How in 1 Year I Went From Zero Coding Experience to Building a Tech Platform for Forbes 30 Under 30, Justin Rezvani

“Really?” Justin laughed, “I’ll just call you the 11 minute man then”

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I copy-pasted the cryptographic-looking symbols into a word document, hit print and waited patiently in my school’s library collecting the sheets as they came out the other end. When it was done I logged out of my computer and walked across the street to the gym where I worked for minimum wage as a front desk attendant.

It was toward the end of the summer, and students weren’t back to school yet, and I had stayed on a scholarship to do research in my lab. My professor told me to learn how to analyze data, and told me, confidently, that I could teach myself to code just by reading it.

I walked through the doors of the gym, pulled out the stack of papers from my backpack and sat down next to my co-worker, Mark.

“Yo Mark.”

“Sup dude.”

“Hey cover the desk for a little while, I gotta catch up on some homework.”

I often covered for Mark while he took trips to do cocaine in the bathroom, so he was game to help me out.

“No problem man, whatchya workin on?”

“The guy I work for in my lab told me to learn how to code, and I have no idea what any of this shit means lol”

I sat there the entire shift staring at what looked like Chinese, and learned literally nothing. I tried asking Mark if he could understand any of this stuff, but he was useless. The shift came to an end and I left frustrated, I hated this shit.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much going on over the summer and most of my friends were back home. It was very slow and I had a lot of free time. So I decided that I’d at least do my best to learn the basics.

I set up weekly meetings with a good friend and graduate student I worked with, Cheol. He walked me through the fundamentals and gave me a book titled “A Soft Approach to Programming in MATLAB,” which I thought was pretty funny.

I actually tried really hard to learn, and for a long time nothing changed. It was just complete jibberish to me. But one day after about a month of confusion, something clicked, and the cryptography turned into English.

“Holy SHIT Cheol, that’s a function, and that’s a variable, and the periods between the words are defining the structure!”

Cheol laughed like a parent laughs when their child learns how to read for the first time.

For some reason, I felt like I had unlocked a super power. I felt like I was gaining access to an unseen world, the world of technology. I felt like whoever knew this language, had an enormous amount of power and control. And I wanted it. I dove in head first, and started reading as much code and I could get my hands on.

And I learned. Fast.

After 2 months I had written thousands of lines of code and finally got my first opportunity to work on a big project.

Cheol wanted to begin a new experiment, a computer game that people would play while we recorded their reaction times. The idea was complicated, and required knowledge of trigonometry, but I didn’t care.

You wanna know how I went from zero coding experience to building a tech platform with Justin Rezvani?

I lied through my teeth to Cheol about how “easy” the project was, and how I could “do it in a week” so that he’d trust me. He told me to “give it a try” and I immediately went home to get started. I moved my desk into the living room, grabbed a bag of mini snickers bars, started a pot of coffee, turned on Star-Wars, and for the next 72 hours did nothing but caffeinate my body, and code.

My roommate was concerned.

I woke up Monday morning drooling on the keyboard at my desk, a package of skittles and half a bottle of iced tea next to me; the remnants of last nights dinner. I took a cold shower, hoping the adrenaline would make the bags under my eyes disappear, chugged a bottle of Pedialyte, and got in my car to go straight to my lab.

I had coded the entire project, in 3 days.

1 week later the project was a success.

A few days later my professor walked into the gym and saw me working behind the desk.

“This is what you do?”

“Haha, yeah it’s not ideal but I gotta make money somehow.”

“How much do you make here?”

“About $8.25 an hour, why?”

“hmm…”

“Haha what?”

“Come work for me, as a programmer, and I’ll pay you $12 an hour.”

The next day we had a meeting with HR, and the day after that I quit my job at the gym.

The next months, working as a programmer, were nothing short of concerning. I spent just as absurd amount of time at my desk, coding. And I was clocking in and out on the honor system, so I wouldn’t log all the hours I actually worked in fear that my professor would get fed up with how much time it took me to complete certain projects.

I would get up in the middle of the night having “finally figured it out!” and my girlfriend would look at me, half asleep, begging me to just “put it away for the night.”

My roommate would physically pull me away from my desk and force me to take shots of Fireball with him because it was “Friday night,” and I “needed to get out of the house.”

I did nothing but wander between my desk, the bathroom and my bed.

BUT

By November I had built dozens of experiments, analyzed all of its data and started learning how to build full software tools. In December I built an application that allowed us to record and playback a heat map “movie” of brain wave signals with millisecond precision. And in January I created an app that detects, analyzes and visualizes muscle activity.

In February I booked a flight to Los Angeles to visit my brother, Cole, for a week. I rolled in around midnight and was comically (but actually) greeted with a singular gluten free pancake.

“We’re also out of syrup.”

I lol’ed.

During that week, you’d think that we’d go to the beach, hit the clubs, drink until someone inevitably tells us that “what you’re doing is incredibly inappropriate and please get out of my bar.”

But no.

We sat inside, made raps, and worked on our projects.

My brother had recently started his first company, which was really taking off and asked me to come to dinner with him, his best friend and co-founder, Drew, and this guy Justin who was one of my brother’s first clients. Of course I was game.

Justin had an incredible success story as an entrepreneur. In 2013 he had one of the most profitable influencer marketing software platforms which he later sold for a very large sum of money.

We sat there eating a meal, that which I definitely could not afford, and Justin brought up a new idea he had started working on.

“It’s basically just a software” (my ears perked) “tool that needs to take data and tell me what someone’s metabolic type is based on a bunch of criteria I’ve specified.”

I was on my 3rd or 4th beer and looked at him without any hesitation and said, “oh I could build that in like, 11 minutes.”

Everyone laughed, and so did I once I realized what I had just said.

“Really?” Justin said.

“Yeah I mean it doesn’t sound super complicated, just takes an input and displays an output right?”

“I guess I’m just gunna have to call you the 11 minute man then,” and people laughed again.

I was embarrassed, but not more embarrassed than how much I wanted to work on the project.

I looked at him again, “I’m telling you that I can do it, if you want someone to build it.”

Justin, I’m assuming, realized that he had two options. Either… 1. give this kid a chance, if he does it then cool, or 2. the kid can’t do it so he goes out and hires a world class developer and has it done in a couple weeks.

“Cole, connect Alec and I in an email and we’ll talk soon.”

We wrapped up dinner, drove home, and I realized what I’d done. The project Justin wanted was a web application. I had never done anything remotely close to that. I didn’t know HTML, or CSS, or Javascript. I had no idea what an API was or what servers were or even the difference between Front-End and Back-End. I had built everything for my lab in pure MATLAB code.

But I stuck to the mantra I kept since I started this journey.

And so when I returned to him a month later with a working version, I successfully hid the fact that I was learning all of this as I went. And, of course, the app got more and more complicated every time we talked. And every time I learned more and more about development.

I told a bunch of my friends about my new project, how I had somehow finagled myself to work on this project. And the response?

And they were right. I was incredibly fortunate, but what they didn’t realize is that I had built that for myself. After reflecting, I realized that these are the 5 things I did to achieve that.

  1. I set myself up for success by practicing my craft religiously.
  2. I picked up every side project I could get my hands on before I had even met Justin.
  3. I learned how to build an “ask” and “return” relationship with myself during those side projects. Where I could ask myself to work on projects even if I knew nothing about how to do it. And by entering so many projects with no knowledge of how to execute, and then completing it, I gained an incredible amount of confidence in myself.
  4. I used that confidence to build my small network.
  5. I did not turn away in the face of potential failure.

I accomplished a lot in the past year by doing these things. And the best part? You can too. Here’s the blueprint. Ready. Go.

Thanks for reading! < 3

By Alec Mather

Developer 💻 || Writer 📝