Some thoughts on being a non-techie in tech

Women at Whiteboard

By Mel Kanarek.

I have a confession to make . . . I can’t code. Despite having science and maths A levels, after a disastrous first year of computer science at university, I couldn’t change courses fast enough. I switched to a psychology degree instead, which I enjoyed immensely and which has had no practical application to my working life at all.

And yet, here I am many (and I mean many) years later, looking back at over 20 years of working in and around the technology industry. Despite my lack of academic success in the field, I’ve always been fascinated by technology and, more importantly, what it enables us to do. That interest is what motivated me to pivot my career in PR and marketing into specialising in the technology industry and working with digital businesses. I’ve always said that you can only do a good job of communicating about something if you’re really interested in it and I think my career is a testament to that, even though my earliest jobs involved roles in the music and fashion industries.

I sometimes describe myself as a wannabe geek but I think I’m more than that. By working with technology businesses to help them explain what they do, I’ve learned a great deal about tech and I’ve also learned how to make the connection between what different technologies do and what benefits (and drawbacks) they bring. For me, the cool thing about tech is not how it works, but what it allows people and organisations to accomplish. I also find the speed at which technology advances really exciting – there is always something new coming along and I am learning new things all the time.

Technology is also extremely creative. People who build digital products and services are, first and foremost, creative problem solvers. At the risk of sounding pompous, well written code is as beautiful as an elegant mathematical equation. And experiences created with technology can be as moving and captivating as a dance performance or music concert or a trip to an art gallery. More and more, technology is blending with art or, as we’ve seen during lockdown, enabling wider access to cultural experiences. I’m fascinated by the application of technology to creative expression (and wish I had more time to explore it for myself).

The tech industry offers such a huge range of opportunities – this is something I want young people to understand. For technology to work well, for it to allow people and organisations to do good things and do them well, the people making it need to be thinking about a lot more than the code. The industry needs great coders, but it also needs people who are thinking about who the technology is for and what it’s helping them to do, whether that is being accomplished in an inclusive and sustainable way, whether it makes both commercial and ethical sense. Technology businesses are businesses like any others, even if they operate in what looks like a very different way. They need accountants, HR people, marketing people and sales people. It’s a fascinating industry and there are roles that require all kinds of skills.

There are jobs in tech today that didn’t exist 5 years ago, let alone back when I was going to uni. If I was starting my career in tech today, I think I’d like to be either a user experience researcher and designer or an AI ethicist or work at the Sheffield Institute of Robotics. Or, if I was more musically inclined, I’d like to design sound for video games (but not the kind with lots of guns and explosions). To anyone who’s thinking about what their career might be, I’d encourage you to explore the tech and digital industries – there really is something for everyone.