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What should Non-Technical Founders do to improve technical skill sets?

I'm a Non-technical founder who has realized I need to improve my technical knowledge for effectively managing the development process as well as for the future growth of the organization. I've been on a steep learning curve the last month(s). I'm looking for resources, sites, events, ideas others have found helpful to accelerate technical learning. I've looked at programming boot camps, but I can't dedicate that volume of time (full-time for 6 - 12 weeks) currently. Any recommendations?

31 Replies

Sridhar Rajagopal
3
1
Sridhar Rajagopal Entrepreneur
Software Engineer, Maker, Tinkerer
There's no better way than getting your hands dirty, and the only way you can do that is by following along and working on the example problems of a class.

There are plenty of interactive courses that you can take at your own pace - Udacity, Coursera, Code Academy, Udemy are but a few.

You don't have to do it full time, but you should be prepared to consistently spend a good chunk of time on it.

-Sridhar
Sridhar Rajagopal
0
0
Sridhar Rajagopal Entrepreneur
Software Engineer, Maker, Tinkerer
You have not mentioned what kind of technical knowledge you would like to get. That detail would help people suggest suitable courses or other activities to you.

-Sridhar
Anthony Zeoli
1
1
Anthony Zeoli Entrepreneur • Advisor
Digital Strategy and WordPress Consultant and Trainer
I would start with sites like W3Schools.com and Lynda.com. Learn basic web development. What is HTML and CSS? How do they work together? Then think about javaScript, jQuery, AJAX to understand how data can be printed to a page dynamically and what function these technologies play in tandem or independently - how do they pull data and print it to the page and what kind of things can you do with these web apps. Learn something about responsive design, which is resizing your site to fit the browser its being viewed in. Understand whether you should do that for your site and what are the tradeoffs. With responsive, everything you publish to the web still loads in the background, even if you resize and hide content, so understand whether that is desirable or not. Lastly, focus on the differences between php, asp, ruby on rails, or python and get a 100 ft view on what the cost/benefits are of each. Many developers will tell you their language is better, because that's the path they chose - but you have to understand what you're trying to accomplish and how you are going to be able to support it. This is hard to know for non-technical developers, but you can box yourself into a problem if you make the wrong choice - so understand the differences and what the costs are. Also, you should have some understanding of what type of server you're going to be running your platform on...are you going to employ .NET or LINUX? .NET has costs associated while Linux is open source. You also have to think about your production, staging and development environments. Who sets this up for you? The developer or a system administrator? Then, you have to understand databases and how they interact with your preferred coding language for best performance. There are a ton of things to know, but the best way to get started is flip through books - go to Barnes and Noble computer section and just pick up the books and scan through pages. See what feels right and logical to you that you might be able to understand, simply by reading. You won't understand everything, but reading code, you can generally parse some of the detail to assess and understand what the code is going to pull from the database and and how it's going to place that on a page, or how one thing is going to trigger an action. Also, start using Chrome and scan webpages by accessing Develper Tools under View - Developer - Developer Tools. Learn how to use this tool to read front end code. The good thing is, you can change anything using it and that doesn't affect the site you're viewing. It's a window into a site and it allows you to play around and learn how developers are structuring data. Of course, you should familiarize yourself with basic Garrett IA philosophy so you can understand a little about information architecture - user workflow and site structure. There's a lot to know...I've been learning for 20-years. I'm not a developer, but I know enough to understand how to drive my teams.
David Doran-Marshall
2
0
David Doran-Marshall Entrepreneur
Level Designer at Egowall.com
Check out 'python the hard way' or sign up for cs50x. These are self-driven, highly time consuming classes but they'll get you going. Technical skills surely take time to build, even on an accelerated course. The truth is that it's pandora's box. There are literally dozens of technical fields that you might be able to spend decades diving into.

My ultimate advice is to find a mentor figure that's able to not only teach you "technical stuff", but choose topics that relate directly to what you are doing in your current role. In this way you create an efficient model for learning, and later you can expand into side topics which will inevitably catch your eye. -ddm
Art Yerkes
2
0
Art Yerkes Entrepreneur
Computer Software Professional
If your intention is to start learning via front end development for the web, there are lots of tutorials about starting front end projects with yeoman and angularjs (such ashttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUQ1fvdO9GY ).

Using a framework and a predictable structure for your webapp will help others recognize what you're doing and be able to help. In time, you'll form your own opinions about these things.

Hackability, and avoiding the blank screen problem are key to keeping up your motivation when you're working through programming problems, and yeoman's builtin webserver and updater address these problems to a great degree.

I don't recommend solving programming problems for their own sake to learn to program, instead choose some small projects you're interested in or curious about and work on one of them. While alluring at first, games tend to require more programming experience that might be suggested for a novice, but if you're interested in trying one, a sliding block puzzle might be a good first one to try.

Something that makes this much easier is that you can keep your code online in several ways, which makes it very convenient to spend half an hour here and there writing code.

If you don't already have one, you should make a github account and store your work there. Learning git is a must if you're not already familiar with it.

One of the most complete and friendly is c9.io, a very comprehensive online IDE for web development. You can serve your web apps directly from c9.io and connect up whenever and wherever you have the time and inclination. You can work through most yeoman, bower and node tutorials on c9.io (just replacing port number and host name with the variables used by c9) without needing to configure anything locally. This may be a time saver if you want to jump right in or are in doubt about your ability to get a programming environment working right away on your own computer. c9 also interacts well with github.

Apart from that, atom.io and a github account provide a very easy and convenient way to get started, as atom's git integration is very deep and works well. You can serve your client side apps from github (but not server infrastructure such as the live-reload features that come with yeoman), if you are more experienced and don't need quite as much hand holding.
Laura Fredericks
3
0
Laura Fredericks Entrepreneur
Founder and CEO, Describli
I've found Treehouse to be really helpful - there's a free trial so you can see if you like it. I'm taking the html/css course and then will move on to the Wordpress, PHP, and Java courses after (because that is what my site is built on). If you set a goal for when you want to be done with the course it will tell you how long you need to spend each day, and there are lots of practical "code challenges" throughout. It's pretty cool. Laura Fredericks Founder and CEO, Describli.com facebook.com/describli @describli Head to http://describli.com to sign up for the Beta waitlist
Ben Littler
1
0
Ben Littler Entrepreneur
Mobile & Software Product Manager
A few suggestions:

1) Go through at least one guided development course. One of my favorites is one month rails. If you spend 10-15m on it a day you can get through the entire course in a month. Boot camps are great if you can do them, but unless you want to be a programmer, online courses will probably get you where you need to be. Don't fret about what technology stack you focus on - just pick one and do it (bonus of course if it's the same that your team is using - but what matters here is the principle and the process, not the specific technology)

2) Become best friends with your development manager or senior engineer. Take him/her to lunch once a week and just listen to what she/he is working on, challenges, and so on. Build the relationship.

3) Whenever you hear a word or phrase you don't understand, look it up and read about it until you do.

4) Regularly read a few technical blogs. There are many, but one recommendation would be Coding Horror. Also: list of recs on quora

5) Read some lean startup books. I would recommend 4 Steps, Lean Startup, and Running Lean. They are not technical books per se but will give you a ton of tools and ideas for managing your development process effectively.

Take it one day and one step at a time. But work on it every day and you'll be amazed at where you are in a few months.
Sridhar Rajagopal
1
0
Sridhar Rajagopal Entrepreneur
Software Engineer, Maker, Tinkerer
Essentially, you cannot drink from a fire hydrant. Some fast-tracking would definitely help you get up to speed, but you need to get into the habit of learning and keeping up with technology from a variety of sources - your development manager, technical presentations, online courses, technology news.

Good luck!
Ryan Rigterink
0
0
Ryan Rigterink Entrepreneur
Midwest Manager at Hematogenix Laboratory
Thank you to all who have commented and made suggestions! Very helpful to begin putting together an education road map to begin chipping away at.

@ Sridhar - I'm trying to get a better understanding on a wide breadth of technical topics. Not necessarily becoming an expert in any of them.

@ Anthony - Thank you for the breadth of topics you mentioned.

@ David, Art, Laura, & Ben - Thank you. Great tips and resources.
Sridhar Rajagopal
0
0
Sridhar Rajagopal Entrepreneur
Software Engineer, Maker, Tinkerer
@Ryan, it may be easiest for you to focus on technology around your product, and that too, you'd probably like to start with some particular areas. For example, rapid prototyping is also technical knowledge, but you may have nothing to do with making physical objects, in which case, that's not going to be the first thing you'll start with.

If it's a web-framework you are interested in getting started with, it may be helpful to start with the technologies your company is already using (you mention "effectively managing the development process" so I assume you already have some developers?) - for example, Ruby on Rails vs. Node.js/Meteor, PHP, etc, because your first priority is to understand the technologies already used and be able to contribute to discussions, etc.

That's what I was trying to ascertain. There are many many different programming languages, web frameworks, databases, etc, so it could be a bit overwhelming to know what to start with.
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