I'm trying to find a word or phrase for describing a situation where learning one skill doesn't help you in another area.

My instinct was to use parallel or perpendicular, but I'm not actually sure which would be right, which indicates to me that neither actually conveys the meaning I want. I could use "unrelated", but thats not as descriptive as I would like, especially since the skills may be "related" in some way that isn't "how they're learned".

Basically I want to say something like "Software development skills are <???> to engineering management skills. Learning one doesn't help you learn the other."

  • I think disparate is the best answer but one might also say that what you are describing would be tangential or divergent skill sets. Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 7:02
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 16:58

10 Answers 10


When factors are independent, they can be called orthogonal, fancy for a 90-degree relationship (right angled). They don't feed each other, they don't interact, they don't conflict.

Statistically independent: mental ability may be classified into several orthogonal … factors — O. D. Duncan - Merriam-Webster dictionary online

Use this word abstractly when you want to say "I'm not fighting you. Our opinions differ, that's all. They're orthogonal."

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 13:19
  • This is interesting. Could share an example of where the term is used in the way you describe (the interaction of concepts) in your answer. I am not understanding how it is applies. If the ideas are orthogonal, don't they share a point of intersect? Wouldn't it be more apt to describe the concepts as parallel (where they would never intersect)? Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 21:20
  • @EliotGYork Math major here, too. A paradox. The point of orthogonal intersection is 1 in infinity, so connected in math, but unrelated in common speech. Parallel, in speech, means related in many ways along different tracks. Commented May 28 at 12:24


Software development skills are nontransferable to engineering management skills.

It beats variations on the unrelated word you already rejected by speaking directly to the idea that the knowledge or skills of one are not transferred to or shared by the other. This word/idea of transfer is common in sports skill training and is applicable here.

  • 1
    I had orthogonal in my head, so I accepted that answer, but I like this a lot too. Thanks! Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 19:31
  • 7
    I personally think this is a better answer. Orthogonal is jibberish to 90% of people. Unless you need a word that will only be used with engineers and mathematicians, nontransferable is probably going to be a much more accessible option. Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 20:29
  • Nontransferable already has a meaning, especially in the context of work-related skills: a skill that is useful in the context in which you learn it (e.g. employer or project), but not useful in other contexts. So if you use that work in OP's sentences you are more likely to mislead or confuse the listener than you are to get your point across.
    – stannius
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 19:26
  • @kingfrito_5005 If a listener doesn't know the meaning of the word, they can look it up, ask the speaker what the word means, guess from context, or nod and smile and pretend they understood. If the speaker is concerned that the listener won't know the word, he or she should not impose the restriction of a single word.
    – stannius
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 19:28
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    @stannius but your first comment is describing exactly what OP said they want. Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 20:27

You may also use the term "independent".

Independent [in-di-pen-duh nt] /adjective

  1. not dependent; not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc.

Source: Dictionary.com

This term may be best used when you are talking about how the separate skill sets are each exclusive from the other. You can acquire one, the other, or both. There is no collaborative value that increases either skill set themselves, nor is the cumulative value greater than the sum of each skill sets own value.

Some things are related, but can still be independent. Therefore, the term independent is useful in that it is less focused on the relational similarity of the subject matter and more to do with how they interact.

"Software development skills and engineering management skills are independent of each other..."


I think the word you want is "disparate".

Essentially different in kind; not able to be compared.
‘they inhabit disparate worlds of thought’

I think this works well in your sentence:

Software development skills are [completely] disparate to engineering management skills. Learning one doesn't help you learn the other.

  • 2
    Disparate means Too different for this use. He said the skills might be related in some way.
    – Webster
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 23:29
  • I've only ever seen "disparate" applied to a set of things, I've never seen "A is disparate to B". It feels wrong to me. And skill in management can be compared to skill in engineering, even if they are orthogonal. Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 7:37

You could say the skills are uncoupled.

"Software development skills are uncoupled from engineering management skills. Learning one doesn't help you learn the other."

(Engineers especially would appreciate the usage since it used in the field of physics quite often.)

uncoupled (adj.):
a. Not coupled or joined; left detached or separate.
b. Physics. Not physically interacting. (OED)

1965 W. T. Thomson Vibration Theory vi. 167 The two pendulums behave as if they were uncoupled and independent of each other.

Why uncoupled from instead of uncoupled to?

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  • 2
    "uncoupled" definitely reads better than "non-intersecting" Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 17:54

Although I like the answer suggested by @Catija, another possibility might be "correlation". As in, "These two skill sets are not correlated, mastery of one does not imply mastery of the other".

Here is a quote from the book 'Phonological Skills and Learning to Read', by Usha Goswami, Peter Bryant, pg. 96:

"Anyone who tries to show a connection between phonological skills and reading should be able to demonstrate a specific correlation between the two."

  • 3
    Just a small addition: not correlated = uncorrelated. Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 11:21

"Software development skills are irrelevant to engineering management skills. Learning one doesn't help you learn the other."

Irrelavant (?), a. Not relevant; not applicable or pertinent; not bearing upon or serving to support; foreign; extraneous; as, “testimony or arguments irrelevant to a case”. -- Irrelavantly, adv


The word "Orthogonal" has a more specific, absolute and precise meaning that "unrelated". If you don't like "unrelated" because the skills may be "related" in some way, then there's no reason why you should like "Orthogonal" instead . The definition of Orthogonal clearly states that there's no relationship between the factors, in any way, other than their orthogonality . Orthogonality pertains more to the context of mathematics and statistics.




Definition of fungible from Dictionary.com:

adjective, Law. 1. (especially of goods) being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage! Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 16:38
  • 1
    I haven't seen fungible used for intangible items.
    – Ian
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 19:20

I would use either

1) self-contained

not requiring help or support from anyone or anything else : complete by itself : tending to keep thoughts and feelings private and to deal with things without help from other people : having a kitchen and bathroom

2) disjoint

: having no elements in common

Disparate is also a good choice.

  • 1
    Please read how to reference material written by others. You must give a full, reproducible citation, and the bulk of your answer should consist of your own words not someone else's copypasta.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 17:04
  • The references are from Webster Dictionary. I believe they are self-contained and self-explanatory. Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 22:21
  • 1
    "Webster Dictionary" is actually not a citable reference; it’s at best a generic. Furthermore, we expect the bulk of you answer to be of your own devising, not other people's text. We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with duly referenced citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 22:27

Don't cross over to

PR people have their own way of measuring results, but they often don't cross over to sales and profits."

See last paragraph of p214 - https://books.google.com/books?id=lXs0zLjiYrIC&lpg=PA214&dq=%22dont%20cross%20over%20to%22&pg=PA214#v=onepage&q=%22dont%20cross%20over%20to%22&f=false

"Software development skills don't cross over to engineering management skills. Learning one doesn't help you learn the other."

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