You should build something
Catchy title, huh? Now you’re hooked! Blogging 101…
Now that you’re here, this post is about why everyone should build something, anything, with technology. Something big, something small, something useful, something fun, anything to get real-world experience using technology. Two reasons:
- Building something gives you knowledge and creates proof of knowledge
- Building something teaches you about technology, the best leverage available
Building gives you knowledge (and proof)
The “gentleman’s B” concept was fairly common in my MBA program. It was a unwritten and unspoken contract between students and teachers, where the student ‘agrees’ to put forth an adequate-yet-uninspiring amount of effort (going to class, not being disruptive, completing the assignments, not bombing the tests) and the teacher ‘agrees’ to not give them a grade below a B.
This is one of the problems with university, and generally all credentials. You end up with approximately the same ‘proof of knowledge’ as everyone else: a diploma. You can have a good GPA, but GPAs are often inflated and buoyed by easy classes (Wildlife Issues was a favorite at UF undergrad). Extracurriculars and leadership positions are important, but often those are popularity contests.
Much of your career success is the result of people believing you can deliver, resulting in you getting more opportunities. The key thing is belief; it doesn’t matter if you can actually deliver as long as decision makers believe you can. Belief gets you opportunities, but belief requires communication. Take the below image: when your ability exceeds your communication of said ability, additional ability is un-communicated and, in a sense, wasted.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to shrink the communication inefficiency in my life. In a sense, this blog is me building something tangible that (hopefully) communicates that I have the ability to think complex thoughts, put together an argument, and tell a compelling story.
(If you’ve read this far, let me know if it’s working!)
Technology and code is the truest blank canvas there is. You start with an idea and the rest depends on your knowledge and resourcefulness. If you can take an idea or problem, no matter how small or trivial it feels, and deliver a solution you have created tangible proof-of-knowledge that communicates your ability the way no degree or certification can ever duplicate.
When you build you also will start to develop T-shaped skills: you still have your deep specialized knowledge in a specific area (the vertical line in the T), but you will be adding broad-yet-shallow expertise in adjacent skills (the horizontal portion of the T).
You will likely learn some combination of front-end web development, server-side data processing and serving, code versioning, deployment, APIs, HTTP requests, mobile development, and much more. These are all skills that are used throughout the entire world in every company and every application you interact with on a daily basis. Knowing even a moderate amount about the technology you use and rely on is a huge help in understanding how important technology is and how it can be used to scale your impact.
The best part about learning these technology skills is that you will learn them quickly. Learning is always fastest when learning new things, and getting 25% competent in new technology skills is much easier than getting the final 25% competent in your specialized skill.
Technology is how you scale your impact
Even if your job is not directly in technology, your impact is derived from technology. Consider this blog: all I have full ownership over is the words I am writing. The platform, WordPress, is built on technology that allows me to scale my thoughts out to millions of people (yes, there are millions of people reading this).
Technology is the best form of leverage to scale your impact and ideas. If my ideas were shared only with my friends my potential audience would be small (ooh…self-burn). Using technology, the audience is as many people as can read English.
A very smart Twitter thread by venture capitalist Naval Ravikant talks about the power and sources of leverage. He offers three sources of leverage:
- Capital (have more money)
- Labor (have more people working for you)
- Technology (he calls this ‘code and media’)
Technology gives you leverage, and that leverage is cost-effective and permissionless (ideas also stolen from above thread). Diving in to those concepts:
- Capital is, by its nature, the polar opposite of cost-effective and typically requires someone’s permission (someone has to invest in your ideas or project)
- Labor requires permission, since people need to follow you for you to be their leader. Labor is also not cheap.
Let’s go deep in how technology fares with cost and permission:
- Technology is cost-effective: It has never been cheaper to build with technology. You can build a web app completely in the cloud with pretty much all cloud providers ($minimal, my favorite is GCP Firebase), test-deploy locally on a Raspberry Pi ($35), or host it on Heroku ($free). You can develop a iOS and Android apps using Expo, with iterative re-loading and testing. You can deploy APIs and make some money on the side with RapidAPI. You can build machine learning models using scikit-learn in Python ($free).
- Technology is permissionless: You are completely free to build whatever you want, wherever you want, however you want (within the laws of this country). You can build without anyone thinking your idea is good. You can build regardless if you are good at building. You can build while rocking your baby to sleep. You can build then stop then build more when you have more time. There are no rules; you need no permission.
With technology being the best source of leverage available on planet Earth, getting somewhat competent in the tools, concepts, and methods used throughout technology can be a huge multiplier on your impact. In a very real sense, understanding technology enables you to bridge the gap between ideas and solutions, even if you are not the one who ends up building the solution systems. If you do end up finding a true calling building things with technology, the entire world opens up to you, with the only constraint being the problems you choose to solve.
To summarize, building with technology is a no-lose proposition:
- Worst case you learn fundamental tech concepts used throughout society while showing you can deliver
- Best case you learn to capitalize on the best form of leverage available to multiply your impact