Developers are currently some of the most sought after innovators and doers of our time. They include everyone from Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Tony Hsieh of Zappos and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, among others. And as leaders, many of them are extremely intentional in their business approach.
Some of the success of these entrepreneurs can be attributed to a developer mindset, one focused on systems, processes, analysis and logical reasoning.
For example, Tony Hsieh is widely known for building great systems and processes for both customer service and hiring new employees.
"I think everyone should get a little exposure to computer science, because it really forces you to think in a slightly different way, and it’s a skill that you can apply in life in general, whether you end up in computer science or not," Hsieh told Code.org.
On the other hand, an entrepreneur like Sara Blakely, founder and CEO of Spanx, doesn’t have computer-programming training. However she was able to take her personal "aha" moment of creating footless pantyhose to help contour her own body to building a $250-million brand. Being able to take a product to scale is a key component of how a developer thinks.
As an engineer for the past 15 years and the co-founder and lead teacher of Launch Academy,a Boston-based code school, I see the connection between entrepreneurship and programming thinking. As someone running my own business, I also recognize when I use both skills to solve business challenges.
Here are four ways to tap into a hacker’s mindset and help your business grow:
1. Spike! As a developer, we are always looking to add value to the products we are building. We call this a spike, a technical equivalent to a small research project. Spikes are permitted experiments, where the developer is encouraged to try something new and different.
We need the freedom to experiment and try new things for potential, long-term benefits. By having this flexibility, programmers are able to explore better solutions, rather than being pressured to immediately produce a shippable product, that may not be up to par.
As a business owner, give yourself permission to explore those crazy ideas that may not immediately contribute to the bottom line. The future payoff could be worth your while.
For instance, at Launch Academy, we encourage our staff to experiment with additional ways to aid learning. Our director of admissions recently did a small spike on how to assess collaborative mindset, an important qualification we look for in our applicants. This spike has dramatically improved our admissions process, and we have since disqualified a few applicants that otherwise could have soured the learning dynamic.
2. Seek instant gratification. Many developers will tell you that they choose to write code because they can see the impact of their efforts almost immediately.
As a programmer, if you move too quickly without putting the correct measurements in place, it becomes increasingly hard to isolate the problem. At Launch Academy, we teach students how to shorten the feedback loop to adjust as quickly as possible. By gaining perspective earlier allows them to change their approach when necessary.
As an entrepreneur, identify leading indicators that can quickly measure whether your team's efforts are in the right place. Changes you implement can be distributed to customers at moment’s notice, and with proper instrumentation in place, you can see the impact of that effort in a short span of time.
3. Decompose the problem. At first glance, some of the technical problems developers face can be overwhelming. And it’s the same with running a business.
When this happens to me, I jump on a whiteboard and try to identify the smaller pieces that would get me to a complete solution. By breaking down this issue utilizing a smaller step strategy, programmers (and entrepreneurs) can see where there are hang ups, what each milestone entails and take adequate actions to complete the task, all while not feeling completely overwhelmed.
4. Always ask: Does this idea scale? It may be easy to serve 200 or 300 users with a particular piece of software, but how will that same software perform when there are two million or three million users? It can be tricky, as every customer will have different perspectives on what the product should do and how it should work.
While getting good software out the door is as important for a developer as hitting revenue targets is for an executive, thought must be given toward how that software will adapt to a growing and diversifying customer base. Entrepreneurs need to think the same way.
Startups should consider how their new product idea or internal initiative will scale. Anticipate that things will grow more complex and demanding as more people become involved.
Take a cue from our leading tech titans of today. Thinking like a hacker can lead to more meaningful services and products and mean serious growth for your startup.