There has been a lot of talk about the learn-to-code movement recently, and much of it revolves around the importance of filling the growing need for software developers and computer scientists.
But programming skills are important to many other professionals as well, even those who have no intention to become career coders. Entrepreneurs in particular gain a significant competitive advantage by picking up the ability to create their own software. Here’s why:
It can be really difficult to work with developers on your business if you don’t speak the same language. Developers can better understand their requirements if you can speak to the technologies involved instead of just explaining what the product is supposed to do from a pure business perspective. A developer who doesn’t have the proper guidance won’t have the tools, resources, or insight into what an entrepreneur actually wants executed.
If the Wright brothers had no understanding of physics, it would never have occurred to them that they could build an airplane. If an entrepreneur doesn’t understand and appreciate the technology that’s out there, all the possibilities for innovation will not even enter their stream of consciousness. By contrast, if you are aware of how the latest technologies actually work, you are able to dream of new ideas and possibilities that can disrupt existing industries.
Even if you don’t plan on becoming the lead developer for your product, having the ability to code allows you to build working prototypes of software your business might use. These prototypes may be websites that will be put directly in front of potential customers to see if your new business idea gains traction, or they may be useable pieces of software that can be handed over to developers to give them a crystal clear idea as to what you’re asking them to build.
Being able to create these applications yourself allows you to tailor them exactly to your needs, without risking having the developers create a product that is something other than what you’ve asked for.
Developers often communicate using technical jargon while assuming that their non-technical co-workers understand what they’re talking about. By having a solid grasp on technology and its implementation, you truly understand what they’ve accomplished and what obstacles remain to be overcome. You also have a better idea if the developers’ claims are reasonable as to why the project is delayed, or if you’re being taken for a ride.
For example, if a new team of developers claim that it’s critical that your company’s primary software be written from scratch in a brand-new programming language, you’ll know whether it’s actually necessary or if the developers just want to work with shiny new tools.
By understanding how your business’s tech works under the hood, you know which programming tasks might take months and which can be implemented in a matter of hours. Even if the three-month project causes a greater increase in revenue than the smaller feature, you’re more likely to hand the smaller feature over to a developer first if you know it can be implemented in a day. This way, that feature will already be generating additional revenue while the developers tackle the larger project.
When your company grows or you are looking to raise additional funding, you are better versed with how the technical side fits into the business. You are also better equipped to explain your business to your team, investors, potential hires, media, and anyone else who your company interfaces with.
As an entrepreneur, you’ve always understood the other mechanics of your business, but when you know the technology that drives it, you can really take it to the next level.
—Jay Wengrow is an experienced web developer and educator, with a M.Ed. in Administration and Supervision and M.S. in Software Engineering from Loyola University Chicago. He founded Anyone Can Learn To Code, a fully immersive, part-time coding bootcamp located in Chicago, in order to make coding more accessible through clear instruction and intuitive learning.