Developers, developers, developers

Last week I had the good fortune to travel to Washington DC to participate in the launch of Our Time's Buy Young campaign, which encourages Americans to buy from companies started by founders under 30. It was a great opportunity to meet some entrepreneurs outside of tech, which I don't have an opportunity to do quite as often as I'd like (businesses outside of tech have interesting problems too!). 

I was heartened to see hear many founders in fashion, food and other industries say that programming skills are a foundational necessity for our country. Some even went so far as to say knowledge of programming languages should be required, like a foreign language! It is my belief that more and more of our jobs in the future will require some programming knowledge. The list of industries outside of tech where software projects are a growing and necessary corner stone is rapidly expanding: robotics, industrial processes, biotechnology, finance, the list goes on. In fact, almost every business today can benefit from the application of basic programming skills, whether you are A/B testing conversions for your jewelry company's online store or building smartphone integrations into the cars you manufacture. At my first job as an intern at a law firm almost a decade ago I ended up automating a lot of my trivial day to day tasks with some basic Excel macros (which was viewed by the rest of the firm as black magic).

At the same time, I got the distinct impression that there were some misconceptions in how non-programmers outside of San Francisco / Silicon Valley understood programming. Two things everyone should know about programming:

First, programmers are normal people. Yes, a large number of us are more interested in technology that the average person, and a visible few don't care about adhering in to social norms as strictly as most, but largely programmers have the same motivations and desires as others. There seemed to be the thought that programmers were generally uninterested in founding businesses or being involved outside of staring at a computer screen. This isn't true at all. Google and Facebook's founders prove the first. Further, there are many programmer / entrepreneurs who like to do other things, whether it is owning nightclubs or starting a clothing line.

Second, programming is just a skill. As it turns out, anyone can learn enough about programming to help her in her business. Just like some basic knowledge of math will let you as an entrepreneur figure out your margins and make an annual budget, some basic programming knowledge can help you automate parts of our business or change your online store. When I started my first startup, I was a Physics & Philosophy major and didn't really know anything about building a web application (or really the Internet in general), but I taught myself enough about Javascript and Rails to be useful. You don't have to be a genius to start programming -- I am proof of that.

So, I encourage you non-technical entrepreneurs out there to learn some basic programming, which I'm sure will come in handy for your business. Write a script to automate some of your boring work or figure out how to build a basic website. It's fun; the hardest part is getting started.