Steve Henry CCMI on why everyone should learn code

11 September 2013 -


The Decoded founder talks about the popular misconceptions around computer code, and what his firm is doing about them

Matt Packer

After emerging from the advertising world, in which he managed award-winning agency HHCL, Steve Henry became fascinated with the capacity for computer code to open up opportunities. He also became determined to debunk some of the myths around the more technical aspects of coding, and reframe it as something that anybody could do – thereby adding to their own career potential. That’s the mission statement behind his company Decoded.

Steve spoke about his thoughts on code at the CMI National Management and Leadership Conference on Thursday 10 October 2013.

What does your business do?

We teach people “Code in a Day”. We don’t claim to be able to turn out professional developers in that time! But we do give people a real understanding of the basics of code – to help them manage digital projects, and hold meaningful conversations about the technical aspects.

What led you to become an entrepreneur?

I used to run an ad agency called HHCL (which won Campaign magazine’s Agency of the Decade award in 2000), but since selling it I became aware that in the so-called digital economy, there’s a huge chasm between the people running businesses and the people making the stuff. There’s a mythology that’s built up around coding – that it takes three years to learn, and you have to be a particular type of person, but that’s all rubbish. I’m not a “techie” – never have been – but I found out that anyone can learn the basics, and it’s actually incredibly empowering.

What do you think is the most pressing issue that needs to be addressed in people management right now?

I’d say learning code! Code is the operating system of your company, no matter what sector you’re in – and it allows anybody to build something out of nothing and distribute it more or less instantly all over the world. It’s transformed every single industry, and we’re only starting to see the ramifications of this. And when you realise that they’re teaching it in schools in India, but not over here, it makes you wonder – what’s going to happen in five or 10 years’ time?

What do you hope conference delegates got out of your talk?

I hope they understood the incredible power of code: how it is transforming businesses through data, and through improved customer relations, as well as through creative communications. But the key thing I wanted to get across is that this isn’t something that’s just for techies! Almost all of the people who’ve done our course started off thinking that they knew nothing (we assume zero knowledge from everyone) but at the end of the day, everybody we’ve taught has created a multi-platform app with geo-location – and the change in their confidence is incredible! One of the biggest problems in business is stress – and feeling that you don’t understand something is very stressful. So what excites me is helping people jump over that barrier, and start to explore a very exciting new world. 

What single legislative change would you bring in to improve prospects for entrepreneurs?

More tax breaks!

If you could manage one blue-chip company for a day, which would it be, and why?

Google. They’ve got the resources and the ambition to change the world. I get the feeling that being inside Google, the ethos is that there’s no such thing as an impossible idea.

What piece of advice would you give to a budding entrepreneur?

The best thing anyone can do is start their own company. It’s incredibly rewarding, and makes getting out of bed in the morning a pleasure! But it does make it very difficult to go back to an ordinary job afterwards. You’re kind of ruined for life really! But the key bit of advice is this: pick partners you like and trust. Every start-up has its rough patches – and actually things can get difficult between partners when a company becomes very successful, too. So work with people you like.

Your fantasy leadership dinner guests are…

I don’t like the formality of dinner parties at all! But I’d like to have one-on-one conversations with so many people that I don’t know where to start. How about TS Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Marilyn Monroe and Bob Dylan? Oh, and Marlon Brando.

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