Chris is a developer who joined his company as a marketing intern. After learning to code on the job he worked his way up to becoming Chief Operating Officer (COO). In this interview Chris shares his tips for beginners and how he learned to code as a self taught programmer.
Hey, so can you introduce yourself?
Hi I’m Chris and I’m a Developer at Zenmaid. I live in Europe (prefer not to say where). I work at Zenmaid which is a scheduling software for maid service owners. It helps automate running a maid service by managing employees and communications to customers.
Why did you learn to code?
Anyways, I joined Zenmaid as a marketing intern, and quickly realized that while I was hired for marketing, they actually needed systems and processes. For me I already had a few trys at managing and hiring VA’s so I spoke to Amar and went for it. For me if I don’t have a challenge then I get bored VERY fast. 2 years into being Head of operations I got bored. Things were automated, and the people I hired were so great, that it was essentially a self healing system. So, I got bored. I knew that I can do more than what I was doing but I didn’t know how.
Our CTO was a powerhouse. We were making progress with our apps like crazy and I saw how powerful coding could be because of him. I knew that was my next step when it comes to challenges. So, I started to learn how to code in 2019. 2 weeks in and I KNEW this is what I wanted to do. Here I am 4 years later (crazy how time flies) and I’m coding for Zenmaid and a few other sites/apps of my own
How did you learn coding?
It wasn’t a very straight path. I picked up the Odin project a website where you can learn rails and node (2 different paths). I learned basics of networks and computing along with Ruby. From there I jumped between JS and Ruby and it was really cool to see the different paradigms and it helped reinforce my learning. I built a few projects that I decided to kill because I knew that the maintenance of them would be too much for something that I wasn’t completely interested in.
The resources that really helped me was OdinProject, https://fullstackopen.com made by the University of Helsinki, Maximilian Swarzmuller’s Academind courses and Grokking Simplicity (book).
My tips would be don’t give up when you can’t figure out basic things like an Array (haha). Seriously, though, there will be some tough times (even now) where you think you’re an idiot for not grasping a concept, but it’s important to remember and to have faith in yourself that you can get through it. I spent many nights ‘Bashing my face against the keyboard’ trying to understand some concept until I finally did. Even now after 4 years I’m learning things.
Sure, I get a bit frustrated at myself for ‘shoulding have known that earlier you dummy’ but at the same time I feel that because I never gave up it gives me the confidence to keep not giving up. If you really feel like this is ‘your path’ as it did for me then don’t give up. Join slack communities, discord channels, or forums. Like if you’re wanting to learn Elixir, join it’s slack and elixirforum
If you don’t feel like it’s your path, then it’s okay to give up, you tried, but do you feel like you tried enough? When is enough anyways? Ahem. Enough of of this philosophical tangent.
If you want to learn OO go with Ruby because everything is a class and it really give you the concepts. Elixir is really cool to learn some concepts because the documentation is mind expanding. There’s really cool programming concepts that you can learn and utilize in other languages since many languages are going toward a more functional approach. For me I started learning Elixir in 2021 and it really helped me understand some things for Ruby and vice versa. Lastly while JS is really popular, I would go with Ruby or Python for starters. There are a lot of incongruenceies in JS that can easily trip up a programmer. Also the ecosystems and lessons in all 3 are really solid so whatever you choose you can’t really go wrong.
How has your life changed since learning to code?
It’s quite hard to say how my life has changed… I would say that I’m able to do the deep work that I love to do. Instead of putting out fires or handle random side projects that came at the team and I, I was able to sit down for hours at a time and just do deep focus work.
It really felt like I was doing something at the company that was tangibly moving the ball forward since most of my department was keeping things oiled the only time that things were recognized was when things weren’t running properly. As egotistical, insecure or however it may sound it’s really important for me to be recognized for the efforts I put in, and now I was.
I feel a lot more fulfilled because I can bring my ideas to life. This is very much my self expression as much as it is ‘money making’. Honestly, this is the biggest thing. I felt limited by what I could do without coding but now I feel like I can really bring my ideas into the world for people to use. And when people use them, it feels amazing.
What does a typical day as a COO look like for you?
It was basically reviewing Slack, seeing where things were going wrong or can be improved and managing human power capacity. Ie: Making sure Customer support and Operations had enough people power.
I made a bunch of systems and processes, a lot involving zaps (automation tasks from Zapier) to keep manual work as low as possible.
Making documentation (for both internal and customer facing sides) so that if someone leaves we can easily onboard a new person and they can go and review in case they have questions, or resolve things through articles before customer support has to step in. We try really hard to document everything we can so we can keep things async as possible. Half the work is keeping the docs up to date because as more things come in, there’s a lot more notes to take for ‘what if..’ situations that actually occur, in addition to screenshots that we take.
Lastly, hiring and training. We’re a relatively small company (30 people or so) and it’s important for me that everyone that I bring on is a good culture fit. This is very much a gut instinct and answers to some questions that I ask that really determine their life perspective. For me, I don’t really care if you have education, or where you’re from. It’s more of the will to learn, to hold yourself accountable and also being a chill teammate.
Do you have any side projects?
If you’re in Los Angeles and want to join the climate movement, there is https://www.climatecollective.io/ which texts you every week with upcoming climate events happening in Los Angeles (I’ll tell you a few closer to the release of this). You’ll see the app on sign up. Small, but nice.
I’m launching an app soon called MentalKit which is a toolkit for your mental health. In the long run it’s interactive cognitive behavioral therapy exerecies that help with different aspects of your mental health. In these chaotic times I really want to give people tools that can help them improve their self-esteem and perspective in life. This is not a replacement for therapy. The first tool in the toolkit is keeping track of your internal conversations, or dialogues.
A lot of people have an inner critic that likes to yell at them ‘a little too much’ and the goal is to help calm that inner critic by strengthening your supportive voice, which we’ll be teaching how to do on the app. I’m hoping to have the first version out in July, but then again, I’m really bad at deadlines. I have a waitlist up if you want to join for free at: https://get.mentalkit.app/