Technologist /tekˈnäləjəst/: noun - an expert in a particular field of technology
Technology /tekˈnäləjē/: noun - the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.
First, let’s get it out of the way now - yes, that’s a Baskin and Robbins’ reference in the title. I’m a fan. But it’s also a perfect way to illustrate my point.
The tech industry, TV talking heads and many newspaper columnists have all recently devoted a lot of energy to debating the merits of females as software developers and coders. My frustration is not just with the debate, but that we’ve missed the mark in our definition of tech. Somehow, all of technology has become represented by the single discipline of coding.
Technology – like ice cream – comes in many different flavors. The dictionary definition above broadly refers to the application of scientific knowledge...not coding exclusively. It involves databases, data analytics, hardware development, interface design, cybersecurity, videogames, e-textiles, and so much more. And technology is not just being used in traditional software companies; it powers logistics, healthcare, manufacturing and many other businesses.
By extension, a technologist is someone that can have expertise in many different types of tech. Take me for example. I am a marketer and business development practitioner. I do not code, but I use technology everyday to perform my job. And I am not talking about using email or typing on a laptop. I use tools that did not even exist ten years ago to amplify my company’s message and to connect my organization to those who buy our services locally and globally. But more than that, I must understand the tools and technologies that our team uses so I can understand how to find our prospects and communicate what we do. I don’t code, but I am an expert in technology.
But the reason I am so flummoxed by all this talk of coding is not personal reputation, rather it’s a red herring that distracts from the core issue. While everyone chases a scandal or talks about genetic predispositions to coding, we ignore the bigger problem and grow further distanced from a possible solution. The root of the diversity conversation is not ideology, but rather economic impact.
We have a severe workforce shortage in the technology industry with 1 million jobs forecast to remain unfilled by 2020. And – like it or not – we also have a competitive and relevance issue. Products and services are increasingly focused on the problems of a minority of the population – white, affluent males. By engaging more women and ethnicities, the tech industry can both meet its workforce needs while expanding its appeal and becoming more competitive.
But those 1 million jobs are not for coders only. The tech industry needs to fill a broad range of jobs that sustain the sector as a whole. And if you cast the net wider to look at tech-enabled jobs in careers like agriculture, teaching, aviation, etc.; then the need is even more pressing and more diverse. By narrowing our definition of technology, we narrow the field of candidates. Instead, we need to raise an entire generation of non-technical technologists. Or, to bring it home, we need 31 flavors of technologists.
If we focus only on Silicon Valley or only on female coders, we miss the mark. And the fallout from missing that mark is more than just roundtables and harassment trainings…it’s empty seats, lost productivity, and product teams developing with blinders on. We cannot afford to get this wrong. We need more non-technical technologists.