Developers turned CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates have become the successful tech CEO stereotype. This is further exacerbated by venture investors like Andreessen Horowitz, who favour investing in technical founders.
Yet, if we leave the creation of tech products to developers alone, we will usually end up with white men in hoodies making products for other white men in hoodies. Women make up just 17% of IT specialists in the UK, and this number has barely moved in the last 10 years. This figure decreases with seniority: only 5% of leadership positions in the tech sector being by women, according to The Economist.
This means that relying on female programmers cannot be the answer to having more and better products for women today.
I started a technology business when I was doing my MBA at Chicago Booth. My lack of technical background did not stop our company creating an app, a website, an analytics product and even its own algorithm. However, my insecurities about not knowing how to code lead me down several cul-de-sacs.
Around a year ago, I began teaching non-technical professionals what they need to understand about technology to succeed in the sector. I’ve taught this at London Business School and at startup campuses around the world, and always enjoy the creativity it unleashes.
Just as you would not get an accounting qualification to hire accountants, or go to law school to hire lawyers, there is no need to learn to code to hire a technical team. Instead, you need to understand how to set the right task, ask relevant questions and track progress.
Learn concepts, not skills
You need to understand concepts, but do not invest your time in learning to code or make prototypes yourself. A founder’s job is to understand their customers’ problems and make a viable business by solving those problems. In order to do this, founders need to know how to hire professionals to help them achieve their goals.
This view is also shared by many investors. When I interviewed David Segura, one of New York’s top angel investors, for my Forbes column, he said “you should become fluent and knowledgeable of software trends and best practices. Learn how to manage a technical endeavour from both a project and product standpoint, but you will not get credit or a moral victory for becoming an average coder in a world that only values excellence.”