How to Bridge the Technical Divide

Many times many people get confused or simply shut of their ears when technical topics are brought up. These people are not necessarily dumb or uneducated, they simply have not trained their brain to think a certain way and to grasp the many concepts found in the computer industry, or any other technical field for that matter.

I have had the opportunity to work with doctors and let me tell you, sometimes I get lost between some of the things they talk about. It’s like a whole new world of knowledge. From a language or vocabulary standpoint, I have heard these industry specific grouping of concepts be described as idioms, or in my mind subsets of the English language that make the most sense when used in the context of their specific fields.

Auto mechanics have their own common sets of basic knowledge, as do hobbies such as art, sports, etc …

I often find myself wondering how I can help bridge this gap I sometimes refer to as the “Technical Divide”

Sometimes I do feel smart as a software engineer, but all it takes is to see what some molecular scientist or physicist is accomplishing to realize that there is so much more for me to learn. There are always bigger fish in the sea, and if I don’t maintain a decent level of humility for the sometimes seemingly extensive knowledge I hold, I can easily be consumed and thrown back into a tight and uncomfortable spot.

Certain things are clear in my mind and make perfect sense to me, but I often wonder what makes it so that other people just don’t grasp it. Overall I have identified in my own personal experience that exposure to these concepts is key to essentially re-wring your brain to think that way.

Often I am talking with someone that doesn’t consider themselves as a technical person and they express early on that they want nothing to do with trying to understand my area of technical knowledge. For me personally, I believe this is the wrong attitude to have. There is no benefit to an individual to actively decide to remain ignorant, especially when opportunities present themselves right in front of you. Although you should not expect to gain a deep knowledge of the subject matter that is foreign to you, you should make it a goal to at least get a minimal level of new understanding of the unfamiliar territory.

Some things that can help you bridge the gap include:

  1. Seeing the conversation or situation from the other person’s shoes. Ask yourself, if I had no idea what I was talking about, how would I like it to be explained to me.
  2. Are there things in the other person’s life that this technical discussion can be related to?
  3. In the case of you just explaining something technical, have the person reiterate in their own words what you just told them and see how well they took in what you just told them.
  4. Avoid going in to too much detail. When talking to less technical people try to summarize and simplify explanations as much as possible.
  5. Decide how much information this person needs to understand, and how much is irrelevant to them in their responsibilities. A lot of times I am tempted to explain details, that are usually only exciting to me or a fellow technical person. Sharing these details to the wrong person will just raise confusion and give that person a reason to feel lost.
  6. Walk them through your thought process, one step at a time.
  7. Don’t assume they know all of your terminology, and take the time to explain any commonly used standard words from your industry.