Getting (and Staying) Technical

I just posted this to my other blog. I’ve added some additional asides and commentary here. I wanted to make a couple of personal points here that I don’t feel should be included in my work-related blog:

SPAR Point Group contributor Sam Billingsley posted an article on remaining technical at the executive level. While I’m not exactly at that 30,000 foot level of the corporate strata, I do have to deal with the struggle between being a “manager” and remaining technical.


A couple of years ago, my firm decided to take the plunge and start offering Laser Scanning. I was (and remain) a Surveying and Mapping Project Manager. I’ve also always been a very hands-on technical guy. Essentially, if it involved a new piece of equipment or software, I could usually dig in and figure out how to not only use whatever it was, but be up and productive quickly. When the “We should REALLY be offering scanning services” decision was made, I was all over it.

I often put quotes around the various forms of manage (manage, manager, management, etc.) This is due to the fact that this word and its various forms get thrown around so much that they have lost all real meaning to me.

A few years ago, when I moved into more of a “management” role as opposed to a technical role, I was told that I would need to “manage” more and be less hands-on. I have no problem training someone to do what I do. This was the case with Laser Scanning. I was told within a couple of months after completing our first significant project that I needed to train someone on the process.

This distinction between being a “manager” and a “technician” has been presented to me several times. Usually this happens in that icon of the corporate world, The Annual Review. I’ve been told a number of times that I need to choose which direction I’m going to go. Why? This by the same folks who lament the rift between “office” and “field” staff.

Here’s the problem with that. We only have one model of scanner, we only use a couple of specific softwares to produce deliverables from point clouds, and I’ve been THE office guy for over a year now…

I’m STILL learning how to use this stuff!!!

I’m a Professional Surveyor and Mapper licensed in the State of Florida. Surveying is a professional field. With that out of the way, we are also a very technical field. Civil engineers that I work with sometimes say “Surveyors get all the cool toys.” Surveying is a profession, but there is a major technical element to this profession.

How can I, or any other young professional (yes, I still consider myself young) hope to “manage” a technical field without staying technical? If I hand over everything I’ve learned and then take a step back, how do I know what I’m talking about in a year or two? Do I have competent staff that I trust to dig in and learn what I know at least as well as I know it? Absolutely! But, how do I train more people, or offer troubleshooting help when someone is stuck, or figure out a tweak in the software that allows me to create a much more detailed ground surface model in less time than it took me two weeks ago (true story), if I “manage” from a safe distance?

…Technically speaking.

Rock on!