I just got the shipping confirmation that the copy of Dreamweaver 8 I ordered last week has gone out. For some reason this feels like a milestone to me — as though I’m a real techie now. But haven’t I been since I took that C++ course last year at BU? Or started working at the Tech Lab? Or began obsessing over social software? Or started learning CSS? Or conceptualizing site architechture as part of projects at work? Or vice-chairing ASIS&T? Or laughing out loud on the T while listening to This Week in Tech?
What is it about being into this stuff that makes a person a techie? And am I a “true” techie? After all, my actual coding skills are not that fabulous — so I know some HTML, enough CSS to get by, and I’ve mucked around with C++. So what? Then again, I’m in a professional field where, overall, I don’t think there are that many techies. Since I like this stuff, I’ve found them and am drawn to them. But I *think* my skills are at a level just high enough that I’m someone who can really help the average user, and be a valuable staff member at your average medium-sized public library that wants to do cool stuff online but doesn’t know how and can’t afford to hire a full-time coder/IT person.
Other people may totally disagree about whether or not I am any good at tech stuff, and that’s fine — I have plenty to learn in all aspects of my techie life. At the Tech Lab, I’m still learning how to “think tech” on my feet — you can’t prepare ahead for all of the questions people will ask. So, I’m learning things as they come up, which is fine, but every so often I will be confronted with some issue and I’ll draw a complete blank, and have to ask my boss — which always makes me feel sheepish, though I just try to laugh at myself. Since I’m self-taught and have always pretty much just figure things out as I go, all of my knowledge isn’t instantly available to me. “I know I’ve done this before, but what exactly did I do?”
I’m also still floundering with explaining concepts to people sometimes. The biggest example of this is FTPing in the context of creating a website. It’s really hard for a lot of people to understand why, when they preview their page on their computer at home (where they built it) everthing works, but when they look at it from a browser at school it does not. How do you explain to someone that the reason their photo doesn’t show up at school is because it’s not uploaded to the server, and they can see it on their computer at home because the browser can find it on their hard drive?
This makes perfect sense to me. But to a person who is following a step-by-step set of directions and really does not understand what they’re doing, it’s pretty mysterious. They’ve followed the directions and its supposed to work, but it’s not. Like many things, if you don’t understand the concept, you can’t begin to figure out what’s gone wrong.
I like to try to explain why something’s not working, and then help the perosn fix it, rather than just fixing it or telling them what to do. But these are difficult concepts to wrap your head around unless you’re into this stuff. I “get it,” but I figured it out on my own. I can’t go back to an explanation from a class I took somewhere along the way and draw from that to teach someone else what to do. I’m slowly figuring out the best ways to explain different things, but so much of it is dependent upon the user — how interested, motivated, scared, anxious or stressed out he or she is at the moment. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well you explain the concept, it’s just not going to stick.
And then there’s that “I don’t get computers” mental block (the biggest symptom of what I am talking about is the fear of Macs) — you could get it if you’d just stop saying that about yourself! I say this with dismay and amusement, not malice. All it takes is the willingness to shake off your anxiety, sit down, and click on a couple of things to see what happens. That’s how I started out, and look where I am!