What does it mean to be “technical”?

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear myself referred to like this: “She’s VERY technical.”

And sure, it’s accurate. I’ve designed and built complex networks, developed tech products and services,  spent much of the past couple years testing crazy underground wireless gear.  I’ve never shied away from getting into the nitty gritty, even when managing or selling things I don’t do hands-on, like software development. And it’s certainly technical  when I explain tech products to customers and answer their questions about  features or integration challenges, or guide a team of developers to make the best choices for the product we’re building.


Which pic shows me doing technical work?
(Trick question – they both do.)

But what’s interesting is that I’m often called “very technical”  in situations where I’m not doing anything particularly technical. I hear it when I’m just using technology.

Many say that today’s young people are “very technical” based on the fact that they use smartphones and computers, Twitter and Facebook,and video games but if that’s technical then I’m an auto mechanic because I drive my car. There’s really nothing technical about tweeting. But it’s tech-enabled, and to those who aren’t comfortable with tech, it probably seems like it must be technical. A lot of people who say, “I can’t do X because I’m not technical” really COULD do X if they weren’t scared. So maybe there’s an element of just not being scared to work with things that are technical.

Even in the realm of deeply technical work, it’s interesting what different communities view as “technical”.  In some circles, only those with an Engineering Ph.D  who are creating brand new tech in the lab are real techs. In others, you’e only tech if you can write code and create an app or a website. With others, “tech” means you can make stuff work when things go wrong.


Techs can be expert in hardware, software, radio signals, network, storage, security, databases, you name it. And the thing is, many of those who are the very best at their particular brand of tech are completely unfamiliar with the others. Ask an amazing middleware architect to get a wireless signal working and it’s hit and miss whether they will even know where to start.

It’s not just different types of technology, though, it’s also different phases. I’ve seen some brilliant R&D engineers who solved problems nobody else in the world could solve but struggled trying to build a product around their invention. I’ve seen coding whizzes rattle off working applications in mere hours then flounder helplessly when their laptop couldn’t connect to wifi. We all have different skills and expertise, and that’s part of what makes the world of tech so exciting. It’s also what makes tech hiring so difficult. How many times have you seen someone with dazzling technical skills fail miserably in a role that requires a different type of technical skill?

The bottom line is that “technical” means many things, and the better we each become at communicating what exactly we’re good at technically, the more successful we, our employers and our clients will be.

So, if you’re “technical”, what kind of “technical” are you? And whether you’re technical or not, what kind of technical people do you have trouble finding when you need them? What does “technical” mean to you?

About Sandi_Jones
Technical marketer, product developer, geek, unconventional entrepreneur. I fell in love with technology in the mid-90's, found my inner geek, and never looked back.

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