June 27, 2009
Dear parlezuml.com: I'd Like To Work In Computing, But I Have No Technical SkillsDear parlezuml.com, I have always wanted to start a career in computing because my friends told me that you can earn the kind of money that lawyers and doctors earn but without having to waste years working round the clock and studying to qualify. Unfortunately, I cannot program a computer and don't really know much about IT, and I'm afraid this will be a blocker to my entering the computing profession. What should I do?
Never fear, Anon from London. There are actually many well paid career paths in computing that require almost no technical knowledge or programming skills. Indeed, these days a general ignorance of such matters is considered advantageous for those who wish to progress into the most highly-paid and prestigious computing roles, like project and program management, enterprise architecture and executive management (e.g., IT director, CTO).
But competition is tough, and these roles are so highly sought-after that everyday ignorance of computing is usually not enough to get you noticed. The most successful managers have worked hard to attain an almost unassailable degree of cluelessness. It's a process that takes years of not reading books, refusing to listen to your technical staff (or anyone else who might know what they're talking about), and religiously seeking out spurious sources of information, such as software vendors and management consultants, who can offer you the kind of high quality disinformation and unsubstantiated nonsense you'll need in order to make the truly disasterous decisions that will be expected of you.
The best routes into computing management tend to be business and/or requirements analysis. A typical progression might take you from a junior analyst position into managing small projects, and once you have a project with a reasonably impressive budget under your belt - because the chief qualification employers look for is the size of the failed projects you managed - you are in a choice position to make the jump into the big leagues.
The main thing employers look for is somebody who can converse effectively with people who have absolutely no technical understanding of software or systems. Right now you are at the peak of that ability because you have absolutely no appreciation of technical matters yourself. You must remain eternally vigilant to preserve that ignorance at all costs. When you're surrounded by technically competent co-workers this can be very difficult, which is why the best managers go to considerable lengths to ensure that doesn't happen by hiring people who are as ignorant as they are for all the key positions that report into them.
So there's no need to feel disheartened. Far from it, in fact! You're very well-placed to begin a stellar career in computing and I have no doubt that you will progress quickly, as long as you remember to observe the golden rule: keep your ears, eyes and mind closed, and you will go far.
Posted 1 week, 6 days ago on June 27, 2009