Technology

Is Learning To Code Becoming Business-Critical?

5 Sep 2015 2:42pm, by

CEOs can get a better insight into the “disruptive shifts” that are impacting traditional industries by learning to code. Scott Anthony, managing partner of a growth consulting firm and author of “The Little Black Book of Innovation” shares on “Harvard Business Review” the example of Dave Gledhill, group executive and head of group technology and operations at the leading Asian bank, DBS Bank.

Banks are a good example of the sorts of traditional industries that are set for a new wave of disruption, unless they are able to harness digital transformation and build out a new microservices architecture that enables them to create the next generation of products that customers are demanding. The disruption facing banks is so omnipresent that James Haycock, from Adaptive Labs, wrote “Bye Bye Banks?” to describe the impacts. He will be speaking at API Days London about how banks are being “displaced, diminished and disintermediated” by fintech startups able to provide a more agile set of mobile, payment, transfer and loan calculator products. (Disclosure: I have also written a few articles for API Days London about their upcoming conference.)

Anthony points out that the C-level of traditional enterprises “don’t have first-hand experience with a disruptive shift in their market when they encounter it.” Gledhill, for example, was leading a team that was rapidly iterating on mobile apps product development, yet Gledhill was “struggling” to understand the full cloud and web architecture process that makes up an app experience.

By learning to code, accessing Apple’s developer kit, understanding how to use iBeacons for internal GPS, and seeing what goes into user interfaces first hand, Gledhill has said the experience “has made me better able to provide guidance for the digital bank at a very technical level because I really understand what is going on.”

It is an experience not dissimilar to how The New Stack’s founder, Alex Williams, was made to approach Amazon Web Services almost a year go. At that time, CohesiveFT CTO Chris Swan insisted our editor get his hands dirty. In the subsequent article about his experience, Williams also notes that he heard of managers on the business-side learning to make apps with New Relic’s Insights platform: a task normally assigned to a developer.

Like Swan’s insistence that his workshops were not for spectators, more digital companies are requesting that new staff in management positions have at least some coding skills and understanding of the tech stack that enables their products. Sheera Gendzel, head of international business development at Yelp, for example, has shared how part of her application process involved using Yelp’s APIs and having to build some sort of new app. It didn’t need to be flash, but it did need to demonstrate an understanding of API calls and the datasets and functionalities that Yelp was making available through their APIs. Cyril Vart, partner and VP of strategy and development at growth consultancy FABERNOVEL believes management, and C-level in particular, will need to increase their technical proficiencies, and even have some cursory coding or architecture design skills, in order to be able to lead the next wave of company growth.

There is no doubt that technologies are essential to a business’ ability to enter markets quickly, respond to new opportunities, provide services and products globally and maintain delivery 24/7. What is becoming important now, is that for management to truly understand what “digital transformation” means for their business and industry — to be able to understand and pre-empt opportunities in data science, real-time feedback, continuous delivery and customer-centric product design — will at some point require a knowledge of coding and a solid overview of distributed architecture design. Execs like Gledhill are already trying to address that.

Feature image: “Herbern Electric Code Machine 1918” by Ryan Somma. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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