Know the technology, know the business

Introduction

As I progress through my career, I can’t help but find myself drawn to learning more about business, both as a general topic and specifically related to the company I work for and the customers I work with. This post covers some reasons why you should start learning some key business skills.

Cross pollinate

In my 10 Tenets of working in IT series, I blogged about cross pollinating although it was specifically referring to expanding one’s technical knowledge base.

At the end of the day, IT is a service that the business consumes and so it would be naive to think you could offer that service without better understanding the consumer.

The starting point should be to learn about the business you work in. Look at the org chart, determine how each of the business units interface with each other, what services do each of them provide to each other and to the business as a whole? Don’t get dragged in, but try to understand the office politics as this can offer a wealth of information you won’t find documented anywhere. Try and spend time working with each team to get a deeper understanding.

I’m not suggesting you spend a week on secondment with the janitor but some key functions to understand are:

  • Finance/accounts
  • Procurement
  • Sales/marketing
  • Project team

to name but a few of the non-technical ones. Once you get a good understanding of how your team fits in with all of the others, you should be looking to understand your customer’s companies too, although you will most likely be far more limited with regards to access.

As well as learning what other team’s and customer’s expectations are, you should learn their language too. For example, despite doing an accounting course at college back in the days of the abacus, the terminology used by the finance ‘speakers’ within the company was as much jargon to me as OSPF was to them. A couple attempts to try and get an explanation tended to muddy the waters and so I found it best to simply buy one of those ‘finance for non-financial types’ books which was far more helpful. The key is I can sit in on more senior meetings and grasp all aspects of the discussion as well as converting my technical knowledge to layman’s terms as required.

I think IT folks can sometimes become isolated from the rest of the business by their own perceptions and experiences but I think that is a mistake. To really progress beyond a certain level in IT, you need to better understand your customer, whether that is internal or external.

Summary

There comes a certain point in a techie’s career where understanding the business that the technology you work with supports becomes critical for you to offer any added value. Don’t be afraid to learn things you perceive as being outside your comfort zone. It will be a worthwhile investment.

Till the next time.

One Reply to “Know the technology, know the business”

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