3 Ways to Simply Describe Complex Technical Topics
Make it easier to explain complex tech topics to non-tech people by using analogies, avoiding system diagrams, and starting with a short summary of the key information.
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To be a skilled programmer, you need great coding skills. To be a great programmer, you need more than technical skills. You need to be able to work well with other teams and that requires clear communication.
But it is hard to communicate clearly when you are working on complex technical topics. How do you describe the incredibly complex problems you work on to people outside your team?
If you need to talk about your work to business teams, here are three ways to simply describe complex technical topics.
1. Use Analogies to Make Things Relatable
The inner workings of software applications are a mystery to business stakeholders. Some people might understand coding languages or how the applications fit together. But those people are rare.
Analogies are a powerful tool for making things relatable. You can explain almost anything using examples from everyday life — things that most people have experienced. Here are some examples:
- Firewalls are like castle walls (and much like castle walls the firewall was overtaken by advancing technology).
- Data transfer speeds are like water moving through pipes because only so much can move through a pipe at a given time.
- Searching through unstructured data is like looking for a specific book in a library. In the dark. After the library was hit by a tornado. It is going to be difficult and time-consuming. (And futile!)
Analogies don’t need to be complex, they don’t even need to be real. They just need to provide a relatable context for your topic. When they are used well, they can turn complex IT into simple descriptions.
2. Never Show a System Diagram to a Business User
System diagrams are complicated. Some developers and architects take pride in creating the most complex diagrams possible. Even seasoned IT professionals need time to understand a complex system diagram.
Here’s the thing — business stakeholders don’t care about the detail. They don’t need to see it.
The business users care about the end result — will the system do the job they need it to do? That’s what you should focus on.
I bet you’ve never seen the blueprints and architectural plans for the house you live in. They exist; your house wouldn’t be standing if the builders hadn’t seen them and used them. But for you, as the end-user, you don’t need to see the plans for the house.
Imagine you called a plumber and before fixing the pipe they showed you the layout of the entire system. Walking you through all the pipes, pumps, and valves in the house. Would you care? No. You want the leak fixed.
This is how business users feel about the system diagram you want to show them.
(Oh, and did you notice the use of analogy there?)
3. Give a Short Summary at the Start
Our brains need to know the purpose of a topic before we can sort and process new information. Give your audience the best chance of understanding your message by starting with a short summary.
- State the goal you are trying to achieve.
- State the problem that is preventing you from achieving that goal.
- Describe the solution you want, need, or are putting in place.
Almost all work topics can fit into this goal-problem-solution structure.
When you spend all day deep inside technical systems you become an expert in how it works. The greater your expertise, the more you forget how little other people know about it.
The greater your expertise on a topic, the more you need to use simple language to explain things to other non-expert people. This doesn’t mean being patronizing or talking to business teams like they are children. It means you should use common language they can relate to. Analogies help make things relatable. System diagrams are always too much information. And every conversation is better when it starts with a clear summary.
If you apply these three ways to simply describe complex IT topics, your business stakeholders will thank you for it.
Published at DZone with permission of Chris Fenning. See the original article here.
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