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Ask HN: What are some good resources to learn business administration/finance?
280 points by dattl 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 77 comments
As a software engineer, I want to learn more about business administration and finance. I want to able to level with CEOs, CFos or other managerial positions.

The onramp for finance is accounting. There is no other right answer. This is also essential for general business administration.

Accounting is a huge topic; being able to read financial statements is a good, first tangible exercise.

Best book I have found for this is Thomas Ittelson, Financial Statements.

Using double-entry accounting methods for your own financials with a tool like Beancount is super helpful from a practice perspective, and appealing to an engineering mind:


"Being able to level with CEOs and CFOs" is less about administering a business and more about being able to communicate with executives. This is essential for all technical people, whether or not they have management or executive ambitions themselves.

This also is a huge topic, I would suggest starting with concise definitions of what managing is, and what being an executive is about. When you understand the concerns of the people you are communicating with, you can do so more efficiently and effectively.

From a mindset perspective I would start with Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive, and since everyone is their own CEO, his book Managing Oneself is very valuable.

These are all classic texts, still valuable and relevant, as these topics are as old as the hills.

Good luck.

I would like to strongly second your recommendations regarding accounting. Double entry accounting is the root of all finance. If you understand it well enough to keep accurate accounts of your personal finances (credit cards, 401k, salary, pre/post-tax expenses, etc), you understand it well enough to fumble through a financial statement. I’d plug GNU Ledger, but really any double entry accounting software is good to get started.

Came here to say this, too.

I think at least a 100-level knowledge of account is beneficial to nearly every developer. Bookkeeping is, arguably, one of the oldest and longest-practiced "data processing" disciplines. It seems arbitrary and somewhat old-fashioned until you grok the reasoning and history behind it (double-entry sourced from summaries of various different "journals" to facilitate separation of duties, closing periods and rolling-up detail entries into totals because human computational power is limited, an equation that balances implicitly when there aren't entry errors, etc.)

From a personal finance perspective I think everyone should get some training in account but, sadly, that's probably way too optimistic of an attitude.

What's the opinion about gnucash?

Big caveat that I’ve never seriously tried using it, but my perspective is that GNUCash and GNU Ledger have different target audiences. The way I think of it is (Cash is to LibreOffice) as (Ledger is to some combination of Vim and SQLite).

Cash aims to replace non-free accounting software, Ledger is both a file format and a general purpose tool for parsing and transforming that file format, that is designed for accounting but can be used to drive a wide variety of applications.

CTOs at most Fortune 500 companies do not need a strong working knowledge of double entry accounting beyond accruals and capex and how it depreciates.

You can be ahead of most technology peers by simply knowing the basics of accrual accounting. How to learn it? When working on a project, talk to the finance person you work with about the accrual process. They will be happy you asked. If they don’t help, google “when should I accrue an expense or revenue”

Once you get that down, you will want to spend a little time doing some NPV practice. When it comes time to getting your project approved, you want to show benefits in your NPV model. 99% of this is not the math around the NPV, that part is easy. The hard part is getting business partners onboard with supporting the benefits case.

Most finance people at large companies are mainly doing basic math, but doing it well and spelling out logic in a small program called a financial model. The best way to get good at this besides working in finance is to model everything you can. Small widget models are the key to building that skill

Absolutely, very few CTOs in my experience understand double entry or know how to read a balance sheet. To their detriment, IMO, but there are all kinds of effective CTOs across all kinds of orgs.

But OP was asking for guidance in learning how to engage on those topics- as opposed to communicating about technical things to that audience. Hence the recommendations.

I agree about the value of NPV, tho I would argue that NPV without some accounting chops is tricky waters. "Value" in that context has an accounting meaning, not the largely useless goofy ROI calculations that tech folks usually create.

People are too quick to recommend accounting and finance books. Or... recommend super complex material because they think the subject is complex. If his/her goal is to learn what it takes to be more effective at the finance piece, they should follow my advice. If they want to go deeper for fun later, they can, but it won’t have as much value as improving the 3 things I mentioned.

I’m a Corp finance guy and agree with your comments more than most on this thread. Very little value in knowing double entry accounting. It’s actually a key difference between most finance and accounting. I don’t even deal with that stuff. I know all about how it works sure, I had to take accounting classes in college but it’s not a routine part of my job and certainly no other executives.

Accrual is important. Mostly because it impacts timing and gives you some levers to adjust to make the financial statements the way you want. Eg depending on your goals, you may want to form a strategy on when to sign a vendor contract.

Financial statements is where it’s at though. And it’s easy to learn from a book. However, what you need to learn, is how this general knowledge fits your company. This is really the difference between good and bad CxOs (and I’ve seen my share of both).

This is a different path. It’s metrics and KPIs. It’s strategy and knowing what’s important for the company. Are you conserving cash, are you growing at all cost, prove you have an ROI on your project, prove you can execute the project as promised, articulate why a project is off the rails (signal risk). A lot of this is financial politics, but if you talk the talk and earn credibility you’ll be seen as has a strong fiduciary over your domain. Also, depending on the size of your company, get a finance guy that reports or has a dotted line to you. If company is too small for that, you can just build a very good relationship with the finance team. I’m my experience, 25%-50% of our job is partnering with other executives; meaning we educate them (comprehension And prep for meetings with other executives/BOD) and we have full scope knowledge of what every other department is doing.

I downplayed the value of the P&L, but your right. If the person ultimately wants to get to a CTO role, I imagine the P&L becomes more important overtime. Knowing when to back a project may come down to knowing whether it impacts the right metric.

The other thing probably worth studying earlier is HC costing. It’s really easy to understand, but often catches directors/vp in non-finance functions off guard.

Basically, timing matters a lot and people make mistakes when asking “can I afford this?”

“can I afford this?” a question I get every day. It's a little naive at times. Because the question is really, what happens if you can't? You should be telling me and any approvers why you need it. Budget is a made up number and we move dollars and rebalance constantly. But the business impacts caused by you not being able to "afford" something, is what real good execs know how to handle. The CTO example is, look I know this wasn't in my budget, but I think we've actually been fairly favorable on travel expenses due to the 'rona, I don't think we can make this deadline without an additional Sr Dev. This usually spurs minimum 2 thought processes; 1) what is the real consequence of missing the deadline ($1M in sales? $10K to adjust marketing push? nothing?) and 2) if we hire a head, do we have work to keep them on after the project or do we plan to reduce the head at that point (basically, is this going to cost us money next year and the years after). Assuming the cash allows for it, these 2 questions will usually steer the decision. But, it's something you want to lead with the CEO/CFO as a CTO. Thinking the whole thing out past the immediate need is generally a sign of a good chief. Also, the CEO and CFO appreciate you lifting the minor burden of them having to think through it. You make your business case and they give some consideration, usually ranking it against every other department's requests for heads, and maybe you get what you need. If not, you've at least signaled the project will be delayed and given an option for getting it back on track.

There th Kabuki theater of business management. Precise calculations over phoy assumptions to rationalize political choices.

In your opinion, is a solid understanding of DCF/NPV/IRR/cost of capital somewhat on the more-critical knowledge side for management/executives or somewhat more on the side of less-critical knowledge?

Most execs it's less-critical to almost unnecessary but CTO is probably one I'd say it's a must in some cases. You'll be managing projects, the budget's of those projects, and should also have a perspective on which projects are good for the company to invest in. As such, knowing/understanding the ROI of those projects is a good idea. Also, for allocation of your team's resources/labor you should be able reprioritize confidently if you know how the project is valued. Again, generally this is something a CTO can partner with Finance team on. I don't have a source and I may be minimizing the complexity but I feel like there's probably a few articles/youtube/Khan Academy resources where you could learn what was needed in an evening. You shouldn't be the one building the financial models unless you just find that fun :)

Also fairly specific to CTO, learn the area of accounting around capital expenditures. Whether something is an expense or cap ex is very important for CTOs especially since labor can be capex. Every company will have their own accounting rules / interpretation of GAAP that you will have to get familiar with too.

I'd say your company valuation how it's modeled and pitched to investors, etc. is not as important. Very few people see that info outside of Finance and CEO with the BOD.

Most of this thread is the financial equivalent of someone saying "How do I do mail merge and excel macros to automate some of my business process" and getting answers like "To get started, Install Linux".

That is a great comparison. I actually got bad advice like this when I started a company 6 or so years ago. I spent way too much time learning stuff that was not important to get results. Now I focus on the basic stuff first, and it works better in all parts of life. That is why I put real advice here, even though, originally it was heavily downvoted

Don't necessarily disagree, but the point about what to accrue- I would posit that ground knowledge of both accounting and tech is important. An asset is from a tech perspective is different from an asset from a finance perspective. A given effort towards a specific end may be considered creating an asset from a finance perspective and creating debt from a tech perspective. Conversely, it may be valuable from a finance perspective to classify work as opex that is actually asset building from a tech perspective. The language and semantics don't translate cleanly.

Agree tho they can start in those areas- and of course just talking across domains is infinitely valuable on its own accord. Cheers.

I have always felt like the thought that comes from engineers (particularly in CS/SWE) that business/finance isn't technical to be a pretty trite attitude. Financial statement analysis is very technical, and things like operations research which many executives have come out of is a highly mathematical subject matter.

Just my thoughts.

Business and Finance are not the same thing.

"Business and Finance" is like saying "Apps and Code"

Before computers, many many people like today's computer programmers would be accountants, quants and other financial professionals (and engineers).

No it's not. Business management and finance obviously don't mean the same thing. If that wasn't clear, sorry for the confusion.

The two books on accounting I liked (no affiliation):

Accounting Made Simple: Accounting Explained in 100 Pages or Less by Mike Piper

How to Read a Balance Sheet: The Bottom Line on What You Need to Know about Cash Flow, Assets, Debt, Equity, Profit...and How It all Comes Together by Rick Makoujy

Then I started doing my personal finances on GnuCash, and now on ledger-cli. It's helped a lot both professionally and personally.

Agree, have seen both and like them too. Cheers.

Finance for Non-Financial Managers is a very well written and approachable book with a good amount of humor. It’s concise enough to not waste your time and doesn’t assume you have a finance background. Great launching off book! https://www.amazon.com/Finance-Non-Financial-Managers-Briefc...

I just finished an MBA in June. A few thoughts outside of what’s been mentioned here already:

If your company is publicly traded, learn about the variety of SEC filings that most C-level executives are responsible for. In particular, learn how to parse the footnotes of 10K/S1 filings — an income statement might be 1-2 pages but the footnotes are often 30+ pages. The interesting choices a company makes are often in the footnotes. For example, the related party transaction for WeWork’s “We” trademark that everyone was up in arms about appears on page 199 of the filing.

Finance is about cashflows. GAAP accounting is about subjectively spreading costs across periods. The two are often at odds. Learning to navigate both and knowing which your audience cares about is critical. You often need years of context about a business to be able to make contributions on this front.

People rag on MBAs but a smart and thoughtful person will take away three superpowers from a typical core curriculum:

1. Understanding the domain language and key processes of all the business units that you didn’t already, which is by the way all of them. The heightened ability to engage in their own domain terms with everyone in a standard company is a social and cognitive upgrade.

2. Finding actionable insights (sometimes dramatically so) within your customers, partners, and competitors financial statements.

3. Recognising your own decision biases. (Whether you bother correcting for them is another matter)

Interestingly I feel the most under-rated of these is #1, to the extent that many of us in tech carry the mistaken assumption that we already know all the machinery of firms, having learned it “on the job” or by deriving the existence of tax accounting from first principles. Unless you’ve been a general manager or founder already this is almost certainly a self-delusion. I can say it was for me, I am a mathematics major who appended the MBA twenty years later and despite directing many successful enterprise-scale projects and lurking around Day 1 startups for aeons still had scales removed from my eyes.

Never under-rate the value of understanding other people better; there is no diminishing return, quite the opposite, it is compounding.

Just don't call them footnotes if anyone finance-y is around ;)

Why do you say that?

Nobody calls them that in practice so I'd avoid it if trying to sound knowledgable. They're just called notes.

Its also quite common for FS to have actual footnotes (ie in bottom margin of page) in addition to notes.

In my experience, I hear and see "notes" and "footnotes" used interchangeably when referring to financial statement notes. I've also not heard anyone react negatively to someone using footnotes instead of notes. Have you run into many people who insist on using only "notes"?

For reference, I've worked in finance for several years (investment banking and as a professional public markets investor [hedge fund]), and I also have a PhD with a focus on capital markets disclosure.

A quick search finds many examples where "footnotes" is used by the SEC [1], the FASB [2, 3, 4], the CFA Institute [5, 6], KPMG [7], and Investopedia [8], to name a few. I also saw several papers in both The Journal of Finance and The Accounting Review that use the term "footnotes".

[1] https://www.sec.gov/reportspubs/investor-publications/invest... [2] https://www.fasb.org/jsp/FASB/Page/SectionPage&cid=117616858... [3] https://www.fasb.org/jsp/FASB/Page/SectionPage&cid=117616372... [4] https://www.fasb.org/resources/ccurl/599/128/ASU%202014-15.p... [5] https://www.cfainstitute.org/en/membership/professional-deve... [6] https://www.cfainstitute.org/-/media/documents/support/progr... [7] https://www.scribd.com/document/335028195/Disclosure-Overloa... [8] https://www.investopedia.com/articles/02/050102.asp

Not OP but presumably because footnotes are a hack to hide away things you don't want many people to look at [0]. Enron was famous for this and I suspect many fraudulent companies do the same.

[0] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2002-02-03/the-fine-...

Software engineer with an MBA here.

I didn't have a bachelor's degree, got into coding as a hobby and turned it into a career. I needed a degree to put on my CV. All the hard problems I'd encountered weren't in the technology (99.9% of business coding is simple), so learning more CS wasn't actually going to help that much. So I took an MBA (they accepted my board experience as good enough to not require a bachelor's, with some hoop-jumping).

The MBA itself wasn't that instructive. The Leadership unit was the highlight. Knowing how to read a balance sheet and understand Corporate Finance was interesting. The Entrepreneurship unit was farcical - the first step was always to create a 40-page business plan and then consult a lawyer about IP. At the time I was getting heavily involved in the startup scene, and the differences between what I was learning at Uni and learning from actual entrepreneurs were huge. The rest of it was OK, not great, not bad. Certainly not difficult.

Having an MBA is useful. It has landed me interesting jobs. It does act to dismiss any "but he's just a code monkey" arguments. It looks great on my bio when part of a startup team. The leadership training has been great when managing people.

But it doesn't stop the bias against people who build things. I still get regularly sidelined in meetings in preference to sales and marketing people. I still find it hard to argue my case even with the correct finance terminology. It's annoying, and it was one of the things I hoped the MBA would fix. Apparently not.

Where did you get your MBA?

Curtin Uni in Perth, Australia. It was (briefly) one of the top 100 MBA courses in the world, though apparently they gamed the system to get that, and there was some controversy.

No offence. In my experience Software engineer with an MBA is a person who had found coding is not a skill that suits them.

None taken. Your experience now has a data point that indicates otherwise.

The expert on teaching Corporate Finance and Valuation is Aswath Damodaran at NYU. And he also happens to offer all his lectures, class notes, and exams for FREE at his website: http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/

I can’t recommend How Finance Works by Mihir Desai enough.

There are a few cool things about it:

1. You get the feeling that the author has developed a deep sense of how learning works, and is using the same teaching methods in the book that have been honed over a lot of in-person classes. For example, having you puzzle out which balance sheet belongs to which company early on in the book, and it being surprisingly doable.

2. There are different levels of abstraction discussed in close proximity - the math, then the account from a cfo.

3. It’s concise. That lets it cover a pretty wide range without feeling like a textbook, and I think that helps a lot for developing an early understanding.

I consider finance to be a subset of “business administration” (which I assume you mean in the sense that the MBA uses it i.e. as a catch all) and what a CFO does is an important subset of what a CEO is responsible for.

Finance is an important component but other MBA topics would be strategy, marketing, organizational dynamics, operations and so on.

In a business school you would learn many of these through case studies (to the extent the school is influenced by HBS which every school is to some extent).

These topics also have recognizable curricula. Operations courses will delve into queue theory (exercise: one oven bakes a cookie in 5 min but your constraint is the strainer which can only ... blah blah, or something to tell throughout from latency), a course in marketing might describe the 4 ps (price, placement, product, promotion). A course in strategy night talk about a swot analysis (strength weakness opportunity threat) or Porter points out that the pricing power in an industry is set by workers, customers, competitors, new entrants, substitutes and so on.

Most MBA courses have their class requirements online. You can even click through the classes and add the curriculum and the books required. The materials, quite frankly, are not technically difficult but you have to practice them in order to remember to use them when you need them.

Other important components of the actual experience inckude working in teams and presenting to the class.

A few people are saying that a grasp of basic accounting is important, and I just realised I've written something relevant on this front.

A while ago I developed a library for double entry accounting in Django. To do this I had to learn how double entry accounting worked from scratch. I was therefore briefly in a position to remember not knowing how it worked, while also grasping at least the basics.

I therefore add a page in the docs titled "Double Entry Accounting for Developers":


I kind of cringe posting this here, because 1) I wrote it a long time ago, 2) it may not actually be entirely accurate, and 3) it may be overly simplistic.

That being said, I think a fair few companies are running their finances from Hordak, and I haven't had any angry issues opened yet. So I can only assume I wasn't too far off the mark.

I would say that the skills really break down into 2 areas:

- Fundamentals that can be learned and quickly applied. This means taking an Accounting 101 and 102 course. Then applying those accounting principles to your own personal finances. They're not that different from a small business. I would also encourage you to take a couple of intro to law courses, they have been very helpful to me.

- Contextual understanding. This is the ability to take what you have learned in the fundamentals, and understand how it applies to a current set of data. This is significantly harder, and there isn't a general solution here. For example, cash flow seems like a fairly simple concept. But once you take into account enough variables, it gets very complex. Those variables are specific to one organization.

Finally, while not directly tied to your skills, I can tell you that as a founder, having an excellent accountant who I can trust to understand the minutia of all of this is super helpful. I focus on the high level and making sure that it's driving in the direction I need, he focuses on the guts. My understanding of the fundamentals means I can understand what is going on when he explains why something happened that I may not have understood initially. All of what I wrote here applies to our lawyer as well.

Yep, I'd say it's all about learning some accounting. Get a beginner accounting course, not sure where to go. Lots of terms to understand, assets, cash, capital, depreciation, revenues, taxes, cost of goods, expenses.

In layman terms, it's all sorts of revenues and expenses, short term or in the future, interacting together. Ask yourself, how much do you pay for salary? for office? for equipment? for materials? when? and a hundred more questions...

A good chunk of it is rather straightforward really, yet it takes a course or a discussion with an accountant to learn the proper terms and the broader concepts formally. Seen all of that in university long ago, to be able to make our own companies when we graduate.

That being said, I am not sure this would help to talk to the CEO. I'm not sure CEO generally care or understand about this sort of this. Just outsource accounting.

Josh Kaufman’s book “The Personal MBA” is a good, short introduction to what’s covered in a typical MBA with a recommendation for further reading for each topic[1]. MIT’s MicroMaster’s in Finance is a great place to start if you want to learn finance[2].

[1] https://personalmba.com/ [2] https://micromasters.mit.edu/fin/

Finance Theory I by Prof. Andrew Lo: https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/sloan-school-of-management/15-40.... You can view the first lecture here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdHlfiOAJyE&list=PLUl4u3cNGP....

Prof. Lo taught this course at MIT in the Fall of 2008, which you can imagine would be a very interesting time to teach finance. The course is excellent. I think you'll really enjoy it.

As a CFO myself, I notice there are a few concepts it is important for successful managers to understand to help discussions regarding performance and investment.

1) Time value of money - internal rate of return (IRR) and net present value (NPV). Both are easily learned on the web in 30 minutes.

2) Broad accounting concepts. Others have recommended learning double entry accounting on this thread. I do not think that necessary - too much in the weeds. You need to understand what is revenue, when it is created (different industries and companies have different rules), what are operating expenses, what is EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization) and why it is a good approximation of cash flow, and why capitalizing some expenses matters. In my experience, the FP&A (financial planning & analysis) team is often the best people to discuss this with as they are responsible for reporting these metrics to management in a manner consistent with how the executive team runs the company.

3) Option theory - more decisions are being discussed as options. Developing a new product idea is an option to ultimately produce and sell the product. The initial investment to blueprint the product, get regulatory approvals, etc can all be thought as the cost of the option. Importantly, you can always walk away from the option if you determine the payoff is too risky (unlikely to be realized) or too low.

While there are more finance concepts to know, they tend to build off the ones above (e.g. reading financial statements builds off the accounting ideas).

A final note, if you are looking for formal online courses on these topics, the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School has a great series of their fundamental courses for MBA students online that were free last time I looked.

If you don't want to go through thousand page textbooks on financial accounting, managerial accounting, and corporate finance, I recommend the following two short books to everyone:

1. Financial Statements, Thomas Ittelson - https://www.amazon.com/Financial-Statements-Rev-Thomas-Ittel...

2. Financial Intelligence, Karen Berman - https://www.amazon.com/Financial-Intelligence-Revised-Manage...

I've also found this website useful: https://www.accountingcoach.com/

Think of it as Accounting is how you keep score, Finance is how you justify strategy. For better or worse you have to learn financial accounting first. I’ve been unable to learn it on my own - I needed to take courses. If you don’t want to be a full time accountant, where you take the courses doesn’t matter. The material is the same. Finance my require coursework or book learning, but you can advance a lot on your own if you have the basics. Just apply NPV and ROInto everything you see. You didn’t mention Econ, but most senior execs think in terms of Micro. Supply and Demand.

I am taking MBA course at UoPeople. Because I do not have much of career plans and wanted to "check it out" more than anything, I ignored lack of prestige. What I find so far - a lot of stuff is very superficial to anyone who did at least some business on their own, and invested in stock market (not speculated/traded/yoloed).

But at the same time, some material kinda helps to put disjointed pieces together.

Based on my experience there (I did not finish it yet, btw), I think the best approach would be to actually get your hands dirty with running a business AND investing first for quite some time, and after that take an MBA class to organize all the knowledge you gained. Without getting hands-on experience, I am not sure much of MBA program will make sense or help beyond learning the vocabulary and getting connections (connections if you go to a prestigious school of course, that what most pay for I think). It is much easier to understand the importance of financial statements after you actually traded or run books for a business, filed taxes.

If you want a really well rounded finance background, you could pursue the level 1 CFA exam, or the curriculum of it. If you are not looking to pass the current exam, you can get older books for almost nothing used.

If you want to actually pass the exam, you need to register and get the current curriculum. You should be prepared to put in to 200 to 300 hours of study for this, though. Its a lot of material.

If you are not looking to pass the exam, I would recommend going through the accounting section and the economics section. The corporate finance section would probably also be useful.

If you were to pursue all 3 exams and pass, you would have a knowledge base that exceeds an MBA in finance. The MBA has other things the CFA can't give you though like project and presentation experience.

William Ackman: Everything You Need to Know About Finance and Investing in Under an Hour https://youtu.be/WEDIj9JBTC8 — An excellent crash course for the most critical concepts.

I recommend taking a formal college accounting course online, via any online learning platform. I took accounting in undergrad and found it to be one of the single most valuable and generally applicable courses that I took. Accounting is the language of business – knowing accounting for business is like knowing object-oriented programming or something similarly basic for coding.

A great unrelated line that I heard from an MBA who works in Marketing: Everyone thinks that Marketing is a creative field and Finance is a methodical quantitative vocation. But in reality, the best marketers are methodical and quantitative, and the best Finance folks are highly creative.

I know this is off-beat, but I found Warren Buffett's annual letters invaluable as a resource to learn about corporate finance. They don't substitute a good textbook, but they give a great insight into real world application.

They're available for free on www.berkshirehathaway.com ("Annual Reports" -> "Chairman’s Letter"), for those who prefer a book Lawrence Cunningham wrote a great compendium with annotations and context called "The Essays of Warren Buffett".

I re-read these every once in a while over the years and found endless useful insights as my real-world business and finance experience grew.


Look up the curriculum/reading lists of MBA programs.

8 years after starting my own company I discovered Kay and Jim Stice. I wish I had discovered them years ago.

They are world renowned accounting professors from BYU and their courses are easy to understand and surprisingly entertaining. They have several excellent courses on LinkedIn learning.

Here's a good one to start with: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/accounting-foundations-2

I highly recommend them.

I’ve done MBA and been involved in small family business my whole life. I think more relevant than finance or accounting practice are the business fundamentals which I think are different but related. If you want to learn the former there might be good resources in this thread.

To level with the CEOs, I think many CEOs value few things above else: either have a great understanding in relevant specific industry niche like residental construction or copper mining or in specific technology like web applications or weather measurement hardware. Another few things CEOs have to constantly think about are investments, in what and how much to invest to balance optimal risk reward ratio. Third thing is maybe the strategy/business/industry language like SWOT, business model canvas, balace scorecard, revenue, roi, roe, equity, debt, corporate taxes, ebitda, earnings, customer life time value, product lifecycle, growth drivers, organic/nonorganic, acqusitions, divestments...

Accountancy was my second career. I currently do a mixed accountancy/technology management role at an SME.

I learnt to code from books and the internet. I'm not bad at using high level languages to get things done. I couldn't pass a Google whiteboard test, I couldn't write a compiler, an os, a db or anything. I know about coding, but I am not a software engineer.

Becoming an accountant actually does not have a prequsite much beyond basic maths, ratios, percentages etc. Then it requires 2-3 years of intensive on the job work and study to get to the basic level. In the UK that would also mean passing 10 intensive exams in that time. To get to CFO would probably mean another 7 years experience.

But it sounds like you want to know about finance. I would learn to read financial statements. Get some financial statements for some smaller companies from whatever your local corporate register is (uk companies house has them free online). Start with the balance sheet (sometimes called statement of financial position) and profit & loss (sometimes called an income statement). Go through it line by line and read the acounting policy and Google the terms. You can also look them up in your local accounting standards.

Next take a look at a cash flow statement. Notice how different looking at cash is to looking at profit. Work it why and why it is much more important to have cash than profit.

Learn some accounting ratios like Return on Capital Employed, see if you can calculate them from those statements.

A bit of knowledge about Mudigliani & Miller, and NPV (not the maths, Excel can do that. The assumptions) would be good. Learn the Sunk Cost hypothesis, and relevent costs.

I think this will get you where you need to be without long coursed of material that you may not use. You don't need to be able to prepare financial statements.

One of the most effective ways I know to do that is to read books written by people who have run technology companies, or about technology companies by insiders, or by venture capitalists, or biographies of important figures, or about the history of technology world, or books recommended or mentioned by any of the above. You get examples on a canvas you're familiar with.

I'll read books mentioned in interviews of people who have a track record. Even watching a video like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aW5gdRRn_U (check out the first comment and replies). It only lasted a few seconds, but we got the books in the background figured out. We recognized some by the spine.

There are a lot of things that are the way they are because someone did something at some point, and it's only reading a book where the author mentions an anecdote that you piece things together. There are entire deals that didn't happen because someone was a jerk to another years before that. These books also expose a situation, and the decisions made in a certain context, the tradeoffs, etc. How people went about the product, which strategies they used to find a market, how conflicts arose and were handled with.

But, back to your ask:

Wharton has a "Business Foundations"[0] series on Coursera which includes entire courses on marketing, accounting, finance.

Microeconomics (two or three books you find in every course: the ones by Pindyck, Perloff, and Mankiw. Either named "Microeconomics" and "Principles of Microeconomics").

You can checkout the MIT OCW courses on these.

[0]: https://www.coursera.org/specializations/wharton-business-fo...

Reading books written by people who have run tech companies definitely helped me. I recommend books by Basecamp.

The second part of your need is interesting. I'm being a bit generic but to speak with CEOs, it would greatly help to know about strategy and competition. It's a loaded term and here's what I would recommend:

1. Michael Porter's Competitive Advantage [0] or Understanding Michael Porter [1]

2. One of the things that really applies well to tech businesses has been Platform Business Model. This book [2] is a good starting point

3. The Lean startup [3] and Hacking Growth [4] round up the tech books that I have benefited from.

3b. Warren Buffet's letters are a classic to learn about businesses and help when you are dealing with CXOs.

4. With these basics in place, I would recommend Stratecherry - the blog and Economist for keeping up with the current developments in the field.

Good luck!

[0] https://www.amazon.com.au/Competitive-Advantage-Creating-Sus...

[1] https://www.amazon.com.au/Understanding-Michael-Porter-Essen...

[2] https://www.amazon.com.au/Platform-Revolution-Networked-Tran...

[3] https://www.amazon.com.au/Lean-Startup-Innovation-Successful...

[4] https://www.amazon.com.au/Hacking-Growth-Fastest-Growing-Com...

FYI, I come from a similar background. Was a techie for 9+ years before switching to an MBA and can personally attest to the materials given above :)

UPenn just announced an online FinTech Boot Camp. Looks really current. Master python, portfolio optimization and crypto in one semester ;)


I have worked in non finance areas of large corporations and can highly recommend this https://www.causal.app/blog/whats-a-financial-statement

I'm not sure whether product management is something which you're interested in.

But my friend Adam Bader has been creating a video course on How to become a good Product Manager and it is almost done!

It's gonna be a video tutorial. I've see the content which is almost done and really loved how it's presented!

He will walk you through what he does in his day-to-day job, the fundamentals of product management, development, design, stakeholder management, user and market research, how to find and get your first PM job, as well as everything else you need to know.

I highly recommend buying this course: https://gumroad.com/a/84636787

As a developer turned co-CEO, developing an understanding of the differences between cashflow, revenue, profit, and overhead was critical.

My recommendations are a little different from most other folks here, in that they relate to understanding the business as a whole and how finance figures into it:

Norm Brodsky's "The Knack" http://theknack.info/

Jack Stack's "A Stake in the Outcome" https://www.amazon.com/Stake-Outcome-Building-Ownership-Long...

If you're in a startup environment, Brad Feld's "Venture Deals" https://www.amazon.com/Venture-Deals-Smarter-Lawyer-Capitali...

The title is regrettable but I’ve learned a lot from the CFO Thought Leader Podcast https://cfothoughtleader.com/

I am not a finance person but what, to me, this series gets right is that (a) the technicals are just a tiny part of what makes someone “good” at finance and (b) what seems to make CFOs “good” is very strong discipline around measurement, a deep understanding of the product/market and ability to lead people.


University of Virginia Financial Accounting Fundamentals! This is the only one that you need to get started. Luann J. Lynch is a fantastic teacher. She guides you through all accounting fundamentals with lots of example problems (including a breakdown of the Coca Cola's Balance Sheet).

I work as a software test engineer in crypto, so I thought it’d make sense to learn more about finance the other week. It might be overkill for many but I started studying for the CFA Level 1 and it’s been really interesting so far. Depending on your goals, it might be worth the 300 hours.

Inb4 "Subscribe to Matt Levine's Money Stuff"[1]

Particularly in terms of generating what another thoughtful user dubbed "contextual understanding," this is a gold mine. Also occasionally gives very lucid, refreshing descriptions of how lots of things that other finance people take for granted work.

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/authors/ARbTQlRLRjE/matthe...

Came here to say this. It's entertaining and enjoyable reading that happens to be about financial topics. It is to financial literacy what "take a long vacation in France" is to learning French.

Second to the suggestion about accounting. For the general business side, try picking up some business framework books such as Traction/Get A Grip(EOS) or Good to Great or Scaling Up. They lay out challenges almost all businesses have and proposed frameworks to manage them.

This was posted on HN few days ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23825606

The thread has some interesting comments.

http://www.youexec.com — we have business frameworks and spreadsheet models to help you pick up the skills you list

That resolves into a blank page for me. Am I missing something?

UIUC iMBA has all classes on Coursera. I think Coursera+ is <$400/year so you can take them all without paying individual subscriptions.

Take a semester of Basic Accounting then a semester of Financial Accounting at a local Community College.

Any good sources for understanding behavioral finance?

Enrol in a good MBA college

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