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Minding Business

by Douglas E. Welch

August 13, 1999

© 1999, Douglas E. Welch

As a technology worker you spend a large amount of time acquiring your skills. You take classes and work long hours developing your own solutions to otherwise intractable problems. Working with technology often requires an amazing amount of focus and concentration. Unfortunately, this focus on technology can be the very thing that limits the careers of technology workers. I hear the same phrase more and more frequently the longer I work with technology. Knowing about technology is not enough to move you to higher levels in a company or corporation. If you want to attain career success you also have to know about business itself.

Talk the talk

No matter what your level, learning basic business terminology can help you do your job better. You need to be able to relate issues to other business people in a language they can understand. While they might not understand bandwidth and megabytes they do understand the bottom line of income and expense and making the company more profitable.

I know from personal experience that this can be a hard fact to face sometimes. When working with technology you begin to think that there are obvious technical reasons for performing this task or purchasing this system. The fact is that while you might have a compelling technical reason for some project if you can't phrase it in business terms you will often be rejected. This isn't caused by some vicious plot to deny you budget (at least, in most cases). It means that you haven't made a convincing business case for your project. We often resent the effort required to "sell" a project, but the fact is, without the "sell" there is no project.

Back to school

Learning about business doesn't necessarily mean going to business school. While an MBA can certainly help if you decide to seek a role as President, CIO or CEO, learning the basics of business can be as simple as reading or talking to a knowledgeable friend. In my case I have an extremely adept business friend who has taught me nearly everything I know about business and finance. Armed with that knowledge I then started reading additional material wherever I could find it. In this way I have developed a passing level of business knowledge and language that allows me to act as interpreter between business and technology groups.

In any case, it is always in your best interest to become business savvy. This knowledge in combination with your technical skills makes you a formidable part of any department.

What are they really saying?

New found business knowledge can not only help you rise in your career, it can also help preserve your job in hard times. Too often technology workers don't understand what is happening when a company goes through hard times. They figure that if their work is going well then the company must be succeeding. Unfortunately, the relationship between the company's product and its finances is tenuous at best. Too many business factors effect a company's stability.

The language used to discuss business decisions often hides the reality. If you have the ability to interpret company financial reports it can give you a sense of just how badly the company is hurting. This can often mean the difference between staying in your job or starting your search for a new one. You want as much notice as possible if a company is faltering and your business knowledge is one way to be forewarned.

And you thought you weren't in sales!

Technology workers can also find themselves lacking in sales knowledge. As all good companies know, everyone is in sales. As a technology worker, your ability to communicate with the sales staff can mean the difference between success and failure. It has been my experience that sales people only oversell a product if they haven't been given adequate information about its capabilities and uses. You can hand out all the technical specs you want, but if the sales people don't understand the practical application of a product they will have trouble selling it. You need to turn technical specs into real world examples of how the product helps the client do their work better, faster or more profitably. It is simple fact that potential clients really only care about one feature, the ability of the product to make them more money!

Learning about business doesn't take long hours or even hard work. It only requires the desire to learn and access to some easily available books and people. Don't shortchange your career by being overly focused on technology alone. Expand your mind and you will probably end up expanding your career as well.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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