Technologists as Translators

Conversation between mother and wife the other day about mother’s family tree went something like:

Mother (pointing at marks on a piece of A3): Look, A and B are first cousins which makes C and D second cousins but because of the age difference between A and B, D is about the same age as E who is F’s niece.

Wife (perplexed by the complexity): There must be a computer program to make all this easier.

Mother: Are you really sure that there is a computer program that knows all about my family tree?

Wife (blank look): ..?

At which point I step in to translate between the two, explaining to Mother that when Wife is talking about a computer program to more clearly draw the relationships between people (assuming you’ve typed in all the data first) and to Wife that Mother is most interested in the data rather than how it is displayed.

This is the same misunderstanding that occurs every day between users and techies when delivering technology in business. When a user talks about a “customer database” they are thinking of the data; when a techie talks about a “customer database” they are thinking of relationships between tables.

In 2006 the key challenge for anyone who wants to succeed in delivering technology is not simply understanding the technology, nor even understanding the business, but something more subtle: being able to translate between the two.

Incidentally, are there any good family tree programs out there that my mum could play with?

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