Disclaimer: This blog post has exceeded its fair share of exaggeration, drama, and bad jokes. Read at your own risk.
This blog post is for 2015 me, for the ones who are not developers but who are working with ones on a daily basis. If you're about to embark upon the adventure of joining a tech startup without having any technical background, then this blog post is for you too, my friend.
Rewinding back to 2015, I was a junior Business Administration student at the American University in Cairo, with a second degree in Integrated Marketing Communications and a minor in International Politics and Economics. With a couple of completed internships and numerous student activities that I participated in, I found myself very interested in startups and technology. I started checking out the latest news on TechCrunch, Mashable, and Entrepreneur, while following entrepreneurs on Twitter and having endless conversations with my friends about the latest news in the startup ecosystem. I was far from knowing a lot about the technicalities of some of these startups, but I thought I was tech-adjacent.
How It Started
My story with Instabug started on a random day when a friend of mine just came back from the MIT Arab Startup Competition and told me that the winners were Egyptians who were onto something very cool with a company called Instabug. What caught my attention was that Instabug helped application users to report bugs and issues by simply shaking their phones. "Now that’s cool,” I thought to myself.
Through the same friend, I got connected with Omar Gabr, Instabug's CEO, who was looking for a marketer to join the company. I remember the interview quite vividly. I was asked about terms like “inbound marketing” and “customer onboarding” and what type of acquisition channels should we focus on and what conversion rates should we set for the sales funnel. It was a very interesting interview because, from a marketing standpoint, it was technical. I was studying marketing and yet these were new terms that I was just hearing about from Instabug's CEO. I felt immediately challenged and I think that was one of the main reasons that got me hooked to Instabug.
Fast forward to the first day at the office. I went in to be greeted by an all-developer team, which was quite intimidating. The day started with a standup meeting where the whole company gathers at the beginning of the day to briefly summarize what they worked on the day before, what they will work on today, and if they need help from anyone. Once the first developer started talking, I felt as if I was teleported to China — and no, I am not exaggerating. It was all about the SDK and APIs and containers and machines and... (this could go on forever). I felt like, "Wow. I have some serious catching up to do." Sensing that I felt overwhelmed, Omar, reassured me and said, "Don't worry, you'll get there eventually."
The second thing I learned in the first 10 minutes on the job is that the team uses Slack as their official communication channel — no e-mails, no WhatsApp. I realized I have quite a list of tools that I need to have accounts on and platforms that I need to know about. I can't imagine not knowing about them now, but hey, 2015 me version was clueless. Here's the list:
- Heap Analytics
- Product Hunt
- Stack Overflow
My on-boarding involved Omar and I on Slack exchanging tons of interesting articles and guides on a range of topics— inbound marketing, content creation, growth marketing, SEO, SEM, e-mail marketing, social media — and how to apply them to a business to business (B2B) software as a service (SaaS) company for the top companies worldwide. And we're talking about the companies that almost everyone knows about, like eBay, PayPal, SoundCloud, and more. It was amazing to learn about different techniques and hacks that world-class companies have implemented to drive revenue and growth, and even better to apply their lessons learnt to start the first building blocks of Instabug's marketing engine. I was on top of the world, learning a lot, trying different things, and feeling supported knowing that we're still experimenting, so it was okay to make mistakes. On a micro-level, everything felt great.
Yet, I always had one daunting question in my mind: How could I, someone who doesn't know how to code and is just starting to understand the most basic technical terms, actually write about, market, and convince smart developers and entrepreneurs that they should give Instabug a try to build better apps? How could a marketer catch up with a whole team of super-smart developers who are developing a world-class SDK and are using the latest technology without being able to code myself?
As dramatic as the last paragraph sounded, I will give you an example of how bewildered I was from all the technical terms I was learning about.
- I thought there were .com and .net developers.
- I didn't know that there are different types of development, like Backend, Frontend, iOS, Android, Cross Platform. DevOps, etc.
- It took me a while to understand what an SDK, API, and IDE are.
- When Omar showed me that I could change literally anything on a webpage by simply pressing "Inspect Element" to change the HTML and CSS, it was the closest thing I have seen to magic.
Well, all jokes aside, I was suffering from something called the Imposter Syndrome, which is defined as "a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success". "'Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence." I really felt bad not being a developer when everyone else was. Despite the support and respect I was getting from the team, I still felt that I fell short. And that's what made me decide that the solution was to become a developer.
I told the team that I wanted to become a developer, and a major question was, "What kind of a developer do you want to be?" "Do you want to be a front-end or iOS developer?" Once you decide, you should also decide which programming language you are going to learn. If, for instance, you wanted to become an iOS developer and develop iOS apps, you could do so while coding with Swift or Objective-C, and the list of choices continues. This was quite interesting because my initial reason for wanting to be a developer was so that I could understand who Instabug is built for, but then I felt like learning only one thing wouldn't be enough.
It was me who inflicted worry on myself and instilled this notion of not being good enough to work at Instabug without being a developer myself. It was quite hard trying to digest everything at once when learning is a process that needs time. I didn't allow myself the same amount of time as most of my fellow peers had gone through as we wanted everything to happen so fast. I wanted to leap and run forward, but the way I learned was a bit by bit. I was able to digest a lot of technical terms by talking to more customers and working on joint projects with our technical team, and soon I started speaking the language myself.
Building Egypt's First Unicorn
Fast forward to the present day. The team has transformed from being a team of 10 developers and 1 marketer to 40 developers and 20 business professionals in different fields like growth marketing, customer success, sales and business development, and people and culture. As new members started joining, I saw that some of them had the same fear of being part of Instabug without coming from a technical background. It is still very relatable, and it's also very interesting to see that after a couple of weeks, they feel much more comfortable and natural with the technical complexities and challenges we face at Instabug.
I won't lie and tell you I have everything figured out. We're growing so fast that we now have at least 10 different standups happening at the same time, unlike when I first joined and the whole company could fit in one room and participated in one standup. I still don't know what the DevOps team does, but I know enough to help me do my job building Egypt's first unicorn. I've become more comfortable knowing that I don't know everything and that the more I learn, the less I know.
I've also learned the value of having a supportive team and culture that provides you with ample room to learn, make mistakes, and grow. I've also become quite aware that to successfully grow, you will need to have an area of expertise. Some teams are building the product, others are marketing it, and others are engaging with customers and increasing retention. It's okay if they don't know what I do hour by hour, but it's crucial that we all know what we are trying to achieve together as one entity.
Major takeaways to myself and everyone who's embarking on a similar journey:
- It does take time, so take it easy.
- Put your mind in a "fake it till you make it" mentality to actually make it.
- You can't learn everything at once, take it one step at a time.
- Talk to those you fear talking to the most and learn from them.
- Ask a lot of questions even if you think they're silly. It's easier to ask at first.
I consider myself very lucky to have had the chance to kick-start my career and grow at Instabug. In the past three years, I really believe that I've learned more than I could have elsewhere. It's actually so cool being able to work for Egypt's top tech startup and not having to be a developer. I love being part of our awesome Growth Team (they're the best) and the equally awesome #BugSquad, and if I were to go back in time, I'd do it all over again — minus the self-doubt.
In a bug-shell (pun intended), what is it like working for Instabug with zero technical background? Amazing so far. If you want to join us and have doubts, I encourage you to take the leap and apply!