Talking with Techies

There are really only two types of technology conversations: the ones you have with techies and the ones you have with non-techies. For the purposes of this discussion, a techie is really just anyone who knows more than you do about technology and a non-techie is someone who knows less.

It never pays to over-generalize about a group of people, so take the following advice with a giant grain of salt. However, a few themes come up over and over when folks discuss their successful, and their not-so-successful, interactions with tech wizards and IT folks.

If you are a non-techie looking for some tips on how to bridge the communication gap between you and your IT staff, we suggest you read our “Building a Better Relationship with Your Techies” tool.

Key Actions to Consider

  • Use consistent and precise terminology when you describe a problem.
  • Describe the symptoms carefully and don’t jump to conclusions.
  • Don’t be shy about telling your techies when you’re having a computer problem.

For elaboration on each of these points, see the following "Stories from the Field."

Stories from the Field

Challenge your techies

Well when we told the guy who's devising this new profile the types of things we wanted and what we wanted to use it for, he introduced some ideas to the staff, some of it being the Linux stuff; Edubuntu and stuff like that. And that gave him motivation and interest, because we were asking him to provide his expertise in what he knew about. So I feel like if you show them what you want and you give them a challenge, they will rise to that type of level if they're really good. We've got some really excellent guys that are working there, and they do rise to the challenge."

Claire Stafford
Madelyn Helling Public Library, CA

Use consistent and precise terminology

Try to learn the proper terminology, and try to use it consistently. I don’t know how many times I've heard ‘the system is down’ when what happened was the on/off switch on the monitor got pressed. The person starts using terminology like ‘system’ without actually evaluating the system. They didn't turn the mouse upside down to see if the light is still on or is the green light on the CPU unit on things like that.

Paul Ericsson
Bemidji Public Library, MN

Describe the symptoms carefully and don’t jump to conclusions

Be observant and don’t jump to conclusions. The story that I tell on this one is that when I was in college, I took an experimental psych class where we ran rats through mazes, and the professor would pound into us that we couldn't always draw conclusions on cause and effect. And so what I find people frequently making mistakes on is they'll describe to me a conclusion rather than focusing on what the symptom is that they're really seeing.

Paul Ericsson
Bemidji Public Library, MN

Instead of getting an email saying, ‘Well this computer went down and here's what happened. The patron was doing this and got this error message.’ That's what I need to help to fix the problem. Instead, I get an email saying, ‘It's broken.’ And it's like, well, then I've got to spend twice as long going down there and actually doing the research and investigation to figure out what happened, what was going on, whereas if they'd spend just a couple minutes longer to help me I can help them faster. That's always a problem.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, MT

Follow the latest technology trends, and play with gadgets

Well, I would recommend looking at things like Wired magazine and some of the other introductory PC magazines just to get used to the language. Scan the environment, know what’s going on out there so you can talk to them intelligently about trends. Get a gadget. Have an iPod. Try and make iTunes work on your home computer. Just experiment with it and realize that it can be fun. And you’re learning new things while you’re doing it that can help you in your job. I think that’s really key. And ask your IT guys for help if you’re confused or if you have a problem at home or if you have difficulty with a gadget. It opens the conversation and the lines of communication.

Stephanie Beverage
Orange County Public Library, CA

Make clear that your techies aren’t miracle workers

When you have non-technical staff, they don't always understand why things don't work and why you can't just push a button and have it fixed tomorrow. I frequently get complaints such as, ‘Well, this worked yesterday and it doesn't work today.’ Well, it's a Web page that went down. There's nothing that I can do to fix that. You can't control when the Internet goes down from the ISP. There's nothing I can do about that except call them and hope they get it back up right away.

Anonymous Library Director

Open up communication channels so no one is shy about telling them their troubles

And we’re in Minnesota, and we’ve got this fabled ‘Minnesota nice.’ And it’s true, people will not do anything that they think will put somebody out in a lot of cases. And if our staff think that we’re too busy, sometimes they don’t even call. And sometimes they’ll call and say, ‘Are you busy?’ And you have to say, ‘Well, yeah, we’re always busy, but we need to help you if you need something.

Jay Roos
Great River Regional Library, St. Cloud, MN

Because people are aware that I'm a department of one, sometimes they don't want to bother me because I'm too busy to hear about their little problem that, maybe the keyboard doesn't work sometimes. Well, I wish they'd tell me, but they don't. So, a lot of times I hear about things if I visit a branch that have been ongoing, and no one's told me.

Eric Brooks
Placer County Library, Auburn, CA

Further Resources

We’ve included a few resources that cover the fine art of managing communication with techies. Most have been written from a corporate perspective, but the underlying advice is universal.