David Chappell


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What, Why, and How: Communicating with Different IT Audiences  
# Wednesday, April 19, 2017
I spent the first several years of my career writing code. For all of that time, I divided the technology world into two groups: developers and non-developers. I didn’t have much respect for the second group; they were mostly IT managers and marketing people, and they weren’t very technical. Even worse, they didn’t make decisions based solely on which option provided the best technical solution, an approach I thought was inexplicable.

When I first moved from writing code into writing books and giving presentations, I held onto this perspective. My audiences were largely developers, and like me, they knew that technical arguments were all that mattered. In fact, we agreed that unless you really understood the details of competing technologies, you could never make good decisions.

But I was wrong. I’ve now spent many years working with both groups of people, and I’ve learned that the best technology isn’t necessarily the best choice. Even more important, a deep technical understanding of the options isn’t necessary to make a good decision. I’ve come to have a great deal of respect for IT managers and marketing people.

The truth is that different audiences care about different things. When I’m talking to developers, I still focus on what a technology is and how it works—this is what developers care about. But when my audience is IT managers or marketing people or other less technical folks, I briefly describe the what, then move on to why they should care about it. These people don’t need to know how to use something—the what and the why are far more important.

If you’re trying to communicate with different IT audiences, you might find it helpful to be clear about this difference. This is especially true if you’re trying to sell something. Developers rarely sign checks—they’re not usually the final decision maker—and telling a deeply technical story to IT managers won’t persuade them. The thing to remember is this: developers care most about what and how, while IT managers care about what and especially why. Give each audience the information it needs--and only the information it needs--and you’re likely to be significantly more successful.

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