Zoo Station

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The problem with smart people

Posted by Chance on September 15, 2014

In my experience with higher education, I’ve found that really smart people are sometimes terrible teachers.  There were some brilliant mathematicians that couldn’t effectively teach someone how to multiply two matrices.  At the same time, I worked as a math tutor with other undergraduates who were really good at math, but were not so far removed from math classes to forget how a struggling math student thinks.

There’s a similar issue in technology.  There are those who see computers and technology as means to an end, and those who see computers and technology as an end unto themselves.  The latter group include those who like to play around with computers and experiment with them and probably use Linux, and the former simply want to look up something on Pinterest or print a document, probably on Windows or on a Mac.  This divide has taken on a new dimension with smartphones.  Some people just want a phone that works (i.e. Apple).  Other people want to play around with their phone, experimenting with third party keyboards and various home screen replacements (the part of the phone from which you launch the different apps), so they use Android.

Neither group is wrong.  But I find that the “tech as an end to itself” has a hard time understanding the other group.  Those who use Linux don’t understand why the average computer user can’t figure out, or would not even want to, compile their own programs or why they need things to simply just work out of the box.  The Android user may not understand why a smartphone user may not care about changing fonts for their messaging program or be able to monitor their RAM usage.  I think that a problem that tech savvy people have, including myself, is understanding that other people think differently.

I’m sure there are things that the “tech as a means to an end” do as well that are bothersome, but I feel like I’m more familiar with the other group and can evaluate that group from the inside.  I feel that in the workplace and in life, there is an advantage to the tech-savvy understanding the other group.    When I was a tutor, I had to think about math from the perspective of another person.  Now, as a software engineer, I have to think about the software working in a way that makes sense for other people.


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