I did not get my undergrad degree in science, technology, engineering or math. I studied philosophy. And at the time I knew, and hung around with, a lot of people who were studying computer science. Often if they were speaking about something that I was unaware of, I would ask: What does that mean? And instead of either answering my question, or suggesting a resource for me to do my own research, I would be told something along the lines of: You wouldn’t understand.
After undergrad, I emailed an old contact from the computer science cohort to request that he add me to an email distribution list about technology. Another contact and I had been discussing a certain concept in the emerging tech field, and I wanted to follow the dialogue that he was referring to on that list. The host replied: Oh that list is about technology, but if we ever invent a list for old friends to stay in touch, I will add you to that one. And thus, I was dismissed.
I was at a bar with a bunch of friends once, and was talking about how when there are ongoing famine crises in various parts of the world, and we in the west send money or food, it is a temporary band aid solution; but if we could also give them access to new technology, they might be able to innovate their way out of the ongoing problem. A computer science back-end programmer screamed at me: You idiot! You think they will want to use a computer?! They’re starving! He did not accept that I could speak about technology, nor about the world, since he did not respect my education or work experience; neither were similar to his. He also, very ignorantly seemed to think that technology equated directly and only to personal computers. But I was in no position to argue with him, because from his perspective I did not have the right degree.
Over the years I worked in a number of different positions in various aspects of business, eventually including one that related to many Canadian IT and telecom companies. While meeting with friends and their acquaintances at a party once, they were talking to one fellow who was looking for work. I asked: What do you want to do and who do you want to network with? (I’m big on networking and match-making). He said: Don’t worry about it. I’m a scrum master. You won’t know any of the companies that I will work for. Our mutual friend corroborated his statement with: He is in a different field all together; you won’t know what he does. I dropped it then, but noted to myself that I do know what a scrum master is. He ended up working for Cisco in the end, a company that at the time was a key client of my team, where I could have made connections.
I once attended a formally facilitated brainstorming session with a client and some of the team that focused on Canadian IT and telecom. I submitted some responses to the questions, and at some point was even asked to elaborate on my submissions. Some members of the client team, and even my own team, immediately dismissed my discourse and my presence at the meeting, because I was just a sales guy, and would not know about their industry. They did not know that I was only sales guy in that instance, and that I had a background in business strategy, and that I understood a thing or two about how technology is used in business. And they did not care to find out.
Technology is not the esoteric field it was in the 1950s. It is ubiquitous now, and it is user-focused. That means that people with liberal arts educations and backgrounds are leading the charge in determining how technology can be used, where it can be used, and what it can be used to do. If those from non-STEM educations are willing and able to learn enough to be able to speak about technology in business, at least at a high level, we should also expect those in technology fields to learn just enough about business, strategy, communication, and empathy, to be able to include others, and to respect diversity. Making anyone to feel like an outsider, especially when they are asking questions, wanting to learn, and willing to participate, is stupid, insecure, and unproductive.
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