Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Dropbox's Drew Houston and Instagram's Kevin Systrom were all coders who parlayed that knowledge into creating companies.

If you've created your own company without knowing how to code, congratulations. But if you want to successfully guide your company through the next decade of digital disruption, it might be a good idea to learn. 

Doing so may not be as hard as you think. The average programming boot camp, which promises to make students fluent in a programming language, takes about 13 weeks or 520 hours. That nets out to an hour a day for two years or so. That's roughly the same amount of time it takes to learn a foreign language.

But speaking French, while great for your thinking and development, isn't as useful as it once was because of Google Translate. 

I'm lucky. I learned to code as a teen and loved it. But lots of smart people never learned to code because software wasn't once as prevalent as it is now. These days, parents are pushing their kids to learn programming at a young age because they know that one day their kids will compete on a global level in a market where more jobs are automated.

But adults -- even successful CEOs -- can greatly benefit from learning to code as well.

Here's why:

1. It gives you a level of tech sophistication that empowers you to ask better questions.

In my book, knowledge is power and, as an entrepreneur, there are plenty of other factors already outside of our control.

If you hire someone to build you a house but you have never tried to build a house yourself, you will have no idea what a reasonable cost is and how long it should take. The same goes for any project that involves coding. If you have no base of knowledge, then you run the risk of being misled. That's why even if you don't master coding, putting in some time to learn the basics can help you ask the right questions and determine if the person you're hiring knows what they're doing.

Similarly, you can elevate your conversation with your IT staff.

2. It saves you money and time. 

If you get good enough, you might be able to start writing your own programs, or at least start the projects, which could save you money and time. At the very least, being somewhat fluent in coding lets you roll up your sleeves and do some of the work when needed.

Any of us who know a thing or two about coding and building systems have done this in our startups and sometimes, it's proven a relief to be able to self-help when needed.

3. It helps you understand the technologies on the market.

AI and mobile technologies keep advancing. It is one thing to read about such technologies and another to understand their value versus the market hype.

A knowledge of coding helps to identify which technologies are worthwhile and which can help your business.  For instance, if you have created a web page and attempted to maximize it for SEO, then you are aware of the advantages of platforms like WordPress. But you might also understand the value of so-called "headless CMSes [content management systems]" that let you seamlessly upload content to a variety of platforms including mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) instead of continuing to pursue a web-based content strategy. 

4. It forces you to learn something new. 

The brain is like a muscle; if it's not challenged it begins to atrophy.

Practically, that doesn't mean that your cognitive abilities are slipping but that your frame of reference is growing narrower and your estimation of your abilities can become inflated. Learning something new provides a new frame of reference and puts us in "learner" mode where we're ready to admit what we don't know and accept new information and instruction.

That's a good frame of mind to be in as a business leader.

5. Experimentation with a new discipline sparks new ideas.

Learning something new equips us with the skills to experiment on our own.

Like most entrepreneurs, I enjoy building things, tinkering and creating. I have found that when learning or experiencing anything new, it often sparks additional creativity. Developing a measure of code fluency will lead to some natural experimentation which often sparks new ideas.

These new ideas can be tested out for use in your own company or business.

6. You may find your new passion.

Hey, you never know. Real coders may not care so much about the money as they do about creating something elegant and functional. Some compare knowledge of coding to a supernatural power because you can create something from scratch.

I met someone recently with a conventional finance background who exposed himself to a budding new sector of technology involving AI and literally found his new passion and career.

Learning coding is a commitment, but there are tons of self-taught coders out there. If you're willing to allocate the time, you can be one of them. You will find the investment of time is worth it because of the confidence and sense of possibility that learning coding provides.

At the very least, it will give you an appreciation for the people who are building the modern economy.

Published on: Jan 31, 2018