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Why This CEO Learned How To Code - And Why You Should Too

People are generally impressed when they find out I've recently put six long years into learning about database design, programming, and UI design.  But they shouldn't be - like many things, coding is actually pretty easy - and made all the easier because of how much fun it is.  But I'm forgetting my exposition... why I took up coding in the first place.  

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The catalyst for my decision was a "licensing database design project" back in 2007.  As CEO of the software company building it, I was presented with a set of benefits, and asked to approve a budget of well over a million dollars and a nine month minimum timeframe.  I knew something was wrong but I didn't know what - and the developers seemed like good people - so I approved it.  

What I know today, post my 10,000 hours of coding, is that this particular database design (a very basic SQL architecture with perhaps 20 tables with an average of ten columns) could have been completed within two weeks at a cost of perhaps one fiftieth of the proposed budget.  Hell, I'll go even further - with enough Nespresso, this thing could have been created in a couple of sleepless nights by one guy, and I'm not kidding because I've done it.  It's simply not that hard to do.

But back then, I didn't know it was an easy project.  I couldn't differentiate between the hard stuff and the easy stuff, to be honest.  And as a result, as the CEO, I wasted money - lots of it (this wasn't the only project - one of our projects ran for over a decade and soaked up millions of dollars.  It was always three months away from being finished.  It's probably still three months away from being finished.)

Let me summarize: if you are a senior executive working in government or industry, I have some advice for you: no matter what age you are right now, go back to school and learn to code.  I started learning at 48. Best decision I've made in twenty years. 

How will you benefit?  Beyond just learning about what to avoid, you'll learn about how to bring product to market faster... you'll learn about the latest methods for developing cool stuff quickly, including quick-launch MVP templates and fantastic mobile app SDKs (want a cool app in a day?  It's possible - you don't need to spend six months and 500 grand...)  

If you can, try and get a handle the pros and cons of NoSQL (e.g. MongoDB) vs. SQL and study the leading API frameworks and data repositories.  Look at the kind of licensing deals that are used vs. the ones in place decades ago.  Your ability to play a productive role in your company or government department will increase dramatically.  

Don't know where to start?  Go over to codecademy.com... that's a great place to see if you have a taste for coding or not.  Try and go as far as you can - even a grasp of the basics is better than no grasp at all.

I predict that you will be flipping amazed by what you find.  It will transform your ability to make decisions as a CEO (or CFO, or Counsel, or head of Bus Dev, or whatever you currently do.)  I suspect it will add tens of thousands of dollars to your annual potential salary, and millions to the value of your startup.  I suspect you will be a lot more successful, and become successful more quickly, than others with zero coding skills.

And, best of all, you'll feel in control of your product development, and your budgets - like I do these days.  It's a wonderful feeling.

Sharp John Sharp

John is a serial entrepreneur and investor, and the co-founding Partner of Hatcher+, a data-driven, globally-focused venture investment platform based in Singapore. In addition to leading capital raising and deal syndication, he is the visionary and architect behind the Hatcher Stack, the company's proprietary research and technology platform. Over the past five years, John has led numerous venture investments in early-stage companies, including ASYX, DocDoc, Dropsuite, Heardable, Invit, Inzen Studio, SocialCops, ThoughtRiver, and Telr - and syndicated over US$100Mn of additional debt and equity co-investment. IPOs and trade sales in which he was acted for the majority shareholder include Dropsuite (ASX:DSE) and Inzen Studio (ASX:ICI). His M&A work includes the merger of payment leader Telr with Dubai-based Innovate Payments, and the merger of Singapore-based companies DocDoc, and DoctorPage. Prior to co-founding Hatcher, John founded cybersecurity technology leader Authentium (acquired by CYREN in 2010), and acted as a director for global payments aggregator Mozido, and an advisor to Africa-based Gateway Communications, satellite technology developer MDS America, Kuwait-based Internet marketplace Sheeel.com, and Orion Partners, a $2B private equity fund manager based in Hong Kong.