You know it, I know it, we all know it. Tech is sexy. Between the badass offices and the ever-changing industry, it’s hard not to want to get into the tech field.
But what if you suck at it? How can you get involved in a tech community when you’re not a techie? It’d be easy to get involved if I were a Ruby Developer with years of experience, but I spent two hours trying to set my DVR to do a series recording of Cutthroat Kitchen before I gave up and went to bed. How can someone non-technical contribute in a high-tech culture?
I sat down with Mat Alano-Martin to talk about just that. He’s the Executive Director of this year’s Combine in Bloomington, but he’s also the holder of possibly the least-technical title in the world: Comedian. Mat is known for being one of the co-founders of the Limestone Comedy Festival in Bloomington and has taken that expertise and applied it to running this year’s Combine. So what does Mat have to say to all of us non-techie wannabe’s?
Don’t Be Intimidated
Mat joked in the interview that before getting involved with the Combine, he didn’t even know what a router was. He may have been exaggerating, but not by much.
“For my first couple meetings I had no idea what people were talking about,” he told me.
The most important key to his success, however, was remaining undaunted by others with more technical prowess. If you’re looking to get involved with a tech scene but you don’t know the first thing about coding, concede that fact. Don’t get threatened when people know more than you. Recognize these challenges as opportunities.
“It was a little intimidating at first,” Mat said, “but that sort of intimidation is what attracts me to things too, because it means it’s an opportunity to learn.”
Bring Your Skills, Not The Skills You Perceive To Be Necessary
It’s super easy to fall in the trap of thinking that just because someone is more tech-savvy, that they’re automatically more qualified to do anything and everything. Remember, jobs existed before computers, and plenty of jobs exist today that highly-technical people can struggle with. For Mat, that was event management.
“There’s certain things when running a large event that you don’t think of until you get on-site,” Mat explained.
Basically, you can’t know how to run a large event until you’ve run a large event. So how is the Bloomington tech community supposed to run large events when the pool of techies who have run large events is so small? Find people with complementary skill sets. Because he had run large events before, Mat was no stranger to the challenges posed by the Combine and has tackled them with poise.
“You don’t have to be a technical guru, there’s room for everybody,” Mat said.
So before you get involved with a tech community, look inward. Think about your skills and experiences and what talents you may have that others won’t and how you can apply those. Maybe you’re extremely knowledgeable about wine tasting, or cars, or janitorial work. Whatever it is, I guarantee you can identify knowledge or skills that you have that are desperately needed by more technical minds.
Bring a Fresh Perspective
You know techies are all about innovation, but innovation doesn’t always happen in code. Typically, innovation is really just a slightly more efficient spin on processes and systems that organizations and communities already have in place. So as you start to get involved, look for ways you can take those skills you discovered in yourself and apply them to the community in an innovative way.
With Mat, it was all about event management and knowing how to deal with world-class talent in a professional manner. The perspective he was able to bring to the Combine as someone who has brought world-class talent to Bloomington was a breath of fresh air.
“The tech scene is so welcoming and open to new ideas,” Mat told me.
So if you’re looking to try something new in a tech company or community, don’t be shy about it. Go out on that limb and make your voice heard. Even if your idea ends up getting shot down, your perspective is guaranteed to make other ideas better.
As someone who’s not as technical as many of the people I meet, I was thrilled to hear Mat’s story and learn how other non-techies have been able to get involved in technical settings. Are you a fellow non-hacker? How do you contribute to more highly technical teams in a meaningful way? What advice do you have for someone looking to contribute more to a technical community?