Wanted: Technical Marketing

Ed Tazzia explores the need for a technical marketing degree.

I want to talk about John.

I was involved in a job search for a position that required a Renaissance person.  Someone with right brain creativity and left brain skills.  In the process, I met John.

What struck me about John were the comments I received when I spoke to people who had worked with him.  It seems that John had the relatively unique ability to work in both the technical and business worlds.  Over and over, senior executives talked about John’s ability to understand the business needs and then translate them to the technical, IT community in a way they could turn them into highly efficient systems.

Then, John could translate the techno-speak of the IT world in a way the businesspeople could understand so they could make well-reasoned decisions.  More often than not, the executives told me that they would outline an idea for John and he would say to them, “What I think you are asking for is xyz.”  And it would turn out to be a much better idea than the executives had outlined originally.

I want to develop more Johns.

I’ve worked in classic packaged goods marketing companies and in the leading high tech company in the world and I’m here to tell you that there is a major shortfall in Johns.  People who can look at the marketplace like a classically trained marketer, understand the user’s needs and then translate those into technical requirements that great engineers can turn into world class solutions.

My observation is that most technology innovation is driven by what is inside the mind of the engineer developing that technology.  If it happens to meet a market need, that’s a nice benefit, but it’s not often the starting point of the process.

Conversely, those folks who have been trained in the model of identifying the need of the end user too often have no way to efficiently translate these needs into design requirements that an engineering team can work against.  Seems to me there is an unmet need in the marketplace that some university can own.  If I were IBM, or Intel, or Microsoft, or Sun, I’d kill for this combination of talents.

I’ve spoken to a several business school professors about this void.  We’ve talked about a dual masters degree that combines real live engineering training with real live business and marketing training.  So far we haven’t gotten to a workable program, but I’m holding out hope.

MIT ought to be able to do this in a heartbeat.  Stanford, you guys ought to do this tomorrow.  A top MBA program combined with a top Engineering program.  Who will take up the challenge?

I’m not talking about people who use technology to do marketing and run business. There are lots of programs teaching that.  I’m talking about the actual marketing of technology.

Let’s be clear.  This is not about taking a few classes in marketing and slapping them together with some engineering classes.  This is about a five or six year program that probably starts with a great engineering degree curriculum and augments it with a great business school curriculum. 

Now I know that in most universities these two schools don’t often speak to one another.  The focus of engineering schools is to create engineers.  Strong, linear, analytical thinkers.  Business schools are about creating general managers with finance and accounting and such.

I’m talking about putting together the two in such a way that you create Johns.  People who aren’t interested in building the perfect IT system, but people who are interested in creating the perfect business solution that utilizes technology.

It won’t be easy.  The folks who generally gravitate to each of these two disciplines don’t seem to have much interest in the other.  The screening will need to be severe and strict.  But, the end result could be pretty valuable.

What do you think?