More Technical equals More Value
I was never a trained developer nor have I ever ‘coded’ in the workplace. The only time I did code, was at University, and I that exam didn’t go well at all. So how did I become a leader of very large Technology teams, stacked with ‘coders’ and technical people?
That question has come up many many times over the years, generally from more junior colleagues or at women’s networking events. My general response has been ‘it’s really not as complicated or as technical as you think’. which is usually followed by a LOT of sceptical looks. So I usually go on to explain to them how ‘un-technical’ I am, and that there are two attributes that have helped me navigate what I didn’t know.
Firstly, a willingness to ask lots of questions when the response you get will likely be rolled eyes and frustrated looks, which will be plenty in the technical arena. The more you do this, the more you can brush of those who give you those looks, and the more you realise that there are others in the room wanted to know the answer to the question you asked, even if they look like they are part of the technically superior crowd.
The second is that you need to be able to underwrite your own confidence. When you come across those who believe you aren’t capable, you aren’t technical enough, you aren’t worthy of the role you hold, it is your own confidence that you need to draw on, as there are likely to be not too many around who aren’t technical or in a similar position to yourself. This is most certainly far harder, but it’s where the well researched and more recently the well understood value in the diversity of skills in a team plays an important part.
Corporates for many years now have been ramping up both their acknowledgement and their investment in the need for diversity in their organisations and within their teams. The have senior management talking repeatedly about the value of diverse teams and how differing views within those teams contributes towards better outcomes. They spend large sums of money on training their employees on the importance of diversity which is most often delivered via their HR functions. As a senior manager and a vocal diversity advocate and someone who provides diversity in technology teams being less technical, I have always strongly supported this management messaging.
It was during a meeting with HR and one of my senior leads where non-technical and the pro-diversity messaging collided.
The lead, who was a women who ran one of my IT teams, had asked me to join the meeting with HR to try and agree how much we should offer as a salary for a prospective candidate. This candidate, like the team lead, wasn’t a technical developer who writes the code, but instead an analyst whose core skill was translating what the business wanted the technology to do into a design and set of tasks for the developers to code. In this particular area, analysts were highly sort after and arguably had higher value skills than a developer. So when we pressed HR on valuing the candidate more highly and therefore paying them more, the feedback we received was:
'Well we all know that it’s the technical resources like coders we value the highest, and so we pay them the most. Non-technical resources won’t be paid the same’
By that HR definition, I wasn’t technical and nor was my team lead who herself was an analyst like the candidate. So how much less were we both valued by HR & the organisation because we weren’t technical? How much less were we being paid? And if the target for IT was to fill it with coders and technical people, who would then provide the the diversity that they were saying they valued & wanted?