A Technologist’s Conduct Primer

Technology can be intimidating.

Even the things that appear simple are not so. For example, something as common as a website login represents multiple elements working together to securely authenticate and authorize a user. You see a couple boxes for a name and password, but a developer sees hash matching, password reset logic, security exploits, redirects, and form tokens.

The people who live and breathe this technology can be intimidating also.

The average software developer knows multiple programming languages, specialized tools, design patterns, mathematical concepts, storage systems, protocols, and any number of other things that make your website load, mobile app work, and organization function.

These skills take aptitude, time, and education to acquire. Not only that, good developers are richly rewarded by the insatiable needs of our economic machine.

However, not everything can be reduced to a set of technical problems to be analyzed and solved. We are human beings, and as such, could improve how we treat each other when technology is involved. Unfortunately, the technology “haves” sometimes feel entitled to disrespect or otherwise mistreat the technology “have-nots.”

Do you doubt this? Check any forum of a technical nature. Read through the questions and the responses. You’ll observe that for some questions, the responses are not very kind. One exception: if you ask an engineer to do your homework for you, well, you deserve the response you get. ;)

As technology continues to be an essential part of the modern human experience, we would be well-advised to observe some conduct guidelines for our interactions with others.

Warning! Unless you are a technician, you should think twice about reading past this point.

For our purposes, a “client” is a person or group that you work with to solve a problem, whether through contractual relationships, employment, or any other arrangement that requires the application of your technology skills.

  1. Treat people outside your team with grace and humility.
    When you are approached with a request for technology help, be aware that the person bearing the request might feel intimidated by their perception of you. After all, if they knew the answers, why would they talk to you? Be sensitive to your professional and educational differences and make them as comfortable as possible. Resist the temptation to demonstrate your technical knowledge. Instead, focus on being a gracious host and conversation partner.
  2. Encourage healthy competition within your team.
    Some of the best software ever produced was the result of highly skilled individuals pushing themselves and their teams to the limit. Good software developers, in particular, are highly competitive and seem to believe that there isn’t anything they cannot understand, master, and bring to life through code. Teach them how to set and meet high expectations internally, but keep it there.
  3. When confronted with a request for service, don’t confuse a lack of technical knowledge with a lack of domain competence.
    Just because someone asks you a general question about how a mobile device renders 3D geometry, it doesn’t mean they don’t understand how their own business domain functions. Realize that you may know a lot about block iterators but next to nothing about enrollment management.
  4. Explain technical concepts with non-technical terms and illustrations.
    Tech-speak is a barrier to communication. Use stories and illustrations that will best facilitate a productive exchange of information between yourself and the client. This means you will have to work harder not only to choose the best words, but also to truly understand the concept you are trying to explain.
  5. Openly seek to understand the motivation, context, and goals of the request.
    Far too often, technical professionals jump to solutions without understanding the forces and constraints that are shaping the need. If you don’t understand the problem, you don’t understand the solution.

We are all specialists in our own domains, and as a matter of common courtesy and decency, need to treat each other with due respect. Not only does it make you a better person to work with and more likely to solve real problems, but people might actually want to ask for your help.



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4 thoughts on “A Technologist’s Conduct Primer

  1. Good advice. I'm afraid to ask any questions because of how nasty I've seen the pros get. Like right now, for some reason all of a sudden, my blog will not load in IE. I have searched for answers. I have tried the suggestions. It's not working. I have no idea what else to do. Nor do I really have the time to just play with this all day to figure out what is causing it. VERY frustrating. At the same time, I can't afford to lose my readers who use IE so I have to fix it. Sigh…

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

    • Hello Mel, IE is enough to make even the most polite person cranky (grin).

      My experience has been, in general, that forums are helpful when you already have a certain level of technical expertise, or find the kind soul that has the time and willingness to help.


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  3. I agree. Sometimes technical people tend to forget that not everyone is not on the same level with the jargon.