Are you a technology superhero? Then you might want to read this (and even comment!)
Information technology is a widely misunderstood part of business: executives view us as a necessary evil, yet do not understand IT is an investment. As technology professionals, we lament our treatment as suppliers (or even servants) instead of business partners, and spin our wheels trying to prove that we add value to the business. What we fail to see is that we unwittingly contribute to the dysfunction with a superiority complex that we project on the business.
We view ourselves as technology superheroes, while the rest of the world sees us as overpaid intellectuals lacking in social skills. There is no right or wrong here, just misunderstanding on both sides of the relationship.
As software engineers, it is hard to imagine that the world thinks any differently than we do. We take for granted how we learn, digest and embrace new concepts, so much so that we assume it is universal. Certainly, we recognize genetic individuality, but we assume thought patterns are common. When we assimilate new ideas easily, we assume that others can too. We reinforce our beliefs by seeing co-workers behaving the same as we do.
This is a major issue in IT and engineering (and other professions as well) where success hinges on clear communication and a shared understanding of business needs. As software engineers and product developers, we live in an insulated world – one laden with technical terms and concepts, and life as we know it can be exciting! We are the superheroes in IT – we use Kanban, Lean, and Agile to get close to our customers and we develop advanced software solutions that make the world better in a single bound. Or so we think…
The world would be perfect if we could concentrate on doing what we do best – building great software solutions – without interference from the outside world. The problem is that we have to deal with “mere mortals” in business, and for some reason we are simply not on the same page. Herein lies the problem: our assumption that the world thinks the same way that we do.
As superheroes in the IT world, we ARE different, but we need to function in the real world. We are addicted to technology but others are not… so who has the problem and what can we do about it?
The first step in solving any problem is to admit that it exists and take responsibility for our part. This means taking a hard look at our role and what we can do to change the dynamics of the business / IT relationship.
Here are a few ways that we can take responsibility for improving the relationship:
- Realize that the way we look at the world is not universal. As software engineers our passion for technology is hardwired, just as others are hardwired with passion about banking or marketing. My professors (and maybe yours) taught that everyone aspires to engineering and computer science, but few can make it, and this created an elitist view of the world. I now know how this attitude projected a sense of superiority and entitlement to special respect that is simply, undeserved. Recognizing these differences is the first step to humility and true communication.
- It might sound impossible but… technology IS intimidating. Moreover, the subject can be boring to others. The world does not share our zest for IT English – we may be superheroes when it comes to creating technology solutions, but that does not make it interesting to others. While it might seem like “dumbing down” when we translate IT English into business English, there is no other way. If we continue to talk our talk without consideration of others – well, we sound unintelligible. (Just watch an episode of the TV show “Big Bang Theory” for a glimpse of how techies seem to the world).
- There is no base level of idiocy. Many technical professionals believe that there is a base level of knowledge idiocy. In IT, we dismiss anyone as an idiot whose technical knowledge is below this “line” and then treat him/her as a lesser being. While we do not necessarily do this consciously, it comes across in the way we talk down to non-technical people. Sure, doctors do this, lawyers do this, and software engineers do this, but it does not promote good relationships on projects. The sooner you realize that your basic level of knowledge (such as knowing about the software development life cycle or communication protocols) is above the general population, the better off you will be. While you and I might be aghast to realize how little most people know about software concepts, they do lead successful and productive lives without this knowledge. We are the idiots if we cannot translate IT English so our customers can understand, not the other way around.
- Read outside your world. If we want to understand how our customers think, we need to explore outside the world of technology. Find out what journals your customers read, and pick up a copy. When you start to understand what your customer’s world is all about, you can start to solve their problems.
- Accept the world that is. Engineers are known the world over as being great at technology and poor at communication. Instead of denying this fact and defending ourselves, we ought to accept it, improve it, and move forward. Communication and soft skills can be learned, but we first have to admit that we need help. I know many software engineers who behave as ostriches by burying their heads in their work and avoiding customer contact. Why not accept the world as it is and improve on it through education? Ignorance is bliss except when it comes to communication – and the good news is that communication can be learned.
If we want to garner respect for the IT superheroes among us, we need to come down to earth and live among the “mere mortals” (non-IT). Only then can IT save the world.
What do you think? Agree or disagree? Comments?