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I work with brilliant people and they often announce that they can’t program, as if that’s a bad thing. It seems that we developers come off as some kind of mysterious creature that can accomplish magical things. In reality the programming is not as important as the original idea for a system. As a developer I work with people I call ‘champions’. It’s not an empty complimentary word, it truly means what it means. A champion is someone who is an expert in a field, or an expert in their own business, in their own life and in their own ideas. They can explain to me the ins and outs of a system I am not familiar with. The part that usually follows is a solution to an existing problem in that process which I am required to implement.

In 1998, I got my first fully independent Web development contract and met my very first champion. For Andre, I took a complicated system of excel sheets and turned a year process into a swift wed-based extranet. That spiffy website served ALL the public colleges of my province and took them through the 5 steps of needs analysis, bids/tender, contract signing and acquisition process for over 10,000 schooley things like toilet paper, elevator servicing or chemistry beakers. Now this may sound painful but it wasn’t. Because I was working with a veteran purchaser for mega hospitals and universities, he had already engineered a good process, it just needed a better way to coordinate with his colleagues. All my programmer and myself needed to do was take the existing system and make it accessible so distant collaborators could avoid the long delays of mail and the expenses of travelling to review and sign contracts. It remains today as the most useful system for the most limited amount of users I have ever developed.

So what I tell people who mope about not being able to program is: “You are a champion in an age of champions, there is no reason to mope over not being able to program.”

Today, most people use computer interfaces, apps and programs everyday, sometimes MOST of the day. The average person can, with no computer training whatsoever get a software project 75% of the way there just by documenting a process, an idea and/or a solution on paper. Don’t even think about the part where you can’t program it because you are doing three things:

– Doing the part of development that developers suck at like documentation and organization (that’s why project managers were invented.) We programmers value concentration time and there seems to be few of us around so any bits and bobs task that eat away at our precious concentration time can be really grating. When you are documenting and organizing your ideas as a champion, you are doing 75% of the work of software development. In the words of Gary Vaynerchuk “Stop watching fuckin’ LOST!” and get drawing that app that you can already see working in your head. After a few months, you will have something swell that gets your point across.

– Write content for your project. One of the most difficult aspects of my work is getting going on a project without content. Everybody needs content, the designer and the programmer. No amount of lorem ipsum will get a project going faster is there is no soul, and that soul comes from your content!

– If you still want to learn programming then you need something to build. You are not going to get any value out of a class on programming if you don’t already have a specific plan. Once your idea is documented and organized, you will be able to pull bits out and work on those one by one. The order doesn’t matter at all! Pick tiny bits, easy to accomplish in a day to get that very motivational sense of accomplishment. Remember that the most complex looking things in the world like buildings, Islamic art and trees are just repetitive application of a very basic idea found in math. Explore that within a system you understand, your own idea!

I am not a designer but when I have to design something, I find that drawing it on a piece of paper helps. Yes, a piece of paper. Paper!!

So the most important part of this is get away from that computer screen full of distractions that bleeps and bloops every second and build that great app… on paper! Here’s some examples of lo-fi wireframing but don’t worry if you can’t draw straight… Who cares, you can always re-draw a page later!

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