Ask a Geek

An Expert Speaks Up on What You Should Know About Programming Languages

This story appears in the October 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Q: How do I know my developers are using the programming language that’s best for my business?

A: With technology now central to almost every type of business, you can’t rely on someone else to tell you what the best systems are for your company. If Tawheed “TK” Kader has his way, business schools will make technology management a core topic, much like finance, marketing and business planning. In fact, the founder and CEO of San Francisco-based software company ToutApp has spent his career addressing this very question.

What should I ask first?

It’s a simple answer, but surprisingly not many people follow it: Ask if the developers have done this kind of work before and, if so, find out if it was successful. In other words, check their references. Next, understand that you can’t treat the technology you’re asking for as if it were a black box that simply works. You need to know how it works conceptually and what, if any, trade-offs there are to using it. Finally, accept that you’re going to have to go through iterations and several versions to get it right. As a result, you need to choose a programming language that’s not only flexible but also can scale and adapt along with your business.

What specifics do I need from my lead programmer?

Ask what programming language and framework are going to be used and what the thought process is behind that decision. Next, ask if they’ve scoped out third-party libraries (i.e., plug-ins and APIs) that can be used off the rack, so the programming team isn’t reinventing the wheel on your dime.

Ideally, you want to select a programming language that your own people are already comfortable using. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay to train them. You also want to select the right version of the program: too old and you won’t be able to maintain it; too bleeding edge and you’ll suffer through massive changes and updates that could negatively affect your operations.

Which languages are safe bets?

For web apps, use Ruby on Rails, which allows for rapid and iterative development and has a strong community of supporters creating libraries of functions and plug-ins. For iPhone apps, use Swift (created by Apple) or Objective-C. For Android, use the Native Development Kit. For a simple website, go with WordPress—it’s widely used, has lots of plug-ins and is free.

Any advice on e-commerce platforms?

If you’re looking for a free platform, WordPress and its WooCommerce plug-in is the way to go. I also recommend Shopify if you’re looking for more support and an all-in-one solution.

Edition: December 2016

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