Robin Berjon

Those Who Can't Be Named

The Chimeralogists

A Hittite chimera (human, lion, wings) with some purplish-blueish colour effect

No one can explain what you do. Let's face it, you don't do a great job explaining it either. People come to you for advice on issues that they introduce with "I'm not entirely sure how to describe this problem or what exactly I'm looking to do here, but..." Your colleagues and your communities genuinely value your contributions even as they remain entirely mystified by the exact contour of your position. Whatever you listed on your résumé as tangible, easy-to-summarise accomplishments from previous jobs is real, but it fails to capture a lot of what you did. People suggest the most surprising jobs to you, compared to what you're actually interested in or capable of.

Is this you? You might be in need of a club. And if this isn't you, you might still want to learn more about this as-yet-unnamed position.

Over the past few months I've been having many conversations with people who match many and sometimes all of these traits:

That weird hybrid triptych of cross-cutting expertise gives those people a specific point of view, notably:

I don't believe that this particular set of skills is random or that it is fortuitous that this profile is (anecdatally) increasingly common. It matches a need. But a benchmark of the job titles of the people I've spoken with is all of the place: tech strategist, standards lead, applied policy research, ecosystem head, governance director, advisor in the office of whoever, and a smattering of even more random-sounding positions.

Why does this intersection of skills matter? Because it's the skillset you need to understand technology. Technology isn't just code and engineering, it's the complex interplay of engineered systems, people, and institutional arrangements. This isn't to say that vertical experts don't understand their aspect of technology. We absolutely need experts who focus exclusively on product, on engineering, on policy — those demand high-quality, dedicated specialists — but we also need people — I've taken to calling them technologists — whose expertise cuts across those three domains. Someone needs to put the pieces together. Someone needs to navigate the digital world (for a business, a project, any institution) without blind deference to vertical experts, and without monkeying dumb Silicon Valley tropes or giving credence to breathless LinkedIn thoughtleadering. Someone needs to see the full set of options that is available to reach a goal, and that requires playing across these domains.

A technologist will be able to take your problems or your goals and to formulate a plan to effect change that is:

  1. realistic across the board,
  2. aware of how both technology and policy can be shaped,
  3. aligned with positive societal outcomes in a credible, non-cartoonish way, and
  4. centred on changes that matter to real people.

The past few decades have been stormy from a technological point of view, and much has been tossed about in the waves. It makes sense that a job specialising in plotting a course through technology would become necessary. The storm isn't over. If you want to actively navigate rather than just be pushed around by the wind, a technologist is what you need.

Do you see yourself in this blog post? Get in touch! If we can't gather, if we don't have a name, we can't have clear career paths, we can't develop a community of practice. Having heard from many of you (and from personal experience) the kind of struggle technologists face to position themselves clearly in their work lives, I think it's about time we got together to define the profession. Who knows, we might even find a way to explain the job to others.