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!

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