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  • Lokajit Tikayatray

Mastering Business Acumen: The Hidden Key to Software Engineering Success

Updated: Sep 24, 2023

Imagine this familiar scene at the workplace: A talented software engineer, John, comes up with a fantastic idea for a new feature in the company’s flagship product.

He is confident that his technical expertise has led him to develop a cutting-edge solution that will wow the business stakeholders.

John eagerly presents his proposal during the next big meeting, showcasing the ins and outs of his idea with pride.

His presentation is spot on, highlighting the technical excellence of his feature.

He is confident that it could revolutionize the product.

However, as the meeting progresses, John begins to notice puzzled looks and furrowed brows from the business stakeholders.

Despite the technical brilliance of John’s idea, he hasn’t considered the business priorities. He could not explain how his feature aligns with the company’s broader strategy or whether it addresses any pressing customer needs.

As a result, though impressed by his technical acumen, the business stakeholders decided not to approve the implementation.

This example highlights a common issue faced by the majority of software engineers.

Many developers have trouble contributing to their company’s success even though they are really good at the technical stuff. This is because they don’t possess the appropriate level of knowledge about their business.

This greatly hinders their career progression.

I currently mentor a group of software engineers at my company. They are a young and energetic bunch eager to learn how to grow faster and succeed.

One of the members asked recently — “What is Business Acumen? How mastering business acumen can help software engineers to be better at their job?

It was an excellent question.

It was also refreshing to see that a software engineer was proactively willing to go beyond technical knowledge and learn about business acumen.

In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, it’s no longer enough for software engineers to possess strong technical skills. Understanding and navigating the business landscape is crucial to becoming a well-rounded and successful professional.

Yet, the majority of software engineers overlook the importance of business acumen.

After the initial few years of their job, this lack of knowledge hampers their growth and stagnates their career.

According to a study by Cisco, 93% of IT and business executives have a talent gap that prevents business transformation. 42% say business acumen is their biggest skill gap. No other skill gap reaches those numbers. betterup

On that note, you can take the first step towards beating the competition and having exceptional career growth by learning in detail about how to develop a solid understanding of business acumen through practical advice and actionable steps.

Understanding business acumen

Dilbert comics in which a group of professionals discussing the importance of understanding business acumen
In the simplest definition, business acumen is the skill of understanding how a company works and makes money and using that knowledge to make intelligent decisions that help the company grow and succeed.

In the simplest definition, business acumen is the skill of understanding how a company works and makes money and using that knowledge to make intelligent decisions that help the company grow and succeed.

For software engineers, it means having a good understanding of various departments, roles, and processes within their organization. It also means focusing on the code and understanding how their work contributes to the company’s goals and strategies.

Let’s take the example of a developer in an eCommerce company.

To have business acumen, engineers should understand the end-to-end customer journey. They should learn how their sales deal with buyers, how marketing promotes the product, and how the services segment handles support requests.

With this business knowledge, developers can appropriately prioritize feature requests for their site or app. They can also identify opportunities to better implement requirements that drive higher customer engagement increasing the sales volume.

Here is some practical advice that can help software engineers develop business acumen.

Learn the basics of business

In order to master business acumen, start by familiarizing yourself with fundamental business concepts around how your company works.

If you develop tools for sales, understand the sales process, their strategies, the metrics, and KPIs they use to measure their success. If the services segment uses your product, learn how the agents handle customer calls and how warranty support is provided.

Having the foundational knowledge of business functions can help you understand the requirements better. It can also help you provide better enhancement suggestions that simplify users’ daily work.

Understand your company

Dive deep into your organization’s business model, mission, and goals. Familiarize yourself with its products, services, and target customers.

The more you learn about your organization’s workings, the more effectively you can contribute meaningfully to its ongoing success. Mastering business acumen can help you become more valuable to your team and to the organization.

Forge connections with colleagues

People connecting and networking, symbolizing the importance of forging connections
Building Professional Network

Spend time discussing with coworkers from your interlock applications to gain insights into their applications’ responsibilities, hurdles, and viewpoints.

Talk to your direct business counterparts to get feedback on your deliveries and how it impacts their work.

Expanding your knowledge of the company through these interactions will help you identify opportunities for collaboration and growth.

Set targets

Determine short-term and long-term objectives for enhancing your business acumen. Split them into attainable steps and monitor your advancement.

As an immediate goal, you can start by deep-diving into the business segment that directly uses your application.

Once you are comfortable to a certain extent, you can explore your interlock systems’ business domain. Understand how these departments help each other meet their respective goals.

Discover a mentor

If you are a regular reader of my articles, you already know I am a big proponent of having a mentor. So, it is no different for acquiring business acumen.

Look for an experienced professional who excels in understanding the organization’s business to guide you. They can offer valuable advice, share their own stories, and assist you in navigating the intricate world of business.

Don’t hesitate to have more than one mentor specializing in their respective business domain.

Stay up-to-date

As software engineers, you already know the importance of staying up-to-date.

Remain informed about industry developments, market trends, customer behavior, and cutting-edge technologies. This will enable you to have an outside perspective. You can foresee potential shifts in the industry and propose strategies to adjust accordingly.

Take Away: Mastering Business Acumen

Many software engineers do not understand what business acumen truly means. They miss out on the most important points that can make them most successful in their career.

In today’s highly competitive job market, you must focus on mastering business acumen to set yourself apart from other software engineers.

Now you have the practical guide that you can follow to acquire and use the skill in your daily work.

By combining business acumen with technical expertise, you can make informed decisions that can significantly impact your company’s success. This, in turn, can build your reputation as a multifaceted professional, make you indispensable, and fuel your career growth.

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Book cover featuring tips and strategies for excelling in the software engineering profession


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