Should Start-Up Founders Learn to Code?

Sunday 19th April 2020 Dave Sharp Start Ups!

It should be apparent to most of us that coding is becoming a desirable skill in the work place. So many things in our everyday lives have programmable or configurable aspects to them - phones, WiFi routers, web sites etc. The need for even simple coding skills is increasing and its a challenge for most businesses to get the right expertise and skills in-house and then to hang on to them.

The question is: If you own the business is it necessary that you learn to code?

What would be the advantages if you did?

  • You would have an insight into the time and complexity that tasks requiring coding take, making planning and business decisions better informed.

  • You would be able to brief staff better by using your personal knowledge and experience when describing work you require.

  • You would be better able to capture requirements from your customers by being able to ask the right questions at the right level of detail.

  • You would have the respect of more technical team members as you at least dipped your toe into this in an effort to gain understanding and be a better business leader.

  • You are better equipped as a business person to understand and hire the best people for the technical work you require.

What are the dangers of doing this?

  • This becomes a distraction from your core business responsibilities and other aspects of the business don't get the right level of your attention.

  • You become presumptuous about your knowledge and abilities and start to think you are better than your technical team.

  • You try to apply code or a technical solution to problems that can't be or don't need to be solved with technology.

  • If you're not that great at it, it becomes more of a hindrance than a help.
  • What you get in benefits by learning to code is the ability to understand and interact with the technical part of your business in a much more influential way. Its true that within many tech start-ups its difficult for the tech guys to take the CEO or founder seriously if they don't code. Even if the coding only gets a bit beyond basic it allows the CEO or MD to express things differently to an audience that without the coding speaks a different language.

    What detracts from learning to code is when the CEO doesn't have enough personal discipline to understand when they've reached their limit and then their involvement becomes a problem. A good coding CEO will feel the moment that they need to step back and say "You seem to understand where we're going, let me know what you need from me to make this a success.".

    Sindhu Joseph - CEO of Cognicor
    Can you write code?

    If you do write code, is it the most important skill you have to be an entrepreneur?

    No, I value being able to code, but by no means it is my most important skill. I value being able to take risk, face challenges, understand my client needs and being able to convince them much higher than my ability to code.

    As Sindhu Joseph highlights, coding is not a super-power. It does not avoid or replace many of the other aspects of running a business, its just another weapon in the arsenal of a 21st century entrepreneur. Many CEO's of major tech companies can't code, they just had the vision and the drive to get things moving and the understanding of who they needed to take care of the tech.

    Charles Delingpole - Co-founder of MarketInvoice
    Can you write code?

    I taught myself how to code when I was 16. I can build and deploy a reasonably sophisticated website in a few hours, and this has proved to be extremely useful over the years. It means that rather than having to find someone, describe in detail what to do, spent a money on something and then wait for it to come back and not have it work, you can have something up and running within days. So knowing how to code saves time and money and gets you better results.

    When coding ability is added to other strengths of a small business owner it can be a powerful game changer over its competitors. It's a competitive advantage in many ways and can often make a business more attractive to new prospective customers. As Charles highlights in the comments above - because he can code he can own and maintain the vision of what he wants for his own business.

    As you can probably tell my bias is towards coding and in recent years the number of ways of learning your first few lines of code has ballooned. There are now a lot of options in terms of on-line coding academies but in the first instance just check out youtube. There are a lot of coding tutorials for beginners and its free! It might just be the start of something that transforms your business.

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