Coding is the New Business Literacy

July 12th 2016

We expect our executives to have a strong understanding of the financial performance of their companies. Shareholders would find it strange – or more likely, unacceptable – if a CEO said, “I’m not financially-inclined” and passed along financial performance inquires to his or her CFO. Similarly, CEOs in an increasingly digital world will struggle to say, “I’m not technical” and hand over mission-critical business questions for the engineers to answer.

I'm not yet sure I agree with most of the points in this article – a lot of the assumptions are a bit naive and I think miss the point of being technical at all in the first place. But this quote did stand out to me as an interesting question: at what point do we expect leaders of technology-powered companies to be technical themselves? And where on the spectrum of technical literacy do we expect them to be?

Is it enough to know how if/else loops work? Or do we expect leaders to be further along towards execution and understanding the way software is architected and shipped? Certainly in the startup world, the latter is going to leverage the team and product in a fundamentally more powerful way. But at a higher-level, later-stage company? I'm not totally sure.

Of course you might even reject the entire original premise, as I'm somewhat inclined to do. An argument could be made that the CEO does have intimate awareness of financials within their organization by way of the CFO. In the same way, the CEO could have an intimate familiarity with the technical architecture and construction of their business by way of a CTO or trusted engineers.

I'll always argue in favor of learning more over learning less, but I'm not convinced that we're ready to start asking the big question: should CEOs learn to code?

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