From concept to website–it’s time to learn programming #uls

Last thursday (Dec. 2nd, 2010) I attended an event at NYU Stern hosted by Ultra Light Startups--an organization dedicated to developing the ULS community. An ultra light startup is defined by three things:1. They are a startup 2. They are profitable 3. They have no external funding

Thursday's event was titled From Concept to Website and was targeted towards entrepreneurs who had no backgrounded in tech, and needed a tech component to bring their vision to life.

This topic is especially pertinent to me as I look to start a social venture before graduation and find my self time and again coming with ideas for a web platform--due either to my lack of imagination or the immense potential of the internet to enable positive change in novel ways. The three main options for individuals in my situation are: 1. Hire a CTO 2. Hire a company 3. Build it yourself

The problem with 1. is that I have no track record of successful ventures to speak of, and as my friend Trevor Owen (@to2 and founder of tech@nyu) said, "everybody has an idea." I definitely sense an asymmetrical power balance between young programmers and young entrepreneurs with regards to tech ventures. Good programmers without their own ideas seem to have no shortage of seasoned, experienced, and deep-pocketed business people pitching or recruiting them. There is very little value I could offer to a good programmer to make them my CTO.

2. is a no brainer but difficult for those without capital, leaving 3.--just building the thing myself--the most exciting (and honestly most viable) option. This is exactly the path Vinicius Vacanti (@vacanti), founder of yipit.com took. I asked Vin that if I started today, what would he suggest I learn? His emphatic response was to DEFINITELY learn programming, and suggested starting with Python and moving on to Django.

Personally, after weeks of talking to various programmers around NYC, PHP has come up quite often, and was the language I was leaning towards. It was validated at ULS when another panelist, Word Press guru Steve Bruner (@sbruner), revealed to me that Word Press was built on PHP, and some knowledge of the language would allow me to utilize the platform to create my own webapps by modifying the utility.php functions.php file within the WP folder.

I've come to believe programming is a critical skill almost everybody should learn given how ubiquitous programming has become in our lives. It's also apparently really simple to get your hands on cheap (or free), good resources--either online or in a book--that can take you far if you are committed to it.

Although I'll need to be realistic given that I'm going to be travelling through India for most of my winter break, I've decided to learn PHP over the next two months.

Have you ever thought about learning programming?