To Startups From A Startup: Why Learning to Code is Overrated

Coding for a Startup, Power2Switch

“Zynga acquires OMGPOP for $200M”

“Facebook buys Instagram for $1B”

“Amazon acquires KIVA Systems for $775M”

“Vocus acquires IContact for $169M”

“AirBnB raises $112M”


It’s feeling really good to be involved in the tech scene right now. Or so folks on the outside think. Not since the heydays of Goldman Sachs’ $100M bonuses has any sector been looked upon with such envy. But what came after that envy was vilification (deserved or undeserved, I’ll leave you to decide on that). Certainly, we all wanted these chaps’ heads for their obvious greed. And now the tech startup scene is feeling a bit like the gold rush. (Emphasis on the word “rush.”) But with that will come some scrutiny and we are starting to see some of that unfold. Right now though, we are experiencing the effects of the everyone-wants-to-start-a-tech-company syndrome (again, I’ll leave you to your opinion on this).


We’ve all seen this before. It happened with the dotcom bubble, of course, but an even more recent example exists. It happened with people wanting to obtain MBA’s. Beyond the MBA lay the expectation of six figure salaries and a few gazillion air miles. Investment banking and consulting beckoned. And now, a vast number of those MBAs work in jobs they are only doing to pay off the mountains of debt they’ve incurred.


The prevailing hope is that the same thing does not happen in the startup space. Startups being hot right now is a great thing for those of us involved, however, the news of great successes like those above are making it look like a sure thing. Kids are being advised to drop out of school and learn to code and ultimately sell their brainchildren (and themselves?) to Google. There are even claims that if you do not know how to code in the future, then you have no chance of success. Granted, the structured thinking you get from learning most anything is valuable, so almost any type of education is beneficial to some degree. What is missing from this conversation is that learning how to code matters for nothing if you do not learn a more important skill: learning how to create value. It is way more important to learn how to create value than to churn out products that nobody wants. The great thing about Code Academy here in Chicago is that you learn how to code, but you also learn how to create value in tandem. I guess it’s that Midwestern sense of pragmatism. :) And that is what I think people should focus on learning.

And how exactly do you create value? Distilled down, the way to do that is to provide something that satisfies people’s basic needs.

You can do this in any number of ways. For example:
  • - Solve the basic need to be social
  • - Fulfill the basic need to be fed (literally or figuratively)
  • - Satisfy the basic need to aspire
  • - Respond to the basic need to learn
Complex needs are another matter entirely. If you can hone in on an intricate problem that people face consistently, there may be an even greater payoff. That it is scaleable is critical. It’s just a bit more difficult to find solutions for complex needs than basic ones.

Startups are hard. Even when you’re creating real value as a startup, you still might not survive. For every overvalued funded venture, there is an underrated one successfully fulfilling basic needs. As part of the tech startup space, we try to do our best to focus on providing value, while worrying less about funding. Meanwhile, after reading the news of Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram, my rather astute mother-in-law (who’s a nurse in Dallas) made this observation: “This whole Facebook and Groupon thing is feeling like things felt before the subprime mortgage issue — people seem to have more money than sense.”

It does sort of give you pause, doesn’t it?


What are some ways that you’ve created value as a startup?

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