Social Media Feeds Don’t Tell the Whole Story

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This month, I went to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for the first time and it was a real eye opener in many ways. Not the least of these was as a chance to compare my impressions of CES through my social media feeds with what I was seeing first-hand.

I’ve always recognized that our feeds are naturally skewed by our choices. I try to include a broad range of sources but my interests and connections can’t help but colour my selections so like any media source, my feeds are limited by what those publishing to it choose to share and what I choose to seek out.

Based on my feeds, I was expecting to see much more emphasis on non-Apple phones than what I saw on site. My feeds were rife with news about Samsung, LG, Qualcomm and others, driven by big splashy booths, parties, multimedia campaigns and splashy speakers like President Clinton. But on the show floor,  I could not miss the ubiquity of Apple devices. The story on the floor was Apple Everywhere.

EVERY building was packed with iPad and iPhone accessories.

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Sure, there were accessories for other mobile devices, but you couldn’t swing a dead battery without hitting an Apple accessory. If you’ve ever thought, “Someone should make X for the iPhone,” someone probably has and was showing off their X at CES. You couldn’t miss the implication that while the other guys have cool new stuff, consumers LOVE iPhones and iPads so the apps, cases, batteries, keyboards, projectors, speakers, you name it.

My social media feeds kept talking about how Apple was not at CES, but really they didn’t need to be. Their partners were everywhere. In fact, the Salesforce.com Marketing Cloud analysis told the story that I wasn’t hearing from just reading my feeds.
socialcommandcropThat’s right. Even though they weren’t there, Apple was the 5th most talked about brand in Social Media related to CES.

I readily admit to be a number crunching geek, so the opportunity to see some of the stories behind the chatter based on Market Cloud’s numbers drew me in.  I’d seen my own feeds and I’d observed the floor, but  by scanning for #2013CES and many popular brands, the the tool cut through my perceptions and let the numbers speak for themselves. People were talking about Apple more than they talked about dozens of big name brands that were spending many tens of thousands of dollars on their CES presence.

It was a great reminder that while my social feeds are a great way to keep my finger on the pulse, it’s important to seek out other sources, checking perceptions against hard data, sometimes you can’t beat “being there”.

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What does it mean to be “technical”?

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear myself referred to like this: “She’s VERY technical.”

And sure, it’s accurate. I’ve designed and built complex networks, developed tech products and services,  spent much of the past couple years testing crazy underground wireless gear.  I’ve never shied away from getting into the nitty gritty, even when managing or selling things I don’t do hands-on, like software development. And it’s certainly technical  when I explain tech products to customers and answer their questions about  features or integration challenges, or guide a team of developers to make the best choices for the product we’re building.

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Which pic shows me doing technical work?
(Trick question – they both do.)

But what’s interesting is that I’m often called “very technical”  in situations where I’m not doing anything particularly technical. I hear it when I’m just using technology.

Many say that today’s young people are “very technical” based on the fact that they use smartphones and computers, Twitter and Facebook,and video games but if that’s technical then I’m an auto mechanic because I drive my car. There’s really nothing technical about tweeting. But it’s tech-enabled, and to those who aren’t comfortable with tech, it probably seems like it must be technical. A lot of people who say, “I can’t do X because I’m not technical” really COULD do X if they weren’t scared. So maybe there’s an element of just not being scared to work with things that are technical.

Even in the realm of deeply technical work, it’s interesting what different communities view as “technical”.  In some circles, only those with an Engineering Ph.D  who are creating brand new tech in the lab are real techs. In others, you’e only tech if you can write code and create an app or a website. With others, “tech” means you can make stuff work when things go wrong.

TechTypes

Techs can be expert in hardware, software, radio signals, network, storage, security, databases, you name it. And the thing is, many of those who are the very best at their particular brand of tech are completely unfamiliar with the others. Ask an amazing middleware architect to get a wireless signal working and it’s hit and miss whether they will even know where to start.

It’s not just different types of technology, though, it’s also different phases. I’ve seen some brilliant R&D engineers who solved problems nobody else in the world could solve but struggled trying to build a product around their invention. I’ve seen coding whizzes rattle off working applications in mere hours then flounder helplessly when their laptop couldn’t connect to wifi. We all have different skills and expertise, and that’s part of what makes the world of tech so exciting. It’s also what makes tech hiring so difficult. How many times have you seen someone with dazzling technical skills fail miserably in a role that requires a different type of technical skill?

The bottom line is that “technical” means many things, and the better we each become at communicating what exactly we’re good at technically, the more successful we, our employers and our clients will be.

So, if you’re “technical”, what kind of “technical” are you? And whether you’re technical or not, what kind of technical people do you have trouble finding when you need them? What does “technical” mean to you?

When we all win, we all win – Karen Schulman Dupuis @ MaRS on women in tech

A tweet by @NrthmbrlandCFDC (via @GITdot) brought me back to this great post by my friend Karen Schulman Dupuis who manages Digital Communications for@MaRSDD:

When we win, we all win   ksd

When I first read it back in the spring, I was transported back to the day more than a decade ago when those girls came to the office where Karen worked in sales and I worked in Network Operations. Along with other female colleagues, we talked to them about being a woman in tech. We had high hopes that seeing our passion and hearing how much we loved what we were doing would excite the girls and be a turning point for many of them to choose tech careers. We gave it our all. I even threw in a data point that I thought might be more persuasive than our career talk – I confided that some of us had discovered that quite a few men find technical women very attractive. (It’s true! I swear my hotness rating went up a few points the day I first taught the boys in tech support how to troubleshoot a Cisco router.) But whether on sizzle or steak, we hoped we’d piqued the girls’ interest and would find ourselves working with them some day.

Well, according to Karen, we touched at least one. She took a summer job in our Engineering department. But what about the other 29?

We don’t know what happened to them, but even if they’re an exception from the statistical norms, it’s unlikely that many of them pursued tech careers, which is too bad. Karen’t post touches on some of the challenges of getting more women into tech but true to form, she also highlights some of the good news.

With so many grassroots groups working to encourage girls into tech careers and provide support networks for those of us who chose tech, I think the future looks very bright and with MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht named one of Canada’s most powerful women,  things are looking  bright. I’m hoping that by the end of 2013 we’ll see another column from Karen with even more good news from her perspective working with entrepreneurs at MaRS.

What do you think? Should we keep working to get more women into tech?