Seven Red Lines And What You Can Do About It

If you haven’t seen this awesome parody video already, you need to. It’s a great example of what it can sometimes feel like as an expert in a meeting with non-experts.

Buzzword bingo, massive management overhead, ignorance of implementation details, solutioneering, management shutting down needed discussion, condescension, it has pretty much the full package of the worst the world can throw at you.

Of course it’s a taken to the furthest extremes otherwise it wouldn’t be funny but if you’re don’t think there’s a grain of truth to it, ask any technical person if they’ve ever been in this sort of situation and see what they say. It’s not that techies are geniuses and everyone else is an idiot, it’s just that without sufficient understanding almost any area of technical knowledge can be over-simplified to a level that defies reality. This is true for science as much as it is for technology.

The thing is, there another message other than experts have to suffer dealing with idiots all the time; it’s that experts need to be better at teaching and communicating to stop this scenario from happening in the first place. Take science reporting in the media for example. Universities are creating specialists in dealing with the media in the face of sensational headlines and complete misunderstanding of basic research since let’s face it,  understanding technical subjects is not easy. For 13 years until his retirement, Richard Dawkin’s position was the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. Professor Brian Cox is rightly celebrated for bringing cosmology and physics to the public (if he can do it to Robin Ince he can do it to anyone!) but these are outliers among scientists.

So who do we have for technical topics like computer science, programming or administrating a network? The likes of Martin Fowler, Donald Knuth and John Carmack are celebrated within the industry for sharing knowledge but who is the face of the industry to the outside?

It’s you.

If you’re reading this the odds are that you are the most technical person in your sphere of friends. You are the one that they reach out to when something goes wrong with their computers, phones or DVRs. You are the one expected to turn the vague requirements of your Project Owner into something concrete. It is magic unless you “have the knowing” and you are their magician.

That also means that you have the responsibility to take the time to explain why something may be impossible or at least infeasible given the constraints of time, money and the laws of physics, be it red lines that should be green, London to New York communication with zero latency in a language that they can understand . Yes it requires patience and effort but in the long run, you and your business will be better off for it.

Now I know that  sometimes you just can’t cure stupid or impatient and the failure of the “everyone should code” movement shows that not everyone natively understands what technology can do. The reality is that educating others is a sometimes lengthy task but ultimately rewarding and it’s one that we must take on.

We have a responsibility to educate others on what we do because let’s face it, no one else is going to do it for us.

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