The Year I Learned to Code Changed Everything

Brian Casel
Brian Casel
January 12th, 2024

$52,589.

Two years.

And it was all a waste.

With high hopes, I invested all that time and money in outsourcing the development of a SaaS product I aimed to launch to customers.

However, the discovery that the developers' chosen framework needed an upgrade to the latest version turned my dreams into a nightmare.

When upgraded, everything in the app broke. Everything needed to be rebuilt from the ground up.

This was not just a setback; it was a costly lesson on the unpredictable journey of tech entrepreneurship.

It was also the time to make a choice.

Here’s what we’ll unpack in this article:

  • Was It Worth It?
    A look back at the journey of learning to code, and all the doubts and regrets that came with it.

A Choice: Investing in Myself vs. Doubling Down

Faced with this daunting decision, I stood at a crossroads: either pour more money into hiring developers to rebuild the app or take a bold step by investing in myself to learn to code and become a full-stack software product designer.

I chose the latter, dedicating the rest of the year to learning how to code.

But was this decision worth it? That's the question I aim to unpack.

I'm Brian Castle, a multi-time founder and a full-stack product designer and developer. Through this channel, my goal is to guide you through the transition I made—from a traditional job to freelancing and eventually building a products business.

If you're on a similar path, I invite you to keep reading (or check out the video) and join me on this journey.

The Journey Through Client Services to Full Stack Mastery

Before diving headfirst into the world of product development, my career began as a web designer and freelancer.

This experience laid the foundation for what would become a series of service-based businesses, marking my growth as an entrepreneur. I even reached the point of selling a few of these ventures.

Essentially, this journey was my way of hacking through the process of identifying viable product ideas, then marketing and selling them to customers.

However, I consistently encountered a frustrating limitation: the inability to bring any product idea to life without incurring significant expenses through outsourcing development.

Let's be clear—I'm an impatient person by nature.

The desire to rapidly transition from a mere idea to a tangible product was overwhelming, but I lacked the essential skills to control the pace of development and simply move forward with my visions.

This impatience, coupled with a recognition of my limitations, ultimately propelled me to make a pivotal decision: to learn how to code and embrace the role of a full-stack developer.

I dedicated the better part of a year to mastering coding and have continued to expand my knowledge annually.

Looking back, I can confidently say that the decision to invest that year in learning to code was a game-changer.

It transformed my approach to product development, enabling me to take control of the entire process, from concept to customer delivery.

4 Surprising Benefits of Embracing Full Stack Development

Gaining the full stack product skill set was a total game changer far beyond mere financial gains.

Through this journey, I've encountered four major, unforeseen benefits that have significantly influenced my professional life.

Let’s get into it!

1. Systems Mindset

One of the earliest and most profound lessons I learned was the natural alignment between programming, software design, and my way of thinking.

This revelation isn't unique to me—I believe most entrepreneurs can relate.

After all, what is entrepreneurship if not the process of building systems? We craft processes designed to consistently deliver results, aiming for solid, predictable growth.

Diving into programming and software development, I discovered an affinity for these disciplines that elevated my systems mindset to new heights.

This enhanced perspective wasn't limited to just the technical aspects of my work; it permeated every facet of my role as a business owner, from marketing and hiring to product development.

This holistic approach to systems thinking has been an invaluable asset, shaping my approach to business in profound ways.

2. Product Ideas: A Shift in Perspective

My background in client services significantly shaped my initial approach to identifying product ideas.

Having worked for an agency, transitioning into freelance web design, and eventually founding my own agency, my perspective was deeply rooted in the realm of client services.

This experience created a bias towards me thinking exclusively in terms of "done for you" services.

Essentially, I was blind to the vast potential of software product ideas simply because I lacked the technical know-how to build them.

My ignorance led me to assume that any product idea would be:

  • too complex

  • too expensive to develop

  • an insurmountable challenge

I never allowed myself to entertain the possibility of venturing into product development. Everything changed after I learned to code.

This newfound skill set opened my eyes to a world brimming with product ideas. Suddenly, everything and anything seemed possible.

While not every product idea is guaranteed to succeed in the market, the ability to even conceive these ideas felt like being a kid in a candy store for someone like me, who is dedicated to building a products business.

This shift in perspective has been revolutionary, turning what once seemed like insurmountable obstacles into exciting opportunities.

3. Becoming a Full Stack Designer

Early in my career, I had a decent grasp of design. I could create a web page that was clean, easy to read, and design straightforward user interfaces like forms that were easy to use.

However, I held a misconception about what being a designer truly meant.

I mistakenly equated design with aesthetic choices—styles, colors, fonts—believing it was all about making things look pretty or cool.

This understanding was far from what it means to be a truly great designer.

Today, I identify as a product designer, a role that entails designing products from both a visual and functional standpoint, essentially from front to back and back to front. This means not only making things look and feel good on the screen but also ensuring they work well "under the hood."

Design, as I've come to realize, is as much about layout and styling as it is about data architecture and programming logic. It's about creating features that function exactly as users expect them to.

Learning to code transformed me into a better designer.

Now, as a product designer, I've found these past few years to be some of the most creatively fulfilling of my professional career.

This evolution into a full-stack designer highlights the third major benefit of my coding journey: it has enhanced my capabilities, allowing me to blend aesthetics with functionality in a way that truly benefits the end user.

4. Mastering Developer Hiring and Management

The fourth major benefit of acquiring full-stack development skills is a significant improvement in my ability to hire and manage developers.

With the skills of a full-stack product developer, I can design, build, ship, and launch a new product entirely on my own, without the need for external help.

While I occasionally take on projects alone, more often than not, I find myself hiring a small team of developers once a product begins to resonate with customers.

This approach starkly contrasts with my early career blunder where I squandered both money and time on hiring without truly understanding the technicalities involved.

The real loss then wasn't from the developers' performance but from my outsourcing of critical technical and architectural decision-making due to my lack of knowledge.

Now, I work alongside my developers, making informed decisions together.

This not only enhances the quality of our products and speeds up our development cycle but also enriches our collective work experience.

In essence, mastering coding didn't just make me a better developer; it made me a better leader, capable of guiding my team with insight and understanding, transforming our development process into a more efficient, satisfying, and cohesive journey.

Was it Worth it?

Looking back at the game-changing benefits of learning to code and the ability to build my own products, I'm faced with mixed feelings. Honestly, there's a sense of regret.

For years, I doubted my capability to become a full-stack software developer, thinking it required some mystical skill I lacked. This led me to outsource development, a decision I now wish I had reconsidered sooner.

Recognizing the transformative impact this journey has had on my career, I can't help but feel it was absolutely worth it.

The regret?

Only that I didn't start earlier.

The journey has reshaped my approach to business and technology, proving it's never too late to embrace a new path.

Learning to Code: A Journey Worth Embarking On

Learning to code was far from easy; it was a year-long journey before I could independently build and ship my own apps.

With the benefit of hindsight, I see several shortcuts I wish I had known earlier. If you're looking to halve the time it took me to learn to code, the next article (or video) is for you. I'll share a roadmap to accelerate your coding journey.

See you there!

Brian Casel

Brian Casel

I'm a full stack founder who has been bootstrapping and building products and services businesses on the internet for over 15 years.

How I can help

I currently offer product strategy consulting and coaching for fellow software product founders. To learn more and check availability, click here.

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