Computing Expertise

In higher education, and I imagine within IT support in most small organizations, where the “IT Gal” or “IT Guy” is called upon to do everything from run the servers to manage the routers to “doing the web page” to answering “how exactly do I do that in Word again?” they’ll find that people that aren’t the “Eye-Tee” person attribute computing expertise to one’s proficiency (or even beginning-icy) in the company’s/organization’s software packages.

Let me make something absolutely, positively clear. Knowing how to create a table of contents in Microsoft Word is not a function of computing expertise. Knowing how to do anything in any given consumer software package is not an activity reserved for “eye-tee”

Knowing how to use a hammer and a drill does not make me an architect, or a builder

This myth, that somehow software expertise is an Information Technology function, is one of the worst myths that ever pervaded the currently-heavily-dependent-on-software society. It means that ordinary, hard-working people that in every other area of their life would roll up their sleeves, break out the instruction book and learn whatever task (and tool) they have in front of them, give up, and ascribe some mystical, magical wall that even being a beginner in a piece of software is a scarce, specialized skill.

Yes, being an expert in a given software package is a scarce skill. But the best qualified to learn that are those that the software was written for. Just like a Chemistry PhD is going to know far more about the intimate details of their field, but everyone has the ability to understand that Dihydrogen Monoxide is safe in low doses.

Quite honestly — those of use in “eye-tee” are actually the absolute worst people to rely on for specific expertise in software — be that word, or photoshop, or Google Reader, or whatever the software application. It’s like the faculty member in Math answering Physics questions. Of course they get the math, but it’s not like they have the same expertise.

And for those of you that are proficient in a given software package and have proficiency in several or beginner knowledge in several? You aren’t computing experts. So give up thinking that — and stop trying to tell people otherwise. Because you are just as bad as the people that aren’t trying. (there are no computing experts, btw, the more you know the more you realize that there’s way more that you don’t know).

I have specialization in certain areas of computing technology. I know the fundamentals. I know how programs are constructed. I know how the operating systems work — at least a certain level of their architecture. I can make use of software written for folks like me to deliver services — but like I told a colleague today: I use software like everyone else does — one menu option or button at a time. The only reason I know how to use Photoshop, or use Firefox, or use anything, is the fact that I clicked on it and I started exploring menus, and trying things. I don’t use them 1/10th of the power they hold, but my beginner level usage has nothing to do with the fact that I have computing specialization.

It just means I tried.