Non-Technical Founders Learning to Code

I believe in 2-3 years, there won’t be many new technology founders who don’t know how to code. As a non-technical founder my self, it’s extremely tempting to dive into learning a language like Ruby on Rails. I recommend against least until you’re educated on the more hierarchical elements of building software.

A non-technical founder can learn more about software development by understanding it’s concepts than by reversing a string in Javascript. Here are a few elements I recommend learning about before diving straight into code:

  • Server & database infrastructures
  • Languages and frameworks
  • Revision control and repositories
  • Agile methodology
  • Product management best practices
  • API’s

I recommend starting at Wikipedia and taking notes on your questions. You can post them on Quora or treat your favorite software professional to a free lunch + Q&A.

Do you agree? Should non-technical founders learn these high level concepts before diving in to code?

Aside from leadership, customer engagement, marketing & sales, what’s the best way for a business founder to add value to the technical team?

  1. I’d agree that its certainly tempting to dive in and learn how to code, but I think a non-coding co-founder can spend his time on more useful things. Of course learning to code is beneficial, but you must take into account the opportunity cost. Plus, it’s frustrating knowing you are more than likely never actually going to write production-ready code…

    That’s not to say it wouldn’t be useful to learn some CSS or photoshop or something of that ilk, which will allow you to tweak landing pages and calls-to-action.

    1. I hear you Brian. There are a lot of things that need to be accomplished outside of dev…but understanding it is critical for somebody who wants to be the CEO of a software company. 

      As for small projects, I built our marketing site and am in the process of creating the new version using WP themes and custom CSS. I’m also working with an intern on a Google Chrome Plugin…all easy ways to get in the mix and learn more about dev. 

  2. I agree with Brian on this.  There is plenty high-value work to do in the customer development user experience design areas alone, not to mention pursuing funding and other startup-centric business needs, that it seems silly to go to great lengths to “learn to code.”

    Some HTML and CSS might be useful from a visual design perspective, but a good product evangelist should be able to convey the business problem to be solved and the parameters of a design so that those skilled in those areas can effectively do that work.

    I think learning concepts of application design, such as multi-tiered architecture, back and front end development, can help target the imagination towards a solution that is feasible.

    Finally, as it relates to “product management,” what I think you mean here is the agile “product owner” role. This is the subset of product management that is related to managing the backlog and the sprint cycle. Product management itself is a business role that involves bringing a profitable product to market–somewhat analogous to “everything the non-technical co-founder does!”

    1. Thanks for your comment John. You’re right, all these things become one job you mentioned for the non-tech co-founder: “Bring a Profitable Product to Market”. Great job description!

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