Guides to help you think like a hacker even if you don't program

July 23, 2014

Often those who can't program suffer from an inferiority complex. For example, an aspiring product manager who can't get a job at a startup thinks it is because she doesn't have a computer science degree. (More likely, her skills or experiences simply don't line up well with the hiring company's needs.) I see this all the time from people I meet in my product community PM Fast Track.

Plus there is the envy of seeing thoes who are “makers;” programmers can simply build new apps, whereas non-programmers have to ask others. In a culture that values independence and perseverance, admitting inability to do something on one's own can be difficult. This can find perverse expressions among some programmers who bash MBAs and other non-technical folks.

(Read a separate post about humility and learning from others.)

Should I learn to code?

So, if you are not technical, should you learn to code? Should you attend a coding bootcamp? Sign up for classes?

Well, that's an itch that many simply must scratch. Often, though, they will find that they get less than they hoped for.

You still can't build fancy apps, and you still feel the impostor syndrome.


Well, that sucks.

I am not saying you shouldn't learn to code (would be good if you can), but what I will say is that there are higher ROI activities you can engage in if your goal is not to program for a career.

So, if you are a “business” person who wants to better understand how to work in teams with technical folks, and understand the technical mindset more, then I would suggest you try the following instead before you enroll in a coding bootcamp.

Reading list

"Fools learn from experience. The wise learn from the experience of others."

A Romanian Proverb

So, a good place in starting to learn and talk like a hacker would be to read the words of the following hackers and thinkers.



There are no substitutes for books, but since the above list already represents good amount of reading, we can come back to books in the future.

Doing list

What is knowledge if it is not applied into action?

It is called useless. As in “I know bunch of useless facts. Tee hee hee.”

So try some (or all) of the following.

Just for fun.

  • Think about some task you could automate in your life.
  • Now, imagine a solution.
  • Now, think about how much time it would save you.
  • Now, think about how many others would benefit from that same solution.

That's called leverage.

  • Instead of imagining, time how long it takes to do a certain task.
  • The improve it and time it.
  • Reflect about what you learned in the process.
  • And repeat (to improve further).
  • Now, measure your final outcome.

This is called measurement.

Measurement + leverage = key ingredients to thinking like a hacker

More social

  • Go talk to a programmer, and just get to know them as friends. Over time, you might pick up a new way to think about the world or approach a problem.
  • Or go bike riding with startup folks in your area.

And if you want to add learning to code to this list, then give one of the following a try for starters:

And if you are interested in other career advice, check out the prior post about mapping your career.


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David at Crater Lake National Park

A former cube dweller, writing about web products, entrepreneurship, and growth.

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