Ever notice how much time you can spend emailing back and forth when trying to setup a meeting?...
Gil Scott-Heron—“Paint It Black” [Spoken Word]
Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (Flying Dutchman 1970).
Funkadelic - I Got A Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing
So good, the intense desperation of the song always got it.
There is a lot of conversation about learning to code these days. It is certainly a positive trend and there are more resources available to learn how to program than at any time in the past. There are thousands of books, web tutorials, and schools like Codecademy and CodeLesson. Initiatives are underway to create dedicated technology schools like P-Tech and the Academy for Software Engineering in NYC. Heck, even the languages, tools, and skills needed are way easier. You might think of this as the Golden Age of Coding.
I wonder if we are getting ahead of ourselves though. I like that people are taking a real interest in technology. For the sake of our country’s future, we absolutely need more people going into technical fields. However, for all the excitement over initiatives like Code Year and entrepreneurs making pronouncements of their dedication to learn how to code, I wonder if this is all a lot of noise without any substance? How dedicated are these folks really?
I saw this quote the other day:
ANY CODER WORTH BE PARTNER TO BUILD YOUR IDEA ALREADY BUILDING OWN BETTER IDEA. #LEARNTOCODE
I think that is all well and good for those with the aptitude and inclination to code. However, it is a naïve notion to think that people with non-technical backgrounds will just pick up programming. Some will, but many will not. The reason is that learning to code is not the “be all, end all” of creating a tech startup. You also have to create a business.
One of the biggest gaps I encounter when meeting an all-tech founding team is a lack of clearly thought out business models and execution strategies. They have not given much thought to selling or marketing their product, generating traffic and sign-ups, creating partnerships, hiring staff, developing a funding strategy, how to handle customer issues, or simply doing the things one does in order to operate a business. Those are all skills that seem to go underappreciated in our tech community and the rush to conflate our techie cred. Those also happen to be skills that a good non-technical entrepreneur should be able to master and deliver.
Learning to code does take time. Even with all the great tools and resources, it is at least a good 6 months before anyone can be proficient enough to build something from scratch that is functional. Some can learn faster and have proven it, but the majority of people cannot lock themselves in a cave for several weeks. Even when you can build something, the proficient and experienced programmer can usually do what you did in about a tenth of the time. It makes little sense and is not the best use of a one’s time to do something that is not in the sweet spot of one’s abilities.
Therefore, if you are a non-technical founder, do not be dismayed because you are not coding. You have plenty to do yourself and do not just have to twiddle your fingers while the techies do the “real work”. You do not have to hide your head in shame or feel bad about yourself because you do not know CRUD from REST. That being said, you should at least try to get a sense of how the architecture works, contribute heavily to the design and prototyping process, and be an effective channel for communicating customer feedback. If you do this, you will be amazed at how much you pick up by simply being involved.
If you twiddling your fingers however, then shame on you for throwing work over the wall without contributing. That is irresponsible and lazy and self-defeating. If you think you can cash in on success off the backs of others, may MR. FAKEGRIMLOCK find you and eat your innards. But I know you will not do that, so hold your head high and be confident that your path is not stymied just because you are not a coder.