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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 Partner at Hatcher Plus, the leading data-driven venture capital investment firm. John has extensive commercial experience at the senior management level, having been the Chief Executive Officer of Authentium, Inc. the Managing Director, Asia, of WorldSpace, and CEO of Hatcher, the precursor company to Hatcher+. A tenacious and driven executive with longstanding board-level and C-suite level management experience within high-growth companies, John also brings a strong history of capital raising from an extensive network of investors globally. As Chairman and CEO of cybersecurity pioneer Authentium (acquired by CYREN in 2010), John co-authored three US patents and developed and sold cybersecurity solutions to some the largest organizations in the world, including the US Department of Commerce, NASA, AOL, British Telecom, Comcast, Cox Communications, Google, McAfee, Microsoft, Symantec, and Telstra. As CTO at Hatcher+, DocDoc, Heardable, and ThoughtRiver, John has designed and developed several highly-innovative technology platforms using cutting-edge approaches to data processing, user interface design, and workflow optimization. John is a frequent blogger and an in-demand speaker at venture events globally, and has extensive experience implementing ESG solutions as Chairman and/or board member of numerous start-ups, including director roles at trade finance provider ASYX and payment aggregator Mozido, and roles as Chairman of MENA-based financial services pioneer Telr, and the leading Cambridge-based legal services technology company, ThoughtRiver.