Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Why Businesspeople Should Learn To Code (But Not Write Software)

The "everyone should learn how to code" meme has probably reached the point of absurdity.  My favorite (humorous) example is the "Dear Miss Disruption" advice column, in which every question, no matter what the topic, concludes with the answer, "learn to code."
http://bit.ly/1aRFVDa

But my old professor Tom Eisenmann of HBS did something that few others have--he actually polled a bunch of MBA students who took a computer science class, and asked them about their experience.  Imagine that, actual data!
http://bit.ly/1akvZD5
"Of the 18 survey respondents who founded a startup, joined an existing startup, or went to work for a big tech company upon graduation, 83% answered "yes" to the question, "On reflection, was taking CS50 worth it for you?" and 17% said "not sure." Of these 18 respondents, none said that taking CS50 was not worth it. By contrast, of the six respondents who pursued jobs outside of the tech sector — say, in consulting or private equity — only two said CS50 was a worthwhile investment; three said it was not; and one was not sure."
The numbers are way too small to be statistically significant, but it certainly seems like students who chose to take a CS class (an admittedly self-selecting group) found it beneficial.  The interesting thing is why.  For the most part, the students didn't get value out of coding.  Instead, they improved their ability to work with developers, and demonstrated their commitment to high tech.

The fact is, having businesspeople spend their time coding violates nearly 240 years of economics.  It's hard for me to imagine that a 25-year-old MBA can create more value for their startup by coding apps based on a couple of Code Academy courses than they can by developing customer relationships and lining up financing.

I studied Engineering at Stanford, and even got an A+ in CS106A, but I've never written a line of production code (unless you count HTML).  That's fine.  That's not my value.  But my experience has helped me work closely with software development teams my entire career.

2 comments:

Michael Feng said...

I wholeheartedly second this. As a startup CEO, the best thing about learning to code is that it garners you props from the best engineers out there.

Plus, you can actualize all the grand visions you have in your head (and see firsthand all the pitfalls)!

Chris said...

Businesspeople who don't know anything about programming shouldn't be tech CEOs.