Everyone should be an engineer

Okay, that’s a little bit of wishful thinking, so how about we say that more non-engineers should be tech savvy?

If you’re business and can’t talk tech, can you really expect a technologist to work with you on your startup? It’s hard enough for a business person to recruit a good engineer to build their idea, so if there’s a way to close the gap then it should be pursued.

The Bare Minimum:
A non-engineer should be able to hold a basic technical conversation. If you don’t know the difference between “front-end” and “back-end” development, you have some Googling to do. If you think Python is just a kind of snake, add that to your searches. If you don’t have a smartphone (and don’t plan on getting one), you’re kind of missing the boat.

I’ve been meeting a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs who have experience in business but are much distanced from technology, yet they want to do a tech startup. Something’s missing from this equation.

So what can you do?

  • Go to meetups – Meet people in tech startups and learn about what they do. People are usually happy to lend advice if you’re genuinely interested in learning.
  • Follow blogs from tech startups – You’ll learn about technology just from hearing about what goes on in a tech company, and when they talk about something that you’re not familiar with it’s an opportunity to look it up and learn something new.
  • Read tutorials – There are many tutorials online for how to use web technologies, whether it’s w3schools.com for website programming languages or any number of resources that might come up in a search for whatever it is that you’re looking to learn.
  • Watch videos – You can find a video for just about anything on YouTube, but a real treasure chest for learning about computer science is a collection of video lectures from actual CS courses at top universities around the country that are available for free at the following URL: http://academicearth.org/subjects/computer-science
  • The Bottom Line:
    There are several tech items that a “business person” can do in the early days of a startup when there’s either no one else to do them, or when there’s someone else who could do them but would spend their time more wisely doing something else. Whether it’s putting together mockups with ideas for a user interface or changing the copy on a webpage, nobody would expect you to do the most polished work in these areas as if they were your specialty — it’s more about your willingness to contribute in areas that are not your specialty.

    If you’d like specific recommendations for learning how to do anything in particular, post it in the comments.

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  • Guest
    December 8, 2010 - 7:28 PM | Permalink

    I recommend you go to engineering school and stop being a poser

    • December 8, 2010 - 9:18 PM | Permalink

      You could certainly learn a lot if you go to school for engineering, but
      this post is aimed at business people learning how to speak tech a little
      better, since biz & tech folks often speak a different language. Having a
      better understanding of what other people are doing in your company can only
      help with collaboration, and if you’re able to contribute in a couple of new
      areas, all the better.

      By the way, this isn’t just a one-way thing — there’s some stuff that
      technical talent can do to help with business processes as well, but that’s
      a topic for another day.

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