We are all learning, all of the time in the tech industry. Having empathy benefits everyone, especially in a learning environment.

Custom-built barriers

One day, I went to a JavaScript brown bag (lunchtime learning) session. I don’t particularly like JavaScript, so I thought I should give it a chance. At the beginning of the session, the person leading it said something about “ES6”. I had no idea what this was. I could have gone away and Googled it, but thankfully I had a previous job where asking questions was encouraged, so you can follow conversations in real-time. My hand shot up. “I’m sorry… What’s ES6?”

The person leading the session stopped, gave me a scornful look and quipped “Everyone knows what ES6 is.” before not answering the question and continuing.

This upset me. It was obviously rude and cutting, and I had been made to feel stupid for a gap in my knowledge. Also, I knew other people in the group didn’t know what it was either. I felt the air cool as they took a large metaphorical step back, leaving me at the front of a knowledge-snobbery firing line.

Words are powerful, and they keep us complicated. It can affect how and to what extent we innovate, as well as how we write programs. However words can also act as a barrier to entry, keeping out anyone who doesn’t know what to look up to understand a term, or, once done, what the Wikipedia page that comes up is talking about. One example is a site that teaches you the Ruby language from the beginning. I was showing it to a programming newbie. Ruby is “Interpreted, meaning you don’t need a compiler to write and run Ruby”. Great, we were saying, but then what’s a compiler?


The principle that systems that are simple, perform best, “Keep it simple, stupid” can be applied to the way we talk about tech to non-tech peoples, beginners, or the differently-teched. Breaking down the barriers of jargon isn’t a unique problem, or a new one. However in an industry where cucumbers and mojitos are thrown around, I think it’s important to step back and remember the importance, not only of naming things, but also clearly explaining them.

If you start with patience, no judgement, and no irritation when the person you are explaining things to doesn’t understand, you are doing them a much bigger favour than you will probably realise

Be kind to beginners

| Methodology & Culture| 545 views | 0 Comments
About The Author
- Katharine is a Java developer by trade, turned Community & Content Manager for Voxxed. Helping developers learn and share knowledge. Contact me at kbe@voxxed.com with any news, articles or tutorials.

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