Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Help people help themselves

March 3, 2000

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As computer users, we all have to start somewhere. Even those of you who now work in computer careers started out knowing nothing about computers or technology. For most of you, working with computers came easily. Unfortunately, this same ease can often lead us to forget our role as teachers and leaders to those people who have the needs, if not the knowledge, to make the best use of computers in their work and life. Too often technology workers react to basic computer questions with condescension and even outright hostility. If you hope to succeed in a computer career and see technology have its best effect on society, you need to guard against this at all costs. Beginners need technology and people who can help them use it.

Teach everyone well

All technology workers should consider themselves teachers. It matters little if this is your primary role, such as a computer instructor, or only one role of many. You have a responsibility to teach those around you; to bring them forward to a deeper understanding of the computer world. It is in your own best interest to do this. The better people understand the work you do, the more support you will receive in that work.

The largest conflicts in your computer career will arise from those people who do not understand your work. It is important to remember that these people, whether they are your manager, vice-president or your peers, have the ability to stop your work completely and prevent you from accomplishing your goals. They should be treated with a respect commensurate with that power. We dare not treat them with contempt merely because they do not have the technical knowledge that we take for granted. Other issues may arise, but addressing their issues with technology can go a long way towards furthering your career.

Too many technology workers see computer beginners as annoyances to be minimized or ignored, not students to be helped. In this way we create embarrassment, fear and anger in others. These are strong emotions that often bear a bitter fruit later in a career. If we wish to improve our career we must try and include everyone in the benefits of technology. Without computer users most of us would have no work at all. Making users feel stupid, in any way, only damages your reputation as well as our peers. If your behavior is egregious enough, you might even find yourself unable to work in your chosen profession.

The success of any career is based not only on your specialized knowledge, but also on your ability to communicate that knowledge. If you cannot share your goals, hopes and desires with others you will be hard pressed to achieve them on your own. Use your communication skills to enlist others in your work, not to drive them away.

Make it all easier

There are other ways we can act as leaders in our technology careers. The most important is the task of making computers more accessible to everyone. This can take many forms. We can all work to continue to reduce the cost of computers so that everyone can afford one or have access to some form of shared system. We can also work to make existing systems as easy to use as possible. Too often we build software, systems and devices that can only be used by other tech-savvy people. We need to direct our efforts at making technology accessible to everyone, regardless of previous knowledge.

Whether you work for yourself, a small office, a large corporation or a technology manufacturer, you need to think about the people who will want to use what you create. Regardless of your role, these are the people you serve. Does a procedure really need to have 20 steps or can you build something to make it easier? Does your device really need 10 buttons and 100 functions? It is a sad reality that most people cannot set the clock on their VCR let alone program the machine to tape a show. The consumers have not failed. We, as technology workers, have failed. We have created a device that can offer everyone benefits, but then only made the benefits accessible to the few, not the many. Technology that remains a tool only for the elite few is a failed technology.

Whatever your technology career, it is important that you help turn the promise of technology into a reality for as many people as possible. In this way you can assure yourself of a long and prosperous career.

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