Not Technical*

“Not technical.” That was the awkward end of my disastrous six-week tenure as an engineering manager at a company I’d rather not mention (it’s not a secret; it’s just that I die a little bit each time I have to type its name.)

Seven years ago, my then-manager called me “not technical.” This was someone I went to work with because I hoped to learn from them. I had been a high-performing engineer for years, with a long list of technical accomplishments. So I was stunned by the accusation. And I felt betrayed.

The best part? “You’re not strong enough as a leader to compensate for it.”

I left that company soon after.

Looking back, I can see that the manager was almost right. I wasn’t ‘not technical’. I was inexperienced. And I was in over my head.

Since then, I’ve worked hard to become a better leader and manager. I’ve read dozens of books on leadership and management. I’ve taken courses and workshops. I’ve sought out mentors and coaches.

And today, I’m proud to say that I am a technical leader. I’m not perfect, but I’m much better than I was seven years ago.

Here are three things that have helped me become a better technical leader:

  1. Be humble: Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. It’s okay to say, “I’m not sure, let me get back to you.” Be open to feedback and criticism. And always be learning.

  2. Be honest: Don’t try to fake it until you make it. Be honest about your skills and experience level. Don’t promise more than you can deliver. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

  3. Be helpful: Always be looking for ways to help your team members grow and develop their skills. Offer feedback and mentorship. And be generous with your time and knowledge.

If you’re not a technical leader yet, don’t worry. Just keep learning and growing, and be patient with yourself. You’ll get there eventually.

* Or, “I got 99 problems but not being technical ain’t one”