How to Speak IT

By Kathryn Magura

I spend a lot of my day interacting with our IT staff. With time and experience, I have gained an understanding of how to “speak” IT, even though I have no formal background or training in IT. Just to be clear, there are two categories of IT staff: There are the support staff a.k.a. the ones who make your computer work (see Nick Burns or the IT Crowd for reference). Then there are programmers a.k.a. the ones who write all the code for your computer programs to work (See Neo from the Matrix for reference). Those are two distinct categories, friends. Please don’t ask the IT support to fix your web app, and please do not ask the programmers to fix your computer (have you tried turning it off and back on?). The staff I work most closely with are the programmers.

Over the years, I’ve taken great pride in learning the lingo of computer programming. I am not a programmer, and cannot read the Matrix (as I like to call it), but I can articulate my problems very well, and can often help troubleshoot issues where other non-IT staff cannot. How did I learn to do this? Well, my Bachelors degree in Psychology and Masters degree in Higher Education Administration… are of no use here.

So how have I done it?

  1. I observe and listen: I take a lot of time to observe how they piece together the code, and listen as they try to work through a solution. As a Housing practitioner, I am working with programmers who do not have a background in Housing, so it is really up to me to articulate my point. I have learned to observe how they approach a particular programming problem, and work with them to find solutions.
  2. I am not helpless: Sure, I might as well try to speak Klingon before I speak computer code, but that doesn’t mean I cannot help troubleshoot an issue. I cannot find the specific line of code wherein an issue may lay, but I can provide enough context for the issue to help the programmers find the issue. The more I can do to describe the exact problem and how to reproduce that problem, the easier it will be for the programmers to find the actual issue and resolve it quickly.
  3. I have built trust: Over my tenure, I have learned that I cannot assume new programming staff will think I know what I am talking about. I am more than willing to prove that I know what I am talking about, and even offer suggestions for solutions. This trust has lead to a level of rapport with our programmers which has allowed us to tackle problems and new ventures with ease.


That’s a small list that hopefully can help you gain better understanding and insight into the world of trying to speak “IT”. What tips do you have?

How to Speak IT

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