in Opinion

Why you should be able to code if you work in Social Media

Before I explain why should be able to code while working in the Social Media industry let me explain how I acquired this skill and how it helps me.

My history

Just after I got a cable internet connection at home which allowed me be online 24/7 I learned to code. Before I really learned to code I used to maintain a website on Geocities (it was the late nineties after all) with immense animated GIFs (created with Xara3d) created with Frontpage Express. However at a moment in time it didn’t fit my needs any more, I wanted to do more. So I went to a bookstore and bought this small book. It promised me I could hand code my own website within 20 minutes. It was my first experience with building real stuff for the web and discovering how to make things really work.

From Mark Up to Code

After a while I noticed that writing good mark up was nice, though it scaled rather poorly if you wanted to do a small change and you had to edit hundreds of files. Therefore I was looking around at one of the biggest forums in the Netherlands: Gathering of Tweakers for some help. Instantly there was one guy, named cutter, who was willing to help me by providing me some code snippets and a few sessions on ICQ for additional help. That was the way I learned how to write PHP and work with MySQL.

From there on I had my own company that helped organisations in creating content management systems and I wrote a very scalable blogging engine for one of the biggest websites of the Netherlands (which was decommissioned just a year ago after over approximately 6 years of service). Still I am every now and then playing around with PHP and also some Ruby on Rails just to try out things, build stuff and see if it works.

Now let me explain why it is important for you to learn to code.

There is more in Social Media than being Social

Knowing how to push a button on Twitter or Facebook might look like your core activity when doing something on Social Media, however it isn’t. Neither isn’t being great in PowerPoint to create a strategy or talking with people on how things could change when applying social design or how to integrate a Facebook widget in their website.

Your job is making things work. Your job is problem solving. If all you know about Social Media is what you see of Facebook and Twitter, you’ll miss 80% of it, meaning that at best you perform at only 20% of your level. You need to know what is under the hood, not in detail, nor do you have to be a code ninja. However if you are not aware that there is something under the hood and how it works and how you can make it work, you are doing yourself a service.

You might think it is not your job to build things since you are mainly an advisor or consultant, however you should be able to at least build a quick and dirty solution just to validate your assumptions. Plus you’ll get better on your job if you’re experimenting and creating real stuff. If you only wait till somebody else already has built the solution for your problem so you can include it in your PowerPoint, most likely that other person is becoming more credible and knowledgable in this area since he has:

  1. Build the solution
  2. Spend probably quite some time in analysing everything to be able to build it
  3. Gained insights on what is the next step for the product / service he is using as a platform

So not only has the creator an advantage of having the product, he has also the advantage of having more knowledge than you since he acquired that knowledge during the creation process. Plus he most likely gets a better overview on how things work and could predict easier what the next big developments will be for the platform he has worked on. Overall he gained more knowledge quicker than you did making charts in PowerPoint. Actually knowing how things work is such a valuable experience.

That is only the business side, however wouldn’t it be great that you can finally solve your own problem by just developing your own solution? I know I enjoyed it when I wanted to sync my Google Reader with Delicious, or when I wanted to automate some stuff to be automatically shared on Twitter. Now there is ifttt.com to solve these problems for me, however there is not always a solution available. Why wait on it, start solving it for yourself. Worst case is that you create a solution which is used by 1 billion people.

Your Next Step in Learning to Code

Start coding in just a few simple steps:

  1. Go to Code.org or to Code Academy (or to one of these many other sites) and start a course.
  2. Pick the problem you want to solve
  3. Start solving it in small iterations
  4. Share it with somebody and ask for feedback
  5. Learn somebody else to code
  6. repeat

If you don’t have the inspiration for 2, just ask people who are near you what they would like to do with social media. I am sure they have some demands that aren’t solved already by a solution.

Write code, improve your problem analysis, solve problems, get better in your job, have more fun.