That is a very good question, I guess. Or at least, you can find a lot of articles about it with various points of view. And at each conference I have been to so far, this topic was discussed. So, what’s the answer?
I will try to respond based on my feelings and experience.
I do not know the numbers, but I guess that the majority of Scrum Masters work in IT, with teams developing new software, functionalities, etc. However, nowadays banks and non-technical companies are trying to implement Scrum into their processes as well.
I would say that there are two groups of Scrum Masters. The first group is people that were managers who like the methodology and see it as a good way of working. So, they become Agile fans, learn Scrum and then, surprise, surprise, become Scrum Masters.
The second group is former developers that somehow wanted their teams to be more efficient and organized, so they started to look for ways to achieve that. They heard about the Agile way of working, learned Scrum and then, yes, you are right, became Scrum Masters.
What differs between these two groups? The first group is non-technical while the second has a solid technical background. Yet both serve the Scrum Master role.
And of course, both groups have different opinions about the need for technical skills. And guess why? Exactly—because of their background.
So, let’s have a look at the pros and cons.
Scrum Masters with non-technical backgrounds
If you are one of these, I think your advantage is your good soft skills.
You can be hired as a Scrum Master without a technical background, but in working with a technical team, you can face a few problems. As I did. Some of them get resolved fast, but some of them will keep biting your butt until you learn what they are all about.
Honestly, after the first meeting with my team, I wanted to cry. I did not understand their language at all. But that feeling was gone within the week. I guess that happens to everybody who takes on a new role or joins a new company, because basically everything is new. It does not matter if you are a new Scrum Master, developer, QA tester or whatever position you can think of.
What is key is that you have to learn what your team is doing, the technology they are using, the teams they cooperate with, the domain you are working in…and learn it all pretty fast.
Then it’s more than great if you also understand things like API, endpoint, snapshot, cashing, merge request, integration….
You may be saying, “What’s the big deal? I can explain those things even in my sleep.” But believe me, not everybody is strong in this field.
If you do not understand what your team is talking about, or the technical project details or the components of the solution, you have to be a master in asking questions—the right questions that help your team find the best solution or a way to develop the requested increment.
Because a Scrum Master is, at the end of the day, responsible for enabling the team to do what they need to do in the best way possible.
So, you need to know the Scrum process, you need to have soft skills to help the team strengthen their cooperation and you need to be good at helping remove the blockers—these are a must. But…and it is difficult for me to write this…it is very useful to have a technical background as well. It helps a lot in getting up to speed and can help your team be more efficient.
So, you do not need to have technical skills as a Scrum Master, but they can prove to be beneficial and are in demand.
Scrum Masters with technical backgrounds
If you are a Scrum Master with a technical background, such as a former developer, you should be careful about pushing your decisions onto the team and about taking responsibility for the technical solution. You should be able to help or share your opinion, but that’s about it. Because your team will start asking you about the solution, and that is not what you want.
On the other hand, a Scrum Master with technical skills has a huge advantage: he or she can find out if something is not right. And that counts a lot.
Regardless of the background, it’s really important for every Scrum Master to improve the skills they already have and obtain the ones they are missing. As I look at those within my social bubble, which is not necessarily a representation of the whole Scrum community, the technical skills are the missing ones.
So, don’t be afraid to keep asking your colleagues questions until you get the whole picture. I have been fortunate enough so far to have nice ones that are willing to explain to me the missing parts. But I have still a lot to learn.
Good luck on your journey.
Have courage and be kind.