Sophia Matveeva ADT podcast cover

Episode 35

Sophia Matveeva - Succeeding with digital transformation for non-technical professionals

Posted on: 06 Nov 2023

Sophia Matveeva is the founder of Tech For Non-Techies, an online learning community and media company helping non-technical professionals succeed with digital.

Coming into tech with extensive business expertise, she has contributed to leading brands such as The Guardian and Financial Times, and has lectured at renowned institutions such as London Business School.

In this episode, we discuss how important it is for non-technical professionals to learn to speak tech if they want to efficiently collaborate with digital experts and drive digital transformation.

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“Learning how to speak tech and understanding the basics of how digital products get made is just today's career literacy. So if you know this stuff, more options are going to be open to you, whether you want to be an investor, whether you want to lead digital transformation, whether you want to create a company, or whether you just want to understand how the world now works.”

Intro:Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation Podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.

Tim Butara: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. I'm joined today by Sophia Matveeva, founder and podcast host at Tech For Non-Techies, an online learning community which helps professionals without an extensive technical background navigate and succeed in the digital world. As a nontechnical founder herself, Sophia has seen huge success driving digital projects, and she's been focused on helping other nontechnical entrepreneurs achieve the same. Welcome, Sophia. Thanks so much for joining me. It's really great having you as our guest today.

Sophia Matveeva: Thank you so much for having me. Tim. I'm very flattered to be on your podcast.

Tim Butara: That's really great to hear and I'm flattered that you're flattered. Anything else you'd like to add before we jump to the questions?

Sophia Matveeva: No, the way you describe me was really good. I think I'm going to use that. Thank you.

Tim Butara: Cool. Another reason to be flattered. Really awesome. So our topic today is succeeding with the digital for non-technical entrepreneurs, non-technical professionals. And I want to ask you, what would you say, do traditional business or management schools adequately prepare people for the digital age?

Sophia Matveeva: Well, so, obviously, my view is not going to be subjective, but there's no such thing. So I have an MBA from Chicago Booth and Chicago Booth is consistently ranked as the global number one business school by The Economist and BusinessWeek and various other fancy places. But as well as having an MBA, I also actually teach at business schools. So one of the places where I've been teaching is London Business School and that consistently ranked as the global number one by The Financial Times.

And when I say I teach, I would need to know that I'm not one of those tenured professors, so literally I come in and I teach a workshop or I teach a course that students take on top of their MBA. And the reason why I want to differentiate that is that it was students at London Business School, soo current MBA students, who literally found me. So they found Tech Non-Techies, they found what I was doing, they found my courses and they said, can you please come to LBS and teach school? Of course I wasn't going to say no, they’re delightful people and London Business School is a fantastic brand.

But that shows you that actually there are students at the top business schools actually, who don't know this stuff, but also that they're willing to learn and that it's actually the students who are driving for this. But right now, most academic institutions, even the top ones, are not really meeting that need. The only business school that I know that really helps non-technical professionals understand enough about tech to succeed in the tech world is Stanford.

Now, if Stanford wasn't doing it, that would be pretty surprising. But right now at Tech For Non-Techies, one of my students is a current student at Harvard Business School. Another student currently literally learning with me, at Tech For Non-Techies, is a current student at Oxford Saïd Business School. I've also got a bunch of Chicago Booth alumni. And so literally, I have been teaching students and alumni from the top business schools in the world.

And why is that? It is because their current business schools are not providing them this knowledge in their standard curriculum. But these students know that unless they get this knowledge, you know, if they graduate with an MBA from all of the top calls apart from Stanford, as I mentioned. But if they don't know the basics of how to speak tech, the basics of how digital products get made, they're just not going to be that successful.

And, I personally, as an MBA grad myself when I came out of Chicago, I did not know the first thing about technology. I knew a lot about finance. I knew a lot about consulting, because that's what business schools prepare people for. And that was fantastic in the 80s. It was fantastic in the 90s. It was also pretty useful about ten years ago. Now that is just outdated. And I honestly do believe that these business schools are doing their students to the service because I paid $180,000 for my MBA, and this is in the ballpark of what my current students are paying.

And so I really do think that after you've done the GM and you've got into one of these top schools, you're paying them this enormous amount of money. I think that when they let you out and they don't teach you what I teach them, I literally think that they're taking your money and then not delivering you the education, but essentially you're paying for.

Tim Butara: Yeah. It's basically the thing that they're providing. They're preparing you for yesterday. They're preparing you for the decade that's just gone past.

Sophia Matveeva: You put it so well. Exactly. They're preparing you for yesterday. I couldn't have put it better myself. Thank you, Tim.

Tim Butara: No worries. Just connecting the dots here. So, yeah, you're saying that they need to acquire this knowledge about the tech world if they want to succeed in it. But what exactly is this that they need to learn? What, does this mean that every professional needs to learn how to code or what's the deal here?

Sophia Matveeva: Oh, God, no, definitely. I do think that a lot of people do think that, okay, if I want to succeed in the tech world, I have to go and done Python. And I tell you, Tim, I was one of those people. After my MBA, I started working on my first tech venture, and I thought, I don't know anything about technology. And everybody says I need to learn to code. Even Karlie Kloss, who's a supermodel, so I don’t know really why she's involved in this, but, okay. I tried and oh, God, it just made me want to scratch my eyes out, honestly. So I think if you want to learn to code, if that is what you're good at, and if that draws you, then go for it. But I don't think it's necessary.

So the things that I believe are necessary in what I have seen running a tech company, creating products that have been used by thousands of people, so apps and algorithms, and etc. The first and most important thing that people without tech backgrounds need to understand is the difference between the production process of tech products and traditional products. Okay, so what does this mean in practice? I mean, how does an app go from idea to an actual thing that people use versus two versus how does an oil rig go from an idea to an actual standing oil rig? So these are extreme examples, but extreme examples demonstrate the point most clearly.

So as you know, Tim, the process of making a digital product is highly experimental and highly iterative. It means that you come up with a hypothesis. So you think, let's imagine Uber, you think that people are going to use an app to call a taxi, and that that is going to be more popular because it's going to make-- the user experience is going to feel better. So that's essentially what you want to do. And then and so you create this first product, which is literally all about, you can call your taxi and you can see how far they are from you. And then you can step outside when you get a notification.

So that might be the first MVP. Once you see that people are using it, you're thinking, okay, well, what can we do to make it better? Then maybe you add on another feature. That feature doesn't work and nobody uses it. Nobody cares. What do you do? You get rid of it. Do you then get really angry at the people who came up with that idea and say you came up with a terrible idea, you're fired? No, you just accept the fact that some ideas are going to work, some ideas are not going to work. The only way you learn what's going to work is releasing things in the most simple way, testing them, then seeing what's working, keeping that and doing more of that and what's not working, just throwing it away and just being calm.

Whereas in a traditional business environment, essentially in a traditional business environment, you already have a blueprint for a product. You already know what you are doing. You already know how it's going to work. You already, now oil rig example, you've built lots and lots of oil rigs. So you are just recreating the success that you've already had. And also with a thing like an oil rig, there isn't really that much iteration you can do. You're not going to be like, okay, let's try to make it out of wood and see what happens, those are not your options.

And you know, I do think that people who didn't grow up in the tech industry, people who didn't start their careers in the tech industry, which is me, I worked in the media, then I worked in private equity in London. And these are kind of, this is where you think, traditionally, this is where you study the market. You have a plan, you make a very precise budget. You have a spreadsheet that goes on forever, which extrapolates what your costs and your profits are going to be. And this is what you do. And if you vary from that, then you have to explain to the management what on Earth went wrong.

And that is definitely useful for a type of business. But that kind of mentality is not going to be useful for when you are inventing a new product or even when you are taking a product that already exists, maybe in another market, but you're just adapting it to your market. You need to have this iterative experimental process. So first of all, I do think it's this mindset shift. But then secondly, you do need to learn some key terms. So this is where, you know, I was just saying, okay, you don't need to learn to code, but I'm not saying you don't need to learn anything.

I am a teacher. I do teach a business school, I train people at companies. I have an online course. Actually, I have three online courses now, so I am pro learning. But you just have to be pragmatic in what you learn, because you need to be aware of what your talents are and match those talents to what's available. But also, we're all adults here. We don't have the time to have a full time job and also take a full time course. And sometimes get some sleep. So essentially you need to understand some key terminology, like what is a tech stack? What does an API? Why does it matter? You need to learn some of these concepts, but you don't need to learn the skills. So you need to understand what an API is and why it matters. You don't need to build it yourself.

And then lastly, which is where I think nontechnical professionals really can excel if they understand kind of the basic terminology, if they understand how to speak tech. What they're going to do is they're going to start co-creating, because that's the whole point. The aim, kind of the Holy Grail, is that as a non-techie, as a non-technical professional, you are co-creating with technical professionals to make something wonderful. Maybe on a microcosmic sense, maybe you're working on a product team and you're the community manager, or you're the marketer. Or maybe you are actually working on strategy for a company that's going through digital transformation.

Either way, you are co-creating with people who are different to you. Some of those people are going to be developers and data scientists, and some of those people are going to do things that you don't know how to do. So what you need to learn is how to cocreate with them. So for that, you need to know the key terminology, as I mentioned. You need to understand how they think, which is that iterative experimental process that I mentioned. But also, what you need to do is you need to understand how to translate business goals to product goals.

In lay terms, that means don't tell your developers to make you a profit. They will probably, I don't know. They'll probably like, put your chairs, put your office chairs up on Ebay, and they'll be like, look, we've made you some money. Because that's not their specialty. That's not what they do. It's a bit like going to your tax accountant and saying, okay, get me onto the front cover of the Financial Times. You know, they’ll give it a go if they're very proactive. But are they going to be particularly good at it? Is it going to work? Is it also the best use of their time? No.

In both cases, you know, when your accountant fails to get you on the front page of the FT, or your developers sell all the office furniture in order to make you some money, whose fault is it going to be? Is it going to be the accountant’s? Is it going to be the developer’s, or is it going to be useful? Like, I'm just going to say it: it's going to be your fault because you have set the wrong task to the wrong person. And this is where I think business people, so non-technical professionals who are working on their digital transformation realm. So whether that is making a product or literally just getting their company to update from yesterday to today and hopefully to tomorrow, you need to understand how the aims of your business, how they translate to what you can tell the product team.

Should I give you an example Tim? Because I know it might sound a bit nebulous.

Tim Butara: No, go ahead. I’d love an example.

Sophia Matveeva: So I'm going to give an example of something that we all know. I was going to say it and laugh, but I'm not sure if we all love it. That's Facebook.

Tim Butara: Okay.

Sophia Matveeva: So this is really simple because we'll all be able to get it. So basically, one product goal at Facebook could be time spent in the Facebook app. So literally, how many minutes per day do you, Tim, spend in the Facebook app? You don't have to answer that. We're all probably embarrassed about that.

Tim Butara: Yeah, I was just going to say.

Sophia Matveeva: So we're lying to ourselves, like, five minutes. No.

Tim Butara: Yeah. Right.

Sophia Matveeva: Essentially, the product team, they're literally measuring how many minutes per day do you and I spend on the Facebook app or on the Instagram app. That is, basically that is an engagement metric. So the time in app is an engagement metric. But time in app, even if you are spending 16 hours per day on the Facebook app, which I hope nobody does. But even if that's what you were doing, literally, it was just sleep on the Facebook app, that doesn't actually necessarily translate to money. Right. Because that is a product goal. It is then up to essentially the people in charge of the company. It is up to the business people to then translate the product goal into a business goal.

Okay. So Tim is sitting there for 16 hours a day on Facebook. What is he doing? That means he's probably looking at new content. He's probably interacting with the content, so he is revealing preferences. So we get to know Tim, and also because he's there so much we can serve him lots and lots of advertising. But that advertising is also going to be super targeted because we know exactly what he likes. So you see how that means that advertising, obviously, that is something that business people are going to be focused on. And then you would think about profit goals.

So essentially, you would have maybe a profit goal of X amount of money per day. And then you would translate that to a product goal, which is going to be how much time you actually spend on the Facebook app. So time in app. So you see how I've just shown you how a product goal of time in app can translate to daily profit or monthly profit. But it's not a given, like somebody has to sit there and draw out that link, and somebody has to think through the, okay, in this business, our goal is to make money. Our business model is advertising. Okay. What do we need to do in our product in order for us to meet our business goals? What product goals, therefore, do we need to set in order for us to meet our business calls?

And this, I think, is an area where non-techies and techies really need to come together and to understand each other, because equally, there are lots of terms that developers would love to learn, but they don't understand. So for me, thinking about ROI, so return an investment, that's always-- I'm an entrepreneur. I'm constantly thinking about it. And, you know, I'm also thinking about legal agreements, all of these terms. That to me, are kind of second nature, because, again, I work in a private equity firm. I have an MBA. I now run my second business. This stuff, to me, is super simple, but I also do understand that when I speak to developers, sometimes I do what they do to me. So they use a bunch of acronyms, and then I end up being lost, and then I end up doing this same thing to them. I do think that there is a digital divide and what you need to learn to do and this is I think you need to, like, force yourself to do it. You have to have the confidence to say, I didn't know what that means. Can you explain it to me?

And I know it's easier for me to say because I'm the boss. So if I don't understand something, who's going to fire me? Nobody. But I do think that there are people who are leading companies who are listening to the show. I do think that it's important to show people, to show your team that you don't understand stuff and you need explanations because then they will also ask for explanations. Don't tell them that you're having an existential crisis and you don't know what's going to happen with the company - when you're having that, which happens, then you go and work through that with a coach or your board members or whatever.

But just things like, I don't understand a key term. Can you explain it to me? Like, can you explain why you think making this particular change in the tech stack isn't a good idea? How is that going to impact our user experience? How much is it going to cost? How long is it going to take to implement? Asking these questions, that's what essentially helps you, as a non technical professional, understand what the techies are up to, and also co-create because the whole point of digital transformation is to solve problems for our customers. Otherwise, what else are we doing?

Tim Butara: Yep, that's a good point. And it seems to me like you just really neatly pinpointed one of the key reasons for silos in digital organizations, because if the developers are used to their own jargon and the business professionals are used to their own jargon and there is no intersection between the two, then how can the company possibly realize a holistic all-round company strategy if the teams that are primarily responsible for creating these new experiences basically speak completely different languages?

Sophia Matveeva: You know, I also think that there are these kind of deeper levels of embarrassment and shame, which then lead to mutual suspicion. And I mean, this is the worst case scenario, but it does happen. I've seen it happen, that essentially the two sides don't understand what they're saying to each other. Because they don't understand each other, then they start suspecting that the other one is kind of out to get me or business people often think that, I don't understand what the developers are doing. Are they even going to work? Have they even made a thing? Like, here I am like, I don't know, making sales calls or here I am working on a new strategy. And what the hell are these guys doing?

Equally, I think the developers can be like, here we are. We are solving these problems on the back end, we have got rid of all this technical debt, and the business people are just doing some fluffy marketing thing and standing outside parties with balloons. What the hell? Like, why are they even getting paid? And I think that that's the worst case scenario, this kind of level of suspicion. But just because it’s the worst case scenario doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. And I've seen it happen. And you kind of need to look at it a bit like conflict resolution.

So my mom works for the UN, and she works in conflict resolution. And it's interesting, kind of the method that she applies to proper conflicts where people actually kill each other, that it's kind of the same thing. Like, bring each other, bring people into a dialogue, get them to see their commonalities. Like, you're all working at the same company, you're all working towards the same goal; get them to speak a common language, get them to understand each other, and also get them to kind of ask each other questions. And then that way you can come together and understand that, yeah, I don't want developers to think that they're supposed to know the intricacies of an investment strategy. Like, I don't think if that's what they want to do, that's great. But that is going to be a big investment of their time.

Equally, I wouldn't expect somebody who is the chief marketing officer to understand exactly why a particular coding language was chosen or why something needs an upgrade. You don't need that. But you do need to have the comfort to go to the other side, ask the right questions and understand how what they are doing relates to what you're doing. Would you mind, actually, if I shared an example? I just remembered one that I thought might be interesting for your audience.

Tim Butara: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

Sophia Matveeva: There's a gentleman called David Wells, he was the CFO of Netflix for 14 years. And he is the Chicago Booth alumnus. And I remember he came to an event at the business school and I was there, and I essentially asked him, like, how does a CFO work at sort of a board level at a company like Netflix, because you've got so many you've got these different people on board level. The whole point of a board is that, kind of, all these people come together where they're different talents and their different points of view. But yet you're all going towards the same North Star. So how does it work?

And he gave me an example which kind of really clarified it. So I'm going to paraphrase here, basically, he said, well, imagine if strategically the company decides that we're going to expand in, I don't know, whatever random country, France. I've just been living in France, so we’ll just pick France. I mean, I know that they're there, but let's just pick that. So we are expanding in France. So because that's a strategy, everybody on the board is going to essentially have their own task about what they need to do in order to expand in France.

So the chief marketing officer is going to work on marketing companies and hiring new advertising agencies. Chief content officer is going to work with the French studios. But on the tech side, the CTO might say, okay, we need to expand our server capacity. Netflix get their servers from Amazon. So we need to get more space from AWS. And then the CFO would say, okay, well, what's your cost us? How much is it, how much is it going to cost?

And so in this way, literally you'll have the CFO and the CTO working together to work out, okay, we're expanding it to this thing. We are going to need X Y Z tech costs, for example, more AWS costs. Okay. If this is what it's going to cost, and this is the estimated user base. So this is the amount of content we expect that we're going to have to store, then the CFO will be able to see, okay, so this is the amount of extra money that we need in order to expand the technology appropriately so we can serve our new users in France. And then the CFO has to go and think, like, okay, what are we going to do? Are we going to do a rights issue? Are we going to get a loan? Do we actually already have that? Are we going to pull resources out of one thing into another?

And I thought, well, first of all, I'm a huge Netflix fan. So I was like, oh, wow, I got a window into the company that I love. But also, I think that that discussion really shows us how non-techies and techies come together to solve a problem, and essentially then to help a general business aim, such as expanding into a new country. So next time you're watching Netflix, you can think of all the talented people that have worked their butts off to bring you that content.

Tim Butara: So essentially, the benefits of professionals getting on the same page, getting familiar with the digital transformation jargon, and, you know, kind of de-siloing in this way has the benefits of increased collaboration, greater chance of success of digital projects. And on the other hand, you know, if they don't do this, if they don't commit to learning this, basically, their projects, their initiatives are much, much less primed for success because of the decrease in collaboration and efficiency in collaboration, essentially.

Sophia Matveeva: Well, that's definitely true. But also, I think I want to just take it down to the personal level, because companies are created out of people, right. And so on Tech For Non-Techies, you could literally go to and you could take a course on how to speak tech for leaders or how to transition into a career in tech. Or if you're a founder, there's a course for non-technical founders. And people go and do that.

And the reason why I'm bringing this up is that not everybody does that, but the super proactive, the super, ambitious, literally, they either listen to podcasts and they find me, or they do, or they just do Google search for non-techies and tech or whatever, and then they find me. The point is that there are now enough people in the world who are willing to invest the time and the energy to learn this stuff, but not everybody is doing it. So what you need to work out is that if you are not doing it, somebody who's competing for your job or somebody who's competing for your client contract or for that investor is possibly doing it, is probably doing it.

So who do you think is going to get the job, get the bonus, get the investment? Is it going to be the person who's investing in learning how to speak tech, or is it going to be the person who’s like, no, I'm good, like, I've been doing the same thing for ten years. I'm just gonna carry on, regardless of the fact that the world accelerated by Clover has completely changed. So I do want people to understand that it's not just about the actual projects, it's also your own career. Like, I genuinely think that understanding the language of technology, understanding how tech products get made, understanding this iterative thinking - it's now just literacy.

It's a bit like, you know, you can still-- if you're illiterate, if you can't read, if you can't write, you can still make money, you could pull pints at a bar, you could lift heavy boxes. There are things you could do to make money. But your career options are going to be, by definition, limited if you are illiterate. I actually honestly believe that learning how to speak tech, and understanding the basics of how digital products get made is just today's career literacy. So if you know this stuff, more options are going to be open to you, whether you want to be an investor, whether you want to lead digital transformation, whether you want to create a company, or whether you just want to understand how the world now works. Which is why I do think that I'm seeing my business school students actually now working with me for me to start working more and more officially with business schools.

Because essentially, some business schools, I'm in negotiations with a really big name, which I can't say right now. Essentially, what we're seeing is that the students are pushing for it because what their business school students are saying, okay, in order for me to be successful, I need to learn the basics of accounting and statistics and strategy and marketing. But if I don't know the basic terminology of tech and I don't know about kind of design thinking and agile processes, how am I going to succeed in today’s economy? And I think that's a great question. I don't think they are. So I do think about learning this stuff, whether you learn it from me or from somebody else. I do think you just have to in today's economy, if you want to have an interesting career.

Tim Butara: And you mentioned the mindset shift earlier. And actually, we often talk on this podcast and in a lot of conversations around digital transformation, we basically talk about the importance of this mindset shift, of having this mindset shift if you want to really succeed with digital transformation. And from what we've been discussing so far on this episode, it really seems to me like you can't-- it's impossible for you to achieve this mindset shift if you're completely unfamiliar with these new terms, with this new digital transformation jargon. Would it be correct to assume that?

Sophia Matveeva: Oh, absolutely. I think it's not just jargon. I think that if you even had an experience of just seeing how something gets made or participating in it, or even just doing an agile exercise. So one of the things that we do is actually we just run teams through an agile exercise just to see how that process works. And you can have a whole workshop on it, but literally could have 90 minutes on it, and then people understand, okay, we have an idea. Then we go away, we come up with other ideas, then we evaluate them. Some of these ideas die, some of them get taken forward. This is how we think about it, just literally going through that process. It can take 90 minutes.

Like I have seen literally mindsets change and also just people understanding that, okay, the way we work, the way we do business is one form of doing business and this linear production process - so you study the market, you have a very clear plan, you have a very clear budget - that is one way of doing it, and it's completely appropriate for some projects. But it is useful and important for people to understand that that is one way which is applicable to some projects. It is not the way business has to be. If you apply that thinking to an experimental project, if you apply that to an innovation project or a digital project, it is not going to work.

So what I want people to understand is that, pick the right process for the right project. Don't try to build-- don't try the oil rig process when you're making an app, but equally, you probably don't want the iterative production process when you’re building an oil rig. So learn what's possible and apply it wisely.

Tim Butara: I really like that you returned to the oil example because when you were discussing it earlier, I thought-- you said that you don't need to learn necessarily all the skills, but you just need to be familiar with the concepts. And that's not really much different from the oil rig example, right. Because the person designing everything probably won't actually end up being the person who’s hands-on building it. So it's the same. They have to understand the concept, but they don't need the specific manual skills that people building it actually need.

Sophia Matveeva: Oh, absolutely. You know, another example, which I think a lot of people on the non-tech side are going to understand is taxes, and nobody likes talking about them. I'm not talking about taxes. I'm talking about hiring an accountant to do your taxes either for your business, for yourself. Okay. So you know that you have this problem, your taxes. You need to figure out how much you owe and to whom and when, and you hire a tax specialist who’s going to do that for you.

So you know the basics of what they do, and you can set a goal to them, which is, tell me what to pay and to whom and please help me avoid fines. And then you need to understand kind of the basics of what they say to you. Like, look, we can minimize this. This we can't minimize, like, we need to offshore this or whatever. Essentially, when you're hiring a tax accountant, you don't think, well, in order for me to really work with them properly, I need to also become a tax accountant. So then we can really get these taxes out of the way. You don't think that.

The whole point of hiring this person is because you do, in my case, don't want to study, tax accounting, or you have other things, even if you desperately wanted it, maybe there are other things that you want to do that are more important. The whole point of hiring professionals is that they know things that you don't. That's why we have lawyers, that’s why we have accountants. And it is the same thing with people who are working on tech products, it is the same with user experience designers and back-end developers and front-end developers and data scientists. These people have specialties in order to work for them correctly, you don't also have to become a specialist in that field because you'll literally be studying things forever. You do need to understand why you hired them, what they do, and how you can essentially work together to reach a particular aim.

Tim Butara: That was very, very well said. Yeah, I definitely agree. Basically it’s, you know, you said, that it's for these types of jobs, but it's-- come to think of it, if we go really deep, it's the reason that jobs exist, because we don't know how to do everything ourselves.

Sophia Matveeva: Exactly. Exactly. But I do think that I'm curious what you think about this Tim, actually. I do think that there's this almost fear of the tech industry that makes non-technical professionals kind of just suspend disbelief. I work at a private equity in London, I have this MBA. I've done stuff, like, my work has been on the front page of the Financial Times. But for some reason, when I started transitioning to the tech industry, I kind of just had this belief that, oh, I don't know anything. I don't know anything. I don't know how anything works. It was literally like, as if I just discovered fire.

And I do think that there are a lot of smart people with backgrounds that aren't in technology who when they come across tech jargon, when they come across digital transformation, they kind of just assume that they don't know anything. And then they kind of just, like, lie on their backs like a turtle, like waving its little feet around. Actually, no. You know, the concept behind it are actually the same concepts that you would have in any business, because technology, data science, algorithms or whatever, even the most complicated things, they are tools. They are tools to solve problems.

And if you have been working in the business world, if you have some kind of professional career, you know about how to c-ocreate with people who do different jobs to you, you know how to reach aims, you know how to solve problems. You're also capable of learning new skills. So yes, you do need to learn some new skills. You do need to understand that there is a different mindset, and that essentially there’s new terminology. But you do need to completely just throw your arms up in there and say, this is not for me. I don't get it. I'll never get it. I’ve missed the boat. That's it.

Tim Butara: So basically, with all this in mind, once maybe once leaders have actually done the work and gotten on board and, you know, got themselves familiar with all this, what can they do to also empower their teams to work together in the best way possible and to succeed with the digital? What would be your key piece of advice for these leaders?

Sophia Matveeva: So my first piece of advice is make sure that you're not the only people who know this stuff. Yes, like, come learn with me. We'll do a workshop, or you can take a course. Absolutely. That would be fantastic. But if you are the only people who do this and the rest of your team, the rest of your staff doesn't understand what you've just been through, first of all, you'll find it immensely frustrating. But secondly, you are at the top running a company. Great. But you do need your middle management to actually get on board and implement the stuff and also come up with their own ideas.

So first of all, if you're learning the stuff, make sure that your teams learn the stuff too. Maybe have a more intensive workshop that is more immersive and more expensive because you're senior leadership, totally fine. Maybe your teams just take a prerecorded online course that they can access anytime, whatever. But just as long as they learn, there's no point of you learning things if your team doesn't do that too.

So that's number one, number two is, I would say get your teams, if they possibly can, to actually witness how tech products get made. So it can either be that you are getting non-technical professionals. So maybe you're getting somebody from an HR team to go and literally sit in in a product meeting. Doesn't mean that they necessarily have to come up with ideas. But the more people kind of understand what's going on in the product team, in the digital transformation team, I think the more collaboration you'll be able to have.

So I can give you an example, which I think demonstrates so many points at once. One of my former students is a lady called Juliet, and she began her career working at the Telegraph newspaper in London. So it's one of the oldest, most prestigious newspapers. And she was a journalist. And when, you know, when you're a journalist, you have to upload your stories into a portal, which is basically a product for journalists. So you upload it, then editors look at it, it's fact checked, and then it goes out into the bit that you and I see, so, onto the public portal.

And Juliet ended up having all sorts of ideas about how that product could be improved. At the time, she didn't even know it was called a product. She was a journalist filing stories, getting annoyed with how difficult it was to file stories when you're on the go and you've just got some breaking news. And so she ended up then finding out who the people who are making this thing, who they were, who is responsible. And she started writing them emails saying, look, when I'm on the go, this doesn't work for me. When I'm filing a story and it’s very quick, you need to change XYZ. And so she ended up getting involved in the product team without really knowing what she was doing. It was kind of just instinctive.

The end of that story is that she ended up helping them out so much in changing the product so much that they actually asked her to join the product team. And she is now product manager at the Telegraph. So she's completely transformed her career. But even if she had stayed a journalist, I think this is a really good example of what happens when people are kind of taking their own initiative. I think Juliet is an outlier in a way that she saw something. She thought it could be improved. She tracked down the email of the people who are making it, and she started giving them feedback. And also they didn't get so angry that they were like, who is this person telling us we're not perfect?

So I think this shows that The Telegraph, really, it's a very old established company, but also it is thinking digitally, which a lot of companies are not. But what you want to happen in your organization is do you want that kind of behavior to happen. You want people who are doing something that is not on the digital side. And Juliet - literally, she was a journalist. Her job was to cover breaking news. So you want somebody who is on the front lines of whatever your company is doing to understand enough about what's going on the digital side to know those people, to hopefully have a friendly relationship with them so that there is a communication, there is a collaboration so your products can be better and your customers can be better served.

Some of those people, like Juliet, are going to completely transform their career, but a lot of them are not. There are lots of journalists at the Telegraph who are perfectly happy being journalists, and Juliet has now discovered that actually what she loves is product management, which also as an employer, isn't it great? Isn’t it great that she found out what she wanted to do and this company gave her the opportunity as opposed to, she found out what she wanted to do, they were just so siloed that they weren't able to actually take that talent and keep it as opposed to recruit new talent, which is, as we all know, extremely expensive and very risky.

Tim Butara: That was an awesome example. And I think the perfect way to round off this episode. Just before we do, before we finish, if our listeners want to reach out to you or learn more about you or learn more about learning from you. What's the best way for them to reach you?

Sophia Matveeva: Oh, I would love that, Tim. So they can listen to the Tech For Non-Techies podcast, and there's actually an episode with Juliet where she talks about her career transition. So the Tech For Non-Techies podcast, you can learn about the basic concepts of tech, but also you can learn from smart non-technical professionals who are succeeding in the tech world, so it’s both informative and inspiring. You can also just go to and check out our courses, join our membership. There are so many different ways to start working with us.

And I'm not sure when this is going to come out, but from autumn onwards, we're going to be working more and more with companies on innovation training and digital transformation. So your team can actually become comfortable with the language of tech. So if this is something you want to do, go to and get in touch with me. And yeah, let's make this world a more interesting, happier place by breaking down these silos and learning how to speak tech.

Tim Butara: Perfect note to finish on. Thanks so much for a really, really great conversation, Sophia. I love the exchange of ideas that we had and just a great topic all around. And you've been a great guest. Thank you.

Sophia Matveeva: Thank you, Tim. It's been a pleasure.

Tim Butara: And to our listeners, that's all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone, and stay safe.

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