July 23, 2017

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Anyone can do it – Changing the way we talk about tech

Anyone can do it – Changing the way we talk about tech

I believe that anyone can learn the basics of software and technology. I grew up with my Dad using linux as a physicist, and my older brother creating games in QuickBASIC like snake. I loved using computers. I played the odd game, but wasn’t a gamer. I would search the internet for music I loved. I used Power Tab to learn guitar riffs. I was in the generation that was involved in chat rooms with strangers and MSN Messenger. However, I never had even the slightest ambition of getting into programming or technology as a career.

I’ve been meaning to write an something about this for some time, and when I came across all the awesome stories in reply to this tweet I decided I finally would.

The thing I took away was that there are a lot of people like me. People who didn’t necessarily get into tech as a lifelong passion, rather discovering it later in life, sometimes by accident.

The best thing about this Tweet is I only just noticed the typo saying “live my job” and it doesn’t matter. It’s so true!

Software development is skill that seems like magic to many people. I often hear “I’m no good at computers” and “I could never do that”. I’m not a mind reader, and I don’t pretend to be. But I feel like this may be similar to many people saying that they are “no good at maths”. Really, I believe many people have just been socialized into thinking they can’t. Or they believe it’s something that people are inherently good at, and they aren’t one of those people.

This is not true

You only have to read thread in the above tweet to see this. I’m hoping we can and are changing this perspective by changing the way that we talk about tech.

When speaking at my first conference I met Robert Pearce who did a great talk called Behavior and Your Team about some of the negative attitudes that pervade our discourse online in the tech community. Mean tweets, angry articles, and an all too common tenancy to mock people’s decisions of technologies, libraries or some other thing. Rather than offering them help, support or guidance.

An example of this is a series of Tweets by Sebastian McKenzie (who wrote the now world famous Babel) where he explained why he probably wouldn’t do open source again:

This is sad because he is a very talented developer and this project quite literally changed the landscape of web development forever. It pushed JavaScript (the language that the your browser uses) forward and inspired a whole new set of people to get involved in the community. But even the people who decide how JavaScript works (TC39 committee) and browser company developers were being disparaging!

Everyone can do it

Everyone is good enough. You have what it takes. You are smart enough. You can contribute. And guess what? Not everyone in tech is a programmer. Not everyone in tech is a geek. Not everyone in tech is a hacker. Not everyone in tech needs to write the next killer app. The range of skills and personalities needed among different companies and industries is almost limitless. At a previous employer we had whole areas of the business that I didn’t even know much about, building software for huge companies in languages I’m not even interested in learning.

And that is OK.

This goes further that getting into technology as a career. For example (and Mum I hope you are reading this) my Mum works at a library in my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand. I’ve heard her imply that she doesn’t know anything about technology and that she struggles… So do I! I just got a new MacBook Pro for work, and I feel like I’m starting again! But it is ironic that I have heard her talk about her interactions helping people with their technology problems – which prove she is a local technology guru!
I’m not saying that no one should ever be constructively critical of anyone else, because otherwise how would we improve? But we want more people to be engaged in creation and not just consumption of technology. We need to open the doors, open our minds and give them our knowledge, time and patience.

Because I know plenty of people have done that for me and I thank you.

Seth Reid

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Anyone can do it – Changing the way we talk about tech