Posted by: CJ | January 30, 2011

Computer-whisperer

I’ve been doing more coding lately. Partially for my own edification, partially because I volunteered to help give a quick introduction to matlab for some undergraduate students. And it’s hitting me, to a degree it really hasn’t before, how much easier parts of programming are for  me than human interaction.

Dealing with programming, I tell the computer exactly what to do. There is a sequence of commands, the the computer responds based on what I’ve told it and nothing else. It processes the commands completely, in sequence, and if there’s a communication error between what I wanted and what the computer did then the error is findable and fixable. And if I don’t understand how to do something, I can easily experiment, I can lookup the proper syntax online, and I can see how other people have solved the problem. And try my own solutions based on that.

To anyone who’s watched me try to learn a new part of interacting or communicating with humans, they recognize the mindset as similar. I tend to have similar assumptions about how it works. It can make helping me quite frustrating for people with more native people skills than I posses. Also entertaining, but only if they’re not too frustrated.

On the flip side….well, on the flip side are the people who easily respond and understand others, but who don’t deal well with math or machines. And I think I have a better understanding of why, now. For them, dealing with other people is based on responding to what they see in the other person. Sensing what the other person is thinking, what the other person wants, how the other person is doing. And so they’re simultaneously flummoxed and frustrated when there’s nothing to respond to. And, if the people-person is particularly enthralled with status-games, also perturbed that the machines/subject don’t just yield to his/her skills.

I doubt this realization makes any difference in my life. But at least I can better appreciate why so many people think there’s an opposition/tension between being good with math/machines and being good with people. They come easiest with completely different mindsets.

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