GiftRocket combines the thoughtfulness of a gift card with the flexibility of cash.

10 Reasons Why Marketing and BD Professionals Should Learn to Code

Posted 09 January 2012 by
Thanks XKCD!

I’m the marketing and BD guy at GiftRocket. I largely handle GiftRocket’s business relationships, press efforts, marketing strategies, and so on. But I’m not your typical marketing & BD guy because I also write code.

I’m by no means a good programmer, but I know the basics and they’re incredibly helpful. [1] Knowing how to write code makes me 3-4x more efficient at my job. I get stuff done faster and provide leverage to my team.

So to you non-technical web professionals out there, whether you do SEO/SEM, affiliate, community management, blogging, PR, or business development: learn to code this year. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Coding makes internal data gathering easier.

Suppose you want to find out who your company’s most lucrative customers are. Understanding coding makes getting information like that very easy. It’s the equivalent of knowing how to use Google, only with your company’s data instead of what’s available on the web.

2. Coding makes external data gathering much easier.

At one point I needed to compile a list of hundreds of blogs by vertical. The non-technical process for this would be compiling a list of blogs from a directory into Excel and then visiting each to figure out whether it was relevant for our pitch.

Instead, I wrote some code that pulled the top 500 environmental blogs and their descriptions from Technorati along with their site descriptions. It was only (a few lines of code), but it probably saved me days of time.

3. Coding helps you automate other annoying tasks.

Here’s an example: let’s say you’re running an adwords campaign for your company. Managing keywords is usually easy to do online using Google’s web app, but when the number of keywords and ad groups gets sufficiently high, the web UI becomes burdensome. Fortunately, Google allows you to manage and upload your ad campaigns in Excel using a desktop app. So you can just auto-create ads based on a list of thousands of keywords and landing pages.

4. Coding accelerates your ability to develop and publish content.

I wrote and designed our infographic piece Your Gift Card Is Worth Less Than You Think. While I didn’t build the interactive bubble charts because I suck at javascript, I did nearly everything else. The thing to remember with pieces like this is that they only get good with constant iteration. Being able to write front-end code made it 100x faster to iterate on text copy, layout, colors.

5. Coding helps you take full ownership over your domains.

I run GiftRocket’s blog, and probably wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t code. We don’t use a typical CMS like Wordpress or Posterous[2]. We use a static site generator called Jekyll. Writing / revising posts in Jekyll takes a bit of comfort with code, because you have to run a server to see how your post will turn out. So instead of writing posts and having the engineers put them on the site, I just do it myself.

6. Coding helps you explain your product to technical business partners.

I’ve taken business development meetings with engineering teams at large corporations. As a startup, you can’t really afford to sound unknowledgeable to those people, so you get instant credibility when you can communicate to both the manager and their engineeers about the different features or limitations of whatever you’re selling, regardless of how technically they’re speaking.

7. Coding makes you a more versatile teammate.

Startups switch what they do. And often times, when product direction changes, marketing / BD work ends and engineering work starts again. When that change happens, your value to the company shoots up exponentially. You’ll actually have the background to sit down with the engineers and help them pair program out the new app, or if you’re really ballsy, building a significant component of it yourself.

8. Coding earns you the respect of your co-workers and potential hires.

This is true whether your colleagues are technical or not. If they’re technical, they’ll respect you for being able to speak the same tongue (or at least trying). If they aren’t technical, they’ll respect that you’re willing to get your hands dirty. If you’re self taught, they’ll respect you more. The same is true of potential hires. Marketing folks that code want to work with other marketing folks that code, even if they never do anymore.

9. Coding prepares you for your next thing.

You’ve moved on and either want to work on your own project. Usually the biggest issue marketing & BD folks face when looking to start a new company is finding a technical co-founder. Well, problem solved. If you cant recruit a more technical founder, at the very least you can build the prototype yourself.

10. Basic coding doesn’t take long to learn.

Fun fact: when we started working on GiftRocket, no one on our team knew how to code in any of the languages we use. Both my co-founders, despite having CS degrees, had never written a line of Ruby. This was one of my co-founder’s first apps: And me- despite being one of GiftRocket’s founders, I had never seen our site’s codebase until halfway through YC. This was my first commit:

Take baby steps and learn on the job. Pick up a book and just look at your current website’s codebase. Ask your boss for a small side-project to work on. Get your hands dirty. Join Codecademy or Treehouse. Just do it. 6 months from now, you’ll be glad you did.


[1] I know basic Ruby / Ruby on Rails stuff, and can do most front-end stuff except complex Javascript. I don’t know algorithms, assembly language stuff, functional programming, databases, etc.

[2] Jekyll is better than Wordpress and Posterous for certain types of blog setups.

[3] People are probably curious about how I learned. I mostly grabbed books and read up about it. Ruby, the language, was relatively easy, but the Rails framework is pretty complicated. I used Rails for Zombies, The 3 Way, and Beginning Rails 3 To get familiar. I still don’t understand half of the black magic happening behind the curtains. I also got good at googling for how to do things and searching through documentation.