Shields up!


NCC-1701-B (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In almost every Star Trek episode or film, you can count on a number of things. Someone will say “beam me up”, the crew will face some kind of moral dilemma and someone in a red shirt gets it. The other thing that happens regularly is that the Starship Enterprise will get involved in some kind of tussle. The Captain issues the command “Shields up!” and we will see the pretty little display panel showing the nice safe force fields around the ship.

Once that happens, you know that although the crew might get tossed around a bit, some minor pyrotechnics will go off under a control panel and one of the officers will give dire warnings that the shields are failing. But hey – there’s another half an hour to run, so nothing too bad is going to happen. The shields are a good thing. They keep all that horrible nastiness away from the ship and the Star Trek universe seems to have more than its fair share of horrible nastiness.

As a technologist, I have to deal with shields of a different kind. In my career, the “tussles” I get involved with are much more mundane and still there are many who feel the need to resort to a force field. The command words in this case are “I’m not technical”. Don’t even bother trying to explain any of that technology nonsense to me, because I’m not technical. They wear those words like a suit of armour.

The problem is, that the very same person wearing those shields typically want to know why it’s going to take so long to get that new bit of functionality or to get their problem fixed. Whenever faced with this situation, unwise words gallop to the front of my brain. “Sorry – it takes us a long time to find the spell components to cast the spell to fix that particular problem” or “Sorry – but the fix-it fairies only work on Fridays”. Thankfully, I’ve always managed to catch them before they escape.

Once during a presentation, a guy in the front row put up his hand and asked me to clarify something I had just illustrated. After a short exchange to understand where the guy was coming from, I tried rephrasing my point in simpler language. He still didn’t get it, so I tried to make it simpler and gave an analogy. Still no luck, so I kept on simplifying until I just ran out of levels and then conscious of wasting the rest of the audience’s time, I told him it was magic, an answer which he accepted with good grace.

OK, so the gap between that guy’s knowledge and the subject matter of the presentation was too great to be bridged in the limited time we had available, but at least the guy was game. He wanted to understand and for that, he gets a lot of points in my book. So if you are one of the people equipped with the “I’m not technical” shields, just hold off hitting the button – take a chance. You might be amazed how technical you really are.


2 comments on “Shields up!

  1. A friend and colleague in sales used technology speak in reverse to what you described Martin. Once when explaining the network topography of a banking system deployment he had no technology solution for his last mile connection. When pressed for an answer he simply said, well that’s no problem, where no network exists we communicate to the outlaying branches using DOD Technology. This satisfied his audience and he moved on. Later when asked by one of the participants after the session what DID technology is he told him; ‘disk on a donkey’.

  2. In politics we have the opposite, but still related, problem. If you get a group of people in a room to talk about a major social problem every one of them will tell you that (a) all politicians are idiots for not being able to solve this, (b) the answer is actually very simple and (c) THEY are the voice of the common man and the answer that any sane individual will tell you is X, XXX and XXXXX.

    The trouble is, every one of those people will give you a completely different set of answers. They will then look at one another in amazement as if they cannot believe that the others cannot see the obvious simplicity of their solution. And there – in a nutshell – you have recreated the political arena all over again.

    I think people admitting a problem might be too hard to understand is preferable to presuming they know the answer and that everybody must agree with them. : )

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