Regular use of technology is so deeply embedded in the way we knowledge workers live that it’s simply assumed we all use, enjoy, and find interest in the latest tech. “What do you think about [this new iPhone feature]?” is almost as common in small talk as commentary on the weather—although I’m an Android user, myself. (See what I mean?)
Ten years ago, when I started working at Relativity, many of the job descriptions for our open roles in non-technical departments like sales and marketing included requirements like “passionate about technology.” But today, I’ve noticed the phrase is largely absent—perhaps because by now, that passion is assumed.
Like you, I use and enjoy technology on a daily basis. But I was an English major in college. If asked about my personal interests, I might talk about literature or geology or religion—but the word “technology” probably wouldn’t come to mind.
I do, however, work for a technology company. And I love what I do! I am surrounded by super smart technologists who are always teaching me something new and fascinating. I’m editor of The Relativity Blog, which I’m proud to say offers important and interesting insights on legal and compliance technology, innovation, and how those super smart people are moving the needle.
My role, therefore, necessitates staying abreast of major trends in technology. Artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, user experience—these topics and more are the technical lessons I encounter every day as I support our writers and publish their content for readers like you. It’s my job to engage with news and trends, and build better understanding where I can. Doing so makes the fruits of my labor much sweeter.
One important professional lesson I’ve learned, however, is that it’s not my job to attempt to become a nitty-gritty expert in each of these areas. To be good at what I do, I need to be an excellent writer, editor, and coach. I do not need to be a data scientist or a cyber prodigy—and, in fact, I can do my job better by leaving those efforts to the real experts.
Nevertheless, in a field like e-discovery, where best practices hinge upon understanding the latest tech available (because, after all, that tech generates the data case teams juggle every day, and also helps them juggle it!), even those of us who don’t build apps or implement automations need to understand how that tech impacts our colleagues, customers, and prospects.
So how does a non-technologist working in a technical industry balance this need to focus on her own responsibilities alongside the ongoing need to stay ahead of emerging technology? Read on for some tips.
#1: Find Your Village
If you’re reading this, you’re probably part of a team, company, and/or industry for which technology is part and parcel of business. So even if your role is a creative or supporting one, you have teammates and industry peers who are deep in the technology side of things and have a lot of knowledge to share—if you’re open to learning.
Establish a few topics of importance and find out who in your company or network is considered an expert in any of them. Then, be genuinely curious and ask questions. You don’t need to worry about being a pest or a burden if you’re simply sending an article their way from time to time and asking for their thoughts, or conveying some customer feedback and seeking their perspective on how to address it.
We’re all comfortable with the idea of building mentor relationships in service of career development, right? Technology mentors can be a thing, too.
#2: Bookmark Top Technology Sources
While you’re chatting with these experts from the office next door, make sure you ask for their reading recommendations. Can they suggest an industry publication, appropriate for a layperson, that you can browse on a regular basis to keep up with major news and trends?
I can also find a goldmine of useful links on LinkedIn. It’s the best platform for professional development, it’s generally friendlier than other social media communities, and it’s got a newsfeed that naturally aligns to your industry and career interests. Connect with the mentors you’ve identified, connect with your colleagues and customers, and read what they have to say. You’ll learn a lot.
As you peruse these channels, make sure you subscribe to your favorite finds. Pro tip: when the emails land in your inbox, if you don’t have time to take a look right away, file them into a special folder. Then revisit when you get to tip #3.
And finally, make sure you keep tabs on mainstream media sources’ technology columns, too. It’s always helpful to keep a pulse on what everyone is talking about, beyond your own industry, and doing so will make the everyday vernacular of the tech world more familiar.
#3: Incorporate Curiosity into Your Routine
Say you’ve gathered all these wonderful resources for yourself: you’ve bookmarked the websites, shelved the must-read books, added all the new connections, and started Slack chats with your genius colleagues.
That’s the easy part. The hard part is ensuring these resources don’t just sit collecting dust.
Your to-do list is probably more than long enough already, but if you don’t schedule time to spend on learning, you’re almost certainly going to let it slip to the bottom of your priorities. I find I am most productive in the weeks when I dedicate a good chunk of my Monday morning to reviewing my favorite sources and learning about the previous week’s news and trends.
For me, Monday is a good day for this because my enthusiasm is high from the weekend, but my energy and sense of organization are … a little bit low. Kicking things off with some good reading helps me get my thoughts together and ramp up for the week.
For you, though, maybe Friday is a good time (end the week with something interesting!), or Wednesday (leap over that midweek hump!). Try a few different windows and see what works best for you; then, book it on your calendar and don’t look back.
#4: Embrace the Overlap
Say you work in marketing for a firm providing top-notch e-discovery services. Keeping tabs on Legaltech News might be a great place to start on the above advice, of course. You could also attend EDRM webinars or a Women in eDiscovery meetup.
But if you’re like me, you got into marketing because you’re excited by creative pursuits like the arts and brand strategy. So while legal technology insights are essential to your role, a deep dive into the latest collection tools might not get your gears turning by nature.
For this reason, I’d encourage you to pursue technology lessons that overlap with your specific job functions as well. Nurturing a passion for technology in general will help you work more creatively and effectively, and bring more innovative thinking to how you tackle professional challenges and communicate with your internal and external clients. For fellow marketers, I’ve found that wading into the Association of National Advertisers’ library or Adobe’s blog is a great way to motivate myself and discover some new obsessions that will serve me well in my role.
#5: Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes
When I get excited about technology, it isn’t typically because I’m enthralled by how it works or even just what it does. It’s because I get sucked into its story. What challenges could it solve? Who is it helping? How did it come to be? What are people saying about it?
If you want to get excited to learn about the latest tech, jump into the shoes of the people who rely on it every day and get some real perspective on what’s compelling about it. Can you shadow someone in your legal department as they use the tools you’re trying to learn about? Sit in on a support call to get a better understanding of your customers’ needs and pain points? Attend Relativity Fest, Spotlight: ANZ, or another industry conference, for an immersive learning experience and an opportunity to get to know people in the field and hear their thoughts on it all?
Whether you’re in sales, marketing, litigation, or something else entirely, this perspective will be invaluable in helping you understand what’s happening in your space and how you can help support your community of colleagues and customers—and keep your industry moving forward.
Sam Bock is a member of the marketing team at Relativity, and serves as editor of The Relativity Blog.