Wednesday, 3 October 2012


If you do the Twitter thing, follow me at @hotpixUK

When can you be too techie? When you are like me and had a background in many diverse industries, from engineering, manufacturing, retail, distribution, clinical and finally 14 years in housing software, you pick up lots of baggage. With me, the drive to solve problems often causes me to dig deep into my experience for the best answer or a mix of options. It’s rarely the most obvious approach.

A lot of my knowledge was gained by doing, reading textbooks, in one case by writing on-line help for a whole suite of ActiveH products. In the latter case you learn much about your own products, how many set up screens are absent or ‘hidden’, as well as what the quality of your developers is like. Particularly getting a head in a textbook or trying stuff out is not everyone’s cup of chai. Many staff do hope to go on an expensive course and have it spoon fed.

When I was involved in the sales process I generally opened and closed demos and was always on hand to answer those interesting questions from the floor. Five years writing/supporting the product, five implementing it and five managing, directing and selling it put me in a good position for answering those questions in an honest manner. It’s disingenuous to infer that ‘Everything’s Possible’ only to find when you have purchased, it’s another story. I have always slept better being honest.

Being at a demonstration to a prospective customer in the position of Managing Director was sometimes problematical too. Some prospects pointedly took the view that maybe my software house was small and that’s why I had come along. My stock reply was “perhaps the competitors did not think you important enough to warrant a visit”. If you deal with a very large company, you can wind up as a mere customer number in the ledger, regardless of you putting hundreds of thousands of pounds of business their way each year. The second part to my reply was always that “I know this software inside out, so I am sure we can answer all your questions at this early stage as a prospect. If you join us as a customer you will see me at every user event, interested in your needs and at any time I am available for you to contact directly, day or night”.

It seems a common thing in some organisations and with certain managers, that once some people reach a certain level, they take pride in professing to be ‘non-technical’. That might be a disinterest in how to get a simple select out of SQL server, how VLOOKUP works (I should do a whole item on that!) or how the core product functions or integrates together. As can been seen above it did me no harm. In many situations that knowledge helped cut through the cow cookies. In several it helped either clinch a deal or turnaround a tense situation.

It always impresses me when someone I am working with reveals some geeky experience. Only a few weeks ago I was working with a great IT Manager who whipped out a spreadsheet for a project we were involved in that really impressed me. He had embedded in some really funky VBA macros to quickly compare data we were assessing. Icing on the cake, but with it came a feeling here was no fool and someone who will have no difficulty testing staff or supplier protestations, to get the best outcomes.

So I am quite proud that I carry that old baggage around with me. Whether I am involved in a procurement project, business process review, integrating new modules, converting, testing, integrating reporting or workflow etc, I benefit from the sum of all that experience. How many of your managers are proud to retain a certain level of geek-iness for the good of your organisation?

Can you be too techie?.

(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting

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