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Learning to Speak the Language of Computer Science

Here are a few tips for improving your computer science fluency as a manager.

6/17/2016 | Communication | 4 minute read

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Harvard Professional Development

Cloud computing, technology stack, agile development, encryption. As a business leader, you've discussed projects and initiatives with your technology team using these computer science terms, but how many of these concepts do you fully grasp? What you don't know may be hurting your organization—and your career.

In the article Why Your IT Project May Be Riskier Than You Think, Harvard Business Review reports that the largest global study ever conducted of IT change initiatives revealed some surprising figures: Of the 1,471 projects studied, one in six had an average cost overrun of 200 percent and a schedule overrun of almost 70 percent.

Although many companies suffer unnecessary losses because management lacks sufficient technical knowledge, there are simple ways to mitigate such loss.

Opening Dialogue with Your Technology Team

You don’t need to learn computer science from the ground up—that’s why you have programmers and engineers. But as a manager, you need to understand the technology that underlies much of your organization’s operations, and a large part of bridging the gap is learning to speak the language.

Learning how to communicate in computer science terms might sound daunting. But like learning any foreign language, it simply takes time and practice. Here are some tips for improving your IT fluency.


As a manager, it can be difficult to admit when you have a knowledge gap. But the sooner you can acknowledge those gaps, the sooner you can bridge them. Try asking yourself some of these questions:

  • Which areas of my business does technology affect the most?
  • Of the projects I manage, where would more technical knowledge better inform my decisions?
  • Are there teams that I often struggle to communicate with?

The vocabulary of the tech world is vast and complex, and you’re never going to learn it all (nor do you need to). Use your answers to the above questions as guideposts so you can focus on what's most important for you to learn.


Conversations with your technology team can sometimes feel like a puzzle, leaving you searching for clues to help decode technical jargon.

Save yourself the trouble and simply ask your staff to translate concepts into common terms. You may fear derailing the meeting, but you’ll be better poised to contribute to the conversation and potentially avoid lost productivity due to miscommunication


While it’s helpful to have your technology team offer translations, the effort to communicate shouldn’t lie entirely on their end. Meet them in the middle. As they define terms, take notes and practice using them in context. Once you start picking up the language, you can run meetings more efficiently—and take pride in your expanded vocabulary.

It may take some time before you’re speaking tech fluently, but each step toward better computer science comprehension will lead to clearer communication with your coders and confident decision-making that results in savings, a more productive workforce, and profit.

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