Us Vs. Them – How We Understand Technology

rockIt is well known, if you happen to be interested in dinosaur lore, that the T-Rex was a carnivorous dinosaur who liked to chow down on the gentler vegan dinosaurs like the triceratops (think Jurassic park if this helps).  As we tend to do, most us of us gave human traits to these two thunder lizards: T-Rex is an unforgiving predator who only cares about his (or her!) own well-being, while triceratops is a gentle giant who would probably pick flowers and bring them to your mother, if it had a brain larger than a walnut and opposing thumbs.

I’m not sure if dinosaurs were capable of feeling such complex emotions.  Most of their brain power was dedicated to keeping their core functions alive and instinctual behavior.  If these two reptiles had been able to communicate in a meaningful way, they might have discovered they weren’t so different.  They just had different needs to get through their day.  With a little awareness and understanding, these two giants might have become the United States and Russia of the Cretaceous Period.

Like our dinosaur friends, end users and technical support personnel often view the world (of technology in the human example) very differently.  Unlike our dinosaur friends, we do not spend any time running around trying to eat each other.  Not the perfect metaphor, but I like dinosaurs.

The question that we’re going to try to answer in this month’s tech tips is as follows:

“How can end users and support personnel achieve a better understanding of how we each use technology?”

I can’t guarantee the answer I propose will start a revolution, but it may give you perspective the next time you find yourself on the frustrating end of a tech support phone call.

Look at it like this: you drive a car, you put gas in it, get the oil changed regularly, and check the air pressure in the tires before going on a long trip.  You are the end user.  Do you need to know more than that to maintain your car?  Not necessarily, unless car maintenance interests you.  There are auto mechanics on nearly every street corner willing to fix and maintain your car.  Because of the auto mechanics knowing their job so well, you may not even think about car maintenance except when it’s time for that next oil change.  If the mechanics weren’t so good at their jobs providing such a transparent service, you’d definitely think more about your car when it won’t start in the morning or the engine overheats on the side of the interstate.

Ultimately, as end users, we tend not to think about the maintenance and support that helps make our systems run everyday (whether they be cars or computers).  We just want them to run so we can continue to do our jobs as capably as possible.  However, a few seconds of recognition from the end user to the IT support personnel can go a long way to keeping the workplace grumpy-free.

On the other side, IT support personnel sometimes have an obfuscated view of what it is like to be an end user with a general level of computer knowledge.  Tasks IT support takes for granted (“everyone knows how to do this”) may not be easy or even obvious to an end user.  When we recognize a situation like this, it is the support personnel’s job to determine whether the task is something the end user should know (how to log out properly, for example) or is in the realm of technical support (virus removal).  Whether or not they’ve completed the same task multiple times, the experience may be new to that particular end user.  As such, technical support is best served by an abundance of patience, understanding, and technical knowledge to solve problems quickly and competently.  Think of it like this: as an information technology professional, if someone asked you to balance the financial accounts for your company, you might give that person a blank stare.  You don’t need to know how to do that; the accountants are great at their jobs and can do it much more quickly and efficiently than you can.  You just need to remember to appreciate them for what they do!

The last word I’ll offer on this subject is that learning is critical in the relationship between end users and support personnel.  If support personnel learn how to manage different technical issues, they’ll be well prepared for any question that comes up in the workplace.  If end users work with the their tech team to be as self-sufficient as their position requires and allows, we’ll all achieve a better understanding of how experts and non-experts in any field can work together successfully.

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