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You Don’t Have to Know Everything

There’s a common misconception among technology professionals that to be effective, you have to know everything.

The desire to know a little bit about everything in the technology world is a tempting idea, especially early in your career. However, in my experience, you are better off focusing on a specific discipline than having a little bit of knowledge in a lot of areas.

You’ve probably met a technical resource who didn’t know a lot, but acted like they did. They are the ones that have rarely ever said, “I don’t know.” This is dangerous and it can lead down a reputation-damaging path.

My opinion? Do not be that kind of technologist.

Be the type of technical expert where if you don’t know the answer to something, you either know someone who does or you know where to get it.

“I don’t know” is not a weakness if you combine it with “…but I can help you find the answer.”

Technical expertise is a funny thing. For non-technical people, it can seem like there are people in the world that know it all.

What about explaining things to non-technical people? Should you use simplistic terms or is that also dangerous? As long as explanations are not outright wrong or deceptive then that can work. Many non-technical types don’t want all of the hairy details of the issue or problem, they just want to know that you’re working on it, that you have the expertise (or access to the right expertise), and that the issue will be resolved.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continually strive to be more knowledgeable. You should always be looking to improve your technical skills – but watch out for the tendency to be a know it all. Your credibility is at stake – once you’ve shown someone that you were wrong, you risk eroding their trust which you need to be a great technologist.