What good is experience?
We thought we were pretty awesome. If we could build a web app that easily and drum up a bunch of public interest, then it seemed to us that everyone should be starting startups right out of college, and that anyone who wasn’t was just too scared. What was the point of waiting? You aren’t getting any younger.
When I think about that first codebase today I want to vomit in my own mouth. I am glad that I no longer have access because I want to deny it ever existed. It was a mess of spaghetti code, and even though we built it quickly, it took a lot longer than it should have.
Ironically, now that I have experience, I think experience is priceless. What’s made me change my mind?
- Experience makes you move more quickly. It turns out I’m still not a wonderful programmer. I am, however, a pretty decent web developer, and this is entirely due to experience. Need a Rails CRUD app with an API? Boom, I’ve been doing that for 7 years now. I built the entire backend, frontend and API for Exec myself in three weeks in January.
- Experience helps you focus on the right things. When you don’t know what’s important it is easy to think every decision is important. Most of them aren’t. Having experience helps you know what decisions you can ignore, postpone or delegate (almost all of them), and what things you actually need to do right now.
- Experience gives you confidence. We’ve raised venture money for our companies before, I know I can do it again. I’ve built web apps before, I know I don’t need to hire a programmer to replace myself unless we find someone who is really excellent; in the meantime, I can wait. When you’ve done something before, you aren’t worried you can’t do it again.
I still think there are some potential downsides to having experience that are worth watching out for:
- Experience tends to pre-empt innovation. It’s been said before, but when you have a lot of experience in a certain area, you generally think of solutions and approaches that have worked for you in the past. Sometimes this prevents you from taking a fresh approach which ultimately would work out better.
- Experience takes time to get. Waiting for experience is also an excuse not to get started. By the time you feel comfortable and confident enough to jump off, the moment might have passed.
- You know some things to be impossible. Most things that were impossible or impractical years ago became possible or will become possible some time later. Your experience might tell you that something you want to do can’t be done. Other people will go on to do them.
And lastly, something I’ve been wondering: is it possible to fake experience by getting advice? Perhaps for highly specialized topics, like how to scale your exploding website. However, I think that there are a great many things that people are destined to learn themselves the hard way. So, don’t worry too much about trying to find a hack to get experience, when you get enough experience you’ll be experienced enough to know one doesn’t exist.