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Not technical, or not experienced?

I frequently hear people say technical to describe their ability to handle a programming language, a browser programming language, or a database query language. Sometimes it’s “I am technical”, but much more commonly it’s “I am not technical”.

I am convinced that this term is inaccurate for this situation and introduces a limiting mindset.

You can write Clojure code. Does that make you technical?

What if you can only write Clojure code in an existing project and can’t set up a new one from scratch? Does that make you less technical?

If you can create a Clojure application but can’t deploy it properly to an environment that’s publicly accessible to others, are you still technical?

If you can create a Clojure application but can’t deploy it using only open source software, and need access to commercial tools to be able to deploy, have you outsourced your technicality to the tools you use?

If you write about technology and programming every day, read code frequently but don’t contribute to the main codebase, are you technical all the same?

Do you need to be technical to use Google Sheets? How about complex formulas in Google Sheets? How about Google Apps Script in Google Sheets?

The words that would be more exact in this case are comfortable and experienced.

You are comfortable reading Clojure code but are not experienced in committing to this codebase and not breaking things while doing so.

You are comfortable creating a Clojure application but are not experienced with deploying it to production in a secure, automated and scaleable fashion.

Going from not technical to technical is a tall barrier that people create for themselves. In contrast, not being comfortable or not being experienced both have an implicit yet part to them, which is a much better attitude towards the possibility of becoming comfortable and experienced in the future.

It’s easier to go from “not comfortable writing Clojure code” to “experienced in writing Clojure code” than from not technical to technical because there is something specific you can do to help you in this transition: write more Clojure code.

Not being comfortable (yet) with writing Clojure code also doesn’t suggest that you’re not experienced in writing the VBA code that does what you need, unlike the not technical label.

When someone says I am technical, what she sometimes means is “I have enough confidence to try and learn whatever tool or software that I need to solve this problem”.