Help a coder, even if you can’t code
Photo by Sebastiaan ter Burg / CC-BY
“I love to help with your project, but i can’t code.”
“This hackathon sure sounds cool, but i can’t program.”
“That competition sounds awesome, but i ‘m not a coder.”
Sounds familiar? I’ve heard this question dozens of times the last couple of years: non-coders who want to help with a technical project, but are afraid to do so, because they can’t code.
That’s a pity, because i feel there are many ways non-coders can help coders and work to create awesome things together.
So, how can you, as a non-programmer help a coder?
Here’s a dirty little secret that many people don’t know: coders actually don’t code that much. I’ve seen various numbers, but in my own experience ‘real’ coding, like typing code on a keyboard in a text editor, takes only between 2 to 3 hours during an average 8-hour workday.
So what does a coder do in those other 5 to 6 hours? Here are some things a typical web developer might do:
- Discuss the interface design with the designer.
- Test the site on a variety of browsers and devices (tablet, phones, desktops, etc.)
- Tweak the design where it doesn’t really work in the browser.
- Write bug reports.
- Reproduce bugs and confirm with the bug reporter that’s the problem.
- Communicate about feature requests and bugs.
- Google for error messages and how to fix specific bugs.
- Add test data to a CMS to check if it works.
- Clean up an Excel or CSV dump with data, or import it in a database.
- Sketch out possible solutions for a user story.
- Decide which task is most important.
- Write blog posts, send out tweets, make screenshots of the product.
See a pattern here? Indeed, all of these activities don’t require writing a single line of code. Of course, not all of these tasks might easily be done by somebody else, but i bet there are a few of these you can help out with.
Here are some examples:
- Flesh out user stories that exhaustively detail a specific function or workflow of the product.
- If you know how to use Photoshop / Illustrator: create and/or tweak the design.
- If you don’t: do some paper prototyping to help with the interface design.
- Test the product in all possible browser/OS combinations and write bug reports.
- If you’re handy with Excel: clean up the data and export it to a exchangeable format (e.g. CSV).
- Write / blog / tweet about the product.
- Create a video / graphic / powerpoint about the product.
- Setup a blog / site / Facebook page showcasing the product.
- Do the paperwork for the competition / hackathon / startup.
- Do some fast and simple user testing.
- Track usage of the product using an analytics package.
- Communicate with the client / user / designer.
- Fill the database / CMS with ‘real’ content.
- If you can’t program but do know how to use the command line: setup servers, hosting and deployment procedures.
- Find the best and/or cheapest hosting / catering / workspace.
- Prioritise and assign tasks.
Easy, right? Hopefully, the next time you’re asked to participate in a technical project, you’re not afraid to decline because you can’t code. And, after reading this article, you still don’t know what to do: coders love free coffee and a massage at times as well ;)
If you have more suggestions on what you can do as a non-coder: post a comment or send me a tweet.
Perfect post nothing to add except talking to developers when they are stuck helps a lot too the act of trying to explain your problem to someone is often a direct route to resolving it in your own mind.