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Geek Speak!

September 1, 2015

© 2015 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

Non-IT people are at the mercy of IT people who support them. Generally, folks don’t like to admit they don’t know what something means. But as IT people, we are over the top in our use of techno-terms and acronyms! And they can keep us from serving well!

Glazed Eyes
We IT people see it often. Someone asks why something works the way it does, or what caused a problem, and during our explanation we see their eyes glaze over. Really, they should ask us a clarifying follow-up question, like “What’s a VLAN?” But they usually don’t, perhaps because they figure they won’t understand the explanation any more than they understood the original discussion point.

This makes non-IT people vulnerable to those who could take advantage of them if the opportunity was there. If they were in a store and talking to a salesperson, for example, who was trying to upsell them. Or a repair technician who had diagnosed the cause of a problem and wanted to add some tasks to the repair so they could upsell the labor in the repair ticket.

We’re Different!
We IT people are different, perhaps because there is a constant flow of so many new terms and technologies. We ask about terms and technologies we don’t know (or Google them) more often because it’s the nature of the IT field.

When Blu-Ray was fairly new technology I was in the market to buy a player for our home theater. I went to a large store that catered to home theater equipment and also more normal equipment and asked the theater person what he recommended and why. Once he understood our setup he strongly recommended a $650 player. Telling him I would consider it, I went to the normal equipment guy and asked the same question. He strongly recommended their $70 in-store brand. I told him about the theater guy’s recommendation and asked why the difference. He explained that the circuitry of the player is the same in every unit, but that some devices have additional technology that enhances their output. He also added that the enhancements were beyond human perception. I went back to the theater guy, told him why I was thinking of buying the inexpensive unit, and he agreed that the great specs of the $650 player were beyond our ability to perceive!

How To Be Even More Different!
As a technology person, conduct yourself in every support conversation as though you’re talking with someone who doesn’t understand much technology beyond mouse and keyboard terms. Even when someone tries to impress you with their technical knowledge, keep it simple. Here are some rules I try to apply that make a difference:

  • Avoid all acronyms whenever possible. Even if they seem like they’re ones everyone knows, just don’t do it!
  • When I hear a slip I’ve made because I’ve used an acronym, take the time to briefly and simply define it. Brief and simple is the rule.
  • Try to always couch the response in context. It gives the person on the other end of the conversation time to get a little momentum in following my overall response.
  • Always follow up by giving them an opportunity to ask clarifying questions. A good way to start that is by saying something like, “That was a lot of technical talk (or geek-speak). My guess is that some of the terms may have been unfamiliar to you, so please: ask questions.”
  • End every support conversation/ opportunity by asking if there’s anything else I can help them with while they’ve got my attention. I do this because I know that as an IT person– especially an engineering type of IT person– I’ve probably come across as though I’m in a hurry.

These rules will help you be the kind of IT person people love and revere, rather than just revere. In The Church that’s important!

Are You On A Team?
Even if you are a lone IT person at your church, there will come a day when you are no longer there. Hopefully that day will be because you have graduated to Heaven! But we should always take the extra time to conduct ourselves as though we are on a team. What exactly does that mean?

When you are sending emails to help support someone who uses your system, always include the context of your response to them. That’s important because someone else trying to step in might not know why you sent some specific information or responded the way you did! The fastest way to do that is to begin your response with something like this: Following up on our conversation, here’s the information I promised to send. That will go a long way towards helping others you may be serving with or who may need to follow you.

We have a client whose IT person was suddenly called Home. The unfortunate thing is that he never made time to document their system. So duplicate funds have had to be spent to purchase licenses, etc. If you’re on a church staff, talk with the person you report to and ask for permission to block out 3-4 hours one day each week for one month to ignore all support requests while you work on documenting your system. It will be a great way to serve your team, and a totally worthwhile focus.

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