If you’re technology-averse, the word “code” may bring to mind morse code, secret languages and even codebreakers. For most of us, though, “code” has a different meaning: it refers to the building blocks that support and build our websites, applications and technological systems.

A lot of small business owners, even who work within tech, shy away from digging into code, intimidated by programming languages that look like gibberish to the untrained eye. But no matter who you are and what you do, it pays for you to have a basic knowledge of coding.

Here’s a brief introduction for a non-technie:

The Simple Approach

Just as you plug a phone number into your phone, and it miraculously knows to make the call, if you plug in code into a computer, it results in a specific action. At its most basic, code tells a computer that it needs to perform a task at a given moment. It is a secret language, or many secret languages, and one that even if you don’t learn, you would benefit from understanding on a rudimentary level.

As a developer or hobby coder, you use different languages to produce the outcomes of your choice — certain languages are better for certain tasks. They range from super easy to ridiculously challenging.

A Very Short History

The first programming languages appeared in the 1940s and 1950s, spurred by the need to create physical outcomes with simple hardware. Code eventually developed from tedious instructions implemented in a manual machine to electronic, and computer-based languages. Code will, no doubt, continue to develop as its relevance increases and its complexity develops.

Grammar Rules

Did you officially learn English grammar in high school? Not many of us are confident in our use of the English language, but whether we know it or not, an intuitive understanding grammar rules enables us to communicate. We know that to separate a group of letters indicates a word, and to ending a complete thought with a period creates a sentence.

Even though programming languages do not use commas, periods and semicolons, they use other symbols that serve a parallel purpose — to add a defining structure. Grammar rules change depending on your language; they are not the same in French or Mandarin, and they are not always the same in different coding languages.

Coding Languages

There are a wide array of coding languages, all of which have their unique tribe of followers. If you ever look at job descriptions for web developers, you will notice that employers often ask for experience with a specific language; many experienced developers are fluent in multiple languages.

HTML and CSS are technically not programming languages. They do not do anything, but rather indicate the proper formatting and style of a web page. They are the best place to start for non-coders.


HTML is the basic markup language of web pages. As Codeacademy explains on its website, it’s the “skeleton” or the bones that give shape to a website. Basic knowledge of HTML can come in handy for anyone building email newsletters or working in the digital sphere. It allows you to create a hierarchy of language, identifying titles, subtitles and paragraphs.


CSS or Cascading Style Sheets formats the layout, style and appearance of your web page. Want to change the default font size of the copy your website? Change it in your CSS, and your website will fall in line. Web designers and developer use it to exercise increased control over visuals.


JavaScript is a programming languages that makes web pages interactive — companies often use it to create quizzes or polls. You can buy pre-scripted Java pages to plug into your website if you would rather stick with HTML and CSS.

A Few More: Python, Perl, PHP, Ruby, Clojure and XSLT

Free Resources

What is Code?

In this compulsory piece, Paul Ford demystifies “code” for the general public. Started as an explanation for the staff of Bloomberg Business, it sprouted into a four-thousand word essay on coding.


Codeacademy offers 100 courses ripe with interactive lessons that help you to get started. Fans of Codeacademy like their hands-on approach — from your first lesson, you will be building code yourself. Go at your own speed without any added pressure.

Khan Academy

If you learn best through video, tune into Khan Academy’s lessons to learn the basics. Their community questions board creates a collaborative environment where you can communicate with other students and ask questions.

What are the Benefits?

Just as awareness of politics and culture can allow you to communicate with others, even a limited understanding of the context and implementation of code can help you to partake in conversations otherwise closed to you. It also means that, if you work in an environment with digital applications, you can understand the language collaborators use to describe their work — and you will have the confidence to ask relevant questions of developers, designers and customer service representatives.

Most importantly, however, knowing a bit about code lessens debunks an otherwise syphoned topic. All of a sudden, something complicated — your smartphone, a bugged website, or news of a government hack make sense given the framework of your increased understanding.

And who knows. Maybe you’ll even find a bit of adventure in the unknown?

What will you do with your new code know-how?