From GIFs To Git: Learning to Code & Debugging Self Doubt

November 1, 2023 by Jake Martella

Welcome readers!

I’m Jake Martella and I’d like to share a recent journey of mine that I think may shine a light on the struggles of learning new career skills, taking on new challenges, and conquering self doubt. 

Firstly, who am I?

I started at GIPHY in 2018 as NFL Editor, and have donned multiple roles over the years from Sports Editor to now finding my stride as Editorial Director for Sports. The GIPHY Sports department is vibrant and constant. Our work requires meticulous tagging, curation and editorialization. With hundreds of official sports partners, thousands of GIFs, and billions of views, managing such content must be thorough. Recently, my passion for sports collided with the dynamic realm of tech. In perhaps the best example of problem solving I can offer, I decided to one day devote time to developing some skills that would allow me to build a solution to a tedious problem. With the endless ingestion of sports GIF content, it was cumbersome to host my relevant hashtags in a messy google doc or notepad. Something had to be done, so… 

Rough Beginnings

It all began with a three-month coding boot camp hosted by Brainstation, a crucible where my determination was forged in the fires of frustration and doubt. I often felt like the slowest ship in a regatta, constantly trailing behind my peers, grappling for understanding where others seemed to effortlessly sail. The shadows of self-doubt loomed large, and I frequently thought I didn’t belong. Although I completed the course, I didn’t feel I deserved to. Self loathing…exhibit A.


Seven months later, while working full-time and coding in my spare time, I started to make serious progress in my understanding. I saw the first rays of “Eureka!” pierce through the clouds of confusion. So much so that I eventually developed a web-app as a side project that helped me in my everyday work at GIPHY as Sports Editor. I was thrilled with the result. The ability to organize tags into categories and cards with a simple copy button saved me a great amount of time curating content, a task I do dozens of times per day, hundreds per week, and thousands per month!

After showing the application to friends and colleagues, a colleague suggested that there may be a possibility to build this feature directly into the GIPHY infrastructure, and that I may be able to gain valuable experience coding in a real world dev environment. While this suggestion made my blood pressure spike, it also presented an unimaginable opportunity…

The possibility of integrating my feature into GIPHY’s infrastructure was both thrilling and terrifying. ‘Coding for GIPHY? Am I in over my head?’ I wondered. But I refused to let doubt anchor me. In the words of Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

My journey was a rollercoaster of emotions, marked by trial and error, and a generous dose of humility. I leaned on mentors and late-night debugging sessions, savoring the small victories along the way. While collaborating with more experienced developers at GIPHY, I learned invaluable lessons. I discovered that each company has its own unique approach to product development.  Google searches didn’t always offer the right solution because many errors required a deeper understanding of the specific systems, authentications and methodologies being used. Also, note to self: always remember to make sure you’re connected to the VPN 😅.

I successfully navigated the native dev environment, ultimately creating the GIPHY Tag Tamer—an invaluable hashtag organizer now used internally company-wide, simplifying content curation.

What is the Tag Tamer?

The Tag Tamer empowers staff users to generate categorized hashtag lists, neatly arranged within distinct cards. Each card features a title and a dedicated space for storing an array of frequently used hashtags. There’s a convenient “COPY” button on each card so staff users can quickly attach relevant tags to their clipboard and paste them on desired content. This feature streamlines the handling of GIPHY’s extensive GIF library, enabling efficient organization and archiving of the data. Consider the NBA All-Star game scenario, where the influx of NBA-related content necessitates the strategic use of hyper-specific hashtags for effective content management and access. Multiplying this process across various sports leagues, teams, and tournaments underscores the potential challenges in handling such an extensive content repertoire. That, in a nutshell, is the Tag Tamer. 

How does it work?

The tag tamer tool leverages a powerful combination of React for the frontend, TypeScript for enhanced code quality, and Styled Components for UI design. On the backend, it harnesses the robust capabilities of Django, providing a reliable and scalable foundation for data management and processing. This stack ensures a seamless and intuitive user experience. 

Final Thoughts 

This tool, born from struggle and self-questioning, is now a vital part of my daily workflow, streamlining content management for myself and my colleagues. And I’m proud of it.

While I once thought I might never get the hang of this coding thing, I am a true believer that embracing challenges and continuing to learn for the sake of learning is always worth it. Also, never, ever be ashamed or scared to ask for help.

Trust yourself. Bet on yourself. This is the way.

-Jake Martella, Editorial Director, Sports