“I’m not technical.”

“I’m not technical.” I’ve heard this before countless of times. My knee-jerk reaction is usually thinking that: Wait, if you’re in a technical field of building or delivering software, you should be technical! At least in your role, you should be technical.

But then maybe I’m going with the rather loose definition of technical as being “(adj) of or related to technique.” I mean, there’s got to be some system that you’re using (or some method to your madness). You’re not just randomly doing random stuff (especially if you’re leading the team). There’s got to be some reservoir of knowledge or experience in your field that you turn to for figuring out how to go about things. To say you’re not technical would be like saying you’re leaving things to chance, or you don’t know what you’re doing.[1]

When people say that they’re not technical, I think it could be one of two things (maybe more if I had more time to think about this).

Maybe they’re just using the wrong words. Maybe what they really mean is: I’m not a programmer; or I’m not an SME of so-and-so technology; or I don’t know how to code; or I’ve only just started learning X; or I understand the logic but I don’t know the syntax in X programming language; or I have a high-level understanding of how it works or what it is, but I might need to consult with so-and-so for low-level stuff; or just a word of warning, I might not understand some jargon but let’s discuss; etc.

You might be undermining yourself, or you might unintentionally cause the confidence of the person talking to you to slightly falter. A suggestion for this is to elaborate or shift towards saying what you actually mean.

Maybe they’re using those words “as a shield.” Maybe they don’t want (or they’re too busy) to put in the effort to try to understand; or they’d just like to throw it over the wall and let the “technical” folks deal with it. This is not cool.

If the problem or topic is not your area of expertise, it’s OK not to know in depth about it. But you still have to understand it well enough if you have to make decisions around it, and more so if you’ll need to communicate this one or more levels up because then they might make decisions based on the inputs you provide. And regardless if it’s levels up or down, you’ll have to understand what you need to communicate.

Making the effort, and then gaining that understanding — There’s no harm in that. That can even help you be more effective and more relevant in the work we do.

[1]: For the latter, i.e., you don’t know what you’re doing… To be fair, I think it’s OK to be at that point, as long as you’re trying to move out of there. Don’t stay there too long.

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