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Making the Transition From a Business Founder to a Technical Founder

Written By: Bob 27 September 2010 Other Posts By: Bob
Continuous learning is important in any profession.  Being a startup founder, there is perhaps no better education than software development.  I think it’s important for more business founders to make the leap and start developing software skills. Two years ago I simply considered myself a “business founder” and now I consider myself a “technical founder”.  So the goal of this post is to help other business cofounders to make this transition.

Two and a half years ago, I was relying on outsourcing (tasks-everyday.com) to develop code.  Now, I do the “hard stuff” myself.  I hope this article can help a few people take charge and learn technical skills like the ones I picked up along the way.

1)  Hire freelancers and outsource, but study the code, make tweaks just to see what happens

If you’re trying to learn code, you may not want to hire people (or have the money).  But this helps you get a quickstart.  Instead of trying to learn from scratch, this gives you something to start with.  Your developers will probably get a little pissed off that you’re messing with their code, so save everything they did in a backup file on your pc and reupload everything when you’re finished.

Just play around with a few things.  Change some text, see what happens.  Don’t worry, you’ll probably mess up and create crazy errors all over the place, but that’s expected.  Just remember to make sure you save everything first and put everything back into its correct place when you’re done.

You can always ask these developers questions about the code they used and why they did something.  Don’t forget, you’re paying these guys, so why not ask questions and gain some knowledge?

The best part about this is you’re having something built while learning.  Otherwise, it may take weeks or months to get to the point where you’re building something from scratch for yourself.

2)  Have a specific project in mind – it’s easier to learn when you have a clearly defined set of objectives

When I started SmarterFootball, our initial project was software as a service.  Therefore, I had something very specific that I wanted to achieve.  Instead of studying random php code, I went and tried to find code to do specific things.  When you’re learning to code, you often don’t learn every library or code function, only the functions that help you achieve results.

When trying to learn, have a project in mind.  This gives you specific measurable objectives and restricts your learning to a finite set of items to achieve one specific project.  You’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish.

3)  Stackoverflow the hell out of every roadblock or stumble.

Stackoverflow is awesome for beginning coders.  If you still don’t know about stack overflow, it’s a question and answer community specifically for programming.

Not only is there a back catalog of thousands upon thousands of answered questions, but a few people will take a look at every question answered and I usually get responses within the first ten minutes of asking a question.

Every time I stumble or face a roadblock when writing code, I make sure to post a question on stackoverflow. Before I write the question, I make sure to look at similar posts in the past about my topic.  If none of them are what I’m looking for, then I ask my question.

I usually receive a response in less than ten minutes.  It is definitely an invaluable tool, learning how to code.

4)  Join startupweekend or hackathon – believe me, it forces you to learn

This forces you to learn quick.  It may not be best for everyone, but the pressure of this type of event makes you learn quick.  I never used an api before my first hackathon (Disrupt in NYC), but I built an app using two apis in less than 24 hours and I was really proud of my work.  I received applause when presenting on stage – it was pretty sweet.

5)  Use APIs, they make programming easy when others do half the work

Speaking of APIs, use them when possible.  A ton of cool api’s can easily be found at programmableweb.com.  Take a look around and you’ll probably find something cool you’ll want to tinker with.  I think you should go browse around programmable web right now, find a cool api, and tinker with it.  That’s how I built foodmarkit.com – I found an api (Fat Secret) and I just played around with it for a week and that’s how foodmarkit started.

We need more people building things and I hope that this helps some non techies learn the ropes.

Related posts:

  1. A Weekend Experiment with the Lean Startup – Part 1
  2. The Smarter Football Saga: A Lesson on Pivoting
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  • nai

    How long did it take for you to pick up php? How intensive was your learning curve?

  • http://twitter.com/cavezza cavezza

    I started by “cheating”. I wanted a basic site registration function, so I downloaded a script and followed the instructions. This taught me basic mysql inserting, updating, and deleting. From there, I kept using and reusing that code in order to make other change to the site. I started 100% with php about a year and a half ago. I'm fairly fluent and now juggle a few php clients, but I still learn something new everyday. As long as you're actively working on something, it's easy to find ways to solve the problem you have with each item you're coding. Just use a heavy dose of google and stackoverflow.

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