In the typical startup environment, small teams with a broad and complementary skill set come together to build a company. There are dozens of skills an entrepreneur must possess -- from accounting and managing a profit and loss statement to marketing and business development. If your business leverages technology, learning to code should be added to the list of skills you need for success. Here's why:
1. Speak the language of tech. Learning to code and work effectively with technology is like learning a new language. If you plan to spend a lot of time working with technology, you should understand the language of your new environment. If you moved to China to launch your business, wouldn’t you learn Mandarin and study some of the local customs? Tech is no different. If you understand the language of the tech ecosystem, your product and business decisions will be better informed.
2. Talent evaluation. For any startup that leverages technology (don’t they all?), hiring the right team is mission critical. Your hires will be one of the driving factors of success, and if you don’t understand what differentiates good and mediocre technical talent, you’re positioning your company for costly errors. If you know how to code, you’ll have a better understanding of what to look for in a talented developer or chief technology officer.
3. Product development. To build the next great web application, iPhone game or productivity app, you need passion, creativity, a great team and perhaps some special sauce. You also need to effectively schedule and manage projects. Having an understanding of the resources required (time and capital) and a firm grasp of the development timeline will help you and your tech teams build out a realistic product development pipeline.
Understanding digital product development and programming will help you relate to your tech teams, especially when they face the struggles and frustrations inherent to the development process. This empathy will manifest itself in mutual respect between management and development, leading to better morale, teamwork and, ultimately, productivity.
4. Getting your hands dirty. At a startup, resources are scarce and your tech teams are on tight deadlines and probably overworked. Rather than having to interrupt your tech team to make a small change to your website or update content in your app, you’ll have the ability and confidence to make a change without fearing a site shut down or interruption of business.
At the New York Code + Design Academy, I am constantly updating our website to reflect new classes and tweaking the layout and graphics to improve the marketing of our workshops while my tech team and chief academic officer focus on more important matters such as providing our students with the resources to learn to code. If I didn’t know how to code, I would have to leverage my tech team to make minor changes, which takes time away from the student experience.
5. Critical thinking. In the early life of a startup, each decision -- big or small -- will have an impact on the business, so a CEO must be able to make good decisions under pressure. Strong critical thinking skills facilitate good decision making, and there is no better way to learn to think critically than by learning to code. As you think logically and algorithmically through the problems inherent in your project and turn them into objects, methods and control flows, you’ll break down the problem your business solves into the bite-size pieces you’ll reuse and rely on in the future.
Malcolm Gladwell suggests it takes 10,000 hours to develop mastery of a skill. As an entrepreneur, you probably don’t have that much time to learn to code. But proficiency is a much lower hurdle than mastery and being proficient in your coding skills will make you a better entrepreneur.