Geeks Are Assets Too

I’ve already had my rant about Banner Guy, but where do our stereotypes come from?  When you hear business, do you think of investment bankers, sales reps, or accountants?  While everyone has their place, technical experts are among any company’s most valuable assets.  When Techies are not valued within their organizations, they jump ship.  What they really need is opportunity.  And that only comes with learning to talk the talk.

Technical Experts Left Out of the Club?
Despite advanced degrees and years of experience, many technical professionals in possession of in depth specialized knowledge don’t have the business savvy to advance to the highest levels of many corporations. Why can’t these engineers speak our language? It’s possible that the brightest minds are shining too bright for their own good.  The traditional ‘business’ people don’t have the technical knowledge to relate of that level, so they relegate technical professionals to a sort of pedestal/closet to work their magic. 

Technical experts are often not included in the same types of training and development as others.  Effective leaders require an understanding of the business that extends beyond a single department or function.  Setting experts aside on their own track only alienates them and risks the result that their work will not align with the company as a whole.  In other words, Techies need to learn the business in order to make the greatest contribution in their technical area.

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Teaching Techies the Basics
A recent Lake Forest Graduate School of Management study found that the most successful companies urge their technical experts to take classes to build broad business skills.  Specifically, the three areas identified were:

· Knowing the business
· Relating to people
· Delivering results

Why?  People who know the business are able to think strategically.  They recognize how different aspects of the business work together.  When you understand at least the fundamentals of supply chain, marketing, and the basic financials you not only make better decisions, but you also interact more effectively with members of other departments.
While experts shouldn’t strive to become generalists, those who gain a broader perspective on their businesses are more valuable, and may stick around longer too. 

  • LOL! I had to read the title a couple times. I kept thinking “why is she being so mean to geeks?”

    OH! AsseTs. I missed the T.

  • While I agree that too often technical experts are overlooked and undervalued in the workplace, I’ve had more experience with the opposite scenario; specifically, that technical experts were rewarded/promoted for good work without the necessary skills to excel in management positions. Both situations are problematic.

    It seems to me that, in addition to your suggestion that training can help create opportunity for technical experts, another option is to create a compensation system in which experts can be recognized for their experience and the work that they do (and often love) without having to climb the corporate ladder. Some people don’t aspire to be in management positions, but their work can be valued nonetheless.

  • I can probably provide a somewhat relevant perspective here, since I’m one of those so-called “techies”. I’ve found that the quality of my work absolutely skyrockets when I understand the bigger picture. A lot of work that gets dumped on the typical IT professional is actually pretty mundane from their perspective. But I don’t think that the non-techies see it the same way. No matter how boring our tasks, I think there will always be some “wow” factor on the business side of things. Knowing where your work fits in makes it seem that much more important. And when your work is important, you’re less likely to apply your skills to another company, and more likely to keep it in house and move up.

  • Lela Davidson

    Ryan, that brings up a great point. Not only do the technical people need to understand the Big Picture, but others need to understand enough about you work to realize when they’re loading you up with a bunch of monotonous garbage. Not that things don’t need to get done, but everybody needs to be challenged to feel satisfied at work.