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November 13, 2013

9 tips to communicate your code: What to do, what not to do


As a developer, you have to speak to a wide variety of people: Your tech pro coworkers, non-technical management, your mom. How do you speak to them all in an effective way? You follow these steps Nick Quinlan, Developer Evangelist at SendGrid, shared in his session “Communicating Your Code” at DevBeat 2013 in San Francisco.

1. Treat your audience as if they’re smarter than you: If you act like everyone you’re speaking with is smarter than you, you’ll avoid talking down to people, which no one responds well to.
2. Understand your audience: Knowing where someone is coming from can help you better communicate and understand what’s important to them. Ask questions to find out their background and knowledge level and craft your message accordingly.
3. Start with the big picture first: Know what you want to communicate from a high level and begin there. This gives people some way to frame their knowledge as you go into more specifics.
4. Kill the jargon: Jargon can get in the way of effective communications both with techies and non-tech folks. Keep a jargon jar and put a dollar into it every time you use jargon when it’s not needed or with someone who won’t understand it. You can build up to using jargon as you explain certain concepts in more detail.
5. Don’t get lost in the details: You may be tempted to go down the rabbit hole of details but when you’re trying to communicate the very basics of what’s going on, focus on just what you’re trying to do. Only go into the details your audience really needs to know.
6. Don’t go deeper than necessary: Don’t try to catch and explain all the errors and exceptions. Just explain the basics and only go into the deep specifics when it’s truly necessary.
7. Use examples: You have a wide variety of people you’re talking to, and examples give them a way to frame what you’re talking about.
8. Use metaphors: Metaphors can take anyone with any frame of reference and bring them closer to where you are and what you’re talking about. They can work across the board, whether speaking to a fellow developer or a non-tech employee.
9. Repeat yourself: Repeating yourself gives people another way to process something you said that they don’t fully understand. Rather than say something in exactly the same way, try to explain it from a slightly different angle and then repeat, repeat and repeat, until the point gets across.

What tips do you use to communicate your code? Tell us in the comments section or @Pluralsight.

About the Author

is the Director of Branded Content at Pluralsight. After working for years in Chicago media, she joined the team in 2012 to continue bringing quality news, tips and more to Pluralsight's audience. Find her @ChicagoDana or on Google+.

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