Author Topic: How to learn to speak computer-ese?  (Read 6013 times)

fecklesslayabout

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How to learn to speak computer-ese?
« on: May 08, 2012, 07:45:41 PM »
This is not exactly directly related to mustachianism, but the huge number of engineers/people in tech fields on this forum made me think it would be a great place to ask this question. I'm an American living in China, and really, really want to get out of the (soul crushing) English teaching game. I speak fluent Mandarin and would like to start breaking into editing/translation/interpretation for Chinese companies. Right now most of these kinds of jobs are in tech, working with Chinese software engineers/programmers to translate either Chinese or non-native English into something understandable to native English speakers. Most job postings want someone with English and Mandarin fluency (check) and editing experience (check) as well as a vaguely worded "understands computers" or "is experienced with technology" (a problem arises!). I'd say I'm about average in terms of computer literacy for someone in their early twenties, but I for sure don't know enough to be confident that I can, say, edit software manuals. So, engineers: what would you want your editor/translator to be able understand? I'm confident that I can learn most things that I set my mind to learning, but I have no idea where to start here. What books should I read? What should I be learning how to do (keeping in mind that I don't have to be capable of doing actual engineering or programming, just of understanding what the hell engineers and programmers are talking about). I figure knowing this stuff will be useful to me whether or not I end up getting a job in the field, so I'm pretty gung-ho about educating myself.

Thanks in advance for any advice!

gooki

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Re: How to learn to speak computer-ese?
« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2012, 09:52:34 PM »
My advice, start applying for those jobs now. You don't need a better than average understanding of technology. I don't believe any of the tech writers at our company started of knowing a whole lot about the technology they would be writing for.

Fetlock

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Re: How to learn to speak computer-ese?
« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2012, 10:15:55 PM »
I don't think there are any shortcuts. You have to dig into it pretty deep. To understand programming, you need to do some programming. The only way to be "experienced with technology" is to experience technology. The artists, game designers, and other non-technical roles I work with who understand tech best are inevitably the ones who dabble in it in their spare time.

Sure, you don't have to be capable of doing actual engineering or programming work, but it sure helps to be able to do at least a little bit. And the more you can do, the better you will understand it. If you only do what you need to to barely eke by, your knowledge will be shallow as a result.

If you want a starting point for programming, go figure out how to get Python or Ruby or some other relatively easy-to-learn language running on your machine. Then find some tutorials and run your first "Hello, World!" program. Get a book and go at least halfway through it, or keep doing tutorials. Any time you type out an example, don't just move on to the next one. Instead, ask yourself questions and keep playing with it. "I wonder if I can make it do this...?" "What happens if I do that...?" If you're not sure, then try it. These are the types of questions you should be asking yourself to build deep knowledge. Be curious.

And don't be afraid to make bugs or mistakes. You will probably make a lot of them. If you don't make any bugs, you aren't learning anything.

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All of that being said, job requirements are almost always exaggerated. Sometimes the fastest way to learn is to jump in just a little bit over your head.

fecklesslayabout

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Re: How to learn to speak computer-ese?
« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2012, 11:32:27 PM »
I don't believe any of the tech writers at our company started of knowing a whole lot about the technology they would be writing for.

This is pretty comforting to know; at least I know I have a chance at employment in the near future!

Thanks for the advice, Fetlock. I've found a textbook online that teaches complete beginners how to program using Racket: do you think that seems like a good place to start?


Fetlock

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Re: How to learn to speak computer-ese?
« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2012, 06:14:33 AM »
I've found a textbook online that teaches complete beginners how to program using Racket: do you think that seems like a good place to start?

Racket is a Scheme/Lisp-type functional language. Functional programming (Lisp, Scheme, Clojure, Haskell) is definitely worth knowing, but you should be aware that it is a lot less common than iterative programming (Python, Java, C++), so you may not find it as immediately and as widely applicable as you would if you chose a more popular language. What you'll probably find is that functional languages are a lot more theoretical and academic than iterative languages, so you might find it easier and faster to get up and running with actual, practical applications if you use an iterative language.

If you want to use Racket or any other Scheme, I would recommend two books. The first is The Little Schemer, an excellent and entertaining introduction to Scheme (Racket is a Scheme), which makes heavy use of the Socratic method. The second is SICP (free online version here), which is widely considered an excellent and thorough textbook. That book is not easy material, however. I would recommend that you at least go through the The Little Schemer (just don't cheat), and consider SICP to be advanced material, which may or may not even be a good recommendation for you. But look at The Little Schemer for sure -- that book is fun.

Even if you go with Racket, I highly recommend choosing at least one iterative language to play with as well. If I had to do it all over again, I would want Python or Ruby to be my first language. If you're interested in front-end web technology, Javascript is a good choice. These are scripting languages, so they'll be a lot easier to pick up than, say, C++. You'll want to familiarize yourself with Object Oriented Programming (OOP), which is very widespread.

Anyway, feel free to ask me any questions you have.

jpo

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Re: How to learn to speak computer-ese?
« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2012, 07:39:09 AM »
I don't believe any of the tech writers at our company started of knowing a whole lot about the technology they would be writing for.
+1 to this. If you need to know something technical you should be able to ask one of the developers to explain at a high level for you.

arebelspy

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Re: How to learn to speak computer-ese?
« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2012, 08:05:23 AM »
I don't believe any of the tech writers at our company started of knowing a whole lot about the technology they would be writing for.
+1 to this. If you need to know something technical you should be able to ask one of the developers to explain at a high level for you.

Agree.

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napalminator

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Re: How to learn to speak computer-ese?
« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2012, 11:18:27 AM »
read lots of blogs on whatever the relevant topic is (programming, hardware, etc).  also look for free online textbooks, instructional videos, etc.  just dive in and don't worry that you don't get everything immediately. for programming, perhaps start with something like Code Academy.

the fixer

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Re: How to learn to speak computer-ese?
« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2012, 06:43:59 AM »
If you're trying to get more computer-literate in terms of how existing hardware and software works, the best way is to tinker with a computer. Pick up a used computer on craigslist so you aren't breaking your primary one. Learn how to upgrade the memory, hard drive, video card, etc. Learn how to tweak Windows in new ways. If you have the installation discs the computer came with, try reinstalling Windows and getting all the software working again the way it did originally. Try installing Linux and playing with that. Try setting up two hard drives in a RAID array. Get a wireless router and learn more about setting up a network between your two computers, and how that network works. For less than $1000, you could learn to do ALL of these things yourself given sufficient time devoted to them.

I got good with computers by simply doing these types of things for several hours a day when I was a teenager. You learn by doing, and sometimes by breaking something and having to learn how to fix it. Sometimes this can get expensive when you take on a project to replace hardware (sometimes by choice), but it's nothing compared to the value of the knowledge you gain from it.

velocistar237

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Re: How to learn to speak computer-ese?
« Reply #9 on: May 10, 2012, 09:12:19 AM »
Employees often get training because jobs usually have a narrow focus. Are you going to be editing manuals for professional printing equipment, graphics software, solar panel installation, or what? Just apply, and stress that you have the writing and translation skills and can learn the other parts quickly.

zweipersona

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Re: How to learn to speak computer-ese?
« Reply #10 on: May 10, 2012, 10:56:14 AM »
Employees often get training because jobs usually have a narrow focus. Are you going to be editing manuals for professional printing equipment, graphics software, solar panel installation, or what? Just apply, and stress that you have the writing and translation skills and can learn the other parts quickly.

This.  You have native fluency in English, which means you are a step up for others that may be fluent in both languages but are Chinese citizens and perhaps more prone to certain grammatical mistakes.  That, plus the huge demand that I'm sure there is, means you should apply.  'Understands computers' typically means exactly that.  It's unlikely anyone will ever make you go into their code.  While it WOULD be more efficient, it would mean you would need to be fluent in two languages, and be able to write code.  You'd have to be paid significantly more.

In short, you're probably good as you are now