What Happens When Marketing and Programming Intersect
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The business has never been so dependent on code as it is today. Should all marketers learn how to build software in a world where almost anything can be programmed?
Skilled software developers with a deep understanding of business are some of the most valuable people on the job market today — though you’d rarely be able to hire any of them, as they’re usually busy running their own companies.
The same goes for marketer jobs. Marketers who code are the most sought-after, and it’s easy to see why. For one thing, they don’t need to hire an IT consultant whenever software acts up.
But there’s a deeper reason at play. Miscommunication between business people and software developers is a bottomless void that consumes a lot of money. Money that would be better spent elsewhere gets wasted either because marketers don’t understand technology or programmers don’t understand the business side of what they’re building.
In a conventional business setting, there’s a clear divide between what software developers do and what marketing does. But that convention is far outdated.
Ultimately, both teams are part of one business, and the goal is the same as all other businesses in the game — grow and prosper.
The convention of dividing tech from marketing hurts all efforts to accomplish the goal of the business. It erodes the company’s culture. Several teams are fighting over the budget, arguing over who’s more critical, essentially competing in a race that can only be won by running in unison.
To run in unison, your team shouldn’t compete but operate as partners. Good partners- whether in business or life- take the time to understand your point of view and strive towards a compromise to move past obstacles faster.
Getting on the same page
Anybody who’s ever worked at an early-stage startup probably knows the joys of doing a different job every day. Compared to doing the same thing day in and day out, a young startup is an environment where you actually get to have fun while building a business.
There are many great examples of it, but I particularly like one. In one of YCombinator’s “how to start a startup” lectures, Kevin Hale from Wufoo talks about their whole team doing customer support. There was a time when they didn’t have a separate section because everybody in the company would help customers with the product.
He says that one of the most significant benefits was that the whole team understood the user perspective deeply. Plus, it humanized the users. When building software, it’s easy to see users as numbers in a chart. But getting to hear how people use the product, and helping them solve issues, builds empathy toward users and boosts team morale.
This early-stage startup magic is usually lost as companies grow. It is a mystery that I’ll leave to Harvard Business Review to uncover.
But by learning to program — and conversely, for programmers, learning about marketing — you can regain some of that magic in your work even if you’re stuck in a rut of doing the same things.
Because guess what – if you’re doing the same things over and over, your brain has developed a precise process of doing them; that’s a massive asset for you, but how do you take advantage of it?
You know the answer: programming!
Programming allows you to save a lot of time. It will enable marketers (and anybody else whose job involves doing stuff on the computer) to automate manual tasks that take a lot of time to complete. And this is one of the main reasons learning to write software is so beneficial.
Be creative and develop a better marketing strategy for your product or service. You can spend that time doing what humans do best. Additionally, thanks to understanding technology better, you can communicate with your tech team without misunderstandings.
Start with HTML (which is not a programming language)
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Learning HTML can be a mind-blowing revelation for marketers unfamiliar with HTML. And it doesn’t take long to get acquainted with it. Here are a couple of good starting points if you’re interested:
- Introduction to HTML from MDN Web Docs
Once you’re familiar with HTML, SEO becomes much easier to understand; in some instances, you’ll be able to do SEO without using any plugins or asking your developer for help. Just find the right .html file and get into it.
For your severe first programming language, try Python
Python is a great first choice if you want to get into ‘real’ programming. It’s a mature language with a rich ecosystem. Being one of the most popular languages, it’s easy to find support when you get stuck, and there are a lot of educational resources.
For your first experience with Python, a few things come close to Automate the Boring Stuff with Python. You can read it online for free, and the author, Al Sweigart, will take you through the basics of Python, all the way to writing several scripts that you can then use for work.
The author admits that he doesn’t always use best practices, instead opting for the easier, albeit less elegant, solution. But if you’re a beginner, this is a good thing because it’ll get you going faster, and you’ll be able to have fun writing code without pondering high-level programming concepts.
Once you finish your first scripts, developing your projects and turning them into reality is the best way to keep learning. Google is every developer’s best friend, and you’ll become a Google power user through this process (yet another valuable skill!). That’s because you’ll be searching for inspiration for projects to build, and then you’ll be combing the web over and over whenever there’s an obstacle in your way until your project is finished.
Get friendly with APIs.
What is an API? It’s essentially an enclosed feature of an app that you can call upon in your code. For example, you can use the Facebook API to add a comment section to your blog’s articles. Or use the Gmail API to search and send specific messages (for instance, customer support requests) to a spreadsheet.
Here’s the thing, though: it’s not easy. At least not for non-programming marketers. Integrating a third-party app using an API is best left to a professional software developer if that’s you.
There are workarounds, though. Services like Zapier or IFTTT enable non-programmers to build marketing automation workflows across several different apps without having to write any code.
It’s a good alternative, but only up to a point. There are a lot of cases where it’s better to integrate an API manually. Thanks to the rich documentation with all-powerful APIs, this shouldn’t be too hard, even for junior software developers.
So if you take up programming and keep learning for half a year, you should be able to integrate an API by yourself.
Programming is a language anybody can learn.
Professional software development requires knowledge of coding conventions and principles, how machines work, how networks work, how to do version control, how to test for bugs, how to report bugs, how to write documentation, how to write elegant code… it’s not an easy job.
Starting as a marketer with little to no programming skills, you shouldn’t go into this expecting to become a pro software dev within a few months. That’s not how things work. If you put in a lot of work, you might be able to reach the junior software developer level.
The main thing is that becoming a master developer shouldn’t be your goal. Start with something easy, like HTML. Keep learning about how websites are built and move on to writing simple scripts with Python to automate your daily work. You can quickly achieve these things within a few months, and if that’s where your programming journey ends, great! You’ve still done a lot, and the knowledge that you’ve gained will benefit you immensely.
But maybe it won’t end, and you’ll become a master software developer in a few years. The possibilities are endless, so try for yourself. Good luck!