Let’s Talk

I’m a software engineer by education. Well technically I’m an Information Technology graduate. But well, becoming a software engineer is the most obvious career choice. In my line of work, developing or customising applications is a major portion of the job description. Major, but not the only one. Documentation is an equally crucial and required aspect of application development, maintenance and modification. From simple comments explaining changes within the application code itself to drafting technical specifications detailing the approach and changes.

From time to time you also need to liaise with folks who aren’t all that tech savvy and need to be briefed about the application. Naturally apart from written matter, oral communication forms an integral part of this interaction. And like most businesses across the globe, communication in our line of work also takes place in the Queen’s English.

Trouble is that most folks in the IT industry aren’t all that concerned about their communication skills. And no, I’m not being judgmental. This is based purely on personal observation and experience. And I’m not talking about violations to Wren & Martin’s English, I’m referring to the utter lack of elementary knowledge or understanding of basic communication in the English language.

Trivial things such as pronunciation of certain words, forming simple sentences or even the correct usage of words and phrases seem akin to uphill tasks for these folks. And the worst part is that almost none of them are aware of the faux pas they commit on a daily (in some cases hourly!) basis. It’s truly frustrating for someone who has been brought up to subscribe to the notion that communication should stem from use of proper diction, grammar and enunciation. I’ve come across examples of simple email communications gone awry due to the use of absolutely incorrect language. There have been phone calls where I’ve bit my lip from laughing at the funny pronunciations of commonly used words and truly creative rendition of standard phrases. And I cannot count the number of times I’ve had to mentally correct the other party when involved in face to face conversations.

So what’s the problem here? Are the folks in the industry not interested in speaking and/or writing correct English? Or is it something beyond that? In my opinion this phenomenon can be attributed to a couple of factors.

Let’s start from the start (Duh!) English as a first language isn’t common beyond certain private schools in most countries globally. As a result education is imparted in another language and English becomes a second (or even third) language for many school children. Think about how proficient you are in a language you learned as an additional one way back in school! Not that good at conversing in high school French or Spanish are you?

As students progress through their high schools and later their colleges and universities, this starts getting to be a slightly larger issue. Students need to focus their attention to their subject majors which are usually related to coding. Little known fact about programming, most of the syntax and semantics aren’t bound by the laws of regular english grammar! Oh yea, there maybe a subject which is meant to educate the kids on the importance of Communication and proper English. But let’s face it, when you’re studying to major in Advanced Database Management, conversing in English isn’t on your top ten list!

Even the hiring process for fresh graduates is no different. A major portion of the evaluation process focusses solely on your technical abilities and puts quite a minimal amount of focus on your conversational or communication abilities. After all, the employer is paying you for your knowledge of writing that complex piece of code, not for your flair to use the right words when describing your Curriculum Vitae. Are they wrong in doing so? Not entirely. After all they ARE looking for technical experts, not Shakespearean orators. Any other skill, decent communication or otherwise, is simply an added bonus, not an essential qualification.

The industry too is not very critical of your lack of grammatical knowledge. Of course no one wants to spend (read waste!) their time attempting to correct the other person’s communication. Partially because they don’t wanna snub the other fellow, but mostly because they just want to get the real job done, the technical one. You’d be surprised at how many times I’ve heard Project Managers putting up with truly ungifted conversationalists simply because they didn’t want to lose out on his technical prowess by correcting his (or her) god awful grammar.

And please remember that communication goes beyond just the proper use of grammar. Etiquette is an important aspect of communication as well. Something as common as clicking the “Reply” instead of the “Reply All” button when responding to emails or avoiding the use of brightly coloured or image heavy content when sending memos across to multiple recipients. Or even the tone and pitch that need to be adopted when speaking to someone over the phone or in person are lost causes.

So, the question is, does it matter that the IT folk can’t hold up a decent conversation in English without succumbing to making grammatical faux pas? Well, that’s something I’ll let you, the reader, decide.

*Disclaimer – Although this post talks about the lack of grammatical knowledge among the IT folk, there is a very good probability that the author of the post himself may have committed numerous grammatical mistakes as well. Go easy on him alright. Do not feel obligated to post comments!

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