Women at a computer

What is tech: a new definition

We often speak about getting more women involved in tech, which is a noble aim, but I think it requires a little more fleshing out.

Despite the many tech-focused events and classes I’ve attended and articles I’ve read, I haven’t yet managed to stumble across a comprehensive definition of tech. This may be because ‘tech’ is such a nuanced and fluid word, and is also an umbrella term for several subconcepts, organically developing over time.

There is a whole area of culture with a focus on tech that cries out to be defined. For example, Gadgette and TechCrunch are focused on aspects of tech. Gadgette focuses on gadgetry and gaming with a feminist twist. TechCrunch concerns itself with gadgetry and industry news.

People whose careers specialise in tech will be developers, programmers, designers, engineers, marketers, product developers, data scientists and so on.

Google “what is tech”

If you google “what is tech” you currently don’t really get an answer to your question – at least, I didn’t feel satisfied with the definitions that came up.

Google defines it as:

A category of stocks relating to the research, development and/or distribution of technologically based goods and services. This sector contains businesses revolving around the manufacturing of electronics, creation of software, computers or products and services relating to information technology.”

I think this definition has an economic slant that doesn’t truly encompass the variety of jobs available in the tech industry. It is also misleading to people on the outside who may imagine the tech industry to only relate to engineering roles (sorry Google).

Alternative definitions I found were very similar, and seemed to end up hiding a whole section of this exciting industry – one that is thriving and desperate for more people to develop the skills to work in it.

How to define tech

Tech is broad. Because our society is now tech-based, and work, communication, media, leisure, health, tourism and, indeed, even social life itself, frequently rely heavily on technology, this means tech can be applied to almost any field.

As such, working in tech means to have involvement in the technical side of industry, the programmes and the equipment, consoles and interfaces.

It is distinct from working in engineering, which falls more neatly under the label STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There is certainly crossover but they are distinct fields.

Because of this confusion, we now have a lesser-used term which is probably slightly more accurate, and that is high-tech (as opposed to low-tech) which refers to advanced technologies at the forefront of development. This would include VR (virtual reality) gear and smart watches, rather than calculators and radios.

More experienced and intelligent people than myself will have better insight into a true definition, but to my rough understanding, ‘tech’ refers to:

“the applied science of engineered high technologies and their related systems, coupled with their usage in society, including areas such as communications, infrastructure and culture, especially to drive business.”

And ‘tech industry’ refers to business’s principal focus on generating profit by using high technologies as a product or service.

Tech startups and Silicon Valley

That leads on nicely to the trendy, sexy tech startup scene, which refers specifically to entrepreneurs creating their own businesses to address some kind of need or desire in the market. For example, Amazon, Airbnb, Twitter and Spotify are or were all startups.

The startup industry is high-growth, fast-paced and relies principally on investors loaning their cash to entrepreneurs in exchange for a stake in the company. This will be a return on investment if the company succeeds and makes profit.

Therefore, working at startups is very appealing to those willing to take quite a big risk in order to achieve success in the magnitude of any of the companies mentioned previously (always the dream).

What’s more, these companies all use tech in some innovative way to ‘disrupt’ (very fashionable word right now) the status quo and entice consumers away from major players.

Maybe the name ‘Silicon Valley’ can give historical context to this complex definition. Tech refers to technology that is based on silicon, the material used in the production of microchips and semiconductors.

Silicon Valley is the birthplace of such technology greats as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Google and Facebook, and continues to thrive today. Many copycats have sprung up, including Silicon Roundabout in east London, attempting to recreate the magic of innovation and growth (and be pretty hip along the way) of Silicon Valley.

An expanded definition of tech

So, it seems that the term tech refers to both the technology used in business and the ‘ecosystem’ that surrounds it.

Tech can also refer to the focus being on the medium through which business is primarily conducted. Fintech, travel tech, health tech and fashion tech are all big right now, are tech-based subsets of established industries, and currently experiencing high growth.

To summarise, a line is sometimes drawn around tech, but actually every business uses tech in some form. Working in the tech industry probably refers more to tech itself being your principal product or service, rather than a supportive medium.

So what are you waiting for?

Whichever industry springs to mind, it can probably be grouped under the umbrella of ‘tech’ – arguably the most exciting industry to work in today. Defining and shaping modern society, tech cannot be ignored.

I hope this definition can improve the confidence of some people feeling a bit mystified and unsure of whether this industry is for them, because they don’t exactly know what it means (especially women, notorious for their low representation in tech!).

Ideally, I have in some way hinted at the number and variety of roles currently available – not necessarily requiring an advanced engineering degree. In fact, you can get started on building some tech skills by heading over to CodeAcademy to learn some coding.

Please let me know your feedback in the comments – did I get something wrong? Completely disagree? Let me know.

If you would like to find out more about how we can work together to write articles like this for your own website or blog, please get in touch with me. 

About the author

Catherine Heath

I’m a B2B freelance tech blogger and content writer. I have a thing for psychology, diversity, tech and startups. Learning to code.

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