Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter and Square, is one of the most successful self-taught programmers in history. In addition to creating two companies that have become household names, he’s gotten plenty of recognition from his fellows in the technology field. In 2008, the MIT Technology Review named him one of the top 35 innovators in the world under 35. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal awarded him the “Innovator of the Year” award in technology.
Throughout his career, he’s been vocally proud to be self-taught. In an interview with Business Insider, he stated his opinion that “most of the best programmers are self-taught.” Let’s explore his many successes, learn from his less numerous failures, and try to understand the drive that brought him to the forefront of the technology world.
Dorsey started programming as a teenager because of his early interest in city infrastructure and transportation. Sometime before the age of 14, his love of maps grew into a fascination with dispatch routing. He also liked to listen to police scanners, something that would later influence the short format of Twitter. In January 2011 he said, “I’ve always been fascinated by cities and how they work. And I taught myself to program so I can understand how the city works.”
In an interview, he described how he entered the dispatch industry. He found the biggest company in the industry (Dispatch Management Services) and tried to get contact information for the CEO and the Chairman. He ended up getting into their system via a hole he discovered, finding their email addresses, and sending them an email. He told them about the hole in their system, how to fix it, and that he was a writer of dispatch software. He was hired immediately. Many taxicab companies are still using the open-source software he created to manage the logistics of their dispatch.
As a young adult, he went to the Missouri University of Science and Technology before transferring to New York University. However, he never graduated. He dropped out of NYU, but not before coming up with the idea that would become Twitter. Inspired by both his work in dispatch and the instant messenger services that were growing popular, he had the idea to make a status-sharing platform. This was the genesis of Twitter. In an interview at the NYU Entrepreneurs Festival, he said: “The reason I dropped out is because I was learning more with a higher velocity outside of school than I was in school.”
He went on to pitch his idea to Silicon Valley company Odeo in 2006. He and Biz Stone (the creator of Xanga) made the Twitter prototype together in roughly two weeks. The rest is tech history!
However, his relationship to his creation has not been a smooth one. After a few years, he was removed from the company for consistently leaving early to do yoga and prioritizing other pleasure activities. During his exile, he and Jim McKelvey created Square, a small device that attaches to smartphones through the headphone jack and works as a miniature credit card reader. Soon, however, he was back at Twitter as the CEO.
Now he is dividing his time between Twitter and Square. It hasn’t been easy: his day begins at 5am and doesn’t end until 11pm.
Of course, his career has not come without its fair share of controversy. From his brief exile from the company to the deactivation of Donald Trump’s Twitter account, Dorsey and his business have grown into a social media phenomenon.
What can we learn about programming from Jack Dorsey?
1. You don’t need a degree to be innovative and successful. Jack Dorsey is a prime example of how formal education sometimes fails us, and independent learning becomes a better option. He learned more quickly and efficiently on his own than in college and decided not to waste his time. If you don’t have a degree, don’t be discouraged! With enough hard work, you can be successful no matter what!
2. You can develop focus. While he had natural drive and ambition from a young age, he had to learn the hard way how to be an effective CEO. Once he dedicated himself to the task, he developed the skills he needed to be successful in his new role as a businessman rather than a programmer. Sometimes as a self-taught programmer, you’re going to need to wear many hats, but if you focus yourself and put your projects first, you’ll be just fine.
Want to learn to program? Register for my free Self-Taught Coder Masterclass where I cover how I went from a novice to a software engineer at eBay in less than one year.