Love Letter to Silicon Valley MBA’s #2


After bringing up the whole digital literacy thing in my first letter, I thought I’d just tell you a little more about what I mean and how you can get there. Just to recap, while your main job is to help your collaborators build less software for high impact through validating learning, it is important to know, hands-on, what it is to go from idea to code.

Not to be glib, but all it takes is a little directed practice. With the right focus, it’s something you can do for yourself on nights and weekends in just a month or two.

There are a few ways to do it, but step one is to articulate a specific idea you want to code. It doesn’t need to be an amazing idea, but it should have a clear, testable explanation of what you want to have happen for the user that does not prescribe the implementation. The prevailing choice for this is the user story. Then you should think about what user interface affordances (elements) make sense for your user stories and mock them up quickly and roughly in a tool like Balsamiq.

There are two reasons articulating a specific idea is so important. First, the point here is to learn what it is to go from idea to code- you’ll see more what I mean by that once you actually do it, but it’s a different and more singular focus than you’d have if you were training to become a career developer.

Second, without some kind of design intent, you’ll just get lost in all the cool things the different programming languages can do. That part is fun, but when I meet with MBA’s who have just gone through a bunch of tutorials on, say, Codecademy, they still don’t have the sense that they really ‘get’ what it is to code. A nice clear design intent will help you strike the right balance between learning the fundamentals you need to get started and learning how to ask and answer the right questions with code on the fly, which is one of the most important parts of coding.

Once you have that nice clear design intent, then identify a language and environment you want to use. Personally, I think HTML, CSS, and Javascript on a simple tool like JS Fiddle is a great way to start fast and minimize overhead. If you later want to bring that code online in a functioning app, it’s relatively easy to then move those assets over to something like WordPress (which, shockingly runs like 1/3 the world’s websites, though not by volume). There are tons of great how-to’s online and Codecademy offers excellent free interactive tutorials on coding fundamentals.

And there we are. That’s the best single piece of advice I have based on working with MBA’s, past, present, and future, and I think it will work for you. If you want some fellow travelers, join myself and Laura Klein this May for our live online class Coding for Designers, Managers, and Entrepreneurs, but, again, there are a lot of great ways to get to this happy place.

Good luck!