Knowing about Tech Without Being in Tech

It’s easy for people who study anything other than computer science to give up on tech. Being up to date on the latest apps, developments and sites is totally out of reach. You’re a PC, so to speak, and your tech-y friends, the ones who spend their weekends at hackathons and work for start ups during the summer, they’re the Macs. The future is theirs and we’ll just be surfing around in whatever they make for us next.

I’m totally guilty of this.

Some of the fears I have when I think about my tech friends are:
I’ll never get a job, they will.
I can’t start a business, I’ll have to hire a web designer/technical cofounder (see this presentation about that).
I can’t even make a decent blog/homepage/video, therefore I am woefully inadequate in the 21st century.
On my resume, I am fluent in english and spanish, not css, java or anything remotely cool.

That’s why I was so thrilled when my fantastic friend (and brilliant techie and writer) Tess told me “you know a lot about tech for someone not in tech,” a few months ago. This compliment ranks as one of the best I’ve ever received.

Here’s how (I think) I got there:
Use google. Google products are a tech lover’s dream. The cloud is awesome and they have tutorials all over the place. Experiment with labs and apps(they make gmail SO much better), watch tutorials, take the google analytics course (on my to-do list).

Read tech blogs. Mashable is a great place to start, Check out techcrunch, hacker news, and more. Even the New York Times has lots of tech coverage. Knowing for example, that facebook bought instagram makes you ahead of many.

Use cool apps: venmo (a great app that helps you split the bill with your friends at dinner), foursquare (the explore feature is so helpful when travelling), instagram, path. Talk to your friends in tech (or look online) about what apps they like and try to get the most out of the technology you use. For gmail, I highly recommend rapportive. It pulls details about your contacts and shows you their other accounts. Highly useful and addictive.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Are you making a wordpress and you want to switch something? Google how to do so. There are tutorials for so much online, which speaks to the relative openness of the tech community. You can’t imagine a diplomat writing a step by step guide to intercepting cables could you?  Use websites like quora to have and read discussions about tech and any questions you have. Just in the last week at work I’ve found new microsoft word shortcuts, new picture shrinking websites, and new hootsuite tools. Learning how to set up domain names and url forwarding will also put you ahead of the game from most people. I’m a big fan of namecheap (they’re less spam-y than godaddy, and cheaper).

Technology is an industry that has things in common with other industries. That means there are discussions of sexism, inequality, sustainability, the role of technology in development, healthcare etc. Just look at the response to Marissa Meyer’s appointment.  See where your area of expertise or interest intersects with technology. I guarantee it does. There are tons of articles about how technology will impact your career and how technology is important to startups, read a few a week and you’ll notice a difference.

Try to learn. Sure you won’t match the skills of someone who’s been taking compsci since middle school. Being able to use technology better, or at least discuss it more accurately, will only serve you. Also, as the youngest person in whatever office you someday work in, you’ll be the one called to fix the internet. You can do that and more. Spend a few hours on codeacademy, read a little bit about SEO (search engine optimization). Yes, there is a learning curve and there is a lot of industry specific vocabulary, but you can learn some things. I’ll never forget the time I mentioned the term UI (user interface) to a friend in tech. He was shocked and impressed that I knew what that was. I read the term somewhere on mashable and looked it up. That’s really it.

Don’t think tech is a closed door. People in tech love to talk about it and are generally happy to teach those who are interested. Tech is a community and many people in the industry are VERY easy to reach on the internet via email or twitter. Don’t be afraid to reach out and start conversations. As somone not in tech, you have a different and valuable perspective. Share it. Being open to something unfamiliar is extremely positive in every aspect of your life.

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