If you are a marketing or PR professional at a tech startup or a software company you’ve probably experienced what I call the technical wall. The technical wall is the point at which, due to lack of formal technical training and knowledge, it becomes challenging or even impossible to fully grasp how the technology or software product you’re marketing actually works, beyond just concepts and analogies.
This challenge is especially salient for those of us marketers for whom the target user persona is highly technical, like a web or mobile developer. Developers are a unique persona who require a thoughtful, authentic, and transparent approach when it comes to engagement.
Instead of getting into the details of how to effectively market to technical audiences (others do a great job of that here and here), let’s consider how we can find true empathy and understanding for the pains experienced and desired gains of someone whose job or daily tasks we might not fully understand. Is it even possible for marketers, who were not software engineers in a past life, to get over this technical wall?
Yes, we absolutely can. It takes effort, a shift in perspective even, and may require a significant investment of time and energy at first, but after you get over the initial hurdles, even the least technical among us can learn how to better talk the talk when it comes to technology.
Here are examples of efforts that can help you get more technical; some I’ve personally undertaken here as a marketer at Dropsource, as well as others I’ve found around the web from other marketers who have faced this issue.
1. Learn some of the fundamentals: Learning about the OSI Model, for example, is a great start to understanding fundamentals of computing and a basic starting vocabulary.
2. Commit to developing a technical skill: Do this each year, or quarter if you’re daring, and dedicate time to learning a technical subject. Whether its SQL databases, basic web development (HTML/CSS), or analytics, pick one and set time aside on a recurring basis to learn and put your new skill to practice. Work with colleagues on this too — you’d be surprised how much developers and engineers love to teach others.
Here is a great all-in-one resource made for marketers looking to learn technical skills: http://technicalmktg.com/resources/web-development/
3. Talk to subject matter experts (SMEs) in your network: I’ve been very lucky to work with a team of developers at Dropsource that make themselves available for 1-on-1s, lunches, and frequent Slack conversations. Collectively our team of devs has coached me on first the fundamentals, and later some of the finer details, of software development, and it’s proven extremely valuable to our marketing and my own confidence in speaking to our community without feeling like I’m not on their level.
My advice for 1-on-1s is to be prepared that you, as I did, may feel like you’re asking really, really dumb questions at first. One way around this is to do a little internet research before these interactions (Wikipedia FTW) to help you be prepared with a few starter concepts. Remember these conversations are meant to be informal, and aimed to help you better understand not only technical concepts, but also highly technical people. Observing and interacting with actual technical experts and developers is the best way to gain empathy and break through the technical wall.
Some ideas for questions to dive into:
- Tell me about what you do and what role you play on the development team?
- Tell me about how X tech we use actually works under the hood, and why we do it that way?
- What are you motivated by in your work? What do you hate doing?
- What new tech has you most excited?
- What the heck is blockchain and where can I download a Bitcoin?
4. Listen to free video courses, audiobooks or podcasts about technical subjects: This is a proven and effective method for immersing yourself in technical subjects. Whether you are watching videos about databases, or podcasts about microservices, app development, or blockchain, simply hearing expert conversations will allow you to pick up the terminology and get to those ah-ha moments where you’re able to start connecting the dots. Don’t worry about fully mastering all the things, just listen and soak it in. Consuming this type of content can help get, and keep, your brain in the technical groove. Afterwards, remember to ask your SMEs about the new ideas and concepts you’re learning about and let them fill in the gaps. This should kick off fun conversations and will likely help you further build rapport with your technical cohorts.
Here are some ideas:
Free online courses to skim:
- Programming: https://www.khanacademy.org/computing/computer-programming/
- Data analysis: https://www.springboard.com/learning-paths/data-analysis/
- Microservices: http://microservices.io/
- Accidental Tech podcast: http://atp.fm/
- Clockwise: https://www.relay.fm/clockwise
- This week in Google: https://twit.tv/shows/this-week-in-google
- Algorithms to Live By: https://www.audible.com/pd/Business/Algorithms-to-Live-By-Audiobook/B01D24NLWO
- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future: https://www.audible.com/pd/Bios-Memoirs/Elon-Musk-Audiobook/B00UX8ODPM
- Understanding Software: Max Kanat-Alexander on simplicity, coding, and how to suck less as a programmer: https://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Software-Kanat-Alexander-simplicity-programmer/dp/1788628810/
(Not actually an audiobook, but a GREAT option for learning about software fundamentals.)
Now that you’ve done all that, you can finally get back to work. Just kidding, you do not need to do ALL of these things. I certainly have not been able to….let’s all collectively take a breath…
The above are simply suggestions, and some of the ways I’ve closed the gaps in my technical knowledge, and I’d encourage everyone to experiment with a few to figure out what works best for you and fits your schedule. Getting over, or chipping away at, the technical wall is all about helping us as marketers better communicate, empathize, and create value for our users and customers. Good luck!
Do you have suggestions for how you’ve gotten past a technical wall? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!