In this interview Calum talks up the benefits of learning to code and why it can be great in terms of money, lifestyle, challenge and travel. Calum is a self-taught programmer who has founded his own startup, Zeplo, and is based in the UK.
Hey, so can you introduce yourself?
I live in Manchester in the UK (that’s the rainy part for people who don’t know). I used to live in London, moved to Norway during the pandemic and have finally settled on Manchester (it’s a great city despite the rain!).
I’m the CTO & co-founder of Zeplo (a tool for developers - yes, I’ve come a long way!). We basically help you to run code on a schedule or in the background. For example you could use it to: “send a summary email every day at 9am to every customer with their usage”.
Why did you learn to code?
I can’t really remember exactly when I started to code, but I’ve always been fascinated by computers. I got my first computer aged 14 and just started messing around on it. I’m really really old (at least I’m 33), so I remember the vivid sound of computer dial up, MSN and my parents shouting “get off the internet, I’m expecting a call from Joan” - dark days indeed.
What spurred me on more than anything else was wanting to actually build something. I’ve always been an ideas person, so the fact that I could turn something in my head into something others could use - all without leaving my room - was something else.
I think the main takeaway is that learning to code can be hard and frustrating, and it can seem really abstract - so the best way to learn to code is by trying to build something. It doesn’t have to be a million dollar business idea or even something you will share with others. The most important thing is that it should be something you really want to see in the world.
If you love music, and the Spotify algorithm is not to your liking - build your own auto-updating playlist. If you have a monotonous task, automate it. If you love food, make something related to food. And so on… Find something you love, find something that annoys you about it. Use code to solve the problem. Make your life better… honestly, it’s a feeling like no other.
How did you learn coding?
Back when I started to code, there weren't as many resources as there are today. In some ways it’s easier than ever, but because there are now more choices than ever, knowing where to start can be a challenge.
If someone came to me today, and said they want to *work* in tech (and everyone should - honestly it’s an industry like no other), I would tell them to do a bootcamp.
Actually, that’s exactly what I told my partner four years ago. She moved from being a consultant, took the Makers bootcamp, and has been working as a developer ever since. She’s recently been promoted to Senior Developer, so it shows - not having a CS degree won’t hold you back. Bootcamps are great because they give you a solid starting point which makes building on top so much easier.
That said, if you want to found your own company, a bootcamp might not be the best choice, as they are quite pricey and most of them assume you’ll get a job at the end.
If that’s you, I would focus on having an objective on what you want to build - and then using a mixture of learning tools - online courses, youtube, tutorials. The key is to just start somewhere, and if you're finding a course or tutorial no longer helpful - move on and find something else.
Development/tech/computing is really broad - no one can be an expert at everything, so don’t try to be (or worry that you're not). Just be curious to learn. If you see something you don’t know, do a quick google, there will probably be a good guide on it. You don’t have to read it all, just get enough to move on. If you keep coming across the same thing, dig a little deeper each time.
I’d highly recommend learning React, CSS, Node/JS/Typescript. They are easy to get started with, there are lots of resources for them, and they are incredibly versatile - if you master those, you can build almost anything.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help - people in tech are really helpful and want you to succeed.
How has your life changed since learning to code?
Knowing how to code has given me the confidence to quit my contracting job and start my own company, safe in the knowledge that should I ever run out of money and need to get a job, there is so much more demand than supply. If you’re a good developer, you will never be out of a job!
I founded another company back in 2019, and was fortunate enough to be part of the YC W20 batch as a solo founder. The company didn’t work out, but the learning experience was incredible.
And of course, I would not be able to be CTO of Zeplo, without learning how to code. I tell everyone I meet to learn how to code. IT. WILL. CHANGE. YOUR. LIFE. The hours, the lifestyle, the culture, the people, the pay - it’s all incredible. Plus, if you’re into travel you can even go “nomad” and work from anywhere in the world.
What does a typical day as a software developer look like for you?
As the founder of a company, my day is pretty varied. It can be anything from planning out a new sprint/epic (basically blocks of work), jumping in to help fix a bug, talking to customers, interviewing a new hire, meeting with my co-founder about the vision/direction of the company and much more.
That’s what I love about being a founder. It’s so varied. Every day is a new challenge, and the decisions I make have a big impact on the product and our customers.
Did you ever have imposter syndrome?
Yes, that’s pretty normal (in fact I’d worry if someone didn’t when they start out).
Over time your confidence will grow, and you’ll realize that - there’s no one right answer, you will never know everything about everything (and neither will anyone else), and you have experience on the types of things that work and don’t. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” - it’s a sign of strength not weakness.
A while back I remember having a realization when reading a blog about a “brand new best practice” and thinking - I’ve been doing that for years.
What are your career goals for the future?
Zeplo becomes a billion dollar company.
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