How Adzerk Teaches Non-Engineers to Code With a Programming Club

From the very earliest days of Adzerk, CEO James Avery has wanted everyone in the company to be a coder— not to push code to the product itself, but to be able to program as a skill. But why would a sales rep or HR manager need to understand how to write software? Well, why not? We actually have several good reasons:

The Adzerk platform is a highly technical product. While we have a web interface, our customers do much of the heavy lifting of their integrations through our APIs. Some Adzerk features, like custom targeting, make use of queries that require programming knowledge.

Selling or supporting Adzerk (and definitely understanding how it works) requires a basic understanding of how web developers build sites and apps.

The hacker mindset is part of our company culture. Being a hacker is even one of our core values. While being a hacker means something different for a software engineer versus an operations manager, both involve thinking creatively and making use of technology to solve problems.

With that in mind, we recently created a Programming Club open to all non-engineers. (And every non-engineer in the company signed up, which was awesome!) We meet at lunch on Wednesdays to discuss our progress in Codeacademy's JavaScript course and other programming topics. The Adzerk engineers are our mentors, both in the Wednesday meetings and in a dedicated Slack channel.

Every member of Programming Club approaches the course with a different level of technical expertise. For example, our support lead Jacob already diagnoses JavaScript issues as part of his role, and I've used JSON and curl to write our API documentation. But some of our team has never looked at a HTML page source before, let alone tried to write their own code.

The open format (self-driven coursework combined with discussions about general topics) allows everyone to learn new skills at their own pace. Club members become more technical, and club organizers get a chance to impart their knowledge in a structured environment. It's a win for the whole company.

Starting Your Own Company Programming Club

The first rule of Programming Club, according to our organizer Alan Dipert, is to pick an existing curriculum so you don't have to develop your own. It's unrealistic to create a course that can meet the needs of all your club members. The self-driven nature of Codeacademy was ideal for the diversity of tech experience at Adzerk.

Then, enlist all the engineers you can as mentors. The more self-driven your course is, the less time your mentors will need to commit. For us, the Club meetings are for general discussions and chances for one on one help rather than "teaching".

Finally, try to get the budget for free food. It works wonders for morale.

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