To Code or Not To Code

“John celebrated his ‘Hello World’ code!”


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“To be, or not to be, that is the question…” eloquently wrote William Shakespeare in the opening phrase of Hamlet. Nowadays “to code, or not to code” is the hot question filling up discussion boards and Friday night technology meetups. The ongoing discussion touches on the level of coding required to be involved in a startup and whether one should even bother putting in the time to learn. Note when we say ‘coding’, we are referring to any programming/development activities that involve typing and executing code.

This week alone numerous posts filled up the frontpage of Hacker News. Articles promoting coding were quickly followed by articles discouraging coding. Coders, hackers and non-coders fought over the virtues of learning code and the very discussion proved the point of how varied the opinion is on the matter. For every failed non-coder tale there was a story of a successful one.

While some argue that it is a prerequisite for any founder to know and understand code, others cite the many non-technical founders quite happy to sit at the top of a organisation letting experts develop their product. There just doesn’t appear to be a ‘black and white’ answer to the question. This may well hint that a successful startup is not built on code alone, but the things around it.

Some thoughts on learning to code:

+ Understanding: You don’t need to be an expert but understanding code and the technology helps in making informed decisions about your product and platform. Sure you can defer to your CTO however it surely must pay to know a little bit on a topic than nothing at all. And especially when you don’t have or cannot afford a CTO.

+ Measurement: The level of coding knowledge is difficult to measure and is not always comparable. Someone may know everything about one language and nothing about another. Someone may understand the mechanics of coding but not know any specific language at all. How much one learns may not be easily measured, compared or applied.

+ Diversity: So you want to start coding – okay which language? HTML/CSS/JS/PHP/Ruby/Python/Flash… Then there is further division between front end and back end, and what flavour of language. Plain old vanilla ‘JavaScript’ or new style ‘CoffeeScript’. Sure there are similarities and fundamentals you can pick up, but even once you select a language there are still divisions.

+ Time/Focus: When you are in the rush of starting a business there is so much to learn. You have customers to go speak to and put out fires. Do you have the time and focus to start learning and fixing code? Some argue the importance of focusing on your skills and outsourcing your gaps. Eventually you will need to handover the code to an expert. Maybe it is a benefit to employ a professional coder sooner rather than later, allowing you more time to focus on selling/marketing etc.

Our personal experience is that to be taken seriously by many developers and other startup folk, showing you have made any effort to learn code is well received. You don’t need to be an expert but certainly being able to write something down and show off a prototype is a respectable achievement. However we do feel that a careful balance is needed to ensure that focus is given in the right places to ensure that you are not just left with a great code, but a great business.

Want more, check out some other views on learning to code:
Please Learn to Code
Please Don’t Lean to Code
Why I Desperately Needed to Learn To Code
Please Don’t Become Anything, Especially Not A Programmer
Please Learn to Write

Image Credit: uBelly

More Spark n Launch.

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+ Lessons Learned From A Hacker News Traffic Spike
+ Learning From Other Startups – 6 Real Life Stories
+ The Bootstrap Challenge – Walking the Talk
+ Startup Weekend: What to expect? How to prepare?

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