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Getting Past the 'to Code or Not to Code' Question

Finding a middle ground in the ongoing debate about whether or not more of us should learn how to code.
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Do all small business owners need to know how to code? Does just about everybody?

No matter where you stand in this debate there’s certainly plenty of articles, videos and expert commentators willing to back you up. Tech luminaries like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have lent their voices to this video calling for just about all kids to learn computer programming, for instance:

But plenty of professional coders have publicly disagreed, noting that while technical skills make for great career opportunities or a fun hobby, if coding isn’t your passion, there’s little to be gained from forcing yourself to learn programming. On Fast Company Ciara Byrne cautions against thinking of learning to program as quick route to riches, noting that getting anywhere with coding generally requires a passion for either the activity itself or for solving a particular problem through programming.

Becoming proficient at programming is also not as quick, nor as easy as cheery videos like the one above make it sounds, other experts argue. While successful non-technical founders point out they’re getting along just fine without writing so much as a line of code. (If you want A LOT more on this back and forth, Pandodaily has helpfully boiled down the whole conversation into links).

A Middle Way?

So is there a way out of this seemingly endless 'to code or not to code' debate? Thankfully, unlike 'to be or not to be,' this choice isn’t a binary either/or question, several peacemakers point out. "Learning how to program and doing it professionally are two distinct things and they should not be lumped together," cautions programmer John Sonmez.  

There is a broad spectrum of coding skill, in other words. While most of us aren’t going to get to a level proficiency where it will be the main focus on our job, having more folks with more technical knowledge would greatly facilitate communication between the technical and non-technical camps and help members of both work better and more quickly, he argues. What’s needed isn’t for everyone to learn to code, but everyone to attain some basic level of technical proficiency, much like most of us leave writing books to novelists while still being able to follow a plot or correctly punctuate an email.

So what exactly is this baseline level of technical proficiency that every business owner should attain? What skills does it involve? Under30CEO took a whack at answering this question recently, listing 15 baseline tech skills for entrepreneurs, including how to wireframe, how to learn new tech skills, and a basic understanding of HTML and CSS.

If you were going to draw up a list of baseline tech skills for all entrepreneurs, what would you include? 

Last updated: Oct 29, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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