch tutorials, read books, practice exercises, deploy code, fail and repeat–until I collapsed on my keyboard. Every day I’d wake up with a strong sense of accomplishment.

But no matter how much progress I made, I still knew I’d need to find a talented technical co-founder to work with. I’ve been around the block enough times to know that a year of programming wouldn’t make me a CTO. But what I couldn’t have anticipated was that learning to program up to the level I’ve achieved would make finding a technical co-founder ten times easier. Sure, it’s sort of a kick in the face knowing that one day, with any product success, you’ll have to pass the lead to someone more capable than you. But again, the huge consolation is that it’s a lot easier to find someone once you’ve learned to code.

For me, with a prototype in September 2012 and happy customers already in place, that time had come.

Because I’ve asked Mike (my Uncover co-founder) to be candid about it, I can say without a doubt that we’d never have teamed up if I hadn’t spent 2012 learning to code. Mike and I had known each other for five years before we decided to work together. It wasn’t until I was months into learning to code, when he saw my dedication and saw that I’d successfully built a prototype, that he began to entertain the idea.

Even during the first few months of coding, I’d badger Mike about working together over frequent afternoon coffees, but he’d shrug off the idea. He wasn’t looking to be someone’s code monkey. He wanted to work with someone who understood programming, who could contribute, and who had proven that he really wanted to push himself ahead technically. The person Mike would be willing to work with had to build something first.

For Mike it was more than me being able to contribute code to our product. It was about the psychological connection we’d have. There’s a special bond that exists between developers. People who can build product look at what’s built in a different way. “You can code? Welcome to the club.”

Mike welcomed me. He then pushed me. He taught me. He made me a better developer than I could ever have been on my own. And ultimately he agreed to join Uncover as a co-founder because I had proven myself and managed to get into the club.

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Spencer Fry

I’m a 29 year old entrepreneur. A Business Guy turned Programmer. Co-founder & CEO of TypeFrag ('03 - '07), Carbonmade ('07 - '11) and currently Uncover ('12+). Uncover is everything you need to start and run an employee recognition program for your company. My hobbies are squash, soccer, cooking, music, and art. You should follow me on Twitter.

Comments

11 comments on “How Learning to Program Got Me A Technical Co-Founder

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. I stumbled upon it because treehouse is part of my prep material for Dev Bootcamp in SF. I am in a similar position to where you were. A business guy, with an idea, that wants to get into tech. I have been teaching myself programming for about a year now and as I mentioned have now been accepted to a DBC a 9 week Rails course in SF. I even have a “Mike” type guy of my own that I have known for a long time. I have been trying to push him out of a large company he is working for and into the startup world with me. I recently spoke to someone that I thought would be a possible mentor (due to his success in tech), but he told me developers are a commodity and there was no reason for me to learn programming unless I want a job. I got that email from him last night. I am really happy I found this post today. It makes me feel I’m on a good course. Thanks!

  2. I’m in a similar position as well, thank you for writing this article. It helped me to be more confident about my hopes of one day finding my own Mike!

      • True! Do you mind telling us what sorts of things we could do to make ourselves appealing to Mike’s out there?

        • Learning to code as I mentioned above is a big one. Another is to flesh out a complete prototype that your Mike can play with and get excited about.

  3. So you made Typefrag and Carbonmade before learning to code – how did you get the technical help you needed for those projects.