As I mentioned yesterday, a couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for an upcoming podcast. The host’s final question was about the sort of advice I would give to myself if I could go back in time and give myself some advice right as my career was getting started.
The first bit of advice I’d give myself, as I covered yesterday, was: don’t be scared of sales. The second bit of advice I’d give myself is this: develop technical skills that are relevant to your industry or position.
What are Technical Skills?
In just about any industry or position, there are going to be a set of technical skills that are valuable to have. I’ve spent time in several industries, and here are the technical skills I think would be relevant in each:
- Retail: master the science of merchandising and staffing.
- High-end wooden table legs: get to know all about wood types, how they’re graded, how they’re harvested, how they’re finished, and the types of application each is best suited to.
- Social work: become an expert on the relevant law and how the bureaucracy in your particular corner of the world works.
- Residential construction: become knowledgeable about all facets of home construction, from permitting to framing, from plumbing to HVAC, from drywall to electrical, and everything in between.
- Machining and fabrication: get to know about material properties, how different materials respond to heat and pressure, different types of cutting oils, how to operate CNC equipment, tool and dye expertise.
- Centrifugal pumping systems: learn how pumps fit into the larger systems they used in. Learn how they’re built, tested, why different materials makes sense for different applications, and how they’re purchased, installed, commissioned and maintained.
- Freelance writing: learn about grammar, study CTA techniques, learn about SEO and learn to do keyword research.
- WordPress hosting: master the tech stack (LEMP, LAMP, etc), get to know the WordPress database, what hooks and filters are, how plugins work, and how the wp-config.php file operates. Become a DNS ninja.
- Managing a distributed company: learn about the different mechanisms used to build distributed teams (entities, EOR’s, PEO’s, contractors) and where each is appropriate. Learn about invoicing, processing payments, wire transfers, ACH, currency exchange rates, and bookkeeping. Get to know data privacy, become familiar with taxes which commonly reach across borders (such as European VAT), get a handle on permanent establishment, and learn how to read and understand a contract and terms of service.
These are just the examples that occur to me as I think back on the industries I’ve been a part of and the positions I’ve held. For any type of position and industry there will be some sort of technical skills which will be incredibly valuable for you to master. Master those technical skills.
Why Technical Skills Matter
Technical skills matter for a few different reasons, here are three I can think of that are critically important:
- Mastering technical skills demonstrates your commitment to your position. If you spend the time to truly master a technical skill set, you’re demonstrating that you care about that industry, you care about your role, and you’re motivated. These are attitudes that will make you more valuable to your employer and give you a running start on the promotion and advancement game.
- Technical skills will keep you employed. If things ever get tough, those who have hard skills that add tangible value will be the least at-risk. If you have skills your employer needs, they’ll be remiss to ever let you go. On the other hand, if you’re just doing a job and aren’t truly a skilled operator, you’re easily replaced.
- Technical skills will make you employable. If you ever do find yourself looking for a job, being able to point at specific tangible skills will help make you more employable. If you had to pick between two candidates for a sales role, one who could explain one or two common models used to price your product and one who had no idea how your product was priced, which would you pick? Obviously the one who understood how pricing structures in your industry work as that candidate will be in a much better position to negotiate profitable deals!
In short, technical skills will make you more valuable to your current employer, keep you employed, and make you more employable should ever find yourself looking for a job.
And that’s why, dear reader, no matter what your position or industry, you should develop technical skills.