An entrepreneur whose company trained programmers at Facebook and Google shares his best advice for learning to code (FB, GOOG, GOOGL)


female engineer

  • The most important first step in learning how to code is to think about your area of interest and career goals, says Michael Ellison, founder and CEO of
  • Mobile app development is also an ideal introduction for newcomers since it’s a popular platform that most people are familiar with.
  • But in order to succeed, you’ll need to set a goal beyond just wanting to land a high-salary and job security, Ellison says.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. 

With software developers ranking among the highest-paid and fastest-growing jobs in the United States, you might be motivated to consider switching your career path or learning how to code. In an analysis performed by CareerBuilder published on MarketWatch, software development jobs consistently places among the most lucrative career options in multiple states across the country.

But getting into the industry can feel intimidating if you don’t have a background in computer science or a related field. Whether you have a technical background or not, Michael Ellison, founder and CEO of computer science education non-profit, says setting a goal is a critical first step. “If you’re building a career based on what you’re interested in, it’s going to be a lot more sustainable,” he recently told Business Insider. was born out of, a technical training company that has operated training and onboarding programs for Silicon Valley giants like Facebook, Google, Dropbox, Airbnb, and Netflix. The company has created more than 30 courses that have taught over 2,000 programmers, according to its website. 

Here’s Ellison’s best advice for learning how to code. 

SEE ALSO: WeWork just acquired a startup that converts empty New York and San Francisco restaurants into coworking spaces

Don’t get into the industry just for a high salary or job security.

Before deciding what programming language you might want to learn, think about your long-term career goals. “If you say, my goal is to have a job or make a lot of money, then it’s not going to be as motivating and potentially as rewarding and exciting and interesting for you to go down this learning path,” he said. He suggested setting a goal around building an app that solves a particular problem that you’re passionate about or interested in as a possible starting point. 

Read more: The founder sold his company to Amazon for $1 billion after being rejected on ‘Shark Tank.’ Here’s the one thing he said every startup needs to succeed.

Consider your current attributes and how you can apply them toward a new career path.

If your goal isn’t immediately clear, try thinking about what you’re already good at and what you enjoy most in your current role. Doing so can help you find your focus.

Some examples of general attributes or areas of interest could include solving human problems, thinking about systems and optimization, and managing complexity, Ellison said.

“The area of interest is more important initially than the technology and the tools, which are just really a means in order to get there,” he said. 

Start with mobile development as an introduction.

Ellison suggests mobile app development as a starting point for a few reasons: it’s lucrative, it’s a familiar platform that most people use everyday, and it involves developing for a single form factor and operating system.

Unlike full-stack or front-end development, focusing on developing something like an iPhone app can be much more simple. That’s because it involves developing for a single platform, meaning you won’t have to worry about accommodating as many different screen sizes or operating systems at first. 

“It’s just so relatable and it’s really straightforward to be able to plug in,” he said. “We love mobile as an introduction.”

Apple’s Swift programming language for iOS is particularly accessible to newcomers, Ellison says. “You can use the same powerful tools that professional developers are using,” he said. “And you can feel like you’re doing a lot even though you don’t yet understand a lot.”


Start building.

Once you’ve learned the basics, one of the best ways to move forward is to start working on projects, especially with other people. “You really need to start building stuff and start working with other people as a prerequisite,” Ellison said. “And then, don’t worry so much about the actual technologies. Just get started.”