Tech talk with no tech talk


In the often-befuddling world of software development, technical experts walk a fine line between showing that they understand the complexities of the hard stuff and taking their audience safely on the journey with them.

Did you know that you can now get a whole degree in ‘science communication’? The description for Otago University’s course says it can help you “Connect people with science through meaningful and creative communication”.

What a genius idea, to develop that course of study, given how confusing scientific language can be. Well, the pandemic certainly showed us how hard it can be to explain highfalutin concepts to us mere mortals who don’t have a science education.

Understanding the background and knowledge that your audience brings with them is obviously the important bit here. Over these last few years of working with the Company-X team, I’ve noticed the difference in how they communicate compared to others who seem to want to drown their audience in jargon. If developers are talking to fellow developers, they can go for their lives with the technical lingo, confident that they’ll understand each other. But even then, there’s an “approach with caution” warning on all discourse.

No-one wants to come across as the arrogant “smartypants” in the room but, equally, clients need to be reassured that the team has the right level of technical expertise. If you’re literally talking the same language, the likelihood of what you’re saying getting lost in translation is much lower.

But an awful lot of the conversations the Company-X people have with clients aren’t with people with deep software knowledge. They know what they need software to do for them but not the details of how to make it happen. After all, that’s why they contacted a specialist software company in the first place!

It’s like when you go to your GP. Most of us don’t want the Latin names or Lancet-level terminology for whatever ails us. Personally, I’m more comfortable with a reassuringly simple description the puts my mind at rest that the Doc has identified it correctly, not the microbial detail.

But there are some people, of course, who want to know more details about the whys and wherefores, and the GP should, one would hope, be able to add that additional layer of explanation if and when the patient needs it.

Part of relationship-building with a client is an honest and open discussion about genuine levels of technical knowledge. Whatever our business, we should pitch the way we talk at the right level for our clients to be able to feel confident in what we’re doing. There’s danger in making them feel inferior, the patronising effect of feeling like they’re being talked down to.

A crucial strength in a software development team is knowing when to talk tech, and when to talk human. Successful teams appreciate that the need of every client differs and adapt the conversation to fit. What a relief – talking tech doesn’t have to be tech talk, after all.


About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki is the marketing manager at Waikato software specialist Company-X.