“Pre-dodgeball I went through 3-4 years thinking I was going to meet some magical engineer who would build all the stuff I was thinking about. I’m still a really sh***y programmer…but I know enough to hack a prototype together.” –Dennis Crowley, Foursquare
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In a world where people spend more than 20 hours per week 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 l33t hax0r to benefit from learning code. But, as former director of engineering at Gazelle and Launch Academy co-founder, I do believe having a working knowledge of how to code helps tech founders build the best software companies possible.
Here’s why, along with a few ideas on how to get started.
You Will Make Better-Informed Decisions
If your company is like the majority of startups, then you need a website. It will likely require you to create wireframes, a product development process, and a team of capable engineers to make it a reality.
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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 because 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.
You Will Pitch 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.
You Will Save Money
Minor 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.
You Will Learn by Doing
Sure, you could buy a great book on computer programming, but the best way to learn software development is through practice. Thankfully, there are many free and paid resources to get you started:
- Online Resources: Start by researching the best websites for learning code, such as Treehouse, Codecademy, Code School and Ruby Monk. These will teach you concepts and encourage you to actually do the exercises, which puts that new knowledge into play.
- MeetUps: Once you have some knowledge under your belt, attending a local MeetUp would be a great next step. True story: Evan, my fellow 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.
- Programming Bootcamps: 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 bootcamps vary anywhere from nine to 12 weeks, and each focuses on some languages more than others.
You don’t have to be the next 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.
A version of this post originally appeared here.
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.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.