“I am not a techie…”

8 Jul

It is becoming a pet peeve of mine when speakers start their web 2.0 presentations with this phrase, “I am not a techie”. I have come across it many times in the last year at both careers and library conferences and training, and to me it immediately begs the question, “…then why are you up there on the stage?”

I can see where the phrase has its place, in front of a novice audience that needs encouragement to just get in there and try it. It is reassuring if someone from their background stands up and says “if I can do it, anyone can!” Great. But that is for beginners. And it is still happening repeatedly. When do we get to move on from this?

When I attend a conference on technology, I expect to be exposed to new sites and services, and novel usages. I want to see inspiring examples of exceptional work, with passionate, creative people driving them. They don’t have to be careers or library people, in fact I like to see how people outside our industry do things. What I don’t want is a half-hour show-and-tell on a Netvibes page someone made – “look at all the cool widgets!!!”. “I’m not a techie” starts to translate as “this is going to be old news to you”.

I hate to rant like this, especially in an area where I know some people do still need that kind of encouragement and introductory level material, but can we please save that for beginners courses, labelled as such.

I also don’t understand why people proclaim it, almost with pride. I would much rather hear people say, “I wasn’t a techie when I started, but I could see the benefits to doing this. Through the project I have learnt some great skills, and I’m getting into it.” Why don’t they want to be seen as, or aspiring, to be techie? Is it to avoid the accusation of being an enthusiast, swept up in the latest fad? That seems fair. But to me it could also be saying something else – “it’s really easy, I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t”. So if the technology had required some investment of time to learn, or used some kind of code, they wouldn’t have bothered. They don’t have time to learn technical things, it does not appeal, it is something they would farm out to someone else.

Personally, I like challenges. Hearing that something is hard, something not everyone can just do, makes it sound worthwhile and attractive to me. I went to a CILIP talk for students where they were trying to promote chartership, and the key message was “it’s not rocket science”. Well why not? If anyone can do it, if it is not hard, if it requires little personal investment other than time and admin, then you are making it sound like a really unappealing proposition. Perhaps this is why I haven’t started down that path.

Becoming techie isn’t always easy, but it is certainly worthwhile. It is so satisfying to me if I learn a new bit of HTML or CSS code, put it into a website and the visual result is striking. One of the strengths of Web 2.0 is that it does allow non-techie people to build great blogs, feeds, homepages and learning resources without technical knowledge. But why be content to stop there? Learning a little more (and I am no computing expert), allows you a lot more flexibility and web 2.0 offers you up open source, API and feeds which are just begging for attention to build something exciting. I really want to be techie, there is so much potential. When people pronounce that they are not techie, it feels like they are missing out on all this, they just don’t see it or they are limiting themselves. Which is why it is frustrating to see them up on that conference platform, leading the way with blinkers on.

(Wish I’d gone to Mashed Library, now that’s how to do it!)


2 Responses to ““I am not a techie…””

  1. Elizabeth (Careers Service) August 19, 2009 at 6:08 pm #

    Hi Helen

    First time I’ve visited your blog but I feel guilty already. My own PG careers blog has various “non-techie” comments (in the “About” pages) – but from the angle of a former techie who got sick of all that coding. I waited until Web 2.0 advanced to the point where I could do what I wanted without resorting to any programming language.

    I’m proud to declare myself a technophile (and could easily get sucked back into programming, given the time). However I’d prefer to use tools someone else has created to do great stuff quickly, rather than spend hours debugging, satisfying though the end result is.

    So, I’ll stick to my easy-peasy Web 2.0 tools, and telling my defiantly non-techie careers colleagues how easy it is to do cool stuff with widgets (even that concept is high-tech for many) – but I’ll save my greatest respect for those of you coming up with the enabling technologies, and I’ll be galloping along behind you, finding new uses for stuff you develop.

    Elizabeth (Manchester PG Careers)

    PS. Recently spotted a story about Microsoft using LinkedIn to find people with “rare” programming skills. Was stunned to realise that they were referring to the assembler language I used when I first became a software engineer – over 30 years ago. Maybe I should have kept up the programming – I’d be coining it now…

  2. helencurry August 21, 2009 at 7:12 pm #

    Thanks for the comments Elizabeth. I think I got quite carried away, it was a moment of frustration with the pace of change. In my library background I found more people keen to just play with web 2. I was surprised at the recent AGCAS technology conference to see so few laptops, so little Twitter backstream. It would be great to see AGCAS host member blogs like CILIP, or put up a conference wiki.

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