How learning to code can make you a better CMO

Most marketing executives think learning to code is strictly for programmers. After all, CMOs have enough to do without taking on tasks they can either outsource or ask someone else in the company to take care of.

However, it’s not always that easy. Coders are in high demand, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find a good one immediately. Even if you do, how would you know it? If you don’t know the first thing about coding and technology, you could find yourself making uninformed decisions without realizing it.

Why outsourcing knowledge backfires

In today’s tech market, you can’t simply go out and grab a capable coder off the street when you need one. Coders these days make salaries upward of US$120 000, and the best ones routinely get offers from companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. If you want to keep a good coder on staff, you have to be willing to pay the price for that service.

Imagine you hear a great sales pitch and decide to pursue a project in that area. You don’t quite understand the back end of the project, but why would you need to if you have an entire department of programmers?

Two reasons: First, if you don’t know at least the basics of coding, you might end up making uninformed decisions that aren’t strategic for large technical projects. Consider this TED Talk, in which Susan Kish discusses how coding helped her make more informed choices for her company. Once she taught herself how to code, she was able to critically review a project that she was told would take 150 days to complete. But she came up with a solution in five days.

If you don’t have a basic working knowledge of the types of code your developers use, you could open yourself up to communication errors with your programmers or clients, accidentally creating unreachable expectations and longer project times.

Second, even if you consult with your development team on every detail, you still might not get what you have in mind if you don’t know whether your development team is as capable as you believe (or hope) they are. If you don’t know much about coding yourself, you could end up hiring and trusting people who aren’t half as capable as they lead you to believe they are.

It’s not enough to rely on those around you for coding knowledge. If you want to be a part of the conversation, you need to speak the language.

What CMOs stand to gain by learning to code

Essentially, that’s all coding is: a different language. If you can learn French or Spanish, you can learn Python or HTML.

A CMO who learns to code not only gains a valuable life skill, but also tremendously increases his or her value to the company. Here are a few of the benefits:

  • Improved efficiency: If you take a hands-off approach to software development, you won’t have the slightest clue of how to improve your workers’ efficiency, much less identify areas for improvement in the tools they use. You don’t have to participate in a hackathon, but if you can code, you can offer your company a competitive edge in marketing technology by staying on top of the latest trends.
  • Back-end understanding: Most CMOs don’t understand what goes on behind the user interface. If you understand what makes one website function better than another, you’ll be able to discern differences in product quality and make more informed decisions.
  • Better hiring decisions: As discussed earlier, knowing how to code makes you a better judge of coding ability — especially if you only need to hire one or two coders. You need to know what makes one better than another and learn how to tell when someone is overstating his or her abilities.

The bottom line: Knowledge is power. Today’s market is so driven by tech that the best CMOs are obligated to learn at least a bit of coding to give themselves (and their companies) a level playing field. To learn more or teach yourself how to code, check out, Skillshare, One Month, or General Assembly.



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