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active listening for the win

Before we get started, I have some preliminary questions…

Do you know the difference between an API and a GUI?

Do you find operating systems unnecessary and think they slow you down?

Is Stack Overflow your home page?

Do you store your family photos on GitHub?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you can take off for a while. Go check out the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Netflix. Already watched them all? Of course you have. How about a Ted Talk on fighting inherent bias in algorithms? Go on. We’ll be here when you get back.

Are they gone? Good. Let’s talk.

The technology gap is compounding. There are more programming jobs than actual programmers. Even traditionally non-tech industries are inundated with new advancements day after day, week after week. As a non-technical person, how do you compete? How do you become a technical person?

After college, I was intimidated by my programmer friends and their high-tech jobs. After confronting my initial fears, I’ve now worked with highly technical documentation for the last 17 years. I have gone from a technical nobody to a technical resource. Here’s how:

  1. Focus on the concepts – Concentrate on what you can accomplish with the technology, how it’s used, and why it’s better than something else. Don’t let more technical people take you down into the weeds until you understand the concepts. Technical implementation is hard. Understanding technical concepts is not nearly as hard. For instance, I will never be able to personally migrate a set of complex on-prem applications to the cloud. However, I can tell you all about the concept of the cloud and why your apps need to be there.
  1. Learn the language, talk the talk – Like learning a foreign language, it helps to immerse yourself in the language of technology to become proficient. Don’t be afraid to talk to experts and read technical articles. (BTW, check out Kathryn Courtney’s excellent blog about interviewing technical SMEs.) You may find yourself lost at first, but you will start to learn how the terminology fits the concepts. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself holding your own in even the most technical conversations.
  1. Find the right confidence/humility balance – If you know the concepts and can speak the language, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. At this point, you should consider yourself a technical person, qualified to help with technology solutions. Going back to the foreign language metaphor, if you go through all the trouble to learn a new language, it would be a shame not to use it when you get the opportunity. That said, never pretend to be more technical than you are. Real techies can sense it like a dog senses fear. In fact, techies love to challenge people they think are full of it. (“Oh, you know JavaScript like the back of your hand? Can you tell me why the array list on this recursive code is too large? Didn’t think so.”)

You may never be the kind of person that opens a code editor and feels at home. But, if you follow these steps, you can work alongside and contribute great ideas to those that do.

Need help explaining your tech to customers? Look no further. Contact us today. We love creating content that resonates.

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