Foolishly Pretending to Know Tech

An entrepreneur asked me this week (paraphrasing), “I’m a non-technical person, but I do have some experience a ways back with HTML, CSS, CMS systems, and QA. Should I point that out when courting technical talent? Or will mentioning it seem irrelevant or worse?”

It’s a good question because I see people mis-handle this all the time. I see business people overplaying their technical background, saying things like “Well, actually, I used to be a developer”, or joking “I know enough about web development and databases to be dangerous”.

I know you mean it in good faith, as a geeky fig-leaf, a shared experience you hope will break the ice. But if you catch yourself saying these things, quit it!

Show, Don’t Tell

Unfortunately, mentioning your brief (or even deep but out-dated) brushes with technology, when you are first meeting technical talent, usually makes you come off as some combination of desperate, self-congratulatory, insecure, or obnoxious.

Imagine if the tables were turned. A technical developer announces in an interview setting, unprovoked, “I have actually messed around a bit with marketing copy and branding for a friend’s retail project, so I know enough about marketing to be dangerous”. Sounds stupid, right?

One of two things is true about your technical experience:

  1. It’s irrelevant, and you’ll be happy you kept your mouth shut.
  2. It makes you a better communicator, leader, and collaborator with your technical team. And that will be apparent from day one!

Tech talent is very adept as sniffing out BS. Rather than come across as trying-too-hard, you have an opportunity to pleasantly surprise us. A founder I worked with recently (an ivy-league MBA, all business guy), was showing me the latest changes to their blog design, and I asked him who was working on the CSS. “I just did it myself” he replied, as if it was the least surprising thing in the world.

He had never given me any indication he had any experience (or even interest) in web development in the many weeks we’d worked together. Instead, he showed me, and rather than rolling my eyes at his empty statements, I found myself genuinely impressed at his depth and scrappy resourcefulness.

Trust Your Talents

You are a well-rounded individual. A founder with a wide array of talents and experience. Just like having read a book about sales will make you a better sales manager, any background you have in technology will be a valuable asset as you build a tech organization. Heck, equipping founders to work better with tech teams is why I created ClearlyTech!

Trust your talents, and show a genuine interest in extending your knowledge to make you a better collaborator. Anyone pretending to bring more to the table than they do is a turn-off, and your tech savvy is no exception to that.