"Learn to code" has been a refrain for entrepreneurs for more than a decade. Want to start a business in the high-growth universe of venture capital windfalls and IPO fortunes? Learn to code. Have a modest idea for a digital product? Learn to code. Want your business to survive into the mid-21st century? Learn to code.
Why? Because modern e-commerce demands new and ever-changing technology. Because television commercials have been replaced by TikTok clips. Because no matter how good your idea is, there's probably already an app for that.
I believe all of that.
I am indeed a coder, and I firmly believe that learning to code should be a part of everyone's education. This isn't a rant against learning to code; it's a call to replace the "Learn to Code" movement with "Learn to No-Code."
"Learn to Code" is a fallacy.
The anybody-can-code mantra was always kind of like promoting world peace. It's a great idea, everybody wants it, and it's easy to believe in -- until you dig into the details and have to make a call on each side of every conflict.
The conflict call that always rears its head with "Learn to Code" is when you need to sink time into learning to code and are that much farther behind on developing a great idea, executing it, and determining if there's a market for it.
In the real world, there are opportunity costs, and they start adding up the moment an entrepreneur decides to do anything else except execute.
Again, I can't stress enough how much being able to wield technology in the 2020s is going to make a difference in your success quotient. But before you "Learn to Code," you need to decide whether you want to be a coder. Because the divide between low-level and high-level technology is growing every day.
Times have changed, but the source code hasn't.
When I was in high school, I took programming courses. I loved computers. Loved them. When I got to college, I spent a semester in computer engineering, and I hated it. Because what I was actually learning was how to give the builders the tools they needed to build the things I wanted to build.
I understand this philosophy -- that a surgeon needs to know everything about biology before they make their first cut.
Technology isn't like that.
By the time I graduated from college, programming was in the rearview. And I didn't touch code again until I joined my first startup. Then I dove in, because I rediscovered my passion for technology and how it could be used to build something out of nothing.
Fast-forward to today, and my twin daughters both just wrapped up high school courses in Java. While they did well, they didn't enjoy it. Those courses in no way fueled the kind of passion that would drive them to create something out of nothing. They learned a lot of syntax. They regurgitated it for the final. They aced the final.
And that's the problem. They shouldn't have been learning to code; they should have been learning to no-code. The same is true for every person who doesn't know how to code and wants to build something out of nothing.
Learning to code is for technical founders.
My daughters still have no idea how much technology should be a part of what they want to become. Except, well, if they have to learn the "Book of Java" and every other foundational language to create a full stack from scratch, they're going to run away screaming.
On the other hand, no-code teaches critical and creative coding design, and it does this through experience, experiment, and real-world use cases. For anyone who knows they need to get a firm grasp on technology to be successful, these concepts are far more important than memorizing syntax.
The thing is that all that low-level code has been boxed and packaged for a lot longer than the term "no-code" has been around. It's just happening at a higher level now. Today's top low-level coders are not setting their sights on building the same corporate applications over and over again. Instead, they're building better tools that others can use to create unique applications that address new problems that can be solved only by people whose educational and career experience has been something other than low-level code.
No-code is for everyone, but especially entrepreneurs.
I built my company, Teaching Startup, without writing a single line of code. I did this to prove that it could be done. It's not perfect, but we got to 100 customers pretty quickly, and we keep growing, and the no-code isn't breaking.
With revenue coming in, I can eventually hire real coders to write real code when real code is needed. And I'll have a real-world road map ready for them to follow, so it won't cost nearly as much.
Not only that, with no-code, I've been able to distill a big-picture idea down to smaller steps, which allows me to focus on the "technology" I need for the business to be successful and not waste time building "technology" that no one is ever going to use.
No-code will continue to get more real.
Like any coder, I was skeptical of the concept of no-code solutions at first, especially for folks who don't have a technical background. But while there were only a handful of options just a few years ago, no-code is getting more real by the day.
There's a ton of help now available to no-coders. There are a ton of helper apps now, like Zapier and Slack, to make connections between apps. And most of the major SaaS platforms are building web hooks into their products to be able to integrate with their apps. All of these apps can be linked through a single no-code platform, resulting in dozens of wheels that just don't need to be rebuilt.
No-code entrepreneurs don't have to take on as much risk spending time and money on something that won't sell. In fact, if you're really good at no-code, it pays for its own development.
But, most important, when we start promoting no-code as the first option for learning to code, we probably produce better and more useful coders.