Good-With-Computers, Part Three: User Types

by Larry Emmott on October 18, 2011

in Anti-Buzz,Management

The buzz: If we just had kids at work all our computer problems would be solved

The anti-buzz: The workforce user knows more than they think they do.

A recap of parts one and two:

Technophiles ie. (good-with-computers), are good at abstract thinking and problem solving.
Technophobes, (bad-with-computers), fear both failure and success.

If the above sounds strange to you, go read the articles. There are good users and there are bad experts. When you are a Software Engineer, the standards are higher, and the bad ones exhibit the same stubborn fears as Grandma Torvalds when she can’t find the underscore character on the keyboard.

Let’s start with two big user groups, the workforce user and kids.

The Workforce User: This is probably you. You have a job that requires you to use a computer. You have business relationships that require you use technologies such as e-mail, text-messaging, Skype, etc. The software you use might be specialized, (Dentrix), or it might not be, (Microsoft Word). A technophilic Workforce User is competent with the software they have to use, and confident enough to self-teach themselves new software.

A technophobic Workforce User exhibits the qualities that we usually think of when we think of people who are bad-with-computers – they are intimidated by the software they use, and they often resist advice on how to do something faster or better. When something goes wrong they often can’t diagnose what happened, (say, when they click on a browser’s “back” button by accident), and usually don’t have the courage to keep trying until they get it right.

Kids Today: I don’t mean to confine this to actual kids, but to any people young enough to not know a world without computers. Today’s 20-year olds were born in 1991 and do not know life without the Internet anymore than baby-boomers know life without film and television. Today’s 30-year olds, (*ahem*), are about as young as you can get and still say that not everyone had a cell-phone while you were in high school. Regardless of skillset or desired career path, most younger people make copious use of computers, for better and worse. Most of them are comfortable navigating software and generally understand the “language” that most interfaces are designed in. Double-clicking, alt-tabbing, drag-dropping, keyboard-shortcuts, etc.

They don’t even think about it, and they pick up new things quickly, such as the post-WIMP interfaces of mp3 players and smartphones. This enables them to function as good Workforce Users almost without fail, but their use extends beyond the practical and into the social.

As time marches onward, this demographic will include everybody. Eventually, everyone will be fluent in the common user interfaces. The line of technophobia is drawn on whether or not they “get” the information age. The technophilic “kid” fact checks before posting something online, (because, hey, the Internet is right there), comparison shops because every vendor is at their doorstep, and leverages the medium to improve their real life relationships, whether its to play an amateur sport, create awareness of their own business, glean useful criticism of their work, or just meet up with friends.

“Kids today” equate their confidence with computing, (relative to their parents), with an actual skill. Nearly all of them are well-equipped for the computing demands of most jobs, but with the vaguely named field of “Computer Science” promising so much money, they often underestimate the demands of computer programming and expect that it actually is like programming their TiVo. (I will save my experiences teaching college freshmen for another day).

Next week on Anti-Buzz we will shift from users to “experts” and the difference between tech support and a software engineer.

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