Should Entrepreneurs Know Programming Basics?
Entrepreneurs need to wear many hats and be familiar with a wide range of skills. Depending on what stage of development your business is in and which team members you have supporting you, you may need to play the role of team leader, sales executive, accountant, and product development lead—all in the same day.
While general business and management skills are the best “all purpose” skills to master, it also helps to have secondary skills ready to go for various applications. Among these, you may consider learning how to program.
So why would an entrepreneur need to know programming basics?
Applications for Programming Skills
These are some of the most common and straightforward applications for which programming will be useful:
- Website development and troubleshooting. Every business is going to need a website, and whether you use a team to create a website from scratch or rely on a website builder, it pays to know a bit about programming. If you’re creating a website from scratch, you’ll have the power to customize every element on the page—rather than relying on templates—and you’ll have a sufficient understanding of what a basic website can or can’t do. If you’re using a website builder, you can tweak templates to your liking and earn the benefits of increased customizability.
- Software development and troubleshooting. The same logic applies if your startup is developing software (internally or for clients). Though only a fraction of entrepreneurs will be leading a business that develops software on a regular basis, if this applies to you, you can take a more direct role in planning sprints and monitoring the work your team is producing.
- If you learn something like Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), you can use your programming skills to customize Microsoft Office applications you use on a daily basis. By changing layouts, user interfaces, and tools available to your team, you can create the perfect tools for improving all-around productivity. Almost any team can benefit from having custom-made apps.
- Side gigs and earning potential. Even if your startup is generating revenue consistently, you can benefit from working on side gigs. Programming is a skill in high demand, and it pays quite well. If you’re looking to make some extra income or diversify your revenue stream, it’s a valuable skill to have. Granted, not every entrepreneur will have the time or inclination to pursue extra work, but the option is there if you want it.
- Team and project management. If your company creates software, you’ll be a better team manager and project manager if you understand how programming works (and have worked on programming projects in the past). It will equip you with a better understanding of how products are developed, and give you an accurate sense for how long various tickets and tasks will take.
Learning how to program can also grant you a number of secondary skills:
- Creative problem solving. Though the fundamentals of programming are built on logic and, to an extent, math, you need creativity to be a master. There are always multiple ways to accomplish what you want to do, and sometimes the straightforward path of development doesn’t work out the way you think it will. Practicing programming regularly makes you used to looking for (and finding) creative solutions, which comes in handy when you’re brainstorming solutions for your startup’s biggest problems.
- Logic development. That said, programming is still highly logical. Writing code, reviewing the code of others, and debugging can help you think more logically and meticulously about the problems you face in your business. Not every problem you face will be resolvable with the use of logic, but it can help you construct better arguments, perform better root cause analyses, and ultimately come up with more ordered directives.
- Critical thinking skills. Programming will teach you how to think critically. If you’ve worked on a section of code or an application for a while, it’s natural to feel attached to it, but when you go to test it, you’ll likely find a few mistakes or functionality differences that you weren’t planning on. When you get to a situation like this, you need to challenge your assumptions and think critically about the work you’ve done. Practicing this habitually enough will help you think critically about every area of your business.
- Networking opportunities. Learning basic programming skills will also force you to become acquainted with the programming community, which is massive. Chances are, there are multiple coding and programming meetups in your area. Even if there aren’t, you’ll inevitably find dozens of forums and platforms where programmers can get together, talk about the problems they’re facing, and hopefully, find solutions. All of these spaces are valuable opportunities to meet other professionals, whether you’re looking for employees, partners, clients, or just other entrepreneurs to trade tips with.
- Negotiation and expertise. Knowing the mechanics of programming can make you a stronger negotiator and make you seem like more of an expert as well. This is most valuable for startups that create software or develop websites, but it could feasibly apply to any entrepreneur. The logic required in programming will help you structure your arguments clearer and more objectively, and being able to talk like a developer could improve your image with new clients, investors, or business partners.
- Self-confidence and fallback skills. Mastering the art of programming will improve your self-confidence, which is necessary if you’re going to lead a team, execute sales, speak publicly, and so on. You’ll also develop an entirely unique set of skills, which will provide you with a solid fallback in case things with your primary business don’t pan out. Being a freelance programmer can be challenging, but it’s certainly better than being stuck without income if your business is drying up.
- Last but not least, remember that programming is fun for many people. If you like the idea of creating things from scratch, if logical problem solving gives you a good challenge, or if you’re fascinated by computer science, programming can be stress relieving for you. It’s an entertaining distraction—and one that comes with many other benefits.
These benefits make programming seem like a valuable asset for any entrepreneur (which it is). But there’s usually a cost to learning these basic skills, in terms of both time and money. If the costs are too high, it might not be worth pursuing, no matter how valuable the skills would otherwise be.
It takes a long time to learn a programming language, especially if it’s your first language. It takes something like 500 to 1,500 hours to learn a programming language fluently enough to consider yourself adept, which is time that would make most entrepreneurs shudder. But remember, this isn’t something you need to learn overnight, nor do you need to become an expert to get many of the benefits. If you put in just an hour a day, that adds up to 350 hours a year of experience, so in just a few years, you could consider yourself an experienced coder.
As for the costs, it’s possible to learn a language using free online resources, though it might be in your best interest to pay for a class, since you’ll get more resources and hands-on help. Even so, you won’t have to pay much—so you shouldn’t worry too much about the monetary costs.
Programming Language Considerations to know
The worlds of coding and programming are very diverse; there are dozens of viable programming languages you could specialize in, and each one has strengths weaknesses, and a different level of demand in the gig economy. You could start with something you know has a wide range of applications, but you could also go with a “specialist” language that’s ideal for the type of software you plan on developing in your startup.
Considering the low barrier to entry and the massive list of benefits you’ll get from learning, it’s valuable for almost any entrepreneur to learn basic programming skills. It shouldn’t be at the top of your priority list—especially if you still have to write a business plan, or create the fundamental elements of your business from scratch. However, if you have a few spare hours a week and at least a fleeting interest in programming overall, it’s worth the expenditure of time to add this to your skillset.