The impulse to draw inspiration and meaning from a face-melting deal like Facebook’s $1 billion bid for Instagram is only human. Otherwise, you’re out at sea, drowning in headlines about how a 28-year-old made $400 million yesterday, a two-year-old photo app is worth more than The New York Times, and how investors doubled their money overnight.
Everything you know about the creation of wealth torn asunder–all thanks to a service you helped promote. The impulsive backlash was enough to compel Courtney Boyd Meyers to remind everyone that for-profit companies are not your friends.
Thus, it comes as little surprise that the stickiest story about Instagram this morning, judging by our Twitter feed, is a post on The Next Web about how CEO Kevin Systrom was once a lowly marketer who taught himself to code at night.
Mr. Systrom, a purported “Quora addict,” took to the question-and-answer site to tell Instagram’s creation myth:
“The story starts when I worked at Nextstop. While I was there working in marketing, I started doing more and more engineering at night on simple ideas that helped me learn how to program (I don’t have any formal CS degree or training). One of these ideas was combining elements of foursquare (check-ins) with elements of Mafia Wars (hence the name Burbn). I figured I could build a prototype of the idea in HTML5 and get it to some friends. Those friends ended up using the prototype without any branding elements or design at all. I spent weekends working on improving the prototype for my friends.”
Long story short: Mr. Systrom meets some investors from Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz at a Hunch party and–boom!–two weeks later he has $500,000 and starts hiring a team. Kids, that should your first clue not to try this at home. Or rather, go ahead and try, but the “results may vary.” Let’s remember, this is a guy who was getting recruiting offers from Mark Zuckerberg before he graduated from Stanford . . . or knew how to code.
The public response, however, has been something closer to unmitigated enthusiasm: Coding is the new language barrier, learn it and you’ll unlock the door to untold riches!
— Miguel Paraz (@mparaz) April 10, 2012
— Anne Aretz (@aaretz) April 10, 2012
For all non-coders with a lingering idea; the Instagram story: thenextweb.com/2012/04/10/ins…
— cariappa (@cariappa) April 10, 2012
I will learn to code : Instagram CEO a marketer who learned to code by night tnw.to/1Dyt5
— Ameet Wadhwani (@ameet_wadhwani) April 10, 2012
— Rik Lomas (@riklomas) April 10, 2012
The Next Web is no less unbridled in its enthusiasm for the success that self-taught coding can bring. “Thanks to Codecademy and the like, there are growing numbers of self-taught programmers in Silicon Valley. Instagram’s success will augment the enthusiasm for learning to code.“
I bet the guys at Codecademy are rather pleased at the ‘Instagram founder taught himself to code in his spare time’ story. — katie moffat (@katiemoffat) April 10, 2012
Yeah, we bet too. But that takeaway seems to be missing a crucial ingredient. The popularity of services like Codecademy perpetuate the idea of shamegramming: coding is the new lingua franca, learn it or you’ll be left behind (from billion dollar windfalls). But there’s a world of difference between learning to code and learning to code well, which is why it’s specialized labor. Besides, there’s another factor besides coding that might be responsible for Instagram’s success:
— Lucio Riccardi (@cantorjf) April 10, 2012
How else do you explain selling the notion of photo lifecasting as a hipster passtime?