Coding for Beginners – The Tech Skill All Entrepreneurs Should Have

“Software is eating the world.” Tech visionary, Marc Andreessen, uttered these iconic words in 2011, but they are even truer today.

It is not always immediately visible, but programming code underlies much of our daily lives. As a quick illustration – if you are reading this article in a browser on a laptop or desktop, hold down the CTRL button and type “U” (for Mac and less popular browsers shortcuts are here). You are now seeing the page in “source code” view. If you know absolutely nothing about coding it will surely look like gibberish.

The cost of hiring a good developer is therefore accelerating, especially in South Africa

Of course, you needn’t be a programmer to become an entrepreneur. There are plenty of Software as a service (SaaS) web apps out there for blogging and sending out email newsletters. These offer an excellent starting point. However, as your business grows and your needs evolve, you will invariably run into some feature that you require that is not offered in the out-the-box SaaS offering. In many cases, it is exactly these customised features that differentiate your company from that of your competitors (a lot of whom are using the same underlying SaaS platforms).

Rising costs

So what do you do? You hire a developer. There are many names developers go by: “programmers”, “software engineers”, “coders” and “devs”. Their expertise level runs from self-taught folks that have been doing it for a few months, to people with post-grad degrees in computer science. One thing is certain – there are not enough good developers in the world to satisfy the amount of dev required and this situation is worsening. The cost of hiring a good developer is therefore accelerating, especially in South Africa.

The power of DIY

If you are a startup or owner of a small business, and directly involved in your business’ newsletters and blog posts you will invariably come up against little formatting glitches in how things display. In many cases, these glitches relate to a single character in the HTML code being out of place, which can be fixed in 30 seconds with the most rudimentary knowledge of HTML. In the menu most of text input editors you will see a menu button that looks like this <>.

Clicking this button does the same thing as CTRL+U – it shows you the blog post or newsletter you are working on in source code view. A two-hour introductory course in HTML would more than equip you to fix little errors. Compare this to hours of frustration, support tickets back and forth, and possibly even the cost of a developer.

Free Resources Available

Fortunately, the internet offers a bounty of free courses and resources for programming. HTML is an excellent starting point for anybody wanting to learn a little coding. You can start right now for free at Codecademy. There are plenty of other free courses too – MDN Web Docs (formerly known as Mozilla Development Network) and Udacity amongst them, but I’ve found Codecademy to be one of the best.

Investing a little time into learning some beginner coding will pay the small business owner big dividends. You can think of it like driving a car and being able to change the wheel if you get a puncture. A two-hour course, and you are self-sufficient next time you get a flat – no need to wait on the side of the road for the AA.

Progress a little further with your learning and it won’t be long before you can open the bonnet of the car and troubleshoot common engine trouble too. Yes, you might still need a mechanic, but you are also way less likely to get ripped off by any unscrupulous ones.

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Contributor Chris Preen
Contributor Chris Preen
Chris is a BCom graduate and has been an entrepreneur for most of his adult life. For the past fourteen years he has been running South Africa’s leading online accountant directory - FindanAccountant.co.za. Prior to that, he worked as a Senior Business Advisor at the Small Business Development Corporation (now Business Partners). He has also had a book published on Investments and has been a contributor to various well known financial publications in South Africa.