Why domain knowledge matters in the tech industry

Former chef and soldier, then turned developer. I love outdoorsmanship, and all things technology.

As a chef with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry, I found myself in a situation where: "What can you possibly bring to the table?" was a question ringing in my ears.

"What can you bring to the table?" is a common question managers ask to assess an employee’s potential and value to the company. But for me, it took on a whole new meaning, given my unique background and journey.

That is why I would like to explore this question using my story as an example. I will show you why it is important to focus on domain knowledge rather than purely technical skills and why our unique experiences and stories should be embraced. There is so much more to people than just a technical CV or a specific skill set. Let’s focus on our journey and change our world and the world around us.

What I’ve learned from my journey

After working as a chef for eight years, I pursued a new passion and returned to school to study computer science. It was a challenging and rewarding experience, and it opened new opportunities for me in the world of technology. For the next ten years, I worked as a full stack and backend engineer, honing my skills and contributing to developing innovative software solutions.

But then, something unexpected happened. I felt a pullback to the hospitality industry, where my career had started. This time, however, I wanted to use my newfound knowledge and skills in computer science to make a difference in the world of hospitality. So, I decided to return to the industry as a developer.

It wasn’t an easy transition, but it was a worthwhile one. As a developer in the hospitality industry, I’ve applied my technical expertise to solve complex problems and create new solutions that benefit both customers and employees. I’ve bridged the gap between the world of food, beverage, and hospitality and that of technology. I’ve seen firsthand how these two seemingly disparate fields can come together to create something truly innovative.

So, what can I bring to the table? Being a chef turned computer scientist in the hospitality industry helps me bring a unique perspective and skill set that’s hard to find elsewhere – – a background that has given me the ability to think creatively and outside the box and a willingness to take risks and try new things. It helps me create solutions that make a genuine difference in people’s lives, the guest journey being one of them.

It also taught me a "YES, I can" mentality because hospitality is a domain that focuses on what we can do for our guests. That mentality is, and should always be, the backbone of everything we do both inside and outside of hospitality. But why is that significant? In the hospitality industry, there is no room for doubt or hesitation. Customers expect prompt and efficient service, and employees must be able to deliver. The guest needs to be seen, heard, and acknowledged without the staff being stuck with technical difficulties or behind a computer screen. The significant part is that my background helps me understand the importance of being proactive, confident, and solution-oriented, preparing me to always be ready to take on a challenge and find a way to make things happen. This attitude has helped me succeed in both the culinary and technological worlds, and it’s essential for anyone working in the hospitality industry.

How does this tie into the question: "What can you possibly bring to the table?"

Restaurant setup with a table with wine and a nice dish
Photo: Stefan Johnson via unsplash.com

Domain knowledge matters

As a developer, product manager, designer, QA, product owner, technical writer, or content contributor, you must know the domain in which you’re building a product. However, it’s not enough to have technical skills – you need to deeply understand the industry, its challenges, and its opportunities. This knowledge allows you to create solutions that are not only technically sound but also practical and effective for the end users. For example, my experience as a chef and hospitality employee has given me a unique perspective on the hospitality industry, its operations, and its customers’ needs. This understanding has allowed me to develop software solutions that meet technical requirements and align with the industry’s specific needs. It’s a win-win situation, as the software solutions we build can genuinely make a difference for the users and the industry. That’s why employees who have domain knowledge are essential for building successful software products in any industry.

But most importantly, I bring a story that’s all my own. It is a story of a chef who followed his passion for technology and then found his way back to the hospitality industry, armed with new skills and insights. A story that shows that sometimes, the most unexpected journeys can lead to the most rewarding destinations.

Mews is a company that genuinely values its people and their stories. Mews has built a culture that embraces diversity, creativity, and individuality. Everyone has a unique story to tell, and these stories are what make our company great.

At Mews, we understand that creating a great workplace is not just about offering competitive salaries or benefits. It’s about creating an environment where people feel valued, supported, and empowered to do their best work. Everyone at Mews also recognizes the importance of work-life balance, embracing those stories. These things are why we place a strong emphasis on fostering a culture of openness, collaboration, and growth.

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So “what can you possibly bring to the table?”

If the question were proposed by a manager during an interview or a performance review, the correct but politically incorrect answer would be "What don’t I bring to the table? As I bring everything to the table!" Do I say it out loud? No. Should I? Yes. But the introvert in me prevents me from speaking aloud. Why is that, and does that even play a role?

Before I answer myself, let me draw a little picture I learned from a colleague of mine. When you think about developers, "everyone" knows that developers straight out of school are "dangerous" because they know everything, right? Clearly, they don’t, and you see that when you look at developers with 3-5 years of experience. They are even worse as they know they didn’t know squat coming straight from school. So now they know everything! But wait, what about developers with 7, 8, or 9 years of experience? We realize we might not know everything at some point down those lines. Then we developers recognize that after 10-15 years, we still don’t know squat, and, worse, the industry has developed so fast that there are even more things we don’t know and probably never will know. This is also known as imposter syndrome.

My point is, getting ten years of experience takes ten years! On the other hand, learning a domain will be time well spent as that is what you, as a developer, designer, manager, QA, content, or product person, bring to the table. So forget about your technical skill, and focus on your domain knowledge!

Then if you are an introvert like me, get inspired, write about it, talk about it, or scream about it as we bring our hearts, blood, and sweat into the products we build.

Generic photo of a chef next to a table
Photo: Ashlyn Ciara via unsplash.com

Embrace your unique story

In conclusion, the question of what you can bring to the table is one that every employee will likely face at some point in their career, whether it’s their inner voice, a manager, or an interviewer asking it! But, for all of us with unique backgrounds and experiences, it can be a chance to showcase what makes us truly special. So don’t be afraid to embrace your story and knowledge and use them to make a difference in the world. Because at the end of the day, that’s what truly matters.

John H Øien

Chef, soldier, and developer
Mews

Former chef and soldier, then turned developer. I love outdoorsmanship, and all things technology.
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