It’s totally easy
Being both a follower of the tech scene and a non-coder can often be a painful combination. When reading the news about Google App Engine it’s easy to get really excited about all the potential for future apps and then very quickly get depressed when you see developers do things that seem quite challenging to you and yet they get described as being totally easy. Bret’s a good guy and I know it’s not meant to be an insulting comment, but it’s frustrating to be interested in this stuff and then slam into a brick wall when looking for a place to start.
The question that I keep facing is - what is the best use of my time, or how can I add the most value? Learn programming by starting at square one and get frustrated while trying to do totally easy things, or should I focus on idea generation so I’m not stuck building yet another CMS or chat system?
Maybe the ultimate example…
of a non-coder creating/running a technology company…Steve Jobs. From an interview with Steve Wozniak:
He couldn’t design a computer — he was never a designer or a programmer — but he could understand it well enough to understand what was good and what was bad.
Got any other founders of tech/web companies that aren’t coders? (did Kevin Rose write any of Digg?)
update: from the Y! Combinator newsboard, some discussion on non-hacker founders.
update #2: turns out Rob Kalin from Etsy is a non-techie and although not specifically programming related there’s this article about Rick Rubin with the following quote:
Rubin doesn’t read music or write lyrics, and has no idea what the knobs on a mixing board do. “I had my doubts,” says the Dixie Chicks’ Emily Robison. “How do you produce music if you can’t say, ‘O.K., from the D chord I want to hear going to the G?’ But somehow it just works.”
How can non-technical people add value to a startup?
Paul Buchheit has a great post on Ideas vs. Judgement and Execution that I think indirectly raises an interesting question…
Imagine that products are mountains. To build a product, you will need to climb that mountain. Some mountains have a big pot of gold at the top, and some do not. In order to make money, you will need to pick the right mountain and then successfully climb to the top and gather up the gold…
Successfully executing a trip to the top of the mountain requires a certain level technical ability — how much will depend on the mountain and route. It also requires good judgment in order to choose the right route, or to change course when you realize that the current path isn’t working out.
Judgment isn’t talked about as much as execution, but it’s obviously very important. A technically brilliant team, upon encountering a sheer cliff, may excitedly think to themselves, “this is the perfect opportunity to use Erlang!”…A team with better judgment would notice that there’s an easier route that goes around the other side.
Are non-technical people less likely to fall into the trap of solving difficult but less valuable problems because they have a different sense of judgement? Asked in a Paul Graham-esque way, are non-technical people better able to determine what people want ?
update on 10/28: after thinking about this, I don’t think non-technical people are “better” at making judgments…they just might have spent more time thinking about things, since that can’t just go off and code a solution (which obviously is still a valuable skill to have in a lot of situations).
It’ll be a dark day when we hire somebody with the title “Product Manager”
I love following the startup scene - especially the wave of Web 2.0 companies coming out places like Y combinator. But the thing that really gets me is to go and hear these barely 20-something founders speak and have them use the term "Product Manager" like it’s a dirty word.
I don’t know where it started, but to hear it from them it sounds like you can’t have/execute a good idea for a webapp if you aren’t first and foremost a programmer. And I’m sick of it…I think programmers/engineers are notorious for solving unnecessary problems and not delivering a product that people actually want. I’d like to prove that having vision and empathy for users can more than make up for any lack of programming chops.
Here we go!