Have You Met My Programming Challenge?

Ever since I was a little girl, I hated liking anything anyone else liked.

Sometimes I even did that to my detriment. For example, when I was 7, Christina Aguilera had just come out and my cousin and all of my friends loved her – so naturally, I had to hate her. It wasn’t until 2002 when Dirrty came out that I had to admit she was a feminist icon and the best vocalist of my generation, despite her popularity.

I know that might seem like a silly, but I’m serious. She is the Etta James of the 21st century.

Today, bitcoin, cryptocurrency and blockchain seem to be the thing everyone’s talking about. Bitcoin is the new Christina.

Ever since the spike in bitcoin, boys I made fun of in business school are talking about their “crypto investments” (you are speculating, not investing, please act like you learned something) and my business partner who is a senior PHP and WordPress developer is talking about WordPress + blockchain and my boyfriend is talking non-stop about the one bitcoin he bought back in 2010. It’s all quite annoying. So I respond how I normally respond: eyerolls. Hype. Bubbles.

By the way, I don’t dislike this trait about myself. I actually really quite like it. It’s also the reason for why I often spent time working on skills and interests that were unique, which paid off later on.

So it actually pained me to admit that I’ve been following blockchain technology very closely since 2011. I actually tried to understand it when it first came out in 2008, but I found it a little too complicated – I was 15, so that’s to be expected.

But in 2011, I was an undergraduate economics student and also 3 years had gone by, which meant I had more context for understanding and other people had put together easy-to-understand resources. It all resurfaced when my college boyfriend, a computer science major, brought up cryptography.

7 years ago, I could explain to you what bitcoin was, the decentralized ledger, the problem with copying information, Satoshi Nakamoto, and the theoretical mechanics of the SHA-256 hash algorithm. I could also explain the possible economic implications of the system – that’s the part I found truly juicy.

But Ethereum wasn’t a thing, and this was before Girls Who Code, Girlboss and #MeToo, so every message in my life said that I had no relationship to this pique of curiosity. So despite clear interest and obvious competence, I got back in my lane. This is why I’m passionate about getting girls into tech, and why I think you’re wrong about accusing activists of victimhood, but that’s a different conversation.

When bitcoin became the hot topic of conversation a few months ago, I found myself explaining the potential economic impact of cryptocurrency to my tech friends, and the theory behind the technology of cryptocurrency to my family. It was natural, just another thing bookish Christie knows about.

Concurrently, I’ve been struggling with finding my niche. In business strategy, we know that the most likely predictor of success and sustainable competitive advantage is to be the first mover within a market niche that the organization is especially advantageously positioned to fill.

I very much admire my business partner Josh and my boyfriend Zac. Both of them are rockstar WordPress developers. There’s a constant joke in my life where we go to WordPress events together and I serve as their designated picture-taker for the fans that approach them.

Spending most of my time around two very accomplished, very niche professionals pushes me to think about what my contribution to the world of work is going to be. Josh and Zac are prolific because they give back. They have found a thing they are good at and love, and they have made decade-long careers out of empowering other people with them.

They also got in at the right time. They were the only people doing what they were doing when they started. Even if now there are many WordPress developers and educators, when they started, there were not. This is the first-mover advantage strategy textbooks talk about. It does not negate talent and contribution, but it undoubtedly boosts it.

By all definitions, I am just beginning my career. I feel solid and confident about the quantity and quality of contributions I can make because of my curiosity, education, and project experience, but in terms of time spent doing such a thing full-time – with no intermissions from schooling and training – is short.

One of my mentors said that I have talent and I have knowledge, but I lack experience and resources. Resources are fixed by asking for help, but only time fixes experience.

These are observations about execution, which means that the execution I choose to undergo at this stage is crucial. And for that reason, it’s important for me to think like a strategist: what am I especially positioned to deliver well, in an emerging and well-defined niche?

OK Fine, I’m Learning Blockchain Development

Bitcoins!

Just kidding. But look, at this point, business strategy or financial modeling is not my differentiator. Neither is digital marketing.

Everyone has an MBA.

It’s not WordPress development, either. We outsource our development to talented and affordable teams offshore.

These are all things that I’m competent at, so I can sell them. But they’re not the product that I should be producing. Others are doing that.

No matter what, I will always be an entrepreneur. But my entrepreneurship is not the product I can sell, it is the quality by which the products I touch will be successful. Some people are diligent workers, others are ideation people. I execute, and I sell.

But we all still need a product. Our nature of work alone is not enough.

So Where Does It Start?

I love living in 2018 because perhaps this direction even just 10 years ago means I have to go back to school. But this isn’t true today. The resources available for online education mean you can learn anything and build a portfolio with time and an internet connection, as long as other parts of your life are stable. I’m starting a common 100 days of code challenge (#100DaysOfCode).

So Are You Saying Goodbye To WordPress?

No. If you go to the new part of my site about this effort, you’ll see a stark lack of blockchain and an overwhelming amount of basic WordPress. The thing about business strategy is that the niche almost always trumps the first-mover advantage (see: the entire history of Caldera Forms). Blockchain is old technology at this point. The reason you think it’s new is because the market is just figuring this technology.

After first mover advantages and niches, the other thing that the strategy textbooks always talk about is that an excellent way to penetrate a market is to choose an established platform for distribution at first. Build things on top of things – it’s the web development way.