The questions that I’ve heard a dozen times;
“Do you need to be an engineer in order to be a successful growth hacker?”
“Can only a developer be a growth hacker?”
“Do you need to code to do growth hacking?”
Even though it has been covered a number of times, a lot of aspiring growth hackers ask it themselves, as did I in early October 2013. So what’s the answer? Do you need to code/be an engineer?
In the widely used Airbnb case study, it has been said that someone without an engineering background wouldn’t be able to come up with the solution that they used. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about; in short – Airbnb integrated their postings with Craigslist. Using the option to post straight to Craigslist opened them for a huge market of people who were naturally looking for accommodation. This growthhack skyrocketed their growth. It’s simple, clean, effective and didn’t need to use Craigslist API. Also, it has been said that someone without an engineering degree wouldn’t be able to come up with this and execute it. You can read about it in Ryan Holiday’s Growth Hacker Marketing or in this blog post by Andrew Chen.
So the first question we need to ask ourselves is; What is growth hacking? Is it integrating your product with different platforms? Is it developing the product in a way that will embed virality in its core? Interestingly enough, the answer to both is yes. Well, partially at least. Both of the above are tactics and skills in the arsenal of a growth hacker. Quoting Seal Ellis
“A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”
Here it is – Growth Hacker’s true north is growth. His sole job in a company is to drive growth to the business using very little resources. It can be achieved by the mentioned above – integrating with different platforms, taking part in the building of the product, etc. On the other hand it can also be achieved by being the first one to a new marketing channel, seeing an opportunity that no one else has seen or being able to analyze your data to simply see what’s working and what’s not. In other words, if you can grow a company’s audience using as little resources as possible, if you can track your growth and clearly show where did it came from, if you can learn from your experiments and iterate fast, you following a growth hacker’s path. This being said, there is a difference between a growth hacker and a growth rookie (which it is perfectly fine to be), but that is a subject for a whole different discussion.
So there you go. Answer to the question
Do you need the engineering degree to be a growth hacker?
Having such a background definitely helps and gives a ton of benefits to a growth hacker’s skill portfolio but it is not a necessity. You can be successful without it if you still can work on the PMF, virality, split tests, analysis, etc. Don’t believe me? Just look up Sean Ellis’s and Noah Kagan’s education background to find the answer yourself. To finish it all up, just remember that if you have the time, you should learn how to code, as it will give you a lot of benefits, even in terms of logic of how you approach a problem. Nowadays there is a ton of free resources to master those skills so posts such as mine shouldn’t be an excuse. A growth hacker can be successful without those skills but they sure do help a lot!