Why Every Startup Employee Should Learn To Code


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Presented at Lean Startup Conference 2012 Ignite Session http://leanstartup.co

I will be giving an Ignite talk titled, Why Every Startup Employee Should Learn to Code, and will share examples and strategies that have worked from people learning to program, including myself. This year I’ve seen people learning everything from Ruby on Rails and mobile development for iOS and Android to building interactive experiences with augmented reality and predictive engines for discovery of local places to shop. I will take people through the mindset of someone new to programming, how the human mind learns new things, which programming languages are most popular and how you can get started learning to code.

In the talk, I will emphasize the importance of knowing your learning style according to VARK which stands for Visual, Aural, Reading and Kinesthetic. You can find your learning style by answering a few questions using this online quiz. I came across this resource and others a few years ago when I began teaching technology courses and would have the attendees take it before getting started. It provided useful insight on how to present the course materials I’d created and ensure high engagement and retention of the content.

Finally I will explore how employees who gain new skills for work like programming are more valuable because their cross functional experience overlaps multiple teams increasing their ability to directly contribute to the company’s bottom line.


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  • There is a world wide problem affecting everyone in this room.  There aren't enough developers to go around.  Your employees are competent, curious and creative problem solvers.  That's why you hired them.  I'm Adria Richards and today I'm going to show you why you should encourage your startup employees to learn to code so everyone wins.
  • This guy right here is Chris.  He put together a team at Startup Weekend that built a mobile app for people to play games while standing in line.  Guess what?  He used be an accountant of all things.  Coding events like hackathons give people the opportunity without much risk to try something new and should definitely be encouraged within your organization.
  • How do you learn to code?  Start off by asking yourself 3 questions - What do you want to achieve, what do you need to learn to make that happen and how should you learn it?  As Seth Godin says, the best time to start is right now!
  • Last year, Chris lived in spreadsheets and didn't know how to program but he knew there was a better way to work so he started looking and found Visual Basic to automate things.  Suddenly his afternoons were free.  He learned Python and this year launched his startup.
  • It can feel like a leap of faith to learn to code but so is kayaking, mountain biking and bunjee jumping. Learning to code is actually quite fun and exciting without the risk of physical injury.
  • Many people start learning to code by sitting down with a book and we've been doing that for thousands of years. This may become frustrating because it's not your learning style.  There is a guide out there known as VARK and it refers to this.  I'll talk about it a bit later on so hang tight.
  • As children, we start off drawing then learn the alphabet, math and social sciences.  From there you can move to higher education but unfortunately many of us stop learning and being creative adults.  We stop learning.  This is really sad.
  • Consider the military.  Soldiers operate complex machinery like helicopters and tanks.  They also follow and execute strategies set by leaders.  This requires training and practice to get it right.  We have those same capabilities available to us when learning to code.
  • This is Pablo Picasso and he was a lean entrepreneur.  After he left Barcelona for Paris, all his works used the color blue.  You could say that using a single ink color is like how startup entrepreneurs today eat ramen.  He was working hard but felt lonely, depressed and unsure of his future.  The good thing is he stuck to his vision and went on to become one of the most well known artists in history!
  • Let's look at what you need to get started with learning to code - What you want to learn, how to learn it and then where to start.  Break this big idea down into smaller, actionable chunks and embrace change.
  • Here are three major verticals in coding.  Programming is where you create a set of instructions for a computer to execute, Design is where you create a human friendly interface to interact with the program and Infrastructure is where you maintain the program, scale it and build out the ability to share dat from your app.
  • We as humans have been doing this for thousands of years.  Take diamonds - We have a vision to create something amazing.  We find diamonds deep in the ground, cut and polish them until they glisten then we create distribution channels for the diamonds to others who want them.  That's programming too!
  • Here are some modern examples as well.  Hipmunk for airline travel, Dropbox to share files and Evernote to capture your thoughts.
  • Being inspired to do something new is great but it's awesome when you learn with others and your company supports your efforts.  Seek out others who are doing what you want to do.
  • Earlier I mentioned learning styles and the VARK. It stands for Visual, Aural, Reading and Kinsestetic.  When I began teaching technology courses five years ago, I read everything I could no how people, and especial adults learned.  Most people have more than one learning style so it's important you know yours.  You can google to find the VARK quiz online.  Tweet me with your results!
  • If you're just getting started, dip your toe into solo learning like Lynda, Codecademy and Rails for Zombies But make sure to try out social learning opportunities as they  offer the ability to interact, process information and ask others.  These include meetup, Railsbridge and hackathons.
  • What to learn?  For programming ruby, Objective C and Python.  For Design stick with front end languages like HTML, CSS and Javascript.  For Infrastructure, operating systems like Linux, Database design and API's are solid starting points.
  • How to know what language to pick?  Sites like the TIOBE index rank the popularity of programming languages base on search volume via the internet so a great place to start.
  • The brains of London taxi drivers were examined and it was found that they had grown a new brain!  Ok, well maybe not exactly but the amount of grey matter increased for taxi drivers who had been on the job for three or more years.  This means you can learn to code and become more valuable in your current role at work, make the move to a developer role or just be happy knowing your brain is growing!  
  • I'm a developer evangelist for a successful startup.  I started the learning to program two years ago and it's been a fantastic journey.  I hope to see you and your employees on the other side of the bridge.
  • Why Every Startup Employee Should Learn To Code

    1. 1. Why Every Startup Employee Should Learn To Code Lean Startup Conference Ignite Adria Richards @adriarichards
    2. 2. How do you learn to code?
    3. 3. The Learning Process
    4. 4. Ready, Set, Code!
    5. 5. ProgrammingDesignInfrastructure
    6. 6. Visual Aural ReadingKinesthetic
    7. 7. Solo SocialLearning Learning
    8. 8. Programming Design Infrastructure• Ruby • HTML • Linux• Objective C • CSS • Databases• Python • Javascript • API’s
    9. 9. Popular LanguagesTIOBE Programming Index
    10. 10. @AdriaRichardsDeveloper Evangelist