Jackie Chan, Tom Cruise, and Me: How to Talk Tech With Anyone

Incorporate lifestyle into technical explanation. Technical Jargon is difficult to understand.

Opening Credits

The scene: 9:30 am, our usual daily stand up. The topic: An issue we encountered after our new product’s initial Google Play Store deployment.

Danger: PO’d Product Owner Ahead

A third-party SDK feature wasn’t working when the app was downloaded from the Play Store. However, during internal testing, everything worked fine. After several hours of debugging, we discovered the problem was Google’s app signing which we offer as an opt-in .

An invalid app signature was getting generated because we had provided our upload key certificate to a third-party vendor for verification. Really, we should have been providing the app-signing certificate ourselves instead.

It can be painful to explain these things to a product owner. Our product owners are great with vision and business acumen, but when it comes to technical issues, they’re counting on us. After all, if they were tech wizards, they wouldn’t need to hire us in the first place.

So, what should be done in a case like that?

How to Confuse and Frustrate Your Product Owner

Try saying something like this:

When building and testing the application, we use our own key to sign our app, and it works. However, when the app is downloaded from the Google Play Store, it doesn’t work, as Google signs the release using their key. So, the problem is the third-party SDK verification that generates an invalid signature when using the APK released by Google.

A co-worker tried an explanation like this, and it only seemed to make the product owner more confused. That’s when Jackie Chan, Tom Cruise, and I jumped in to save the day.

Analogy Heroes in Action

Like an agent of the Impossible Missions Force dropping down from the ceiling, the following analogy suddenly popped into my head:

During the building and testing phase, we’ve been telling our third-party vendor that we’re Jackie Chan. That led the third-party vendor to think, “OK, we’re not supposed to allow anyone besides Jackie Chan into the app.”

However, when the app was downloaded from the Google Play Store, Google told our third-party vendor that we’re actually Tom Cruise. So our third-party vendor said: “Hey dude, this is not for you. You can’t use my SDK. You ain’t Jackie Chan.”

The product owner understood this right away, and we were back in action fixing the problem.

How to Pick Your Nose

I love explaining using analogies, especially funny ones. Analogies are not only easier for people to understand, but laughter during a discussion also helps consolidate the information into memory.

For example, here’s one that’s hard to forget. At our company, when someone’s overcomplicating things during problem-solving, a teammate will say:

Why would you want to put your hand through the back of your neck to pick your nose, when you can simply do it the front way?

And here’s some brain bleach for that mental image.

Another benefit: when you try to explain something using an analogy, you’re also testing your own understanding of the respective topic, which enables you to be more self-aware about your learning.

A Hollywood Ending

In short, explaining things using analogies has several benefits:

  • Making communication between technical and non-technical people simple and clear. It’s also helpful between developers.
  • Funny analogies bring joy—and improved memory consolidation—to the whole team.
  • Increasing your own understanding of the topic and self-awareness about the learning process.

Thanks for reading!

An Ode to Books

“You are not what you write, but what you have read.” — Jorge Luis Borges. 1899–1986.

In a letter to my newborn grandson , I had this to say about books recently:

Just promise me that you will keep reading. Read until your eyes hurt. Read until you fall asleep with the book in your hands, then wake up and read some more. Read with a flashlight under the covers at night; highly recommended.

Never stop reading. Never stop learning. That’s my first piece of advice to you. Books are not just for school; they’re your best allies for the rest of your life. I hope, and have every reason to believe, that you will live to be a hundred years old or more, prospering well into the next century. The only way you can stay relevant in that future world is if you keep learning every day between now and then. It would be presumptuous of me to tell you what knowledge you need to be successful a century from now; but what I can tell you, definitively, is that the only path to that success is through constant lifelong learning.

If there’s one activity I’ve pursued in life that I’m proud of, it’s that I’ve read practically every day of my life — several hours a day, every single day. I used to do so at night, before falling asleep, even after a long day at work. Ever since retiring a couple of years ago, I find I spend more and more time snuggling up with a book and enjoying it even more since my mind is not preoccupied with other matters.

Reading for work and studying for school don’t qualify in this context. I don’t care that you’re reading computer science books at school or management books at work. Good for you but that’s not reading. I’m talking about the other type of reading, the kind you do for the sheer joy of it, on top of all that other reading. First for fun, as a kid, then as a hobby, as a teenager, then as continuing education, as an adult.

“If you cannot read all your books…fondle them — peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.” — Winston Churchill.

The thing about obsessive reading is that the more you read, the sweeter and more meaningful the experience becomes; and at every stage it teaches us something. If you do this, if you go on this journey with me, you will see that reading is not only the most rewarding experience you can have in the long run but also the most rewarding gift you can ever give yourself.

The more you read, the more you understand of what you read, the more rewards you get out of reading, the more you learn from the experience. You need to build up your reading muscles just like you build up your running muscles. The only difference is that this particular set of “muscles” is in your brain, not your body.

First you read adventure stories as a preteen. You learn about language itself, all its beautiful forms and narrative structure, from a beautifully written novel — be it Russian, British, French, or Chinese in origin. You also learn morality, whether veiled in the guise of Harry Potter or Tin Tin or Nancy Drew.

You will do this because you have no choice. Remember, you’re reading obsessively with me. Every day, every night — with a flashlight under a blanket or a reading lamp attached to your book — the modern equivalent of flashlights for adults.

“Reading with me is a disease.” — Theodore Roosevelt.

You will read novels and literature in your adolescence and early adult years. That’s where you learn about society at large, different lifestyles and cultures, love and hate, societal values and norms.

If you are lucky, like me, you will learn a second language and start reading — obsessively, of course — in that second language as well. Language is a lens into culture. The more lenses you have at your disposal, the sharper the image that emerges.

You will then graduate to memoirs and biographies, travel narratives and true adventure stories — everything from Polar expeditions to African explorers to Amazon river journeys. From these, you learn how far you can push the boundaries of human experience, how varied and interesting life can be.

Later, you will graduate to history, science, philosophy, and all their wonderful progeny of topics. There is so much to read out there that you’ll never grow bored nor will you even make a dent in the vast universe of books.

I’ve rarely gone back and read a book a second time at a later point in life. In the few cases that I’ve done so, books that had seemed transcendent upon a first reading were usually disappointing at best. The words on the page hadn’t changed; I had.

If you read obsessively for four or five decades, like I have, you end up reading a lot. I stopped reading fiction almost twenty years ago and don’t miss it. These days, I find factual narratives, historical accounts, science books, and non-fiction of all kinds a lot more interesting than novels. As Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

It would be a mistake to get stuck in any one genre your whole life — only reading novels, say. It would also be a mistake to give up and just stop reading altogether— like many people do once they get out of school. According to the Pew Research Center , fully one quarter of all American adults say they haven’t read a single book in the past year. They don’t know what they’re missing. It’s only through a dedication — an obsession — with life-long education — on a daily basis and through books — that we remain relevant. That we learn, that we grow.

Or, you could go watch TV and play video games. I’m asking for roughly the same investment in time. Your pick.Modify

R&B’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Dichotomy

In 2010s, R&B reemerged from being a 2D-bubblegum genre to groundbreaking. It didn’t happen overnight, rather overyear. The year in question is 2011. And if you have to pick 2 artists that changed it the most, you have to mention Frank Ocean and The Weeknd.

Both dropped their debut projects then. For Frank Ocean, it was “nostalgia, ULTRA”. It was released on February 16, 2011. The Weeknd followed the next month with the release of “House of Balloons”.

And all of a sudden everyone was talking about that new sound, that someone labeled a cocky “PBR&B”. The sound was experimental and didn’t even try to follow the charts. Everything you need to know about R&B back then: genre’s best-selling artist was a teenager named Justin Bieber, who back in the day didn’t have a clue about Diplo and Skrillex, but had an annoying as song titled “Baby”.

What Ocean and Weeknd offered was different. For Frank, it was personal and beautiful collection of songs. For Weeknd, a way more darker and uncomfortable collections of songs that dealt with women and drugs in a manner that make you feel guilty in front of your girlfriend after just listening to it.

Both of them went to further to become global superstars. They never collaborated and never even mentioned one another in a single interview (maybe cause both don’t speak much to the press). And yet, they are two sides of one and the same coin.

The closest they ever got was on Kanye’s “The Life of Pablo”, where the featured on a neighbouring tracks “FML” (The Weeknd) and “Wolves” (Frank Ocean).

The Weeknd spent last 7 years to become a household name. Hits on hits on hits — check. A celebrity girlfriends (Bella Hadid & Selena Gomez) — check. Collaborations with Marvel (he has his own comic book now), H&M and Puma — check. Try going to any country in the world and not to hear his voice — you’ll fail.

Frank Ocean took a different route. He wasn’t working on infiltrating charts on Drake scales. Rather, he made himself in a living legend. A walking mystery. Nobody knows much about him. He keeps his private life VERY private, except for his coming out letter that he published on his tumblr a couple of days before his debut album “channel ORANGE” hit iTunes. And yet today he’s one of the biggest artists out there.

The Weeknd is the hitmaking monster. Some may even consider him to be R&B’s main antihero. While Frank Ocean is the ultimate romantic, a superhero.

Would they be successful without one another. Sure, both are completely independent on their own. Would we love them that much. 100%. But would it be that interesting to follow them? Definitely no.

R&B in 2018 is The Weeknd AND Frank Ocean. And it’s beautiful. R&B’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Dichotomy. Luckily, we don’t have to be bi-polar to appreciate it.Modify