November 24, 2015
There’s a prevalent train of thought running amuck through the tech startup world: Entrepreneurs believe learning to code will boost their credibility, provide them with a deeper understanding of their businesses, and transform their abilities to lead their troops. Many will run to Codecademy, take a few courses, and expect to be able to write an enterprise app. This is comparable to taking a few guitar lessons and challenging Jimmy Page to a face-off; it’s not going to end well for you.
While understanding code could certainly be helpful, it’s a far cry from being a critical skill for most tech entrepreneurs. If you have at least one developer and you’re still coding, you are ignoring your core responsibilities. That’s why I’m going against the grain here and discouraging tech entrepreneurs from learning to code. There are way more important things you should be doing with your time.
Why Leaders Shouldn’t Learn to Code
If you’re starting out by yourself, there’s some merit in learning to code. Most entrepreneurs are great idea people. Knowing how to actually implement ideas could separate you from the endless line of people hoping to create the “next Facebook.”
However, as soon as you hire a single capable engineer, whatever coding skills you have are no longer necessary. One solid engineer could implement more in two weeks than you could in six months — and it would likely be more robust and scalable.
Every minute you spend in the trenches learning a programming language from the ground up is time your customers are being ignored, your marketing isn’t being executed, and your company is running without direction.
You’re the leader — focus on the overall vision of your company. Leave the code to the competent, career-oriented coders.
Instead of wasting time gaining skills your team already has, you should be coaching and guiding your team toward stardom. These five actions will provide much more value to your brand than teaching your computer a for-loop operation to ask your name and repeat it back to you:
1. Draft a Spec Doc
Even if you can code, taking the time to think through and map out actual customer needs, user flows, and interactions is essential to creating a successful company. Having a more detailed product plan with specifics will not only improve your company, but it will also greatly help in product development (as well as hiring great talent).
2. Evaluate Customers
The single most important thing a leader can bring to the team is a clear understanding of customer and market need. Although most leaders would probably claim to have a good understanding of their target customers, it is rare to find one who actually spends enough time studying and interacting with them. If you don’t fully understand the situations, stories, and users of your product, what (or who) are you even designing it for? Anyone can make up a target customer, but real people in the real world rarely act how you think they will.
3. Recruit Actual Software Engineers
If you were to spend a year learning the foundations of computer programming, you’ll likely end up with a crap junior coder (you) who has no real understanding of what they’re doing. Instead, you should hire an experienced engineer, place your clearly developed vision in his hands, and tell him to put the pedal to the metal. Now that is a winning formula.
4. Sell Your Product
Sales are the lifeblood of any company. Without them, you have nothing. So get out and pitch your product to customers, and then assess the ensuing feedback loop. These early pitches will teach you an immense amount about the needs and wants of your target audience. Imagine how helpful this information will be when you’re training your first sales hires!
5. Pitch to Investors
Nearly every business reaches a point where it needs outside funding to grow beyond being an experiment. If this is the path you’re going to go down, you — as the face of the company — need to be able to speak convincingly to potential investors. This takes a lot of practice, but it’s your job to draw interest in your project and get people to sign on the dotted line.
Coding is a valuable skill, but it’s definitely not a necessary one for a leader just because it’s a tech-based business. Leading a company is a skill in itself, and nobody expects a CEO to understand how to code any more than a software engineer is expected to know how to run a successful company. Instead, stick to your strengths, and hire all-star coders to make your vision a reality.
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