How Don Wettrick of StartEdUp Teaches Life-Changing Innovation Secrets to High School Students
“Learn to code.” You hear it constantly at Verge and other startup events. As a programmer myself, I think everyone should learn to program. It’s valuable in many areas of life and business, but I also think it’s generally bad advice to give a startup founder.
So, why do people give this advice anyway? There are three primary reasons for its popularity:
Let’s be clear—Programming knowledge is very useful for startup founders.
Due to shared terminology, you’ll be able to communicate better with your technical team. Understanding the tradeoffs of certain technical decisions allows you to iterate between feature ideas faster, without involving your team and slowing them down. In addition, evaluating your first few engineering hires and their performance will be easier. As a programmer yourself, you’ll have the option of putting off development hires, which are often time consuming and expensive.
Most importantly, being able to write your own software lets you build prototypes, and maybe even a fully functional application. With working software, it’s easier to get sales and gain traction, or merely demonstrate your idea in high fidelity to investors.
Those are great benefits, but is halting everything, including your business, to learn to code really worth it?
Nothing is more important in a startup than knowledge. Knowledge about product-market-fit, your initial product vs. your long-term product, and which VC firm from which to raise money. Learning to code often wastes time and energy that could be devoted to actually moving your business forward by gaining this knowledge.
There are several good scenarios where learning to code, even just a little bit, may be beneficial:
Even if you decide to learn to program, you’ll probably want to stop working on your application after raising money or proving product-market-fit. Like most trades, it takes years of practice and making mistakes to become a proficient developer capable of working on a large application. Once your startup is ready for the next level, step back and focus on growing your business, not your code. Having a founder as a junior developer on an engineering team isn’t good for you, your business, or your team.
Learning to program is fun and incredibly useful, but it won’t make your startup take off faster. Ignore the advice, and don’t feel bad about it.