I bought a copy of November’s Marie Claire the other day for a bit of light reading. It happened to be the edition which included their bi-annual Marie Claire @ Work feature and it had a few articles on the topic of ‘tech’ at work. Working in that area I was obviously interested but the first article I found really rubbed me up the wrong way. It was a feature on Sophia Amoruso who founded Nasty Gal clothing; The headline was “How I made it in Tech.”. My problem: she founded a successful business which makes use of tech but she doesn’t actually work in tech!
In a similar vein, a recent BBC show called “Girls Can Code” promised a series showing young women learning coding skills. In fact it was a series about young fashionistas learning to use tech to grow fashion businesses (I’ll caveat here that we only watched part of the first episode so perhaps it drastically changed after that…). This is a great concept in itself but the naming was again all wrong. Tech, coding and all things related is a real topic-du-jour right now. Having been a woman working in technology as part of the IT industry for over a decade, I am really pleased to see it more in the spotlight. I absolutely agree we should be pushing for growing these skills in the UK and that we should also be encouraging more women in to this very male dominated sector. However, to do that I think we need to be clear about what working in tech actually means.
These days it is almost impossible to do any kind of business that doesn’t rely on technology somewhere, be it as simple as HR and Payroll spreadsheets! But using technology to make your business run does not mean that company is a technology company nor that it’s employees work ‘in tech’. In a perhaps slightly over simplified view, I believe to be deemed as working in tech you need to fall in one of two categories:
- Working in an IT department of a company;
- Working in a company whose business is building, supporting or selling technology solutions.
Some of the high profile people I would deem working in tech are:
- Bill Gates: Love or hate Microsoft, Bill Gates is undoubtably one of the Kings of tech for giving us one of the most widely used Operating Systems in the world;
- Steve Jobs: Amongst his many accomplishments, he brought attractive styling and ground-breaking functionality to laptops, took phones to a new level and introduced the world to tablets;
- Mark Zuckerburg: The founder of one of the first and certainly the biggest social media platforms. Facebook makes it’s money by developing it’s platform to entice it’s users back and encourage advertising;
- Marissa Mayer: CEO of Yahoo!, one of the biggest search engines and web portals;
- Larry Page and Sergey Brin: These guys brought search to a whole new level. I don’t think Google needs any explanation; The name is so synonymous with ‘search’ that “to Google” has all but become a verb;
- Tracy Chou: A young engineer acclaimed for her vast experience, having done internships at Facebook and Google then working at Quora and Pinterest.
I have nothing but respect and awe for the accomplishments of people such as Sophia Amoruso, so my comments are not meant as a criticism of what they achieve. In fact technology only has a meaning if it delivers benefit and value; Some of the greatest skills are of people like this who can see ways to utilise and exploit software and platforms that are out there. However, using technology to accomplish something is different to building it, changing it, integrating it and supporting it.
Anyone who reads this may think I’m being overly pedantic – all of these things give focus to the industry and make it more accessible to those who would not have previously considered it. That’s great, really it is. But by portraying it incorrectly there is a risk people misunderstand what it means to really work in technology – an industry which sits at the heart of most businesses and is exciting and interesting in it’s own right.
I’ll get down off my soap box now.
p.s. A few years ago I wrote a blog post on the different roles in IT.
p.p.s. Marie Claire at work does have some good articles about working in tech: