Tech Startups: It’s Not All About Coding

Startup founders be warned: running a tech company is just as much about people as it is about coding.

For all the talk we hear about coding, you’d think it would be impossible to get a job in tech without this skill. While the jobs of the future will likely require people to be at least familiar with coding, we’re still a long way away from coding becoming a mandatory skill. Even in tech companies there are plenty of tasks that have nothing to do with writing code.

59% of tech jobs in New York right now are non-technical roles, according to a study from  HR&A Advisors. Interestingly, the advancement of technology is a big part of why that number is so big: “A decade ago, higher technology costs and relative lack of usability meant many technical hands were required, leading to a boom in the developer market,” wrote Susan Zheng in ‘TheNextWeb’. Zheng is co-founder of Planted, a company that matches high-growth companies with young talent. “Today, cheap cloud infrastructure, exploding processing power and mass-adoption community development platforms mean software is becoming commoditised and easier to use.”.

While setting up a tech company used to mean big investment in on-site servers and annual software licences, the cloud has made this not only cheaper but also simpler. Remote cloud storage can be scaled up or down as needed, and software can be licensed on a pay-as-you-go basis. So as the technology side of running a tech business becomes less of a prohibitive factor, other elements are brought to the fore. “The most important skill for a startup founder isn’t a programming technique. It’s a knack for understanding users and figuring out how to give them what they want,” Y Combinator founder Paul Graham has famously said. “Get into the habit of thinking of software as having users. What do those users want? What would make them say wow?”.

Those “habits” have less to do with coding and more to do with so-called soft skills like curiosity, communication and teamwork, to name a few. Zheng argues that these factors are actually more important – not less – when working in a tech company: “Compared to a traditional corporate ladder, in which seniority and route knowledge are rewarded, startup employees that succeed often demonstrate a genuine desire to go above and beyond their written job description.”.

For junior employees this can mean demonstrating so-called “passion” for the job: living and breathing the company and its mission. For senior management, the ability to give staff the kind of leadership that inspires this environment may be vital for the company to succeed. If your company doesn’t seem able to keep hold of its best staff, that probably isn’t because of the money, argued Forbes columnist Maureen Henderson. Instead, it’s probably to do with “soft” things like culture: “Top talent doesn’t flee because they wake up one day and realise they aren’t in love with making widgets/designing irrigation systems/selling vitamin supplements. […] They leave – or don’t accept your offer in the first place – because you’ve failed to provide them with a compelling vision of why they’d want to work at your organisation and the journey they can expect to embark on as a member of your team.”.

This is supported by a recent study of the millennials generation, which found that over 50% of respondents said they would be willing to take a pay cut to work in a company that matches their values. Deloitte’s 2015 Millennial Survey found that 90% want to use their skills for good, and 75% said they feel businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than improving society. In an industry like tech, where there can be brutal competition for talent, employers are finding money alone isn’t enough to keep people happy anymore – people can afford to be choosy. Concluded Henderson: “Ambitious employees want to work for companies that have a strong vision of what they want to achieve in the world, and leadership committed to making that happen.”.

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