Should Marketers Learn to Code?

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Published March 6, 2014 by Brad Knutson
Should Marketers Learn to Code?

There seems to be a never ending debate amongst marketers. Should marketers learn to code?

I find this debate very interesting. My background is in web design and development, but in the last few years I’ve also dived heavily into the marketing world. I’ve come across many marketers who also have backgrounds in web development. Now that I think about it, I have never met a web developer whose background is in marketing. It never seems to go that way. Yet all marketers at some point attempt to learn a little bit of the development side (at least the ambitious ones do).

So, should marketers learn to code? It seems like a simple question, and one with a simple answer. The reality isn’t so black and white. Allow me to explain.

“Learn to code” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it mean? “Coding” is a blanket term used to describe working in a text editor to modify or manipulate markup or writing programs and functions using a programming language.

Depending on the context, “coding” could be used to describe working in HTML, or it could mean building a complicated mobile app using Objective-C. The complexity of “coding” depends completely on the context in which it’s used.

So when someone says “should marketers learn to code” I always ask them to clarify what they are asking.

“Well, you know, building website and stuff using HTML and other languages.”

First of all – HTML is not a programming language, it’s a markup language. A programming language requires logic.

Secondly – you aren’t asking if marketers should learn to “code” at all, you’re actually asking a completely different question.

So – allow me to give my opinion on a series of better questions.

Should Marketers Learn HTML?


As online marketers, we’re working with websites every single day. A really good understanding of HTML will only help us do our jobs.

Want to quickly add a new field to your email subscription form, or want to modify an existing one? A working knowledge of form elements is required. I can tell you from a web developers stand point that a marketer that can modify forms is extremely valuable.

HTML is easy to learn, and something that isn’t easily forgotten. HTML web standards haven’t changed nearly as much as other markup and programming languages, so it’s the ideal place to start.

Should Marketers Learn CSS?

Sort of.

I’ve met a lot of marketers that are fascinated with CSS and how it works, and have a healthy interest in learning it. I don’t see anything wrong with this.

One might think that the longer you spend reading about CSS and practicing with it, the more you’ll learn.

CSS Knowldge Over Time - Ideal

Ideal amount of knowledge of CSS charted against time spent learning.

Wouldn’t that be nice if this were true? Unfortunately, the reality is much different.

CSS Knowldge Over Time - Reality

The reality: In the beginning you learn a lot, but the longer you spend learning the less there is to learn.

Learning CSS comes quickly. In the beginning, you’ll learn very quickly. It’s amazing what you can learn about CSS in just a few days or weeks if you really put your mind to it. You’ll be able to position elements, change colors and font sizes with ease – you’re a pro! So you spend a few more weeks learning…but this time the learning curve is much steeper. You’re learning fewer and fewer new tricks, and the markup is becoming increasingly complicated. You’re introduced to browser prefixes and cross-browser issues, and you’re starting to hear about things like box-sizing and CSS transitions. You’re quickly getting in over your little head.

My point is that you shouldn’t get too carried away with learning CSS. You’re not trying to put your in-house web developer/designer out of a job after all, are you? Leave the heavy and complicated CSS tricks for the pros – a basic working knowledge will help you style things on the fly, and understand how layouts and other aspects work.

Should Marketers Learn Javascript or jQuery?

Ehh…Don’t bother.

Ok, now we’re talking. As a web developer, we’re finally getting into the space that I would feel comfortable describing as “coding.” Javascript is a true object-oriented programming language, and it’s one that you’re not going to be able to pick up in an afternoon.

Should marketers learn Javascript?

I don’t think so. This is what you have front-end developers for, right?

Sure, it might be nice to know Javascript if you want to troubleshoot a form handling script, but as a marketer should you really be spending your time with this?

Should Marketers Learn a Programming Language?

*By programming language, I mean Ruby, PHP, Python, Perl, ASP, or another server-side script language. Ruby and PHP are the big ones.

Don’t Waste Your Time.

I’ll never understand why marketers want to learn server-side scripting languages like PHP or Ruby. Are you trying to put developers out of jobs? Do you enjoy making enemies with a group of individuals who are (in some circles) known as “hackers?”

Don’t waste a minute of your time learning to program, unless it’s a part of your job or you have designs of becoming a web developer some day. There are perfectly capable programmers out there that can do all your programming for you.

As opposed to striving to be a full stack marketer, just be a better marketer

I understand just as much as the next guy how being a diverse marketer is becoming increasingly important in today’s business world. Companies and agencies want to see marketers with multiple skills.

I honestly think marketers can get away with a base understanding of HTML and CSS. Anything more than that and you might as well go back to school to be a front-end developer.

Instead of spending time broadening your skill set, why don’t we as marketers focus our efforts on honing our skills? Becoming a better marketer should be priority #1, correct? Wouldn’t your time be better spent on outreach than taking 3 months to learn PHP? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to read up on what the industry experts are saying about search ranking factors, than reading an O’Reilly book about jQuery?

Just sayin’.

Had to get that off my chest.

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Founder at Inbounderish
Brad Knutson is a Web Developer in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He has experience working with WordPress and Drupal, and also has an interest in SEO and Inbound Marketing.

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5 thoughts on “Should Marketers Learn to Code?

  1. Jeevan Jacob John

    Interesting discussion, Brad!

    I agree. Marketers don’t need to learn coding, but basic stuff such CSS can be really helpful. I didn’t bother to do that, until recently (I am glad that I did it…and do regret not learning it earlier).

    I use a drag and drop frame work, so it has a built in options panel that allows me to customize different elements of my blog, but there were a few things that I couldn’t adjust (specifically, elements that weren’t part of the website – like opt-in boxes).

    After I learned CSS, things have been much easier. I am not a pro, far from it, but I was able to max the adjustments I needed (Right now, I am looking to learn other programming languages. I am required to take programming class for my degree…so I figured it’s best to be prepared :D).

    Anyways, thank you for the wonderful post, Brad! Nice to meet ya (Thanks to Triberr for that :D).

  2. Steven

    I know coding is not Marketers cup of tea but still I think one should be aware of the basic stuff.

    If they know the basic things then this will also give a good impression their prospects and clients.

  3. Andrew Scherer

    I was with you till the end of the article. “Marketers shouldn’t learn to code so they don’t put coders out of the job.” Lol? The ironic thing is that you’re primarily a developer that is getting into marketing.

    Technology is moving fast. Everyone should learn how to code, whether you’re a marketer or any other of the thousands of professions that are touched by technology now or in the future. Your argument is marketers should focus on being better marketers. Specialization is for ants. Learning more about logic and programming is a valuable skill set for anyone to build, just like I think (as a marketer) that everyone should learn how to sell. This is probably the only time I’ve ever read an article that actually discouraged someone from learning how to code haha.

    1. Brad Knutson Post author

      I never said that marketers shouldn’t learn to code for fear of putting programmer out of a job, I was saying that if your purpose for learning to use CSS was to put your in-house designer out of a job to save the company money, that is definitely the wrong approach!

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