The summer between RC and EC year represents a great opportunity for risk-free exploration. Encouraged by our outcome at the New Venture Competition and the funding I would receive as a Rock Summer Fellow, I forwent a business internship for the entrepreneurial path. The goal was to produce a minimal viable product (MVP) for our mental health startup idea, and to achieve that, I decided to level up my technical skills through an intensive coding program for three main reasons:
1. Entrepreneurial empowerment
2. Future of business
3. Personal gratification
How much would it cost to build/change/scale this? – is a frequent question in startup land (elsewhere too) where recruitment targets are typically behind schedule. In my case, I saw two main options to building a MVP (minimum viable product): outsource, or DIY. Sure, outsourcing may seem like the “faster” route, but working with contractors can be a black hole of time and capital. In contrast, technical founders can enhance velocity, an important attribute of successful startups, and accelerate attaining product-market fit (which is especially valuable in a space like healthcare, where innovation is so difficult and the number of product cycles are high). It’s liberating to be self-reliant and not be hamstrung by the “I need a developer” excuse.
When you’re building, you’re constantly expanding your understanding of both the problem and the solution. This nuanced perspective of your product also enables you to assemble your team more effectively by identifying what you need in your teammates – whether it’s the CTO or the company’s first couple engineers. Even in product management, technical proficiency can help better ascertain what you should be asking for and empathize with your engineers.
Future of business
Tech is here to stay. It’s everywhere, and its ever-growing presence and complexity is making its mark globally. This prevalence and importance is reflected not just in the impact of digital offerings from major companies, but also in the technical background of their leaders (think: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Cloudflare’s Matthew Prince). That’s not to say that non-technical business leaders will be less successful, but there’s a compelling argument that coding is becoming the new business literacy.
Technology is always the future, and with Moore’s Law in mind, I don’t want to be playing catch-up a few years down the line. I don’t want to only understand ongoing technical breakthroughs – I want to actively engage in them. For example, though my neuroscience background allowed me to comprehend machine learning principles, it wasn’t until I tried implementing the techniques myself that I grasped how biases can get trained into a neural network unintentionally. Being able to recognize these biases and observe how they take form helps to not only understand the problem but also brainstorm probable solutions. Artificial intelligence may be the most important general-purpose technology of our era, and now’s the time to partake in shaping its impact. You don’t need to know how to code to appreciate the vast potential and diversity of its applications, but technical literacy can add a lot of value in seeing the obscure white spaces and developing possibilities into functional products and services.
Coding is fun. I see it in fellow members of CODE@HBS and experienced it myself when I took the club’s Python bootcamp last spring. Despite a steep learning curve, I was enticed by the possibility of a hidden passion and potential in myself. It’s empowering to see how much you learn and what you can do with technical skills.
At its core, coding is problem solving at its best. It’s also a creative, personal expression because there is never only one way to write a solution. The rewards of successful coding are instant (it works!), and there’s deep satisfaction not just in making something that didn’t exist before but also in seeing others benefit from your work. Finally, coding offers incessant growth as technologies, languages, and frameworks – just like the challenges they attempt to address – are constantly evolving. And as W. B. Yeats once wrote: “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth, We are happy when we are growing.”
There’s good news for those interested in gaining technical literacy during business school. HBS has made big moves to better integrate and cultivate technical talent in the institution given the swelling interest, such as offering the new computer science class CS50 for MBAs that’s designed for future managers, product managers, and founders. The new joint SM/MBA program between HBS and the School of Engineering and Applied Science will also draw in more hybrid technical-business types. I’m excited to see the profiles of future MBA classes and how they’ll approach their time at HBS.
Stephanie Tong (HBS ’18 Section D) is an incoming EC. You can share your thoughts and follow Steph on LinkedIn or Twitter.