No, this article is not written from personal experience, however I found it to be very insightful. I’m definitely going to incorporate this advice in my work. Read Aaron Schildkrout’s article here on Medium.
Software is built through logic and is therefore eminently comprehensible. In almost all cases it works basically how you think it should and will work. To be an effective leader of engineers you must come to understand the peculiarities of the system: names, core principles, and workflows. I call this, “knowing the stack.”
Without knowing the stack, you will be basically useless. Worse—much worse—you will be an annoying drag.
But a fluent agility with this baseline framework (even if you can’t write a single line of code) will allow you — as a non-technical leader of engineers or simply as someone who works closely with engineers — to be relatively unimpeded in your efforts to bring deep value to the product development process through product vision, ideation, facilitation, planning, process management, recruitment and so on.
‘Learning to code’ is a noble pursuit that I support wholeheartedly, but I don’t think it’s necessarily more important for company- and product-leaders than learning to think and talk fluently about the code with people who can REALLY code.
To “learn the stack” I suggest three things:
1. Learn the Words — This means becoming fluent in the basic language and conceptual frameworks your engineers will be using in every technical conversation. You don’t have to understand the specifics of how complex algorithms are coded; but you do need to understand broadly how the software functions. (This way you won’t have to shame yourself by googling LAMP STACK and confusedly sorting through eBay results for vintage industrial floor lighting as I may once have done.)
2. Learn your way around GitHub
3. Learn basic SQL
For the non-technical founder (and adjacently for anyone else non-technical who works closely with engineers) it’s essential that you become fluent in the language and tools of the technical world. Learn voraciously. People love sharing what they know; so, just ask the right people the right questions, listen like an unabashed beginner, and don’t make the same mistake twice.