Saturday, June 20, 2015

I'm not a technical person but...but actually I am!

I have been reading some posts about Imposter Syndrome and particularly Sam's post on being an outsider in a technical meeting.

The specific example of IT doesn't really apply to me because I am a librarian with a computing background who has worked in IT and I've learnt how to navigate those waters. For what it is worth, Google is my friend, even in meetings, but actually building your knowledge over time also helps. Asking the right questions is a good strategy as it demonstrates that you know enough to ask the question and are not afraid to defer to those with deeper understanding. This is not faking it but paddling furiously to keep your head above water. Lastly I rarely take no for an answer from any IT person without making an effort to understand if no means it can't be done or no means it can't be done without serious effort or no means they don't know enough to say one way or another but don't want to admit it.

However there are other domains beyond my comfort zone. Working in a university I am surrounded by areas of expertise where I'm out of my depth as soon as I enter the room. In this case I apply the same technique, except that I am more polite and try really hard not to make a fool of myself. Over time I gain enough of the fundamentals to get by but rarely to get comfortable. However occasionally in such a meeting (or project) the topic turns to discovery or metadata and I feel the locus of expertise swing in my direction. Real experts, in fact most people at the top of their field, are incredibly generous in recognising that someone else has the expertise and are willing to defer when outside of their territory. But be warned. Real experts can get up to speed enough to ask awkward questions out of their domain and thus the tables are turned.

BTW I am also male and so I can say things and get taken seriously even when I don't know what I am talking about. My better half always makes me talk to the car mechanic or tradesman for that reason, even though she knows as much as I do. Sorry. Can't help my gender. I apologise on behalf of my chromosome.

** photo from Shaun Tan exhibition on his Rules of Summer book



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