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Do Tech Entrepreneurs Need To Know How To Code? 202

An anonymous reader writes "Learning to write code has become something of a trendy thing to do. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he intends to learn code this year. Estonia has recently announced a scheme with the aim of getting every 6-year-old in the Baltic state to learn programming skills. The demand has spawned a number of start-ups offering coding lessons. General Assembly, which teaches off-line courses, has recently opened up in London and is recruiting ahead of a launch in Berlin. On-line education site Codecademy landed $10 million to expand from its home base in New York. Zach Simms, the 22-year-old co-founder, said in an earlier interview with The Wall Street Journal that not everyone has to learn to code, but everybody 'needs to learn the notions of algorithms, realizing what you can use code for.' But do they?"
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Do Tech Entrepreneurs Need To Know How To Code?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06, 2012 @01:38PM (#41250587)
  • by sandytaru ( 1158959 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @01:41PM (#41250651) Journal
    Do people need to know how to program in C? No. Do they need to know how to think logically? It sure doesn't hurt. But there are other means of teaching formal logic; geometrical proofs are the standard for high school logic. I'm not sure that programming is necessarily the best way to go about it. The kids who have a natural knack for it will gravitate to it, so giving students the option as early as elementary or middle school is probably a fair thing to do. I don't think it should be a mandatory subject, especially at advanced levels.
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Thursday September 06, 2012 @01:44PM (#41250689) Journal
    I think I can generalize this. If you're doing a startup in the tech community, there's often something that's your bread and butter. There's gotta be something that sets you apart from a big guy clone otherwise you're not a startup, you're just another business trying to do business. This bread and butter is often complex otherwise someone else would already be doing this. If you're the leadership on a startup, the less you know about this core element of your startup, the riskier your venture is going to be.

    Coding is a common one because it's powerful. But your startup could just as easily depend on some hardware thing, like, say Fusion IO cards. And if the leaders of the startup don't understand the power and limitations of those cards, then you're in trouble. I think most of the time what I've seen ruin things inside a Fortune 500 company that does R&D that is supposed to mimic startups is that the leaders don't understand statistics and P-values and recall rates. Software is basically complex math so I guess you could say that was their misunderstanding of what software and "algorithms" could do but ... yeah I've been involved with rule based systems projects where it was pretty clear the people in charge of me didn't know the limitations of rule based systems. Back then, I'd draw out a functional flow block diagram for this system and show them the black box and explain to them why this was going to be trouble.

    If I started up a new drywall startup and claimed I had a new mixture of gypsum and lime pressed between two special kinds of paper done in a certain manner at a certain temperature making it more resistant to moisture, more durable, comparable in price, etc than the crap coming out of China ... but in the end I don't understand the science or the chemistry behind that process, it's probably going to die on the vine. Sure, software is a common misunderstanding for tech startups but it could just as easily be the frequency limits of modern RAM accesses or why a 700 Mhz ARM processor isn't gonna get the job done or how many points a resistive touch display can track at once accurately etc etc.

    Basically if you don't understand the core concepts that your startup depends on and offers, you're gonna have a bad time.
  • by dingen ( 958134 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @01:47PM (#41250749)

    Of course there are lots of examples of great tech entrepreneurs who can't write a single line of code, so it's obviously it's not a requirement. But I do think it's a practical skill to have, especially in the beginning of your new company when resources are scarce. You can save lots of money and time by being able to whip up your own demo's and prototypes, instead of having to let 3rd party developers create them for you, especially as there tends to be lots of different versions and ideas at the start. And later on it is a great benefit to have a general knowledge of what it is your company offers and the people working for you are doing in your ability to manage your company properly.

  • by thePowerOfGrayskull ( 905905 ) <marc,paradise&gmail,com> on Thursday September 06, 2012 @01:52PM (#41250827) Homepage Journal

    Coders are the pillar of our industry. We need more of them. Here, get Visual Studio [microsoft.com] and start coding today!

    Knowing how to code does not a developer make.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday September 06, 2012 @01:56PM (#41250883) Homepage Journal
    No, but you do need to understand how a toaster heats the bread in order to know what you can do with a toaster and how to set the toaster correctly.
  • by johnlcallaway ( 165670 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @01:56PM (#41250895)
    'Coding' is syntax. Learning how to explain how to do something using a specific syntax. I think just about anyone can learn how to do that.

    'Coding' is reading a spec and converting it to a specific syntax. I think just about anyone can learn how to do that.

    'Programming' is taking a nebulous idea, breaking it down into a series of inter-related processing components, and then coding those processing components. It's being able to recognize if the processes as defined work as desired and if not, figuring out how which components do not work properly and correct them. It requires certain degrees of spatial skills depending on the complexity and number of processes being coded so that their inter-relationships can be understood.

    Programming is a far more difficult thing to teach, because it requires someone to be able to develop a process where none already exists, or convert an existing process that is not computer-based, into a series of logical processing components and link them together to produce the desired results. It requires someone to step outside lines where everything is neatly defined and define their own instructions.

    When so many people can't even follow directions on how to set the clock on their microwave oven, how the hell does anyone think they can learn to do anything but code what someone else has already written the instructions for.
  • by multicoregeneral ( 2618207 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @02:01PM (#41250967) Homepage
    I think more developers should get their heads out of the asses and become entrepreneurs. Seriously. Where exactly does experience as a developer get you, other than more dead end jobs as a developer? Unless developers become entrepreneurs, they run the serious risk of working their butts off, and having nothing to show for it three, five, twenty years later. Seriously, it's a fucking terrifying idea.
  • by Crudely_Indecent ( 739699 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @02:06PM (#41251047) Journal

    I disagree.... It begins much earlier than that. For me, it started with Lego and Erector sets.

    Development is my adult version of Lego. The main difference being that with Lego, you must to plan for the pieces you have - with development - you just make the pieces you don't have.

    Of course, I still play with Lego.

  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @02:09PM (#41251107) Homepage

    The most successful tech entrepreneurs had significant technical skills. And that absolutely mattered - without those skills, they have no way of evaluating technical employees and applicants. If they weren't in charge of product development themselves, then they at least had to know who they should hire to run product development.

    For example: Bill Gates was an extremely effective developer and architect (worth reading is Joel Spolsky [joelonsoftware.com] writing about a time he met with Bill Gates). Larry and Sergei of Google were well-respected developers doing graduate work at Stanford. Steve Jobs wasn't at good at the technical stuff as Woz was, but he had tinkered with electronics and done technical work for Atari.

    Many MBAs of the world would like to think that managers don't need to understand the details of their product line. But that's simply not true - the manager that understands the details will hire better people, make wiser decisions about how to accomplish tasks, and have a more realistic outlook of what the organization can do.

  • John Sculley (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frequency Domain ( 601421 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @02:17PM (#41251205)
    Peddled soda before becoming CEO of Apple. Everybody thought that his CEO expertise would carry over to any other kind of business. He didn't understand computers and thought he could beat the competition by turning macs into commodity computers and outmarketing the rest of the field. He very nearly put Apple out of business.
  • by tilante ( 2547392 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @02:28PM (#41251375)
    You do realize that most startups fail, right? Entrepreneurs run a serious risk of working their butts off, and having nothing to show for it three, five, twenty years later. Except in the entrepreneur's case, that 'working their butts off' is more literal (since running a startup easily takes a lot more than 40 hours a week), and that 'nothing to show for it' may be followed by 'except a big load of debt'.
  • by donscarletti ( 569232 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @02:42PM (#41251629)

    Code is just syntax. Syntax that you use to feed your ideas into your compiler. Then you will start it and it probably won't run.

    Code teaches you something important. An idea that doesn't work is bullshit. You can't blame anyone else, you just need to fix it and make it do the right thing.

    Anyone who hasn't experienced this is not ready to be a member of a team and certainly not a leader.

  • by WaywardGeek ( 1480513 ) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @03:15PM (#41252121) Journal

    I agree that developers should be more entrepreneurial. As my uncle always said, you'll never get rich working for someone else, and the worst that can happen starting a company is you wind up where you started: broke. So what? You can always try again or give up and get a regular job.

    However, a lot of great coders are just not cut out to start businesses. Starting a business requires many different skill sets to be present in the initial founders and employees. For example, you're not likely to grow a business without hiring good people and then managing them well, so founders without decent experience in this area are likely to learn through repeated failure. You'd also be quite surprised at how many regular guys become psychotic a-holes as soon as real money is involved. In general, the larger the founding team, the more likely one of the founders will sabotage the company. My favorite number of founders is 1 or 2, which means the founders need to be jacks of all trades. They need to be the CEO, marketing VP, sales VP, CTO, CFO, IT support, human resources, office manager, receptionist, and all the worker bees all rolled into one. If a good programmer happens to fail in a major skill required for his startup, it likely wont work out. If he needs funding, yet isn't good at raising it, he'll fail. If he's got great ideas and is awesome at implementing them, yet couldn't sell free dog food to dogs, he'll likely learn a valuable lesson in how not to start a company.

    So, do entrepreneurs need to learn to code? If code has to be written, and the number of founders is 1, and there's no money to hire coders, then yes. Otherwise, probably not. In my experience, the reason so many tech startups are started by techies is the people building this generation of tech are the ones who most easily see the implications of where technology is heading. A business major learning to program in Java isn't going to gain that insight. However, a guy with all those other skills partnered with the right geek could make a great 2-person team. Techie: Bill Hewlett Biz-head: David Packard. Techie: Woz Biz-head:Jobs. There are tons of techie/biz-head teams. The other way to go is if you can do it all yourself, but you should start out in tech, not learn it as an after-thought.

  • by ghostdoc ( 1235612 ) on Friday September 07, 2012 @12:45AM (#41256865)

    bullshit, I've never met a problem that couldn't be solved elegantly with just a hammer.

    your screwdriver fancy-dancy crap is just adding complexity to problems. Screws are just odd-shaped nails after all!

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?