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Talking to aliens, or how to communicate with a programmer


Do you find it hard to talk to programmers (or techies in general)? I once knew a programmer who would get a dazed look whenever someone brought him a problem. We called it that “deer in the headlights” face, and it was disconcerting. It turns out that he wasn’t bored or terrified, he was thinking. And because he was thinking, he wasn’t speaking. Once we understood what was really going on, it made it a lot easier to communicate with him.

Here are three tips for better communication with that alien life form, the software developer.

Focus on goals and objectives

Often a customer will tell me to “add a delete button to the customer form” (or a similar task), and occasionally they are right. But sometimes they haven’t fully thought through the implications of what they are trying to achieve. So instead of suggesting the solution, try to describe the problem and/or the goal. For example, instead of suggesting we need to add a new button, try explaining that you need a way to remove customers from selection lists if they are not active. From that you can explore with the programmer the best approach, be it a delete button or some other method of de-activating customers.

Be specific and concrete

Programmers live in the details. There is a huge difference between saying “the system needs to handle discounts” and “the system needs to handle flat fee discounts AND percentage discounts AND volume discounts”. It definitely makes a difference in how the programmer will be thinking about the rest of the conversation, so try to be as specific as possible.

Repeat what you heard

As with all communication what I thought I said may not line up with what you thought you heard. I find that if I repeat back my understanding of what the other person said, it helps to suss out any misunderstandings.

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  1. Default 24 Apr

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As someone with over 20 years of software development experience and currently a small business owner, it has been a pleasure working with Avonelle. In addition to being a talented developer, Avonelle also has database expertise and system design skills. Avonelle is open minded and willing to discuss various methodologies for achieving a project goal. She is also not afraid to ask questions which is vital in a software development project. Her up-front project cost (not estimate) is very helpful in budgeting for a project.

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