Professional athletes and pop singers make millions. All-star technology entrepreneurs make billions. Kids now grow up on Facebook and Snapchat, not with baseball cards and CD players. And while traditional manufacturing jobs face constant downsizing, Silicon Valley is a boom town once again. Is it time to embrace your inner nerd and join the nearest coding class?
I love the new generation of startups and organizations, from Codecademy to Girls Who Code, who democratize access to educational opportunities (and career flexibility). But if you see coding skills as a winning ticket to immense wealth, you’re better off trying your luck at the next Mega Millions lottery instead. Here are six more pros and cons to consider before signing up for that new coding class:
- CON: Following trends doesn’t lead to success. I’m only four years out of college, but have witnessed a huge shift of coding skills into the mainstream since my adolescence. In high school, kids still associated with coders with Steve Wozniak-like nerds. Our school didn’t offer a single computer programming class. The smartest kids already had their eyes on law school, medical school, or Wall Street. Now, teens can’t wait to put “Harvard dropout, startup CEO” on their résumé. Simply mimicking the path of the latest billionaire is a terrible way to chase success.
- PRO: You can build early prototypes. The best technology-driven startups have a “Show Me” mentality at all levels of the company. If you have the talent to turn your great idea into a working prototype, this significantly increases the likelihood that it will become a reality.
- CON: It’s not actually your job. Many startup founders believe that the best way to run a technology startup is from the coding front line. While ‘Sprint and Follow’ Leadership is an excellent short-term way to inspire your tech team, your job as a startup CEO is to manage the toughest parts of the business. Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page haven’t touched a line of company code for years. If you are truly on your way to building a huge, disruptive business, there will be little room on your long-term job description for coding.
- PRO: You’ll better understand product development. When we plan a new feature launch, I can accurately estimate how long it will take to build. If something breaks on our site, I can dig into the code and search for an answer. I’m miles away from building any independent part of our product, but if you strand me in Techlandia for a couple days, I know enough of the language to navigate around town and keep out of danger.
- CON: You’re just checking off requirements. Like with Spanish and Mandarin, we are approaching an era where coding languages will be considered a required subject in schools and a valuable addition to résumés. But these skills will never be the only prerequisite for success in Silicon Valley, let alone in other industries. ‘Experts’ will always tell you to learn new talents, from networking to blogging to coding. But being great at any of these skills takes years of commitment. Never start a project because it’s what you are “supposed to do.”
- PRO: You’ll develop new synapses. Your brain loves a challenge. Instead of picking up a Sudoku book or a Rubik’s cube, try your hand at a new website. Start in beginner mode by editing existing code templates before moving on to novel development.
Jack of all trades. Master of one.
In my hiring process, I love candidates that are great at one thing and willing to learn everything else. If you are preparing to enter the startup world, find your special sauce. Five years ago, Silicon Valley was begging for more developers. Now, skilled designers are in the shortest supply. And, if you are a master salesperson, you’ll be a coveted asset for any team.
If brilliant, efficient code is your thing, own it. But technical novices like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos earned their stripes (and market caps) alongside masterful technologists like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Identify and cultivate your A+ talent, and you will maximize your chances for success.