Non-technical person considering learning programming or should I not?


I have a bunch of ideas and before the fire department comes to doubt the potential fire from this statement I realize I have to narrow the bunch down to one and take it past an idea. Ideas aren't worth the paper they are written on without execution and most people have don't know jack shit what they are talking about anyways so why the hell am I any different.

I have have a Business background (although that doesn't really mean much either and may not be worth the paper it is written on either) and I aspire to own at least one successful online startup in my lifetime. One challenge is that I am not technical and I am now 32.

Should I consider learning code and if so where should I start? I find the choices mind boggling. Ruby seems to be good but then I want the full understanding at high level (backend, frontend, web design). Read 37 signals (you can check out what I read minus the shitty books I read like 4 hour work week on my blog). Just stopped Inc and Fast Company. Need more action, less reading.

I believe scarcity (lack of funds) is a great thing, bootstrap breeds creativity, however I am having trouble finding a good technical co-founder prospect. Elance, etc simply want to get paid (so much excessive crappy work on those sites) where I am seeking someone who will accept generous equity along with having fun while working hard and hopefully adding value to the world and their life. looks interesting. I have been scoping out the local Toronto scene and most are working or don't have the character I am looking for. I want much more then a coding monkey as I would be practically living with this person. I see enough useless urban robots as it is (it's late... had to add some humor)
I believe and seen (Alexis of Reddit, etc) that one does not have to be technical to succeed in founding a great startup.

Advice, books, breaking down programming considerations or understanding from back/front/design, etc would be greatly appreciated. Ideally I am looking for someone who has the guts to risk and at minimum sweat in the time and code and help wear other hats. Can Sell. Check. Selling since I was 8. Speak. So I am told so check. Determined. Check. Someone to help get my vision in technoville. HELP. Thanks.


asked Oct 27 '09 at 16:15
Jaret Manuel
76 points
  • You'll get better responses if you break your post into paragraphs or bullet pointed lists. Many people won't bother to read the wall-o-text... – Paul Mc Millan 14 years ago
  • This was a late at night last minute thing. Normally, my writing is very organized as such is my blog. Thank you for all your feedback. – Jaret Manuel 14 years ago

9 Answers


I might be the only one here that don't recommend hiring a coder through sites like or rentacoder. You can not really get a quality that you want and it's very hard to control someone that is working overseas. It's better to approach a geek (that you know very well) but not so good in business. But instead of looking like to use them for your own benefit, try to share the vision and and don't be afraid to tell what both of you can get out of this investments. Think about mutual benefits when sharing your vision.

I've also written a blog entry on why you should learn programming and learn django if you want to. I think django is a perfect fit for a startup and non-technical people like you.

answered Oct 27 '09 at 19:07
1,342 points
  • Agreed. Any technical person worth their salt will have ideas. If you can sell them on yours, you may develop a useful relationship. If you can't, why the hell are you trying to recruit a technical person if you can't hold up your end of the bargain. – Paul Mc Millan 14 years ago


As a programmer I'll say that I sometimes wonder whether I should learn design, marketing or sales. And the answer is no, I don't have the chops to become any of those, I'd be mediocre at best and I'd be holding back my ideas.

Learning to program can be related to learning to play an instrument, you can play a tune on a piano in a month of trying, but it takes several years to be good.

Citing Joel Spolsky:

For some reason most people seem to be
born without the part of the brain
that understands pointers. This is an
aptitude thing, not a skill thing – it
requires a complex form of
doubly-indirected thinking that some
people just can't do.

You might very well have a brain that can do doubly-indirected programming, but would you bet your startup on you becoming a proficient programmer?
answered Oct 28 '09 at 23:08
Duncan Wilcox
241 points


Before you consider studying coding learn to do something every more valuable. Learn t create wire frames of your proposed site. From there you can learn to create interactive wire frames with software that is far easier to learn than the hard core stuff. Start at the lowest level of abstraction and learn where your level of comfort and natural ability is.

answered Nov 2 '09 at 00:39
51 points


Judging by the way you format your text, you need to sort out some other things before considering becoming a programmer. Becoming a decent one will take months, and you're better off just doing what you're best at right now.

I might for example be interested in helping you put out your dream, but I'm not from Canada, so how do you think this looks for me, when you expect me to work for free, for the promise of some equity?

Unless you can find someone locally and go set up all the legal stuff, it will be hard to find someone that is interested to work with no compensation, since your project might take months to be finished, and people need to eat ;).

answered Oct 27 '09 at 16:45
39 points
  • You really think someone can become a decent programmer in a matter of months? – Oleg Barshay 14 years ago
  • Depends. I know a physics major with no "computer science" training who was able to pick up programming very quickly. But he put in a lot of hours and got a lot of help. – Van Nguyen 14 years ago
  • Becoming a decent programmer takes a lifetime. Becoming a GOOD programmer takes several. You need to devote several years to failed projects before you have the chance to succeed as a programmer. – Paul Mc Millan 14 years ago
  • Paul, not sure about those failed projects, but I guess it depends what you consider "failed". I haven't had failed projects due to the programming of the application, but more because of the poor marketing of the product or the fact that it wasn't very popular or it was a bad idea from the get-go. – Blekkzor 14 years ago
  • Appreciate all the advice. I think the consensus is to stick with what I am best at. Also, nothing is for free in terms of working with a developer. I would do my best to take very good care of this person provided they were a fit. – Jaret Manuel 14 years ago
  • @blekkzor more a matter of writing something, then realizing that it was a bad idea in the first place, or that your implementation sucked and so you do a complete rewrite, find out how that sucked, rewrite it again... – Paul Mc Millan 14 years ago
  • 5 years for a decent programmer. 10-15 for a senior. A little lower for oustanding talents (3-4 years instead of 5). – Net Tecture 13 years ago


Learning to write code for release takes a long time, regardless of the language or framework, so your best bet is to develop a network that includes developers, so you can be the idea person, and the visionary, and they can help implement your idea.

That being said, it helps to know how to flesh out your idea so that it is easier to explain, so you may want to look at my answer to this question, as it relates to your question also.

answered Oct 27 '09 at 22:54
James Black
2,642 points
  • Thanks James. Much appreciated. Dharmesh is the man for creating this fourm. – Jaret Manuel 14 years ago


You don't need to be a programmer to get a program - there are many other options.

If writing code is something you want to do, then go ahead and learn how to do it, regardless of wanting to own a web business.

You need to figure out exactly what you want, down to the page an button. Once you know that, place a bid on

If you have technical friends, ask them to help you with the initial design, as it is important to get it right.

You can also choose to have the code written in-house, which would require you to hire a programmer or have one as a co-founder.

Learning how to write code is only one option, outsourcing, hiring or finding a co-founder are some of the others

answered Oct 27 '09 at 17:07
Ron Ga
2,181 points
  • rentacoder tends to produce crap results that barely meet minimum spec, and often not even that. Don't rely on outsourcing your code, it ends up more expensive in the long run. – Paul Mc Millan 14 years ago
  • Thanks Paul. I agree with this for sure. I am looking to find a partner/technical co-founder eventually. – Jaret Manuel 14 years ago
  • I agree with Paul. Those programmer at rentacoder or elance or odesk just produce crappy and code smell program. – Jpartogi 14 years ago


I don't think learning to write code is going to help you at this point.

You have a business problem, solve it like you're a business person. You need to start networking with developers. Go out and meet some. Share your ideas openly (in person) and see if anyone bites. Your humility is your biggest advantage; developers hate nothing more than smartass business types with zero respect for technical skills.

I believe scarcity (lack of funds) is
a great thing, bootstrap breeds

Be careful there. I think I know what you meant, but most businesses fail do to lack of capital, not too much. Sure, too much funding made for some spectacular failures (,, etc...) but those were just big in scale, not in numbers.

Getting creative with Ramen noodles isn't the type of creativity you want deal with. It's better to have your finances in order to properly sustain yourself and your business for the first year because you won't be profitable.

answered Nov 2 '09 at 17:13
448 points


If you are good at selling and talking, you should not waste any time learning programming. Keep looking for a solid technical co-founder. There are so many people who can program, but can't sell.

Do not go to eLance or similar outsourcing sites. You'll get their help to design a cool logo for your site, but not your core offering.

answered Oct 29 '09 at 03:17
Oleg Kokorin
459 points


I partially agree with blekkzor...

Programmers need a highly developed logical way of thinking - seeing the big picture, then analysing things to the small details. Software Engineers treat programming as a mixture of Engineering, Science and Art.

Programmers also need to be very organized - every space character out of place and lack of spacing between paragraphs makes text annoying to read, but code really hard to read.

Choosing a programming language to learn is mostly irrelevant - the concept of how to write programs is mostly the same and either you can grasp it or you can't. Even if you can grasp it, it takes years of learning, mainly by experience to get to just a good level.

Programming is a matter of passion, if you have it you must learn more and more, if you don't, then you are wasting your time. (A bad programmer does more damage to the programs he/she is developing then good.)

Instead of learning to program, learn to communicate with programmers - learn to convey what you want.

E.g. I want a program that does A, the program is to be used by B, B should tell the program C, then the program should calculate D and tell E about it.

Try and make a PowerPoint presentation that conveys what it looks like and what it does.

answered Oct 29 '09 at 08:03
131 points
  • Thanks for the advice. I think I had the answer to the question but you guys certainly helped. I need to get specific with one of my ideas and go find myself a technical co-founder and have some fun. Much appreciated. Jaret – Jaret Manuel 14 years ago

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