ENTREPRENEURSHIP / DEC. 06, 2015
version 24, draft 24

Why You Should Learn to Code Before Starting a Business

Coding is the next big thing that everyone thinks they should learn, whether it’s because they dream of being the next Steve Jobs or creating the next Facebook. The good news is that it isn’t that hard to learn the basics if you’re willing to put in the time; the bad news, though, is that there are other things it might be better to focus on.

Whether or not you should learn how to code as a business owner depends on why you want to learn it. If you’re looking to make quick money, then you aren’t doing it for the right reasons and your business may suffer for it. If you’re doing it in order to be a well-rounded business owner who can communicate intelligently with the coders and developers you hire, then it’s a great idea. If you want to learn it because you’re too impatient to go through the process of hiring someone, then I have to remind you that learning code is like learning a language – and it doesn’t happen overnight!

Just like with learning anything else, there are as many reasons to learn how to code as there are reasons not to. Coding in particular is a good choice as, like the internet itself, it isn’t going to suddenly stop being useful to know – at least, not until we have robots so intelligent they can program themselves – and it can benefit you in ways you never even thought of. On the other hand, one expert coder is worth 10 amateurs, and hiring a professional may be the best use of your money. Let’s take a look at why you should learn to code before you start a business.

See Also: Learning to Code: Choosing Your Coding Language [infographic]

1. You’ll Save Money

Which is cheaper: doing something yourself or hiring someone else to do it for you? Doing it yourself, of course. A business that’s just getting started is one that probably doesn’t have the cash flow to hire anyone who isn’t absolutely necessary, so why not delay your business plans for a few months to learn to code? After all, once you know how to code, everything else should be easy.

Additionally, coding means the ability to automate processes. You could start your business by hiring people to do everything manually and then hire a coder to automate it (thereby putting all those employees out of work), or you could have enough coding knowledge yourself to be fully automated from the start. Which sounds like the most efficient path to a successful business?

The Downside

If you’ve never coded before now, then you’re going to be an amateur, and probably not the kind of amateur that can be mistaken for a professional. Why do everything yourself and take twice as long when an expert could have you up and running – and help you earn their salary – in no time? There are some things in life that you shouldn’t do, even if you can, and coding might just be one of them… unless you happen to be a natural.

2. You’ll Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

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Learning to code is like learning a new language. Steve Jobs once said that learning to code teaches you how to think, just like any language does: it gives you a new perspective on things and it helps with your creative and logical thinking, to name two of the cognitive benefits. As technology continues to progress, having an in-depth understanding of how things work behind the scenes will allow you to look to the future and know how to keep up with what’s coming next.

In addition, knowing how to fix small problems with your site or other processes will mean not having to turn to the tech department for every small thing, allowing them to continue to work on the projects they already have. If a problem requires no more than a quick code tweak, then it makes sense to at least know enough coding to be able to do it yourself; you could have it done hours faster than if the tech guy has to “get around to it”.

The Downside

Yes, there is one. Namely, you’re a business owner and not a coder. Let the programmers get on with their programming while you focus on telling them what problem needs solving. It’s more important to be able to find a solution than it is to be able to write the code to fix it, and you shouldn’t get so distracted by wanting to be a jack of all trades that you lose sight of your goals and end up the master of none.

3. You’ll Gain Tech Fluency

I’ve already compared learning code to learning a new language, so let’s continue that comparison: learning at least the basics is like when you learn a few basic phrases before you go on holiday. The native (or the coder or developer) will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to learn and will be grateful that you have an understanding of what they do and what you’re asking of them. A business owner who knows about coding will have an idea of what’s possible and how quickly they can expect it to be done; a business owner who doesn’t, on the other hand, will make unreasonable demands and make everyone miserable, including themselves.

Even if you don’t do any coding yourself, understanding it will allow you to properly communicate with your tech people for a happier workplace. You’ll be able to say things to them without looking ignorant, and they will be confident that they can explain things to you without wasting too much time. The more effort you make, the more respect you will be showing and gaining – and the more you know, the more intelligent your hiring choices can be.

The Downside

You will need to know where to draw the line between empathizing with your coders and developers, and staying out of their way. Know enough coding to create mockups of what you think you want so they more quickly understand what you’re thinking, but don’t insist that your way is right if they’re telling you it isn’t. Everyone doesn’t need to be good at everything; there’s a reason you hired them to handle the tech, and there’s a reason they haven’t started their own businesses. Stick to what you know best.

4. Your Ideas Are More Likely to Become a Reality (And More Quickly)

If you have the coding knowledge to validate your ideas by yourself before you have to seek outside help, then you’ll stop wasting time on ideas that are impossible. Either you’ll immediately know they’re impossible or you’ll try and discover your mistake before you’ve paid someone and waited for them to find out for you. You might be slower than an expert, but at least you won’t both end up frustrated when you can’t get what you want and they find they can’t do what they’ve been hired for.

You won’t have to go through the frustration of waiting for someone to turn your idea into a reality, and your employees won’t have to go through the stress of working for someone who demands they turn water into wine. The more you know, the less you’ll risk making unreasonable demands, and the easier you’ll find it to explain what you want and what issues you’re having.

The Downside

Don’t become a perfectionist. Knowing how to code every idea that comes to you is great, but you don’t want to get so wrapped up in testing all of them that you find you’re neglecting everything else. Similarly, a website created by you will certainly be unique, but that doesn’t mean you know how to make it functional and aesthetically pleasing. Coders don’t just know how to code; they actually know what ideas are realistic, which will work, and which are the best for the goal you’re trying to achieve.

See Also: How to Learn (Entry-Level) Coding

As you can see, there are a number of benefits to learning to code; you can get more involved in what’s happening, you can communicate better with your team for a happier workplace, and you can take responsibility for fixing the small problems by yourself. As long as you know what things are better left to the experts, having at least a basic understanding is a much better idea than thinking hiring a techie as a cofounder is the answer – no matter what you promise, that relationship will not be 50/50 as the building at the start of the business is more than half the work.

Have you started a business and wish you had learned to code first? Did you learn to code before starting your business and found it beneficial? Are you a coder who wishes business owners would leave all the coding to you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!

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