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January 23, 2020

Charles Eaton Explains How Working with Technology is about Humans, not Hardware

Ever heard the expression: “Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life?”


Nonsense, says Creating IT Futures CEO and social innovator, Charles Eaton, who reveals the real secrets to a successful career working with technology in an episode of Technologist Talk with Charles Eaton.


Sure, many technologists may have a passion for gadgetry. But the most successful among them care most about solving problems that benefit people in business or society.


Working with technology is about humans, not hardware, Eaton, author of the award-winning book, “How to Launch Your Teen's Career in Technology: A Parent’s Guide to the T in STEM Education,” elaborates for host R.C. “Bob” Dirkes in this excerpt from our podcast series about the “5 Traits” of technologists:


Charles: The complaint when I was in the consumer technology business was engineers over-designed a lot of products, and they weren't very useful.


[Engineers] didn't think about the human element. So then, a lot of the companies said: "Oh, well, we’re thinking about women, so we'll turn [the product] pink." That wasn't the solution! It was… offensive at some level that that's all you need to do. You don't need to change how [the product] actually functions.


So, companies have started to figure out how to make [products] more usable and centered on humans and creating solutions. What happens when we create things that people don't need? Well, they don't get bought, those companies suffer. You create art for people; you create technology for people. You don't create art not to be seen…. All these things are meant to be used by people, and we have to always remember the end goal, the end purpose.


Creating [artificial intelligence] isn't about creating AI… It's about what will AI do for us? Will it make our lives better? Will it make [our lives] worse? What will be easier? What will be harder now? Will people have jobs? Will they be out of jobs?


You have to center those [questions] around what people are going to need and use. Which is why, technologists, from coders to people who design hardware… have a lot of empathy for the people who they're helping.


Bob: And [technologists] have to be out there. One of the myths that you addressed earlier in this podcast series was a tech career means being stuck behind a desk… sounds as though you're arguing that it's impossible to have a successful tech career without getting out from behind that screen or from behind that desk.


Charles: I think it's been a shift. There were a lot of tech jobs that you could've done in a dark room and you'd have been fine.


With the convergence of many technologies and the complexity of things like cybersecurity, that's less so… I'll admit, there are still some of those jobs out there, but there are fewer and far between. The bulk of the new jobs are going to be much more engaged with people, much more about solving this wide variety of human problems from the mundane to the life-critical.


Bob: How do you, as a leader, mentor your organization, and how do you advise parents to mentor this thinking of putting humans ahead of hardware?


Charles: One of the ways that I hope to lead my team is always by showing [people] how they're part of something much bigger than themselves and how their impact is great.


So, we tell a lot of stories [about] the people that we help. I think that's what parents need to do, is keep telling stories about why they love what they do as a job… They may not be a technologist. They may not even work in the tech industry at all. Tell your kids why you love what you do…They gotta love this idea of work, first, because not all work is fun.


That adage that, "Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life" is the stupidest thing I've ever heard… No, every job is filled with things that are work that you don't love… Let kids know why you love what you do, and they can get past any of that other stuff.


There's always that other adage, that people should follow their passion.


I talked to a bunch of kids up in New York. I [said], "If I followed my passion to this day, I'd be still trying to play in the NBA." …But instead, I found what I was good at… And I honed what I was good at, and that took time… what I found I was good at was I was good at solving problems, and I was good at leading people, and motivating them, exciting them about ideas… I didn't imagine that I would be doing this when I was 20.


Technologist Talk with Charles Eaton is a podcast from CompTIA’s tech workforce charity, Creating IT Futures, where we talk to business leaders, workforce professionals and talent developers about shaping technology careers.


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