IT Employment

Tech talk, geek speak and nerd words

Most techs are very comfortable using several acronyms in just about every sentence. When techs talk to each other the acronyms make the conversation go quicker and convey information faster. Unfortunately, most people have not learned the language of technology and are either intimidated, confused or angry by the foreign words. Success in a career means learning how to speak with non-geeks in a way that still gets the message across.

I once accepted a temporary contract to travel with a mobile computer lab as their network technician. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable side trips of my career. I asked for a leave of absence from my employer to accept the contract with the understanding that I would remain on call. It worked out well and I learned a lot with the Community College Foundation as we visited campuses up and down California.

The foundation had purchased an old used motor home, gutted it and refitted it with five Macs and five Compaqs, scanners, printers and digital cameras. My job was to setup the satellite dish for the network when we arrived on site, fire up the server, the switches, the computers and get everything ready for a mobile classroom environment. This was back when multimedia was new and not yet being used in the classroom.

End-user education can be fun

I got the gig by responding to an ad in the LA Times. When I went for the interview, I was asked what my daily rate was and if I could meet a very demanding travel schedule. I was a little shocked that there wasn't an in-depth technical interview to see if I could handle the job. "Hey, it's not very technical. As long as you can fix any networking issues, you should be able to do it." They were right. The hard part was the travel.

The reason I enjoyed the job so much was because I got to work with one of the masters of the multimedia community. I don't know how much you like to conduct group training but this guy was a performer. I've done a few other training gigs in my time and I think I can put on a pretty good show but some people are exceptionally talented in getting the subjects involved in the technology. That's what makes it fun.

What kind of tech are you?

There are techs who are purists - they are good at what they do...no, they are great at what they do, but they have absolutely no people skills. We put them in a room with lots of toys and they are happy to develop code or keep networks running. Then there are techs who know just enough to BS everyone and still keep a job. They seem to go back and forth between sales jobs and tech jobs, equally comfortably in either role.

Most techs I know have a mixture of both tech skills and people skills, with strengths and weaknesses in each area. I don't know how much your job requires you to interact with others, and especially with non-technical people, but if it is anything like mine, you have to do at least some end-user training. It's just part of the job. Sometimes it's not easy explaining technology so people can understand it. There's a real talent to the task.

Tech talk can spook the locals

If you're a tech that can't explain your work so that others can at least get some idea of what you do for a living, then maybe you need to work on that skill a little bit. You will be especially grateful you learned how to talk non-geek speak if you've ever been out of a job and needed help lining up the next assignment. I know it can be tough, but try not to speak down to the lowly people who don't know as much as you do.

Sometimes it can be a real shock to the new college graduate who has paid the price to learn the language of technology to discover that the boss doesn't speak all the latest lingo. That's OK. You can practice your translation skills on the boss in preparation for dealing with the technophobic that exist in every business. Part of being a tech means that you are fluent in a second language. Now, how good a translator are you?

11 comments
dawgit
dawgit

If you must must use acronyms, you need to be sure that they'll be understood in the usage you intend to convey. They, as in most, have at two or more separate, and distinctively different meanings. (and, it can be dangerous as well to assume otherwise.) Good Post. -d

hteasley
hteasley

I started out my IT career teaching in a Cisco academy at the high school level. My students were socio-economically challenged and few had computers at home. None knew what a router or a switch was. I quickly learned how to use real life analogies when describing the intangible concepts of bandwidth, packets, frames, binary numbers, etc... to those kids. Out of the 50 kids that I taught, 3 got CCNAs right after graduation and one I worked with as a peer when I quit teaching and moved into the the real world. I would hear my former student using my analogies to provide end user support. That is when I knew that I was "multi-lingual."

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Industries and most times it's not considered a problem. Like when was the last time that a Doctor was told to [b]Dumb It Down?[/b] Professionals who are good explain things in a way that their Customers can understand and that is the same with anything but it's not something that was ever taught to them when there where studying. Maybe the University of Life is far more important than many give it credit for. :D As for explaining to Customers why something works I don't have much trouble with the more common things and I do try to involve their profession in an attempt to explain why it happens the way that it does. But of course there is always the questions like Why Does it have to work that way which are much harder to explain. I'm not sure if I can even do this or if I give too much of a technical answer and the customer gets sick & tired and resigns in Disgust but as they keep coming back I must be doing something right. :0 But one of the best ones was attempting to describe some application in a Graphics program to a Color Blind Person. Of course if I had of known that they where Color Blind it would have happened a different way but if they don't tell you I'm not sure how you can help them. Col

jlexster
jlexster

I haven't always been a tech. I was in the customer service/retail industry since I was 16. I think this helps when it comes to talking with end users because I understand about the customer mentality. You have to assume they know nothing about what your talking about, unless they explain otherwise, yet get them to understand. I like to use analogies and metaphors when I'm trying to explain what something in a PC does or why something works a certain way. I tend to first tell them the technical term for something and then explain it in terms they can understand in the hopes that the next time they see "USB 2.0" or "802.11n" on a package somewhere that they remember "Oh yeah! That tech told me what that means!"

adedeji
adedeji

Some people are pretty good in explaining technology either in training or writing. I guess that is a big skill in itself.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Great post Tim, It hit home big time for me. I'm one of "those tech types" you mentioned. I used to feel (still kind of do) more comfortable alone in a football field sized data center than in most meetings. It has taken me a long time to change, could have been all those "let's give the nerd a swirly" in high school. I now see the value of re-integrating with the human race and even enjoy it. I am just sorry it took so long.

tmalonemcse
tmalonemcse

When I was starting out in my career I wasn't comfortable with acronyms so they didn't pervade my language like they do now. Now I have to be very careful when communicating with non-techs so that they don't feel intimidated. It can come around and bite you if can solve tech problems but can't explain it in a way that the co-worker or clients can understand without feeling that you are talking down to them or make them feel stupid. Read the post: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/techofalltrades/?p=139 Am I just stating the obvious or have you witnessed this in your work environment? Are there techs on your team that are clueless when they are using too many acronyms with others?

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

o the Americans this means Weapons of Mass Destruction but to the British this means Weapons of Medieval Destruction. The Same Annum but totally different meanings depending on the Countries History. Col

tmalonemcse
tmalonemcse

Recognition generously acknowledged. You're making a difference in the world, at least to some of those 50 students you taught. Well done. Are your real-world analogies posted or available in electronic format somewhere?

Bizzo
Bizzo

I have always been a tech. When I first started my career I was keen to use all the jargon, maybe it was arrogance or naivety, or maybe a little bit of both. My first role was programmer, but also included training and support. The support was for staff using the applications we'd written, more often than not the support was for someone who hadn't had any training and had never used a computer before (I am talking early 90's now). We had no remote support, so the fixes had to be done by talking the user through copying and editing files, very difficult in DOS, especially when you have to explain what a space key looks like. And yes, I have been in the "press any key" situation. I very quickly learnt to "dumb-down" my talk (I hate that phrase but it's the only one that fits) to make myself understood. And now, when I have to explain anything I try to imagine how I'd explain it to my mother. My mother is what I'd call a fairly competent user, she knows stuff, but doesn't realise she does. So if I aim at that level, it's not patronising to a very competent user, nor is there too much jargon for a novice. But everything has to be flexible, it depends on the target audience.

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