Last week, my son celebrated his 14th birthday. He only wanted one present to mark the occasion, namely a gaming computer. Now, this is something that he’s been pining for months now. Originally, he wanted something in the $3000 range. Um, no. I wouldn’t even spend that much on myself, if I had the funds or the need. He only uses his computer for entertainment, whereas his dad and I use ours for both entertainment and business. Over the months, we told him that he had to get the price significantly down on the parts for the gaming machine he wanted to build, and eventually he figured out that he didn’t need the Bugatti (one of the fastest street cars out there) version of a machine, but a Ford Mustang level of speed was fine. Thanks to Ed Marsh of ContentContent, we found a place called MicroCenter that sold parts so that my son could build his new computer, and the sales guy helped us not only find all the parts, but also helped us find parts that were better and cheaper than some of the parts my son had chosen. As a result, before tax, my son’s new system cost $8 less than his budget. He was pleased.
My son and husband spent the weekend building the machine, and setting up the system. It’s still not perfect, as some of the components won’t work until he can upgrade his OS to Windows 10 next month, but it’s still an improvement over the machine he had. He’s thrilled with his new machine at this point. My husband and I felt that there were some good lessons learned with this birthday gift, which was that he learned to work within a budget, he learned teamwork as he built it with his dad’s help, he learned some patience (not much–he was anxious about it for a few months) in receiving it, and he gained some confidence that he actually knew what he was talking about when he’d talk to the sales guy. Perhaps this it the start to some career skills that will serve him later (he’s only in 8th grade right now).
Coincidentally, I got a new laptop myself. Unlike my son, I spent more money on it because I do use mine for business purposes quite heavily. Since I’m trying to move data from a Windows 7 machine to a Windows 8.1 machine…well, the transition hasn’t been so smooth. I’m doing it little bit by little bit. The Windows Easy Transfer was not cooperating in any way, no matter how I tried. Some things have ended up working out more easily, like having the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription to download programs to the new computer. Other ones…not so much. I’m still moving my own documents and content over as well, and there will need to be some tweaking done as well. It gives me a chance to clean up some of the data on my old computer so as not to mess up the new one too much.
During the process, I kept thinking, “Gee, what would someone who doesn’t have a lot of know-how about these systems do this process, if it’s like this for me?” Between my husband and I, who aren’t hardware/software experts, we still have a better clue than most people on how different software and systems work on a Windows computer, at least. Between us, we’ve been in the IT business in one form or another for 35+ years, so you’d think that we’d have some idea of how this stuff works.
This all lead to me thinking about the technical abilities of my family. My paternal grandfather, who lacked a formal education, was someone who should have been an electrical engineer based on his work and hobbies. He was a natural at that stuff. My brother inherited that mind too, as he is an architect. I was the other “tech” in the family. My father in law is a mechanical engineer, and my husband’s undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering, even though he is a computer and web developer now. So I supposed it was inevitable that it would be part of my son’s genetic code (get it, code?). 😉
I started thinking about it more deeply in terms of how this technical ability has helped my own career, and how it has related to technical writing and technical communication. After all, “technical” is the big modifier when describing these professions. How many of us are actually “technical” in what we do? We probably need to better define “technical” first. Do we mean that we understand the finer details or writing or related work (like web design, etc.) that we can be more “technical” than the average person? Or do we mean that we understand and work with technical content, which requires a higher level of knowledge on less than average topics? In my mind, it’s both. You could be one or the other easily, but probably the best technical communicators are a bit of both.
Is this something we take for granted? Perhaps we do. That’s something that we should change, and I think there’s been a movement within the technical communications field to embrace that. We have a special set of skills that many people don’t have. Many can write, and many can be technical, but not many can be both. You have been gifted with “The Force”, so to speak, so it’s your responsibility to use it for good like a Jedi Knight, and not turn to the Dark Side.