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Career and Money Advice At The Intersection Of Business And Technology

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Know enough technically to be dangerous

April 7th, 2009 · 2 Comments

I studied computer science for four years in college. I worked as software developer for several years. But, nowadays, when someone asks me if I’m technical. My answer is "no" — I have been working in product management for eight years. I work with developers everyday. I still play with various technologies at my spare time.

But, I’m no longer a developer. I haven’t written any industrial-strength codes for the past 8 years. Both my design and coding skills are very rusty. When I need estimate, I go to talk to software architect and tech lead. When I receive technical questions that I don’t know the answer, I turn to the developers for help.

I don’t want to pretend that I’m still a developer. I’m not.

But, throughout my career, at every single employer I had, I encountered one particular type of colleagues — they just know enough technically to be dangerous. They seems to share some common traits. They were liberal art majors in college, AND they never had any interests in programming until the mid-to-late 1990s. By the way, I don’t have any bias against liberal art majors. In fact, I would recommend my kids to study liberal arts in college. I knew a few liberal art folks who had been programming computers since they were kids. They were some of the best programmers out there because they could program, and they could communicate. But, the people I’m talking about here had no real interests in technology besides making money.

To join the dotcom gold rush, they picked up a little bit of HTML coding here and there. They were hired by one of those dotcoms as "Web Developers". They basically hacked the codes by copy-and-pasting other people’s codes on the web. They soon realized that web development wasn’t a sustainable career for them. Some of them were smooth talkers. So, they quickly switched career to either program management or product management. But, the problem is that they believe they’re technical. As program manager or product manager, they spent part of their days talking to sales and marketing. Those people are even more clueless about technology. So, the web-developer-turned-PM is the "technical resource" for the sales and marketing folks. This further inflated the egos of those web-developer-turned-PMs. 🙂

It’s like blind leading blind, and going no where. When I started working at one company, I reviewed some product collaterals written by one of those PMs — I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It was factually and technically wrong. But, marketing, PR and Sales believed the guy because he was technical. And this guy was openly telling developers that they should add a piece of code to certain components and it should take no less than 1 week of work.

In another company, I worked for a big shot VP who was totally non-technical. But, her husband was formerly a software architect at the same division. Maybe she had too much conversations with her husband about work, somehow she believed that she was technical. At meetings, she would say things like "that’s a really simple feature request. You should just write a few C++ components. It should take you only a couple of days to write, and one a few hours to test." It’s completely off mark.

Know your limit. If you are a product manager or program manager or manager, you are NOT a developer anyway. Know what you know, and know what you don’t know. Stay away and let the expert to solve the problem. It’s better for you, it’s better for the expert, and it’s better for the organization.

Do you know someone who knows enough technically to be dangerous? Send him/her this article. 🙂 Are you a PM or a manager? Know your limit, and let the expert go to work.

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Tags: Management · Product Management · Start-up Success

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 press controls // Jul 24, 2009 at 3:20 am

    “Know your limit.Know what you know, and know what you don’t know” This is definitely a good advice and I totally agree with you.

  • 2 press controls // Jul 24, 2009 at 7:20 am

    “Know your limit.Know what you know, and know what you don’t know” This is definitely a good advice and I totally agree with you.

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