How did you get from learning to code to making your first dollar?

Learn to code! Do you hear this everywhere these days? From successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to government agencies to school teachers, everyone is singing the same tune. CODE = you will be able to sustain yourself in the future. But does the ability to code have anything to do with ability to make money? Someone asked me this question on Hacker News and here's what I am thinking.

First, a little bit about my background, to set precedence. I started to get an interest in computers and programming in the middle school, but at that time I could only do simple HTML and for many reasons, I did not move further. In high school I took a programing class where I was bored out of my mind, due to the rudimentary nature of exercises, and I spent most of the time just goofing around. Come college, I began to suspect that I really wanted to do more coding, but I got into an Industrial Engineering program, where we didn't do much coding outside of some linear programming.

Most of the real coding that I know, I learned after graduation. I simply took all my savings, moved half-way across the country away from my parents, and locked myself in a room (quite literally) for a while, until I was able to create the applications that I wanted to create.

My background was in Industrial Engineering, which is part design, part engineering, part math and BS courses that I've since long forgotten. Although the degree helped me to be more user-oriented, I am pretty sure it had nearly 0 to do with my ability to code.

All-in-all, learning to code in my experience had little to do with getting a degree, and had everything to do with being curious and yearning to create. Now, what about the money-making part?

Technically speaking, I think my first "paid" gigs were for friends and family. I am saying paid in quotes because of course, they all wanted a discount and I probably worked for minimum wage for a while :) My first real paid gig, where I was planning to make about $5,000 was a great experience, but a total disaster, so far as payments were concerned. The client was very friendly, smart-sounding and legit, up until the point where he skipped town and didn't pay any of his developers. I guess, if I never got paid, was that really a paid gig?

That was a great experience and a kick in the butt. It opened my eyes to the real sucky parts of freelancing business, and eventually led to me building Scoutzie.com where we built plenty of tools to help freelancers shield themselves from ass clients.

Now, back to making money. This might surprise you, but the most money we made had nothing to do with ability to code. In the early version of Scoutzie, circa early 2012 when we just got into Ycombinator, my co-founder Jenn said that it was time to make money. I was actually afraid - charging people money for your online product - that's crazy! So, Jenn put together a WuFoo form[1] and we pushed it live.

It was absolutely astonishing when a day later someone actually paid us $5,000 to find them a freelance designer, without even talking to us. It was totally unreal!

So, do you need to learn to code if what you want is to make money?

If you're learning to code, that's awesome! You should want to learn to code because that enables you to express your creativity, to create products that you envision, to achieve freedom in a very weird way. But the ability to code on it's own actually has little to do with making money. If you're good at coding, you can get a job, where you will exchange your knowledge for money, but you can do the same with pretty much any other job. Coding on its own won't make you money.

You can be the best developer on the planet and completely suck at making money, or you can hack together a few lines of code and get a consistent income month-over-month[2].

What do you think? Do you think ability to code will guarantee future income. Do you think you need to code to make money? How did you go about making your first dollar?

[1] the forms are all private, but here's an idea of how the product started to scale once we realized that people were willing to pay -> http://cl.ly/image/2j2C3m2k3x2A

[2]Right, I forgot to mention, I built PresenterMate.com once, juts for fun, and it's been in App Store ever since. People are still paying money for it every month, which is very cool :D