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
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: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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