Be as specific as possible. Have you ever called tech support and started a conversation with “My computer won’t turn on” or “The Internet’s broken”? These sorts of calls will make your IT department prematurely grey. Help-desk technicians prefer to spend time diagnosing and solving problems as opposed to figuring out exactly what you were doing when the problem occurred. For example, instead of saying that the Internet’s broken, tell them exactly what program you were in, what web page you were trying to visit and what type of error message you received. Also, if you know something about network troubleshooting and you’ve done some work to narrow down the problem, let your IT folks know what steps you’ve already taken.
Be empathetic. We ask our IT departments to implement technology that’s reliable, secure, user-friendly and cheap. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, so keep in mind the pressure your techies are under and the competing interests they have to balance.
Don’t pretend to know more than you really do. If you fake it by smiling and nodding your head, they’ll bury you in jargon and you’ll walk away with a headache. Don’t be afraid to stop and ask for an explanation of some basic terms and concepts. You’ll learn more that way, and they’ll respect you for your honesty and willingness to learn.
Challenge your techies. A lot of tech folks love to solve thorny problems and grapple with new ideas. Take advantage of their curiosity and their thirst for knowledge (they want you to). If you don’t have any big projects for them to research or difficult problems for them to solve, make sure they have some time each week to pursue their own interests.
Talk to the techies in your organization in a relaxed, informal setting. Ask them about their workflow, their projects, the things that motivate them and the technologies they’re excited about. Like anyone else, techies want to be heard. If you listen carefully to their enthusiasms and their concerns, they’ll be more likely to do the same for you. Moreover, as you listen to IT staff talk about their projects, you’ll start to absorb a lot of IT lingo and knowledge.
Become an amateur techie. The more you learn about technology, the more likely it is that your techies will see you as a peer and the more willing they’ll be to trust your instincts when it’s time to make a decision. Some good ways to become an unofficial member of the “tech collective” are as follows:
- Talk to techies and ask them questions.
- Do a little research on your own. Subscribe to PC Magazine, PC World or Wired (these magazines cost between $10 and $30 a year), and skim each issue when it arrives. Then read the three or four articles that look most interesting. When you encounter terms you’re not familiar with, look up the definitions on Webopedia or Whatis. Of course, you can read the Web versions of these magazines, too, but you may find the print version more congenial.
- Learn a little about “geek culture.” A good starting point is Wired’s Geekipedia.
- Play and experiment with computers. If possible, have an old PC around (at home or at work) and use it to download interesting software. If you want to do this at work, make sure you clear it with your IT department, because a “sandbox” computer can be a security risk. Even if you’re doing it at home, be careful about the software you download. Programs that are downloaded from disreputable sites are often filled with viruses, malware and spyware.
- If these suggestions seem too basic, see our article on Keeping Up with Technology.