Why I Started the Summer Hackers Program

Last month I got an email from a friend’s daughter asking me for advice about breaking into the startup world. My advice to her was to learn to program. I'm not sure that's what she wanted to hear, but that would be my advice to any young person interested in startups—unless they were planning to do biotech or something else that can be built without programming.

Through my work at Y Combinator, I’ve observed a lot of patterns among early stage startups. With female founders, I’ve seen a lot of cases where the woman is an ass-kicking domain expert in some field and has a clever idea but she’s completely hamstrung because she can’t program.

Specifically, she can’t build the first version of her product and is forced to find a cofounder who can.  Because she can't judge technical ability, she'll often choose the wrong person for the job.  And in a startup, if you choose the wrong programmer or cofounder and have to replace them, the delay alone can be enough to kill the company.

How often does this happen? Often enough that I think it might be the worst bottleneck for otherwise promising female founders.

I'm not suggesting that all founders need to be good enough at programming to build the final version of their product, just that they need to be good enough to judge and collaborate with potential cofounders, and perhaps to build a prototype. And you can learn that much in a summer.

It won't be easy. Lambda School is a lot of work. So the Summer Hackers Program is something you should do only if you are seriously interested in learning to code.

As with the Summer Founders Program (the original name of Y Combinator's program) back in 2005, I’m testing a hypothesis. I'm hoping this will broaden the pipeline of female startup founders. I have no idea how much impact it will have, and it could take several years to know. But I know what a problem it is when founders can't program, and I know Lambda School can teach people to program, so this seems worth trying.