“Pre-dodgeball I went thru 3-4 years thinking I was going to meet some magical engineer who would build all the stuff I was thinking about. But I never met that person, so I taught myself . . . out of a book and got to work just hacking stuff together. I’m still a really shitty programmer, but I know enough to hack a prototype together — which is what you need to get other people [and] investors on board. ”
— Dennis Crowley, Co-founder and CEO of FourSquare (Source: Quora)
In a world where people spend more than 20 hours per week, according to Business News Daily, on applications created by code, it is fascinating to me that most individuals do not have an understanding of how software and software development works.
As an entrepreneur, you don’t need to become the next l337 haxx0r (i.e., a really good hacker) to benefit from learning code. But, as former director of engineering at Gazelle, and now a Launch Academy co-founder, I do believe having a working knowledge of how to code helps tech (and non-technical) founders build the best companies possible.
Here are four reasons why you should learn to code, along with a few ideas on how to get started.
Make Informed Decisions
If your company is like the majority of startups, then at a minimum you need a company website. If you are building an app, it will likely require you to create wireframes, a product development process, and recruit a team of capable engineers. As a company founder, you hold the vision of what your product should look like, but if you can’t draw up a wireframe or properly express what you need from a developer, that’s a problem. Ultimately, a lack of knowledge makes you vulnerable. You should know what you’re paying for to protect yourself against swindlers, who may not be as skilled as they appear.
Pitch Tech Co-founders Better
Finding a technical co-founder is difficult, and VCs may be less likely to fund startups that lack one. Demonstrating that you’re learning to code can improve those odds, but more importantly, the knowledge gained will come in handy when you interview candidates for developer roles. For instance, at Launch Academy we hear a lot of stories about other boot camps’ admissions processes, and it is always the same one: The interviewer didn’t even know how to code. You can’t fake it, so just learn it.
Minor technical updates and content tweaks add up to high costs and a lot of back-and-forth inefficiencies. Save time and money by making minor edits yourself.
Learn by Doing
Sure, you can buy a computer programming book, but the best way to learn software development is through practice. Thankfully, there are free and paid resources to get you started. For example, start with online resources — the best websites to learn code — such as Treehouse, Codecademy, Code School and Ruby Monk. These sites will teach you concepts and encourage you to actually do the exercises, which puts new knowledge into play. Next, consider meetups. Once you have some knowledge under your belt, attending a local MeetUp is a great next step. (True story: Evan, my co-founder, actually went to local Boston Ruby Group MeetUps when he got the idea for Launch Academy, and we might not have met if he didn’t immerse himself in the community. Now, he is learning to code as well.) Lastly, consider programming boot camps. This is the extreme option. Some people decide to quit their jobs or pause whatever else they’re doing and just go for it. Lengths of boot camps vary anywhere from nine to 12 weeks, and each focuses on some languages more than others.
You don’t have to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, but some compulsory knowledge of code can go a long way. I agree with Tony Hsieh’s view on the subject: “I think everyone should get a little exposure to computer science because it really forces you to think in a slightly different way, and it’s a skill that you can apply in life in general, whether you end up in computer science or not.”
By learning some code, you will become an informed customer, and you’ll start to understand how software developers think — two critical skills for entrepreneurs today.
Dan Pickett is Co-founder of Launch Academy. Dan has been building web applications with Ruby on Rails since 2004, the year Rails was first publicly released, and is Co-Organizer of the Boston Ruby Group. He has a demonstrated passion for teaching and mentoring aspiring developers. He lives in Bridgewater, MA with his wife, Shannon, and dog, Linux. A version of this article originally appeared here.
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