Guy is a consultant front-end developer specialising in front-end architecture and Sass-flavoured CSS. When not working on client projects, he teaches in person and online. Away from all thing digital, he have a keen interest in art and architecture, fine food and wine and someday plan to open his own gluten-and-dairy-free restaurant.
The trouble with technical jargon
I own a beautiful, canary yellow, dealer limited edition convertible and I love it to bits. Unfortunately, it won’t start.
For months it’s sat on my driveway because I didn’t really need to go anywhere by car. Now it’s died a slow and silent death at the hands of the elements and my negligence. The tires have deflated, moving parts have seized up, the battery is beyond flat, it’s covered in cobwebs and mould has started to colonise on the leather seats as the rubber has started to rot around the roof and window seals.
About a year ago, I blew the engine up on a country road and had it re-built at a cost of £1200. Since then, I’ve put maybe 250 miles on the clock. If there’s anything that I’ve learned from this experience so far, it’s that I shouldn’t own nice things that I really don’t need. I’ve come to the tough decision that this time, it’s over and I won’t be getting it repaired.
However, before reaching that difficult decision, I looked into what it would take to bring the old thing back to life. I spoke to the local mechanic – the father of a friend of a friend. I explained the problem as best I could and asked if he could help and how much it might cost.
“It depends”, was the short version of the answer. The nice bloke in the slightly grease-covered overalls talked about a couple of things that might have happened, and gave me a comprehensive (albeit friendly) lecture about how “cars need looking after and you can’t just expect them to work after months of neglect”. He used words that I’d never heard before and talked about mechanical parts that I didn’t even know where involved in the magic of internal combustion. He sounded knowledgeable but the whole thing was going to be very expensive. I had no idea if I was getting a good deal or if he was taking advantage of my automotive ignorance and ripping me off!
It dawned on me that this could be how some clients must feel when talking to technical professionals. Most have no concept of the technical process required to build a bespoke website or app. Some people think that you can make one for just a few hundred quid.
I know I’ve fallen into the trap of bombarding people with jargon and buzz-words in the past. Responsive design, iOS, CMS, SEO, sharability, Mobile First, AJAX, cache invalidation, continuous integration etc. etc. etc. these terms are common in agencies and in-house dev teams but not all of them would be familiar to a “normal” person.
I wouldn’t be surprised if most clients start from a not too dissimilar place as I did with my car: they just want their website fixed. Perhaps in some cases they feel that their site is beyond repair and decide they need a new one; a faster model, with more options, maybe some of those fancy new features like responsive cruise control and automatic everything.
Am I doing enough to help my clients through the buying process?
As technical professionals, it’s our job to clearly explain what does what and make sure they receive the service they need to reach their business or personal goals. I don’t like the term “educating clients” but are we doing enough to fill in the blanks, or are we flogging them an old banger; purchased off the lot at a salvage yard and given a re-spray?
I pride myself in my work but worry that sometimes I forget what the client – or god forbid, the users – actually want or need. There’s a wealth of tools, languages, technologies and endless possibilities out there and we have to work with our customers to make sure they understand what the real needs of a project are.
I don’t want to lose sight of that and become just like any old mechanic down the street. Don’t get me wrong, the guy I spoke to is a lovely chap, but I felt overwhelmed and a little bit stupid when talking to him – I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, especially the not my customers who keep me in business.