Trouble at the Office

Screenshot of knowledgenetwork.alumni.msu.eduI have been working on a project at my office involving my IT director, her student intern, and an outside vendor that supplies a cloud-based platform for curating content. The platform allows you to collect text, images, YouTube videos, PDF’s and other digital formats. You can organize the content into collections and the platform allows you to create embeddable “widgets” to put on websites, Facebook pages and more. It’s a great platform (see it in action at

My task is to gather the content and enter it into the system. My IT director’s task is to figure out how to embed the current project into our existing website. And that’s where my troubles began.

Here’s the issue: “widget” means different things to different people! To the platform vendor, widget referred both to the “collection” of data and to the embed code. To my IT director, widget referred to the feature she installs on our server to include features on the website. To me, a widget was a placeholder word – like doohickey or sprocket. It all seems rather funny now, but this miscommunication caused some major headaches. I joke that I know just enough about technology to get myself in trouble, and this situation was a perfect example. My IT director often starts discussing web issues with me, and all of a sudden she’s talking in complete acronyms and I just nod with wide eyes and hope she gets the signals that I have absolutely no idea what she is talking about.

SXSW to the Rescue!

Enter the South by Southwest Interactive conference. As I prepared for my trip to Texas, I looked over all the sessions and came across one of the workshops (read: very long sessions that require you to miss other things while you focus intently on one subject but which probably teach you a lot.) It was called “Programming for Non-Programmers.” That description definitely fits my level of¬†expertise¬† Unfortunately, the workshop conflicted with a session I was required to attend for work, so I didn’t go.

One of the great things about a tech conference is they really know how to use technology to its fullest. The week after I returned from Texas, I found the SlideShare deck (below) and listened to an audio recording of the speaker on the SXSW SoundCloud channel. The presentation explained all the alphabet soup that my IT director uses in conversation.

Yesterday, I had some issues with the same platform project I mentioned above. The vendor happened to be in the building for a meeting, so he stopped by to work out the issue. I also spoke to my IT director about the issue. Lo and behold – I understood what they were saying! In my book, that made the investment of time and money in the conference worth it on its own.