Colleges are racing to address the 'chasm' between technical and business people as a divided workforce returns to workplaces

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Colleges are racing to address the 'chasm' between technical and business people as a divided workforce returns to workplaces
Experts say there's a "chasm" between tech and non-tech teams within companies - but schools are aiming to address it.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Academia is aiming to address the "chasm between tech and non-tech people" at many tech companies.
  • Research cites areas where engineers should improve - but "knowledge workers" can too.
  • Have you seen a tech versus non-tech divide? Let us know at blin@insider.com and jelder@insider.com.

As tech workers prepare to head back to the office, remain remote, or somewhere in between, they'll encounter a vastly different office environment than the one they left.

But experts say that some things likely won't change, and might even get worse: Studies have found a wide communications and culture gap between technical (engineers and product managers, for example) and non-technical employees (business departments like sales and marketing, for example) at tech companies.

Now, after a year without hallway camaraderie and in-person internships, the academic world is aiming to address that gap before their students enter the workforce.

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Engineering schools are increasingly emphasizing communications courses as a key part of their curriculum, and the hope is that it will address real-life workplace demands, says Lilian Almeida, a researcher and educator who has studied the issue.

"There is a gap," Almeida says. "But I see an effort to close it."

Almeida has firsthand experience with that cultural and communications divide - after receiving a bachelor's degree in marketing, she worked with engineers at various tech companies where she saw a major disconnect.

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Later, conducting research on the topic at Utah State University, she found "a dissatisfaction of employers when it comes to the performance of engineers as communicators in the workplace." And a key area of dissatisfaction is translating "technical material for non-technical audiences."

One astute engineer in Almeida's research, recognizing those differences in communication and perception, said, "You can have two completely different groups of people and you can present the exact same message in a completely different way. At the end of the day, what's important is whether or not that message has been effectively received."

Other top universities around the world are also emphasizing communication in their engineering programs.

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Cambridge University's Communication for Global Engineers course includes sections that help engineers "effectively interact" and "network and navigate successfully in industry." At Stanford University, situated in the heart of Silicon Valley, the engineering program offers classes on professional communications and public speaking alongside vector calculus and linear algebra.

But experts say it also cuts the other way.

Training "knowledge workers" or non-technical workers to understand the tech side of the house is also a process, says Karen Wickre. A former PR professional at Google and Twitter who now works in communications consulting, Wickre also acknowledged that there is a "a chasm between tech and non-tech people."

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So as tech employees slowly return to their offices, collaboration is going to be at a premium - and could further grow the chasm between tech talent and their non-technical peers.

Have you seen or experienced a culture gap between tech and non-tech employees, and how did your experience working remotely affect it? Has your company done anything to address that divide? We'd like to get your take. Reach out to reporters Belle Lin (blin@insider.com) and Jeff Elder (jelder@insider.com).

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