[The following is a part of my Money Start-up series, where I go back to my software development roots and try to create an application/website to better help consumers take care of their money. It's a little different than most of the personal finance articles that you'll read, but my hope is that we'll learn some lessons along the way. You can start with my introduction or catch up on the whole series.]
Last week, I I explained a few of the technical decisions I'm making based on my network of friends. One thing that may surprise readers was the amount of development tools that are simply available for free. I could get started with Heroku, Ruby on Rails, Postgres, and Bootstrap without spending a dime (except for a laptop and internet access, which I already have). You don't really need to know what those are, but in short, I could build my whole vision and only start paying money to Heroku as it become popular.
However, in making all these decisions, one thing stood out. I don't know how to program in Ruby on Rails. I used to be greatly interested in learning programming languages. As dorky as it might seem, I would take about a half-dozen books about computer programming out of the library in middle school and read them cover to cover. In some ways, I was like Brick in the Middle where he'll read a book on fonts. (Now I'm more like Mike, the dad.) My instinct is that I can simply harness my 12-year old desire and pick it up no problem.
By all accounts, things are very different now. If it were just learning the Ruby language, then it might be easy. However, the Rails part of it is known as a programming framework, and that's a little more difficult. Think of it like learning a new job, where everything is done in a completely new way than what you are used to.
This is where choosing a free language gets interesting. Many have suggested that I take a class and pay for training. There are a lot of free ways to learn Ruby on Rails out there as well. This brings about a few questions such as:
1. Is the free training as good as the paid training?
2. If not, what is my time worth?
The later question came into play sooner then I hoped. When I found out that one of the most recommended options was a cool thousand dollars, my friend's response was, "It took me 6 months to learn through free videos on the web. What's your time worth?" He's a brilliant guy, so it's not like I can reasonably expect to do it faster or better.
For a lot of people, it's fairly easily to estimate what their time is worth. As an entrepreneur, that value seems to change monthly. However, anyway I look at it $1000 is significant. I'm a pretty frugal person, but in one click of a mouse, I can lose all the gains from those frugal choices.
Fortunately, as I was debating this decision, the friend pointed out that they have a $99 monthly option for unlimited access. If I clear off my schedule, I could probably do some serious studying in a month with two months probably being the max I'd need to be good enough to go it on my own. It's much easier for me to throw $200 at learning a skill that will not only help me with this money start-up, but also a highly marketable skill.
While that seems to be a solid option, I'm thinking I'm going to partake in this Rails for Zombies free class. I know zombies eat a lot of brains, but I still humbly think I'm smarter than the average zombie... this may be a good start.
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