The 5 Steps I Used To Teach Myself To Code And Sell Something At 17 Years Old

The 5 Steps I Used To Teach Myself To Code And Sell Something At 17 Years Old

The first thing I ever built that I charged for was an MP3 burning app.

I had just learned Visual Basic in one of my elective programming classes in highschool, and I wanted to see what I could create.

The problem I wanted to solve was simple…

As one of the few people at the time with a CD burner, I would always have my friends come over to my house and spend hours going through all of the MP3’s I had downloaded from Napster to create the ultimate playlist for themselves or their girlfriend…

(K-Ci and JoJo was always a crowd pleaser)

So after a few weeks of this, I built a simple app that anyone could install at their house.

It would connect to my computer using FTP, download a file of all the MP3’s I had on my computer, let them create the playlist at their house, and when they were ready, they could “order” the CD (pay me $20 bucks) and I would burn it overnight while I slept.

So technically, that’s the first time coding made me money, even before (a vacation rental site I started in 1999).

I share that story because learning to code is not hard.  

It just requires a strong enough motivation and some resources.

That’s what I cover in this week’s video.

The crazy part is learning to code literally saved my life.

As the world evolves, I believe learning to code is going to be a powerful skill to have

It’s why I’ve been teaching my two little boys to code ever since they were 2 years old.

But how do you learn while sidestepping overwhelm?

Here are 5 tips to get you (or your kid) started:

  1. Use your weekends: block out some time, schedule it, and commit to start when the clock hits that time!
  2. Wireframe a simple app: keep it simple. Blank printer paper and a marker works to outlining the apps interface.
  3. Front-end, backend, database: understanding these 3 specific pieces will make the whole process way easier!
  4. Pick a language: Ruby, Python, Php, Javascript… now this one can be debated and I’d love to have that below in the comments.
  5. Consume tutorials: there are sooooo many free online training videos to help you get going, but there’s also next level training by folks likes

If you want some feedback on your app idea, just leave a comment and I’ll provide some thoughts on the best way to build it.

Excited to hear how your first app comes along… something simple can take less than a couple hours!

Do it. Get coding 🙂


  • Jay Wilson Jr.

    I couldn’t help but give my opinion of which language one should learn first.

    …and the winner is JavaScript!! 🙂

    JavaScript is the language of the web, and learning it will enable one to build websites, mobile apps, progressive web apps, servers, desktop apps etc etc. I could go on about the pros of learning JS first, but in truth once you learn one language (JS or some other) it’s easier to learn a second because many of the principles you learned in the first transfer over to the next.

    Just my .02 Happy New Year!

    • Dan Martell

      Jay, solid suggestion and definitely agree with your comment.

      Appreciate the suggestion for the community.


    • Dan Martell

      Appreciate the comment Jay!


  • Eric Chou

    Thanks for the post Dan! I learned Python midway thru my career, worked as a developer for the biggest software company in the world (Microsoft) on their top priority project (Azure), and published a book on Python Networking ( this year that earned out my royalty advancement within 6 months (most books don’t) someone bought the Korean language rights to the book and Packt is turning the book into a video course. Oh, and I am building a few SaaS product using Python (leveraging Dan’s courses, of course) 🙂 so I am a living proof that even in mid-career learning to code can be pretty awesome.

    Everything you said in the post I would whole heartedly agree. I just wanted to share three language-agnostic, personal lessons on this journey if it can help my fellow soon-to-be-coders:

    1. Find a language that fits how your brain works. Believe it or not, each language has a personality of its own taken after its creator and community. Sample some of the languages on Dan’s list and try them out. I bet some of them will feel more natural to you than others. Stick to the ones that appeals to you and it will make learning more fun and rewarding. Just because everybody likes Vodka doesn’t mean you cant stick to beer at parties if that is your thing, coding is not a popularity contest.

    2. Solve your own problems. Learning something new can be frustrating. Besides starting a simple project like Dan mentioned, you may also want to solve your own problem if possible, like automate your personal finance spreadsheet or automatically grab the funny cat video off YouTube that you enjoy watching so much. This will help you get over the inevitable frustration of learning. Celebrate your small victories when they happen, pad yourself on the back when you finally have endless supply of funny cat videos.

    3. Join the community that you feel welcomed in. A JavaScript conference feels very different than a Python conference (read #1 above). Personally, PyCon (biggest annual Python conference) is the only conference that I have ever attended that provides daycare for parents. Not to mention the various PyLadies meetup and record number of women that give talks at PyCon every year. Some language community promotes equality and inclusiveness more than others. I am biased toward Python but data don’t lie.

    Happy 2018, may the force be with you!


    • Dan Martell

      Eric, what an epic comment!

      Thanks for sharing your story, super inspiring.

      Here to help re: saas products if you ever want help.


      • Eric Chou

        Thank you Dan!

  • SkinGirl

    Thx for your email; Does it make sense to learn coding or does that distract you if you’re a non-tech founder? Anyway would love some feedback on building an App that you see something, identify it (visual search) from there you can try it on, go to a store (be geo-directed) try iit on virtually (3D in-motion); invite people into your virtual world to see if they like it ‘on’ you; buy it right in the App (not on a brand site). Share, influence and get paid by brands for influenced purchases. It is like combining about 10 diff technologies that are already out there.

    • Dan Martell

      I think learning to code is a great skill, so spending a month dedicated to it would be a great outcome… however, I don’t think you need to build your own app, although you could… you should learn how it works.

      It’s like learning how to cook for a month before opening a restaurant even if you plan on hiring a chef to run your kitchen.

      It’ll show respect to the Chef and give you perspective for how they think.


      • SkinGirl

        Thx Dan…if you happen to know a CTO type who would buy into that type of vision, let me know (i pay finders fees…) thx again

        • Dan Martell

          I’ll add you to the list of 1300+ other founders looking 🙂

          I have a few other videos like this one that might help

          All the best!


    • Dan Martell

      I would recommend spending 30 days to learn what you can… then use that knowledge to find a partner to build the company.


    Great video, thank you Dan.Where can I find your course on building a Saas business?

  • Jimmy Lantano

    Wow! Great Video!!! i have learn turbo C first then C++, FoxPro, VB6.0, C#, VB.Net and many more(haha) but PHP with Javascript gives me the passion to code and lucky i learn them well and now is giving me a clear future for me and my family.

    Great Start! Happy New Year!


    • Dan Martell


      I had a similar journey although C/C++ wasn’t that deep … VB 6.0 is where things came together, then on the web with ASP classic.

      Hope all is awesome!


  • David Stevens

    What is your curriculum for teaching coding t
    o 2 year olds? I have a 3 year old who is showing interest in Minecraft. Suppose I could start with red stone circuits to harvest carrots or something. Very curious though about where you started with the boys.

    • Dan Martell

      David, I just started using iPhone apps by googling top apps to teach toddlers to code / programming.

      They just open them and play all the time.

      Then I bought them an mBot.


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