Instagram‘s CEO, Kevin Systrom, will go down in history as one of the greatest Silicon Valley success stories of our generation. Unlike Mark Zuckerberg, the man responsible for acquiring the popular photo sharing app for $1 billion, Systrom received no formal engineering training.
Systrom, an active user on Quora, is a largely self-taught programmer. While working in the marketing department at Nextstop, which Facebook acquired in 2010, he would spend his evenings learning to program. According to Systrom, small projects included combining elements of Foursquare with Mafia Wars.
Systrom explains on Quora:
The story starts when I worked at Nextstop. While I was there working in marketing, I started doing more and more engineering at night on simple ideas that helped me learn how to program (I don’t have any formal CS degree or training). One of these ideas was combining elements of foursquare (check-ins) with elements of Mafia Wars (hence the name Burbn). I figured I could build a prototype of the idea in HTML5 and get it to some friends. Those friends ended up using the prototype without any branding elements or design at all. I spent weekends working on improving the prototype for my friends.
At a party for the Hunch folks I ran into a bunch of people who would basically make starting Burbn a reality. At that party were two people from Baseline Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. I showed the prototype, and we decided we’d meet up for coffee to talk about it. After the first meeting, I decided to take the dive and leave my job to go solo and see if Burbn could be a company. Within two weeks of leaving, I raised $500k from both Baseline and Andreessen Horowitz, and started work on finding a team.
Thanks to Codecademy and the like, there are growing numbers of self-taught programmers in Silicon Valley. Instagram’s success will augment the enthusiasm for learning to code. And Systrom may prove to be an inspiration for this new generation of budding entrepreneurs – one they can actually relate to.
Image Credit / Jim Thompson