For a large part of my career, I never quite knew where I fit in. I started out as a Junior Systems Analyst in the IT department, and when people learned that I worked in IT they tried to get me to fix their computer… let's just say that that never went well. From there I moved into the role of Operations Manager where I was still working with databases and implementations and projects but I wasn't in IT now I was working in the Operations Department (luckily when I told people I worked in operations no one knew what I did – so no more broken computer drop offs!). At my next company, I started as a Database Manager in the Membership Department (long story…). Although I did eventually transition back to the IT Department and I have now settled in as a consultant in the world of Management Consulting, and while most companies still do not know where I fit, I have come to a realization: I am a Non- Techie living in the Tech World….
For a long time I thought I was alone out there – pretending to laugh at jokes I didn't understand, sitting through conversations where I only understood one out of every five words – but I have since learned that there are a lot of us out here and a multitude of career paths for us to follow. During the summit I got to hear from one such non-techie: Joanne Lang, Founder and CEO of AboutOne, during her presentation ‘Building a Tech Company When You're Not Playing the Tech Role'. While I am not building a tech company, I found many of her points also addressed leading or working with a tech team:
Include a creative person on your team
I think this is a major reason many tech projects fail – we put together a project team: we have a project manager, a business analyst, a couple business people (or SME's as we like to call them), a couple of developers and we think we are ready to start. Let me first say, that in my career I have worked with some amazing developers and I truly respect what you do… but let's be honest – as a developer you are great at getting an application to do something and do it well however many times that application does not look good doing it. Unfortunately many of us are all about the looks – so while the application works well and functions properly it may be considered a failure only because it does not look good. Including a creative team member in charge of user interface (UI) will support the application's successful adoption.
Hire a great team
While I would love to quote Joanne directly, I do not know if I can. So in a nutshell, work with people who are smarter than you. If you are creating a Java application, work with the best Java developer and so on and so forth. When you are leading a technical team and you yourself are not technical you need to ensure that you are working with the best people –you will be looking to them for guidance on all technical decisions and you need to have trust in your team to provide you with the correct information.
Analyze your market and understand your audience
You can build the best application but if it does not address the business needs of your audience that application will be a failure. Take time to meet with your audience and ask questions to ensure that the project you are working on will fulfill their needs
Learn a little tech
Ok so this was not part of Joanne's slide deck, but after hearing her presentation her tech speak did come out. When working on a tech project – you will need to get dirty! This is not always easy – so as a non-techie I feel it is important to own your non-techieness – acknowledge the elephant in the room and move forward. Do not be afraid to ask questions and challenge the technical team to explain the details until they make sense to you. In my career I have been fortunate to work some amazing technical teams that have been both knowledgeable and patient. In my current role, I am looking forward to working with the technical side of the CapTech world because with every project I complete and every new team I work with I have the opportunity to learn a little more and subsequently the jokes have become funnier, the words sound a little less Greek, and I have learned that a simple reinstall of Windows will fix 90% of the broken PCs.