We will never change how tech does business until we change how we redefine technical.
I have completed many CFPs over the past year and a half and it is only recently, as I dive deeper into the issues of inclusion and diversity in tech, that I now question a very specific part of the process. Almost every CFP in some form or another, asks the submitter whether their proposed topic is technical or non-technical. On the surface, this seems like a simple enough question. There seems to be no opportunity for harm or miscommunication in requesting this kind of categorizing data.
The damage that happens when all programming content is considered technical and everything else is non-technical is what we are experiencing now. “Non-technical” content does not hold the same value in the minds and wallets of many members in our communities. This kind of content is often seen as “filler” and unnecessary to the profession.
One of the ways the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines technical is: of or relating to a particular subject.
Just as many of you have decided to do so, I made a decision not to pursue programming as a profession. What I saw, while working with many individuals and programming teams was a need for professional development and business operation strategies. And more importantly, I knew that after years of experience, I had the unique set of skills to provide such support.
No, the content I provide to the technology community is not programming specific but my ability to internalize and articulate this content in ways that enable programmers to hone their craft and to become better members of our community IS VERY TECHNICAL. And because not everyone can do what I do, I would say that I have a very specialized set of technical skills.
This to me is in direct alignment with the above definition.
In our efforts to become more inclusive and diverse, we must look beyond just gender and race and critically examine the various ways our intentional and unintentional behaviors may be placing barriers to entry for others. By not extending and expanding how we define “technical” beyond programming, it becomes much more challenging for individuals with equally important skills to establish themselves as experts and thus receive the level of respect and compensation they deserve.
Until we as a community begin to elevate the roles and responsibilities of individuals who are on the front lines everyday working to make the technology industry as a whole better, we will continue to spin our wheels on making this a safe, meaningful, and profitable space for all.