Of Rock Stars and IT Nerds


So last night on my way to community theater practice (yes… I do community theater) I ran into an old friend from college. We had an brief, yet awkward, conversation that went something like this:

Me: Hey how’s it going?

Him: Good. I’m here recording with my band. The lead singer isn’t here though, he’s on tour with Three Doors Down doing sound.

[Busy looking guy talking on cell phone cuts between us before I can make a joke about how sorry I feel for anyone who has to listen to Three Doors Down every night.]

Him: Oh that’s our P-guy from New York City.

Me: Oh… well… I’d better be on my way. Good luck!

P-guy?! I can only assume the P stands for Publicist or Publicity, but it made me think of something. And being a huge IT nerd, it made me think of IT.

One complaint a lot of end users have about IT people is that IT people speak a completely different language. We use terms like drivers, spyware, checkdisk, web applications, etc.. While I have to agree that many IT people do rattle of confusing terms, last night made me realize every profession does that.

Think of the last time you talked to a banker, doctor, car repairman, or plumber. Each of these professions has there own special language. Even IT Management and IT Technicians have their own languages. While management discusses SOA, TCO, and TLA the techies discuss XML, PHP, and anything off of /..

Aaron and I have both had our moments of frustration attempting to help people with OpenIT when they ask questions like “I followed the directions. Why doesn’t it work?”. They give no context, no system information, no error messages, just a random plea for help.

But my brief discussion about P-guys last night made me realize I do that to other professionals. I tell the mechanic that my car “Makes a funny noise,” and so inevidtably he either has to just take a look at everything or try to get me to narrow down where this noise is coming from. Or maybe I should have mentioned my car needs an oil change, new tires, and hasn’t had a tune up in 40,000 miles.

So here are the 2 issues:

  1. l33t-sp34k isn’t just an IT thing. We all do it.
  2. Everyone just wants their problems fixed. Nobody thinks the problem might be caused by something they did.

The moral of the story is that everyone needs to be more concious of these 2 issues. Whether discussing your rise to rock stardom or describing that strange burning sensation, we need to take the time to speak to one another in context. In the IT world this means:

  • When asking others for support, err on the side of giving too much information. Usually, the more, the better.
  • When supporting non-technical people, be sensitive to their level of expertise. Some non-technical people are comfortable hearing that their PDA drivers messed up Outlook, while others just want to know which steps they should follow next time so this doesn’t break again.
  • Never assume someone’s intelligence based upon there IT knowledge. Someday a plumber will be telling you about a $250 flange you need installed, and you’ll know exactly how all those end users feel.