Learning to make

January 29, 2013
I left USV at the end of 2012 without a clear idea of what would be next. I've never had much of a career plan, but this felt different. I'd been unsure of a next job before, but always in a will-this-shiny-thing-accept-me kind of way. This time, I was pretty sure I wanted to do something different.

I joined USV in 2010, not expecting I'd work at a venture capital firm so soon after school. The last two years were amazing. USV's partners – Albert, Andy, Brad, Fred, and John – are fantastic, the team with whom I worked – Gary, Dorsey, Nick, Brian, Zander, Veronica, and Gillian – unbeatable, and the entrepreneurs the firm backs brilliant. I thought very seriously -- torturously, even (hi, friends!) -- about staying at USV, and I'm extraordinarily grateful to Albert, Brad, and Fred for taking a chance on me.

Why did I want to do something different? In part, because I wanted something that felt more tangible. But mostly because the story of the internet continues to be the story of our time. I'm pretty sure that if you truly want to follow -- or, better still, bend -- that story's arc, you should know how to write code.

I also wanted to learn to write software out of stubbornness. It felt that you're not really supposed to do that after school, and such low expectations amazed me. When did we decide our time's most important form of creation is off-limits? How many people haven't learned to write software because they didn't attend schools that offered those classes, or the classes were too intimidating, and then they were "too late"? How much better would the world be if those people had been able to build their ideas?

Programming wasn't entirely new to me. I'd taken classes, and I'd worked with a few APIs while at USV. I didn't talk about these projects often (the people with whom I met were solving fantastically harder problems), but it sometimes came up. Most didn't take my coding prospects too seriously, which stung at first and then became annoying.

Admittedly, my need to learn to code wasn't as obvious to most everyone else. Empirically, you don't need to program to invest in software companies. Empirically, you also don't need to understand software to invest in software companies. Venture capitalists have other tools to evaluate a new company beyond asking technical questions, and often, those other tools are used first. But evaluating companies isn't what I wanted to do.

So writing software is what I've been doing. For the past few weeks, I've been working on a web app. Unsurprising to those who know me, it surrounds books. I'd like to think of it as a digital bookshelf, a conversation starter amongst friends ... but it's not there yet. It's got a database though – which none of my side projects had – and it's got caching, OAuth integration, a few queues for jobs that can be made asynchronous, and other things I'd never explored before. It's also got some users, friends who put up with the site's lumpiness and frequent ill behavior.

I've more thoughts about writing software, and learning to do so "later in life", but one thing's certain: though I’ve written about the tools of software development becoming more accessible, and the process of software-creation becoming simpler, it's still really, really hard to build a good product. I don't have one yet. I do have a changelog, a day-by-day record of what I've been through. Just like the site, it's scattered, idiosyncratic, and lopsided. And while I don't think I'll spend much more time on it, it's given me sea legs.

On stable ground, it's easier to stop worrying about the future or the past and simply enjoy what I'm doing now: learning every day, testing and discarding my opinions, and making something that oh-man,-real-people-use!