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How To Understand Techies In 5 Steps

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

As you all know by now, I don't have an engineering background. Not having experience in engineering is challenging, especially when you start in high-tech. What is the product we're selling? How does a tech company operate? How can I understand what is going on around me? I am sharing some of my personal experiences in this post, and I hope it gives you some insights. Also, to my dearest techies: maybe this can help you understand "the other half" much better.

1. Ask Questions

When I first started, I asked a LOT of questions. Before working at my current company, I have never even heard of an Electronic control unit (ECU). Do you happen to know what a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) is? The beautiful part about it: the engineers at my company knew this and took a lot of their time to explain basic principles (for instance, I had the chance to familiarize myself with control theory). And little by little, I understood how to maneuver in the world of engineering.

2. Listen, Read and Repeat

You can't simply ask the same questions over and over again. Make sure you always have your notebook with you and take notes. Write down essential words (words you hear in different conversations over and over again) and concepts. Why? Firstly, you listen more carefully to what the engineer is telling you, and secondly, you can always google it. Google is your friend, and sometimes you get lucky and can find descriptive articles on a specific topic. If not, well, I hope some of my posts can help you out! Once you understand the basics and how things are connected, repeat it. Talk to your friends about it (other non-techies as well as techies!) and explain it to them in your own words. If it doesn't make sense to them, they will tell you. If it does, talk to an engineer and repeat it. If they weirdly look at you and pause for a little, it only means that they are trying to figure out from which angle you're coming. If they agree, well then my fellow non-techie, you've understood a concept or word. Congrats!

3. Walk In Their Shoes

This one is also a no-brainer, but I have to bring it up. Engineers are concrete, and they know their field exceptionally well. They will talk about subjects they are passionate about and will explain everything to you. But only if you have your questions right and, you have them ready. What I mean by this is, that you have tried to understand the engineering way to go about a specific question or problem. Furthermore, try to formulate and explain your way of thinking. Obviously, you have been trained as well. Let me give you an example: as a communication specialist, my goal is to make a case and to talk to people in a way that excites them. I want people to understand why they need a certain product or service without going into too many details. For an engineer, some details are crucial and therefore you need to find common ground. You can only do this by gathering as much information as you can find (and names, they all know each other) and hit the interview or questions out of the park!

4. Can I still be fascinated by tech without having to code?

This question might sound a little weird. But after thorough research on the internet, I found this question asked a lot by non-techies. The collective knowledge or better assumption I might say is that if you can't code, you're a non-techie. Really? Would you agree?

Can you still be fascinated with emerging technologies and wanting to understand without having the ability to code?

I say, YES! Look, coding is not my expertise, and it never will be. Was I hired to code everything around me? No, I wasn't. I was hired to work in marketing to write success stories and plan marketing activities. Therefore, I have to understand the principles and understand how things work on a higher level. I am an inquisitive person. I can communicate and be creative. You probably see where this is going: if you want to find out about the newest technology and/or trends, ask, read, and listen!

5. Be a Bridge between The Two Worlds

What drives me to write this blog and hopefully, you can agree on this, is knowing that it's essential to understand both worlds. I have recently listened to Sara Blakely (in her masterclass and I strongly recommend taking her classes) where she talks about innovation for innovations' sake: nobody needs a dishwasher alarm! Why would anybody get up in the middle of something to unload the dishwasher? My dearest engineers, please reverse this (on a side note, and this is true, my predecessor wrote a success story on dishwashers - engineers use real-time simulation for practically everything).

The most challenging task, however, is to combine both worlds. Something might be essential for an engineer but couldn't be more boring for a non-techie. What we find fascinating or how we would approach things as non-techies wouldn't even cross an engineers' mind. I remember looking at a "beginners class" techie blog post on picture processing - NOPE, definitely not content for a non-techie. Heck, I didn't even know it was about machine learning/picture processing (and how could I?). Keep in mind even with all the research you've put in, it might still be a foolish question for an engineer. But let me tell you: that's okay, as long as you can explain why you are asking the question, there's nothing to worry about.

Furthermore, the field (in my case, real-time simulation) is so vast that many different engineers are working in various departments with different scopes. Nowadays, there is no such thing as a polymath - and you know what? Actually, YouTube is an engineers best friend to turn to for problem-solving. Their hack is our hack ;)

To sum this up, keep these five pieces of advice in your mind, and you'll be just fine! And if you want to know more about real-time simulation and all the stories that come with it, subscribe to this blog and check out my Twitter account! And as always, stay curious!

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