I’ve always found the question, “What do you do for a living?” challenging to answer. And as frustrating as that deadpan question is, I’ve had an equally difficult time answering the second most common question one gets in in their life, which is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
If you identify as a “Management Consultant” you are surely nodding your head with empathy right now — though I’m sure many others out there are as well. But, particularly in the all-encompassing world of Management Consulting, with such a wide assortment of project needs and an ever-changing business and technology landscape, it can be hard to narrow down on exactly what it is you do and what you look to continue to do five years from now.
However, I recently went through a personal branding exercise with a colleague of mine at Thought Ensemble and the term “technologist” really hit home for me. Being in the consulting biome, I wondered, “Does that make me a consulting technologist?” Could that adjective noun combination finally describe who I am professionally and where I plan on going in my career?
Now, I know you’re probably bursting with curiosity as to where I landed, but first, a quick contextual game of yes, but…
YES, I’ve always worked closely with IT teams, BUT I’ve never reported within an IT hierarchy.
YES, my projects have almost always had a technology component, BUT I’ve always represented “the business.”
YES, I understand quite a lot about how various types of business applications — and the underlying architecture — might work, BUT I wouldn’t consider myself to be a “technical guy.”
YES, I am passionate about technology as a mechanism to potentially improve every aspect of life, BUT I don’t believe technology is the solution to everything.
Thanks for playing! Hopefully this helps illustrate the foundation for my struggle with the term.
I left that personal branding session with a very clear mission: to use my research and discovery superpowers to understand the difference between “technologist,” “technician,” and “technology specialist” to sort this out once and for all.
Here’s what I found:
A quick search of the term “technologist” came back with hits in the healthcare context where it appears to be used interchangeably with “technician” — for example, a Surgical Technologist is also described as an Operating Room Technician.
In the IT context, “technician” often describes someone helping to set up hardware and software and configuring them for users.
David Foster takes a more general approach to the term on his site, The Curious Technologist; his perspective is that technologists are “general technology specialists” who develop skillsets in many areas and have “an intense curiosity in technology in general.”
Yes! That last one definitely sounds like me, but what do other people say?
Davron Engineering’s post on Medium talks about the difference between engineers and technologists in the engineering context. Their position is that technologists are more focused on implementation and engineers are more focused on design and development.
This lines up with my experiences but doesn’t quite get to the level of detail I was looking for.
Gary Bertoline goes into more detail and presents the role of the technologist within a spectrum of skillsets found in technology, in “Future College of Technology” for the Purdue University Polytechnic Institute. In an excerpt, he states, “The essence of a technologist is the mastery of a whole field with a broad and deep understanding of the technology; the processes, systems, tools, and techniques necessary to construct, modify, operate, and maintain the engineering design.”
While I’m a far cry from “mastery of a whole field,” the rest kind of nailed it for me!
Samantha (Klein) Lande on The Muse summed management consultants up this way, “…management consultants are focused on helping leadership of an organization improve overall performance and operations.”
This has been consistent on the projects I’ve worked on since I joined Thought Ensemble as a Senior Consultant.
In summary, if we combine the terms “consulting” and “technologist” to get “Consulting Technologist,” that accurately describes me! I work with clients to solve problems that inhibit optimal performance and operations by applying a variety of processes, systems, tools, and techniques that incorporate a broad range of technology. So, I’m a technologist in the consulting context.
While the explanation of what I do won’t be any shorter (unless there is a newfound understanding of management consulting and technologists), I’m glad to have at least made it more accurate! Hopefully, this process is one that you can use and share with others who might also need help honing their answer to the, “So, what do you do?” question.